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GOP Sparring about ObamaCare Repeal Plan; Unemployment Drops, Jobs Added; Continuing Criticism for Trump Family Business; Halfway into Trump's First 100 Days in Office; Trump Administration Asks 46 U.S. Attorneys to Resign; No Clarity from Trump on Wiretapping Claims. Aired 8-9a ET
Aired March 12, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): A big test for the dealmaker president.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: (INAUDIBLE). Choices are disappearing as one insurer drops out after another.
KING (voice-over): Appealing ObamaCare is a Republican mission but the replace part is messy.
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA), HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: Members are going to have to pick a side, Nancy Pelosi or President Trump.
KING (voice-over): Plus: halfway to 100 days. The economy is on the upswing. But still no proof of a stunning charge.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: The scandal of a sitting U.S. president alleging that his predecessor engaged in a most unscrupulous and lawful conduct, that is also a scandal if those allegations prove to be false.
KING (voice-over): INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters -- now.
KING: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your Sunday morning. If you are expecting Victor and Christi, you forgot to turn the clock forward.
A big week ahead in the ObamaCare replacement debate and the Trump White House is trying to settle a Republican family feud.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to repeal the mandates and taxes and penalties of ObamaCare.
(APPLAUSE) PENCE: We are going to give Americans more choices. We'll expand health savings accounts. We'll give Americans a tax credit that will help people buy plans that they need at a price that they can afford.
Most significantly, in my view, we'll give states like Kentucky the freedom and flexibility with Medicaid to meet the needs of your most vulnerable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Vice President Pence on the road yesterday. This fight is not just over the policy details. There's also a debate over whether the president should back the House GOP plan as is or be open to deals as he hunts for support.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We do not act to save Americans from this wreckage. It will take our health care system all the way down with it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: At halfway to 100 days, several other big debates are brewing.
How much, if any credit, does the new president get for the recent strong economic news?
That's one. Here's another big debate.
What price should the president pay if he was winging it last weekend when he accused President Obama of a nefarious wiretapping scheme?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: He needs to know he'll be exposed and high-ranking people within the U.S. government, like the director of our intelligence agencies and the FBI, will be forced to say the president wasn't telling the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Very busy hour ahead, with us to share the reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of Bloomberg Politics; CNN's Manu Raju; NPR's Domenico Montanaro and CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson.
When something's complicated, controversial and hugely consequential, sometimes it helps to make it all seem so simple.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCALISE: Members will have a real binary choice. Nancy Pelosi will be voting no. She doesn't want to repeal ObamaCare. President Trump asked we pass this bill to put it on his desk and members are going to have to pick a side, Nancy Pelosi or President Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: If only it were that easy. That's the number three in the House leadership, the House Whip, Steve Scalise, trying to win over conservative colleagues who think the House Republican health care bill is not all that much better than ObamaCare.
This family feud is very real over policy and principle. And the next few weeks a giant test for the party and the new Republican president.
So let's start there. The vice president goes out on the road this weekend. We're told watch for the president to do so soon. They are trying to settle this deal; there are big debates within the party over policy.
Conservatives think this is another entitlement, just like ObamaCare, because you're going to have these big tax credits. More moderates think, wait a minute, these Medicaid restrictions in the House plan are going to -- essentially that'll reduce money to the states and you won't be able to help people.
Where are we today as we go into a big week, one more big committee vote, before they can get this to the floor?
Do the Republicans have the votes to pass the House plan as is?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think so. Talking to House conservatives last week, they are still very much opposed to this bill. One conservative was Ronald Labrador (ph), one of the members of the House Freedom Caucus, I talked to him on Friday, he is opposed to this bill, as are a number of other House conservatives.
Remember they have to stem their defections to 21 votes in the House. There are roughly 40 members of the House Freedom Caucus -- not all of them are going to vote against the plan.
But a lot of them very well may. Now what was interesting in what Labrador told me was that he was trying to go directly to the White House to negotiate changes. Hope that they could change some of the Medicaid restrictions.
Even if the moderates think it's too tough, the conservatives think it is too weak and want to move up the timeframe from getting rid of the Medicaid expansion. But if you do that, you upset the delicate balance that Republican leadership is trying to --
RAJU: -- strike right now.
So the question is, what changes will Paul Ryan make or Kevin McCarthy make to this bill to get those conservatives to support it?
And if they do vote further to the right, what effect do the moderates -- not just in the House but also in the Senate, which will be even more problematic, it's going to be very difficult to get this.
KING: And you mentioned Kevin McCarthy, he's the number two, the majority leader, Paul Ryan's key deputy on this.
When he was asked about this because the president earlier in the week tweeted out, "Let the negotiations begin."
The House Republican leadership ran down to the White House and said, no, no, no, no, no. No changing this bill as is. We have to get to the first step and pass it as is because of that delicate balance you -- listen to Kevin McCarthy here insisting, we are not out of the loop; we are in touch with the president. It'll all be fine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I don't see how we are out of the loop when we're down at the White House; later today you will see these two number of chairman going down to speak with the president as well. No, as we work through it, they took a number of -- looking at different amendments and debates.
QUESTION: Are you open to moving up the (INAUDIBLE)?
MCCARTHY: I think right now, that would be very difficult to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So they have a bill they think they can just squeak through and they're telling the president, even though his instincts -- this is Donald Trump, this is "Art of the Deal" his instincts are (INAUDIBLE) you need this, let me cut you a deal. We'll do that.
They're telling him, no, not for now. Your job right now is to say, I'm the Republican president; vote for this bill as is.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and there were signs, at some point, that he seemed to be open to this idea of making the Medicaid expansion something in 2018 or rather than 2020. And then you had signals from the White House, no, no, no, he's sticking with the 2020.
Very difficult position. There was one columnist, a conservative columnist, who essentially said the Republicans have to get something done. This is something, so it has to be done. Not exactly praise in terms of what this bill is.
There is -- it's hard to figure who the constituency is. It seems to be alienating everyone on the Hill in terms of Republicans.
The challenge is, how do you get somebody like Louis Gohmert to agree with Susan Collins in terms of looking at an approach to repealing and replacing this bill should be and it's not clear they're going to be able to do it. They're certainly not going to get any Democrats to help them.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, NPR: When it comes to Kevin McCarthy being able to count votes, I'll believe it when I see it. They didn't have a really good track record under John Boehner. They had a lot of issues being able to try to get a lot of different things through. So the votes are really important. You're seeing Donald Trump try to
help them out with this charm offensive, where he's bringing a lot of those folks from the Hill over to the White House.
On Tuesday Mark Meadows will be at the White House for another one of those bowling alley summits, I guess you would call it.
He said, well, I'm not much of a bowler but I'll go.
But he tried to strike this really soft tone, even though ideologically like Manu was talking about, these Freedom Caucus members being against some of the spending within this bill, the reason that they have to take this soft tone is because Trump did really well in their districts.
So he does have that lever. We'll see how tough he wants to use it.
MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: But there is the CBO score coming out.
TALEV: That will be tomorrow.
KING: A big test tomorrow. The CBO score, if you're watching at home, they're going to -- this is the Congressional Budget Office. The Republicans are already saying, oh, they are not so great referees. This is a Paul Ryan leadership appointee at the Congressional Budget Office, who's going to say how many millions of people are losing their coverage?
How much is this going to cost the government?
TALEV: And these aren't ultimately the two major issues. At least among Republican voters, the kind of center voters that are going to swing all of this is am I going to lose my insurance?
And/or is it going to cost me less or is it ultimately going to cost me more?
President Trump made a promise to working class voters, who he tried to swing over from the middle that he's going to help them. If this plan doesn't help them, he's going to want to distance himself from it and say let's work anything out and make a deal.
So you see already that seesaw.
How do you get it across the finish line versus do you want to own it if it --
KING: But they own it. They own it and they have to know they own it. There's all this -- is it called Trumpcare; is it called Ryancare. The Republicans decided to do this. They own it as a group now. They have to know that. RAJU: Absolutely. What strikes me is that Republicans took the wrong lessons from how the Democrats bungled the ObamaCare legislative process in 2009.
At that time, they went through months of public hearings. They'd have months of private negotiations. They tried to get over -- win over Republicans. There was a debate over the public option, whether or not to do that.
And it created this Democratic civil war for months and months and months that Republicans exploited. So whatever Republicans do this time -- they go behind closed doors, they don't -- really they don't have any public hearings about this bill.
They released this bill in March before there is a cost estimate and they are trying to jam it through. And they're having their own problems by trying to move very, very quickly and shove it down people's throats when a lot of these conservatives are just ideologically opposed --
HENDERSON: And major health care (INAUDIBLE) hospital associations, not only obviously conservatives groups against it --
HENDERSON: -- as well -- you know, Republicans keep saying, oh, well, Democrats jammed it through. Keep using that Pelosi quote about you have to see -- we have to pass it before you see what's in this bill.
But their deadline's so tight essentially wanting to get this done by April because of the reconciliation, but, my goodness, the idea that they are going to be able to use talking points to get voters on board, the idea of competition, the idea of empowerment, the idea of states having -- being able to innovate. I mean, people really have experience with ObamaCare currently. People who are on Medicaid tend to like the fact that Medicaid was expanded.
So when they see these figures of $2,000 to $4,000 into what their subsidy or tax credit could be, they really know what that means in terms of whether or not this new plan, they're going to be able to afford it. So they're going to really have to deal with that reality.
It isn't something that's really visceral for Trump voters.
KING: And Republicans look at the 2010 midterms, 2014 midterms, 2016 presidential election and say this issue was used -- we used this issue against the Democrats pretty successfully.
What will happen to us?
They're thinking about the politics that way. Mitch McConnell -- and you've heard Speaker Paul Ryan say the same thing -- Paul Ryan said 60 percent of my members weren't here when we had a Republican president. They don't understand the obligation they have as Republican to the president.
Mitch McConnell trying to make the same case, saying maybe you have a policy quibble here or quibble there but you have a job as Republicans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: When you have a president of a different party, you can freelance all you want to, you know, go have press conferences. You guys show up with a 10-point plan to do this of that.
But now we have an actual chance to change the country. We have somebody who will sign legislation that we pass. We need to get into a governing mode and start thinking about actually achieving something rather than just kind of sparring.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Can he sell that?
That you have an obligation to this Republican president?
Or is all politics local?
RAJU: He can sell it to a lot of his members he can sell that to but not -- maybe not enough to get the votes.
KING: He's got 52-48. He can't lose anything in the Senate.
RAJU: He can't lose anything; he's going to pick up Democrats. But on the ObamaCare repeal, he can do it with 52 senators because of the reconciliation (INAUDIBLE) can avoid a filibuster.
But you do have a lot of those conservatives that are -- have fundamental policy views on some key issues. And as you know, the President of the United States is very, shall we say, malleable on a lot of his ideological views.
It's interesting to him to hear to talk about we -- you sign onto these big policy pronouncements when you're in the opposition. Paul Ryan has been pointing to this better way agenda to say that we all agreed that the health care principles.
This is what we campaigned on. But a lot of these folks -- when you don't write legislation, it is a lot different than when you're just signing onto a brochure. It's much different. Now you are in the details and that is where the details --
KING: These debates were not real. These debates were not real in the Obama years because the Republicans could propose it, knowing it was never going to get to the White House. The Democrats would propose it knowing the Republicans in Congress would never pass it. They're real now. And the Republicans (INAUDIBLE). Hang tight. We'll take a quick break. More of this as we continue.
Next, a robust jobs report and with it and an equally robust debate. Thanks Obama or thanks Trump?
And "Politicians Say the Darndest Things" with an alien takeover for "Saturday Night Live's" "President Trump."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR, "DONALD TRUMP": Now here's the deal. We are going to beat these aliens because we have got the best military. But we don't win anymore. And the aliens are laughing at us. They're killing us and they're laughing at us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, what about the aliens?
They just vaporized the entire state of California.
"TRUMP": Did I win the popular vote?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Humans, resistance is futile. Take me to your leader.
"TRUMP": It's him. He's the president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not. You are.
"TRUMP:" This is going to be so easy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You know, right now, we have a false 5.4 percent, 5.3 percent, 5.6 percent -- every month it's different. It is such a phony number. I hear 5.3 percent unemployment. That is the biggest joke there is in this country. That number is so false.
The 5 percent figure is one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: But that was then. This is now. The first jobs report of a full month of the Trump presidency showed the economy added 235,000 jobs in February. The unemployment rate dropped down to 4.7 percent. Not so phony a number anymore if you're President Trump and you're the president now and you're in the White House.
Here's the debate: how much credit do you give President Trump for a strong February?
Or does President Obama deserve some credit?
Because if you look at job growth going all the way back to 2010, after we came out of the tank of the fiscal crisis, job growth, 200,000-plus a lot of months in the Obama administration, too. So that's the big debate.
How much credit goes to the former president?
How much credit goes to the current president?
Here's one thing President Trump does claim credit for. Since Election Day, Wall Street has had a great run. If you have a 401(k), you're happy with this.
But this is the number a lot of people focus on, "a hoax" the president called that number during the campaign. Listen to his press secretary now. They like it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: Obviously, we're very pleased to see the jobs report that came out this morning. It's great news for American workers.
I talked to the president prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly, they may have been phony in the past but it is very real now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I guess it's kind of funny.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Or not.
KING: It's a reminder -- it's a reminder on this issue and many others, where candidate Trump and sometimes even President Trump takes issue with government statistics and government agencies and tries to -- essentially undermines the credibility of public institutions.
But on this economy debate, you know, Democrats want to argue and some economists rightly argue if you look at structural, the bricks were put in place over the years.
However, politically, he's the president. He's the president.
And so if people are happy about the economy, guess what?
The incumbent president benefits. TALEV: I think that's exactly right. These numbers are comparable to Obama's numbers and are a continuation, a manifestation of the policies and the trajectory of President Obama. Six months from now, if these numbers look similarly good, President Trump can try to take more credit for that.
But it's exactly as you said, what matters for him right now, especially in the first 100 days, especially with some of the unrelated missteps and some of the dilemma over handled health care, any economic news that he can wrap himself in and say, look, the numbers are good, confidence is good, the stock market is good, that all helps him, indisputably.
KING: Indisputably. And it keeps the Republicans happy. Although the question is, on the economy, the Feds are likely to raise interest rates pretty soon. One of those other Republican family feuds, the debt ceiling is about to come up on Capitol Hill, which can affect markets as well. So it looks great is you're the president right now. But there are a couple of land mines out there.
MONTANARO: And look, the presidents get far too much credit and far too much blame for the economy generally. You know, but the stimulus and the Recovery Act did have an impact on the economy. And it is funny to hear Republicans now take credit for an economy that President Trump really hasn't had much of an impact on.
And he's talking about these very minor, very small deals that he's trying to make to keep a few hundred jobs here and 1,000 jobs there. Let's see over time where this kind of thing goes.
And Wall Street, you know, can be one of those things that's all psychology, you know, they thought it was going to be worse than it is. So they're now -- seem to think they know what to expect.
That's all about confidence. And right now the confidence is OK.
KING: And I think the psychology part's important because to the "thanks, Trump," part of this, it is the expectation. Corporations, A, they think they are going to get regulatory relief which the executive branch can do.
And they think they will get tax reform, which we'll see as we go through; just like health care, Republicans gave a lot of internal stuff to deal with on that one. The president himself talked about this yesterday, he continues to insist, even though if you show that old chart, you know, the jump (ph) growth was getting good and of the Obama presidency.
But the president continues to insist, I inherited a mess.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The economy is doing very, very well. And generally speaking, we are doing very well. We're getting it back on track. We really had a -- we had a mess. We had a mess. Only thing, it's getting straightened out -- it's getting straightened out fast. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Straightened out so fast we now accept the unemployment rate.
HENDERSON: Yes, exactly, exactly. I mean, one of the things in his inaugural address, he talked about the "American carnage" but he also said "the American carnage ends now."
As if right on January 24th, he was inaugurated and all the bad old days were behind him. And so he seems to be continuing that theme, that he has come in with a cape on, Superman-like, and is changing everything. And we'll see.
I mean, I think one of the things, the stock markets and people, you know, CEOs are certainly hopeful about regulatory reform, certainly hopeful about tax reform. But all the finance guys I've talked to said they're nervous. If this stuff doesn't get done, get done soon within this timetable after ObamaCare, then I think you will start to see a bit of a decline in the market.
KING: The psychology could change.
TALEV: When things are good, the risk is --
KING: Let's talk a little bit about what I'll call the president's personal economy, the president's family's personal economy.
If you saw where he was yesterday, when we played that "I inherited a mess, the economy's doing great right now," he was at one of his own golf courses, the Trump International Golf Course out in Sterling, Virginia.
"The New York Times" editorial ran it over the weekend, ran this editorial.
"The president's son Eric probably said it best, 'I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.'
"No surprise there. Nothing like a presidency to boost business. It is, nevertheless, shocking to see the brazenness of the ethical conflicts and watch the first family celebrate its good fortune."
Now the president reads the newspapers. The president is aware that this is out there. And then for the sixth weekend in a row, he visits a Trump property. You can show it up there after. He was -- he goes to the Trump International Golf Course; he's been at the one at West Palm Beach. He's been at the one in Jupiter, Florida.
He's been at the one at West Palm Beach again. He's been at Trump Hotel here for dinner here in Washington, D.C. Back out in to West Palm Beach; out to Virginia.
The president knows this criticism, knows these questions and this is clearly a "in your face" to those saying that he should avoid family properties at all costs.
RAJU: The question is, who is going to hold him accountable for it?
And whether Republicans, particularly in Congress, are going to investigate, have any hearings looking at any potential conflicts of interest or if this is going to be criticism from the media. And if it is criticism from the media, you know, he'll discount the --
KING: His argument is the American people knew who I was --
KING: -- when I won the election.
And so why can't I go to --
KING: -- my properties?
TALEV: -- actually think that's 100 percent right.
Yes, they know you can --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- Trump said.
RAJU: -- they elected a business man. He's someone who has had a successful brand.
What's wrong with it?
But it will raise those conflicts of interest, particularly if he pushes on policies that will help those businesses.
HENDERSON: But he's -- I mean and he's marketing this brilliantly in some ways. I mean, the whole idea that Mar-a-lago is the winter White House. It looks like they changed the name now to the summer or the southern White House. And that is part of the reason why the rent has gone up there, the membership, you know, $200,000 or something. So...
KING: Isn't Mar-a-lago in the part of Florida, the further south you go, the further north you end?
Never mind, that's for an Election Night.
Next, the halfway to 100 days report card. The president's numbers aren't great but there are some tough lessons for Democrats, too.
KING: Welcome back. You did turn your clock forward, not back to November 8th or November 9th. Just wanted to use my old friend here to make a point about President Trump as he's halfway to the 100-day mark.
If you look at the president's numbers, they're not so great. This is our latest CNN/ORC poll; 45 percent of Americans approve of the job President Trump is doing as president; 52 percent disapprove.
[08:30:02] So, underwater, rough sledding, the biggest debate right now, before the Congress and on the president's desk? Dealing with repealing and replacing Obamacare. What do people think of the health care law? 46 percent favor, 49 percent oppose. So, a divided country, a very delicate balance for the president as he tries to negotiate his way to an Obamacare repeal and replace plan.
Democrats, look at those numbers. The president is underwater, divided country on health care. They think, aha! A weakness, an opening, but I want to show you some focus group result from Macomb County, Michigan. Remember, President Trump carried Michigan. That was one of the big surprises. If you look at Macomb County, go back to 2012, Obama 2008, the same result.
So a Democratic group went there to conduct some focus groups, famous blue-collar area, legendary for the so-called Reagan Democrats of the '80s, of early '90s. Are Democrats Trump voters ready to turn on Trump? Not yet. 35 Trump voters in these focus groups, "These voters have not regretted their vote for Trump. There was no buyer's remorse. They are clear about why they voted for him and pray he keeps his promises."
So, the president has many challenges ahead but the moment all the evidences, his base out in America is still with him, which is why Republicans say full speed ahead. Listen to Speaker Paul Ryan right here. We talk about 100 days. He says double that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: And we have a 200-day plan and we're right on schedule with it. The real why is because how long it takes to pass things through the Senate. So, we typically do like a 100-day plan as you have heard these 100 days. I once sat down with Mitch McConnell and we looked at the fact that they have to populate the Trump government with their employees, with their cabinet secretaries and assistant secretaries. And we made it as a 200-day plan because we know the Democrats are doing everything to string out the clock, to delay and stall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So the Republicans are clear there. The political environment is interesting. The president, you know, discussing tough challenges there. But you could tell there from the calendar standpoint. Republicans stressing why don't you check back with us in like June, not the end of April. MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, because as you can see from the health care debate, it is a lot harder done than said. And Ryan is operating on a very ambitious schedule right now, of course. He's trying to push through the health care law by the end of this month, or legislation to the House. And he also wants to get tax reform done by the August recess.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, not so certain about that schedule because of the rules of the Senate and because of the fact that it's going to be very difficult to get consensus. You mentioned those Trump voters. The question will be, how will they feel if he does not accomplish those key promises of repealing and replacing Obamacare and not getting tax reform done. It's very possible he could be unsuccessful because of how difficult it is to get anything done in Congress, even when it's one party rule.
DOMENICO MONTARO, NPR: Trump made a speech last year or late last year where he laid out about 28 different points of things that he wanted to get done in his first 100 days. I went through them. And maybe 11 of them, does he have any work even started on some of those things. And you know, legislatively, there were some really specific items that he laid out. That they are not even close to introducing, you know, half to three quarters of those things.
So, you know, he's very possible, going to get a lot done in this first 100 days. He's got the numbers. If the health care bill goes through, which would be huge and they get a Supreme Court nominee. Even just those two things, would be giant for any president's first 100 days. But he has laid out an ambitious agenda. It doesn't look like he's going to get to all of those items.
KING: And the question is, how do you get to them because most Trump voters, if you talk to them during the campaign. He would talk about a Muslim ban. They would say, we mean be tougher against refugees. They didn't take him literally. Now there one of those issues is the Mexico wall. Trump says Mexico will pay for it.
One of the priceless moments of the past week is this Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, talking about immigration saying, "yes, we are going to get tougher but" --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: There are some places along the border where that is probably not the best way to secure a border. But I think General Kelly knows what he's doing. And I think the president picked an outstanding person to be in charge of Homeland Security. And my suspicion is we will take his advice.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you believe that Mexico will pay for it?
MCCONNELL: -- No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: -- No. MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: So, Mitch McConnell is trying to help President Trump redefine what it means to build a wall right now. I think those focus group numbers are really fascinating because they do go to the substantial fact that that core group of American voters, who helped put Donald Trump over the edge, is willing to give him a longer honeymoon period. And is willing to take what he says, more at rhetorical value than a face value.
There's an expiration point or a typical point for that. And that maybe over health insurance, and maybe over job creation in places that - are not buoyed by this economic numbers that we saw. But as long as things are kind of in this ridge, the Republicans in Congress and the president can hold hands, until we get to the point where midterms become a real factor. And you know, Six months from now, it's going to be a different equation.
KING: Six months from now, the question that is, have you delivered, have you - are you confident managing the government.
[08:35:01] One of the big questions here this weekend is, the administration decided to fire the U.S. attorneys who are place around the country, including one, Preet Bharara. Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York, who the president personally said, "you can stay in your job." Now, he has let him go.
He has let them all go. And he had to fire the New York attorney general - U.S. attorney because he wouldn't take the hint to leave, shall we say. What does this mean in the sense that they have every right to do this? The president won the election. They have every right, every reason to do this. He's a political appointee. However, the tradition usually is, that you know, you leave when you're confirmed, when the next person is confirmed to step in. They are doing this in a rush now. Why?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I mean, this is obviously, administration that doesn't like tradition. This is an administration of it seems to believe in this idea that there is this "deep state," that they're all of these Obama -- a holdovers that are essentially plotting against the Trump administration, plotting against Donald Trump. I think one Congressman said that he feels like that's the reason Obama is in D.C., to control the sort of a shadow government. -
KING: Yes, he's targeting the shadow government. -
HENDERSON: Yes, he's targeting the shadow government why he's at dinner with Bannon or whatever in New York.
So, yes, I mean, I think that's part of - I think the Trump supporters -- they will look at this and say, good for Donald Trump. He should be cleaning House. They should bring their own folks in. And obviously -
KING: But there are hundreds, hundreds of senior jobs in the agencies. They haven't even named anybody for. That's their bigger problem. I'll just -- before you jump in, I just want you to listen. Part of this is, people say why the timing? Some people think they're reacting to criticism, as you mentioned, out in the conservative world that they haven't done enough to get rid of. That they haven't been quick enough to get rid of the Obama holdovers. Among them, Sean Hannity --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Now, for weeks, we've been warning you about the "deep state" Obama holdover government bureaucrats, who are hell-bent on destroying this president, President Trump. Tonight, it's time for the Trump administration to begin to purge these saboteurs before it's too late.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Saboteurs - and they have every right - They have every right to remove people in political jobs. They won the election. Should they be calling themselves saboteur or should they just be - it's the White House responsibility. You can stop these people in the middle of the government. Let mid-levels from doing things if they have a boss. They don't have a boss.
MONTANARO: One thing Donald Trump hasn't been able to do every step of the way is control the narrative. And he's not used to that. He's used to trying to control the narrative. He is the guy who likes to leak, you know. He is the guy who likes to use pseudonyms to go and talk to the New York media.
Now, he's got the reversed happening to him. And it shouldn't be that unexpected when call -- "intelligence" in quotes that people are going to try and you know, use things against you. So, but Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, has laid out that one of the fewer things that they want to try to do is get rid of the administrative state, decrease the administrative state.
So, clearly, there's a degree of paranoia when it comes to these leaks. And there's also a definite attempt -- to try to make government smaller. But, at the same time, I mean, you can't do that with a hatchet. Especially with someone like Bharara who Trump had asked to stay on.
KING: Well, they will be judged now. They have career people stepping in for those jobs. They'll be judged in the performance going down road. They have every right to make this change, this political controversy right now but the test is going to be two weeks from now, two months from now, when there's a big case of the court somewhere out there in America. Are they ready for it? We'll see how that one works.
After the break, -- most of the look into Russia's election meddling, this confined to classified settings. But Democrats want a public airing for one late add to the investigation.
[08:42:23] KING: Welcome back. Eight days ago, before the sun rose, President Trump fired off a series of tweet comparing his predecessor to Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy. And accusing him, President Obama that is, of wiretapping the phones at Trump Tower. The Republican House Speaker says, he's seen no evidence to support the president's allegation, same for the Senate majority leader. To the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee though, it's just Trump being Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The president is a neophyte to politics. He's been doing this a little over a year. And I think a lot of things that he says, you guys sometimes take literally. Sometimes, he doesn't have 27 lawyers and staff looking at what he does, which is, I think at times, refreshing and at times can also lead us to have to be sitting in a press conference like this answering questions that you guys are asking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Democrats, though, say that Trump being Trump excuse won't fly this time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We're going to air this very publicly. And if the president is going to make outlandish claims like this in the future, he needs to know he will be exposed and high- ranking people within the U.S. government, like the director of our intelligence agencies and the FBI, will be forced to say the president wasn't telling the truth."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So, where are we going here? The committee has asked for the - asked the White House, if you have any evidence, we would like it by tomorrow. Do we expect to see some folder heading up to the House Intelligence Committee?
RAJU: That's a great question. They did send this letter asking also the Justice Department to provide this. And this comes after James Comey, the FBI director, had this classified briefing with Hill leaders on Thursday. And they presumably, this was one of the issues they discussed in that briefing, along with the larger Russia investigation.
The FBI is conducting -- and the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees are also conducting. But on Friday, I talked to Schiff and Nunes about -- there is question was pointblank, have you seen any evidence yet about Donald Trump -- being wiretapped by President Obama? He still said they had not seen anything and this, after they had met with James Comey, who would know if President Obama had ordered spying -- surveillance on the Trump administration.
KING: Or for the Intelligence Court -
KING: -- with no involvement to the president. President somewhat do that or the Intelligence Court -
RAJU: Exactly. And what we do know - what we've heard from sources is that Comey was not happy with Trump's claim of being wiretapped. And what Schiff also said was interesting to me. He thinks that Comey would quote, "welcome the opportunity to discuss this March 20th hearing." So clearly, that could be a hearing in which Comey embarrasses the President of the United States by saying it didn't happen.
[08:45:00] KING: Is that the -- if there's no evidence of this and if the president was winging it last Saturday because he was mad about something else. Is there any -- there's no sanction besides public embarrassment.
HENDERSON: Right. And there's no sense that Trump has the ability to be embarrassed, right? I mean, there is no sense of that. I mean, if you look at what he did with the birtherism he held on to that a lie for what, five years or so and came out and said -
KING: And won the presidency.
HENDERSON: Run the - exactly, won the presidency. So, it's not clear. You saw Schiff there, at some point say that he wants to make it a scandal. If the president was saying this with no evidence, I mean, what's the scandal? I mean, if you can't be scandalized.
TALEV: Yes. I think this is less about getting President Trump to go on the record saying, I was wrong, I misspoke, which you know, if he was going to do that -- that already would have happened last week. And it is more about getting -- giving Republican lawmakers the ability to distance themselves, a little bit from him and creating the potential scenario for like, Jim Comey to -
KING: And how much of an issue is this out in the country? I want to give an example. - You cannot go and say - you cannot go -- every district is different. Darrell Issa, Republican congressman in California, has a competitive district. So he needs to be careful. He's in a very competitive district. He just won reelection. But progressives have been smart about getting to town halls and raise this issue repeatedly. This was just yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DARELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Are we going to investigate Russia to the very nth degree on interfering in our election? Yes. My public statements are clearly out of step with many other Republicans. That's OK. That happens. I will continue to push my colleagues one by one, publicly and privately, to realize that is an existential threat to democracy if we do not stop it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: He's not a chairman anymore. And he doesn't have much influence with the leadership, maybe. But if you have guys like that coming back from going home saying, I'm getting kicked about this. Look, if there are districts like his district where there can be that kind of pressure, then you will see that. Now, unfortunately, for Democrats, there aren't a lot of those kinds of districts. You know, as Nia said, Donald Trump really, he's not chainable, right?
Most politicians, if you say something is false and they moderate their tone or they figure out how to say it a little bit differently - I think the bottom line here is that Donald Trump risks becoming the president who cried wolf. Because last Saturday, when he first made this allegation, people just sort of shrug their shoulders and didn't think, oh yea, there's real allegation there.
And I think what that potentially does to undermine his presidency, is not just in talking about it. But when something comes up like meeting to solve a country on war, or doing something major and people don't believe his evidence. They feel like they have to independently confirm everything, that's a problem for a leader.
KING: Big difference between the crowd size and accusing your predecessor of a crime, just saying.
Our report and share from their notebooks next. Including a presidential promise there appears to be no effort to keep.
[08:52:05] KING: Close as we always to ask our great reporters, share a little nugget from their notebooks, help get you out ahead of the big political news just around the corner. Margaret?
TALEV: If there's one event to watch next week, for like as much -- you know, one-stop shopping as possible, it is going to be this visit by Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, to visit with the president on Tuesday. Look for potential news on the Paris global climate talks and on trade. But more importantly, this is going to be a news conference.
So, I would be shocked if President Trump is not going to question now about wiretapping and President Obama finally after more than a week of waiting for this.
KING: After more than a week of avoiding the media, a test of that old theory, do opposites attract? We'll watch that one. Manu?
RAJU: John, Republicans have an incredibly favorable map to keep the Senate majority in 2018. Far more Democratic incumbents up for reelection than Senate Republican incumbents, but Republican leaders are not confident that they're going to grow the majority. Let alone hold their majority because of one big reason, Donald Trump. Not just any problems that he'll have in office and moving through his agenda, but of course, historically, very difficult for a party in power to keep the majority in the first midterms of their presidency. See Barack Obama in 2010 and Bill Clinton in 1994.
Now, Mitch McConnell, the senate majority leader and other top Republicans are telling this to big donors, telling them to give a lot of money, trying to scare them to open their wallets. But the real concern for Trump is that the more to this Senate majority looks tenuous. The harder it's going to be to get his agenda through. So, watch for that dynamic to play out.
KING: The next election already upon us. Domenico?
MONTANARO: Well, you know, President Trump has talked about this potential conspiracy about wiretapping in President Obama. But we're looking at voter fraud. And remember, that was another one of the conspiracies that he called for an investigation into. The White House has said that Vice President Mike Pence is already conducting an investigation. But there is very little evidence that that is actually taking place in a very serious way.
We reached out to the National Association of Secretaries of State. There are no Secretaries of State so far. Even Republicans who've been contacted by the White House about taking part in this and they're the ones who know how to count those votes. Heritage Foundation, for example, they haven't been contacted. So, all of the usual players, who would think that the White House would reach out to get this investigations started, they haven't raised the question whether or not this is just a bluff.
KING: I don't investigate a myth. That's a tough one.
HENDERSON: I talked to some progressive groups. They are eyeing about a dozen town halls next week, particularly Joni Ernst, who has two town halls on Thursday in Iowa. Iowa, of course, is one of those Medicaid expansion state, about 91,000 of people there got coverage. What's going to be interesting to look for is, who shall we - we don't know yet a lot about Trump voters and how they feel about the GOP plans in terms of our repealing and replacing Obamacare.
[08:55:01] We, of course, have the CBO score by then. It will be interesting to hear from those folks. And to see whether or not the progressive movement is able to kind of reach out to those folks and make them a part of their movement and part of their messaging going forward.
KING: Iowa, always a fun state for democracy, shall we say? I'll close with another insight from those recent focus groups with Trump voters. I discussed it on, earlier in the program. The sessions were conducted by a Democratic group called Democracy Corps. They included 35 Trump voters in Macomb County, Michigan, which Trump, of course, carried in November after Obama had carried it twice. These Trump voters remain fiercely loyal to the president, praising his early focus on campaign promises.
But health care is a giant test. None of the 35 Trump voters used the word repeal in the two nights of the focus groups, but all complained about fewer choices and most of all, they complained about costs saying, they are a giant strain on family budgets. They are counting on President Trump to change the health care system. And their big test? To bring their personal health care costs down.
That's early marker for the 2018 and the 2020 elections. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday morning. Hope you can catch us weekdays as well, new in Eastern. Up next, "State of the Union" with Jake Tapper.