CNN’s Manu Raju on Capitol Hill and Hosting Inside Politics Sunday

By Mark Mwachiro 

When CNN overhauled its weekday, weeknight and weekend programming slate back in Sept. 2023, Manu Raju, the network’s chief congressional correspondent, was a big beneficiary. As a result of the lineup shakeup, he landed an anchoring gig as the host of Inside Politics Sunday with Manu Raju at 11 a.m. ET, becoming the first Asian American to lead the long-running public affairs program.

The nation’s attention will be focused tonight on President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address at Capitol Hill, a location Raju knows inside and out, walking countless miles within the hallways and talking to various lawmakers to provide an inside glimpse of the function and dysfunction of the congressional chambers.

Ahead of the State of the Union, Raju took some time from his busy schedule—and many steps—to talk to TVNewser.


TVNewser: What should viewers expect from tonight’s speech?

Raju: President Biden has one objective: Shoring up his political standing ahead of November. We have seen poll after poll show that Biden is struggling to convince voters of his accomplishments in office—and that he’s losing support with key constituencies in his coalition.

Expect Biden to try to sell his achievements hard and attempt to appeal to Nikki Haley voters who may be put off by Donald Trump but not sold on voting for him. The challenge for Biden as well is easing concerns on the left, particularly when it comes to his handling of the war in Gaza.

What makes working at the Hill so much fun?

There’s really no other beat like covering Congress. Nowhere else can you roam the halls freely and question some of the most powerful people in the country. If they don’t want to talk to us, that’s totally their prerogative. But we can also report that they wouldn’t respond to questions or show video of them jumping onto an elevator to hide from reporters.

More importantly, reporting in the Capitol is a tremendous honor and responsibility that I value greatly. We are among a select few who have the ability to question lawmakers directly about the decisions they are making that affect the lives of Americans and people around the world—all while holding them accountable to voters for their actions.

When not in the studio, are you permanently stationed in the corridors inside Capitol Hill?

It sometimes feels that way! The Capitol is an extremely busy place when Congress is in session. Both chambers have votes, meetings and hearings. There are 535 members who all have views and sometimes will be casting the key vote. What the leadership says matters. Each of the four caucuses has regular strategy sessions behind closed doors, there are constant press conferences and, somehow, you have to be aware of it all and figure out what’s happening behind the scenes.

But the most important task: Driving a story forward by figuring out a piece of new information that neither you, your viewers or your readers know anything about. That’s what motivates me. So, I find myself in the halls pretty much all the time when I’m in the Capitol, trying to learn what’s new and provide that information to my audience. News doesn’t just fall in your lap—at least, it usually doesn’t. You have to go out and get it. And that takes a lot of reporting and hard work.

It also helps to have a strong team, which I’m incredibly grateful to have. CNN’s Capitol Hill team of producers and reporters really know their stuff and work very hard to get solid reporting—and we collaborate all the time, which greatly helps our coverage. Our photographers—including my right-hand man, Eddie Gross—are the best in the business and ready to chase when we need to find members and get them on the record at key moments.

How do you know where you need to be to get the right person and soundbite?

A big part of the job is understanding members’ habits. Where they like to go, where they like to walk and where to catch them when I need to ask them a question. You learn all that on the job. I’ve been covering Washington since 2002 and Congress for most of that time. After a while, you learn about each member and figure out your way around a place that sometimes feels like a maze. But when I see a member, I need to know what to ask at that precise moment. Otherwise, if I’m not ready, I may have lost my one opportunity to get some news.

What are the keys to successfully getting a member of Congress to talk while on the go?

You have to be ready to ask direct questions. Try not to ask questions that drone on and on. Pointed questions are the best questions, and sometimes you only have 10 seconds or less to ask a question—from the time a member gets off an elevator and onto the floor—so you have to ask your question quickly and succinctly to get a chance to get some news.

How has it been hosting the Sunday edition of Inside Politics?

It’s been really great! It is a very unique show because I’m the only beat reporter with his own politics show. That allows me to interview newsmakers during the week, get new reporting from my sources and deliver fresh stories straight to viewers. So, I really hope it helps viewers digest new information about the key political stories of the day and that they come away learning something interesting.

I also have a tremendous show team with very talented producers who really help elevate the show, showcase the new reporting and are incredibly easy to work with.

I hope you’ll tune in every Sunday at 11 a.m. ET!

As an Indian American hosting your own show and a key reporter at CNN, how does your background help in your duties?

When I first started as a Washington reporter more than two decades ago, there were very few Indian Americans in the press corps. Now, there are more of us, but we are still pretty underrepresented. Since I’ve started, there are far more women in the press corps and many more minorities—a very positive development. Journalists’ backgrounds are critical in helping them understand complex stories that need to be reported with nuance and objectivity.

I owe so much of where I am to my parents and their relentless work ethic. My dad grew up poor in a small village in India. Both my parents immigrated to the United States in the mid-1970s, knowing hardly anyone in this country—all for a better life for their kids. They achieved tremendous success through their grit and their willingness to persevere even in tough times. Their stories are very inspiring.

Explain your work-life balance with you working on Sundays now.

While I’m very blessed to be in this position, it can be tough! With my day job (reporting on Capitol Hill) and weekend job (anchoring Inside Politics Sunday), I am trying to sort out the right work-life balance. It’s a work in progress! But I try to take time off when I can, even if it means just a few hours of disconnecting.

And it’s incredibly important that I spend time with my wife and two young twins. I try to make it home at night in time to put the kids to bed and try to stay late enough in the mornings so I can take them to school. On the weekends, I find time to coach their sports teams, play games with them and go to dinner with family and friends. Plus, we love taking fun vacations, which is really important to get away from the melee and bond with family.

What are you not looking forward to tonight?

That it’s going to be a very late night tonight. And then up at 5 a.m. on Friday!