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Trump's Wiretap Claim Raises Credibility Questions; Fierce Backlash Over Trump's Budget Blueprint; Health Care Bill Faces Critical House Deals; Tillerson Says Policy of Strategic Patience Has Ended. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired March 19, 2017 - 08:00   ET



[08:00:11] JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): The buck does not stop here.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You shouldn't be talking to me. You should be talking to FOX.

KING: Sixty days in, the Trump White House faces a credibility crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president only has so much political capital to expand and so much moral authority as well.

KING: Plus, testing time. At home, a big health care vote.

TRUMP: I want people to know I'm 100 percent behind.

KING: And on the world stage openly discussing a preemptive strike against North Korea.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: If they elevate the threat of their weapons program, that option is on the table.

KING: 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.

A defining early test this week for the president and for Republican congressional leaders. A Thursday vote on an Obamacare replacement plan that is still short votes because of conservative objections.


REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R), IDAHO: The left is really mad about it. The right is really mad about it. The middle is really mad about it, and so far, it just seems to be a constituency of one which is Washington insiders.


KING: Plus, an important new red line on the Korean peninsula. The secretary of state says no more negotiating over North Korea's nuclear program.


TILLERSON: The policy of strategic patience has ended. We're exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table.


KING: First, though, the credibility question.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I have not seen any evidence that this occurred based upon the briefings that I've seen. We have not seen any evidence that there was a wiretap or a FISA court order against Trump Tower or somebody in Trump Tower. My bottom line is that I have seen no evidence of this occurred.


KING: With us this Sunday to share their reporting and their insights, Jackie Kucinich of the "The Daily Beast", Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg Politics", Perry Bacon of FiveThirtyEight, and Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist".

President Trump knows there is no evidence, because his own Justice Department on Friday sent a letter to the House Intelligence Committee saying it had no records to support the president's allegations, but instead of saying he was wrong. Here's the question asked on Friday when asked by a German reporter if maybe there are some tweets he regrets.


TRUMP: Probably wouldn't be here right now. Very seldom. We have a tremendous group of people that listen and I can get around the media when the media doesn't tell the truth, so I like that.

As far as wiretapping, I guess, by, you know, this past administration, at least we have something in common perhaps.


KING: If you caught her face there, his guest, Chancellor Angela Merkel, clearly less than pleased to be drawn into the president's fantasy land, and he didn't stop at annoying just one key ally. He went on to echo his press secretary's latest justification. A FOX News commentator said it was the British who conducted the wiretap.


TRUMP: All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn't make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on FOX. And so, you shouldn't be talking to me. You should be talking to FOX.


KING: OK. Let's unwrap this one. He's the president of the United States. His Justice Department sent a letter to the House Intelligence Committee saying it doesn't have any records to justify it -- the wire tapping allegation that he made two weeks ago yesterday.

The FBI director is going to testify tomorrow at a public hearing, that the Republicans are allowing the public hearing tells you how annoyed they are by being asked about that every day but to that right there. Angela Merkel, Germany, key ally, was upset. The British are upset because Sean Spicer repeated when Judge Napolitano said on FOX News and FOX News saying he's a commentator, he said that, their news division says they can't back that up.

So, where are we?

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: We started an international incident because the White House won't back down at this point. This has become -- there's been time, money, man hours, that have been wasted because of an errant tweet that seemed to be to distract from what was going on that week which was Sessions was in trouble for saying that he talked to the Russian ambassador when he said he didn't and he did. And now, there's this whole mess that is completely of the president's own making. This started with him and Twitter.

KING: It's a mess of the president's own making without a doubt, but are there consequences? He made a lot of messes during the campaign. Everybody said, that's the end of President Trump. He made some messes during the transition, a lot of people said, that's not presidential. So, he's made a mess now or controversy, pick a word for it, as president, are there consequences?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, FOX NEWS COMMENTATOR: Well, that's the key part of his quote here. He's asked if he regrets his tweets and he said, "I probably wouldn't be here if I regretted or if they were the wrong moves."

[08:05:05] So, that's the world he's operating in, and he has a bit of a point even though his responsibility is to be the president and to say things that have things to back them up. Let's put that out there.

Also, when you have this hearing, it will be interesting. He -- Comey will likely say there's no evidence for this wiretap. He will also probably say there's no evidence that there's collusion between the Russians and Trump campaign. So, there are two sides of this coin when Comey comes to testify. KING: So, the White House will seize on that if it happens. Comey

may say it's too soon to get there, but he has no evidence yet. But the White House will seize on that and say forget about this other stuff.

If you listen to Democrats, this is the ranking Democrat here on the intelligence committee, Adam Schiff, who has been a critic from the beginning, and after the news conference with Merkel took it to the next level.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: For him to repeat once again in the presence of one of our most significant allies, this outlandish claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor, it really ought to appall Americans and it just reflects so poorly on the United States around the world. This should have never been a topic of debate, a flippant remark or discussion and a flippant remark in that press conference, and -- and it's just mortifying.


KING: He used the word mortifying. Covered the White House for nine and a half years and never seen anything quite like this.

But, again, are there consequences, or is it just a Trump drama?

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: There are two reasons why this is semi-contained at this point and one is that Britain and other countries are already beginning to be tempered by Trump's own past remarks, so there's kind of a built-in leeway clause that past presidents wouldn't necessarily get.

And part two of this is a very swift move by the national security council and by H.R. McMaster and sort of that column to make sure that this was sort of contained as quickly as possible, so you saw within a couple of hours of Sean Spicer's remarks from the podium about Judge Napolitano as Britain reached out to complain to the White House, a pretty swift chain of events that involved like multiple layers of apology or maybe not apology, hard to say. I mean, it kind of -- but a restraint, constraint, an agreement that they would not continue to make this statement from the podium but I've got to tell --

KING: And then the president did on Friday know.

TALEV: And immediately afterwards a group of reporters caught Sean Spicer, you know, leaving the East Room and said, you know, does the administration regret what happened and he said no, we don't have a lot of regrets.

So, a lot of mixed messaging by this White House, but I think what this does signals to Britain and other country that they need to deal with staff a lot of the time. Look, a lot of decisions happen at the staff level anyway, but this is like you're dealing now the secretary of state, national security adviser, other top level staff but maybe not necessarily the president. KIN G: But we say that like it's normal.

TALEV: Right, it's not normal.

KING: We say that like it's normal. We've been saying this early in the Trump administration where his own staff says don't take him literally or don't pay attention to what the president tweets, pay attention to what he does. You're saying foreign governments are now being told essentially, talk to the national security adviser and secretary of state. Don't worry what the president says or what his press secretary says standing on platform that says the White House, the United States government. That's kind of nuts.

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Yes, the consequence is we think of the president as the leader of the free world. We use that phrase all the time. It's hard to see this man when he makes comments like this and the rest of the government says, no, no, no. What he meant was "x" or what we're really doing is "y."

It's really hard to take his comments about national security issues seriously hand that does have implications because allies have to listen to what does Mattis think, what does McMaster think, what is Tillerson saying, what is Trump saying? We're not really sure. You sort of knew Barack Obama spoke for the U.S. government in most cases, I'm not sure you're clear on that right now.

KING: And so, the question is, are there consequences to the president down the road, or is this just a drama from which it's sort of a sideshow?

I want you to listen here. These are Republican House members, these are not Democrats, these are Republican House members saying they believe over the long run, the president's trustworthiness, the president's credibility if he has issues here, it will matter somewhere down the line, when he needs some votes maybe, or when we're in a big crisis. Let's listen.


REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: I think the president, you know, President Obama is owed an apology in that regard because if he didn't do it, we shouldn't be, you know, reckless in accusations that he did.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The president only has so much political capital to expend and so much moral authority as well. And so, any time, you know, your credibility takes a hit, I think in many ways it weakens the officeholder.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R-UT), HOUSE OVERSIGHT CHAIRMAN: Well, if the president has evidence, I wish he would share it with us. I haven't seen evidence of mass voter fraud and I have not seen evidence of wiretapping by President Obama.


KING: Now, again, these are Republicans saying down the line, the president's credibility will hurt him. Is there any evidence of that today -- because we'll get to the specifics of the health care debate in a few minutes -- but if you talk to people in town, they say, the president is perhaps exaggerating his role, the president has helped win votes and bringing people over on health care and he's doing his job and he's doing what he's doing.

[08:10:11] Is there evidence that this will hurt him? Because that's the only way it's going to stop.

HAM: Well, let me say, it's concerning to me that Theresa May is the easy stuff, right? This is Britain, this a right of center person that you can work with, and so it's like why are we flubbing on this of all things?

But as to whether it matters when it comes to convincing Congress people and such, look, I think it remains that even though Trump acts this way, you see the polling that means -- that shows that Democrats are less trusted. How can these thing operate at the same time, but that speaks to some leeway that he has with the American people and that matters.

TALEV: But this hasn't been tested by crisis yet, and I have to say these Republicans who you see in the video clips saying, you know, Obama is owed an apology or this needs to stop whatever, they by and large are not trying to hurt President Trump. They might be trying to distance themselves a little bit to protect themselves, they are politicians --

HAM: They don't have the same leeway.

TALEV: -- but they are honestly trying to help him. They're -- when you come out publicly and kind of say quit doing it, they are -- they are trying to help him.

KUCINICH: Because this also does become their problem, to your point, when they have a million reporters running are up to them asking them what they think about what the president did over and over again. They don't want to be talking about this.

The other place where this might hurt him is -- continue to hurt him actually is with the intelligence community. He hasn't had a good relationship coming into this administration with them, and this certainly doesn't help.

KING: Well, there are a many number of occasions that say this is a big event that's going to be a page turner and it's a pretty big event that the FBI director is going to testify publicly tomorrow. And again, I think significant that the Republicans went along with that. They could have stopped this. They could have said there's no public (INAUDIBLE). They run the short.

I think it's to the point if they're trying to help the president in an odd way, sent him a message, saying, sir, see, there are consequences to your actions maybe.

HAM: They do what they can. KING: They do what they can. OK.


KNG: All right. We'll leave that there.

Coming up, the art of the Obamacare replacement deal. Can the president sway the final votes?

First though, more big agenda challenges, including a budget blueprint that keeps big campaign promises that proposes cuts even many Republicans say go too far.


[08:16:06] KING: Welcome back.

Congress always changes a president's budget, but a new president's first budget proposal says a lot about the administration's thinking and philosophy.

President Trump's clearly makes a statement. Remember during the campaign? He promised to increase defense spending. His budget proposes that.

He promised more immigration, border enforcement, homeland security emphasis. His budget proposes that, an increase of 7 percent there. He promised to help the veterans. His budget proposes that.

But to do this, the Trump budget also proposes pretty significant cuts in other agencies, nearly a third of the Environmental Protection Agency budget, 29 percent at the State Department, 21 percent at Labor. He talked a lot about infrastructure during the campaign, but the Army Corps of Engineer budget down, Agriculture, rural areas that voted for Trump down.

You get the picture. Across the government, to fund those increases in the big three, everything else goes down, and down.

Now, Republicans in Congress, Democrats in Congress say, "Thanks, Mr. President, we'll take that as a start. We write the budget." As this goes forward though, his budget director trying to answer critics, not all of them Democrats who say programs like meals on wheels and other cuts, Republicans say they go too far, the Trump budget director says, we have to make tough choices.


MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: We can't spend money on programs just because they sound good and great. And Meals on Wheels sounds great. Again, that's a state decision to fund that particular portion to take the federal money and give it to the states and say, look, we want to give you money for programs that don't work. I can't defend that anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Again, any budget, any budget, Democrat, Republican administration, the president -- it's a blueprint, it's a start. Congress says this is our power.

But what did we learn this week, A, about the philosophy and, B, about -- I thought what was interesting was the quick pushback from Republicans that say, "Thanks, Mr. President," but?

KUCINICH: Well, they don't want to defend a lot of these cuts and particularly when you're talking about Paul Ryan's Congress. This is someone who was spent a bulk of his entire political life talking about entitlement reform. It's not an entitlement reform, there's nothing in there.

And that's where cuts would make a difference. A lot of these cuts he has proposed are sort of around the edges. It's not really anything that's going to make a dent anywhere.

HAM: Yes, I think the problem is not that the cuts are too big. The problem is that we're not dealing with the systemic problem.

I do think a lot of people also seem to need a civics lesson. The Trump budget is not the budget. It's not the law. That will go through -- there's a lot of panic out there about this Trump budget, and it's like it needs to go through Congress and it will look very different. Why? Because no one wants to cut anything and I think that was the most revealing thing as it often is, is we cannot have a grown-up conversation about actually making priorities in government.

Meals on Wheels gets thrown out there and everybody goes, oh, my gosh, why do you want to hurt old people? It's like, well, actually, this community grant program is high with cronyism and corruption. Let's actually look at what it's doing. Most of the funding from Meals on Wheels comes from states and other federal programs. Are we actually looking at cutting that, but we don't have the conversation, we just have the first one.

KING: But it's a big challenge for Republicans now, and again , we'll get to health care in a minute because they control everything. So they have been talking about these things for a long time.

You mentioned Paul Ryan, he was the budget committee chairman , and then he was a speaker. He has a plan, his plan out there for a long time that bends the arc towards a balanced budget, that bends the arc, the devolution, get some programs out of Washington and send them back to the states. This is what they have been saying for a long time. The question is, will they do it now they have the authority?

But to you point, Hal Rogers, who's a leading Republican on appropriations, he's from Kentucky, he says this, "While we have a responsibility to reduce our federal deficit, I'm disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the president's skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive. We'll certainly review this budget proposal, but Congress ultimately has the power of the purse." That last part is true, Congress has their power. But for a Republican to say draconian, careless and counterproductive -- welcome to Washington, Mr. Trump.

BACON: I mean, there are also some serious attack this week and a lot of Republicans, Lindsey Graham on the State Department cuts.

So, that -- on the other hand, the budget is always a symbolic document. I do think the budget communicated the idea, Trump wants to blow up Washington, and this budget shows the EPA, DOJ, they think that work. Trump wants to increase defense spending.

This is sort of the manly man budget, the veterans, get more money to defense, gets more money homeland security.

[08:20:02] So, I think it actually fits with some of Trump's general ideas in terms of a message, and then after that, the details of the budget will now be worked out by him anyway.

KING: But if he gives it to Congress though, does he lose the "I blew up Washington"? I came, Washington was broken, I said I was going to change everything. If he signs a budget that's written by Congress that puts most of that money back in, who wins?

TALEV: Well, I don't think he has any choice but to give the final decision making to Congress.

My initial thought when the budget came out was, look, for all the flack that that's going to take over this, this is actually like a pretty clear and honest representation of what he campaigned on, like you got to give him props for that.

But my kind of second wave thought was, this really reveals the Mulvaney/Trump campaign split in the sense that Mulvaney really is committed to making a lot of these cuts and just owning it. Trump is kind of both. The voters who he won over in a lot of the Rust Belt states, whether they are Republicans or Democrats or somewhere in between, believe in small government in concept, but in reality need, rely, count on a lot of the social programs that government provides.

And I think to the extent that some of these cuts or a version of them go forward, there will be a real debate playing out in parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania and through that rustbelt about whether this is really what people thought that they were voting for.

KING: Thought what they were voting for.

Another big agenda item this week was, of course, the judge in Hawaii and elsewhere holding up the president's second version of his travel ban. This time, the president says they will fight. They read the ruling in the ninth circuit and they decide, this is the one we'll take through the courts. So, they rewrote the brand.

Listen to the president here, though. He was disappointed in the ruling, but the administration has already filed the papers to go through the appeal process. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You don't think this was done by a judge for political reasons, do you, no? This ruling makes us look weak. This is a watered down version of the first one. This is a watered down version, and let me tell you something. I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way which is what I wanted to do in the first place.


KING: Now, they are not going to do that. His lawyers have talked him out of it, but how do you characterize this one? They came into office. Something he campaigned on. Obviously, his language in the campaign is what hurt him in the court challenges when he said specifically during the campaign, a Muslim ban. But this was such an urgent priority, and now at a minimum, it is on hold for weeks and months as you go through the appeals process.

HAM: Well, I think, it's the importance of doing things well the first time. Had there have more thought put into the crafting of this the first time. It probably still would have run through resistance and protest, and that's fine. But the system I think would have worked quickly and for them.

Now, the second version, I do think it's the right decision to take this one through the courts because the ruling, to put it mildly, was fairly imaginative, relying on things that Trump said on the campaign trail and not actually what's in the -- in the writing of the statute, and I think that can get dangerous. Like if you think that Trump is an irrational actor and he's a guy that does not observe important norms -- do not violate those norms and act irrationally as well in order to be a check on him. I think that is a real dangerous line that a lot of institutions, a lot of people are walking in an attempt to sort of cut him off at the knees and it's not good.

KUCINICH: And not only that, I just want to add that at that rally, one of the things he was supposed to be talking about at length was health care and selling it, and he was not selling health care. He wanted to react to this ruling.

And you can't blame him for wanting to react to it, right, but he went on and on and on, instead of doing what he needs to do which is selling this health care bill to the American people.

BACON: This is now not a policy, but just the presidential authority debate. He is not going to back down now. This is a test of his powers in some ways.

KING: A test of his power. Quickly.

TALEV: Yes, I think it's a really good point. I mean, I would just say this: between the first version of the ban and the second version of the ban, there was a lot of discussion about how long this needs to last. Is it just for 90 days or 120 days or is this going to be policy, this ban going to be a policy for years? And kind of one of the themes that was discussed was the administration's hope that the other six countries can use the intervening time to change and ramp up their practices and give more assurances that they can vet people and that sort of thing. Well, these six countries to the extent that they actually want to attempt to that have now several weeks to begin that process before this gets to that high court test.

KING: If not months if it goes all the way up.

TALEV: Yes, that's right.

KING: Up next, his first big test as deal-maker. President Trump is the closer as the Republicans look to get their embattled Obamacare replacement plan over its first big hurdle.


[08:28:36] KING: Welcome back, to our viewers here in the United States and around the globe.

President Trump has a challenge this week, to sway the final votes to squeak the Republican health care program through the House of Representatives. He sees himself as just the man to close the deal.


TRUMP: You see when they talk about me, I seem to be very popular, at least this week within the party, because we have our highest numbers -- the highest numbers that I've ever had in the party. So I think there's a great unification.


KING: Now, the House bill is being re-tweaked again because of internal Republican disagreements. Speaker Paul Ryan is the man actually doing most of the deal-making, and unlike the president, he says popularity isn't the issue.


RYAN: Oh, I didn't come here to be popular. I came here to get stuff done. I don't care. I mean, I really don't about my stuff. I just don't care.


You've known me long enough and know I'm a cause guy and I want to get this stuff done. And I see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity and, by the way, he is fully committed.


KING: The he the speaker is referring to there is the president. It is interesting to have a vote is scheduled on Thursday and as we sit here on Sunday morning, by most counts, they don't have the votes to pass it yet. Normally, they're pretty careful about these things. You only bring it to the floor, or schedule the floor vote when you know you have the final votes.

Where are we going this week?

KUCINICH: You also don't brag about getting guesses and what the president did in that clip, the clip after the one you just showed was he said, I went into a room and they were all yeses and immediately, you had Justin Amash, who's a Republican congressman, who's more libertarian from Michigan, say, "No, no, no, that's not true."

[08:30:05] And so you don't -- you don't count your chickens before they're hatched, I guess I would say, and you see the president doing that a little bit, trying to boost it but I don't know if that's the right way.

KING: Right. But this is a -- I mean, this is the guy, the signature book about Donald Trump was "The Art of the Deal." This is what he thinks he's going to be great at in Washington. This is the first big test.

HAM: Yes, I think the question is how much he believes this is his test and how much he wants to get behind it given that he's not an ideological creature. He probably -- he does not know or care that much about the details, what's in here. He's also very popular in the districts of the people who are making noise on this, so like without a value judgment of what's actually in the bill he could do a lot of good in -- with those folks from those places. So -- but it remains a big question as to whether he will actually do that.

The other thing I will say is that despite the CBO score and the talk in Washington, the polling from last week from Politico shows that Republicans are trusted more on health care than Democrats, by far, that the outlook on this actual bill is quite a bit more sanguine than what we hear about in Washington so I think he has that going for him as well. It's just a question of whether he wants to go to bat for it.

KING: Well, I was at an event the other day with several Trump voters who all were demanding that the Republicans get this done but they had some questions about the details. I think that's one of the things -- they're demanding, they want action done because they want Obamacare repealed. I think it will be six months or a year before we get into weld of what they actually like what was done if they get it done.

One of the changes to try to get it through the House is to make the Medicaid provisions, and for those of you watching around the world, that's Washington money that goes to states. States then use that money to give mostly low-income people health care. They're making those provisions more conservative, putting in a work requirement or allowing states to put in a work requirement, perhaps ending some of the funding or some of the restrictions a bit earlier.

Listen to the vice president last night trying to sell this bill, telling conservatives, we're listening.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because of the voices of conservatives in Congress, we're going to be amending the House bill to give states the option for a Medicaid block grant in its entirety so states can reform Medicaid in the way that they see fit. And thanks to the leadership and the collaboration of many of the great conservatives in this room we're going to have an amendment to allow states to include a work requirement for able-bodied adults on Medicaid so we can ensure the program is there for people who actually need it.


KING: Are they going to take this bill to the right to get it through the House and then have Republicans in the Senate say no way?

BACON: Yes. It sounds like they want to get the bill passed in the House first and everything else second so if you move the bill -- the Freedom Caucus is the problem right. Like Katharine said, though, those members are in conservative district that are very pro-Trump so if you move the bill slightly to the right you dare them. Trump's district. This bill is conservative now, we dare to you vote against it.

So I think that might be a smart strategy, you put in the House, but you move the bill to the right so much. You have already about 15 senators on the record saying I'm nervous about this, particularly senators in Medicaid states like Arkansas, like Kentucky, like Pennsylvania, like West Virginia. So I think this is a strategy only for the House and you might wake up on Thursday saying it passed in the House and now the bill is truly dead in the Senate immediately.

And we have to go through a whole new process of re-writing the bill so I'm not sure this comes as much of a goal beyond satisfying Paul Ryan's desire to get a bill passed through the House.

TALEV: Yes, I think that's a really interesting point. If this bill doesn't pass the House it is a major political failure, a roadblock for both Paul Ryan and for Donald Trump for different reasons, but even if it does pass the House it doesn't even mean that the repeal part is a fait accompli, much less the replace part, which is really, you know -- which is the real test. A lot of the reasons why voters don't like Obamacare it's because it's called Obamacare and because they're not getting as much coverage as they want for it, by the way, so if -- if the answer is less coverage for people who are in financial need, for some people, for conservatives for whom this is an ideological issue, that's fine, but for a lot of voters who don't like Obamacare but really want health care, the notion that it would be harder for them to get access to the system because of their salaries or reduced help from the government, reduced subsidies that could be a problem.

HAM: Well, let me note. That for conservatives who are ideologically invested in this, the problem for them is often that saying someone has coverage does not mean they actually have access to health care, and when you flood the program, Medicaid in particular, with more people, you get less care, even though you're saying more people have coverage. It actually doesn't work out.

KING: Right. Covered on paper versus actually being able to show up somewhere in your community and get a doctor, see a doctor is one thing.

One of the interesting things if you look at the plan as it's now drafted it doesn't keep a lot of the president's promises in the campaign and it also would affect some Trump voters. His most loyal bloc were elderly Americans. And he was asked, you mentioned the people who said they were no's or maybes, who've come over his way, one of them was Robert Aderholt, the Republican from Alabama, who said he told the president, Mr. President, I've got a lot of, you know, older people in my district and a lot of them don't make a lot of money and under the Republican plan their premiums would go from $1700 under Obamacare, 10 years the CBO says their premiums would be about $14,000 a year.

He says he looked the president in the eye, said, "Mr. President, these are your voters, you can't do this to them."

[08:35:03] And he said, "The president listened to a fact that a 64- year-old person living near the poverty line was going to see their insurance premiums go up. The president looked me in the eye and said, these are my people and I will not let them down. We will fix this for them."

So the president is committed here saying, I'm going to change this. How many changes can we have along the way, I guess, and then keep it in a way you can pass it?

KUCINICH: That's -- it's a great question and I feel like in some of these -- in some cases the president is kind of telling people what they need to hear to get them to yes and, unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily get them to yes in their district because they are going to hear from seniors. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen is another Republican, usually is a reliable Republican, vote particularly for someone like Speaker Ryan. Now her district was won by Hillary so she's in a little bit -- a little bit of a different situation there. But she has a lot of elderly people in her district and look at -- keep an eye on those Florida Republicans because they are not going to get in line either because of that provision.

KING: And the Democrats are screaming, this is unfair because you're trying -- you're making changes to this bill as we speak right up until Thursday probably, and we won't know, the -- quote-unquote, score, again if you're watching anywhere outside of Washington. What's the score? The Congressional Budget Office says this is how much we estimate will lose coverage. This is how much the government will either spend or save, or whatever.

HAM: It's our accredited fortune teller.

KING: Yes. It's an accredited fortune teller. That's good. I like that. But it is interesting because it's the rules by which or the ways by which Congress operates and they might be casting a vote on Thursday without information they normally have. BACON: Right. And also Trump is making comments about the bill's

details that I'm not sure he's authorized to make at some level, again like on the foreign policy point, I'm not sure that Tom Price and Paul Ryan, people like that want Trump to be promising everyone will be taken care of in Alabama. That's not what the bill does and I don't think Trump is involved in the day-to-day details in that way where he necessarily can be negotiating in that way.

KING: Well, 2018 will be the first test if they pass something but remember the president is on the ballot in 2020. He was very specific during the campaign about what he wanted to do.

BACON: Cover everyone.

KING: Who he wanted to cover in this bill. We'll see -- he was broadly specific. He wasn't in the details, you're right about that.

Everybody, sit tight up. Next a preemptive strike on North Korea's nuclear program? A blunt warning as the new administration makes its mark on the world stage.


[08:41:15] KING: Welcome back. They are as different as it gets on substance and mostly on style, too. But when they met for the first time Friday both President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed common ground.


ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (Through Translator): In the period leading up to this visit I've always said it's much, much better to talk to one another and not about one another and I think our conversation proved this.


KING: I think she got a little smile there. Remarkably the Trump- Merkel meeting was not the administration's biggest mark on the world stage that day. In South Korea Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the new administration was taking a new approach to North Korea and its provocative nuclear program and ballistic missile tests.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The policy of strategic patience has ended. We're exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table.


KING: And it's hard sometimes because that was such a big event, a highly anticipated event at the White House and there's so much drama early in this new administration we sort of forget sometimes what the other pieces are doing but for a secretary of State to stand on the Korean Peninsula after meetings with Japan, that is in Korea, and say essentially we're done. We're done negotiating, we're done listening, we're done treating this the way the Clinton administration, the Bush administration, the Obama administration treated this, and publicly talking about yes, there's a first strike option, a preemptive strike option on the table if North Korea does not change its behavior. That's pretty remarkable.

TALEV: Two things. I think the Obama administration was pretty close to done with itself by the end of the Obama administration. If you talk to Susan Rice, then the National Security adviser, you said, one of the biggest things you're worried about in the world? She would say some sort of pandemic flu and North Korea, so this has been increasingly a concern in terms of North Korean capacity, capability, willingness to act, right? And how close they are.

But I think the Trump administration also is instructed by Obama's sort of red line on Syria back a few years ago, and the desire not to go out on a limb and create the impression of a red line that they are not prepared to follow through on so when you say all options are on the table, obviously what you're saying is preemptive strike is a possibility, but I think this is much more still at this stage about signaling to China and to other partners in the world, guys, we're moving into a different phase, not so much as saying hey, like, we really want to start a war with North Korea.

KING: So tougher rhetoric, not yet a red line.

TALEV: Yes, moving towards negotiations with the understanding of maybe, kind of getting closer to a red line.

HAM: Yes, I think that tone changes in line with what Trump voters probably expected and what he advertised while not setting an actual red line, look, we're really tough on this and come to the table and talk about it. An interesting part of this, though, is you're looking for help and you're looking for partners in a region where you just nixed TPP which is one of the other ways you work with that region so it remains to be seen how that plays.

KING: OK. Let's shift to the meeting because this is very highly anticipated, number one, because Merkel is viewed as -- on the global stage as sort of the preeminent defender of what we'll call the liberal world order. Trump during the campaign very critical of a lot of things, questioning things, said at one point NATO was obsolete, what he meant by that was not quite that it was obsolete but he has his own way of speaking but if you listen to them, if you just listen to the generalities, they seem to be on the same page when it came to the NATO alliance.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I reiterated to Chancellor Merkel my strong support for NATO as well as the need for our NATO allies to pay their fair share for the cost of defense. Many nations owe vast sums of money from past years, and it is very unfair to the United States.

MERKEL (Through Translator): I was gratified to know that the president underlined how important he thinks NATO is. NATO is of prime importance for us and it was not without very good reason that we said during our summit meeting in Wales that also Germany needs to increase expenditure.


KING: So the president won. The president won. He makes his point there publicly. I support the alliance but I want the allies, including you, to put more in. She says, you know, you're right, Mr. President, we should put more in, so why the morning after does the president go on Twitter, some of the media accounts said the meeting was a little frosty, and the president tweets, "Despite what you've heard from fake news I had a great meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Nevertheless," he goes on to say. He could have stopped right there. "Nevertheless Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO and the United States. Must be paid. More for the powerful and very expensive defense it provides to Germany." Why?


BACON: Well, I suspect one thing is Merkel was President Obama's favorite foreign leader that I assume means she -- Donald Trump does not like her just by definition of this. I think that's one thing going here is it does not we're going to be a great personal rapport between these two is my assumption, is what I've heard about the meeting, too, so I think that's part of it that is I'm sure in the meeting itself she disagreed with him. It's problematic that he's sort of framed the tweet like that.

You know, it's not like the Germans spend more on defense that goes to the U.S. government. That's not how NATO funding works, that's not how this program works, so his misunderstanding of how NATO works in this tweet again problematic.

The larger thing, although, is he did move from NATO is obsolete and was very critical of it to basically saying things president Obama would have said about NATO. I'm again not sure what the policy is here and if his words or tweets have any meaning beyond being entertaining.

Germany has already made a commitment to step up its contribution and that's something that they talked about and that Trump has praised her for, praised Germany for already agreeing before this meeting to make that move in that step in that direction, so this seemed to be more like mostly domestic messaging because this is an issue that he wants to hammer on and because in the couple of months since he's taken office there has been a movement to reassure allies that yes, I'll stand by NATO.

These are important allies to us, so he's got to kind of do the financial ding there, but I think it's maybe worth noting that Obama and Merkel were not always close. They became close over a period of years and that took some time but Obama and Merkel both had these kind of cool intellectual relationships. None of this sort of guttural, you know, knife fight kind of politics. And so I think the relationship between Merkel and Trump has to exist. The U.S. in Germany have a necessary alliance. They have to find a way to get together, who not going to be a natural sort of partner.

KING: Very different tone on refugees and also after that meeting play out, a very different tact in the Trump administration on trade issues. These other allies didn't get over. So we're in the early of getting to know you process, shall we say?

Our reporters share from their notebooks. And that's including what could be a new West Wing power struggle. One that just might spill over to national security issues.


[08:51:58] KING: All right. Let's close by asking our great reporters to share a little something from their notebooks, help get you out ahead of the big political news just around the corner. Jackie Kucinich?

KUCINICH: So we are one month away from the primary to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and normally this wouldn't be a terribly interesting race. But this time there's a Democrat, his name is Joseph Osef. He's a small business owner, he's 30 years old, former intern for John Lewis, also has raised $3 million. Not only that he's drawn attacks from a Republican super PAC already from -- to the tune of about $1 million. So this is still a tough race but Democrats are looking at this guy as maybe a small bright spot in a state where they are having a lot of trouble making inroads.

KING: Fun to watch that one. Democrats could use a little boost. We'll see what happens. A lot of ad money being spent. Margaret?

TALEV: You've been hearing this name for the last few days, Dina Powell, and if you didn't already know her she is once upon a time Bush administration official then went over to Goldman Sachs, and is now back in the Trump administration, but the reason to keep an eye on her is not her original role which was to advise Ivanka on some women's and economic issues. It's her new role as deputy national security adviser.

The intrigue or speculation is exactly what is she going to bring to the table? There's one school of thought that says she's real there as a moderating influence. Another school of thought that says she's there as Jared Kushner's kind of eyes on the National Security Council, but the third is really what she brings to the table for the NSC itself. Egyptian-born, Arabic-speaking and has earned the trust -- is earning the trust now of H.R. McMaster. So as we see this week unfold, the visit by the Iraqi prime minister, a lot of ongoing discussions with Germany and kind of the fusion of economic policy with national security policy, Dina is going to be someone to keep your eye on.

KING: Keep an eye on that. Adds to the factional intrigue, shall we say. Perry?

BACON: You've heard about the Freedom Caucus, the conservative members, who are very opposed, some of them, to the health care bill. I think the group to watch this week is the 23 members who are in districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 because those members are worried about, you know, support from the right but also making sure they are moderate enough to win their districts. I think those people -- some of them are already coming out against the bill and I think this week they may be key swingers. 23 of those members. If 22 people voting against the bill that will kill it.

KING: Less likely be able to inspire the president because of their districts. Mary Katharine?

HAM: A little local regulation spat that has implications for the rest of the country in larger cities. In 2015 Austin effectively chased out Uber and Lyft with some regulations that sort of put them on par with the regulations from the taxi industry. They peaced out after liberal voters back this and South by Southwest, the very hit festival, was supposed to be the very first test of the Uber and Lyft replacement. But it turns out when you want services or when you push for services that act more like taxis you get services that act more like taxis. And it did not go well on the first weekend. Improved slightly after that but it's a real high-profile test for how a major city will work without these services. And it was not perfect.

KING: Haven't had peace out in the program in a while. Thanks for that.

HAM: Yes.


KING: I'll close with this. Somehow the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court vacancy has become almost forgotten in the drama-filled first 60 days of the Trump presidency.

[08:55:07] That ends this week as the Gorsuch confirmation hearings get under way. Democrats are under intense pressure from their base to somehow block Gorsuch and they'll be looking for a stumble at his confirmation hearings. But the judge has impressed senators during his private meetings, even the Democrats, and sources familiar with this confirmation murder board say his composure very tough to crack.

Watch his questioning on the issue of presidential authority. The judge's ruling on the issue show Gorsuch to be a critic of too much executive power and it could be one area where he finds some agreement with Senate Democrats who want a check on this president, but those Democrats nonetheless face intense pressure to vote no.

That's it again for INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks for sharing your Sunday morning. Hope you can join us tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. CNN's special coverage of the FBI Director James Comey's appearance before the House intelligence Committee.

Up next, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper.