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Senate Could Begin Debate on $1.9 Trillion Relief Bill This Week; Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) Apologizes amid New Allegations of Sexual Harassment; Trump Teases 2024 Presidential Run in Lie-Filled CPAC Speech. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 1, 2021 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NEWSROOM: President Biden is currently stuck in something of a tense standstill with the Senate over getting his cabinet in place. His nominee to head up the Office of Management and Budget is going to be meeting very soon today with Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has become a key and, frankly, decisive voice on whether Neera Tanden's nomination is going to survive.

Despite of weeks of problems facing Tanden's confirmation, the White House is vowing to keep fighting to get her approved.

At the same time, the president's COVID relief bill is now in the Senate's hands. It passed the House over the weekend along party lines and it is setting up for a fight between Democrats and Republicans but also Democrats themselves.

Joining me now right now is Jim Messina. He's a former Deputy Chief of Staff for President Obama. It's good to see you, Jim.

So President Obama himself lost a few nominees early on. I was going back and looking kind of early in the 2009 timeframe. Tom Daschle, probably the most notable for tax issues but there were, I think, three others maybe in 2009. How long, in your view and from being on the inside, is too long to hold on and fight nor a nominee? When do you know?

JIM MESSINA, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY CHGIEF OF STAFF UNDER OBAMA: Well, you know when the votes tell you there is no way to get there and they're not there yet. And Neera Tanden is probably the most qualified OMB director in our lifetime, and so the White House is going to fight for it until the White House affairs team looks at the votes and says, look, we just don't have it. They have got to continue to fight.

In the middle of an economic crisis and a pandemic, you want to an OMB director who knows what the heck they're doing.

BOLDUAN: and any time, quite frankly. Neera is meeting with Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski today and Murkowski has emerged as, really, this is the vote you're talking about. If you have the votes or not is, frankly, going to come down to Lisa Murkowski.

And John Cornyn has spoken to reporters and basically teased up when asked like why are they meeting that Murkowski essentially is looking to raise drilling on public lands and ANWR with Neera, or at least with the administration. Is this worth it?

MESSINA: Well, this is what happens when you have 50/50 Senate. Every senators is the most important senator if they decide to make a deal. And the White House has to decide whether or not the deals are worth it. The question is what does she want, but this is a kind of horse trading that typically happens in some of these things. And we'll see what she says.

But with a 50/50 Senate, Kate, and you have the closest majority in the House since World War II, you're going to continue to have these razor thin votes and this is kind of the new normal that you and I will be talking about for the next couple of years.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it sure seems so. And the COVID relief bill, that's one example, if you will. You've got now the progressives in the Democratic Party who are mad. They want to see essentially more fight from Joe Biden for the minimum wage increase, even going against the Senate parliamentarian ruling on including it.


That is how much fight they're looking for.

How do you think Biden needs to handle this? Can he thread this needle?

MESSINA: Oh, he absolutely can because he knows who he is. And part of being the president of the United States is being very honest with everyone, including your own base of what you can and can't do. President Obama went through this on a public option during Obamacare and you're going to continue to see these things.

President Biden is the most progressive leader we've seen on some of these issues. He's pushed very hard for this minimum wage and at some point, it is what it is. When the when the parliamentarian says it can't fit in the bill, there is no real way to fix it. You have just kind of got to continue and find other avenues to get this $15 minimum wage done.

The president campaigned on it and he wants it but he can't change the rules of the Senate in the middle.

BOLDUAN: Some members of Congress, frankly, think that he can, that it's an advisory rule and that he should, even though -- I know I see you laugh, but it hasn't been done in decades and decades, I don't even know the last time.

But I want to play for you -- that's on the fight on the Democratic side amongst Democrat. I want to play what Republican Bill Cassidy told Dana Bash yesterday about bipartisan outreach in all of this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): Republicans have not been involved. I listen to Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaking about how we've been listened to. I started laughing. That is such a joke.


BOLDUAN: Cassidy says that this is on Democrats and that they are making a conscious decision to not include Republicans in this. I wonder, Jim, does it matter in the short and long run that this wasn't put together in a bipartisan way?

MESSINA: Well, first of all, it was, Kate. They took, I think, the last count over 70 Republican ideas and put it in this thing. But in the end, and I was part of this in 2009, Democrats bent over backwards to get three Republicans votes in 2009 for their economic stimulus bill. And that bill wasn't big enough.

So what the Biden team, in my opinion, correctly has said is, let's talk to the smart people, the economists and everyone else to get exactly what we need on COVID 19 and the economic bill. If Republicans can come, great, if they can't, no problem, we'll do it on our own.

But the most important thing they can do is get this right because they're not going very many $2 trillion bites at this apple.

BOLDUAN: Is you guess that it doesn't poison the bipartisan well going forward and this isn't laying the groundwork for problems ahead?

MESSINA: No, it is not. Because the truth is you have a president in Joe Biden who has a 40-year history of making deals with Republicans. When I was in the White House, we would take Vice President Biden at the time to the Hill, not President Obama, to cut some of these deals because he had such great relationships with these folks. He'll find other places to do this on the coming infrastructure bill, on energy bills, on other things.

But right now, we don't have time to play political games. We have to get this thing fixed, and this being COVID and the economy. And if it takes this bill, then let's go do it.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, Jim, thanks for coming in.

MESSINA: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us, facing a second allegation of sexual harassment, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, he apologizes. What does that mean for the growing calls for his resignation?



BOLDUAN: Facing enormous pressure and growing backlash, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo offered an apology this weekend for what he described as insensitive and misinterpreted comments. He's defending himself against allegations from two women both publicly coming forward and accusing the governor of sexual harassment.

Now, Cuomo has backed off his initial insistence that he choose the independent investigator to look into their accounts. A lot has happened here.

CNN's Athena Jones has the details.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Pressure mounting against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo after a second former aide has come forward accusing him of sexual harassment. Cuomo addressing the allegations writing in a statement, I know understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.

The statement in response to a former aide who came forward and recounted to The New York Times instances where she said the governor inappropriately questioned her about her sex life in a June conversation. Charlotte Bennett says Cuomo asked her such questions as if she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had sex with older men.

Bennett tells The Times, I understand that the governor to sleep with me and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared, adding, she was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.

Cuomo denied Bennett's allegations in a statement on Saturday. Bennett told The Times, she reported to the governor's chief of staff and was transferred to another job. She left the governor's office in November.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There should be an independent review of these allegations. They're serious. It was hard to read that story as a woman.

JONES: Bennett's allegation came on the heels of former aide Lindsey Boylan's accusation last week. In a post online, Boylan says Cuomo asked her to play strip poker on his taxpayer-funded jet. In another instance, after a one-on-one briefing with the governor in 2018, she says she got up to leave and walked to an open door. He stepped in front of her and kissed her on the lips. She writes, I was in shock but I kept walking. Cuomo denied Boylan's accusations in December when they first surfaced.

Cuomo initially tried to appoint an independent reviewer to look into the allegations. But New York's Attorney General Letitia James rejected that, insisting on an independent investigation by an outside law firm with subpoena powers.

Several high-profile New York Democrats also rejecting Cuomo's effort, arguing that he should have no role in shaping the probe.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): If these investigations fair out, it really starts to, I think, call into question the leadership that we currently have.



JONES (on camera): Now, CNN has reached out to Bennett for comment on this latest accusation but has not received a response. CNN has not been able to corroborate the allegations. And when asked for further comment, Boylan, who is running for Manhattan borough president, said she wants her post on medium to speak for itself. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Athena, thank you very much.

Coming up for us, Donald Trump promises to target his enemies within the Republican Party. How much power does he actually hold?

We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: If there was still any doubt about who leads the Republican Party right now, Donald Trump tried putting it all to rest this weekend. In his first public appearance since leaving the White House, the former president took to the same at the annual conservative conference, CPAC, pushing lies, laying down threats and teasing a 2024 presidential run. Listen here.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We have the Republican Party. It's going the united and be stronger than ever before. I am not starting a new party.

The Democrats don't have grandstanders like Mitt Romney, Little Ben Sass, Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Pat Toomey.

And, of course, the warmonger, a person that loves seeing our troops fighting, Liz Cheney, how about that?

The RINOs that we're surrounded with will destroy the Republican Party and the American worker, and will destroy our country itself.


BOLDUAN: Now, I have to say, as is standard with Donald Trump, it was a challenge to find portions of that very long speech -- find portions of his remarks that weren't riddled with outright lies.

So, joining me right now is Olivia Troye, former Homeland Security and COVID Task Force Adviser to Vice President Mike Pence. She is currently the director of the Republican Accountability Project, which is a group formed to support Republicans speaking out against the big lie. Olivia, thank you for coming in.

So, the speech not connected largely to reality or fact, filled with lies, and lots of self-aggrandizing involved, which is exactly as Donald Trump was for four years and lost an election over. But do you think that he yielded the power over the party that he and, clearly, many others there believe he has?

OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY AND COVID TASK FORCE ADVISER TO VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, I think that remains to be seen going forward in future elections. But, certainly, he's doing his best to claim ownership of the Republican Party. That's something he made very clear in his speech.

And I will say this. I have to say, I was -- I would like to say shocked, but not much, when I saw, you know, the people like Nikki Haley, who were not in attendance at CPAC, come out and somewhat, once again, fallen back in line under Donald Trump and sort of on social media and postings, like defending the administration's agenda and successes of the past four years.

And I think that tells you everything about where the Republican Party is and where we stand on it. Like, you know, watching these traditional, you know, Republicans who have been around, who are certainly looking at their own elections and campaigns for 2024 and in the future, they continue to support this guy.

BOLDUAN: Well, for some, traditional Republicans are now just called RINOs, people with traditional Republican values. I mean, get rid of them all is what Trump said, for any Republican who has spoken up against him. I mean, it is not really his desire for revenge and naming names within the party and who he wants to target that's so striking, it's warmest reception that his desire for revenge against people in his own party that came from the crowd that I think is most striking. I mean, your group is spending money to support these targeted Republicans, like Liz Cheney.

How concerned are you about his declaration for revenge?

TROYE: Yes. What is a greater concern to me is really the damage that he's doing to our democracy and our country. That is what really concerns me. And that is why the Accountability Project is standing by these Republicans who are going to face significant primaries. And we know that the Trump machine is coming for them.

And I think it's going to be important for the moderate Republicans out there -- the Republicans that don't identify with this type of extreme nativism, I would say, rhetoric that Trump is espousing and, you know, and the people that want to take a stand for our democracy when Donald Trump continues to lie to Americans about our elections, which are fundamental to our democracy.

So I think -- you know, I think voters will certainly have a role to play here, especially in more conservative areas, in red state areas, in red counties, where those counties are likely to remain Republican. And I think that they are going to have to band together and decide whether this is really, truly the party that you want to stand behind. I would say the Trump Republican Party or whether you want us to work candidates that actually care about what is happening here that are taking a stand.


BOLDUAN: It is funny, because Francis Rooney, a former Republican now, he said his approach would be to isolate him, contain him and stop pandering to him. Again, your organization is trying to do that. I just think, how can you do that with so many Republicans still loyal to him?

TROYE: It is no easy task is what I will say for sure, Kate. We definitely have our challenges. But i think people like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, they deserve support, they deserve someone to have their backs, and I think it's what better for America overall is to come together.

We are always stronger when we have two functioning political parties, I would say. And right now, I don't think the Republican Party is functioning.

BOLDUAN: And one thing we did learn is that there won't be a third party, a Trump party. At least that's what Donald Trump says today. So, put as much stock in it as you want.

Good to see you, Olivia, thank you for coming in.

Coming for us, Johnson & Johnson gets the green light. Now people should be getting their shots as soon as tomorrow. That's ahead.



JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, everybody, and welcome to Inside Politics.