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GOP Establishment Versus Tea Party; How Hillary's Past will Play in 2016

Aired February 16, 2014 - 08:30   ET


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: First, conservatives call for a coup against Speaker of the House John Boehner because of his surrender in the debt ceiling showdown.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: When they don't have 218 votes, you have nothing.


KING: Then Tea Party darling Ted Cruz forces a Senate vote that could cost his boss GOP leader Mitch McConnell his job. Nasty public battles in the Tea Party versus the establishment civil war. But why then do so many Republicans feel better than ever about 2014?

And it's back to the future week for Hillary Clinton.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.


KING: An old friend's notes give new insight into Clinton's take on her husband, Monica Lewinsky by getting revenge against enemies, old news or an obstacle to a 2016 White House bid.

INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters now.

Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your Sunday morning. With us this morning to share their reporting and their insights Maeve Reston of the "Los Angeles Times", Robert Costa of "The Washington Post", CNN's Peter Hamby and Annie Lowrey of "The New York Times."

So imagine this, you're in a big meeting and you stand up just after the boss's big presentation and you tell your boss take a hike or better yet imagine being told there's an easy way to avoid a big problem but instead you force your boss to publicly take a position you know might cost him his job.

Well, welcome to the wacky world of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. In today's Republican Party, being the leader means being the pinata and the people with the big sticks are fellow Republicans. The Tea Party versus the establishment tensions are nothing new here in Washington but Robert Costa they spilled over this past week big time in the fight over the debt ceiling. Could the government borrow more money to pay its bills, it was embarrassing, it was ugly, it was humiliating in some ways for McConnell and Boehner and yet at the end of the week some people say the Republicans are in better shape than ever. Why?

ROBERT COSTA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well the Republicans are probably in better shape just because they are getting this fiscal fight behind them. The debt limit now is extended until March of 2015 and you really have still though an internal battle within the party about expectations for divided government.

The right, the conservatives, they want concessions from the White House and Democrats, but Boehner and McConnell, they live in political reality and they say that's just not possible with the White House and Senate Democrats who don't want to negotiate.

KING: So they avoid a land mine Maeve but it's also pretty embarrassing and pretty messy. I guess their calculation is that the voters won't remember come November, but some conservatives say primary, anybody who voted to raise the debt ceiling, not a lot of them, but two dozen in the House, a handful in the Senate, primary them. How long is this going to play out?

MAEVE RESTON, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": I mean that was so interesting yesterday to see them kind of try to walk in lockstep this week when they -- when they took that final vote, and I think that what you're seeing here is Boehner sort of trying to take one for the team and move on to the Obamacare issue which is a much better issue for them going forward and something that they'll want to be talking about all year.

KING: And he's pretty breezy this week too singing "Zippity doo- dah".

RESTON: Right.


COSTA: That's humor I was there when we started to sing, it's very --


KING: But is it real -- but is it real or is it forced? I mean in the -- in "House of Cards" you do this to the leader or you end up in the river or in the dumpster.

In the old days, LBJ they cut off your financing and they put you on the widget committee. Is there any way can you do retribution in today's politics? HAMBY: You can. I just think Boehner thinks that what more can he do with this group of people in the house and that's why he just thinks he's done the right thing for the party, averted fiscal disaster and helped the party in the mid-term elections. I think talking to people around him and people in leadership he just can't deal with this small segment of the party.

COSTA: The McConnell furious I think, I think McConnell is furious -- McConnell is furious at Cruz for the vote.

KING: Well the senate is a different beast and McConnell has been there a long time. And the rules and protocol matter. And Cruz isn't just, you know, any Republican senator, he's a freshman Republican senator, he's new. He's done this before. They still blame him for the government shutdown Annie and the point from the leadership is when is he going to get it? They view him as harmful, but if you're Ted Cruz the grass roots thinks you're great.

ANNIE LOWREY, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, absolutely. And Ted Cruz caused a problem that he didn't have to cause. That didn't have to be an issue. And he became a real thorn in the side.

Whereas I think that for John Boehner as the good political calculus here is that he's turning the page faster. All right we have this excruciating process in the fall where it was just taking them weeks to try to bring people on board. Here he saw he wasn't going to get 218 and he just moved forward. And that was it. It was over really, really fast and I think he sees that as strategically much better. Than just letting this you know, they get to move on, like Maeve said to issues that are -- that are a lot matter to them.

KING: And conservatives are mad they felt the Speaker should have gotten something, they felt Leader McConnell should have gotten something. Leverage yourself against the President. Well that strategy has worked in the past the President has negotiated in the past, but listen to the President here. One of the reasons Boehner surrendered and then McConnell did what he had to do, is because the President made clear this is answering our Brianna Keilar, he wasn't budging here.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm willing to have a constructive conversation of the sorts that we just had in resolving the budget issues, but I've got to assume folks aren't crazy enough to start that thing all over again.


KING: Folks aren't crazy enough to start that all over again. Robert, he's thinking we've been through this before, especially with the government shutdown he knew the Republicans didn't have the guts essentially to do this again.

COSTA: I think the problem for the Republicans a lot is they live in this 2011 mindset, they swept to the House Majority in 2010 and they were able to get some concessions in 2011 with the sequester, but right now after the President won re-election in 2012, the President is in a better political position, he has more political capital so he doesn't need to yield much.

KING: A better political capital and yet if you just take six- year mid-term election, the average against the President and his approval rating is still down well below 50 and yet Annie the President could say that this past week was the best week ever for Obamacare. The enrollment numbers went up especially for young people. They are behind their target but it's improving. Is there any risk for the Republicans if they put all their eggs in this Obamacare basket if -- if the perception of the program starts to get better and maybe with no market turmoil after the debt ceiling vote, the economy gets a little bit better, could the situation what we look at now, look very different as we get closer to November?

LOWREY: Yes the Democrats have lost the PR war thus far about Obamacare. You had the completely botched rollout, you had the real disappointing numbers, you had all of these political fights, you have the employer mandate, all of these other issues.

But you're going to start getting these good news stories. It's going to start covering more people you're going to get you know the grandma who says well I got Obamacare and two weeks later I found out I had cancer. Thank you, Barack Obama.

But I think that nevertheless sentiment is still really, really fixed and I think it's going to be hard for all of those good news stories to sort of make up this deficit the bad news.

HAMBY: And I don't think the Obama administration frankly since they took office has been very good about communicating their economic accomplishments and despite the intraparty stuff we see in the Republican Party they have been pretty good messengers on this economic stuff. They really set the terms of the debate for these economic debates.

RESTON: Well on the Obamacare issue I mean the other thing they've said that the administration has done is really push their political problems down the road. I mean we've seen delay after delay. Those were the really bad stories that were going to come out this year, you know, the small, the medium size employers who were going to talk about how they are having to pare back their workforce. They are really pushing that down the pike and maybe Hillary Clinton has to deal with that.

KING: Talk about Groundhog Day, we did immigration and health care in 2008, we did immigration and health care in 2012 guess what ladies and gentlemen we're going to do immigration and health care in 2016.

But to that point can they change the perception Robert? Sometimes perception becomes reality in politics and to Annie's point you know especially, especially we're having a conversation in Washington, but if you go to Louisiana or Arkansas or the places where these key Senate races are this year, is it too late, even if Obamacare from February to November is more of a success story, is it locked in?

COSTA: Well I don't see Democrats like Mark Begich in Alaska or Kay Hagen in North Carolina starting now because of these positive stories to start suddenly to run on Obamacare. It's not going to happen and the GOP is going to stay fixated on this issue in 2014. Immigration is not happening. Tax reform is not happening, they've given up on entitlement reform this year so what else.

HAMBY: And Obamacare isn't exactly separate from the economy obviously.

LOWREY: That's right.

HAMBY: And the President's approval rating, is you know, at its lowest point of the presidency so if the economy continues to stagnate and if the President continues to be in the 40s, once we hit September, October, November, to your point, none of these red state Democrats are going to be --


RESTON: It's almost -- you know it's almost -- Obamacare is almost like a theological issue for people at this point. They either think that it's good or it's bad or it hurts their family even if it has nothing to do with their family and so for -- for us to change that perception is a big ask for the administration this year.

LOWREY: And they've never proven good at explaining what the law actually does, explaining the benefits.

RESTON: Right.

LOWREY: Explaining the downsides and the upsides. We saw this with the CBO numbers that came out. That they were really detailed and really technical and once again the Obama administration had a lot of trouble coming out and sort of positively saying this is what it's doing and this is the effect.

KING: Maybe it will be just like the Democratic convention in 2012 after bringing Bill Clinton to explain Barack Obama.

Everybody stay put. We all do this we call a good friend when we're mad, when we're hurt now we just need lash out. But we all don't run for president and Hillary Clinton's good friend well, she wrote it all down --old news or 2016 trouble? That's next.


KING: Welcome back. Our puzzle this week, piecing together the many looks and many roles of Hillary Clinton and posing this question: will an old friend's candid notes of their conversations help or haunt a 2016 Clinton White House run?

First a trip down memory lane. I remember this day like yesterday. I was there 1992, a diner in Chicago. The first lady of Arkansas in those days answering questions about her law work. Why was she a high-powered corporate lawyer when her husband was the governor of Arkansas?


CLINTON: I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas. But I decided to do is to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.


KING: Sixteen years later, a United States Senator, a Democratic candidate for president, bowing out of the race. Barack Obama wins but Hillary Clinton suggests women win, too.


CLINTON: Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it's got about 18 million cracks in it.


KING: More recently near the end of her tenure as Secretary of State, defending herself and her department, after the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi.



CLINTON: Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they would go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?


KING: Many looks, many roles for Hillary Clinton over the year. So perhaps no surprise, she's had a bit of a roller coaster when it comes to public opinion.

Let's look at some highs and some lows. One early high, look right here, Bill Clinton just inaugurated as president, the country warming to its new president and its first lady. Look, she's near 70 percent right there, but didn't take too long.

Here's the low, 1996. The Rose Law Firm -- that's where she worked in Arkansas, some of her law records had mysteriously disappeared. Then they suddenly showed up at the White House. Immediately under subpoena by the independent counsel, Ken Starr -- his investigation, remember, started about Clinton family finances.

A couple of years later, back above 50 -- a political high point of sorts, impeachment, Monica Lewinsky -- the country was mad at him, sympathetic to her.

Then you'll see here pretty much a flat line through the George W. Bush administration, she's right around 50 percent -- some people love her, some people not so sure.

But then look, above 60 percent early in the Obama administration; even a lot of Republicans came to admire her work as Secretary of State traveling the globe representing the United States.

Now these new notes -- the Diane Blair files and the question, Maeve Reston is this. Are the Republicans who say Hillary Clinton's past is the way to block her from living in the White House in the future -- a smart strategy?

RESTON: Not a smart strategy. I mean, you can bring this stuff up. You can churn it up, but when you talk to Republican opposition researchers who really are going to be the ones that are doing the digging, they say you have to find something new, you have to find something fresh. Voters when they heard all of this before have had a much more limited effected. At the same time the Republicans also have the possibility of overreaching by going too much into like the far, far past because as we've seen in the past that ends up making her look like a victim and then people rush to her.

KING: Right -- Republicans overreaching when it comes to the Clinton? That's impossible.

HAMBY: And yet we're talking about the past -- right.

KING: Right.

HAMBY: And aren't elections about the future?

RESTON: Right.

HAMBY: And I think that's is what was actually kind of sophisticated about what Rand Paul is doing which is just you bring this issue up and all of a sudden splash it across Web sites and newspapers and TV -- you know, pictures of the Rose Law Firm and the Clintons, and you know, just raising the specter of this baggage --

KING: And raising -- raising money.

There's no question Republicans can use these to rile their base. But those people aren't going to vote for Hillary Clinton anyway. But you can raise money, you can prove you're tough. So let's go through some of it because I think, to your point, the question is did we learn anything fundamentally new. We get some great new quotes, we get some new color but do we learn anything new about the character of the person.

Here's one of them and this one is interesting. "The first lady asked a close friend and confidant for advice on how best to preserve her general memories of the administration and of health care in particular? When asked why? Clinton said revenge."

We don't like vengeful politicians. We've been through this with Chris Christie's controversies. Does that hurt her?

LOWREY: I think again, it's going to be more impressionistic. Like any one little data point there is probably building a larger picture. And I think the expense of this is going to make her seem like kind of a political sleaze ball from the 90s, it's going to be pretty powerful in the general election especially as you have a new, fresh candidate that Republicans are going to seek out.

I don't think that this is going to have much effect during the primary -- I really don't.

KING: That's a great point.

LOWREY: But during a general election -- sure.

KING: That's a great point. A show of hands at the table if anyone thinks access to the Diane Blair files and recycling all of this is going to lead somebody credible to decide I can challenge Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Seeing no hands --

COSTA: I think it's going to be some ambitious Democrat, maybe not a well-known Democrat who sees this sense of Clinton nostalgia among Democrats but also really Clinton antagonism among the Republicans saying that's my opening. Maybe it's not Warren or O'Malley, maybe it's someone else. But there is going to be space that's going to represent the new Democrats.

HAMBY: One thing that seems to me to be pretty resonant from 2016 is this memo from Stan Greenberg (inaudible) that surfaced from 1992 that said, you know, voters kind of perceive Hillary Clinton as a little bit chilly. They're not sure what to think of her. And secondly they are skeptical of this notion of a co-presidency that you get two for one. This came up a little bit in 2008 with Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton and it probably will again in 2016.

KING: I remember when it came up in 1992. I was there; I got a lot of these gray hairs back in those days.

This is my favorite, our CNN team in Fayetteville pulled this out of the Diane Blair files. According to Blair Clinton told her that when the Clintons are done with this, meaning her husband's presidency, the first lady will go be a kindergarten teacher and never have to hold hands on the Hill again. She decided not to be a kindergarten teacher, Maeve.

RESTON: I think that, first of all, it's not a surprise, but I think also that some of what these files showed was a little bit of that real Hillary Clinton that actually some people like. I'm not going to put up the facade, I'm not going to be someone that I'm not. I hate this, you know, the hand holding pictures, and I think to some extent that humanizes her a little bit. Kind of makes her more interesting to voters.

KING: When I went through the polling, Robert, saw the high point after Secretary of State. And I think that's the fundamental question for her. She wants to be president. She wants to be the first female president but does she want to go back through that again and become a polarizing figure like she was in the 90s and to a degree when she ran for president in 2008? Here's something in the Blair files that I think tell us a lot about how Hillary Clinton used this. She's talking about after impeachment. They go out to dinner, Bill and Hillary and Chelsea. They go out to a play. Their public appearances jolly (ph) because he has survived impeachment and actually the Republicans are back on their heels.

She says, "This" she said "is what tries their adversaries totally nuts, that they don't bend. They don't appear to be suffering." If you remember those days that did drive Republican nuts. How did Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton survive all of that?

COSTA: I think that's right. And my big takeaway from reading these files is that the Clintons play tough. They play political hardball. Democrats who are thinking about challenging her in the primary better remember that. And Republicans -- as much as they're seizing upon this as opposition research, this is still the Clinton machine. You go at them you better go at them to win.

HAMBY: Well, speaking of the Clinton machine, one thing -- putting aside the fact that there's no old news in today's news cycle. One thing that these files crystallize to me is that the lack of coherent response and messaging from the Clinton universe. They keep saying she's a private citizen. We're not going to respond to e- mails. We're not going to address this. This might not be a bad story for her but the Clinton people are not in the conversation. They say they are not going to be, you know, until she runs for president perhaps. And I think that's a real problem or her because there are plenty of Republicans from Rand Paul to these Republican research groups who are absolutely willing to flood the zone with negative Clinton stuff and they better be better equipped at responding to them.

RESON: Instead they have these shadow groups that are coming out -- the hangers on around her coming out and defending and sort of speaking for Hillary Clinton world when really they are not actually in it, and that's a dangerous way to go.


LOWREY: I do think it is strategic in the sense that I think they want this to kind of peter out. I think they want to kind of just get all of this stuff out there so it's not just from 20 years ago. Oh -- that's from six months ago. Like forget about all of that. Focus on this new Hillary.

I do think that there's -- you can criticize the strategy but I think there's a strategy there.

KING: We couldn't get a response from her office. And she has not answered any of this directly, but she did do an event on Thursday morning with her daughter.

Listen to this, Hillary Clinton thinks before she speaks, and she knows people want to know what she thinks about the Blair files and all this focus on her. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: One of the best pieces of advice that I've ever heard from anyone is Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1920s who said that, you know, women in politics or in public roles should grow skin like a rhinoceros. I think there's some truth to that.


KING: And Eleanor Roosevelt didn't know about Twitter. Good advice, skin like a rhinoceros? Does she have it? Some people say she's thin-skinned. Some people --

COSTA: I think she's trying to give the image of having a skin like rhinoceros when it comes to politics. I think Annie is right. I think the Hillary Clinton strategy right now is as all this noise starts to really become an issue for her. How could she stay elevated above the conversation? How in 2014 can she help out some strategic Democrats in races? How could she just stay above the fray so she can enter strong?

KING: She's working on a book, too, so she will try to reshape this --


KING: -- and she'll try to steer the conversation back to where she wants to get it.

Everybody stay put. Next our reporters empty their notebooks, including you won't want to miss this, a coming judgment day for Chris Christie. A glimpse at tomorrow's news today, next.


KING: Welcome back.

Our goal here is to keep you ahead of the curve of the big political stories so every week we ask our reporters to share a nugget from their notebooks -- Annie.

LOWREY: So this week one thing that I noticed is in rethinking about the debt ceiling one of the things that got put on the table is something that could be extreme is tinkering again with the sequester or extending it further. It's become this cookie jar I think that we're going to keep on coming back to it because it's a forever policy now even though they have tweaked it a little bit.

KING: Otherwise you actually have to shape a budget.

LOWREY: Yes, exactly.


LOWREY: Ten years in the future. It's nice. It's always ten years from now. KING: Mr. Hamby.

HAMBY: Democrats and the "New Jersey Star Ledger" can editorialize all they want, the only thing that would compel Republicans to remove Chris Christie from the chairmanship of the RGA would be money. Did he raise enough money? Has he been raising enough money? Has the scandal in New Jersey become a distraction or him? He raised money in Chicago and Texas last week, did a pretty good job. This week he has a meeting, a private meeting with the Republican Governors Executive Committee, a meeting that will include rivals Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal. He's going to present to them their 2014 strategy and just how much money he has raised.

And we'll see what comes out of that meeting, but that's going to be the real test for him as to -- whether he stays in that position. Barring a further --

KING: The real jury of his peers, you might say.


RESTON: Another judgment day coming up for Chris Christie which is CPAC which is coming up at -- the conservative gathering at the beginning of March. He generally -- that audience has been very cool to him, but the one interesting thing that we've seen in the polling is that while his numbers have slid among independents, Democrats, all those folks that he was strong with before, it actually -- his numbers have gone up a little bit among the core Republican group, so do they give him a warmer, you know, reception and see him as a victim and embrace him as their own going forward?

KING: If he pulls a Newt and attacks the media. Rally around -- Robert.

COSTA: Keep an eye on Senator Ted Cruz. I think Ted Cruz's path to a 2016 presidential campaign starts very soon. He heads to Iowa in March. He's going to headline a rally for homeschoolers, and then in April he'll be in New Hampshire. Cruz is I think following the Huckabee model, the Rick Santorum model of being the anti- establishment candidate well ahead of times and have those grass roots relationships.

KING: (inaudible) at the end of the week, should he get involved in same-sex marriage debate -- we'll see. Ted Cruz on the road.

Mine is more of an observation than a reporting nugget. Remember a couple of weeks ago, Nathan Deal, the governor of Georgia blew the response to the snow storm there? I'll call this the Deal effect. At least eight governors this past week declaring states of emergency, a day or more before the snow reached their state. That's a reaction. Politicians react to one of their own when they fall down.

That's it for this week's INSIDE POLITICS. Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday morning with us.

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley starts right now.