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DeSantis Sends Migrants To Martha's Vineyard; Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) Is Interviewed About Immigration; Democrats Spend Millions On MAGA Candidates: A Mega Mistake?; NPR's Totenberg On Her 50 Year Friendship With RBG. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired September 17, 2022 - 09:00   ET




MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Migrants vineyard. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia.

This week, Ron DeSantis joined the escalating battle between red state governors and the Biden administration over the southern border with a show a maneuver he knew would ignite a media blitz around an animating issue for Republican voters as the midterms loom. On Wednesday, DeSantis took credit for directing two planes carrying 50 migrants from Venezuela and Colombia to the tony liberal enclave of Martha's Vineyard, where everyone from the Obamas to Larry David have vacation spreads.

The next day not to be outdone, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who for months has been sending 1000s of wheeling undocumented immigrants to first Washington, D.C. and then New York and then Chicago, redirected his state's latest D.C. busloads from Union Station to the Naval Observatory, which happens to be the residence of Vice President Kamala Harris.

That the migrants were not forced to get on these buses and planes, they were apparently asked and they consented and that they were fed, that did not stop critics from calling the stunt inhumane. You might say, well, did they know where they were going? Well, did they know where they were going when they first came into the country? As to the question of whether these relocations are fair, this year, an estimated record 2 million undocumented migrants will cross the border seeking asylum. To date, Texas has sent more than 11,000 immigrants, all of them willing to New York, D.C. and Chicago, and Arizona has sent another 1800 plus to New York, New Jersey and interestingly, to Florida.

DeSantis's point is that it's easy to declare yourself a sanctuary state or city when you're 1000s of miles from the border. But if you talk to the talk, then don't you have a heightened obligation to welcome and care for migrants?

Here's how Texas Governor Abbott explained it when he first transported migrants to D.C. in April. He said that it would enable the administration to quote, "more immediately meet the needs of the people they are allowing to cross our border." Adding that, "Texas should not have to bear the burden of the Biden administration's failure to secure our border."

Arizona and Texas are of course Border States, but why is the governor of Florida getting involved? And why did he pick Martha's Vineyard. To define the term sanctuary refers to municipalities that don't allow local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement to shield the local community of undocumented immigrants from deportation. Besides counties and cities, there are currently 11 Sanctuary states, plus D.C. And while Massachusetts doesn't have a law on the books, it's effectively been considered one since 2017 when the state Supreme Court ruled that someone can't be arrested on suspicion of being in the U.S. illegally if not facing criminal charges.

Supporters believe the sanctuary designation allows those already here to feel safer in situations like calling 911 or going to a hospital without fear that it will get them deported. Detractors believe that the sanctuary cities make the United States more inviting for immigrants to enter without documentation and often use the phrase to suggest that such municipalities welcome undocumented immigrants. It turns out that DeSantis first voiced the idea of revenge shipping migrants back in November of 2021 months before Abbott. DeSantis accused the Biden administration of secretly flying migrants from the U.S. Mexico border to his state in the dead of night without notice.

Though some disputed the secrecy aspect, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement did provide a list revealing more than 70 flights between late April and early October, believed to be organized by HHS to transport migrants to Jacksonville, many of them originating in Texas. At the time, DeSantis threatened to send them to Delaware, Biden's home state. But Delaware is not a sanctuary state. And that threat has not yet materialized.

DeSantis could have sent this week's planes to Boston, but that wouldn't have gotten him nearly the attention that Martha's Vineyard did. At a press conference, he countered accusations that the migrants had gone against their will or that they were not being told where they were going.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): The folks that are contracted not only did the -- do they give them a release form to sign, they actually give them a packet. And in that packet included a map of Martha's Vineyard. So it was obvious that that's where they were going.

I think that if the states could send, I would send back to Mexico or back to the home country, but here we are doing it voluntarily.


SMERCONISH: Attorneys for some of the migrants have contended that's just not the case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RACHEL SELF, IMMIGRANTS ATTORNEY: -- arrived last night make it clear that they were lied to again and again. And fraudulently induced to board the planes, they were told there was a surprise present for them, and that there would be jobs and housing a waiting for them when they arrived.



SMERCONISH: At the same time, an MSNBC reporter on the ground found migrants pretty happy to be there.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can tell you, they are not angry at Ron DeSantis. They're actually thanking him for having brought them to Martha's Vineyard where they were very well received. But other people, well, they're saying they're being used as political pawns. They don't resent it for now, and they know they're the lucky ones.


SMERCONISH: By Friday, the island migrants were already relocated by bus to joint base Cape Cod, but the transport issue, it won the new cycle beating out Lindsey Graham's proposed abortion law, the January 6 committee and Donald Trump's documents. This is what everybody's talking about.

This is a Trump 2.0 move. DeSantis's combative style demonstrates he very much is in sync with the main issues driving Republicans and conservatives. Gallup polling from earlier this year showed that 87 percent of Republicans were dissatisfied with the level of immigration into the country, that's higher than at any point this century.

Here's with Charlie Crist, DeSantis's Democratic opponent in the fall, told CNN Alisyn Camerota.


CHARLIE CRIST (D-FL), GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Listen, we're not even a border state. We're surrounded by water. The only borders we have are with Alabama and Georgia. So to say that we're overwhelmed in Florida is ridiculous.

Texas may have an issue. It is absurd. It's a political stunt. He's trying create theater.


SMERCONISH: Not only is DeSantis up for reelection this year, he's a leading hopeful for the 2024 presidential nomination. If there's any doubt that's what this is all about, he also said this at his press conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DESANTIS: All those people in D.C. and New York were beating their chests when Trump was president saying they were so proud to be sanctuary jurisdictions, saying how bad it was to have a secure border. The minute -- even a small fraction of what those border towns deal with every day is brought to their front door, they all of a sudden go berserk. It just shows you, you know, their virtue signaling is a fraud.


SMERCONISH: Everybody's got a political position on this. There is so much passion on both sides. But how does this play politically for DeSantis and his larger political ambitions? Is it a stunt? Of course it is.

Are these migrants being used as pawns? Of course they are. But let's keep in mind that they provided written consent according to DeSantis before being transported, and they're probably doing better than the 1 million others allowed to enter the United States by the Biden administration pending their asylum claims. We've got a problem with porous borders, and Vice President Kamala Harris seems to be the only person who believes the border is secure.

I want to know what you think. Go to my website and vote on this week's poll question. Here it is, is Governor DeSantis sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard a petty stunt or a public service?

Joining me now to discuss is Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of the great border state of Texas, and Gary Fineout who writes the Florida playbook for Politico and previously worked in the Tallahassee Bureau of the Associated Press.

Congressman first to you, governors DeSantis and Ducey and Abbott, they say they're pointing out hypocrisy in faraway areas where lawmakers have no skin in the game. Do those governors have a point?

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): Look, we know exactly what they're doing. They're doing this to get publicity, and it is working. But I also understand the frustration that we've been feeling down here along the border. By the way, you know, they might send two buses to Washington, D.C., they might send two buses in New York, I want you to know that in Laredo, every day we sent out 26 buses, either by ice or NGOs that go to cities in the state of Texas or even go outside the state of Texas to some of those cities. We sent out 26 buses a day.

And that doesn't include the -- Laredo is only one out of the nine Border Patrol sectors. So, we've been filling this frustration for a long time.

I did notice that the mayor of D.C. said -- made a comment yesterday that Washington, D.C. was not a border town and we don't have the infrastructure. They don't have the infrastructure. We have some -- I have some of the poorest counties in the whole country, and for somebody to say that, you know, that we have the infrastructure, we don't have the NGO strong enough to handle everything. That's why we're sending this folks outside of Laredo in the border town. So, it's interesting.

And some of us, and I'll say one last point, the city of Laredo, this is a Democratic area, a year ago sent out buses because they were releasing migrants in the streets of Laredo. So, the city of Laredo started saying the buses over to Dallas and Houston. And that Houston mayor called up and said, woo, woo, we can't send them over to us. So, the city of Laredo has been doing this -- has done this for at least a year or two.


SMERCONISH: On the subject of border security, here's what the Vice President said on Meet the Press last weekend rolling.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The border is secure, but we also have a broken immigration system in particular over the last four years before we came in and it needs to be fixed.

We have a secure border, in that that is a priority for any nation, including ours and our administration.


SMERCONISH: Congressman, that's just not true, right? I mean, you're on the front line, you've spent your whole life and Laredo. The border is not secure, is it?

CUELLAR: The border is not secure without due respect to the VP. This -- look, we get 1000s of people along the border, you know, from six to 8000 people a day. They're releasing people. And we can send you pictures and videos of what's happened in Del Rio, in the valley, El Paso and other places that people are coming in.

We have 1.7 million people that were encountered last year where we're going to have two or maybe 2.2 by the end of this fiscal year. And then about two more weeks, that's almost 4 million people. That doesn't even include the getaways. The getaways are the people that Border Patrol has a good idea that it baited them.

So you're talking about almost four plus maybe 4.4 million individuals in two years. If you call that secure. I don't know what secure it is.

SMERCONISH: Congressman Cuellar, thank you for your time. We appreciate it.

CUELLAR: Thank you so much.

SMERCONISH: Now to Gary Fineout, he writes Politico's Florida Playbook, where his latest edition is titled Questions, Confusion and Fallout Follow DeSantis' migrant Transport.

Gary, thanks for being here.

DeSantis governs as a guy representing a ruby red state. But Florida isn't, right? I mean, every four years Florida is purple. How's Florida going to turn out? So how does this play for him at home in the midst of a reelection campaign?

GARY FINEOUT, REPPORTER, POLITICO/AUTHOR, FLORIDA PLAYBOOK: Well, I think that DeSantis and his supporters are -- would tell you that they don't think Florida is a purple state anymore and that they're out to prove it this November. And that, basically, if you look at the trends and demographic and voter registration, and basically the fact that Donald Trump won the state in 2020, they would take the position that no the state is becoming more Republican.

And look, the way it looks from here and on the ground in Florida is that the DeSantis campaign pretty much thinks that they have this election, you know, pretty wrapped up. You can tell -- I mean, you had Crist on in the -- you had a quote from him in the first segment, he doesn't have anywhere near the resources to go up on the -- I mean, he was he was actually dark on television for three weeks following his primary win in late August.

So, while I -- I'm not saying that they aren't going to campaign vigorously between now and November, they have clearly put together an apparatus that takes the position that it's not just that they will win in November, the question is, by how much?

SMERCONISH: Gary, is this really an issue for Florida? Is the migrant issue really top of mind as a problem for Floridians? Or has DeSantis injected himself into a national issue and seized control of it, you know, along with Ducey in Arizona and Abbott in Texas who really are on the front line?

FINEOUT: Well, there have been some polls of late that have kind of looked at the issues and what people think are most important here in Florida, and immigration is not the top issue. There are other issues that are more pressing, including inflation and the cost of living and things of that nature. But you also look at those polls nationally and in Florida, immigration is a top issue, especially among Republican voters.

And so, no, Florida is not a border state, it is not immigration, it's not something that gets a tremendous amount of attention, but it is an issue that is very important, especially to Republican primary voters, especially to those voters who may be casting ballots in 2024 for somebody other than Donald Trump.

SMERCONISH: Do you think that Abbott and DeSantis are coordinating? I mean, I've got this image in my head of the two of them just for laughs and giggles work on the phone looking at a map of the country and deciding what's going to be next Beverly Hills or Aspen?

FINEOUT: Well, in regards to the flights to Martha's Vineyard, Governor Abbott's office said that they were not directly involved in that operation. Now, what is true is that they have been in contact and in touch. And basically last year Florida sent a law enforcement to the border to the border to help out Texas at that point in time.

[09:15:13] And so there has been communication on this issue. They have both been highly critical of the Biden administration. But in terms of the flights this week, the Abbott administration says, no, we weren't involved.

SMERCONISH: There's no way -- final thought, there's no way this sits well with Trump? I'm sure that Trump approves of the underlying action, but the fact that it's not his conduct, and that it's DeSantis's and that DeSantis's star continues to ascend among Republicans has got to really bother him, your thought?

FINEOUT: Well, I don't have any direct insights into the mind of Donald Trump.

SMERCONISH: Neither do I.

FINEOUT: What I would tell you is that -- what I would tell you is that when it comes to -- what I could have been be able to pick up from the DeSantis camp basically is, you know, Donald Trump has not made a final decision or not announced a final decision, maybe he has made a final decision about what he's going to do in 2024. And I think that there is plenty of evidence that the DeSantis people are positioning themselves regarding 2024, especially if Trump does not run. If Trump doesn't run, I think it's abundantly clear that DeSantis is very well positioned.

Now, I will -- and I will also tell you, DeSantis and Trump, you know, while they are allies and while they communicate occasionally, yes, that there is not, you know -- DeSantis is not basically waiting to hear from Donald Trump before he does something. He's going to do things on his own. And that includes doing things like this that basically, in his mind, is going to rile up the corporate media, rile up Democrats, rile up leftist activists and he's going to continue to demonstrate that he's the fighter that Republicans say they want.

SMERCONISH: He has succeeded. He has succeeded in that regard, if nothing else.

Gary, thank you so much.

FINEOUT: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: And of course now, Gavin Newsom wants to get in on the action. If you saw the tweet, Gavin Newsom is saying, hey, DeSantis, you and I on CNN. Man, would I love to watch that debate.

What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish or go to my YouTube, Facebook, hit me up on social media is what I'm trying to say.

What do we have? Yes, it does reek of stunt on one hand, but the current administration just saying the border is secure, let's move on is not cutting it. No more bunker politics.

Gino Vito, you're absolutely correct. I said, is it a stunt? Yes. Is he using these people as pawns? Yes. Although I'll bet they're better provided for than the other million who have already come into the country seeking asylum, because you got to believe the political stakes for Abbott, God forbid anything ever happened to somebody on one of those buses of Abbott's or a plane of DeSantis, that would be political curtains for them.

So, you know, my gut tells me that whomever is advancing that visitation, that transport, it's like take care of these people at all costs, give them whatever they need.

Make sure you're going to my website and answering this week's poll question, Is Governor DeSantis sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard a petty stunt or is it a public service?

Still to come, Democrats have been happy with recent polls showing them ahead in the Senate midterm contests. But the same faults in polling that cause the 2020 presidential polls in states to be off by the widest margin in 40 years, they haven't been fixed. I'll talk to one of the few pollsters with a track record of getting it right.

And hoping for easier opponents in the midterms, Democrats pump $53 million to promote candidates of MAGA Republicans for governor, Senate and the House. Guess what, bunch of one? Well, what if they win in November?

And you're looking at a live shot of people paying their respects at the Queen's coffin in Westminster Hall where it will remain until Monday when it's brought to Westminster Abbey for her state funeral service which we live on CNN.



SMERCONISH: Can the pollsters get an election embarrassingly wrong again? That's what the "New York Times" Chief Political Analyst Nate Cohn is wondering in a piece called, Yes, the Polling Warning Signs are Flashing Again? Cohn cautions that there's a strong likelihood that the polls we're seeing for the midterms are likely inaccurate. A post mortem on the 2020 presidential election by the American Association for Public Opinion Research found that national polling had the worst magnitude of error in 40 years. And the state polls were the worst in at least two decades, and they couldn't provide any definitive reason as to why.

And it was worse than 2016 when pollsters systematically underestimated Donald Trump's strength against Hillary Clinton. Nate Cohn drilled down on the recent polling showing that Democrats are making gains in the Senate and found that the candidates are quote, "outrunning expectations in the same places where the polls overestimated Mr. Biden in 2020 and Mrs. Clinton in 2016." Cohen further notes that if this failure occurs, it will be because most pollsters haven't made significant changes to their methodology since the last cycle.

Could it be that this November in contests where research has Democrats feeling confident there will be many so called unforeseen upsets? My next guest has a track record of showing up the traditional pollsters.

In 2016Robert Cahaly and the Trafalgar group correctly had Trump beating Clinton in five key swing states, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and North Carolina and accurately predicted the final Electoral College tally. In the 2018 midterms in Florida, Trafalgar was the only pollster to correctly predict the wins for Ron DeSantis in the governor's race and Rick Scott in the Senate race.


Robert Cahaly joins me now. He's the Trafalgar group's senior strategist and pollster. So, is there a hidden Republican vote? And if so, why is this such a problem? Are Republicans going into hiding when you call them on the phone?

ROBERT CAHALY, SENIOR STRATEGIS & POLLSTER, THE TRAFALGAR GROUP: You know, absolutely. What we saw in 2016, is was kind of a shot Republican vote, people were kind of hesitant to admit it and we had to use the vehicles to kind of get around that initial sharpness to where they can project and give them more hypothetical answers that have a direct answer. But by 2020, it was that Republicans just didn't want to participate in polls and you had to work extra hard. And the Republicans who did want to participate in 2020 tended to be the smaller group, the Never Trump Republicans who were excited to participate.

So if you weren't careful, you could overestimate their proportionality to the Republicans in general. So, in 2022, what we're seeing is -- I'm calling these people submerge voters, and these are folks that literally are watching all that's happening. They've seen what Biden has been saying about MAGA Republicans and, you know, they're reading all this stuff, whether it's true or not, a lot of the conspiracy stuff, and they're nervous to say anything to anyone. You know, they're not putting stickers on their car, they're not putting signs in their yard, they're not answering polls, and they're not posting on social media means like, they're in their submarine, they're underwater, and they're not coming up to election day. And they're going to be very difficult.

SMERCONISH: OK. Let's get specific in a race that I know well. Here in Pennsylvania, the whole country is focused on Fetterman against Oz, Josh Shapiro and Mastriano. And you know, Robert, that the conventional wisdom is that the Democrats have significant leads in both of those races. For example, Fetterman according to RealClearPolitics average, Fetterman over Oz by four, Josh Shapiro over Mastriano by 5.4. My God, CBS and YouGov say that it's Josh Shapiro by 11, and yet you say each of these is a two point race. Justify that?

CAHALY: Well, three week -- excuse me, four weeks ago, everybody was saying that those races are in double digits. And since then, us, Emerson and Quinnipiac all had it to four or five. So, these races continue to tighten and we're on the side this recognizing that with other credible groups, and then there are groups that are not recognizing it. I think it's a lot of the methodology and they're not working hard enough. It's like in a tough economy, you have to go find, the salesman have to work harder to get to their potential clients. Well, in this kind of election where Republicans are kind of hard to find, you have to work extra hard to identify them. And if you're not making the extra effort, and not just the, you know, the easy ones who participate, you're going to undercount a lot of people who are really trying to kind of stay submerged.

SMERCONISH: All you have, your sole currency is your reputation and currency. So, to somebody who says, oh, you know, Cahaly, Trafalgar is in the tank for the GOP, like, there's going to come a Wednesday morning for you. It'll be no November 9, right? And you're either going to be the guy who called it right or didn't. You get the final word.

CAHALY: That's exactly right. And I was just -- they may say we're GOP pollster, but if you think I throw on for the GOP, you don't understand my competitive nature. This is something I take very seriously. And we want to get it right. And I think we will do better than I expect to exceed all the other groups again in 2022.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Robert. Appreciate you being here.

CAHALY: Yes, sir.

SMERCONISH: Here's what you're saying on my social media. What do we have, Katherine (ph), what's come in during the course of the program.

Before Reagan polling was done to reflect the mood of the voters. Since Reagan, polling has been done to influence the mood of the voter. Polling attempts to sway the voter toward the Democrat position. Sampling errors are so common that they seem to be done on purpose.

I know that's the perception that many have that these, you know, push polling is dominating, and so forth out there. Here's my two cents for what it's worth. I think that elections today, and I should give a shout out to Rachel Bitecofer, because a couple of years ago, she's the one who put this in my head. Elections today really are not so much about persuasion. You know, nobody's out there trying to persuade some independently minded voter to come to their side or the other side. Today, it's all about inflaming passion and pushing turnout, getting motivation, not persuasion, you know, to the top of the priority.

And so, take a look at the DeSantis issue that we've been talking about -- at with at the outset of the program with the migrants. I mean it had been abortion, abortion, abortion. Democrats, this cycle, they've got a hell of an issue.


Just look at Kansas, just look at New York's 19. Well, now Republicans have one too and it's the whole migrant issue. Wow. The next 50 or so days are going to be unbelievable. I want to remind you go to my Web site at this hour. By the way, would register for the newsletter while you're there, please? You'll love it. And answer this week's poll question. Is Governor DeSantis sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard a petty stunt or a public service?

Up ahead, during the primaries Democrats pumped more than $53 million into ads for MAGA Republican candidates in nine states, hoping for weaker opponents come November. Is this OK or the ultimate cynical move?

Plus, young law professor Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a brief for the Supreme Court arguing against discrimination on the basis of sex. Well, a young court reporter telephoned her for an explanation and launched a half century friendship. NPR's Nina Totenberg is here.



SMERCONISH: By elevating MAGA candidates, have Democrats made a mega mistake? Recently President Joe Biden felt compelled to make a public declaration that Trumpists were putting our very democracy at risk.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.


SMERCONISH: If that's the case, then why is it that in many of this year's primary elections, the president's party has been doing all it can to elevate the most MAGA of Republican candidates to get them nominated? According to reporting in the "Washington Post" Democrats spent at least $53 million in nine states trying to amplify the far- right candidates often outspending the candidates themselves. That includes a whopping $34.5 million just in the Illinois governor race.

All told Democrats directly interfered in at least 13 primaries, six gubernatorial races, two Senate contests and five House campaigns. They succeeded six times, including two New Hampshire races for nominees for Senate and Congress decided just this past Tuesday.

Among the candidates the Democrats helped to victory, Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a key voice in the effort to overturn Biden's victory in the state who has been subpoenaed about his attendance at Trump's January 6th speech and has been identified in videos in a crowd moving toward the Capitol. Maryland gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox who chartered buses to bring supporters to Washington on January 6th and as the insurrection was happening, he tweeted, Mike Pence is a traitor.

And in Michigan Democrats spent more than $400,000 to boost John Gibbs for Congress. He has falsely said that there were -- quote -- unquote -- "anomalies" in the 2020 presidential tally making results -- quote -- "mathematically impossible." In doing so they helped Gibbs unseat the more moderate freshman congressman, Peter Meijer, one of the few Republican congressmen to vote for Trump's impeachment.

Is that really a worthy goal to oust one of their few allies across the aisle for the chance to flip a seat? And what if they don't? Theoretically one can understand why Democrats think fringe candidates are less likely to win the general election but that's what they thought about Donald Trump in 2016.

And what if they just got played? Look at Don Bolduc in New Hampshire. The Senate majority PAC affiliated with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spent $3.2 million to effectively boost Bolduc, a retired general, in the primary to challenge sitting Senator Maggie Hassan by attacking his moderate opponent because Bolduc had been a Trumpian election denier. Well, listen to how he changed his tune between when he was running and days after he secured the nomination.


DON BOLDUC (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE SENATE CANDIDATE: I signed a letter with 120 other generals and admirals saying that Trump won the election, and damn it, I stand by my letter.

I have come to the conclusion and I want to be definitive on this. The election was not stolen. Was there fraud? Yes. President Biden is the legitimate president of this country.


SMERCONISH: Which brings me back to the question if these MAGA Republicans are such a threat to the core of our country, as Biden says, then why would Democrats want to risk clearing their possible path to power? On "Meet the Press" last weekend, Chuck Todd repeatedly asked Kamala Harris, Vice President Kamala Harris whether she would condemn the practice of helping get MAGA Republicans nominated. She repeatedly side stepped answering.


CHUCK TODD, NBC HOST: When you see the Democratic Party and some parts of the party funding ads to promote some of these election deniers in primaries, it looks like a cynical -- you know, a little bit cynical. And the president went out of his way to say there are good Republicans here.

Should you leave the good Republicans alone in a primary? Is the Democratic Party making a mistake here by -- you know, those people could win if you're not careful.

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I mean, listen. I'm not going to tell people how to run their campaigns, you know? I've ran, in terms of statewide office -- I ran --

TODD: Would you have done this?

HARRIS: I ran --

TODD: So would you have done this? Is this in your -- is this something you would be comfortable with?

HARRIS: I'm not going to tell people how to run their campaigns, Chuck.


SMERCONISH: Well, she won't but I will. You can't have it both ways. It would be one thing to elevate a potential opponent because you think their position on guns or abortion or immigration is out of touch. But one issue transcends all others. Without a functioning democracy, there's no debate about any other issue. And the practice of elevating opponents in that category needs to be condemned.


Still to come, two of D.C.'s powerhouse women, RBG and NPR's Nina Totenberg, had a friendship that lasted nearly 50 years. And it all started with a reporter's call to a law professor to explain a brief. Nina Totenberg is here with her new book "Dinners with Ruth."

And I want to remind you to answer this week's poll question at Is Governor DeSantis sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard a petty stunt or a public service?


SMERCONISH: It was a phone call that turned into a nearly 50-year friendship. In 1971, a law professor at Rutgers University named Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a legal brief arguing the Supreme Court must declare unconstitutional tax law discriminating on the basis of sex. The argument cited the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law. A young female legal affairs reporter for the "National Observer" Nina Totenberg wanted some clarification as to how the amendment pertained.


She found Ginsburg's phone number listed in the brief and called her. Ginsburg answered, gave a detailed explanation and thus launched a half century friendship between these two powerhouse women.

Totenberg was hired at "National Public Radio" in 1975, became one of its founding mothers, if you will. She's been there ever since where she covers legal affairs and the Supreme Court. And Ginsburg, of course, was appointed in 1980 to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Jimmy Carter and then by President Bill Clinton to the Supreme Court in 1993. She served until her death in the fall of 2020, two-year anniversary, by the way, I think tomorrow.

Along the way in 2000, Ginsburg officiated at Totenberg's second wedding to surgeon David Reines. Their unique friendship is the topic of Totenberg's brand new book. It's called "Dinners with Ruth, A Memoir on the Power of Friendships." Nina Totenberg joins me now. So, Nina, the only test she ever failed was for driving. Explain.

NINA TOTENBERG, LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, NPR/AUTHOR, "DINNERS WITH RUTH": Well, she used to -- her place in the Supreme Court garage was next to Sandra Day O'Connor. And one day she scratched O'Connor's car and she had to go tell her that she had done that because she was not a very good parker. And O'Connor was not pleased because she had already had her car fixed from the last time Ruth had scratched her car.

SMERCONISH: Three fights with cancer, bowel obstructions, shingles. She was so petite and yet such an iron woman. I referenced that she officiated your marriage. What I didn't reference yet is the fact that the night before she was in the hospital and did not tell that to you until the ceremony was over.

TOTENBERG: Yes. And she forbid her husband, Marty, to tell me. She wanted it to be my day. And then after the dinner, she said, Nina, would you mind if I leave a little early. I had a blockage last night and I was in the hospital. And I said, "My God, get out of here."

SMERCONISH: The two of you forged this relationship before either of you were in the national spotlight. As I read the book, it occurred to me if you had been in the national spotlight when you first met, probably that relationship would not have blossomed, wouldn't have been able to blossom, true?

TOTENBERG: I think that's probably true. I mean, it would have been different anyway. We started when we were young and we were not famous. We were -- had our noses up against the glass window pane of male domination of the professional worlds we lived in.

And like my other friends that I write about in this book, Cokie Roberts and Linda Wertheimer, and Jamie Gorelick, who we became deputy attorney general eventually and was on the 9/11 commission, we were just trying to get a foot in the door, not to break the glass ceiling. We were just trying to get a chance to show we could do these jobs.

SMERCONISH: You're Nina Totenberg. You broke the Douglas Ginsburg story. You broke the Anita Hill story. I mean, you are -- you are the dean of the Supreme Court reporters. How were you able to maintain the boundary lines with this very close friend of yours?

TOTENBERG: You know, it's a lot easier with a judge because they're not supposed to talk about pending cases to anybody. In truth they're not supposed to talk about them to their spouses. I have no idea if they do or don't.

But -- so you really can't ask a judge or a justice about a case that's before that individual justice because you wouldn't have a friend. You have to get to know them as you would other friends, just understanding that there is a core place that if you ask about, they will not be your friends.

SMERCONISH: How close were you? You were so close that after she passed two years ago, her daughter, Jane, wanted you to have one of her necklaces and your husband to have one of the oversized paella pans that Marty used to love so much. I mean, that -- I'm not joking. That kind of sums it up for me. That's close.

TOTENBERG: We were very close. In the last year of her life when she really couldn't go anywhere else because she couldn't be sure it was safe because of COVID, she came to us almost every Saturday night for dinner. And David cooked for her. He's a wonderful cook. And so we were extremely close.

When my late husband died, my first husband died, she would reach out and take care of me at critical moments. So in that sense, like girlfriends, women friends, we were extremely close at the same time that we respected the boundaries of each other's professions.


And it was --


TOTENBERG: -- one of the great privileges of my life to be her friend.

SMERCONISH: -- I really enjoyed the book. Thank you so much for your willingness to come by and discuss it.

TOTENBERG: I'm so glad you liked the book, Michael. Really glad.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets, YouTube, Facebook comments. And cannot wait to see the final results of the poll question from Is Governor DeSantis sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard a petty stunt or a public service?



SMERCONISH: My producer Catherine just said into my earpiece, how do you think the survey turned out? And I said, "You know, CNN audience, probably an overwhelming majority say it was a stunt, not a public service." And she giggled. So let's see because now I am not sure how to interpret this.

Show me the result. Is Governor DeSantis sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard a publicity stunt or a public service? A petty -- OK. So I was right. Why were you giggling if I was right? Eighty-nine percent.

The correct answer, and I fault myself for this, both. Both. Is it a stunt? Yes, it is a stunt. Did he provide some public service in doing that? I happen to think that he did.

Quickly, social media reaction. What do we have? I've got time for just one, I think.

You've criticized the Democrats and our VP. You leave it to the question if DeSantis is a help or hindrance regarding immigrants -- your show is not balanced as you prefer to be known. Do better.

Hey, Danny, I am not here to reinforce the beliefs that you already have. I am here to challenge your thinking and I'll see you next week.