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INSIDE POLITICS

New Sanctions on Iran; Visas Revoked Under Travel Ban; U.S. Condemns Russian Occupation; Israeli Settlements and Peace; GOP Lawmakers Object to Wall; DeVos Vote Monday. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 3, 2017 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: I miss you already.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Great to see you.

BOLDUAN: All right, with that, we've got to go. Get out of my shot, John.

Thanks for joining us AT THIS HOUR. "Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.

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

Breaking news, everywhere you look in the nation's capital today, the new January job's report is a gift to the new president. The economy added a robust 227,000 jobs in the final month of the Obama presidency. And, more importantly, Americans much more optimistic now about their odds of finding work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And 227,000 jobs. Great spirit in the country right now. So we're very happy about that. I think that it's going to continue bigly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Also today, a big warning sign to the president on Capitol Hill. Leading Senate Republicans now are saying "no" to the administration's border wall. And another warning up close. One tech leader quits a White House jobs council and another shows up today to tell the president his new travel restrictions are wrong and will hurt the economy.

Plus, the president, this hour, wields his pan yet again, using executive power to roll back the restrictions placed on banks and investment firms after the big 2008 crash. Furious Democrats say it's proof to them President Trump favors Wall Street fat cats over the middle class.

With us to share their reporting and their insights on this busy day, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Karen Tumulty of "The Washington Post," CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Lisa Lerer of the Associated Press. A lot to discuss. And let's begin with yet another breaking story.

Just last hour, new sanctions placed on Iran. The Trump Treasury Department today slapping new sanctions on 25 individuals and entities it says are tied to Iran's ballistic missile program. This falling an Iranian test firing the other day that drew a quick rebuke from the White House. In a statement imposing the new sanctions, the Treasury Department said, quote, "Iran's continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile program poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide and to the United States."

A busy out of the box for the new administration and a confrontational posture when it comes to Iran. A lot of countries around the world on edge about the new president, but this has been a very straight forward, confrontational posture with Iran. I guess the question is sanctions, that's what happens, what next?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a good question because the administration - really every day it's been a crescendo, if you will, this week about Iran. First they were put on notice. Now the president is tweeting this morning, he's not going to be as nice to them as President Obama was.

But these sanctions are pretty pro forma. This is something that would have happened in the Obama administration. In fact, it did happen in the Obama administration. This has been underway for a while, but there's no question that the bigger question mark is, what is this president's red line with Iran? You know, is he going to go forward with military action, most people in this town hope not if you talk to Republicans on Capitol Hill, but he hasn't taken it off the table.

LISA LERER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: And it's striking, although perhaps not surprising, how much he's personalized this. Like he's exchanging tweets from his own account with Iranian officials. And foreign policy experts will say there is some danger of conducting international diplomacy that way. That it makes it hard to stop things from escalating, to unwind and ratchet things down. So there is a real risk there.

KING: Easy for misunderstandings. So you mentioned the tweets and the red line. Let's go through the president's tweet this morning. "Iran is playing with fire. They don't appreciate how kind President Obama was to them. Not me." To your point, a direct reference to (INAUDIBLE). And, Karen and Nia, on this point, Aaron David Miller, a veteran State Department official in Republican and Democratic administrations, said this today, "whether the Trump administration intended it or not, they have created their own red line. When Iran tests again, the administration will have no choice but to put up or shut up."

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. And in some ways Trump, as a candidate, created his own red line in terms of his posturing, talking about ripping up the Iran nuclear deal. That seems to be not something they don't want to do. So he has come in as someone saying that he's going to be much more tough than Obama was with Iran. And even Michael Flynn, when he came out, there was a very much - you know, there's a new sheriff in town I think posturing to that.

So you have Iran now saying they're a sovereign nation. They can do what they want. They are obviously testing this new administration. So, yes, I mean, it's sort of like you're saying all of these tough things, but policies so far is very much in keeping what Obama has done. So what's next from this administration?

KING: And yet the foreign policy establishment kind of gasps at the language, at using Twitter, at doing it this way. But what team Trump says is they say, and we can have this debate in this town, but they say that, just like Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama was perceived as soft or was soft on Iran. And just like Ronald Reagan, we're going to come in and assertive ourselves and be muscular.

KAREN TUMULTY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Except Ronald Reagan, you know, sold arms to Iran too, so -

HENDERSON: There's that.

TUMULTY: So the fact is that - for one thing, when he speaks about President Obama being kind to them, he's conflating this issue with the nuclear deal.

KING: Right.

TUMULTY: And these are two separate issues.

[12:05:00] The other thing is that consistency has not exactly been a hallmark of this administration. I mean so foreign policy experts may think that they are drawing a red line. The question is whether, you know, the Trump administration, in particularly the president, will see that there's a red line there as well despite his rhetoric because he doesn't always follow up his rhetoric with actual policies.

KING: Right. Well, they've laid this line down pretty strong now. We'll see what happens as we go forward.

Also new today, I just want to get this number into the mix here. The president, just the other day, announced these travel restrictions and there was a little bit of chaos in the early days as to what it would mean. Government lawyers in court today, judges have issued stays saying you can't send people who have been detained, you can't send them home. The government acknowledging in court today that 100,000 visas have been revoked just in the week since that was issued. Is that a big number, a normal number? Sounds like a big number.

ZELENY: It sounds like a big number to me. I saw that reporting from our Laura Jarrett (ph) in the - who is in the courthouse in Virginia. It sounded like a very big number. I'm not sure what it is normally. But this is affecting more than the 109 people that the administration has said. So I thought it sounded big.

HENDERSON: Yes, and there's also -

LERER: It's also -

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean there's also - it's also affecting the relationship that this administration has with the business community.

KING: Right.

HENDERSON: I mean you saw Uber pull out of one of the economic council. They're obviously worried about their image. Diversity very much matters particularly to those tech companies and their ability to get the best talent. So it's having, I think, some unintended consequences for this White House.

LERER: And don't forget all the people who are already in the U.S. say on work visas or green cards that are now worried about leaving because they're concerned that they won't be able to get back in. So there's a level of uncertainty here that's impacting a lot of people, far more than the 109 and probably far more than that 100,000.

TUMULTY: And just the whole execution here has really been very upsetting to Republicans on Capitol Hill. And, you know, we reported that Vice President Pence was up there reassuring them that this kind of thing is not going to happen again. That they have really learned from their mistakes in sort of putting forward this order without really thinking through and without consulting other agencies and The Hill about the implications.

KING: You make a key point there because a lot of tension on that front, several layers of it. Number one, they think this was Keystone Cops, the way they rolled it out. Number two, they're beginning - or I should say they're in the middle of being very frustrated on Capitol Hill after years of saying Barack Obama was the imperial president, using his executive orders all the time, this president has used his pen every day, just about every day he's been in office. A lot of frustration there.

But we are continually surprised by this administration. During the campaign, and even transition the transition, and even as president, with Theresa May, the British prime minister next to him, Donald Trump said, you know, if I can get along with Vladimir Putin, that's a good thing. He has been very reluctant, very rare has the day been where he's criticized anything that happens by Russia. His new U.N. secretary, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, had her first appearance at a Security Council meeting yesterday, though, quote tough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: I must condemn the aggressive actions of Russia. We do want to better our relations with Russia. However, the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions. The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea. Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If you go back to the campaign, candidate Trump just kind of ignored this whole - when it came up - when people tried to get him to talk about Russian aggression against its neighbors, including Crimea, Ukraine, he would just say, I don't even think it happened or blow it off. And this is a very tough tone. Somebody said to me yesterday, don't watch what he tweets or sometimes even what he says, watch what they do, meaning at the United Nations, at the State Department.

HENDERSON: Yes. Which, I mean, is amazing. The - what the president says is irrelevant in terms of -

KING: Wouldn't go quite that far.

HENDERSON: Right - well, what I mean - I mean if he's going to kind of be on the sideline sort of tweeting things that doesn't matter, I mean, that's pretty significant.

Nikki Haley said something interesting in her confirmation hearing, which is that the cabinet would lead the way and that the cabinet would push this president on any number of issues. And you saw, of course, Tillerson come in and get sworn in. So - and I think, in many ways, that was the Republican's hope, right, that there would be sort of Trumpism and then there would be the standard issue Republican approach to foreign policy, and that seems to be what's happening at this point.

ZELENY: I think it's a little too early, though, to say that the cabinet's going to have all this autonomy.

KING: Why?

ZELENY: I think there's so much power, as with every administration, inside the West Wing, the people who are closest to the president. Steve Bannon is at the top of that list. So, yes, the speech yesterday at the U.N. was absolutely sanctioned. Nikki Haley, in her first sort of speech like that is not going to be freelancing. She's not steep in this policy. She was given this speech to - to read, and she believes it. I'm not saying she doesn't. But that was something from the - the White House.

[12:10:01] We are learning to see what the Trump doctrine is. This is an evolution that we are seeing. We're in week two here. But President Trump is different than candidate Trump in many respects.

KING: You make a key point. I think we're going to see some pendulums swinging or elasticity, you pick the word for it, where maybe this player says this, then another player says that. We know there are competing factions within the White House about how to do things and what to emphasize.

One other example was, this president has been very pro-Israel. And Israel, I think, took that as a green light. And after he was inaugurated, announced it was going to expand settlements and new construction in settlements, which has been taboo for the Obama administration, a frequent, if not constant source of tension between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. And then we find out yesterday, the new secretary of state, his first full day on the job, has a conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. And from the White House comes a statement last night, "while we don't believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal." So that was a bit of a pushback to Israel and, again, a surprise from this administration.

LERER: Yes, definitely a surprise. I think part of what you're seeing here is that there really is a steep learning curve. President Trump has no experience in government whatsoever. Many of his top officials don't have experience in government, or if they do they have experience in Congress. That's really a different thing than running a giant federal agency. So what you're seeing a little bit is them getting a fuller understanding of international dynamics, getting a fuller understanding of how these agencies work, what can be done, what can't. How all this stuff plays out. And so we're watching them learn in real time.

KING: And a further understanding, maybe, of the Prime Minister of Israel, if you give an inch, he might take a mile.

LERER: Right.

TUMULTY: Well, it's - but, don't forget, one of - president-elect Trump's first appointments was an ambassador to Israel who was very, very pro-settlement.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: Right.

TUMULTY: So, again, we - I just don't think you can look for a Trump doctrine, a - anything that even sort of resembles consistency, at least this early in his presidency.

KING: Right.

TUMULTY: It's going to always be, at least for a while, very, very situational.

LERER: And he certainly hasn't laid one out.

KING: Right.

LERER: He's given no big address about his foreign policy, released no big paper about his foreign policy. And I think that's what's making a lot of allies, and not so much allies across the world, pretty nervous.

KING: Under the headline of the banner of "America first," it's hard to figure out what that means when it comes to this country, that country, this crisis, this institutional problem.

A lot more to talk about. Everybody stay put.

We're also waiting today for the White House briefing. Sean Spicer, we'll go there live. Up next, though, President Trump's border wall gets some opposition. Not from the Democrats, but from key members of his own party.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:54] KING: Welcome back. We're standing by for the White House briefing. We'll take you there when it happens.

In this new Washington, a unified Republican government is supposed to make governing easier for the new Trump administration, but getting everyone in the Republican Party to row in the same direction seems to be hard at the moment. Today, the second most powerful Republican in the Senate is making it harder - it could be much harder - for the president to deliver on his signature campaign promise, building the wall. Why? Money and fears it just won't work.

John Cornyn of Texas, the number two Senate Republican, told our Manu Raju, quote, "I have concerns about spending unoffset money, which adds to the debt, period. I don't think we're going to be able to solve border security with a physical barrier because people can come under, around it, and through it."

Manu Raju broke this story. He joins us now live from Capitol Hill.

Manu, what's fascinating when you read your story on cnnpolitics.com is how many senior Republicans, including the number two John Cornyn, not only object to this but go on the record with their name saying we can't afford it and it might not work.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, absolutely right. I was surprised when I was actually talking to really a cross section of Republicans in the House and the Senate, moderates like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who said this is way too big of a price tag. The Republican leaders like John Cornyn of Texas, who you just mentioned, as well as other prominent voices, like Bob Corker of Tennessee, all making similar arguments that they believe the cost, which the Republican leadership is estimating could cost between $12 billion to $15 billion, is too steep of a price to pay, especially if it is not offset by corresponding spending cuts.

And what we are hearing from the administration and actually from House Speaker Paul Ryan suggesting that it will not be offset by spending cuts. This will be, quote, "emergency money" because they consider this a national security priority. Now, the Trump administration is saying that, look, Congress will act first and then Mexico will reimburse the United States for the cost 100 percent. But when I asked a lot of Republicans about this, John, they simply just do not believe that Donald Trump will get Mexico to reimburse the United States. John McCain saying it is not a viable option. That is his words. Other Republicans saying similar. So that is a real concern for the Trump administration. They plan to submit a proposal to Congress potentially within the next couple of months. The question is, will they get enough support in Congress, and right now it doesn't seem that way, especially people in his own party balk at that plan, John.

KING: Manu Raju live for us on Capitol Hill.

Manu, thank you.

A fascinating, early dynamic. And, it is, Donald Trump was inaugurated president two weeks ago this hour. Two weeks ago this hour. And it's not just Republicans - look, people raise questions all the time. But when you see this publically -

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John McCain, he's a chairman, John Cornyn, the number two, Lisa Murkowski, a senior member, not mumbling quietly or on background saying I don't know if we can afford this, but going public with the, a, we can't afford it and, b, we don't think it's the right way to do it.

TUMULTY: Well, Cornyn, in particular, is interesting because, I mean, people in Texas know what this terrain looks like. They know how ineffective a wall is likely to be. They also know that a lot - in Texas, the border, unlike a lot of the other border states, is on private property.

[12:20:01] HENDERSON: Right.

KING: Right.

TUMULTY: So you're going to have a whole lot of private property owner rights. The ways they've talked about paying for it, including tariffs, could actually, you know, really put a big, big dent in the Texas economy if it's followed by retaliation by Mexico.

ZELENY: You know what you speak of because you're from Texas, obviously.

TUMULTY: I am.

ZELENY: You're talking about something that didn't come up during the campaign, the fact that it is on private property across a lot of Texas. I mean there was no nuance at all in the discussion about, who's going to pay for it? Mexico. Well, there's also some landowners there who might have been Donald Trump voters but they don't want that.

So I think what is also happening - I was talking to some - some other - Republican leaders who have been to the White House a lot. Right now I was told that they do not want to anger him necessarily. They're sort of going along with this and other things because they want to get other bigger things done, like tax reform and things and they thought their opposition could sort of come out in the process. So this is sooner than they thought it would be. And they did not want to go in last week and say, no, your wall is not going to happen because that's his priority. But this is interesting that Manu has them saying that right now. So, you're right, two weeks in.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: Two weeks in, because they've been back for two weeks. And so they're all in their committee meetings now and they all have their own agendas as well. And whether it's tax reform or whether it's increased military spending, whether - and they're looking at the president's agenda, the cost of the wall with a lot of doubts Mexico would ever pay for it, let's be honest.

HENDERSON: Right.

KING: An infrastructure plan that they're trying to do mostly with private money, but if you have public money where does that come from? Replacing Obamacare is not going to be cheap in the short term. And I think - especially these fiscal hawks who came in during the Obama administration saying we need to bend the budget arc, are looking at this president and they see him as - as big a spender, or at least in the ballpark of spending, as the Democrat who just left.

HENDERSON: That's right. I mean who - I mean remember what the Tea Party was all about, right? It was all about government spending. So odd that the Republican Party would all of a sudden abandon all of those values about spending and adopt, in some ways, these Democratic ideas about infrastructure. You know, in terms of the wall, I mean - I mean you did, I think, initially see Mitch McConnell seem to kind of play nice and say, oh, you know, it will be only $12 to $15 billion and we'll figure it out. But, yes, I mean I think you're seeing cracks in the wall - I have to say that. Will Hurd, for instance, he had a pretty - a pretty extensive op-ed in "The Washington Post" essentially saying -

TUMULTY: He's the congressman from Texas who has the longest stretch of border of any congressman.

HENDERSON: Yes. And it's - yes, it's not practical and it's not cheap and it just won't work. I mean there's a reason why you haven't had Republicans talking about building a 40-foot concrete wall. The concrete alone would cost something like $700 million.

KING: And -

LERER: (INAUDIBLE) -

KING: And this is a minor footnote, illegal crossings are also down significantly.

HENDERSON: Exactly. Yes. Not the mention that, right.

LERER: Right. Right. There's also the politics here, right? Donald Trump is not in a particularly strong position. He's blown through a lot of political capital by not keeping The Hill abreast of the decisions that have been rolling out and how some of these policies have been rolled out. His approval ratings are pretty low, historically low. So he - you know, the politics are really unclear for a lot of these Republicans. Nobody knows how this is going to look once you get into next year and you're really thinking about those midterms. So I think there is a little bit of a case of some of these guys trying to make sure that they're covering all their bases.

KING: And I think reminding him that there's a Congress.

ZELENY: No doubt about it. I mean it's - as one congressman said, he now has 535 bosses. It's not quite true, but he has -

LERER: Right.

ZELENY: He has a couple.

But the thing is, though, about the - the wall and other things. I mean even though it's - the question I think we have to keep asking, is Donald Trump looking for majority support or is he fine with this 40 percent of the support.

HENDERSON: Right.

LERER: Right.

HENDERSON: Well -

LERER: Right.

ZELENY: So if he decides to rally his base against some of these Republican member, it is trouble for them as well.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: So we've not seen pushback yet from the political arm of Trump.

HENDERSON: Yes.

ZELENY: We've not seen him out in the country. So if this becomes a fight, it's going to be a fascinating one.

KING: Reservations about the spending and about the practicality of the wall from Republicans, but also they have been very, very loyal to Donald Trump in getting his team through. Some objections. But it's Friday. The United States Senate met on a Friday. That's breaking news in its own right. They met before the sun came up on a Friday. That's changed. You don't think Donald Trump is changing Washington? The United States Senate was working before the sun came up on a Friday. This to get over a procedural hurdle to get Betsy DeVos, who would be the secretary of education. The final vote likely to be on Monday.

Right now, that's a Mike Pence breaks the tie because Murkowski and Susan Collins, two Republican senators, have said they can't vote for her. There's a lot of pressure on Pat Toomey. Lucky for him, I think newly elected from the state of Pennsylvania, so he can stay loyal to the president and maybe take the flak. But this one, he's going to probably get his entire team, but this one just barely.

HENDERSON: Yes, and, my goodness, it's going to take Pence, it's going to take Sessions delaying his entry into the cabinet so he can be part of the vote. You know, I mean this is the - the closest that progressives and Democrats will get to a victory and it probably won't end up being a victory, but their constituents have certainly been hearing on this and so they're going to have a pretty strong block of Democrats all voting against Betsy DeVos, who's called Betty devoucher (ph) in progressive circles. LERER: But the pressure on Democrats cannot be understated here.

[12:25:01] KING: Right.

LERER: There was a bit of a debate in Democratic circles. Do you - do they work with President Trump on some things or not at all. And it seems that the base over the past two weeks has clearly spoken and they've said total resistance is the only thing that they will accept.

KING: Right. And I think when they get disappointed, when the Democrats can't win most of these fight, maybe not any of these fights -

HENDERSON: Right.

LERER: Right.

KING: The Supreme Court included, it's going to be fascinating to watch how the volatility with like the Tea Party. That's what happened to the Republicans, if you go back in time.

Everybody sit tight. Moments away from the daily White House briefing. We'll take you there live when it happens as soon as Press Secretary Sean Spicer steps out there, a little Friday follies we'll call it. We'll take you there live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

Thanks, Obama. That was the two word statement from the Democratic National Committee this morning after the January jobs report showed 227,000 new jobs were added last month. That's an exclamation point for the final chapter of the Obama presidency and a welcome boost to a new president, who, for all his baggage, won the election because voters in key state believe he can kick the economy into higher gear.

[12:29:57] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And 227,000 jobs. Great spirit in the country right now. So we're very happy about that. I think that it's going to continue bigly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, correct me if you think I'm wrong, for all of the different things about Donald Trump, that he rewrites a lot of the rules, there is a basic --