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Obama's Iraq Dilemma; Who Speaks for the GOP?; Hillary Clinton or Who?; Tomorrow's News Today

Aired June 22, 2014 - 08:30   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: The commander in chief deploys military advisors to Iraq but promises no mission creep.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.

KING (voice-over): But it is still a risky mission for a president who made his name promising to end the U.S. military role in Iraq once and for all.

OBAMA: Four years ago I promised to end to the war in Iraq. We did.

KING (voice-over): Republicans add foreign policy to a list of complaints they say proves this president just isn't up to the job.

JOHN BOEHNER, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You look at this presidency and you can't help but get the sense that the wheels are coming off.

KING (voice-over): Plus, Hillary Clinton picks a fight with the National Rifle Association.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We cannot let a minority of people -- and it's -- that's what it is, it is a minority of people -- hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people.

KING (voice-over): But do so-so sales of "Hard Choices" suggest the country already has a case of Clinton fatigue? INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.


KING: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your Sunday morning. And with us this morning to share their reporting and their

insights, Julie Pace of the Associated Press, Politico's Manu Raju, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times" and CNN's Peter Hamby.

Consider the moment. The president elected on a promise to get U.S. troops out of Iraq is now sending troops back in, this time promising again and again and again that this operation will not grow, he says, into another messy ground war.


OBAMA: We can't do it for them and we certainly can't redeploy tens of thousands of U.S. troops to try to keep a lid on a problem if the people themselves don't want to solve it.


KING: Now, Democrats are watching nervously, willing to bite their tongues as President Obama deploys 300 military advisers. But Democrats say they're not willing to support any escalation.

And Republicans?

Well, they say the president has only himself to blame, as the Islamist group known as ISIS marches south from Syria toward Baghdad.


BOEHNER: The spread of terrorism has increased exponentially under this president's leadership.


KING: To me it is just the moment. The president who made his name in national politics by saying I will get us out, I opposed the war to begin with, I will get us out as soon as possible. When they say 300 military advisors, publicly the president is adamant it will not grow and it will not become combat. Privately, are they nervous?

JULIE PACE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, there is something surreal about covering Barack Obama sending U.S. troops into Iraq. This is the war that he always said he wanted to end. He actually did end it and pulled all the troops out.

Three hundred troops to train Iraqi security forces -- there's actually an additional 275 troops that have gone in to secure that embassy in Baghdad, to secure other U.S. interests.

They have not said definitively that there will be no more troops. It is possible that if there are additional training needs, additional security needs, you could see that number go up.

What the White House wants to try to warn against, though is mission creep, ending up with several thousand troops in Iraq for a sustained period of time. KING: And the public has no appetite for this. And his party

has no appetite for this. There are some Republicans saying he should be more aggressive and he should do more.

But what kind of ground is he on politically with the country, more important than with Washington?

JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think there is almost a sheer (ph) appetite for more foreign engagement with -- when it comes to a military intervention, by the part of the American people, which is why the White House went to such lengths this week to portray this as not only limited, but more along the lines of what we were doing in other parts of that region, which is basically drones, right?

Drones and through airstrikes are going handle this. This is not American boots on the ground. This is sort of air warfare.

But it's such a reminder, John, that the presidency is shaped by events and that presidents don't get to pick the agenda; the sort of moment and the times pick them.

PETER HAMBY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And how much of this agenda has been set by the previous president --


HAMBY: -- except for health care reform. So much of it, the Bush years continue to dog at him.

But to your point about public opinion, I mean, look, these are American boots on the ground. They are going to be going out with Iraqi troops into dangerous areas and they, it's my understanding, have a green light to engage if fired upon.

Look, if there is a casualty of an American soldier in Iraq, this isn't just Obama promising, look, no combat forces or whatever. That's an American soldier in combat getting killed or wounded. And that's going to be a huge public opinion --

MANU RAJU, POLITICO: And to J. Martin's point, I mean when you look at the presidency, the second term, it really has been defined by foreign policy events.

KING: Right.

RAJU: I mean which is pretty remarkable considering he ran for reelection on this foreign policy platform, dealing with getting rid of Osama bin Laden, dealing with the Iraq War, Afghanistan War.

But what we've seen in the second term, Syria, Ukraine, now Iraq, is really dominating his agenda because domestically, nothing is getting done. And now foreign policy is what everybody is latching onto.

KING: And as he starts this engagement with a skeptical public, a lot of questions in Washington from both parties, you'd have to -- it's just an honest statement, he's a weak president at the moment.

The NBC "Wall Street Journal" poll last week, in addition to having a lower approval rating, people were asked the question, can he effectively lead the country right now, is he -- this president still able to lead?

Can lead, 42 percent, cannot lead, 54 percent.

So you have a majority of the country questioning his basic competence as president, can he rally the country, can he lead the country right now?

And, Julie, you know, Manu mentions the foreign policy challenges. And Republicans are saying that this president, yes, he killed bin Laden, but since then, they say, terrorism is back on the rise.

And here at home, they say if you look at issues like, you know, the missing IRS e-mails, Benghazi, ObamaCare, Republicans think the intensity is on their side. And now Democrats are they acknowledge, now they are saying, now we're going to go back into a military action?

PACE: Some of this is just what happens to presidencies at this stage, obviously. The country is already shifting slightly to who's going to replace him.

But I think to Manu's point, one of the big reasons that the public, you know, thinks about Obama this way is that there just isn't much happening here.

And everything that is happening tends to be negative. It's either watching the U.S. pull back into Iraq, it's watching the IRS e- mails unfold. So any action that they do see reflects poorly on the president and he doesn't have much to counter that narrative with.

RAJU: And that's a huge problem for the midterms. I mean what are the Democrats really running on? It's not even clear. There's no real national issue other than, say, the minimum wage. But that's --


PACE: That's not really going anywhere.

RAJU: Right. That's not going anywhere either.

So what is it that the party stands for?

It's not entirely clear right now.

MARTIN: It's almost July. The last time there was positive information flow about President Obama and his White House was probably at the end of the signup period for the Affordable Care Act.

KING: Right.

MARTIN: And that's what, Julie?

That's March?

PACE: It was March.

KING: When the numbers went up, but a little higher than they thought --


MARTIN: Can you think of anything that was sort of a dominant story sentence line that has helped this administration?

KING: And another interesting, I would say fascinating, dynamic as someone who covered the White House at the beginning of the Iraq War, back in 2003, is the return of Team Bush. And I'll do it in the context of this, who speaks for the Republican Party?

Dick Cheney wrote an op-ed with his daughter in "The Wall Street Journal." And he said this, criticizing the president for what's happening in Iraq. He said, "Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many. Instead," he's talking about Iraq -- "he abandoned Iraq while watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory."

Now, what the vice president -- the former vice president is saying is because President Obama did not leave -- force the Iraqis, essentially, push them in negotiations to leave residual troops, that's why this is happening.

But even a lot of Republicans get a little squeamish at this, Peter, because they say why Dick Cheney?


KING: You know, if you talk about were we greeted as liberators in 2003?

We were not.

Were the Iraqis pumping oil in weeks and months to pay for all this?

We were not.

Was this civil service that was sprung out of the, you know, woodwork to run the country, effectively, after Saddam Hussein was toppled?

No, it never happened.

Does it help the Republicans to have Dick Cheney leading the charge against Barack Obama now?

HAMBY: No, it doesn't. I mean, look, they -- the neocons are back. They feel emboldened, Paul Bremer, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney, are out there talking about this. This is their passion.

But a majority of Americans think the Iraq War was a mistake. And Dick Cheney remains deeply unpopular. And that's sort of why you saw White House press secretary, Jay Carney, come out this week, Harry Reid --

KING: Yes.

HAMBY: -- and immediately push back really hard on Dick Cheney, because they know that's a win for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's an opening for them. Yes.

KING: And Chris Christie sounded tough in a speech to a conservative group at the end of the week. But Rand Paul -- Rand Paul, in an interview with "National Review," still seemed to think, why do we want to do this?


KING: You know, people have questioned, you know, what would he do?

Will he be libertarian isolationist like his dad on these issues?

Will he be somewhere in the middle?

Here's what he told "National Review."

"Do we want to, in effect, become Iran's air force? What's in this for Iran? Why should we choose a side? And if we do, who are we really helping?"

Will he get in trouble here?

Will the -- can he carry that position?

The public is probably with him, but is the Republican primary --


KING: -- Republican donors with him?

HAMBY: What you see here, I think, is Rand Paul treading a really fine line and pivoting to an issue that's favorable to him, because --


HAMBY: Right. So he makes it about Iran instead of drones, which he opposes. He obviously opposes sort of boots on the ground in Iraq. So this is him kind of taking an issue that is troubling for him and pivoting and not a terrible way --

RAJU: And him trying to reach out to younger voters who he's been aggressively trying to court. It does not help him with the donor class of the Republican Party --

PACE: But it's not a --


PACE: -- it's not a terrible idea to be cautious on Iraq at this moment because we have no idea where this is going to be --

KING: Right. Right.

PACE: -- in a year, a year and a half, when the presidential campaign is really underway.

KING: All right. It defined the beginning of the Obama presidency and could now define the end of the Obama presidency.

Everybody sit tight.

Up next, a true political Hail Mary.

And a puzzling look at how Hillary Clinton stacks up against other political authors.

But first, this week's "Politicians Say the Darndest Things."

Here's the Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, celebrating a Stanley Cup win by breaking two big rules.


MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI (D), LOS ANGELES: There's two rules in politics. They say never ever be pictured with a drink in your hand and never swear. But this is a big (INAUDIBLE) day. Way to go, guys!



KING: Welcome back.

Well, if you can't judge a book by its cover, can you judge it by its book sales?

Obviously, we're talking about Hillary Clinton's new book, "Hard Choices."

Let's take a peek at this. We're going to compare Hillary Clinton here to Hillary Clinton -- 86,000 books sold of "Hard Choices."

That's in the first week, right. Not so bad.

But is it so great?

Look, remember when she left the White House with her husband back in 2000? She wrote "Living History." That one sold 438,000 books in the

first week.

So the last Clinton book did better than the current Clinton book.

But let's stack her up against different competition. Joe Biden, Rick Perry, the governor of Texi -- Texas, excuse me -- Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, 86,000, remember in the first week for Hillary Clinton.

Well, better than Biden, Perry and Mitt Romney, but by this standard, Sarah Palin the runaway winner.

The question is, as we watch the book tour roll out, Jonathan Martin, not how many she's sold. As we saw all these interviews and we see the book tour go out, one question I had in all these interviews is, as she sees President Obama going down in the polls, how much does she have to worry about that?

Or does she let that take a place over here and worry about 2016 over here?

MARTIN: No, I -- she can't afford to do that. I think that you've seen some of her answers reflect the fact that she's cognizant of President Obama's declining standing with the American public.

Look, she's picking her spots where to create separation with President Obama. She didn't have to put in this book that the Obama folks wanted her to go after Sarah Palin in 2008 and that she pointedly said no. Nobody made her put that in the book.


MARTIN: And the fact that she did put that in there, I think, is very telling. And then you add onto that some of the sort of foreign policy differences, most notably Syria --

KING: Syria. Right.

MARTIN: -- where she wanted to arm the rebels there, and, look, she is looking for opportunities, I think, to create some daylight. It's not overwhelming and it's not -- it's not over the top in a way that's going to tick off the Obama folks, but it's there.

HAMBY: And it's always hard, after two terms of a president, to maintain that party's power in the next presidential election --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And she knows that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- she does know that. She's obviously very smart. We saw that in the CNN town hall this week.

Another point of distinction that I thought she tried to draw reminded me a lot of 2008, when she talked about the difference between leadership and vision -- KING: Right.

HAMBY: -- and she talked about how you need someone who can get you there. It's not enough to talk about it. That seemed to me --

KING: Oh, yes.

HAMBY: -- very much like 2008.

But look, there's so much focus on these sort of tactical questions around Hillary Clinton, her personality, can she adapt, can she improve from 2008, I continue to think, I agree with you both, that the president and his policies and his popularity are -- might be the biggest challenge for her.

KING: Right.


MARTIN: Well, his popularity. His policies are actually still pretty popular. I mean Democrats, the saving grace is that if you look at the polling, their policies are a lot more popular than Republicans. And when it comes to a national election, that could be what -- that helps them.

KING: But we're having this conversation in a vacuum because we don't know -- let's assume she runs and let's assume, for the sake of this conversation, sorry, Governor O'Malley and others, that she wins the Democratic nomination.

OK, we're going to assume that. And a -- what we don't know is who are we comparing her to. So we see her talk on this issue and we say that helps the debates. We see her talk on that issue, we say she's separating herself from President Obama. We see another issue and say maybe she's reaching for the middle.

The question is, who's the other person on the ballot?

You can't make the comparison until you get it. And we've seen some of the Republicans this week in the spotlight and sort of -- let's give you a little update. Chris Christie, still under investigation.


KING: But some indication maybe that was moving toward a conclusion, but we're not sure about Bridgegate.

Scott Walker, who at first has a tough reelection this year, then, again, he says this is a partisan attack and it won't hold up in court, but a prosecutor saying he's part of this illegal conspiracy in a fundraising scam.

And here's what Rick Perry, who a lot of people say watch the second time around for Rick Perry. He learned from his mistakes. He can raise a lot of money. He's from Texas. But in a speech last week, he wades into a very difficult issue,

suggesting, essentially making the comparison with being gay to being an alcoholic.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: I may have the genetic coding that I'm inclined to be an alcoholic. But I have the desire not to do that. And I look at the homosexual issue as the same way.


KING: Now, at a breakfast about a week later here in Washington, Governor Perry said I stepped in it. So he tried to step out of it --


KING: But he stepped in it in San Francisco and then in Washington, he said, I stepped in it. I made a mistake, I shouldn't talk about that, I should talk about jobs for everybody and leave that up to individuals, leave that up to states.

But, if you're thinking about to win the presidency, you know, you've got to do better for Republicans. You've got to do better in the suburbs. You've got to do better with young voters.

You know, how much does he pay a price for stepping in it?

RAJU: It's -- it was a huge price. And this just shows how wide open this field is.

KING: Right.

RAJU: I mean you mentioned those governors who are viewed as some people who could potentially win the nomination. They're having their own problems. And you have questions over the three first term senators and their relatively thin resumes, seeking the presidential nomination. Jeb Bush, can he come in there?

But he has positions on Common Core and immigration that cause a lot of folks on the Right to revolt.

Who's going to win this nomination?

It is totally wide open.


HAMBY: One of Rick Perry's biggest assets in this race was the benefit of really low expectations. After the last campaign, the flip side of that is the little margin for error.

What's interesting about this, and you've pointed to three governors right there, is who emerges if all three of those guys go away. And this is what gives oxygen to Indiana Governor Mike Pence --

KING: Right.

HAMBY: -- who is close with Christie, is close with Walker, and -- but is also behind them in terms of running for president.

So if they stumble, Pence is somebody who has relationships with both the conservative donor class, you know, other donors and just this week, he was in Alabama speaking to the Republicans down there --


MARTIN: And also he has close ties --

PACE: Which is interesting --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- to the Koch brothers, too --

KING: Right.


MARTIN: -- which could be a huge deal for -- for Pence.

KING: Money helps.

PACE: What is interesting, though, is while we have all this attention on Hillary Clinton running for this nomination possibly, I think it actually has increased the amount of attention we're paying to these Republicans at this stage, too, in order to have some balance in there, so it put things like Walker's possible problems, Christie's problems, Rick Perry's missteps, in the spotlight in a way that they might not have been at this stage of a campaign if you didn't --

KING: Right.

PACE: -- have such a clear-cut frontrunner in Hillary Clinton.

KING: And -- well, let's close by, sneaking in the 2014 race.

On Tuesday, we'll have the runoff down in Mississippi. Thad Cochran is the incumbent. He lost the first go-around to his Tea Party challenger, Chris McDaniel. But McDaniel didn't crack 50. So that's why they have this run-off on Tuesday.

Cochran's in trouble. When you're in trouble, you need a 4th quarter comeback, right?

Listen to Brett Favre on the air waves there.


BRETT FAVRE: I've learned through football that strong leadership can be the difference between winning and losing. And when it comes to our state's future, trust me, Mississippi can win, and win big with Thad Cochran as our strong voice in Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: This is a bizarre race.

You write about it, Jonathan, in the newspaper on Friday, where you have the Republican candidate essentially going into the African- American community, traditionally Democratic voters, saying save me.

MARTIN: The African-American population in Mississippi is the largest of any state in the country. It's about 37 percent of the population there. It's so big that if you're a Republican and you're looking for votes and you're limited with your own party, well, you've got to be creative.

And Thad Cochran is trying to get African-American votes out of a Deep South state in a Republican run-off.

And it's a heck of a poli sci --


RAJU: (INAUDIBLE) McDaniel's opponent says it smacks of desperation. And in some sense, it does because the voters who are going to come to the polls are the activist types --

KING: Right.

RAJU: -- the people who do support Chris McDaniel.

KING: Yes.

RAJU: And if McDaniel wins that run-off, Democrats have a chance in November.

So why would, if you're a Democrat and a Mississippi voter, come to the polls when there's a chance you could beat McDaniel?

HAMBY: Look, Cochran's forces seem to think they have a little bit of, you know, maybe momentum this week. You know, polling is non- existent. But we'll see. I mean it's a -- I think it's actually kind of a jump ball at this point.

But you have to give --


PACE: -- and you've got Brett Favre and Chuck ---


PACE: -- as your --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- call Palin and John McCain --


PACE: Right.


KING: Well, we'll watch that one on Tuesday night. We'll have the results here for you on CNN.

Everybody stay put.

Tomorrow's "News Today" is next, as our reporters empty their notebooks and get you a head start on the coming big political stories.



KING: Before we go, let's go around the table and ask our great reporters to get you out ahead of the coming big political news.

Julie Pace?

PACE: After this heavy foreign policy stretch that we talked about, the White House is desperate to get the president back talking about the economy and kitchen table issues that they think Americans are actually going to vote on in November. They tried to do this earlier in the spring and it just got overtaken by Ukraine and Afghanistan and now Iraq.

They finally feel like they have turned the corner in the sense that they no longer need to have the president out talking about foreign policy almost on a daily basis. So look for them to be really hyping a Working Families Summit, talking about things like infrastructure and manufacturing.

I will say, though, I have been through these economic pivots with this White House more times than I can count.

KING: Yes.

PACE: And something always happens.

KING: Pivot, reset button.


KING: We'll see how that one goes, especially with the Iraq news. Let's watch that one.


RAJU: I was down in Arkansas covering the Senate race recently with Tom Cotton, who's -- who has been trying to sell his lighter side, softer side on the campaign trail. Watch him to now come out with his tougher side. He already began launching a very tough ad last week against Mark Pryor, linking him to Barack Obama. Now, you're going to see him push back more aggressively on the

Medicare attacks that have been going after him, pushing back and saying this is actually Mark Pryor is the one who cut Medicare. They believe that if they can start pivoting to, you know, define Pryor in the eyes of voters as an Obama acolyte, they can win this race and start to see some separation in the polls.

KING: One of the best races in the country.

We'll keep on that one.


MARTIN: If national conservatives are confident about Mississippi on Tuesday, a little bit more nervous about Oklahoma, which has not gotten anywhere near the same attention, but which features a candidate in TW Shannon, half black, half Chickasaw Indian, who is backed by national conservative groups and Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin.

Some folks are concerned now, though, that he might not even make the run-off.

James Lankford, who's the House member from Oklahoma City, and has emerged as a pretty strong candidate, has had some kind words from Tom Coburn, which is a big deal in Oklahoma, and also benefits from a House primary that's very competitive in his old House seat in Oklahoma City, which is going to boost turnout.

What has -- the thing to watch for there is does either of them reach 50 percent, because that way, it would avoid a run-off?

But most about him, though, in Oklahoma, it still probably goes to a run-off but Langford could get 50.

KING: Huh. We'll keep an eye on that one.

A great race.

HAMBY: Most of the attention on Tuesday is going to be on Mississippi. There's another run-off that's fun for political junkies in my favorite state of South Carolina.

Sally Atwater, the wife of the late controversial Republican strategist, Lee Atwater, is on the ballot in a Republican run-off. She is running for state superintendent of education. This is actually a pretty powerful statewide position. It controls about half the budget there.

There's a lot of fun South Carolina intrigue. Atwater is backed by the old Bush forces. The old McCain folks are against her opponent, Molly Spearman. Common Core obviously a big issue in a Republican primary. So that's going to be a jump ball --


KING: We'll watch the Republican divide play out at every level on the ballot.

I'll close with this. At first, they were amused and a little curious but now top advisers to Mitt Romney are starting to get annoyed that some polling organizations continue to list him when they go into the field and poll for the Republican nomination in 2016.

So they're beginning to complain to these organizations, even though Romney does quite well in those polls.

Remember the former Massachusetts governor made clear yet again last week, no, no, no, he's not going to seek the nomination for a third time in 2016.

So his advisers are now saying, number one, you don't get a fair sense of the early field if you put Mitt Romney's name in there. And number two, they say every time he wins one of these polls, they start getting a lot of phone calls and e-mails that they would prefer not to get.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS.

Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday morning with us.

We'll see you soon.