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State of the Race with Kasie Hunt
Trump Team Doubles Down On Claims Of Full Immunity; Trump's Legal Troubles At Center Of 2024 Race; Trump Warns Supreme Court Of "Chaos And Bedlam" If States Are Allowed To Bar Him From The Ballot. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired January 19, 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: Does the President of the United States enjoy absolute immunity? A simple question with no simple answer, at
least, not yet. Donald Trump and his lawyers argue that, yes, the President needs to be above the law. What will his claims mean for the race for the
White House? Plus, thousands gathering in Washington for the March for Life, an annual demonstration by those who oppose abortion rights. But,
reproductive rights are an issue Democrats are eager to run on in 2024. We'll discuss that ahead. And I'll be joined live by New Hampshire
Congresswoman Annie Kuster. What does she make of the fact that Joe Biden, the Democratic President, will not appear on the Democratic primary ballots
in her state?
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. It's Friday,
January 19. There are just four days until the New Hampshire primary, and only 290 days until Election Day. This is today's State of the Race.
Do U.S. presidents enjoy absolute immunity? The answer is central to Donald Trump's personal and political future. Listen to what one of his attorney
said Thursday outside a New York courthouse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORIS EPSHTEYN, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Presidents have to have civil immunity, have to have full criminal immunity, because otherwise we cannot
have a President. We cannot have a country. No President could do their job. Truman wouldn't have bombed Hiroshima, Nagasaki, if there were no
immunity. It was full criminal immunity, full civil immunity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Full civil and criminal immunity, it sounds like he is making the case that presidents should be above the law. At a CNN town hall last
night, Trump's closest challenger in the Republican primary, Nikki Haley, said that's not how it works.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do you get just total freedom to do whatever you want? No. That's never the way it was intended
to be. There needs to be accountability. No one is above the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: But, Haley also said that if she becomes President, she'd pardon Trump if he is convicted of crimes. She tried to explain why.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HALEY: I said I would pardon him with the simple reason of, you know, when you talk about a pardon, someone has already been found guilty. But, for
me, the last thing we need is an 80-year-old President sitting in jail because that's just going to further divide our country. This is no longer
about whether he is innocent or guilty. This is about the fact, how do we bring the country back together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Trump has called his numerous legal cases a witch hunt. The highest profile one is likely the election subversion case that Special Counsel
Jack Smith is leading from the Justice Department. In a CNN exclusive, Attorney General Merrick Garland, who appointed Smith, said a speedy trial
is in the public's interest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The cases were brought last year. The prosecutor has urged speeding trials, with which I agree. And this is
now in the hands of the traditional system, not in our hands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: OK. Let's dive into all of this with today's panel. Chris Kofinis is a Democratic Strategist, former Chief of Staff for Senator Joe Manchin.
Matt Gorman was a Communications Advisor for Republican Senator Tim Scott's presidential campaign, and Molly Ball is a Senior Political Correspondent
for The Wall Street Journal.
There is a lot here, Matt Gorman, this idea that -- I mean, it's jarring, right, to hear Boris Epshteyn standing out there, talking about Hiroshima
and Nagasaki. Like, it's just -- the comparison is it feels, I don't know, almost insulting to all the people that perished in that and as well as not
exactly relevant to what we're talking about here. But, I thought what Nikki Haley had to say was interesting in so much as -- she does say he is
not above the law although -- she almost struggled to say it a little bit. What do you -- what did you make of how she kind of framed this?
MATT GORMAN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR FOR TIM SCOTT CAMPAIGN: Four days before the New Hampshire primary, Nikki Haley does not want to be having a
discussion about qualified immunity, executive privilege, which is really what this is about. Right? And immunity in general. Right? So, I think what
you're seeing now is Nikki has to obviously try to make up ground in New Hampshire. It seems like she is certainly down, run on -- not just walk a
tight rope, run a tight rope, while all these other issues are trying to get her off of what she wants to be talking about, which is what she wants
You have Trump calling her Nimrada, right, her birth name, if you were trying to kind of pull her into that direction.
HUNT: Yeah. I mean, I think he has even abbreviated to Nimbra or something like that.
GORMAN: Something like that. Right. You have her trying to get deep in a pardon discussion where four days before the New Hampshire primary, she has
to be so careful not to make your campaign become all about what Trump wants her to be talking about. And that's a challenge about anyone running
against Trump in this era. When you get close to him, he starts pulling a random shiny stuff out to try and get you down rabbit holes.
GORMAN: This is one of those.
HUNT: Chris, what do you make of this conversation, kind of as the Democrat at the table and thinking about it in terms of, I mean, let's be real as
much as -- we're playing Nikki Haley soundbites because she has shot in New Hampshire. But, really, this is about Trump and Biden.
CHRIS KOFINIS, U.S DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, & FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF FOR U.S. SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: I mean, politically, it's obvious this is what we're
going to be talking about for months. We're going to be talking about policy. We're not going to be talking about national security or
unemployment or homelessness, or any of the other numerous issues that people, I think, care about, and there is a real serious debate about.
We're going to be talking about legal theory and whether he is or isn't above the law. So, in a weird kind of sick way, I almost think Trump wants
this. Right? And I know -- he doesn't want the legal consequences of it, obviously, but the fixation on him, everything is about him. And you --
there is no oxygen for anything else.
And so, from -- just like from a purely political perspective, in a primary, look, where does -- I mean, think about this. Everything in the
Republican primary was about Trump. It wasn't about them. It was about Trump.
KOFINIS: Everything in this presidential and when it's get settled, probably in the coming days, right, or not, right, it's all going to be
about Trump. And in a weird way. I almost think he revels in it.
MOLLY BALL, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yeah. I mean, I've just been in Iowa. I'm headed to New Hampshire tomorrow. And I
can confirm, Trump loves to talk about this, having seen him a couple times recently. He spends quite a bit of his time when he is speaking to the
voters, dissecting this exact argument, talking about this idea that the President needs absolute immunity. It has to do with his whole appeal to
his supporters which I think has a lot of appeal to people that only he can fix it, that he is this sort of, his detractors would say authoritarian-
type leader, who can cut through the gridlock, cut through the clutter and do things all himself, and he wants the fixation on him.
I think Chris is exactly right. This Republican primary is a referendum on Trump. It has been. And that is what his opponents want as well, right,
because they have been trying to convince a Republican electorate that it's time to move on with -- from Trump. The problem is that that's not what the
Republican electorate wants.
BALL: But, it is certainly what Joe Biden and the Democrats want. They want this general election to be a referendum on Donald Trump, not on the
unpopular current Democratic President or any of his policies or stances on issues that people aren't happy with.
GORMAN: Trump isn't running in the primaries. He is hosting them, if you will. He thinks himself as a host. Right?
HUNT: (Inaudible) party.
GORMAN: Yeah. So, he will --
HUNT: He will invite you. He will kick you out.
GORMAN: If you're (inaudible) executive, throwing the questions out to the audience, you get a response back. Everything runs through you. And so, he
relishes being in that control seat as the person who is kind of hosting this rather than being a participant in it.
KOFINIS: Yeah. I think the big -- when we kind of step aside and we get out of this Trump derangement syndrome that we all inevitably suffer from,
because this is what he does. There are some actually really serious questions here, constitutionally and otherwise. Like this case about Trump
and the role of immunity, and the limits of presidential power have enormous consequences for this country. Right?
KOFINIS: Put Trump aside. He is going to be gone at some point, may not be anytime soon, but he is going to be gone. What the Supreme Court inevitably
decides on this is going to impact this country for generations. So, this actually is a really serious case when you peel back the politics of it.
HUNT: Yeah. It's -- let me show you what -- how Trump framed this, because I think it's really relevant to the point that you're making. This is what
Donald Trump said was at stake in terms of the case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: The President of the United States, and I'm not talking about myself, I'm talking about any President, has to have
immunity, because if you take immunity away from the President, so important, you will have -- you have a President that's not going to be
able to do anything, because when he leaves office, the opposing party President, if it's the opposing party, will indict the President for doing
something that should have been good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: I mean, Chris, this goes to your point. But, I will say that it's very, very cynical in that. It's kind of the way a banana republic might
function, right, where there is no trust in the --
HUNT: -- justice system where it's understood there are kind of norms governing this. That's basically his argument.
KOFINIS: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. I mean, one, it's very self-serving interpretation of what presidential power is or isn't. But, the debate
about the so-called imperial presidency, which has been happening for decades --
KOFINIS: -- in this country about the growth and growth of presidential power, it's a real one. The -- now, I think the danger here is, now we're
going to put a even stronger constitutional definition and it's going to be the Supreme Court who does it, right, and it's going to be a conservative-
leaning Supreme Court that does it.
KOFINIS: So, even if Trump may lose at some point, that decision matters more than what impact it has on Trump.
GORMAN: Two points on that. I think, a, would Trump be saying that if it was Biden or Hillary, right, because part of his case was that they should
be prosecuted --
GORMAN: -- for that.
GORMAN: And the other part of this, you get a public more tolerant of a large presidential power, existential presidential power, the more Congress
is polarized and hamstrung.
GORMAN: They can get anything done. The only person to get something done if a President. So, that is something that I stick to.
HUNT: Yeah. We're getting into some real deep challenges --
HUNT: -- in our system.
BALL: I just think, another thing that this whole discussion has done is refocus attention away from the conduct at issue, right? The thing that
Trump is being prosecuted for is not ordering a bombing on a foreign country or making some sort of presidential decision that was in pursuit of
a particular policy. It was trying to stay in power illegitimately.
BALL: It was trying to overturn an election. And that is at heart what this is really about.
HUNT: Yeah. I mean, Chris, can they make -- I mean, it -- that actually really was my question listening to me. I mean, can they make a distinction
here? I mean, that does seem like an option that the Supreme Court has on the table. There is a distinction between immunity in the case of, what
Molly just outlined, making policy decisions, doing the things that you have to do when you are President of the United States. And then also, on
the other hand, trying to actively subvert the will of the people of the United States.
KOFINIS: I mean, in theory, yes. Right? They should be able to.
KOFINIS: I mean, I think there is a valid argument to say that the Commander in Chief role is a different role constitutionally and otherwise.
But, again, we're kind of walking into constitutionally uncharted territory, not because we -- these arguments are not valid. You cannot have
a President who literally is above the law, can do anything. You're essentially a dictatorship. But, they're going to have to draw the lines,
and those lines become very dangerous for this country down the road, whether it's Trump in office or anyone else.
BALL: Well, and to the point about subverting trust and subverting institutions, right, I mean, we should have an answer from the Supreme
Court on this relatively soon. And if it doesn't go Trump's way, he is just going to spend the entire election campaigning against the Supreme Court
and eroding trust in yet another of our country's most important institutions.
HUNT: Yeah. And we didn't even get to Merrick Garland having to talk about keeping politics out of all of this because that's what he is saying. It's
obviously not what Donald Trump is saying or what many Americans are starting to believe, at least not the ones that listen to Trump.
All right. The clock is ticking down to the New Hampshire primary, and Ron DeSantis is doing something candidates almost never do in the middle of the
race and definitely never do if they are going to stay in it. He is publicly talking about the mistakes his campaign made along the way.
HUNT: One year ago, polls showed Ron DeSantis had a chance to legitimately challenge Donald Trump for the nomination. But now, after a second place
finish in Iowa, he is running far behind Donald Trump and Nikki Haley in next up primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina. And even though he
is still officially in the race, he is reflecting about what went wrong. Here is what he told radio host Hugh Hewitt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RON DESANTIS, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (VIA TELEPHONE): I came in not really doing as much media. I should have just been blanketing.
I should have gotten on all the corporate shows. I should have gone on everything. I started doing that as we got into the end of the summer, and
we did it. But we had an opportunity, I think, to come out of the gate and do that and reach a much broader folk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: All right. Our panel is back with us. Matt Gorman, I got to tell you, I know that there were people that were telling Ron DeSantis that that's
what he needed to do at the time, and he ignored them. And I'm kind of -- I'm curious what you think as somebody who tried to -- who ran against him
when you worked on Tim Scott's campaign. I feel like I learned early in my career that it's -- the candidate matters, right? The candidate sets the
tone even when there are empowered people making decisions. Everything that a campaign does is a reflection of the man or the woman at the top. And
this set of decisions really seems to have been a reflection of what Ron DeSantis himself wanted to do. Do you -- like, how badly did this campaign
go, and why did it go that way?
GORMAN: It's a common question. I think to the first point, Ron DeSantis wasn't competing against Donald Trump. It was the platonic ideal of Ron
DeSantis. Right? Ron DeSantis in the -- his entire expectation is competing against Donald Trump a year ago, beating him possibly. It is a tempting
thing in our party to want to bypass the media and really just go straight to the voters, use owned media, so to speak. I think that's -- it's
tempting, but it's really not where I think a lot of the voters are.
And you're absolutely right. When you have folks coming from governors of state, senators, what have you, right, everybody -- it's like you're -- the
valedictorian of your high school and you're all applying to Harvard. Everyone thinks what they did is very special, important, different, and
they rely on that past experience to get them there. But, they realize very quickly there is a lot of other people like them. They might be more
talented. They might be less talented. But, you're obviously competing in a smaller pond. It's not the same.
HUNT: Right. I mean -- and it's -- it is just a crucible. I mean, everyone I've covered who has come into this process thinking like they know how to
do it all, they have no idea what the planet (ph) form is like. Chris, you seem anxious to get in. Like --
KOFINIS: Well, I've talked about this, especially with other political operative friends of mine for years, because people think that running for
President is the same as running for governor or running for Senate, especially from a big state. Well, Florida is a big state. Right? I mean,
how much harder can it be?
HUNT: Look at this stage I can stand on.
KOFINIS: It is incredibly different, right --
KOFINIS: -- because of the stakes, because of the issues, because the debate, the dynamic, especially in this race. I mean, it was absolutely
logical to me just looking at this as objectively as I could, why DeSantis? If you're going to challenge a Godzilla-like Donald Trump who is such a
force and just attracts attention, why would you have waited as long as he did to get in the race?
KOFINIS: What were you waiting for?
KOFINIS: And so, that -- from that, I think, to how he ran was one illogical step after another. But, I would caution to say this, but even if
I was being kind of like even more fair to DeSantis, even Haley, right --
HUNT: Or generous.
KOFINIS: -- or generous, that's probably a better way of putting it, I'm not sure even the most perfect campaign could have changed the dynamics of
HUNT: Right. It would have taken one, and even then it's not to say it would have worked.
KOFINIS: Yeah, exactly.
HUNT: Yeah. So, Molly, you have a specialty of kind of digging into the people and writing about them in a way that I have always loved.
And this is what the POLITICO magazine had to say about DeSantis' campaign and the man himself. They wrote "The candidate did not match the hype. He
was less than advertised. In person, he was a diminutive politician. The campaign introduced him to the nation as a bright but socially awkward
introvert, a nerd who did not enjoy people, which was a problem since voters tend to be people."
What do you make of that? I mean, DeSantis did -- he -- look, he has gotten better on the stump. I mean, when you see him in Iowa, like he is a
different guy than the candidate I saw him running for governor and kind of in his early campaign stops, that disastrous launch on Twitter. Part of me
wonders, a lot of Republican nominees have actually been people that have run for President more than once because they learned a lot the first time
around. They get better. They do it again. They actually win the nomination. But, this was not a guy, I don't think, that anyone had a lot
of confidence would come out of the gate as an extraordinarily strong candidate in person. What role do you think that played, and how this went?
BALL: Well, look, I think it's possible that we're making too much of Ron DeSantis' personal defects, right? A lot of voters -- a lot of Republican
voters still like him very much. They just don't like him as much as Trump. And a lot of -- you will hear a lot if you're out on the campaign trail. I
think the guy would have been great for 2028. I just wish he would have waited in line because they just didn't want to put him above Trump. The
HUNT: So, why was he polling above Trump in the beginning and then --
BALL: Because he must have known before turning the page and then they weren't. Right. And --
HUNT: Right. But, that has to do -- that has to do -- have something to do with DeSantis --
HUNT: -- the person. Right?
BALL: Yes. And look, the problem was not DeSantis' media strategy. The problem was hubris. Right? It's a cliche. I'm sure my consultant friends
here have said it many times, politics is addition, not subtraction. And so, anytime you were saying, no, I don't need you, I don't want you, even
if it's to the dreaded corporate media, and so, of course, we in the corporate media are going to be taking a bit of a victory lap about him
saying this, but it's true. Voters want to get to know you as a person. And Ron DeSantis has never been comfortable in that space. He is still, to this
day, he has gotten much better as a candidate. He still doesn't like to talk about himself to share who he is as a person.
Say what you will about Donald Trump. There is plenty to say. But, people feel like they know him. They really do. And he lets people in in that way,
and that's not something that Ron DeSantis has been comfortable doing.
HUNT: Right. Let me ask you, Matt, about all the money that's been lit on fire, because there has been a lot of it in the DeSantis campaign. So,
POLITICO continues to write here. One way to determine who will win the Republican nomination is to ask the biggest GOP donors what they think, and
bet the opposite. The rich men north of Richmond", as they write, who fund the GOP are completely clueless regarding the views and aspirations of
working-class Republican voters. Money can buy cowboy boots. Money can buy trips on private jets. Money cannot buy love in a presidential race. I feel
like we have learned this lesson over and over again.
GORMAN: We were at least learning. Like consultants refuse to learn it because it's more profitable for them --
HUNT: They can keep making money.
GORMAN: -- not to learn it. Look, money is important, but it's not the first driver. Money doesn't lead, then polls follow. It's the reverse.
Right? How many times -- I thought we learned this in 2016. I worked for Jeb Bush.
HUNT: Right. $100 million.
GORMAN: Super PACs cannot run campaigns.
GORMAN: Actual campaign has to be run. Super PACs have a role. They're the place kicker. They're not the quarterback of this thing. Right? Having
access to the candidate, being able to be with the candidate, that is what matters. Super PACs are an additive. They're not a substitute for the
campaign. Consoles refused to learn because it's, again, it's more profitable for them not to. But, that is something, again, DeSantis will
have to learn it. And we'll have this exact same discussion probably four years from now when somebody thinks they can crack the code again. It's not
going to be the case.
And one other point I think too. Trump was everywhere in 2016. We forget that. I mean, rhetorically, think how many times you talk to him on the
campaign trail in 2015 and 2016. I think what these folks fail to learn is -- and I can tell you that the greatest fear is not a gaffe. It's not being
talked about at all. You don't like a headline. You don't like an answer. You don't like an interview. Go out and do another one. The -- it'll change
quick. I think that is something that people can learn from too.
HUNT: Yeah. That's a really interesting way to think about it. I mean, Chris, I remember, the first time I ever was in a scrum with Donald Trump,
I was actually covering Mitt Romney, and Trump was endorsing him at the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas, and Romney wouldn't talk to any of us, and there
was Trump in the corner with what became the most common sight in American politics, which is surrounded by reporters and fuzzy boom mics and the
whole thing. I had no idea that what I was seeing was going to be kind of my future into the campaign politics going on. I mean, what do you think?
What do you take away from that? You are a consultant. You've worked on these races, obviously, from the other side. I mean, what do you learn when
you watch what's happening on the Republican side here?
KOFINIS: I mean, there is a lot of parallels to beat. I mean, yes, you kind of sit there and -- we'd like to punch on the Republicans right now because
there is not a competitive Democratic primary. But, just wait a few years and you'll see the same kind of mistakes happen. Right? There is a risk
averseness in the professional political operative class, right, especially people who do what we do. Right? They like to come in. They all -- they're
the genius. Right. I'm going to make you, the candidate, the winner, right?
And it doesn't matter how -- what your flaws are. It doesn't matter what your weaknesses are. I'm going to just -- I'm going to do -- I'm going to
work my magic and you're going to be great and ignores all of the really difficult aspects of running a campaign and the honest evaluation of a
candidate's strengths and weaknesses, right, because a lot of people who do what we do are fixated about the money. What you don't hear very often
political operatives say, you know what? You really can't win and you shouldn't run.
KOFINIS: Right? And to be honest --
HUNT: Nobody told Dean Phillips that.
KOFINIS: Yeah. And to be honest -- exactly. Right. And to be honest, that's the kind of advice that sometimes candidates need to hear. I think the
bigger kind of lesson from this, and I kind of piggyback off I think your really good point, is that all the money in the world does not replace a
message that is effective. It does not replace an understanding of the electorate or the country where it is right now. And when you don't have
that understanding, yeah, you can have money. You can run commercials. You're going to lose.
HUNT: All right. You have one quick point? That's not first.
BALL: Yeah. One quick point. I just -- I spoke to a lot of former DeSantis orbit people recently, and they made that same point, which was that he did
never have an animating message for his campaign, and that more than his personality or anything else was really the original sin that it was not
clear to people exactly why he was running and running at this time. What was he trying to do there?
HUNT: For sure.
All right. It's been a great conversation, guys. We're going to go to this now, though, because in less than an hour, thousands of anti-abortion
protesters expected to descend on a rally in D.C. We're going to have a live look at the 2024 "March for Life" event and what that means in the
context of our politics, up next.
HUNT: Welcome back to state of the Race. I'm Kasie Hunt live in Washington. 51 years after Roe v. Wade and just two years since it was struck down,
abortion rights set to be a massive issue for voters in this election. At noon, the annual anti-abortion "March for Life" will take place on the
Prominent Republican members of Congress will be there, including the House Speaker Mike Johnson. Next Tuesday, President Biden and Vice President
Harris will attend their first joint campaign event in Virginia. Biden and Harris will focus the rally on supporting reproductive rights, including
the right to abortion. This will also happen on the same day as the New Hampshire primary.
CNN's Gabe Cohen joins us now for a live look at the "March for Life" rally, which also could be a weather hit, because, Gabe, you are very brave
to be standing out there in the cold. Clearly, there are some dedicated folks who have also come out to do this. What are you seeing and hearing
from the attendees? And I'm also interested in what they're saying about how excited they are to be there, or whether they had a harder time
convincing their friends to come with them just because now Roe v. Wade has been overturned.
GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Look, well, first off, Kasie, you're right. It is a snowy, frigid day here on the National Mall in D.C. You look
behind me, you can barely see the Washington Monument, maybe a quarter mile from where I'm standing. And yet, there is a big crowd gathering right now
behind me for the "March for Life". The organizers here said that they've been doing this event more than 50 years. They are used to massive crowds,
100,000 plus people. They say people turn out no matter what the weather is. We will see what type of impact it makes on the crowd size today. But,
the program really doesn't get going for a few minutes. We're going to see several speakers, including the new House Speaker Mike Johnson.
And it's really interesting, Kasie, to look at the messaging and the language around this event, given where we are politically when it comes to
the issue of abortion. The theme this year for the "March for Life" is "With Every Woman, For Every Child", and that language was really
intentional, putting the mother first, uh, given how successful women's reproductive rights, how successful of an issue it has been for Democratic
candidates trying to energize voters to go to the polls. They have been organizers here, intentional about trying to say, we care about women's
rights and mother's rights. We have not forgotten about the mother in their pursuit, their anti-abortion pursuit.
But, look, it's coming as we have seen these very successful referendums in several states, including red states like Ohio and Kentucky and Kansas. And
so -- as well as the Biden administration's initiatives that you mentioned, the President, Vice President traveling the country, trying to put women's
reproductive rights really at the top of the ticket, saying this is going to be a critical issue in 2024. It's not just them. We heard Senator
Elizabeth Warren just this week say abortion is on the ballot in 2024.
So, that's a message that the organizers here and the people in this crowd are hearing. They are organizing around it. And it'll be interesting to see
what the New House Speaker Republican Mike Johnson has to say about it, because, Kasie, there has been, as you know, very little traction around
any sort of anti-abortion actions from this Republican House.
Of course, I spoke with the head of one of the organizations, the anti- abortion organizations, that's helping to put this event on, and they say they understand there is very little they can do right now in this
Congress. It'll be interesting, though, to hear what the speakers have to say about that, Kasie.
HUNT: All right. Gabe Cohen for us on the National Mall, stay warm out there, my friend. I really appreciate you being there for us.
All right. We're going to get straight back to our panel now. Molly Ball, the reality on this issue is -- the script has been flipped on that
particular event. I mean, I covered it for so many years in Washington. We did see hundreds of thousands of people show up. It's really interesting to
me that Gabe said they're now talking about. I mean, I remember seeing pictures of babies. That was really kind of the focus of gruesome, in some
cases. And instead, now they're talking about, oh, the mother and like caring about her, because the reality is they've had a much harder time
energizing their supporters since Roe fell, and they actually achieved what they want. The energy is on the other side. What do you kind of make of
what Gabe's reporting said there and how this is going to play out?
BALL: It's hard to count the ways in which this is a massive political problem for the Republicans, and they know it. And it starts with the fact
that their position on the issue is unpopular, but that's not all. Right? I mean, look, the Democrats have problems on this issue too. Voters do see
their position as extreme in some ways, and voters do in some sort of conceptual sense. I've done a lot of reporting on this, do want there to be
some sorts of limits.
But, the problem for Republicans is not just that they have the wrong position with regard to the electorate. It's that voters don't trust them
on this issue. So, even when Republicans are able to come up with a sort of moderate position that polls well in isolation that says we want to be
reasonable. We're going to do a limited a number of weeks that maybe a lot of people can agree on. Voters do not trust that Republicans will not go
further than that and try to ban abortion altogether, because that is what they feel like they have seen.
And we now have Democrats using that to make an even broader argument, to say this isn't just about reproductive, what they call reproductive
freedom. This is about freedom over overall. There is a little bit of an irony here, right? This freedoms or the sort of libertarian argument is not
something we often associate with the left. But, they've latched on to this to say Republicans want to erode your freedom in all of these other areas
of your life, whether it's economic, freedom or other things.
BALL: So, I think Republicans, I've talked to a lot of them who are trying to find new ways to message on this issue, talking about women, talking
about mothers, is one of the things that they think is very important versus just putting up signs of bloody fetuses.
BALL: But, it's still something that they're having a lot of -- they're really struggling with.
HUNT: Yeah. So, Donald Trump, honestly, talks about this issue. Ron DeSantis has tried to capitalize on this in Iowa. He talks about this issue
differently than a lot of those people that would be out on the march for - - that march might talk about. He talks about the exceptions and he talks about what Molly was just explaining, why this is -- makes it hard for
Republicans to win elections. Here is Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: For 54 years they were trying to get Roe v. Wade terminated, and I did it, and I'm proud to have done it. I happen
to be, for the exceptions, like Ronald Reagan, with the life of the mother, rape, incest. I have -- I just have to be there. You have to win elections.
Otherwise, you're going to be back where you were, and you can't let that ever happen again. You got to win elections.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: So, I guess he kind of did both things there, Matt, because he said, I'm proud to have terminated Roe v. Wade. Right? That language is an
interesting choice in the context of the specific issue that we're talking about here. I mean, that's a Democratic campaign ad, right? I'm proud to
have terminated Roe v. Wade. But then, he also says, you got to win elections.
GORMAN: You caught Trump kind of in between his natural states of being kind of a politically animal, knowing where the polls are. This guy used to
read the polls from stump speech.
GORMAN: Then also wanting to take credit for something. Right? So, he is like I don't -- like, he has hit the button with a meat. There is no
infringement of press. But --
HUNT: But, which part of my personality is going to do with this particular --
GORMAN: Exactly. Look -- you're right. And we saw this again in Virginia in 2023. It's the devil Republicans, and I was talking to folks who worked in
that race extensively, and they don't know -- nothing worked when they were trying to -- they said voters are treated like you're negotiating with
them. Like, how about 15 weeks? How about 20? Would you go for 30? Like, it just didn't -- it didn't hit. And you're right. We are -- our parties that
we've caught the car, so to speak, we've gotten what we wanted. And now, the switch has flipped. The energy is the other side.
And I think what I look at very clearly is -- what I would expect is you're going to see abortion, as you know, third, fourth, fifth, in a lot of these
polls of what issues are important to folks. And I think it's common to misread that as not being as important as the economy, whatever. But, what
we've learned is the people that list it, they it -- is their number one issue. It's their animating issue, and they will go to the polls no matter
what over it.
HUNT: Yeah. And we can actually kind of show -- we have a poll that we asked -- that CNN asked over the summer, how important is a candidate's
position on abortion? Now, a majority said it's one of many factors. But, 30 percent said that they will only vote for that candidate if they agree
with them on this issue. And I think that really speaks to the sort of emotion around this and the fervor for it too. And then, we've been showing
this throughout the segment, but I just want to highlight it. How do you feel about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade? 36 percent of people
approve of that decision. 64 percent disapprove of the fall of Roe v. Wade. I mean, that is a huge number in American politics, Chris.
KOFINIS: Oh, yeah. That's -- that tells you all you need to know about how politically perilous this debate is for Republicans. Put aside how complex
this debate is on a policy level. Politically, it's clear that voters have said you went too far. Right? And the question now becomes, at least from
my -- we know that this has political consequences. We've seen that in the ballot referendums. They've lost everyone. We've seen that in certain
states. We've seen how they've underperformed. So, we know that in the midterms, for example, it was a problem. The question now I think becomes,
in election that could be really, really close. Right? This issue mobilizes X number of percent, three percent, four percent, five percent, six
percent, seven percent to flip who otherwise may would -- maybe would vote for Trump. That is the election.
So, there is a reason, a logic why they're going to -- Democrats at all levels are going to focus on this issue. I think the balancing act is you
can't just be talking about this issue. You all still have to be talking about other ones. That's the challenge.
HUNT: Right. Well, and that's part of why that freedom message kind of bridges across things as well.
We are four days out to the Republican primary in New Hampshire, which is one of my favorite political traditions of all time. Still ahead,
Congresswoman Annie Kuster is going to join me live from her home Granite State.
HUNT: Welcome back. As Republican candidates crisscross New Hampshire in the days leading to the primary, one person not there is President Joe
Biden. In fact, his name won't even be on the Democratic ballot on Tuesday.
Joining me now to discuss is Congresswoman Annie Kuster, who says Democrats in her home state should write in the President as their top choice next
week when they cast their votes. Congresswoman, thanks so much for being here.
REP. ANNIE KUSTER (D-NH): Great to be with you, Kasie.
HUNT: So, let me just start with the New Hampshire primary and the DNC. I mean, was it a mistake for the DNC to strip New Hampshire of its first-in-
the-nation primary status?
KUSTER: I think it was. I loved your lead in that it's one of your favorite political missions.
HUNT: It is.
KUSTER: Look, New Hampshire voters are very engaged. I've been involved in the New Hampshire primary for 50 years and have lots of stories from the
trail. But, the number one story is that we vet the candidates, and even when they're running for a second term, we give them the opportunity to
share their vision. And so, I wish the President was here in person, but we've got an amazing grassroots campaign. We're writing -- doing a writing
campaign, teaching the voters how to go to the bottom of the ballot, write- in in Joe Biden. Luckily, it's easy to spell. And I think you're going to see a strong turnout for the President on Tuesday, and I think people are
going to be talking about the 2028 presidential primary returning to New Hampshire for our first-in-the-nation status.
HUNT: It is going to be -- if the DNC sticks with it and some decides to campaign there and others don't, I feel like that's going to be quite a
political standoff. But, we can get to that. We got plenty of time to talk about that. Let's kind of drilling down on the writing campaign that you
mentioned. There obviously isn't a terribly competitive -- we're going to get Dean Phillips in a second, but there is a really competitive Republican
primary among specifically the undeclared voters in New Hampshire.
Nikki Haley is fighting very hard for them against Donald Trump. Donald Trump, of course, very popular among the state's Republican voters. I've
talked to some people who are a little bit concerned that undeclared voters going into the Republican primary in large numbers could jeopardize the
writing campaign for the President. Do you share those concerns?
KUSTER: No. I think there are plenty of voters to go around. People are very engaged. It's a very, very important election. And just to tie in to
your previous speakers about the issue of reproductive health, I'm wearing my Planned Parenthood pink from an event we had this morning on the 51st
anniversary or would be anniversary of Roe v. Wade. 55 percent of New Hampshire voters consider this a top issue that will influence their vote
on Tuesday. And I've had lots of calls from friends and neighbors who are asking about where would their anti-Trump vote be most important. I tell
people, I wrote in Joe Biden. That's my plan. And I think he is a great President. And I think he has got a great vision for four more years.
But, if you want to make a difference in the Republican primary, and voting for Nikki Haley is the way you think you can do that, I think the main goal
for New Hampshire voters is to stop Donald Trump. He is not fit to be President of the United States. I certainly experienced that on January 6,
2021. They know my story well. And he was the key instigator to an insurrection to try to overthrow our government. And so, I think you'll get
a strong message out of New Hampshire on Tuesday on both sides of the ballot.
HUNT: You've been very critical of Dean Phillips, your colleague in the House of Representatives, for mounting a primary challenge to President
Biden. But, how do you answer questions about the reality that President Biden does have quite low approval ratings, and polls show that he is -- a
rematch between him and the former President Donald Trump is very, very tight. Is there not someone out there who might be better suited to beat
Donald Trump considering?
KUSTER: Well, let me just say with regard to my colleague Dean Phillips. I just told him, he asked my opinion. I said it was ill advised. And I think
it's just been unimpressive. I've seen New Hampshire primaries for 50 years and I know what they look like. I was in on the ground floor a year and a
half out with Barack Obama, or watching John Kerry or Pete Buttigieg, all of these people that have come here and mounted serious campaigns. His has
not been a serious campaign. And I think people are wondering, at this point, is Marianne Williamson going to beat him on Tuesday?
Your question is a different one, which is going forward, will Joe Biden be the strongest candidate? I believe he is. I think if you look at what's
happening around the world right now, fighting for democracy in Ukraine, the situation in Israel and Gaza, thank God we have a candidate with
experience in the Senate in foreign relations, knows foreign leaders around the world, had made these decisions. And he stands by his record, excuse
me, in the first four years. So, I think we'll build on that, lower costs - -
KUSTER: -- make life easier for hardworking families, and protect women's reproductive rights. That's the important one for me.
HUNT: All right. Congresswoman Annie Kuster, thank you so much for joining us. I may see you in New Hampshire in the next few days. Thank you.
KUSTER: Good. We'll be looking for you.
HUNT: All right.
KUSTER: Thank you so much.
HUNT: The big question in New Hampshire, what do voters think of Donald Trump, and will his legal issues impact their vote? Here is CNN's Gary
Tuchman. He went there to find out.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): We came to downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with two specific questions for people
who plan to vote in Tuesday's Republican primary, both questions that were asked on CNN's entrance poll in Iowa. The first --
TUCHMAN: The question that was asked to people, is Donald Trump fit for the presidency if convicted of a crime? And 65 percent of Republicans said,
yes, he is fit for the presidency. Almost two thirds. How do you feel about that? Is he fit if he is convicted of one of these crimes?
MATTHEW PRATT, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I do feel as though he is still fit to be President of the United States. Yes.
TUCHMAN: So, if he is found guilty, you would still vote for him.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): But, this man who had told us he is working for Nikki Haley, feels much differently.
RICHARD ANTAL, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: If he is convicted of a crime, I don't think he should be the President.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Hank Boucher says he hasn't decided who he will vote for. But then said he likes Trump.
TUCHMAN: Is Donald Trump fit for the presidency if he is convicted of a crime, 91 counts against him?
HANK BOUCHER, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I will say, yes, because I don't think there is any legitimate things that they're charging him for.
TUCHMAN: Why is that?
BOUCHER: What are they charging him for? It's all crap stuff that Biden wants him out.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): We told him there is no evidence whatsoever that President Biden is behind any of this. But, Hank Boucher is sticking with
what he believes.
BOUCHER: So, Biden is going to do anything and everything he can do to get him out, because --
TUCHMAN: I mean, that's what Donald Trump is saying that --
BOUCHER: Oh OK.
TUCHMAN: -- Biden is against him, but you're believing Trump about that.
TUCHMAN: You say it's Biden's fault. But, they is enough legitimate charges.
BOUCHER: Yeah. Definitely.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Then there was the second question from CNN's entrance poll, also showing nearly two thirds of Iowa caucus goers siding
TUCHMAN: You're voting for Donald Trump. The question for you is, do you think Joe Biden legitimately won the election in 2020?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Dick Porzio (ph) says he is probably voting for Ron DeSantis.
TUCHMAN: Do you think Joe Biden legitimately won in 2020?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. I do.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Mary Lou Carr (ph) is voting for Haley.
TUCHMAN: Do you think Joe Biden won legitimately in 2020?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I do.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Carville Taft (ph) is also voting for her.
TUCHMAN: Do you think Joe Biden legitimately won the election in 2020?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.
TUCHMAN: Does it bother you that Donald Trump keeps saying that's not the case?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. It doesn't bother me. I expect that from him.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Alexander (ph) feels much differently. He is a Trump supporter who is pretty much all in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a lot and lot of finagling and going on. There is no doubt about it. Whether it caused him to win, I don't know.
TUCHMAN: What kind of finagling?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just with the voters stealing a ballot, I think, hearing things about trucks carrying ballots from here to here.
TUCHMAN: That's funny what you're saying. He was talking about hearing about these things.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, seeing him on TV, seeing him on --
TUCHMAN: That same thing, but there is no evidence of that. It's something that Donald Trump keeps talking about and saying, but there is no evidence
of any widespread fraud. But yet, you believe there was.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really do. Yeah.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): So, what happens if Donald Trump ends up hearing one or more guilty verdicts? This was not a lonely sentiment.
TUCHMAN: So, if he is convicted of one of these crimes, which could result in prison time, would you still vote for her progressive?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I would.
TUCHMAN: Do you think it's possible that Donald Trump is just making up things as he goes along that he is basically punking you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
TUCHMAN: Do you know what punking means?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
TUCHMAN: Tricking you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. He is not.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gary Tuchman, CNN, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
HUNT: All right. Thanks to Gary Tuchman for that report. And this just into CNN. We've received a video of Donald Trump's second deposition in the New
York Attorney General's civil fraud case against him. This deposition took place in April of last year. The transcript was released in August. We're
going to go through the video and we will bring you more of it as warranted.
All right. It's time for a quick break. But, do stay with us. The panel comes back with one more thing.
HUNT: Welcome back to the State of the Race. Our panel rejoins us. Before we go, we always ask for one more thing on the trail in Washington you're
watching for. Matt, what are you watching?
GORMAN: Where do expectations land for Nikki Haley this weekend? A couple of weeks ago, Chris Sununu, their top surrogate governor in the state, said
they're going to win the state, even handily. Now they're saying a strong second. What does a strong second mean? At some point, it's Ric Flair (ph).
If you want to be the man, you got to beat the man.
GORMAN: You either got to win, or I'm telling, you come really, really close.
HUNT: Yeah. Chris.
KOFINIS: Doom loop. This is the phrase I just heard over the weekend. Right? There is growing commercial crisis because all these buildings are
basically empty because everybody is working from home and then the impact that's going to have on --
HUNT: You're like talking about empty buildings in downtowns in America after the pandemic?
KOFINIS: Yeah. Yeah. And then the impact that's going to have on the property tax base as these buildings get revalued, it sounds completely
irrelevant to politics except for one thing. If this becomes as some -- have suggested a multi-trillion dollar financial crisis, and it happens in
2024, that is a massive political problem.
HUNT: Well, that's a cheerful --
KOFINIS: I know. I'm sorry.
HUNT: -- cheerful X factor. Quite interesting. Molly.
BALL: Congress, they --
HUNT: Also cheerful.
BALL: Also cheerful. Well, there was the government funding deadline, the first of two that Speaker Mike Johnson put in place. They voted yesterday
to keep the government open, but it was a real shot against the bow for this still new Speaker with nearly half of Republicans voting against the
CR as they've decided to kick the can down the road. A bunch of logjam of big, big bills potentially coming up, the border and foreign policy deal,
the tax deal, and of course the keeping the government open still on the radar.
BALL: And the Speaker is really going to be tested here.
HUNT: He sure is. All right. And my one more thing to piggyback off you, Matt, is that I'm heading to New Hampshire this week, and I'm going to be
there from Monday onward as we try to figure out if Nikki Haley can keep this race alive for a little bit longer. I have to say, if she doesn't
really win outright in New Hampshire, it is very hard to see how she then goes on to her home state of South Carolina and manages to pull it out over
All right. Thank you all for being with us today. I am Kasie Hunt. That's the State of the Race for today, Friday, January 19. You can always follow
me on Instagram, and the platform formerly known as Twitter. Don't go anywhere. One World is up next.