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State of the Union

Interview With New York City Mayor Eric Adams; Interview With Fmr. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR); Interview With Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). Aired 9-10a ET

Aired March 05, 2023 - 09:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST (voice-over): Game plan. President Biden tests out a reelection message.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let the people know who did it for them.

BASH: But what can his party accomplish without control of the House? House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries joins me exclusively next.

And crime and punishment. Concerns about crime contribute to a Democratic mayor's loss, and now the president sides with Republicans on blocking a local D.C. criminal justice law. Are Democrats vulnerable on crime ahead of 2024? I will speak exclusively to New York City Mayor Eric Adams in moments.

Plus: sidestepping Trump. Dueling Republican events, as some White House hopefuls look for a lane around the president.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am your justice and I am your retribution.

BASH: Will it be harder than they think?

Former Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson will join me ahead.


BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in New York this morning, where our state of our union is gearing up.

This weekend, we are beginning to see messages the for both parties take shape ahead of the 2024 presidential campaign. Half-a-dozen Republican hopefuls, including former President Trump, spoke at dueling political events this weekend, jabbing each other over government spending and cultural issues, as many in the GOP look for a way to bypass Donald Trump, even as polls show he is still the man to beat.

We also saw President Biden preview his likely campaign message, urging Democrats at a party conference to focus on their successes over the last two years in the time of newly divided government, while his party faced urgent new questions about crime in traditionally Democratic big cities, as Democrats hope to flip the House and regain unified control in 2024.

Here with me now is House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

Thank you so much. It's great to see you here.

House Democrats were in Baltimore this week, and you all were laying out a strategy for the next two years.

I want you to listen to something that President Biden told your retreat this week.


JOE BIDEN: If we did nothing, nothing but implement what we have already passed and let the people know who did it for them, we win.


BASH: So, Mr. Leader, he's talking about 2024, but, frankly, it also sounds like kind of a tacit admission that Democrats are not going to be able to get as much done now, because you're in the minority in the House.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Well, good morning. It's great to be with you.

Listen, House Democrats are unified, President Biden was dignified, and our base is electrified, for three reasons. One, we have an incredible track record of support for getting big things done to make life better for everyday Americans.

We have a vision for the future. We're going to continue to put people over politics, to fight for lower costs and better-paying jobs and safer communities, defend democracy, fight for reproductive freedom, and build an economy from the middle out and the ground up, as opposed to the top down, which is what Republicans have tried to do for decades.

And we can present a clear contrast with the extreme MAGA Republicans, who are out of touch and out of control.

BASH: So you talk about unity.

I want to ask you about something that happened this past week. It showed some pretty stark divisions in your Democratic Party, because President Biden unexpectedly -- unexpectedly, rather, announced that he's going to sign a Republican effort to override a new crime reform bill in Washington, D.C.; 173 House Democrats, including yourself, voted against that GOP bill.

And, in large part, that was because you believe that the White House signaled that the president would oppose it. So, did President Biden pull the rug out from under you and your fellow House Democrats? JEFFRIES: Not at all. We have a House, we have a Senate, and then we

have the White House.

In terms of my particular reasons for voting the way that I did, one, I believe that local government should have control over local matters. And that's a principle that I have supported from the moment that I arrived in Washington, D.C. It's one of the reasons why I believe in D.C. statehood.

And, in this particular case, I voted to affirm local rule.

BASH: Right, but the Democratic president has signaled that he doesn't agree with that, and he's going to sign a Republican bill to override what you just described. Are you OK with that?


JEFFRIES: Well, let's take it one step at a time. We have to see what happens in the United States Senate next week.

Depending on what the Senate does, the president will have to respond one way or the other. I haven't had an opportunity to talk to the White House yet about the president's views, so I'm not going to characterize his position one way or the other, until we have had a chance to talk about that issue.

BASH: Well, he said it. I mean, he's made it clear. It's not -- unless he changes his tune again.

JEFFRIES: Well, there are public conversations and there are private conversations.

BASH: So, you think you're going to be able...

JEFFRIES: And I haven't had an opportunity to have a private conversation.

What I do know is that Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has look forward to talk about President Biden about his decision. They may agree to disagree. And, at the end of the day, that's fine, because, on the big picture issues in fighting to build an economy that really does work for everyday Americans, we will remain unified, particularly as compared to the extremism that we're seeing on the other side of the aisle.

BASH: OK, you're the Democratic leader. I, obviously, am not.

If I'm hearing from frustrated House Democrats, I can't imagine what you're hearing. They feel like the White House, again, pulled the rug out from under them. You have to be hearing that.

JEFFRIES: Well, that actually has not been the sense that I have gotten.

I think coming out of the issues conference, we are incredibly unified about the way forward. When we talk about putting people over politics, that is not just a slogan. It's a way of life for us. It's what we have done. It's the reason why we were able to pass historic legislation to save the economy, to invest in infrastructure, to bring manufacturing and jobs back to the country...

BASH: But on this...

JEFFRIES: ... to do something on the climate and the environment and prescription drug prices.

BASH: On issue this issue -- then we can move on -- would it be a mistake for President Biden to sign this bill overriding the decision by a city that is 50 percent African-American on how to govern itself on the issue of crime?

JEFFRIES: Well, I don't want to characterize what President Biden may or may not do in response to something.

BASH: Well, would it be a mistake?

JEFFRIES: Well, in response to something that the Senate has not even done yet.

What I can say is that I will continue to support the principle of local government control over local matters. There are more than 700,000 people in the District of Columbia. They elect the city council, they elect a mayor. They can continue to work out those issues.

BASH: Do you think that part of this is the White House and some of those Senate Democrats you were talking about who are worried about tough reelection campaigns being worried about Democrats portrayed as soft on crime?

JEFFRIES: No, actually, I think we have a strong record on the issue. We have passed gun safety legislation, over the objection of the NRA, for the first time that will save lives.

We have to do more. We certainly have a vision for doing more, for banning weapons of war on our streets, for enacting universal criminal background check legislation, for investing in dealing with mental illness, as our gun safety legislation will do to the tune of $500 million.

And so I think that we can lean into this issue moving forward, based on substance.

BASH: You recently went down to the border. You had a firsthand experience and saw the situation there.

This is another area where President Biden has ruffled some feathers in your party by rolling out measures to crack down on illegal border crossings and restrict migrants' ability to claim asylums. How do you feel about that policy?

JEFFRIES: Well, I think we have got to continue to do two things, one, make sure that we have a safe and secure border and take steps anchored in the principle that America is a nation of laws, while, at the same time, respecting the fact that we also are a nation of immigrants, and that part of the foundation of this country has been built on our tremendous diversity, on people coming from all over the world to work hard and pursue the American dream.

BASH: So, yes on the policy or no on the policy?

JEFFRIES: Well, actually, based on my visit to the border, what I have seen is that some of the steps that President Biden and the administration have taken over the last few months have certainly reduced the flow of illegal border crossings.

And, also, those who are seeking asylum now have the ability in a handful of countries, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Haiti, I believe, to sort of pursue those asylum claims while remaining in place or in a transit country.

BASH: I want to ask you, switching topics for a second, about FOX host Tucker Carlson, because he tweeted yesterday that he's going to begin airing some of the January 6 footage that he was given exclusive access to, he says, by Speaker McCarthy.

Has this, as far as you know, been vetted by the Capitol Police? Because Speaker McCarthy vowed he would allow that to happen before it aired.


JEFFRIES: It's not clear to me yet that any material footage that any news personality at another network may have has been vetted, but it must be vetted before anything is released into the public domain.

The January 6 insurrection was violent. Approximately 140 officers were seriously injured. A handful of officers died as a result of the events of the January 6 violent insurrection. There are serious security concerns with releasing footage into the public domain in an era where political violence is on the rise, and there are people, including the former president, who fan the flames of extremism.

BASH: And you have no indication that the police have actually vetted that footage?

JEFFRIES: I have no indication at this moment that the police have vetted that footage. It is my hope and expectation that that will absolutely occur.

But, Dana, here's the more important issue. President Biden won the election. People on the extreme right know that President Biden won the election. But Donald Trump perpetrated a big lie. That big lie had real consequences. It led to and incited a violent insurrection. And it's that type of political extremism that we need to move beyond in America.

BASH: And, on that note, you and Senator Schumer, the Senate majority leader, wrote a letter to Rupert Murdoch calling for FOX to stop spreading fall election narratives and admit on the air that they were wrong to engage in such negligent behavior.

Do you, as party leader, think that Democrats should refrain from going on FOX before that happens, that apology happens?

JEFFRIES: No, what I think should happen right now is that everyone, whether it's on another network or whether it's just in the public domain, certainly in Congress, should refrain from perpetrating a big lie, because the big lie has consequences.

And democracy is held together by some basic principles, such as free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power. Those things were undermined and continue to be undermined by individuals, extreme MAGA Republicans, who continue to perpetrate the big lie. And it has to stop.

BASH: Thank you so much, House Democratic Leader, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. Appreciate it.

Nice to be in your city here.

JEFFRIES: Thank you. Great to be here with you.

BASH: Thank you.

And as Democrats try to tack their message on crime, a big city leader who has made it his focus, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, will be here next.

And, last week, the RNC chair told me that she thinks candidates should pledge to back the eventual GOP presidential nominee. Will they agree? I will ask a potential GOP candidate coming up.



BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

As big city mayors come under increased pressure to make cities safer, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a sweeping new plan this week to better help mentally ill New Yorkers, improving their access to housing, treatment options and expanding the use of medical professionals, rather than police, to respond to mental health-related 911 calls.

Here with me now is New York City Mayor Eric Adams.

Thank you so much. Appreciate you being here.

ERIC ADAMS (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Yes, good morning. Good to see you.

BASH: So, this new proposal, there is a lot in it. We just mentioned some of it.

When will New Yorkers start to actually feel the impact of this? And, also, how much will it cost them?

ADAMS: Well, they are now.

When you saw the first phase of our subway safety plan and our indicative to get those with serious mental health issues to the point that they were in danger to themselves and others, couldn't take care of their basic needs, people pushed back.

But I was clear and I was focused. We started to see the removement of encampments on our subway system, 4,000 people we brought inside for care. Over 1,000 remain. Some went to stay with families. Now we're moving to the next level.

Young people with mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and those with serious mental health issues, partnered with the governor, we're going to see over 8,000 units of permanent housing with wraparound services. So you're starting to see the results now.

BASH: When will those new services, like the mobile units, start to take effect? And, again, how much will it cost?

ADAMS: Twenty million dollars is a new introduction that we put in place with a unprecedented new way of using telemedicine with mental health.

This is something brand-new, has not been used before, of giving out fentanyl strips for those with substance abuse, so they can test some of the drugs that they're taking, treatment centers. Our new infusion of money is $20 million to go with what we had already.

BASH: You mentioned a previous plan that you put in place, a policy allowing first responders to commit people experiencing mental health crises without their consent.


BASH: You alluded to this.


BASH: It's a pretty controversial approach.

And in your primary, you said that it would -- quote -- "demonize mentally ill people." So is this about doing what's best for people with mental illness, or is it more about doing what's best for people who encounter them on the streets of New York City?

ADAMS: And it was so important. The way it was reported really was distorted.

We stated that the new methods we were using was clarity. We were going after those with serious mental health illnesses that couldn't take care of their basic needs and were in danger to themselves. That is not the entire population. That's a small, targeted group. And it was inhumane to allow them to stay on the streets without proper care. BASH: Can you actually just give a little bit of nuance there? So,

let's say the police see somebody lying in the street in Midtown wearing disheveled clothing, maybe mumbling to themselves, not necessarily bothering anyone.

Will that person be taken in for treatment against their will?

ADAMS: No. That's about a conversation. That's about building up trust. We see it every day in the subway system, on our streets. It's about building up trust. You may have to visit them more than once, giving them socks, clothing, food.


But if that same person has a stick in their hand, a knife in their hand, they're yelling, they're screaming, they're unkempt, their clothing are soiled, there's something wrong. Now, you don't wait until that person pushes someone on the subway system and then respond. No, we must be proactive to deal with this issue.

BASH: I want to talk about what happened in Chicago this week.

Your friend Mayor Lori Lightfoot, she lost -- she had a pretty big loss in her reelection bid.

ADAMS: Mm-hmm.

BASH: You worked closely together on a range of issues, particularly on questions of crime.

That is an issue that dominated the election in Chicago. What is your takeaway from her loss?

ADAMS: Well, I think all of our big cities -- I like to say we have three parties, Democrat, Republicans, and mayors.

Mayors, we are closer -- we're the closest to the problem. And I stated on a campaign trail and in the city public safety is a prerequisite to prosperity, same in Chicago, like New York and many of our big cities across America.

That is why we're zero-focused, double-digit decrease in shooters, double-digit decrease in homicides. We have witnessed this year, particularly in the month of February, all of our indexed crimes is low for the entire year. We are focused on public safety, because people want to be safe. They don't feel safe, and they're actually safe, then you're going to lose control of your city.

BASH: Is what happened to her a warning sign for you here in New York?

ADAMS: To the contrary, I think it's a warning sign for the country.

Eric Adams has been talking about public safety, not only on the campaign trail, but for the first year. I showed up at crime scenes. I knew what New Yorkers were saying. And I saw it all over the country. I think, if anything, it is really stating that this is what I have

been talking about. America, we have to be safe.

BASH: The question sort of on the flip side of this is, some of the data you talked about, NYPD shows that some crimes, like assault and car theft, rose slightly in February.

Compared to other crime in the past, overall crime is down here in New York City. But you also have people like former Congressman Mondaire Jones, who will actually be on this show later, he says that the rhetoric that you talk about a lot with regard to crime kind of feeds the narrative and helps Republicans make the point that there is too much crime, and that hurts Democrats.

Your response?

ADAMS: You know the difference between a comment like that and what I say? I listen to Americans and New Yorkers.

The polls were clear. New Yorkers felt unsafe,and the numbers showed that they were unsafe. Now, if we want to ignore what the everyday public is stating, then that's up to them. I'm on the subways. I walk the streets. I speak to everyday working-class people. And they were concerned about safety.

We zeroed in on that, unprecedented, historic numbers of felony arrests, removal of guns on our streets, closing homicide cases. We have a recidivism problem in New York. And far too many people -- there's about 2,000 people were repeatedly catch, release, repeating crimes.

If we don't take them off our streets, they are going to continue to prey on innocent people.

BASH: I wonder what -- I know New York City and Washington, D.C., are very different, because you have your own ability to rule here, basically, and D.C. is -- has a situation where Congress can override a bill.

And it sounds like Republicans -- it sounds like the president might sign a Republican bill to override a new crime bill that the mayor and others in D.C. put in place.

Do you think that that is the right way to approach it, given what you just said about sort of the mayors having a different job than everybody else?

ADAMS: The mayors have a unique job. People bump into the mayor, particularly a mayor like me on the streets, yes, and I choose...

BASH: Should the federal government stay out of the business of the D.C. government when it comes to crime?

ADAMS: Well, that's the way our country operates. And dealing with that is not up to me.

I have to focus on, how do I partner with my state lawmakers and my City Council here to show them how imperative it is that we are safe?

BASH: I want to ask about some comments that you made at an interfaith breakfast this week.

I want our viewers to listen to it.


ADAMS: Don't tell me about no separation of church and state. State is the body. Church is the heart. You take the heart out of the body, the body dies.


ADAMS: I can't separate my belief because I'm an elected official.


BASH: You also said that you implement policies with a -- quote -- godlike approach" and said -- quote -- "When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools."


You know that those comments alarmed some people, even some religious leaders -- religious leaders, rather, who were in the room. A rabbi who was there called it dangerous.

ADAMS: Well, listen, let's be clear on something.

The last words I said after I was sworn in is "so help me God." On Our dollar bill, we have "In God we trust." Every president touched a religious book when they were sworn in, except for three.

Faith is who I am. And anyone who takes those words as stated that I'm going to try to compel people to follow my religion, no. I'm a child of God. I believe that wholly. I'm going to follow the law. I'm not going to compel people who believe in whatever faith it could be. If you're in a synagogue, a Baptist church, a Buddhist temple, I'm in all of them. And that's what was in my service.

BASH: Just to be clear, do you fundamentally believe in the separation of church and state from a governing standpoint?

ADAMS: No, what I believe is that you cannot separate your faith.

Government should not interfere with religion and religion should not interfere with government. But I believe my faith...


ADAMS: ... pushes me forward on how I govern and the things that I do.

BASH: Yes, understandable.

ADAMS: Mm-hmm.

BASH: But one of the fundamentals of the Constitution is a separation of church and state when it comes to governing.

When I just asked you that, you said no. That's going to alarm some people.

ADAMS: No. But this is what I'm saying. I want to be very clear on this, so it won't be distorted.

BASH: Please, yes, exactly.

ADAMS: Government should not interfere with religion. Religion should not interfere with government. That can't happen. And it should never happen.

But my faith is how I carry out the practices that I do and the policies, such as helping people who are homeless, such as making sure that we show compassion in what we do in our city. Government should never be in religion. Religion should never be in government. And I hope I'm very clear on that.

BASH: You are.

Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

ADAMS: Thank you. Thank you.

BASH: Mayor Eric Adams.

And a split is emerging in the Republican Party, as candidates try to sidestep Donald Trump. Will it work?

A possible presidential challenger joins me next.



BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

Breaking news this morning: Former Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan will not run for president. He says he wants to avoid a pileup in the GOP race for president that would end up benefiting Donald Trump.

Joining me now is former Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas.

Thank you so much for joining me.

So, let's get straight to the news, your friend and sort of fellow former Republican and fellow anti-Trump Republican Larry Hogan saying that he's not going to run. What's your response?

FMR. GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): Well, Larry Hogan is a star. He's governed well in Maryland, elected in a blue state. I think the

fact that he indicates he's going to continue to fight in the Republican Party for alternatives to Donald Trump and a new direction is a good sign. He did say he wanted to avoid a multicar pileup. I got a kick out of that reference.

And I actually think that more voices right now in opposition or providing an alternative to Donald Trump is the best thing and the right direction. So, hats off to Larry for what he's done, what he's contributed. And I'm glad that he will continue to do so.

BASH: So you think more voices speaking out against Donald Trump is the right way to go?

Are you going to run?

HUTCHINSON: March is a message month. I want to continue to talk about having a consistent conservative message out there. We need to have all alternatives, again, to Donald Trump.

We don't need to be led by arrogance and revenge in the future. We need to be led by those that are problem-solving, that want to stick with the principles of our party and unite us together. And so that's the message in March. April is a decision time. So, we will stick with that plan.

BASH: I just want to ask you. What you just said was interesting, that you disagree with Larry Hogan on the notion of too many people being out there actually helps Donald Trump.

Why is he wrong? I mean, that's exactly how Donald Trump became the nominee in 2016. He had so many people running against him, they split the vote, and he ran away with it.

HUTCHINSON: That's right.

And we get this question a lot from donors and others, you know, how can we avoid that? Well, this is not 2016. Donald Trump is a known quantity. He makes his message of revenge clear. And it's different.

For example, the evangelical community. The evangelical community is going to be a key part of the race in 2024, both primary and general election. They were key in '16. But they are convinced that we need to have a different type of leadership in the future. It should not be someone that's going to appeal to the worst instincts of our country.

And so, in the early stages, multiple candidates that have an alternative vision to what the former president has is good for our party, good for the debate, good for the upcoming debate that will be in August.

And so, sure, that will narrow, and it will probably narrow fairly quickly. We need to have a lot of self-evaluation as you go along, but I think more voices now that provide alternative messages and problem- solving and ideas is good for our party.


BASH: Well, speaking of alternative messages to Donald Trump, let's talk about that right now, because he did speak at CPAC last night.

He said he wouldn't even think about dropping out of the race if he was indicted on criminal charges. He also said this:


TRUMP: In 2016, I declared, I am your voice. Today, I add, I am your warrior, I am your justice.


TRUMP: And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution. I am your retribution.


BASH: What's your reaction to all of that?

HUTCHINSON: Well, it's troubling.

First of all, if you want to heal our land and unite our country together, you don't do it by appealing to the angry mob. And that's true whether you're talking about an angry mob from the left or the right.

And so that's problematic. And that's where, again, you come back to the community of faith and what kind of leadership do we want? Whenever you're looking at toughness, you want that in reference to foreign policy and protecting the interests of the United States.

But wherever you're looking at the leader of our country, you don't want him to be engaged in a personal vendetta. And when he talks about vengeance, he's talking about his personal vendettas, and that's not healthy for America. It's certainly not healthy for our party.

BASH: I want to just quickly ask about the pledge, the notion of you signing a pledge, if you do run for president.

The RNC chair told me on this program last week she's going to require it. Will you sign it?

HUTCHINSON: Well, first of all, I think the goal of what the RNC is trying to do is to avoid a third-party candidate out there. And, again, that would be the threat from Donald Trump.

So, the motivation is to keep Donald Trump, if he doesn't win the primary, from running as a third-party candidate, and I applaud that. And so, if you're going to have a pledge, have it say that, you know, that the candidates who participate in the debate are not going to run as a third-party candidate, and that would solve that issue.

But, beyond that, we have never had party loyalty oaths. We have never had those oaths. We did in 2016. They weren't effective. They weren't enforceable. You had candidates that participated in the debate and later didn't support the nominee of the party.

BASH: Yes.

HUTCHINSON: And so I think we need to be real. And that's not helpful.

But I do anticipate, if I'm a candidate, to participate in the debate. And I think that's very, very important that we talk about problem- solving ideas through that debate, and that's a good opportunity for America to meet and introduce themselves to the candidates on the GOP side.

BASH: But, before I let you go, I just -- you talk about problem- solving ideas.

I have to ask about the summit that you hosted on the border crisis and the notion of Republicans did control of the House, the Senate, and they controlled the White House for a long time, and they didn't pass large border security, plus immigration reform.

Do you think that is really possible, given the state of Washington? I know it's a lot to ask you in just a few seconds.

HUTCHINSON: Well, the key thing there is that we have always tried before to pass border security with comprehensive immigration reform. And that's how it's been characterized.

And so we can't get there first, initially. We have to do simply a straightforward border security bill. That should be able to get through Congress in a bipartisan way that puts more resources for the Border Patrol for our immigration processing, for the security of our country.

And so let's do a border security bill first. That should be done now. And that's where we stop -- that's where we start. And that builds faith with the American public that we can have more comprehensive reform once we secure the border itself.


Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, thank you so much for joining me this morning.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Dana.

And we will talk more about the big news in the Republican primary race.

My panel is up next.




GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R-MD): I didn't want to have a pileup of a bunch of people fighting.

Right now, you have Trump and DeSantis at top of the field soaking up all the oxygen, getting all of the attention, and then a whole lot of the rest of us in single digits. And the more of them you have, the less chance you have for somebody rising up.


BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

Larry Hogan, former Maryland Republican governor, saying that he will not run for president.

I want to get straight to my panel to talk about all of this.

S.E. Cupp, I will start with you.

He's your kind of Republican.


BASH: So I'm guessing you're not thrilled, or what do you think?

CUPP: Well, he's my kind of Republican in a number of ways. He's very principled. And that perhaps led him to run afoul Trump over the past few years.

But he's also my kind of conservative because he's putting himself next, last, second. He realizes that it's going to be a crowded field. He realizes that probably advantages Trump. And he's willing to say, it's not my year. I'm going to sit this one out.

I don't think you see a lot of that kind of courage and also selflessness in today's Republican Party. So, it's a loss. It's our loss. But I understand his calculus.

BASH: And, Scott Jennings, what do you make of what Asa Hutchinson said, which is that he said, while he very much likes Larry Hogan, he doesn't agree with that notion of a pileup at this stage in this year in this kind of an election being a bad thing when it comes to Donald Trump. He says it's different from 2016.


SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you could have a lot of people out there having conversations and quasi- campaigning right now.

Where the rubber hits the road is when people start casting ballots. And that's what happened in 2016, of course, with the fragmentation of the field. I don't think Governor Hutchinson has much of a path to this nomination. Most of these people that are sitting at zero and 1 percent today have no path.

And they don't have a Trump problem. They have a DeSantis problem. When I see Hogan or see DeSantis, or some of these other people in the low single digits, what I'm wondering is, are they going to be comfortable getting behind a DeSantis if he continues to be the principal alternative to Trump? Or are they going to deem that not good enough?

I see some of the never-Trump people out there in the world saying even DeSantis is not good enough for them. Well, if you don't want Trump and you don't want DeSantis, what you're really saying is, you want a Democrat, and so -- or you want to reelect Joe Biden. And so that's what I'm waiting to find out.

BASH: I want to, before we continue this conversation, talk about what has been happening this past weekend in the Republican Party race, the potential Republican race.

There were sort of dueling events. One is CPAC with Donald Trump and people who are more aligned with him. And then you had the Club for Growth, which tends to be more focused on tax issues, with a whole lot of potential Republican candidates there.

Back to CPAC, I just want to play a little bit of a sense of what happened on that stage.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you're tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation.

MIKE POMPEO, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We can't become the left, following celebrity leaders with their own brand of identity politics, those with fragile egos who refuse to acknowledge reality.

TRUMP: At the end of the day, anyone else will be intimidated, bought off, blackmailed or ripped to shreds. I alone will never retreat.



BASH: A Democratic congressman, you're only one on this stage, I think, who's been on the ballot, not for president, yet.

But what do you make as you watch all of that?

MONDAIRE JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I am so excited that Democrats are once again going to be given the gift of Donald Trump being the Republican nominee for president of the United States.

I know that the White House is elated. This is a dream for any Democrat running to flip a House seat or a Democrat running to keep a competitive Senate seat. I see nothing that would suggest that Republicans have learned their lesson.

I see a bunch of people planning to enter this race and to give Donald Trump the minimum of 30 to 40 percent that he will need to prevail in a crowded field once again, like he did in 2016.


I mean, watching the CPAC Conference, it was like watching some of the outtakes from the cantina scene in "Star Wars." And it would be funny, if it weren't so terrifying at times. This is a conference that was being led by a guy who had been credibly accused of grabbing another man's penis without his consent.

BASH: Which he denies.

SMITH: You have members of Congress calling for denouncing the DOJ and FBI. And you had a speaker saying, we need eradicate transgenderism from public life.

Now, substitute Judaism with that, substitute homosexuality, and everyone, I think, would be up in arms and calling that genocidal language.

CUPP: I'm not sure anyone -- no offense to my friend Mondaire -- should be excited about any of this.

This is bad. It's bad for both parties, and it's bad for the country. And I don't think anyone with a memory of 2016 should be excited that Donald Trump is on the ballot, because anything can happen. And I don't think that Joe Biden is in an untouchable position here.

So I think we should take what CPAC and the Trump wing of the party are saying and doing real seriously and consider ways to put up candidates that can actually combat this. Asa Hutchinson, no offense to him, he's not one.

And we should be sort of lamenting the state of the Republican Party, not looking at it as a political gift to Joe Biden or anyone. It's not.

JONES: Well, to be sure, nothing is good about the fact that the modern-day Republican Party has this person as its standard-bearer. But if you...

CUPP: And is this weak, right?

JONES: But if you believe, as I believe, that whether the nominee is Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis or even Nikki Haley, that that would pose an existential threat to democracy itself, which is what we have seen with the opposition of voting rights and the election denialism and so many other things, then you're happy that Donald Trump will be the easiest person to defeat on that side.

CUPP: You say that now.

JENNINGS: I believe we're hearing what's going to happen. It doesn't matter who the Republicans will nominate. That person is going to be called everything that they would call Donald Trump, whether it's DeSantis or anybody else.

Democrats always do this. George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Donald Trump... CUPP: They were all monsters.

JENNINGS: ... they were all -- they were all history's greatest monsters.

CUPP: That's right.

JENNINGS: And the only good Democrat -- or the only good Republican, I guess, is a dead or defeated one, because that's when the praise starts.


But if you really believe what you say, then you would be happy about...


JONES: Let's start with people who actually acknowledge the results of the 2020 election.


BASH: Let's let Lis in, because she's actually been in real war rooms.


And I'm sorry. I'm sick and tired of hearing Republicans whine about how we talked about Mitt Romney in 2012. All we did was expose his record in the private sector and talked about how he was too extreme on issues like marriage equality and abortion.

That is not calling him a monster. If he has a problem with that, maybe he should have voted and taken different positions.


BASH: Let's -- guys, let's focus on the future.

CUPP: He was called a monster. He was called a sexist monster.

SMITH: He was not...


JONES: For what it's worth, I don't think Mitt Romney is a monster.

BASH: Guys, let's talk -- let's not talk about 2012, because we have a lot to look ahead at.

Very, very briefly...

CUPP: I'm still bitter about it, obviously.

BASH: Because... (CROSSTALK)

BASH: Obviously, every -- a lot of people are.


JENNINGS: ... America.

CUPP: Yes.

BASH: You heard Hakeem Jeffries.

I asked him about what is going on in Washington with the D.C. crime bill which the president says that he will sign. It is a Republican bill that will do away with a reform that the D.C. city government put in place.

SMITH: Yes. So, well, I didn't hear much from him there, but this is...

BASH: He didn't want to go there.

SMITH: Right. This is what I will say is that, in a perfect world, D.C., would have statehood.

We do not live in a perfect world. And so that means when a bill like this comes to the president's desk, he has to judge it on its merits, like the D.C. mayor, like the D.C. police chief, like the U.S. the attorney from D.C. He decided that was a bad bill because it reduced sentences for violent crimes and gun possession at a time when homicides are on the rise, carjackings are on the rise.

And I think it is really, really important for Democrats to show we take the issue of crime seriously and we are listening to voters who are screaming from the rooftops that this is a real issue. And they don't want to be told it is all in their heads anymore.

BASH: Fifteen seconds. Do you agree with that?

JONES: Look, I...

BASH: That Democrats look soft on crime? Is that what the concern is?

JONES: I think there have been a number of people who have caused the Democratic Party to look soft on crime.

This is not one of those situations where I think the White House did the right thing. And the reason is this. You can, as the president has done uniquely, in fact, over the past several decades, position yourself as someone who is taking crime very seriously without overriding the popular and duly elected will of the City Council; 12-1 is how they voted.


(CROSSTALK) BASH: We are going to have to leave it there. I'm sorry.

We will keep talking about it in the commercial break. He will tweet about it and tell you...



BASH: A controversial new proposal by a Republican presidential contender, the first lady is weighing in exclusively.

That is next.



BASH: In a new interview with my colleague Arlette Saenz, first lady Jill Biden is weighing in on a new GOP campaign proposal.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Nikki Haley, one of the Republican candidates, is calling for mental competency tests for those politicians over the age of 75.

What do you think about that?

JILL BIDEN, FIRST LADY: It's ridiculous.

SAENZ: Would your husband ever take one of those?

JILL BIDEN: I mean, we haven't even discussed -- we would never even discuss something like that.


BASH: You can watch the full interview tomorrow at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Thanks so much for watching.

The news continues next.