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Trump's Call with Australia PM; McCain talks Australian Dispute; Iran Put on Notice; Conway Calls Dems Crybabies; Trump Meets Harley-Davidson Execs. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 2, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. And thank you all so much for joining us AT THIS HOUR.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining me AT THIS HOUR.

"Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: John and Kate, thanks so much. Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

Day 14 of the Donald Trump presidency and there is disruption everywhere you look. Not, for example, what you traditionally hear at the solemn National Annual Prayer Breakfast.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had tremendous success on "The Apprentice." And when I ran for president, I had to leave the show. That's when I knew for sure I was doing it. And they hired a big, big movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger to take my place. And we know how that turned out. The ratings went right down the tubes. It's been a total disaster. And Mark will never, ever bet against Trump again. And I want to just pray for Arnold if we can for those ratings, OK?


KING: On Capitol Hill, the first cracks in Republican loyalty. The president is likely to get all of his cabinet picks, but at least one, just barely.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I will not, I cannot vote to confirm her as our nation's next secretary of education.


KING: And on the world stage, words of a tense call with a critical U.S. ally in the Pacific and a blunt warning after a missile test in the Persian Gulf. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.


KING: General Flynn just one of the new faces generating controversy.

Here's another. The great manipulator if the label "Time" gives top Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, the driving force behind the new administration's America first views on trade and immigration.

With us this day to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Sara Murray, Dan Balz of "The Washington Post," Greg Miller of "The Washington Post," and Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist."

The White House briefing set to begin any moment. We'll take you there live when it begins.

The president is also about to greet some executives from Harley- Davidson. We'll bring you those pictures when they come into us.

Today is the first day on the job for the newly confirmed secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who, thanks to a volatile world and an interesting boss, has his hands full.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I know this was a hotly contested election and we do not all feel the same way about the outcome. Each of us is entitled to the expression of our political beliefs, but we cannot let our personal convictions overwhelm our ability to work as one team. Let us be understanding with each other about the times we live in as we focus our energies on our departmental goals.


KING: We don't take sides here, but an excellent patriots reference by the secretary of state, Red Tillerson, today. Among his immediate challenges, common key allies who are alarmed, both by President Trump's words and his personality. That list includes most of Europe, Mexico, Canada, and it is growing. Just today, for example, words of an uncomfortable conversation with Australia's prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Scheduled for an hour, the call lasted less than half that as the president bragged about his election and vented about an Obama administration agreement to accept predominantly Muslim refugees now in Australian camps.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The world is in trouble, but we're going to straighten it out, OK? That's what I do. I fix things. We're going to straighten it out. Believe me, when you hear about the tough phone calls I'm having, don't worry about it. Just don't worry about it. They're tough. We have to be tough. It's time we're going to be a little tough, folks. We're taken advantage of by every nation in the world virtually. It's not going to happen anymore.


KING: Greg, your reporting is central to this story. I want to read from your story this morning in "The Post." "At one point Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that this, quote, was the worst call by far." He's untraditional. He's disruptive. Why does this matter?

GREG MILLER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think it matters for a couple of reasons. One, it gives us some insight into how he is interacting with not only foreign leaders but close American allies. So they're subjected to the same vitriol that his political adversaries get on social media or news organizations get day to day.

But also it's just, you know, it's - this is a critical American relationship. It's hard to think of another country that has been more steadfast in its support for the United States than Australia from World War I through World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. And so it's really destabilizing. At least - I mean I was on the phone with lots of Australian news organizations last night really confused about what signal this sends to the country.

KING: Right, and you look in the rear view mirror at the alliance, looking forward in the alliance, absolutely critical as China flexes its muscles in the South China Sea and elsewhere, the Australians are incredibly important.

I want to show the pictures of the phone call because it's important. As we're getting to know this new president, we're getting to know his team and how he conducts himself on the world stage. You see there General Flynn, the national security adviser, and Steve Bannon in the room as the president makes these phone calls. And we know, a, they both think the Obama administration was weak and they think the United States broadly, not just the Obama administration, should speak more clearly, more bluntly when it comes to these things. Air your differences. That's not necessarily all bad but, to Greg's point, Dan, it does make people a little unsettled.

[12:05:20] DAN BALZ, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, everybody's unsettled by this. I mean he is the biggest story in the world right now and almost every day he is doing something to disrupt a relationship, whether it's with an adversary or, as Greg says, with an ally. That is unnerving to people who are used to dealing in a different way. It's true that he was elected on an advocacy of change and a promise of change and he's doing a lot of that, but he's breaking crockery at the same time. And the question is, which is going to have the bigger impact long term.

KING: Right. We thought Washington was the china shop and he was the bull. Apparently the world is the china shop and he is the bull.

Sara, you cover this White House. And when they put out their statement after this call it was traditional sort of, everything was fine, they - we discussed the good, close relationship. And then you hear this fabulous reporting afterward about this very tense call, not hanging up the phone but abruptly ending a conversation like that. They like this talk, the White House, right? As we sit here and say, how can you do this to an ally, everyone else around the world is on edge, they like this.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Even though they've put out somewhat of a sanitized, whitewash transcript of what actually we've now learned happened on that call, I think they look at it as Donald Trump doing exactly what he said he was going to do in his inauguration speech. If you look back at that speech, that very clearly put both allies and foes of the United States on notice that they are going to change up relationships. They are planning on shaking up the world order. And, above all, they're prioritizing America ahead of everyone else. And I think that's sort of what we saw Trump doing in this call with Australia.

But I do think what is worth noting is a senior administration official and the Australian prime minister both said at the end of the call they both agreed that the U.S. is going to take these refugees. It was a pre-existing agreement. The U.S. is going to honor it. So he may have talked tough, but it ultimately didn't change the outcome.

KING: Well, and then the president tweets, I'm going to study this bad deal. He calls it a bad deal. He says he's going to study it. So he communicates to his different audiences as (ph) we go through this dumb deal I guess (INAUDIBLE).

I want you - Mary Katharine, listen here, John McCain, when he ran for president, he said he was the straight-talk guy.


KING: Apparently he thinks Donald Trump is too straight.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: So we have had a close and best (ph) relationship with Australia. They fought alongside us in wars, including losing over 500 brave Australians in the Vietnam War, which some of us remember. And this, in my view, was an unnecessary and frankly harmful open dispute over an issue which is not nearly important as the United States/Australia cooperation and working together, including training of our Marines in Australia and other areas of military cooperation and intelligence.


KING: Speaking calmly and slowly there -

HAM: Right.

KING: But this is probably the fourth or fifth day in a row where John McCain has taken on this White House over some aspect of its foreign policy. So he's disrupting the world. He also has a lot of critics up on Capitol Hill who frankly are nervous about this president's world view and very nervous about the two men we saw in the Oval Office with him there.

HAM: Right, this is McCain's turf. It's his passion. It's probably where he's going to stay and get very comfortable running up against the Trump White House.

Look, I think - can I point to like what I think is a fundamental problem with the fact that the White House is so different and pretty inscrutable and much of the coverage has been, if I may, fairly frantic in the first two weeks. There's trouble trying to figure out exactly what - how important is each story -

KING: Right.

HAM: And exactly what was the tone. And exactly what are the motivations of people telling the stories? So as an observer of news and a reporter of news, I have some trouble parsing that. And I think that's one of the problems we're going to have to cope with moving forward a lot.

But I do think on the substance of this, he's free to ask about this deal and say, look, you guys took a bunch of refugees, threw them in detention centers, and then we're supposed to bring them over. That's a fine conversation to have. The tone in which he has it, sounds very Trump (ph).

KING: But that - but that's his - that's his style.

HAM: Yes.

KING: It's, stir it up.

HAM: But there are reports out -

KING: Yes.

HAM: He didn't change the deal.

MURRAY: Right.

HAM: Right.

KING: Right.

MURRAY: And it's still the same deal.

KING: It didn't change the deal.

Tim Kaine calls it amateur hour. And, again, he's talking about the Australia negotiations (ph). But this is a bigger - this is a bigger issue. Germany's on edge. The British prime minister was here. Then she goes home and criticizes the travel ban.

When you talk to your diplomatic sources, national security sources, in terms of, to Mary Katharine's point, this is a Trump trademark. He sort of roils the water, gets everything boiling, even if he wants an inch, he sort of asks for a mile at the beginning to get everybody on edge and then he tries to get his inch.

MILLER: Yes, and it's also just very transactional, right? You can see in this - in this call, this 25-minute call with the Australian prime minister, he's not thinking about the broader complexity of this relationship.

KING: Right.

MILLER: He's looking, what am I getting out of this 20 minute section - this conversation that I'm going to have to show for it for me at the end of this. And I think it's distorting in some ways to allies. I think we were talking just a moment ago about how this deal appears to still be intact, although Trump signaled on Twitter that - that he was inclined to re-evaluate it.

KING: Right.

[12:10:01] MILLER: And so if you're Australia, who do you believe, the American embassy there that's telling you everything's still a go, or the president's Twitter feed?

KING: That's a - that's a great point.

What does it mean when the national security adviser walks into a White House briefing and says we're putting Iran on notice?

MURRAY: Gosh, I would love to be able to answer that question and we asked a lot of senior administration officials exactly what that meant because it did feel a little bit like drawing a red line -

KING: Right.

MURRAY: And then not having a plan for what you were going to do next. I mean we're told essentially this is the beginning of a deliberative process. They didn't guarantee an action would come out of that deliberative process and they didn't take anything off the table. So maybe that means economic sanctions. Maybe it means military action. We really don't know. It seemed to be sort of a verbal slap on the wrist to try to encourage Iran to just voluntarily change their behavior, which they've made very clear this morning that they have no intention of doing.

But the Trump administration very clearly wants to send a signal that they are tough, that they are not just going to take things like they believe the Obama administration did. But they risk, I think, falling in the same trap that Obama did with Syria, which is, if you draw this red line and you don't have anything to back it up again, you're going to catch a lot of heat for that.

KING: What are the options?

HAM: Well, I think one of the things perhaps they're doing here is to say, well, the campaign rhetoric was (ph) scrap the deal. One of the things that you can do before you do that is - or - and maybe in lieu of that is for Flynn to say, you're violating the deal, which Obama was not saying when they were clearly violating the deal. So that is a rhetorical change that could make a difference, even without scrapping the deal. So I'm not sure that -

BALZ: Correct me if I'm wrong, but during the campaign Trump, at - certainly at one or more points said he wouldn't necessarily tear up the deal, but he knows what negotiations are like and what deals are and he would enforce it to the letter of the law.

MURRAY: That's right. And they seemed to be trying to make clear yesterday that they don't believe that this is a violation of the nuclear agreement. They think that this is separate and they are willing to try to put pressure on Iran through different levers separate from this nuclear agreement, which still remains intact for now. Again, what that pressure is aside from talking tough, we don't - we don't know yet and they don't know yet.

BALZ: And Senator McCain said this morning on local radio that he has - he has questions about whether this ballistic missile test does, in fact, violate the U.N. agreement.

KING: Right. And to that point, it's just a getting to know you phase. And you made a great point earlier - we learned this on the campaign - sometimes don't take Trump literally. You know, take his point. So people around the world or even people in his own administration, you have a new secretary of state on the job who has, we know privately, criticized the rollout of the travel ban. Has said some other things. We have a defense secretary who's now traveling to Asia who we know has very different views than the president of the United States, at least in public, about the NATO alliance and about alliances around the world.

How do people translate this in the early days or do think they, you know what, maybe we just shouldn't react to every day and just take a breath and see where we are in a week, in a month, in a year?

MILLER: I think there is a bit of that. I mean I think people are starting to take a breath and say, OK, let's just ride this out and see what happens after all of this nose. And I think that, you know, even going farther than those senior cabinet-level officials you just named, I mean there are other players here that we're not clear what their contributions to issues like Iran will be. The new CIA director was an avowed foe of this Iran deal. Now he is in a position of evaluating it. He's the one who's going to be in charge of going into the White House to tell them Iran is holding up its end of the deal or Iran is not holding up its end of the deal.

KING: Fascinating days as we are here.

We're awaiting the White House briefing, as we told you. When Sean Spicer steps up to the mic, we'll bring it to you live.

Also when we come back here, Democrats upset on Capitol Hill, but they don't have the power to do much about it.


[12:18:00] KING: Welcome back.

Again, we're standing by for the White House briefing.

We're also standing by to see some tape of the president of the United States, and the vice president of the United States, greeting some executives from Harley-Davidson. And we are told they might have brought some toys along with them. Can't wait to take a look at that.

In the meantime, Democrats today again boycotting committee meetings and forcing Republicans to change the rules to advance confirmation process - the process, excuse me, of President Trump's cabinet picks. And they're facing intense pressure from liberal groups to find some way to block the president's new Supreme Court pick. Not to mention big looming policy fights over health care, tax reform, immigration and much, much more.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, this morning, recalling the days when Republicans were in the minority, has a little empathy.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I understand why they're - they're upset because they - they had a bad election and - and they're upset about it. That's not going to deter us from getting our work done and doing what we were elected to do.


KING: A little understanding there from the speaker of the House. Listen here, top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, not so much.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: The Democratic Party, we're seeing it unraveled in front of our eyes and we're seeing it be revealed in front of our eyes. A bunch of crybabies who say that they're going to oppose Supreme Court nominees before they even know the person's name and his academic credentials and impeccable judicial record.


KING: We were talking about this - Nia-Malika Henderson joins us, I should note, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson is here as we get to domestic politics.

We were talking in the last block about tone and how the world is on edge about the president's tone. We see it in the domestic sphere as well. Kellyanne Conway, you know, they're going to need Democrats on trade issues. We'll get to some NAFTA news in a minute on that. They're probably going to need Democratic votes to replace Obamacare. They're going to need Democratic votes to pass an infrastructure package. But they're crybabies.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and Kellyanne Conway is showing why Donald Trump loves her so much with that sort of language and being very different from Paul Ryan, who, let's face it, is in a different position than Kellyanne Conway. As you said, he's got to be, you know, in The Hill - on The Hill and try to navigate these very difficult, legislative actions that he wants to take, whether it's Obamacare, whether it's on trade. And I think Democrats - I mean what Chuck Schumer is facing is people outside of his house wielding signs that say, Chuck, grow a spine, Chuck's a chicken. I mean all sorts of things. I mean this is what he's doing.

[12:20:14] KING: And they're his friends, right?

HENDERSON: Yes, these are his - yes, these are his constituents, right. And so that is what he's doing and that sort of, you know, protest movement. Progressives are calling it the resistance. That's what's is coming obviously to The Hill as well with Democrats trying to channel that. But, listen, they're in the - they're in the minority. So they're in a difficult spot trying to - trying to balance these two things.

KING: So in some ways the beginning of what Kellyanne Conway says, there's some truth to that, the unraveling, in the sense that you have these interest groups. We saw it in the women's march. We've seen it in the reaction to the travel ban. They want the Democrats to stop some of this and the Democrats don't have the votes to stop any of this. So what happens to the Democratic Party?

HAM: Well, the problem for them is that - and we've seen this on the right before - they don't want them to stop some of it. They want them to stop all of it. And they cannot do that. It's impossible. They put themselves in a bit of a bind by getting rid of the filibuster for cabinet nominees and now they're sort of creating a new filibuster on the fly. Then they have to deal with whether they'll filibuster on the Supreme Court. Looking ahead and seeing, well, there are going to be other Supreme Court nominations and we may want to save it for that. Their base, however, much like the base on the right over the many years of the Obama administration, might not listen to them.

KING: But the Republican reaction to that, Dan, was the birth of the Tea Party. The Tea Party exists and you had protests going back to George W. Bush. People forget that. It wasn't all Barack Obama. It was about the bailout of Wall Street and the bailout of the auto industries that people didn't think was conservative (ph). But then it became primary challenges to sitting Republicans in Congress. Are we going to see that against Democrats who can't - they just don't have the power to block?

BALZ: I don't think you can rule that out at this point. I mean - I mean the interesting aspect of the moment we're in is, there is no opportunity for nuance in terms of the political discussion and what we are seeing is - I mean in contrast to eight years ago when kind of the resistance to President Obama started at the top, right on inauguration night at that famous dinner that Drucker (ph) wrote about. This - this resistance has welled up from the ground up, that Democrats are now having to deal with. And nobody can control that. Nobody can predict exactly how that's going to play out. The - you know, the leaders in the Congress, particularly in the Senate, are having to make it up day by day as to how far they'll push and how much they'll have to yield on. But they don't know what the reaction is going to be. At this point there is, in the Democratic base, such visceral opposition to Donald Trump that people are not thinking about, well, what's the right tactic at this moment?

KING: It's just say - just say no, which was a lot - that's how a lot of Tea Party people got here to Congress. They said, no more spending. No more this. No more that. If Obama says up, we say down.

We're told we're about a minute away from seeing the president of the United States greet the Harley executives, so we'll bring you that tape in just a second.

And it - from the White House perspective, to see the Democrats trying but failing on all these fronts, again, I assume the president's quite pleased that so far a lot of controversy but he is advancing the ball. He's going to get, for example, probably his entire cabinet, even though Democrats say there are a lot of ethics issues there, a lot of questions, they'd like to stall this out.

MURRAY: I think they are pleased that they're still in the ball (ph), but I have heard that Donald Trump has been personally sort of perplexed by the amount of opposition his cabinet picks have faced on The Hill by the fact that there were so few that were confirmed by the time that he was inaugurated. So I think there has been a little bit of frustration that some of these things that they are putting out there, they are doing, you know, without having treasury secretaries in place. They did their travel ban before a number of these folks were in place who were - who were in positions to implement it. So I do think there is still frustration.

But we have to remember that Republicans did this too. Republicans were obstructionists, as you guys pointed out, under President Obama. Republicans refused to meet with Merrick Garland, much less have a vote for him. So it's kind of, you know, what goes around comes around at this point.

KING: It gets escalated every time it goes around and comes around and they say, oh, you guys were good at this. We're going to do it.

Let's go look here, the White House, right now. There's the president, the vice president, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. A little Wisconsin flavor at the White House. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which one you want?

TRUMP: Wisconsin. I love Wisconsin.


[12:25:21] KING: We're watching the president of the United States, the vice president's along with him, the chief of staff, Reince Priebus. There was some talk that the president would go to Wisconsin this week and then that trip, which was never officially scheduled, we're told, had to be pulled off the tentative book because of some security concerns.

You see the president here outside, the South Lawn of the White House, the meeting with Harley-Davidson executives, and looking at some mighty fine motorcycles. Whatever your political views, you can't - you can't object to taking a peek at that. Leather jackets for the Harley execs. The president and the vice president in their overcoat on a chilly day here in Washington.

A couple of interesting points as we - we'll watch this tape. If the president speaks in an audible way, we'll stop and listen to him. But as we just watched the tape here, it is interesting. A couple things. Number one, he has tried repeatedly to focus on jobs. He says that he - you know, he's picking up the phone, whether it's the Carrier deal during the transition, since he's been in office, talking about how he's going to make jobs priority number one. Wisconsin, one of those blue states that he turned red in this last election. So as you heard the president at the top, I love Wisconsin.

But also the production of the Trump White House. This is the South Lawn. We saw him this morning at the prayer breakfast. Then he has meetings in the Roosevelt Room. Now he's out, we're seeing him for the first time, having an event on the South Lawn. For a president who gets the optics, he is using every piece of the platform. I don't mean this critically. The White House, you have the bully pulpit of the Rose Garden, you have the bully pulpit of the East Room, and now you're out on the South Lawn walking down the driveway and bringing in for a jobs pitch here.

MURRAY: Right. But this is also just how Trump likes to work. He's not a guy who wants to sit in his office and read a bunch of briefings books. He wants to meet with people, talk some face-to-face, hear their concerns, hear what they want and start to sort of like, in his view, get the deal-making process going.

But I feel like we would be remiss if we didn't note that even though he has invited a number of companies, a number of business leaders to the White House to meet with him, they have these sort of very showy meetings, a lot of people in the business community are really afraid about what a Donald Trump presidency is going to be like.

KING: Right.


MURRAY: They're worried about the taxes he floated. They're worried about these immigration moves. And they're worried that high-skill visas are going to be the next thing on the chopping block. So it's not all as merry and lovely as these meetings in the Roosevelt Room and on the lawn.

KING: It's - it's a great point. They love the - they love when the president says, and the Republicans in Congress say, we're going to give you lower corporate taxes, we're going to finally give you tax reform because of the uncertainty of the - not only the last eight, this goes back to the Bush administration. When are they going to get about tax - you know, the tax reform.

But you mentioned Harley-Davidson sells a lot of those bikes overseas.

MURRAY: Right.

KING: And so what is the - the president, at an earlier event, talked about renegotiating, renovating - he's a builder - he used the world renovating NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

HAM: Right.

KING: He said to add a second "f" to make it North American Fair and Free Trade Agreement. So you're - again, uncertainty.


KING: Disruption and uncertainty in the early weeks of the presidency.

HENDERSON: Well, I think this is interesting too about the divide in the business community and there is one that there has been some push from the left and from the activist groups to say, sanitize yourselves of Trump, never meet with this man, we will boycott you if you even meet with him. But I think one of Trump's actual strengths for those who disagree with him is that he does synthesize information from new people all the time and he does enjoy meeting with those people. And I would say that for - I would caution that perhaps sanitizing oneself and not coming to the table does not work in one's advantage in that case.

KING: He said this morning, Dan, at the prayer breakfast, I hope to see you seven more times and so he's thinking -

HENDERSON: Very modest.

KING: He's thinking this through. Well, you know, a smart politician thinks this through.

The president's going back into the White House there.

Wisconsin, I mean to - all politicians is local. This will - this tape, we're playing it on national television right now, but it will play a lot in Wisconsin as well, pretty smart guy if he's thinking about his political future, isn't he?

BALZ: Sure. And he was pretty smart through the campaign in the way he thought about how to run the campaign, much to the surprise of a lot of people who thought they were more expert about how campaigns should and could be run.

He is thinking about that. But, I mean, go back to the economic point and Sara's point was good about the consternation in the business community or the uncertainty in the business community. He's done a lot of things which have attracted attention. They're basically small things.

KING: Right.

BALZ: A small number of jobs saved. A small number of jobs created. But he's going to be judged in the way all presidents are judged on his economic record, which are by the big macro numbers. How many jobs actually is he creating? What is the level of employment or unemployment. And where, you know, it's way early on that. He's sending signals to the people who backed him that he's going to think about their situation and do everything he can to create more manufacturing jobs in the United States, to think about the workers who have been left behind, to figure out a way to bring their wages up. But so far we've seen very little in terms of policy. We've seen more kind of just jawboning here and there.


KING: Excellent point. A lot of businesses don't like that jawboning. They're afraid to be subject of a Twitter attack. And I would, to your point, as we got to head into break here, wage growth. Not just job growth but wage growth is something he talked about. Stagnant wages in the country and those numbers. We'll see those numbers in - shall we say we get through 2018 midterms and head on to 2020.

[12:30:05] A quick break. We'll be back in a moment. We're also standing by for the White House briefing today. Stay with us.