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Trump Nominees on Russia; Flynn's Influence on Trump; Ryan on Repealing and Replacing Obamacare. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 13, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much for watching us AT THIS HOUR. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you very much, John Berman.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. A beautiful shot here in the nation's capital, our new set for CNN for the inaugural. Thanks for sharing your time with us today.

We are just one week, one week, from the Trump inaugural. On those steps behind me, Donald Trump will be sworn in one week from today as the 45th president of the United States. One week, we assume then, not only with full Republicans control of Washington, but maybe - maybe we start to get some answers about some vital questions about this new administration. For starters, who has the upper hand on Russia policy, the candidate and campaign team who praised Vladimir Putin and downplay Russian election cyber meddling, or the tough-talking man about to lead the Trump national security team.


REP. MIKE POMPEO (R), CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: It's pretty clear about what took place here, about Russian involvement in efforts to hack information and to have an impact on American democracy. I - I'm very clear-eyed about what that intelligence report says.


KING: Immigration policy, another huge question. Candidate Trump, you know this, he promised a wall and mass deportations, but the retired general he's tapped to enforce immigration policy, he has different ideas, as does the Republican speaker of the House.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that I should be deported and many families in my situation -



RYAN: No. No. And, Helica (ph), first of all, I - I can see that you love your daughter and you - you're a nice person who has a great future ahead of you. And I hope your future's here.


KING: Plus, one week left, President Obama isn't done making waves. Conservatives don't like a new twist in Cuba policy. And, whatever your politics, an emotional tribute to Vice President Joe Biden is worth another peek.


JOE BIDEN (D), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: About six months in, the president looked at me, he said, you know, Joe, you know what surprised me? We've become such good friends. And I said, surprised you? But that is candid Obama. And it's real. And, Mr. President, you know as long as there's breath in me, I'll be there for you, my whole family will be, and I know - I know it is reciprocal. I - and I want to thank you all so very, very, very much.


KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights this Friday, Julie Pace of the Associated Press, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Abby Phillips of "The Washington Post," and Margaret Talev of Bloomberg Politics.

At a time of considerable uncertainty, this much we do know, the spy novel atmosphere that dominated the closing months of the 2016 presidential campaign will carry over at least into the early months of 2017 and the new Trump administration. A few quick examples. Just today, "The Washington Post," David Ignatius, reports the president- elect's controversial choice for national security advisor made several calls to the Russian ambassador to the United States just as the Obama administration was imposing new sanctions against the Kremlin for its election interference.

Now to the foreign policy professionals, that's taboo, a violation of the one president at a time rule. Add in Flynn's perceived pro-Russia history, and those contacts stir suspicions among Trump's critics. But team Trump says that laughable, that the calls were just to express condolences after a couple of tragedies in Russia and to lay the groundwork for a Trump-Putin phone call. They say the sanctions were not discussed.

Trump himself stirring the spy saga anew in his morning Twitter performance. This a day after his spokesman said the president-elect wanted to move on and focus on major policy decisions. And, this is important, one of the many fascinating wrinkles in the big Trump cabinet confirmation hearings yesterday was listening to the nominees for defense secretary and director of central intelligence sound alarms about Russia and its cyber meddling, in stark contrast to the tone of their new boss.


REP. MIKE POMPEO (R), CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: But this was an aggressive action taken by the senior leadership inside of Russia.

GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET.), DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: I have very, very high degree of confidence in our intelligence community.

I would consider the principal threats, to start with, Russia.


KING: And so at the close of this big week in Washington, transitions often give us clarity. Confirmation hearings give us clarity about how a president takes the hundreds of things he says in a campaign and narrows them down to the four or five things he will focus on out of the box. Who's in charge of Russia policy and what is it?

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think that's a great question. You hear these officials going up to Capitol Hill and being very clear about their skepticism of Russia, their confidence in the U.S. intelligence agencies. At the press conference with President-elect Trump earlier this week, we basically had to yank out of him just an acknowledgment that he believes that Russia was behind the hacking. And then he later also said, but it could have been other people. I think that this question about how he will approach Russia, not just in terms of whether he will keep sanctions in place, on cyber, but how he will deal with them on Ukraine, how he will deal with them in Syria is going to continue to dominate, as well as the question of why he seems to be so favorable toward Putin.

[12:05:20] KING: And to your point, he - Donald Trump tweets this morning. We heard - you just heard there from General Mattis and from Mike Pompeo, the congressman who will be the CIA chief, very tough words, very clear-eyed, they said, about who Vladimir Putin is and about what Russia's intentions are in the world, how it wants to undermine the west and the United States.

Donald Trump tweets this morning, all of my cabinet nominees are looking good and doing a great job. He says, I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine, right? So, all's fine.

Then he also tweets this morning, though, things that undermine what they just said to Congress. He goes on about this whole fake news made up by sleazebag political operatives, both Democrats and Republicans, fake news. Russia says nothing exists, as if we're supposed to believe Russia is a credible source of what is right or wrong or true or false in the world. Then he goes on, probably released by intelligence. And intelligence is in quotation marks again. Something Donald Trump has done repeatedly in his tweets. Released by intelligence, even knowing there is no proof and never will be. So there goes Donald Trump again attacking or undermining, questioning, give me the right word, the intelligence community a day after his top national security team, people say, these guys are great, I trust them.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Which is why Mike Pompeo, the Kansas congressman, has a very tough job. He's the nominee to lead the CIA. And yesterday, really throughout the course of the hearing, he was a man who looked to me like he was trying to explain the president-elect and put distance with himself. Of course, he has to be the one who is confirmed here. So what I think we've heard from these cabinet nominees are, a,

something that Republicans want to hear on Capitol Hill. There's much more skepticism about Moscow and Russia and Putin's involvement in this on Capitol Hill than there is in Trump Tower. And Mike Pompeo was clearly making the case that there is respect for the intelligence agency. But, boy, he is someone, if he's confirmed, which it looks like he will be, inheriting a job that is very difficult. Morale, incredibly low. And tweets like this certainly don't help the matter at all.

ABBY PHILLIP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And I think this idea that you can have cabinet secretaries who are on a completely different track from the person that they work for is not right. I mean it's - it's not a long-term and sustainable situation for any administration. And I think that going into this we have to continue to assume that the president is the top of the totem pole here. His word is over - is the over-arching theme for the direction of all the agencies underneath him. And regardless of what is being said at these hearings, which are largely designed to reassure members on The Hill, both moderate Republicans and Democrats, the direction of the administration is going to be coming from Donald Trump. And even to the extent that his cabinet secretaries may disagree on him on individual issues, I don't think you can take that as a sign that things are suddenly going to be different from the words that Donald - are coming out of Donald Trump's mouth.

KING: And transition is one thing, Margaret, but an administration is something else. What happens if this continues after a week from now? This hour, a week from now, Donald Trump becomes president of the United States. What happens if a week, a day, a month into the administration, General Mattis, then Secretary Mattis at the Pentagon, is telling his German counterparts and his British counterparts, this is our policy towards Russia, and then Donald Trump says something completely different? Or if Mike Pompeo is in meetings with his Russian counterpart or his Chinese counterpart or an allied country saying, you know, here's our perspective on this, and the president of the United States says something completely different?

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: Well, obviously that's problematic. But the task for Republicans at hand right now is to decide whether or not they want to gum up any of these confirmations for President-elect Trump, or whether they want to accept these people, and, for them, put Marco Rubio aside just for a brief moment, but for everybody else, what they have is some important clarity, which is to say that Rex Tillerson, Pompeo, and Mattis are all willing to take their own firm stands, where their own reputation, where the rubber meets the road about how they feel about aggression at the border, you know, and inside of Ukraine, about the Iran nuclear deal, about any return to anything akin to waterboarding. They have all drawn their lines in the sand. If someone has to be confirmed in any event to be the secretary of state, to be the defense secretary, to be the CIA chief, these performances this week, by and large, are giving Republicans, and even some Democrats, a pretty good degree of confidence. The question is Mike Flynn, I think.

KING: Right. TALEV: In that role as the national security advisor, and how strong his word and his chain of command to Donald Trump will be vis-a-vis some of these (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Well, you mentioned -

PACE: And he, as national security advisor, does not need to be confirmed by the Senate.

KING: Right.

TALEV: That's right.

PACE: So we're not going through this process with him of really trying to explore what his relationship with Russia is, what he's been doing in the time since he left the Obama administration and joined the Trump transition team. So the idea that you have someone who's going to be so influential steps away from the Oval Office, who isn't going through this vetting, I think is as concerning to some Republicans as the confidence that they're getting from Mattis, Tillerson, Pompeo.

KING: And when you talk to mainstream Republicans on Capitol Hill, again, they weren't Trump supporters to begin with. We need to be honest about that. They're still skeptical about the new president- elect in many ways. We need to be honest about that.

[12:10:06] But when you talk to them about General Mattis, about Mike Pompeo, Democrats and Republicans say this is great. Even if we disagree with him on some things, he's bringing in grown up experienced people into the government. This is a good, deep experienced team. When you bring up General Flynn, people say things like, he's crazy, he's nuts, he's a conspiracy theorists. I don't trust him.

ZELENY: So that is the question here. He has the proximity to the president. He will have a West Wing office. These cabinet secretaries will not. So the question here again is one we don't yet know the answer to. We'll start finding one out in a week and more, who does Donald Trump listen to. Does he actually listen to the advice from his cabinet secretaries?

And I think we have to give him the benefit of the doubt that he will. We have seen, as he is a decision maker, he listens to a lot of advice, but he picked these strong men for a reason. So I think you have to think that he is open to changing his view. But proximity to power in this town is very, very important. And Mike Flynn may be the person who has the president's ear the last. So that's an interesting potential collision.

KING: And to his - to the president-elect's credit, if he wants to bring in a bunch of people - that's some diversity in their opinions -

ZELENY: Right.

KING: But he wants to have great debates and policy debates with smart, experienced people. And his call in the end. It's his call at the end.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: You mentioned, is it - does he listen to everybody and make his own decision? Does he listen to the last person he talked to? As you can - as we've seen throughout the transition, the Republican establishment and leadership is trying to nudge Trump. A lot of people think he doesn't want to get into this Russia conversation because he thinks people are trying to undermine his victory. People are somehow trying to say he didn't win fair and square. The Russian's put their thumb on the scale, delegitimizing him.

Most Republicans are trying to say, and put that behind you, sir. A week from today, you'll be inaugurated right here. Listen to the House speaker, Paul Ryan, in a CNN town hall last night, making clear, when you bring up Russia, he's very skeptical of Mr. Putin.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Donald Trump won it fair and square, clearly and convincingly. But the fact that a foreign government tried to meddle in another government's election is wrong. And so I do think sanctions are called for. I think we have to step up our game with respect to confronting Russia.


KING: That's what the Republican establishment has been waiting for the president-elect to say. And you mentioned at his news conference he said I think Russia did it, and then he immediately said, but other people do it too, and he kind of downplayed it right away. What the establishment - the speaker - (INAUDIBLE) just what Speaker Ryan said, I won fair and square. Don't question legitimacy (ph). This is my victory. But I will not stand for this. And that's what we haven't heard from the president-elect.

PHILLIP: I do think you can see in some ways as this has gone on some of the reasons why there's so much paranoia, for lack of a better word, within the Trump camp right now about the motives of the people who are bringing up these issues. They feel like, day after day, they are the victims of leaks that are coming from, as Trump said in quotation marks, "the intelligence world." So there is something happening here where people in the intelligence community are trying to tell him something. But the more that that's happening, I think the more it's creating a huge rift with him. And so I find it very hard to see how he can undo that. I think this is only feeding and breading a sense of being perceived -

KING: Right, that rare public statement the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, made the other night after a phone conversation with Trump, essentially confirmed CNN reporting that the Trump campaign was disputing. And so there's some - there's some clear tension still within the - within the family.

TALEV: There's also an interesting - either reigning in or at least recasting publicly of Mike Flynn's role, or public persona. We saw earlier this week him appear at the U.S. Institutes of Peace. This is a tradition of - they call it - passing the baton, the two national security advisors incoming and outgoing meet together on stage. He was very careful to put his arm around Susan Rice, hug her, tell Madeleine Albright how much he was in awe of her from the audience and say almost nothing of substance about his policy on Russia.

KING: Right. Well, we will see as we go forward. An important week ahead.

Still important rest of the hour to get through here. Next, new information on just how Republicans plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, and the clearest sign yet Republican leaders in Congress want what you might call a kinder, gentler approach to immigration reform than the new president.


[12:18:35] KING: Just a beautiful day in the nation's capital. Welcome back.

We are just weeks into January, but here's an early favorite for understatement of the new year.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I'm going to go out on a limb here and I'm going to say, this is going to be a very unconventional president.


KING: Said it with a straight face, too. That's house Speaker Paul Ryan, of course, speaking at a great CNN town hall last night with Jake Tapper. The House, later today, plans to join the Senate in paving the way to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But one goal of the speaker at last night's event was to assure people who rely on Obamacare, they won't face months of uncertainty or coverage lapses.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We want to do this at the same time. And, in some cases, in the same bill.


RYAN: So we want to advance repealing this law with its replacement at the same time.

Yes, I don't have a date, but that's something we're working on right now and it's going to take us a little bit of time but we're working on this as fast as possible.

TAPPER: First 100 days?

RYAN: Yes. Oh, yes, it's something - definitely is a plan within the first 100 days to get moving on this legislation. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Planning on the first 100 days to get moving on this legislation.

But as the Democrats learned when they were trying to pass this, wanting to do something and doing something, when it comes to something so complicated and corralling your own sheep, Republicans have different views from Democrats, but Democrats had essentially the reverse problem that the Republicans are having now, because this so divides the party and the Republicans are also boxed in by their president-elect, who during the campaign said I like the most popular, which also happens to be the most expensive parts of Obamacare.

[12:20:06] ZELENY: And that's the thing, expensive here. We are hearing a lot of proposals coming out of Trump Tower, a lot of ideas. The cost of this is really going to be a central issue. It hasn't been talked much at all. But Republicans have a heartburn. Conservatives - fiscal conservatives have heartburn on The Hill about how much all this is going to cost.

You also, on health care, have the industry. The outside groups. They are very worried about this. Health insurance companies, drug companies, et cetera. And they are big players at the table on this here. So I think Speaker Ryan, a few caveats, that 100 days maybe get it going. The idea of this being totally done, at last repeal and replace in 100 days, almost no one thinks that can happen.

PACE: And the influence of the health insurance industry and kind of the outside groups is something that Democrats learned very well when they started going down this road.

ZELENY: Right. Right.

PACE: This is not - health care is not something that happens in isolation, and Trump himself has not detailed what he wants to see in a plan besides keeping the easy things. The things that everyone knows are popular. He has not detailed how he wants to pay for changes. He has not guaranteed that people who have coverage under Obamacare will continue to have coverage under his new plan. So I think that we need to see more details from his administration. And it will also be interesting though to see whether he is going to put forward something on his own or whether he's going to rely on Republicans.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: He has suggested - he has suggested he would, that his new HHS secretary -

PACE: He has suggested that.

KING: He has suggested he would. We'll see. Again, president's often - I think President Obama at one point suggested he was going to put an immigration plan forward. He never did that.

And so as this plays out, you mention the fiscal conservatives. That's one end of the Republican spectrum. They're saying, how are we going to pay for this, especially when they're also getting phone calls from the Trump transition team saying Ivanka Trump's child care proposal would cost $300 billion.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: The president wants a multi-billion dollar infrastructure plan, but doesn't want to do it with federal money. So the fiscal conservatives are alarmed. And then - but then you have the moderates. Listen to Charlie Dent here, moderate Republican from Pennsylvania, a guy whose seat - most Republicans are in safe districts. Charlie Dent could face a Democratic challenge if people get upset about Obamacare being taken away.


REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I think the repeal plan needs to be fully - fully developed and better articulated prior to moving forward. I have some reservations about moving as quickly as we are if we don't provide a credible replacement plan. My main concern is that there would not be any gaps in coverages for people who are certainly subsidized. Also concerned about how the insurance markets might react.


KING: And so you see the problem for Speaker Ryan. How does he appease, satisfy moderates like Charlie Dent, keep the fiscal conservatives in line. And now - now we're just talking about the House. Then it goes over to the Senate where it's 52-48, which to get to the replace part, unless they've got some rabbit in the hat I don't know about, they're going to need democratic votes.

PHILLIP: Yes. And the process here is really important. I mean Republicans like the idea of going piece by piece, repealing and replacing bits of them a little bit at a time. But for people who are facing re-election, that's a - that's a huge problem. What if they don't get to the whole thing by the time they have to run for re- election again? That can pose an enormous problem because the market can react to all these little piecemeal things happening. And that's the part of it that Republican leadership seems to think is really the only way forward. They have a hard time looking at a gigantic bill just the way the Democrats did it and seeing that, being able to get enough support all at one time.

So they're in a real bind. It's hard to figure out how to balance the two things. But the key here is the details of the replacement have to kind of be on the table so people can evaluate whether the whole process is even feasible.

TALEV: Over the next few months, or maybe the next two years, there are going to be developments in the story. There are going to be, like, you know, provisions or plans or amendments or (INAUDIBLE). But the central, like, parameter of the story are going to be the same, if you want to keep health care coverage for people with preexisting conditions, for women with woman-related issues, for children up to age 26, the money has got to come from somewhere or you have to limit those benefits.

KING: Right.

TALEV: There's a little bit of room to play around the edges, like how much can states control or what do you tie it to or what do you deal with a regulatory thing state by state or in a federal exchange. But in the end, that's the decision. And if this goes on for two years, then it will be eight years that people have had these benefits.

KING: Right. And if - right, and if you do it the same way that Democrats did it, if you pass an all Republican replacement now, the problem is, when you make a mistake, and you inevitably make a mistake, just because it's so big and it's so complicated, the Democrats couldn't go back and fix Obamacare because the Republicans wouldn't help them. If the Republicans do a replacement, guess what, I suspect the Democrats will say it's Trumpcare now and you own it.

PACE: That's right.

KING: Let's move on to another big issue, because we know in the campaign if Donald Trump was clear on anything, it was he was going to be much tougher when it comes to immigration policy. He talked about in 1950 style deportation force, like used in the Eisenhower administration. We all know he talked about the wall. His choice to lead the Homeland Security Department, General Kelly, said, well, I don't know about this barrier thing. He says in his experience fighting wars, a single barrier isn't necessarily a good defense. You need multiple layers and multiple complexities. So that's - we'll see how the wall plays out.

Listen to Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House. Now, he has tried to figure out immigration within his conference for several years. Listen to him last night, though, when he was specifically asked at this town hall, am I going to be deported?

[12:25:11] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that I should be deported, and many families in my situation -



RYAN: No. No, and, Helica (ph), first of all, I - I can see that you love your daughter, and you - you - you're a nice person who has a great future ahead of you. And I hope your future is here.

When people get confidence in this country that our border is secured, that our laws are being enforced, then I really believe the country - all people in the country will be in a much better position to fix these thornier, bigger problems. But if you're worried about, you know, some deportation, you know, force coming on - knocking on your door this year, don't worry about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: He says, don't worry about that. That's not going to happen.

PACE: That -

KING: The Republican Congress is not going to pass that. That's a big deal.

PACE: That exchange was particularly fascinating. Now, I don't know that woman's entire story, and we don't know what kind of provision Trump and Republicans might come up for with the dreamers. But when Obama did his second round of executive actions on immigration, he specifically did not put a provision in there to protect parents of dreamers, those who were coming into the country at a young age.

If - we're now talking about people like this woman and other people who are able to be deported, and we're talking about more protections, that's actually a more liberal policy than what Obama has had. And I think Republicans are going to face - again, the reality of being in power is that you now have to make decisions that affect real people, and you own those decisions.

KING: Right.

PACE: And they're going to see women like this, parents like this over and over again as they go through this process.

KING: I was going to say, we are in a fascinating moment. And we're - we sometimes say, oh, messy debate. They don't have the answers. In some ways that's good too. If we - if we have a good debate, an open debate about these things as we go forward into the next year, it could be interesting and fun and potentially maybe get us some, what's that word, compromise I think they call it. I haven't heard that word in this town.

Up next, President Obama makes another dramatic change to Cuba policy, and he reflects on what he could have done better.