Return to Transcripts main page
State of the Race with Kasie Hunt
DeSantis: Haley Can't Unite Republican Party Like I Can; Haley Says U.S. Has "Never Been A Racist Country"; Candidates Blitz New Hampshire Days Before Primary. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired January 17, 2024 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KASIE HUNT, CNN HOST, STATE OF THE RACE: Time is running out with less than a week to the New Hampshire Republican primary. As Nikki Haley and Ron
DeSantis step up their attacks on each other, Donald Trump once again spending the morning in a Manhattan courtroom. Plus, I'm going to speak
with former Republican Presidential Candidate Will Hurd. What does he think the candidates need to accomplish in New Hampshire and who might he support
in November? Plus, congressional leaders will head to the White House in the coming hours to meet with President Biden about the supplemental
spending bill, immigration, the border, central to those negotiations, and voters in 2024.
Good day, everyone. I'm Kasie Hunt to our viewers watching in the United States and around the world. It's 11 a.m. here in Washington, Wednesday,
January 17. There are just six days until the New Hampshire primary and 292 days until Election Day. This is today's State of the Race.
Welcome in. Less than a week from the pivotal Republican primary in New Hampshire with Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis wrapping up -- ramping up
their attacks on Nikki Haley and on each other. In a CNN town hall last night, DeSantis argued that he, not Haley, is the candidate that can bring
the party together. He warned that Republicans will lose in November if Trump and all of his legal baggage are the standard for the GOP. As for
Haley, last month, she had to backtrack after she failed to cite slavery as the cause of the Civil War. Yesterday, she had this exchange on Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Are you a racist party? Were you involved in a racist party?
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. We're not a racist country, Brian. We've never been a racist country. Our goal is to make sure
that today is better than yesterday. Are we perfect? No. But, our goal is to always make sure we try and be more perfect every day that we can.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: All right. CNN's Omar Jimenez joins us now from Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Omar, it looks like it's still pretty chilly up there. You've
been doing such great reporting now on the ground for so long. How are those comments from Haley playing in New Hampshire considering especially
that she seems to be relying on independent undeclared voters? They're casting votes for her in the Republican primary.
OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, and that's going to be the major question here, how some of those comments will actually make an impact on
people's opinions of her here in New Hampshire, who again head to the polls in less than a week. You played some of the comments of her campaign,
doubled down on those comments, saying America has had racism but is not a racist country. Of course, we've had periods like segregation and slavery
where racism was literally built into the fundamentals of this country. But, again, it's how that lands with the voters that could make a
difference for her here in New Hampshire. She has events over the course of today, but also so does Ron DeSantis, and former President Trump, who will
start his day in court in New York before making his way here.
Both DeSantis and Haley are trying to chip into what has essentially been Trump dominance up to this point, which we saw in full display in Iowa just
a few days ago at this point. Haley does seem better positioned to actually put up a serious fight here based on the polls coming in, some of which
showing her within single digits of the former President. But, DeSantis is also still campaigning here, trying to find any sort of momentum here. His
campaign saying this morning that they are going to really push for delegates across all of the states, including DeSantis visited South
Carolina immediately after Iowa, which -- South Carolina votes after New Hampshire.
So, clearly trying to make a footprint in some of these early states. The question, though, is if the New Hampshire performance in a few days' time
now isn't ideal, isn't strong? Does it show him in strong footing? How long does that campaign actually last? And it's a big question for Nikki Haley
as well, if they don't have a strong showing here since they've put so many resources into this particular state, is a major question. But, the best
part about it is all the polls that lead up to this matter less compared to what the voters actually say in their ballot boxes in just a few days here.
HUNT: All right. Omar Jimenez for us. Above and beyond the call to go to the ocean in the winter time in New Hampshire for that beautiful lifestyle.
JIMENEZ: It's perfect beach weather.
HUNT: Oh my God, not for me. But, you're stronger than I am, my friend. Thank you very much for that report.
All right. Let's talk now about the frontrunner because Donald Trump is not in New Hampshire today. Instead, he is going to be back in a New York court
for the defamation case to determine damages brought against him by the writer E. Jean Carroll. She is expected to testify today.
That jury is going to decide just how much Trump will have to pay for doing something that he does consistently, attacking a woman in intense personal
terms. He has turned those attacks on Nikki Haley in recent days on his Truth Social platform, referring to her by her given first name, Nimrada,
although he misspelled it. That's also classic Trump. He also recently amplified a post falsely claiming that Haley was not eligible to run for
President because her parents were not U.S. citizens at the time that she was born.
And then, there is this, an image we're going to show you briefly and then I'm taking it down, but -- just so you can kind of get a flavor of this. It
is not the first time Nikki Haley has been compared to Hillary Clinton, but it is the first time that I have seen it done this way by a former
President of the United States. It of course copies Hillary Clinton's campaign logo as well.
Let's dive into all this with today's panel. Mo Elleithee is the Executive Director of Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, also
former DNC Comms Director; Lance Trover, the former Spokesperson for North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum's 2024 presidential campaign, and Farnoush
Amiri, Congressional Reporter for the Associated Press. Welcome to all of you.
Mo, I want to go to you first on these attacks from Trump on Nikki Haley, because they're really -- like, I didn't want to use the word ugly in the
script because I don't want it tied with like their faces or for anyone to remotely say that I'm suggesting, I'm talking about either one of these
women's appearance. I'm struggling to find the right word, "vulgar", perhaps the kind of the way that this is going here. But, it's -- it makes
me uncomfortable. It's something that only would be done to women candidates, quite frankly. What is Trump doing here?
MO ELLEITHEE, SENIOR SPOKESPERSON, 2008 HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN, & EXEC. DIR., GEORGETOWN INSTITUTE OF POLITICS & PUBLIC SERVICE: He is doing what
Trump does. Right? I mean, this is what he does. I don't want to normalize it. But, at the same time, I'm not surprised. I'm not sure anyone --
HUNT: No. None of it surprises.
ELLEITHEE: -- should be surprised by it. We shouldn't normalize it either. But, this is what Trump does. He tries to tap into people's base instincts
and he likes to stir up outrage. He loves that we are talking about it, because his base voters, who are anti-establishment, anti-us, look at that
and say, Man, you really got under there skin. You're just joking, but look how you got under their skin. And that's been the secret to his success
with Republican voters in part for quite some time now. We should not normalize it. We should speak out against it.
And I do wonder if against the backdrop of a lot of other stuff going on right now, for example, like the overturning of Roe v. Wade, it might have
a real impact on particularly suburban women voters who are tired of Trump's chaos. They're tired of attacks on women's freedom. They are tired
of his childish insults. Will he --
ELLEITHEE: -- have -- maybe gone that step too far this time, we'll see.
HUNT: I mean, my God, how many times have we asked if Trump has taken his step too far?
ELLEITHEE: Right. Exactly.
I mean, I go back to the POW, like mocking John McCain for work. Anyway. Lance, I mean, what do you make of this? I mean, Nikki Haley, I will say to
her credit -- I mean, she was the Governor of South Carolina. She faced a lot of really -- I mean, South Carolina politics are famous for being nasty
behind the scenes, also in public. She beat them all back and she won as a woman of color, a Republican woman of color. And she -- I honestly was -- I
covered that whole campaign. She was fierce in defending. I mean, she had racist attacks against her during that campaign as well. I mean, how do you
see her standing up as we -- I mean, it's going to be a key test here in six days. How close can she come to Donald Trump? How do you think she
stands up to this?
LANCE TROVER, SPOKESPERSON, 2024 DOUG BURGUM PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Well, let's remember, she is obviously doing pretty well in New Hampshire, or
else she wouldn't be taking in attacks from Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump. So, let's just start there.
HUNT: Very true.
TROVER: When it comes to Donald Trump, you -- I mean, you're right, Mo. I mean, this is his -- when he comes at you, though, he comes at you from 12
different directions. And that is how he has worked to get. We don't want to normalize that. But, that is what he does, and it's a strategy that has
been effective for him from day one, and you're seeing it here today.
HUNT: Farnoush, let me let you weigh in --
FARNOUSH AMIRI, U.S. CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, AP: Yeah.
HUNT: -- because there is no other woman at this table.
AMIRI: I mean, it goes back to this -- the comment that she makes about this not being a racist country. I mean, the candidates have really tried
to focus on specific candidates. Nikki Haley is the only person of color currently running in this primary, has focused on -- I have experienced
racism, but this is not a racist country. And Donald Trump using the name that she changed because she knew about the vitriol that me as a woman
named Farnoush also faced.
AMIRI: I mean, it's -- she is proving -- he is proving her the opposite of her point, where there is still racism in the country. It's apparent in
this race. And at this point, I mean, I don't know what worst thing he could say about her.
HUNT: Well --
AMIRI: We are many, many days away from --
HUNT: Sometimes I've said that, and I thought, Oh, wow. You know, I've just -- I do not have the credit --
HUNT: Yeah. So, let's talk a little bit about -- Donald Trump said something on the trail about what his legal problems have meant because we
have seen him, right, campaign, basically campaign in the courtroom, right, and argue to his supporters that the system, the justice system is out to
get him for political reasons. And he said something that honestly Ron DeSantis has also said as he has tried to explain why things have been hard
for him on the campaign trail.
Take a look at what Trump had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: If I didn't get indicted all these times and if they didn't unfairly go after me, I would have won, but it would
have been much closer. I tell you. I don't know if I would have made the trade. I might have just liked the position we're in right now. We're doing
very well on that score.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: So, he acknowledges that he -- because his indictments have made it easier for him in the Republican primary. Do you think that's true? You
worked for someone who lost to him.
TROVER: 100 percent. I mean, one year ago, Donald Trump was not polling at nearly the level that he is today. The second he was indicted, you saw
those numbers start to skyrocket. It is part of the prongs. There are a few prongs there of why he is succeeding today. One of those is the ability to
go out and say, I am being unfairly prosecuted. Clearly, a lot of Republicans agree with him. That's why you see him -- I mean, ran a rout in
Iowa the other day. We are seeing new polling out in New Hampshire today that shows him up by 16 points. It is clearly a strategy that is working
HUNT: Mo, how do you think that this ultimately -- I mean, it does seem to have -- and look, argue with me if you think that this Republican race
isn't over. But, I mean, having been in New Hampshire where Nikki Haley has like the best shot to take him on anywhere. Even there, it seems -- I mean,
all the smart people I've talked to have said this is - Trump is going to win. We'll see if that bears out. But, if Trump is going to be the nominee,
I mean, how do you see it playing out in a general election? Is this like a phenomenon that continues? Or is it one where independents and swing voters
don't react the same way?
ELLEITHEE: No. I think it does -- I think it is a little bit different, right, within the context of the Republican primary. Lance would correct me
if I'm wrong here. But, look, Republicans within the Republican echo chamber, that's all they heard, right, was that Trump was a victim of a
two-tiered system of justice. And nobody really, truly offered a counterargument to that within the Republican echo chamber. In fact, most
of his opponents actually stood up and defended him. That's not going to be the case in a general election. And independent voters and certainly
Democrats are not going to buy into that argument the way Republican primary voters did.
What it will do -- now, the Biden campaign has to be a little careful in how they focus on this because they don't want to give oxygen to that
argument that this is a politicized prosecution. But, at the same time, it does remind people of the chaos that is Donald Trump. And at a time when
people are struggling, at a time when people are looking to move the economy forward, when they're worried about reproductive rights, when
they're worried about all these other issues --
ELLEITHEE: -- Trump will be dominating the headlines around all these legal troubles. And I do think people are going to be exhausted by it.
HUNT: Interesting. So, there is one other thing I want to talk about, and it doesn't necessarily tie directly into -- well, you'll see when I show
you. Ben Carson -- I mean, maybe it does honestly explain a little bit of why Donald Trump is kind of romping through the Republican primary right
now because it seems like this is how a lot of his supporters may think of him. Here is Ben Carson. I'm just going to -- I'm not even going to explain
it. Just watch it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. BEN CARSON, FORMER TRUMP SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT: Well, you think (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY) and King David, most of those
people, probably if they were alive back in those days, would say, Oh, what a horrible guy. The episode with Bathsheba and some of the --
NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS HOST: Right.
CARSON: -- other things that he did. And yet, he was a man after God's own heart. God uses different people for different times. You need somebody
with a Manhattan business type of personality to deal with an administrative state. When he is not being attacked, he is a wonderful
person. Everybody, I think, would love him.
CAVUTO: For the record, you're comparing him to King David and that worked out well (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY) as another King David. Right?
CARSON: I don't know about him, King. But, certainly, he has some policies that are very worthwhile.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: So funny. Neil Cavuto was looking at him like -- so, really -- King David, really? So - -I mean, I guess it's not Jesus Christ. So, he could
have gotten that far. But, like when I talked to people when I was on the ground in Iowa, so many of them who are religious, like, I don't know that
-- there is a reason why Ben Carson like, Yeah, you think about the Bible. Think about King David. Think about Donald Trump. Like, what is going on?
AMIRI: I mean, I don't think you need to go that far outside of Washington if you listen to Speaker Mike Johnson, a very religious-minded --
AMIRI: -- person. He also was asked today if Biden's presidency is God's will and if he would be reelected, by a reporter, and he mentioned that God
is working to give us a better option in the New Year and in the election. So, I mean, it is really interesting the continuous ties. I think he is
maybe one of the most least religious presidents we've had.
HUNT: I think it was two Corinthians he referred to at one point.
HUNT: Again, I mean --
AMIRI: Yeah. I mean, if you look at -- if you compare him --
HUNT: (Inaudible) Corinthians.
AMIRI: -- if you compare him with Biden just his -- his rival right now, I mean, Biden is an extremely more personally religious man, but there are
not these comparisons with him.
HUNT: Yeah. Go ahead.
TROVER: Yeah. I just want to add. I was watching you this morning and I saw the segment of the guy who has the Trump shop in a town of like 500 people.
TROVER: I mean, this is the fervor and the loyalty with which he commands and gets out of -- people out there. You were just on the ground. I
certainly saw it in Iowa and New Hampshire. And these are people he brings up, people who don't normally vote. And that's why at the end of the day,
he is someone who cannot be underestimated.
TROVER: Now, whether he is the King David stuff, I don't know about that. But, it's a reminder to me of how loyal his following is.
HUNT: I mean, Lance, just briefly -- I mean, you tried to run against him, right, with Governor Burgum. Like does -- did that Governor Burgum -- or do
any of these people have any hope if this is the kind of thing that people use, these are the kinds of words people used to talk about Trump. Like,
kind of no wonder he is winning, I guess, is what I think.
TROVER: Again, the fierceness and the loyalty that he has in the base out there is unlike I think anything we've seen in quite some time.
AMIRI: But, is that a New Hampshire voter?
HUNT: Right. Well, New Hampshire is kind of a different thing.
HUNT: But, the fact that people are saying, well, it's a secular electorate. Sure, I take your points, less religious than Iowa. But, that
said, I think that the fervor for Trump is both religious and secular. It's celebrity. It's a whole lot of different things.
All right. Nikki Haley is going to join Jake Tapper for a Republican presidential town hall tomorrow night at New England College in Henniker,
New Hampshire. That's at 9 p.m. Eastern. Don't miss that. And -- all right. Just a reminder, we are on CNN Max. We are on CNN International.
So, we're going to take a very brief detour and cover some breaking news on the Royal family. Kensington Palace says the Princess of Wales, Catherine,
is in the hospital after an abdominal surgery that was planned. A Royal source now tells us that she is expected to recover at home as soon as she
is discharged. King Charles, meanwhile, planning to be treated next week for an enlarged prostate. That is also according to Kensington Palace.
Let's get straight to CNN's Max Foster. Max, always love to see you. This is a bit of a detour that I was not really prepared for today. But, I will
say, it does sound like what happened, especially with Kate, is particularly serious, considering the length of her expected hospital stay.
What do we know and not know about her condition at this point?
MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: We're only being told planned abdominal surgery, and it went ahead as planned, and a source adding to
that to me that it's non-cancerous. Apart from that, we just know that she is expected to be in hospital for up to two weeks, and then in recuperation
for two months, possibly three months. So, a big recuperation here. She is a senior Royal, got full private care, of course, and best medical care. I
don't know what the explanation is for that period of recovery because we don't know exactly what the surgery was. There was some concern about it.
But then they confirmed it wasn't cancerous. She is out of action now, obviously, for public engagements, and they've also canceled all of the
future travel as well.
So, as far as the princess is concerned, there is concern, but they are saying she is recovering as much as she could, and she is very fit and
healthy. Does a lot of sports. So, if anyone is in a position to be able to recover, it probably is her.
HUNT: No. For sure. And I just -- I have to -- I can't help but think about her three children. She is their mother and they must be very worried about
her. So, we do wish her a speedy recovery. Just briefly, Max, the King, what's his condition like?
FOSTER: Yes. So, treatment for an enlarged prostate. His condition is benign, but he will attend hospital next week, saying that he did want to
announce it because he had a big engagement tomorrow in Scotland with cabinet ministers. He didn't want them to travel all the way up there
unnecessarily, and also to raise awareness that men should get themselves checked.
HUNT: Fair enough. Max Foster, I'll take any excuse to have you on the show. So, thank you --
FOSTER: Thanks for having me.
HUNT: -- very much for that. I'm also a fan of the Royal family.
FOSTER: Sorry to not do any politics.
HUNT: We haven't really talked about that very much, which is kind of odd for us. But, thank you. I'll see you soon, my friend.
FOSTER: Take care.
HUNT: All right. Coming up next, the probability of Donald Trump at the top of the GOP ticket and what that means for the future of his party. Former
Republican Presidential Candidate Will Hurd joins us up next.
HUNT: Welcome back. With a commanding victory in Iowa and very favorable polls in next week's New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump is the
frontrunner, clearly, to win the Republican nomination. He calls his primary opponents a waste of time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Nikki Haley, in particular, is counting on the Democrats and liberals to infiltrate your Republican primary. You know that. That's
what's happening. We have these two people. We really got to get back on to Biden and beating the Democrats and not wasting a lot of time with these
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: All right. Joining us now, former Republican Presidential Candidate, Will Hurd, who dropped out of the 2024 race in October and has endorsed
Nikki Haley. Congressman, thanks for being here.
WILL HURD, FORMER U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, & FORMER U.S. HOUSE REPUBLICAN: Always a pleasure to be on with you.
HUNT: So, let me ask you about Nikki Haley. What's your assessment of her performance in Iowa, and whether it means she still has any shot at
derailing Donald Trump's march to the nomination?
HURD: She absolutely still has a shot to derail Donald Trump. She picked up delegates in Iowa. That was the plan and continue the momentum you're
seeing in a place like New Hampshire. A lot of the polling has Nikki within a tide or above Donald Trump. There was a recent poll out today that was
most likely an outlier. But, the momentum is real on the ground in a place like New Hampshire. And she is going to continue to do what she has always
done. She is going to talk about issues people care about. She is going to talk about how you get healthcare under control for yourself, for your
aging parents, for your kids. She is going to talk about how do we win wars in Europe and the Middle East?
And so, yeah, the voting hasn't stopped. And guess what? In Iowa, less than 15 percent of Republican -- registered Republicans came out to vote. Donald
Trump got half of that, 7.5 percent of registered Republicans. If we have more people come out to vote, then we're going to have better options in
November. So, any of your people watching this, if you know people in New Hampshire and South Carolina and Nevada and those Super Tuesday states,
voting matters. Get out to vote. This is not decided.
HUNT: So, Congressman, the only thing, though, is that New Hampshire is in fact an outlier compared to the rest of the map, and that undeclared voters
can participate. Nikki Haley, being that high in polls, requires a large number of undeclared voters in that sample. By far and away, the rest,
starting in South Carolina, most of them are closed. It's going to be Republicans. I don't see any evidence there that Republicans are prepared
to back someone other than Donald Trump. I mean, if she -- even if she were to win in New Hampshire, she is far behind in her home state of South
Carolina. I mean, if she -- does she need to win New Hampshire to keep going?
HURD: Winning New Hampshire is great. That's what the -- that she is planning on doing. That's what she is working towards. She has organization
in all these other places. Her momentum is real.
Winning in New Hampshire adds additional momentum, additional resources to be able to add to ad campaigns. And so, a lot can happen in a short period
of time. And the reality is this. There is still half of Republicans who want someone other than Donald Trump. And Republicans that like Donald
Trump also recognize that he has come with a lot of baggage. What'd he do after winning Iowa? He didn't go to Disneyland. He had to go sit in a
court, which he is -- and again today, because of all the myriad of issues. And Republican voters are also realizing that we want to stop this trend
that we've seen for the last two decades. And that's the inability of the GOP to win the public of a national election vote, right?
HURD: And Nikki Haley has the best choice of doing that. People are realizing that. You all in the media are talking about that, about how she
beats Joe Biden by a bigger number. And that's going to lead to improve chances of retaining the House, making sure we take the Senate back, and
it's going to impact statewide races as well too when you have someone on the top of the ticket. That improves our chances up and down the ballot.
HUNT: Yeah. So, Congressman, we learned from the entrance polls of Iowa that one in three of these Republican voters who, as you point out, some of
the most conservative we're going to hear from in mass throughout this primary process, let alone the general election process, one in three of
them say that a conviction for Donald Trump would be disqualifying. And I talked to -- I've talked to sources who look at this, honestly, sources who
would be happy to see who wants to see Donald Trump get reelected. And they look at this and they say there is no way that he can be because of this,
because if this many Republicans are not willing to support him in this. Do you agree with that? And do you think that that number would change
significantly if Donald Trump were to become the nominee? Could he convince those people that it didn't matter?
HURD: I don't think you can convince that, because all you're going to see from the Democrats and Joe Biden is focusing on this, talking about this,
and showing this baggage. You're probably going to have revelations from these court cases when people like his former Chief of Staff and the former
senior lawyer, you're going to see some of that kind of information come out. So, yes, if a third of the Republicans are not willing to vote for
Donald Trump, that's disastrous for the GOP.
And again, it's not just this -- continuing to lose national elections and not taking the White House back. This is going to have repercussions up and
down the ballot. And so, people that want to see conservative leadership to ensure that we do tackle these generational defining challenges that we
face in America, we need a real leader. And that's, in my opinion, is Nikki Haley.
HURD: Nobody wants a rematch from hell between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. And the best option is ensuring that more people go out to vote, so that
now during these primaries, so we have better options in November.
HUNT: Are you one of those people? Do you believe that if Donald Trump were convicted in his election subversion trial, but that would be disqualifying
for him to be President of the United States?
HURD: Yes. I'm one of those people. Like, I've never been a big fan of Donald Trump. So -- but, the way we do that --
HUNT: Would you vote for Joe Biden?
HURD: -- and the way we -- say that again.
HUNT: Would you vote for Joe Biden if Donald Trump was the nominee under those circumstances?
HURD: I'm voting for Nikki Haley, and that's my plan to be able to vote for her on -- here in Texas in March, and then do that in November. That's who
I'm focused on. And I'm going to do everything I can to help make sure we have a next generational leader like Nikki Haley on the ballot.
HUNT: And if she is not an option. Could you vote for Trump if he is on the ballot in November? Could you vote for him?
HURD: I'm not going to answer hypothetical questions, and I'm focusing on right now. I haven't voted for Donald Trump before, haven't voted for
HURD: So, that's unlikely to change my opinion going into the future.
HUNT: All right. Fair enough. I do appreciate that. Will Hurd, thank you very much for the conversation. I do hope you'll come back. It's going to
be quite a year, I think.
All right. Up next here, President Joe Biden and congressional leaders are meeting today at the White House with the top of the agenda, solving the
border crisis. What voters think about that, ahead.
HUNT: Welcome back to State of the Race. I'm Kasie Hunt. We're live in Washington. In just a few hours, President Joe Biden will hold what's
expected to be a contentious meeting at the White House to try to cut an immigration deal that Republicans are demanding in exchange for sending aid
to Ukraine. According to recent polling, Biden has a border problem with nearly seven in 10 disapproving of how he is handling it. And polling shows
that 50 percent of voters think Donald Trump would do a better job than President Biden on handling this issue.
Let's get back to our panel. Farnoush, you cover this closely every day on Capitol Hill. Let me show you what the House Speaker Johnson had to say
this morning ahead of this meeting planned for the afternoon. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): Before we even talk about Ukraine, I'm going to tell the President when I'm telling all of you, and we've told the American
people: Border, border, border. We have to take care of our own house. We have to secure our own border before we talk about doing anything else. And
that's the message I've had since day one. It's the message we'll continue to have. And I think that's the message the American people want us to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Do you see -- how do you see this playing out? I mean, are they going to get there? The Biden administration has made significant concessions on
policy. But, I've also heard Republicans say out loud, they don't want to help the President on this.
AMIRI: Yeah. So, I mean, the Senate Republicans and House Republicans are operating into alternate universes on this. Right? Senate Republicans are
saying this is our one opportunity. Even with a Republican-controlled Senate, we will not get something like this passed into law. We have these
good faith negotiations that have been going on for months. Why not take this issue and run with it? But, House Republicans, like Speaker Johnson,
are saying nothing but H.R. 2, which is obviously dead on arrival in the Senate.
HUNT: That's the House bill that has --
HUNT: -- a number of draconian --
AMIRI: Extreme asylum --
AMIRI: -- restrictions. Yeah. But, I mean, the message that's going to have, like the message that Johnson is going to take and that Biden is
going to respond is that, first of all, Ukraine is, for him, the issue that the Hill (ph) he is going to die on, for the President. But, he is not
going to -- Johnson is not going to give without major, major, especially asylum and parole restrictions.
HUNT: Right. So, let's come back around to why they decided to do this, in a minute. But, Mo, the bottom line is this is a really big problem for
President Biden, the situation at the border. You see it in the polling numbers. Democrats will acknowledge it privately. When you talk about what
the Governor of Texas has been doing, Abbott, bussing migrants to blue states, overwhelming systems to the point that the Illinois Governor, who
is a Democrat, the mayors of Chicago, New York City, are basically saying to the federal government, this is a huge problem.
What should the White House be doing right now, especially considering -- I mean, they may not be able to get these policy change. I mean, my reporting
says that the White House would actually like to do something about this because it would solve a political problem in addition to the actual
problem, or at least help the actual problem. But, it doesn't seem like Republicans are going to give it to him.
ELLEITHEE: No. They're not, and it's an opportunity for the -- if that is the case, if nothing gets done because Republicans aren't going to give it
to them, then expect this conversation in the campaign to get even messier, right, because the White House will make this point. We actually made
concessions. We actually put money in the budget. They're already starting to do it, attacking Republicans for voting against the President's request
for additional border security funds and more Border Patrol agents. The White House can actually make an argument that Republicans -- when they
came to the table in good faith to make a deal, Republicans stood in the way for political reasons. And as you pointed out, Kasie, they're all but
Now, does that mean he is going to win on immigration? No. But, does he muddied the waters in the middle of a campaign that's already going to be
super muddy? Maybe. I think what the President really wants is to get a deal passed, to be able to say, I got something done, and Republicans can
take the wind as well, saying, we pushed him to get something done.
HUNT: What's your opinion?
TROVER: I think the problem the White House has here is that they have spent three years basically ignoring this issue, at least in the eyes of a
lot of voters. You're seeing that play out now. That's why these numbers are where they are today. You can't spend three years resending policies
that were meant to stop the flow at the border, berating reporters when they get asked about it in the White House press room about this, and
pretending there is no issue. And now, suddenly, it's a defining issue for this White House. I think that's the problem they're facing here, beyond
the fact that I've never understood why the House wasn't involved in these negotiations in the first place, because getting it through there was
always going to be the most difficult thing.
HUNT: Yeah. I mean, I think, to your point, and Mo, I'm kind of interested, I mean, when you think about Donald Trump, his message on immigration is
extraordinarily clear, build the wall, right? Three words. Every American in the country associates people with that, and frankly, opinions on the
wall have evolved in Donald Trump's direction. Is Lance right about the way the White House has failed to focus on this up until now?
ELLEITHEE: Look, it was not the focus of the administration earlier on. Maybe you could make the argument that it could have been or should have
been. But, I do think a couple of things. One, you're right, build a wall, super easy to remember it. And while he is getting -- gotten some traction
on it, he hasn't gotten everybody on board with that. There are a lot of people out there that say --
ELLEITHEE: -- the wall is not enough. There are a lot of people out there saying we do need more Border Patrol agents, saying other things that Trump
is not saying. Number two, and this is going to be an important question, I think, for us all to watch, how much of a motivator will this be with
independent voters at the ballot box? Right? Yes. The numbers may not look great for the President. But, when voter -- independent voters go into the
ballot box, will it be one of the top two issues that actually mobilizes them? We know it will for Republicans.
HUNT: Actually, I have that. Poll, most important issue. Most important problem facing America today, number one, inflation, 29 percent, number
two, immigration and border --
HUNT: -- 21 percent.
ELLEITHEE: So, will that hold as this campaign continues, or when abortion becomes more focused in the campaign? Will it become -- will that --
HUNT: It is interesting to me abortion is not on that list, actually.
ELLEITHEE: And so, as the campaign progresses and Biden is out there driving his message home and Trump is out there, that's when you start to
see those issues fluctuate. We've seen lots of campaigns where the issues that were top of mind in January ended up being further down the list.
HUNT: COVID --
ELLEITHEE: In November --
HUNT: -- remember how COVID happened in March of 2020, and no one had any idea. We're going to be talking about it in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Farnoush, sort of big picture, I mean, why did they put border security with Ukraine? I mean, I sort of intellectually know like the White House
thought, oh, we can give them what they want on the border and we'll get what we want on Ukrainian. And it seems like the Senate Republicans said,
oh, yeah, that sounds great. And the House was like, nope.
AMIRI: Yeah. I mean, it's -- it brought together these different coalitions. Right? There is a number of Republicans, whether you believe it
or not, in the House, including, obviously the majority of Republicans in the Senate, who believe that this fight between Russia and Ukraine is a
fight for this generation and for democracy and for what we're trying to do in the U.S. And then, on the other hand, the border, as you said, has
become a huge campaign issue. Right? And for Senate Republicans who don't have to campaign every two years, this is a really nice way for them in six
years or whenever their terms end to be able to say, I did this. Right? Bipartisan wins matter more in the Senate and help win elections than they
do in the House.
But -- I mean, those are colliding right now. Those different interests from Republicans in the two different chambers are colliding right now.
Whether the White House can gives them what immigration advocates are saying, major, major concessions that they are not OK with, the
progressives are not OK with, that will completely alter how the Biden administration and the U.S. government is handling immigration. Will they
give them that in return for Ukraine aid, which Biden has said is the number one priority for him right now?
HUNT: Right. Yeah. Mo, at the end of the day, is it better for Democrats to put more restrictive policies in place at the border?
ELLEITHEE: I think reaching a deal on this only helps Joe Biden come November. End of story. I think Republicans run the risk of overplaying
their hand, particularly House Republicans, right, because I do think the President and Senate Republicans are actually --
HUNT: Not that far apart.
ELLEITHEE: -- legitimately --
ELLEITHEE: -- interested in reaching a deal. House Republicans run the risk, which I think we all can acknowledge. They have a tendency to do
overplaying their hand, killing a deal, and then having the tables turned on them as the campaign (inaudible).
AMIRI: But then, what's going to be the campaign issue, right? If border is handled before November --
ELLEITHEE: Which is right.
ELLEITHEE: This is the point. Republicans would rather keep it.
AMIRI: Yeah. Yeah.
ELLEITHEE: House Republicans --
AMIRI: House Republicans.
ELLEITHEE: -- and Donald Trump would rather keep it a campaign issue than actually deal with it, and that could come back to bite them come November.
HUNT: Do you have a final the last word?
TROVER: This is a real problem for this White House, and that's why they're trying to make a deal desperately. That's what we're seeing right now, I
guess, leaning into that you're saying.
HUNT: I do not disagree with that.
TROVER: It's a real problem for them.
HUNT: All right. The New Hampshire primary, as we've said, just six days away. Ahead, I'm going to speak with a Republican strategist. Everyone who
has covered the Granite State knows from his time with presidential candidates, including Romney and Marco Rubio, Jim Merrill joins us up next.
HUNT: Welcome back. Six days before the New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump has consistently led there, but the latest CNN poll that was, we should
note, taken before Iowa and before Chris Christie dropped out, don't show Haley within striking distance of Trump, it seems.
Joining us now to break this down, Republican strategist Jim Merrill. He worked on both in the Romney's New Hampshire presidential primary bids.
Jim, it's great to see you, if only through the TV. I'm sorry. I missed you when I was there. I was only there for like five hours yesterday, but I
will be back on Monday. Let's catch up then. But, in the meantime, tell us how you see the lay of the land right now. I mean, considering how dominant
Trump was in Iowa, do you think that Haley has any chance to win?
JIM MERRILL, U.S. REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, & DIRECTED MITT ROMNEY'S NEW HAMPSHIRE PRIMARY BIDS: I think she has a chance. I think she has a chance.
But, look, it's an uphill climb, to be sure. As you know, Trump came into this cycle as the -- effectively, the incumbent, right? And so, he came in
with all those benefits and a base that knew him, and that loved him. And it seemed -- as we've seen throughout the cycle, this remains strongly with
him. The results in Iowa, although a small turnout, it's hard to ignore. That was an impressive night for him.
New Hampshire is a different electorate, as you know. And so -- and Haley has been growing here slowly but steadily over the last several months. She
has put a lot of time into this New Hampshire. She campaigned here the right way. And she has been rewarded with the base of support that grew
with her debate performances, and obviously, Chris Sununu's endorsement in December. So, she has a chance. But, make no mistake, Donald Trump is still
king of the hill in New Hampshire.
HUNT: Yeah. I mean, that was honestly obvious just from looking around, the way that people - - another one of your colleagues told me it's the
difference between getting real estate in people's yards and real estate on the right away, right? The other campaigns have to put signs up on the
highways, and Trump has nailed to people's barns.
Jim, can you explain a little bit about where you see the undeclared segment of the electorate breaking this time in terms of how many of them
actually vote in the Republican primary? Because some of this polling that shows Haley close to Trump seems to rely on a massive number of
undeclared's (ph) coming into the Republican primary. Do you see that happening, and what do you think that says about Haley?
MERRILL: Yeah. I do see that happening. We've seen in cycles past, undeclared voters typically flocked where the action is. And so, we can go
back in time and look at different cycles when one side had activity and other didn't. In 2000 with the McCain-Bush and then Bradley and Gore, Bill
Bradley did a pretty good job of hanging on to that undeclared vote for a time but down the stretch faded. And so, that energy really migrated over
to John McCain. And so, I think this time, notwithstanding Dean Phillips's efforts, there is -- he is really not been able to make that happen. There
is not much interest or enthusiasm on that side.
So, what the clerics will, I think, to the extent they vote, they will vote in the Republican primary. And Nikki Haley has made pitches for them. She
has done that through, I think, the way she has campaigned, what she has talked about. And it says -- what it says to me is she is trying to build a
broad coalition, which is what you try and do in New Hampshire. Her theory of the case has been to do that versus what Trump or DeSantis have done.
But, as you pointed out, you're absolutely right. The states that fall in New Hampshire are constructed differently. Closed primaries, a different
set of circumstances.
So, I think she has campaigned smartly for New Hampshire. And she has put herself at least within shouting distance. Pulling off will be a real
upset. But, it does depend heavily on having undeclared voters who do vote and oftentimes can be conservative, just not affiliated with a party, come
out next Tuesday.
HUNT: Yeah. So, Haley has also kind of rolled out this new message. She did it kind of on her way out of Iowa, that looks at Trump and Biden, and the -
- what she calls the nightmare Trump-Biden rematch. I want to show you a little bit of what she had to say on the trail up in New Hampshire
yesterday, and then ask you about it. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HALEY: When we know it's a head to head, you heard me last night say, look, we have a choice. Are we going to do more of the same? Are we going to go
forward? And more of the same is not just Donald Trump. It's Joe Biden. Both of them are exactly the same. They're both in their 80s. They both put
us trillions of dollars in debt. They both are dealing with investigations that are distractions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: I'm sure I'm interested in the timing of her starting to do this, make this argument. It wasn't one that I really heard from her before.
What's your take on it, and do you think it's going to be effective in the next six days?
MERRILL: Yeah. It's awfully late in the game to make that argument. And it's interesting. Just two days ago, I heard a radio -- a Haley radio spot
that was making roughly the same argument, but it's focused just on Biden, and that was clearly an old ad still in rotation. Look, I think that when
the story of the cycle is written, one of the pieces of it are going to be how candidates avoided touching Trump, avoided contrasting him and working
in message (ph) against him to draw people away, to draw that segment of the electorate that is Trump friendly, that likes Trump and is interested
in him, but is ready to move on. There is a portion of that, and I think the same is true that vote early on. Ramaswamy has drawn that voter on, and
Haley to some degree.
It's awfully late in the game to roll him in now and to make that case. You just -- you're literally talking about hours that you have left. So, I
think it's an effective message. But, a, it's breaking late, and b, we know the base really likes Trump, and I'm not sure they're open to hearing that.
HUNT: Yeah. I mean, if you -- I mean, Jim, if you were advising her in New Hampshire, would you -- do you think that it would have made sense for her
to do that earlier? Would she be in a stronger position in New Hampshire? Or would that have kind of impacted -- I mean, she did make a late plea for
Iowa as well. I mean, how would you be handling this vise that candidates are in?
MERRILL: Yeah. I mean, look, you're in between a rock and a hard place, because we all know, our instincts tell us, to earn a vote, you've got to
draw contrast. Why my candidates are better than your candidate and bring them over? And that's difficult because, as we've seen, candidates that
draw those sharp contrast with Trump are often punished. And look, Chris Christie punched Trump in the face every day here in New Hampshire for nine
months. And that got him 12 percent and a pocket watch into retirement. So, that clearly wasn't the right approach. And I think at this point, clearly,
part of Haley's message and part of what I think makes her interesting to people is she isn't next generation. I mean, speaking as a Gen Xer, I'd
love to see a fellow Gen Xer have a chance at leading here. I think -- I worry we're going to miss that opportunity.
But, it's late in the game to do that. I think she has done a great job, building herself, to get herself into striking distance. I mean, that was a
big hill to climb. She has got another one to climb now over the next six days. So, we'll see. But, it's -- I think what I've been telling you, to
win New Hampshire, you've got to run like you're running for Governor of New Hampshire. And that really is the way. She has got to approach this
with an --
MERRILL: -- appealing message with the grassroots approach, and run like the three boats down the three minutes to go. There is no time to waste.
HUNT: All right. We shall see soon enough. Jim Merrill, thanks so much for being here. I hope to catch you next week.
MERRILL: Thanks, Kasie.
HUNT: All right. It's time for a quick break here. But, stay with us. The panel is going to come back with one more thing.
HUNT: Welcome back to State of the Race. My panel rejoins me. Before we go, we always ask for one more thing on the trail or in Washington they're
watching for in the coming days. 30 seconds. Mo, what you will be watching?
ELLEITHEE: Well, everyone was paying attention to the voting in Iowa and coming up in New Hampshire. There was yet another important election this
week down in Florida, special election, House District 35, a Republican seat that flipped to blue where Democrat Tom Keen beat Republican Erika
Booth in a district that Ron DeSantis won by 10 points in 2022.
ELLEITHEE: Democrats won, keeping going their streak of winning special elections in the post-Roe v. Wade era.
HUNT: Do you think that was -- I was just going to say this. That's about -
ELLEITHEE: One of the two big issues he ran on was abortion.
HUNT: Very interesting. Lance.
TROVER: I'll keep it short and sweet, one week from today. If Donald Trump -- if some of these polls are even remotely close and he wins in New
Hampshire, I mean, we're pretty much in a general election one week from today. I don't really see a path forward for anybody else.
HUNT: Yeah. No. I mean, it -- I mean, look, sitting here right now and having been up in New Hampshire, I -- it's very hard for me to disagree
HUNT: Farnoush, what are you looking for?
AMIRI: Well, Hunter Biden's attorneys and congressional investigators, Republicans, are negotiating right now. They put on hold the contempt
resolution that was set to come to the House floor this week. So, whether or not those negotiations work out or whether they'll hold a contempt vote
HUNT: Very, very interesting. So, Mo and Lance, I want to ask you about this too. My "what to watch for" is the apparatus around Ron DeSantis.
Never backed down the other super PACs that I've been supporting him and his campaign himself. I mean, how much longer, Lance, do you think that Ron
DeSantis can stay in this thing? Because how are people going to keep writing checks to him when he is down at five percent in New Hampshire, not
that 6.5 percent, I think, average in South Carolina and he came in second in Iowa?
TROVER: Well, yeah. I mean that's why I said a week from today I think the world is going to look completely different if there is a Donald Trump
blow. And it's not just for Nikki Haley. I mean, I can imagine she will stay into her home state, certainly, and try to do that. Yeah. For
DeSantis, that's a very good question. I think at that point the money slowly starts to dry up if you're not going to -- I know he is moving to
South Carolina, but I think it's going to be really difficult.
HUNT: Mo, what do you think?
ELLEITHEE: I don't see the path. There is just not a path. And I think the money is already beginning to dry up. They're willing to give him one last
shot to see if he can defy expectations in New Hampshire. But, those expectations are so low right now. I'm not sure any amount of defying will
turn things around.
HUNT: Yeah. If you're -- it's your checkbook, man. I don't know.
ELLEITHEE: That's right.
HUNT: All right. Thank you guys very much for being here on this consequential week. Thanks to all of you for watching. I'm Kasie Hunt.
That's the State of the Race for today, Wednesday, January 17. You can always follow me on Instagram and the platform formerly known as Twitter.
Don't go anywhere. One World is up next.