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Trump Spars with Lewis; Trump's Vow for Insurance for Everybody; Dems Hold Rally to Defend Obamacare. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 16, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much for joining us AT THIS HOUR, guys.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: "Inside Politics" with John King starts now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate and John.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS.

A beautiful view of the United States Capitol there. You see the inauguration planning down at the bottom of the steps. Thanks for sharing your time today as the nation marks Martin Luther King Day and counts down to Donald Trump's inauguration as our 45th president. The president-elect is meeting with Martin Luther King III today. And this morning, he tweeted this, quote, "celebrate Martin Luther King Day and all of the many wonderful things that he stood for. Honor him for being the great man that he was."

Well, that's a nice tone. All good, right? If you can wave a magic wand and erase the past, whether it be Trump's cheerleader role in the birther movement questioning President Obama's legitimacy, or his new war of words with a civil rights icon who now questions the legitimacy of Trump's victory.

Trump, over the weekend, labelled Congressman John Lewis, quote, "all talk," after the Georgia Democrat told NBC he viewed Trump as an illegitimate president. This past hour, Lewis spoke to an MLK event in Miami.


REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: And I said to you as young men, the future leaders of this state, the future leaders of this nation, the future leaders of the world, you must never ever hate. The way of love is a better way. The way of peace is a better way. So I said to you as role models, never give up, never give in, stand out, speak up. When you see something that is not right and not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something, to say something and not be quiet.


KING: Read into that what you like. No direct reference to Trump there, but you get the point. Team Trump thinks Lewis owes the president-elect an apology. Lewis allies see it the other way around. Not the respectful even optimistic tone we usually attach to inauguration week.

And it isn't just Washington on edge. The world is now learning a lesson these past few weeks have made crystal clear to those of us here at home, if you thought a President Trump would be less combative and less controversial than candidate Trump, well, think again. China is warning the president-elect today to dial back his provocative rhetoric about Taiwan and trade, and European allies are alarmed after an interview in which Trump insults Germany's chancellor and, again, calls the NATO alliance obsolete. Interesting times.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, "The Atlantics'" Molly Ball, Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast," and CNN's Manu Raju.

Let's start with this dust-up between the president of the United States, president-elect of the United States, four more days, and Congressman John Lewis. Lewis started it. He's a civil rights icon. He's a hero in American history. He's also a Democratic politician who decided, right before inauguration week, to say he's an illegitimate president, interestingly as we wait to see if Congressman Lewis will talk about this on MLK Day. The first lady of the United States, who we know has no love loss for Donald Trump, who we know remembers Donald Trump trying to delegitimize her husband's presidency, "thinking of Dr. King and great leaders like @repjohnlewis who carry on his legacy, may their example be our call to action," signed M.O., meaning Michelle Obama personally sent this tweet. No direct reference to the illegitimate argument, but Michelle Obama can't be unaware of the timing.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. And, you know, just the moment in time we're living in. Yes, Mr. Lewis started it this week. But if you talk to Democrats who are close to him - I've not spoken to him - but if you talk to Democrats close to him, they believe that Donald Trump started it early on with Barack Obama, for years questioning his citizenship and other things. So this is Congressman Lewis, a very smart congressman, but as you said, a Democratic politician. He knows exactly what he's doing. And now there are more than 25, maybe it's up to 27 or 28, members of Congress, Democrats who are not coming to the inauguration.

So this is kind of sad on one hand, I think, because, I mean, there is going to be a transfer of power. I was talking to Tim Scott last night, the Republican South Carolina African-American senator, and he stands with John Lewis on this in terms of Donald Trump. This may have been one of the tweets he should have let go, he told me.


ZELENY: He didn't.

KUCINICH: And that's the thing is Donald Trump - it's so easy to bait him still. And it's also where he went with those tweets. He said John Lewis didn't - was a man not - thought (ph) he didn't take action. KING: Right.

KUCINICH: He immediately maligned his district, I don't know, equating maybe because he's an African-American congressman that his district is poor. I mean it was so offensive how he decided to take it to him and his district. And something he really could have just walked away from and rose above.

KING: But - but how long have we been having this conversation?


KING: This goes all the way back to the beginning of the Trump candidacy where people said, well, if you want to be combative, if you want to answer these, there's a different way to do it. He could have said, disappointed to hear that, John Lewis.

[12:05:01] KUCINICH: Yes.

KING: I wish you would give me a chance.

KUCINICH: Like what Pence did.

KING: I would love to sit down and talk to you about this. There are a number of any ways he could have been more diplomatic, but he is who he is.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: There's nothing that angers Trump more than questioning the legitimacy of his presidency, and that's the whole reason why, or at least you could speculate the reason why he is so skeptical of Russia's involvement in the election and Russia having an impact on the election because the more you talk about it, the more you may question whether or not he was elected fairly. So he is - any time there's anybody that's questioning his legitimacy, he's going to push back very, very, very intensely.

KING: And what does it tell us about the town we're sitting in. Normally we're getting ready for inauguration week. Look, somebody wins and somebody loses in a presidential election. The other party always has sour feelings or hard feelings still. But this is the week they say, OK, it's time to celebrate our democracy. It's time to say we're going to give the new president the chance. We don't have any of that.

What does this dust-up tell us, not just about John Lewis and Donald Trump, but more broadly about, a, the new president's relationship maybe with the African-American community, but the Democrats, in that building behind us, whose support he is going to need to get big things done?

MOLLY BALL, "THE ATLANTIC": It is - clearly it's never been in Trump's nature to back down, to apologize, to decline to respond to someone he feels has provoked him. And I think we can expect that to be the nature of his presidency going forward. As you said, inauguration week traditionally a time to bring the country together, at least symbolically, if not in actual fact, and to give the big speech about how it's all one America and we're all in this together. And I think that Trump's actions over the past weekend have indicated that no matter what the words are in that speech, it is not going to be the case that he is able to bring people together at the point of his presidency that ought to be the sort of peak unity moment.

RAJU: And - and, John, you -

BALL: And the question is, how does that translate going forward, right?

KING: Right.

BALL: What does that mean for policy? What does that mean for the way he actually attempts to govern? Is he doing damage to himself with the people he sees as his opponents on the other side of the aisle that he will not be able to recover?

RAJU: And, John, you can see the debate happening also within the Democratic Party about how to work with Trump. You have the centrist, moderate, conservative Democrats who need Trump supporters in their states like Joe Manchin, criticizing those folks who are not coming to the inauguration. And then you have the more liberal members who want to stand firm and want to resist a Trump presidency. You mentioned the African-American community. Trump getting about, what, 8 percent of the African-American vote. That's where you're seeing so much resistance on Capitol Hill, from the Congressional Black Caucus, people who do represent districts with large African-American voters. Those are the folks who are just so skeptical of Donald Trump's presidency. You saw that happen when they were kowtowing the Electoral College vote, a number of them trying to object while they were doing that in the House of Representatives. So this debate playing out within the Democratic Party. We'll see which wing wins, the liberals or the moderates, when they start to debate policy.

KING: We mentioned the tone you could possibly take. Listen here to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who, by the way, made a stop at the Martin Luther King Memorial here in D.C. today with his family. It wasn't announced beforehand. He went down with his family. He was asked on Fox News this morning what he thinks of Congressman Lewis calling President-elect Trump illegitimate.


MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: You'll see President-elect Trump take the oath of office, speak to the nation in his inaugural address surrounded by four of the five living presidents. It is - it is a testament to the world of the vibrancy of our democracy. And - and for someone of John Lewis's stature, to lend credibility to the baseless assertions of those who question the legitimacy of this election is deeply disappointing. I hope he reconsiders it.


ZELENY: We'll see if he reconsiders it. I mean I don't think he will. But the reality here is, this is a bit of an academic exercise. An important one, because as Manu said, it affects policy. How can this get done? But the reality here is, even if Democrats don't want to believe it, on Friday, in four days, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president. So, you know, this is something that's happening now.

I would not be at all surprised if there is, in the future, a meeting with the president-elect or the president then in John Lewis or something. John Lewis is - has drawn attention to this. He's a very - he likes to bring history into things.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: And I think that he may ultimately rise above it. We'll see. But this is - it's a side show, an important side show on a day like this. But the reality is, Donald Trump will be the next president.

KING: But to use the word "illegitimate" -


KING: To use the word "illegitimate," Congressman Lewis, again, if you listened - if you didn't see his speech last hour, we played it here live on CNN, you should find it. You should go, find that speech. It's a history lesson because he is such an iconic and amazing, remarkable hero in American civil rights history.

But this is - this is - no disrespect to the congressman - this is a partisan Democratic salvo here. To call the Republican president-elect illegitimate. You can say I disagree with him. You can say I'm not going to his inaugural. I have so many disagreements with him. He hasn't reached out to me. Maybe we'll get to it later. There are a lot of different ways to protest. He used that word, to Manu's point, we know how sensitive the president-elect is about this. He's - he's looking to start something.

[12:10:04] KUCINICH: Right, but also to Manu's point, you - coming from John Lewis', and a lot of the CDC's perspective, they just dealt with Donald Trump calling President Obama, the first African-American president, illegitimate for the better part of eight years. So -

KING: It's payback?

KUCINICH: It's pay - that's what it seems like. It does seem - I mean - and I don't want to question his motivations. Maybe he actually does believe that in his heart. And, you know, but that said, this does seem to be a little bit of a tit for tat. But you have to say, Mike Pence, again, we've seen him do this before, he is the voice of reason. He is the one who handled this as a politician, as - and, frankly, as an executive would.

KING: Right, it's not the only source of tension in Washington now that we have this - maybe we were naive to think we would not have this toxic environment and so we - now we have this toxic environment between the president-elect and at least part of the Democratic Party right before the inauguration. We also have an escalation of the president-elect's war with the intelligence community, even after the members of his national security team, who are up for cabinet confirmation hearings, they tried to make this go away last week by talking about how much respect they have for the intelligence community. Listen here to the outgoing CIA director, John Brennan, on Fox News.


JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: I don't think he has a full appreciation of Russian capabilities, Russia's intentions and actions that they are undertaking in many parts of the world. And that's what the obligation and the responsibility of the intelligence community is. I think he has to be mindful that he does not yet, I think, have a full appreciation and understanding of what the implications are of going down that road, as well as making sure he understands what Russia is doing.


KING: And so this interview happens. Again, the president-elect has a choice to make, let it go, say nothing, say something diplomatic, or be Donald Trump. "@foxnews, outgoing CIA chief John Brennan blasts President-elect Trump on Russia threat, does not fully understand. Oh really? Couldn't do much worse. Just look at Syria, Crimea, Ukraine and buildup of Russian nukes, not good. Was this the leaker of fake news?"

RAJU: You know, the interesting thing here, John, is that what Brennan is saying is actually not that much different than what a lot of Republicans are saying, even though Brennan said it in a much more pointed fashion. A lot of - Republicans are saying, well, when Trump learns more about Russia and about Putin, he's not going to give them a pass. He's going to realize how bad of a person he is, how much of a thug, in the words of some Republicans. So it's not much different. But he's - you know, they are being a lot more careful because they know they could provoke a Donald Trump tweet storm if they say it in a poignant (ph) manner (ph).

ZELENY: It also sounded like what some of his cabinet nominees said last week, who were all, to a person, much more hardline on - on a Russia and Putin. So that is the sort of - you know, the - the buzz saw that's coming here. But I thought Brennan's remarks were, you know - he knew what he was saying too.

BALL: Well -

KING: I'm the old guy at the table. I go back to - I was here for George H.W. Bush's. It was my first inaugural here in Washington D.C. I don't ever remember the environment being like this.

ZELENY: OF course not.

KING: And so -

BALL: But the thing about Trump that I think is going to be most disruptive to sort of the culture of Washington D.C. is just how high a tolerance he has for conflict.

ZELENY: Right.

BALL: The tendency is -

KING: He enjoys it. He seems to thrive on it.

BALL: Smooth things over, to try to make peace, to settle things, to make everybody friends and shake hands. Trump is happy to have 100 ongoing feuds, one in every corner, and he's never going to back down. And I think he correctly sees, he's the most powerful man in the free world.

KING: Right.

BALL: He has all the leverage.

KING: Right.

BALL: He is not going to need anything from any of these people before they are going to need something from him. And so he counts on, he never apologizes, and eventually they come to his door. They come knocking hat in hand and they're the ones who have to say they're sorry.

KING: Except votes on this policy -

BALL: Yes. Right.

ZELENY: Which is one thing that's different now. He needs -

KUCINICH: He'll need Congress.

KING: Yes.

ZELENY: Mark Sanford, who was quoted in a weekend newspaper, the South Carolina congressman, who said Donald Trump now has 535 bosses. He's never had one before.

KING: Well, that's - that's -

ZELENY: Not quite that true, but it's interesting.

KING: That's how the Congress looks at it, right? There are differing perspectives here in Washington. But to your point, you know, Trump loves conflict. A lot of people in this town are like, why does he keep doing this?

BALL: He thrives out (ph) of it.

KING: He thrives on it. And he thinks - he thinks, even if it's messy, it moves the ball his way, even an inch at a time. We'll see as we go forward.

Ahead, just to that point, President-elect Trump says repeal of Obamacare will still mean insurance for all. Can he keep that promise?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:18:40] KING: Welcome back.

The early days of the Obamacare repeal and replace effort have been a little messy. Republicans have the votes to repeal, but are deeply divided over the cost and the specifics of the replace part. The president-elect says, not to worry. In a weekend interview with "The Washington Post," Trump promised a plan of his own that provides, quote, "we're going to have insurance for everybody. There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it. That's not going to happen with us."

He said he wasn't ready to share details, but demanded swift action, telling "The Post," the Congress can't get cold feet because the people will not let that happen. Good for him. He campaigned on this. He said repeal and replace. There were a lot of provisions he said that were popular. Can't kick you off your insurance if you have preexisting conditions. Kids should be able to stay on their parents' coverage until they're 26. But to the Republicans in Congress, insurance for everybody, who's going to pay? How?

BALL: The reaction of most Republicans that you talk to in Congress to Trump's remarks are - is somewhere on the spectrum between confusion and panic because they don't know about this plan that he's supposedly almost done with and the things that he is saying that he's going to hold it to, the standard, is not one that they expected to be able to achieve under any of the range of plans that they are considering. And, furthermore, a lot of the things that he says he wants to do, like negotiating with prescription drug companies, are liberal ideas that Republicans - that have been enacted by Republicans for years and years. So they are at a loss for how to figure this out.

[12:20:05] A lot of the people on Trump's team are much more sort of regular Republicans familiar with the legislative process in the Congress. But when he does interviews like this, Trump is signaling, I'm the one in control. I'm watching you guys, and I can use my tremendous bully pulpit to make you go in another direction if I feel like it.

RAJU: Yes.

KUCINICH: And also -

RAJU: Insurance for everybody could be something that comes back to bite him. I mean Republicans have been talking -

KING: If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, something like that?

RAJU: Exactly. It's a big concern for him. I mean Republicans have been talking about, instead of a universal mandate, to have individual mandate to have universal access, have a lot of people to get coverage. Does that mean that everybody will be covered? Not necessarily. And they're talking about tax credits to insure that people can purchase coverage. How that actually - when you get into the details, how that works, will - remains to be seen. But what's interesting about Trump's remarks is that this is different than what they were talking about on Capitol Hill. They were talking about going piece by piece, not doing one full scale replacement plan, including some of the provisions of a new health care law in the repeal bill, doing things administratively when Tom Price, when he's confirmed as HHS secretary, issue regulations. And maybe do some specific things through the legislative process to replace. So if Trump is talking about coming with a full scale replace plan, that's not what they've been talking about for the past two months, since Election Day. So I think that is - it's going to be interesting to see what he actually decides and whether or not people up here will get behind it.

KUCINICH: Not to mention the assumption of speed. We're talking about Congress here.

RAJU: Right.

KUCINICH: This is not something that moves very quickly ever. So this is at least two months away? I mean I think on the high estimate. Or the low estimate. So he's acting like he could just push this through I think does - is kind of apart from reality when you talk about how things actually physically work on Capitol Hill.

KING: And -

ZELENY: Even if they agree with him.


ZELENY: In this instance, they don't necessarily agree with him.

KING: Right. Right.


ZELENY: So that makes it even slower. But, John, as you mentioned before, the price tag for this and everything else, it is going to be tabulated by this building probably more so than by the White House. So that is a central challenge here. And, you know, I'm not sure on how wise it is for him to be phoning up a reporter saying, oh, we - you know, he -

KING: Right.

ZELENY: It looked like he was reacting to protests over the weekend that were covered all weekend long. Hundreds and thousands of people in districts across the country were up in arms basically -

KING: Right.

ZELENY: About the Affordable Care Act going away here. So it looks like Donald Trump was trying to ease their concern, but it raised concern in this bill (ph).

KING: I think we have pictures of some of those protests. There was Warren, Michigan.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: Donald Trump won Macomb County. Bernie Sanders was out there, but Donald Trump won Macomb County, Michigan. There were some protests there. There were protests out in San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi's district. I don't think Donald Trump did very well in Nancy Pelosi's district.

But - so are the Democrats winning the argument then, if Donald Trump sees these protests or sees other protests like them, and then suddenly says, we're going to have insurance for everybody, hey, it doesn't sound very Republican and market-based to your point about how you're going to do this. So is this proof that this strategy by the Democrats is at least - or is this just Donald Trump keeping fidelity with his campaign promise?

BALL: I don't think we know yet. I don't think we know how this fight plays out. I think, you know, to Jackie's point, if Trump's plans and rhetoric run smack dab into the sort of bureaucratic reality of how the Congress works and Capitol Hill, who wins that fight because Trump has clearly signaled that he can go after anybody, Republican or Democrat, who he thinks is slowing down his agenda, and that's why Republicans especially because Democrats don't depend on - as much for Trump voters - on Trump voters to get re-elected. But Republicans are terrified because they know if Trump sees - blames them for not being able to get his agenda through -

ZELENY: Right. Right.

BALL: He can turn their own voters against them. And they're up a lot sooner than he is.

RAJU: John, it's interesting to see Democrats try to emulate these Tea Party tactics from 2009.

KING: Right.

RAJU: They know it's a lot easier to oppose something than it is to propose something. So now they're the opposition party. They can get their supporters out, scream and holler at these town hall rallies. Actually, President Obama encouraged Democrats to do that in the closed door meeting with House Democrats, Congressional Democrats, just a few weeks ago. So that is clearly their strategy going forward, and hopefully they - in their view, they hope they can get some of these Republicans to buckle under the pressure from their districts.

KING: Right. And to the same question I had about this - the dustup with Congressman Lewis, what's the - what is the bigger meaning in the case of Congressman Lewis. It's the toxic environment with Democrats. But what about this, because a lot of Republicans, after the election, we're saying, well, Donald Trump doesn't care about the details. He just wants victory laps. We will pass stuff and he will sign it. It might not be exactly consistent with what he says, but is this evidence that they got the wrong Donald Trump, that he's going to care about the details? Then there's the issue of the wall and the interview with Robert Cox (ph) from "The Washington Post." He says he wants a wall. His own homeland security secretary said in some places it might be more of a fence. And Donald Trump says he wants his tariffs, a border tax, that if Ford or GM or Chrysler or whoever moves jobs to Mexico and then tries to sell their cars back here or any other product, he wants to slap a tariff on it. Most Republicans are cool to that. Are we going to have by tweet and otherwise him negotiating legislation?

ZELENY: It sounds like it, but my question is, what does Mike Pence think of this? Because Mike Pence is someone who's worked on Capitol Hill. He is going to play a very large role, we believe, in crafting the legislation. What does he think about this? He knows how difficult all of this is. So the art of the deal is about business. It's different in legislation. So it's, you know, one of the many unanswered open questions hanging over this.

[12:25:24] RAJU: And what is the process? Does the White House come and propose legislation and just try to jam something through or do they let the congressional committees take the lead role the way that the Democrats did in the stimulus bill in 2009 and in Obamacare? That's a good (ph) question too.

KING: Do - that's the way it used to work. Welcome to the - welcome to the days of disruption. We live in a new world here.

Next, the world, meet The Donald. The president-elect slights a key U.S. ally in Europe and so angers China that it questions his, quote, "amateur logic."


[12:29:53] KING: Welcome back.

A little personnel news out of the Trump transition. Monica Crowley, who for a long time has been a Fox News personality, who's about to join the National Security Council at the Trump White House. CNN's Kfile doing some extensive reporting about plagiarism by Monica Crowley, including in a 2012 book she wrote.