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Trump Struggles on Agenda; Ryan Worries about Democrats; Trump Fights Freedom Caucus; Senate Russia Hearings; Putin on Russia Accusations. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 30, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

On Capitol Hill today, a rare public Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia's election meddling and a promise to be bipartisan, though Democrats more likely to make clear one big question is whether associates of President Trump were in cahoots with the Kremlin.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I will not prejudge the outcome of our investigation. We are seeking to determine if there is an actual fire, but there is clearly a lot of smoke.


KING: NOW, the FBI wants to answer that collusion question too and the director promises the unvarnished truth.


JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: We're not considering who's ox will be gored by this action or that action, whose fortunes will be helped by this or that. We just don't care and we can't care.


KING: And some sharp new vollys today in the Republican family feud. The president attacks the conservative House Freedom Caucus and the Republican speaker warns there will be a price if the president decides to make a deal with Democrats.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: The Democrats aren't for repealing Obamacare. We are. But I don't think it's a stretch of the mind to suggest that the Democrats disagree with us on repealing Obamacare. They're not going to help us repeal Obamacare. That's my point. And so if we're going to do what we said we would do, which is repeal and replace Obamacare and save the American health care system, something tells me the Democrats aren't going to help us repeal Obamacare. They're the one who created it in the first place.


KING: He's probably right about that.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, Abby Phillip of "The Washington Post," Amy Walter of "The Cook Political Report," "The Atlantic's" Ron Brownstein, and Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist."

It is day 69 of the Donald Trump presidency and, once again, he is breaking new ground. The Republican president, clearly frustrated by an embarrassment last week in the Obamacare repeal defeat, today threatened to oppose members of his own party in next year's midterm elections. "The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team and fast," the president tweeted this morning. "We must fight them and Dems in 2018."

The president's remarkable threat against fellow Republicans followed another remarkable threat by the Republican House speaker, speaking to CBS this morning, Paul Ryan warned bickering Republicans, a president look for a win might wander way to the left.


RYAN: What I worry about, Norah, is that if we don't do this, then he'll just go work with Democrats to try and change Obamacare. And that's not going to -- that's hardly a conservative thing.

NORAH O'DONNELL, CBS: The president of the United States saying he's going to work with Democrats on this. You -- you don't want --

RYAN: Yes, I know what he's been saying and I don't want that to happen. You know why? Because I want a patient-centered system. I don't want government running health care.


KING: A lot to unpack here. A lot of fun if you like politics, but it's also interesting.

Number one, I think by tweeting this this morning, the president doesn't want us to talk about Russia. We will, because we have an hour. We will get to that.

But, number two, how much of this is a game? The president working with Speaker Paul Ryan to get these Republicans to think long and hard about what happened last week and think about compromising and think about consensus, or how much of this is a Republican president who we know is a new Republican actually thinking that if you guys aren't nicer to me, I will actively campaign against you in 2018 or actively encourage people to run against you. Is he serious?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, "THE FEDERALIST": Look, I said this last week when they were arguing about whether the Freedom Caucus would go along with this bill. I think there are many reasons they didn't. But the idea that Trump wouldn't go after Republicans, like, it is the thing he's perhaps most enthusiastic about. AMY WALTER, "THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT": Right.



HAM: So he will do that. And I think it's because he feels he got burned. How it serves him is another question. I do think -- he's not an ideological person. The Freedom Caucus, of course, is an ideological caucus. So it does not surprise me there's a big gap there and it doesn't surprise me he wants to take it out on them to some extent, but I don't know how it sevens him getting an agenda done.

KING: Yes, they may have no experience at this governing thing because most of them were elected when you had a Democratic president, so they've never done this before.


KING: But to Mary Katharine's point, they believe things. They believe things about the government's role in programs, including health care, and that's why -- first they were trying to pull the president right, and then when the president came there way, they said, still not far enough. Is this the right fight to pick if you're the president of the United States and you want to get things done?

WALTER: Well, there are two things. If you talk to folks outside of the Freedom Caucus, their argument -- who are Republicans, their argument is, this is less ideological than it is about just pure intransigence. Sorry, that's a hard work to get out, but that they just want to be road blocks. They enjoy being the just party of no. That is really -- is it purely ideological as much as it is they're just showing their power and they like to do that.

The other issue is, when you look at polling taken in Republican districts, the kind of districts that these guys run in, it's not a popular bill. This was really super unpopular. And so they were actually making the smart -- the unideological choice, a smart political choice. And from the reporting that we're seeing on the ground in a lot of those districts, their constituents say, yes, it was kind of a bad bill. Let -- why would you go out on a limb supporting it? The president's going to do his thing. We still like him. But we need you guys to take your time, put a better bill together.

[12:05:04] BROWNSTEIN: There's another strange element of this, is when the sub text becomes text. I mean if the -- if Paul Ryan was basically saying today that the point of negotiating with Democrats is to increase pressure on Republicans, it kind of makes it hard to actually execute that threat if Democrats understand their main purpose in -- in -- around the table is to make it more likely that Republicans will work --

KING: Everybody's being used.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. And there is -- look, and there is -- look, there is a way -- I mean there is a way in fact to negotiate with Democrats on health care but it requires a very different conception of the bill. Democrats -- I did a panel this morning with Joe Manchin, senator -- you know, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, and they will acknowledge that the exchanges on which people buy private insurance -- what Paul Ryan likes to talk about every day -- face real problems. Not enough young people, not enough healthy people, a risk pool that (INAUDIBLE) old, rising prices, less competition. Fine. Can you fix that? Can you find ways to fix it? That's one thing.

The heart of the Republican bill is repealing not only the expansion of Medicaid under President Obama, but block granting the underlying program to the point where 14 million fewer people would be receiving Medicaid. There is not a single Democrat in either chamber who can vote for any part of that agenda. So if Donald Trump actually wants to talk to Democrats, the first thing he has to do is tell the House Republicans, you're not block granting Medicaid. And it's hard to see that being the place from which he begins a conversation.

KING: But if he's -- but if he's working here in cahoots with the speaker to try to put fear into the Freedom Caucus, that that's what the president will do, he'll go over and talk to the Democrats and they will fix Obamacare, not even come anywhere close to repealing Obamacare. So far I would say the reaction is yawn from those conservatives.

Mark Meadows said no comment. He didn't want to get in a fight with the president but he said no comment. Justin Amash from Michigan, a very conservative member of the let's say no crowd that you mentioned, said, "it didn't take long for the swamp to drain @realdonaldtrump. No shame, Mr. President. Almost everyone succumbs to the D.C. establishment." So these are members of the president' own party saying, you know, uh-uh, we don't bow to you, sir.

PHILLIP: It's really hard to do this a week after the president and House leadership caved to those very same people. It's almost impossible because they've proven that they won't follow through on their threats. And what we haven't seen yet beyond the president using the bully pulpit of Twitter and other things to talk about putting pressure on conservatives is the president actually doing things to put pressure on conservatives.

He had an opportunity for weeks leading up to the time that they released the beginnings of this bill, to the time that they wanted to go to a vote, for him to go out there, to actually appear in people's districts, to actually put the pressure on them, to actually show up, to force them on to the stage with them. He didn't do any of that. And -- and we don't -- it's still unclear why that is, but -- but conservatives who are looking at, what is the president actually going to do to make things hard for me, are seeing almost nothing on the table except for tweets.

HAM: You're going to want to resist before the vote, not after the vote.

KING: Right.


KING: Wow. You've done this before.


KING: I think that is part of the lesson. You have done this before. They haven't.

BROWNSTEIN: And just -- just one reality reminder. Even if they somehow found a way to get this bill through the House, it is a nonstarter in the Senate.

KING: Right. Right.

HAM: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: Both because of the way it affects older working age adults on the private insurance side and because there are too many Republican senator from largely blue collar states where people have benefitted from the Medicaid expansion to go anywhere near as far as the House Republicans want to go.

HAM: Can I --

BROWNSTEIN: So, I mean, even if you somehow got it through the Senate, you may -- the House would just be prolonging the agony.

HAM: Can I say that the problem on the other side, the mirror problem is, in dealing with the exchanges, which truly do have problems that I have personally experienced, is that on the one hand conservatives want to deal with the underlying factors that caused those problems, and on the other side you're going to get a bunch of people that want to bail out the insurance companies -- industry --

KING: Right.

HAM: Which is not going to be a good fit for almost anyone.

KING: And that's one of the divides in the Republican Party, to which the speaker at his press conference just a few moments ago said, look, he was asked if he agreed with the president, attacking the Freedom Caucus. Those are Paul Ryan's members. He's just as mad, just as frustrated with those guys as the president is, but he has to herd the sheep in the Republican House Conference. So his tone was more gentle, but the speaker says, I get where the president's going here.


RYAN: I understand the president's frustration. I share frustration. About 90 percent of our conference is for this bill to repeal and replace Obamacare and about 10 percent are not. And that's not enough to pass a bill. We're close. What I am encouraging our members to do is to keep talking with each other until we can get the consensus to pass this bill. But it's very understandable that the president is frustrated that we haven't gotten to where we need to go because this is something we all said we would do. And so he is just expressing his frustration. You all know that he -- he does that in various forms, including Twitter, and I understand his frustration.


KING: Yes, we all know that he does that in various forms, including Twitter.

My point is, let them keep talking about the health care debate. We'll see if the Republicans figure it out.

A month from now they have a government shutdown.

PHILLIP: That's right.

KING: And that same group here talked about, they once did shut the government down over trying to get a vote to repeal Obamacare. Irony of ironies perhaps. But if the president keeps poking them and they keep saying, no, sir, you know, we don't bow to you, is that going to complicate that? Because right now you have the Republican leadership saying, we're going to back off. We're not going to try to defund Planned Parenthood. We're -- that bill might not include the president's money for his wall, which is a whole separate issue. But if there are issues in that bill to keep the government running that the most conservative House members don't like and their backs are up a little bit because they're in a fight with the president, what happens?

[12:10:16] WALTER: So are we into a perpetual game of chicken now on these issues.

KING: Right.

WALTER: And in some ways it may be that their -- again, I don't know how strategically they're thinking about this, but leading them, leading these Freedom Caucus members into a place where they're backed into this corner. They look ridiculous. And you can blame them not just for killing an unpopular bill, but now for shutting the government down. But I don't know if that's enough. If this public shaming is enough to change anybody's minds.

HAM: And the question, too, like you pointed out, their districts are safe and they're not paying a huge price on this bill.



HAM: And then the other argument in the past has been, well, the Republican brand. Well, the Republican Party elected Donald Trump president. Like, there have been many points along the way where we said, well this could be problematic for the party. And I guess then the next question is, problematic for the country and what their decisions on that front.

KING: Well, the --

HAM: But I do think like the -- the shaming and the electoral price has not been paid --

WALTER: Has not been -- yes.

HAM: Hasn't worked either time.

KING: And so but what -- and then what is the impact on the president who, as we know, has a 35 percent approval rating right now in the role of Gallup daily tracking. That's over a three day period, a 35 percent approval rating. He came here, Ron, saying, you know, I can do the deals.


KING: I'm the guy.


KING: I am the guy. I alone. And my business experience, my deal making experience, I'm going to bring the Republicans together, I'm going to get this done. What's the impact on him?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, use your words, I mean can you herd sheep in a swamp, right? I mean, yes, I mean, the --


BROWNSTEIN: What you -- right? You got --


KING: That was --

BROWNSTEIN: Exactly, how does that work? Right. So Donald -- in many ways Donald Trump was an independent candidate who ran under the Republican banner.

KING: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: He fought as much with Republicans as Democrats. He had more institutional opposition. There were more Republican members of the Senate, governors, the House who said they were not voting for him I believe than any Republican nominee since 1912, William Howard Taft, when Teddy Roosevelt bolted the party. So there -- this is a marriage of convenience where you have Republicans who are on -- on The Hill who are uneasy about a lot of the economic nationalism that seems to be closest to his heart on trade and immigration and other issues, and they are swallowing their objections to that because they believe that Trump was the mechanism through which they could get the agenda they've been developing since 2010 to roll back the size of government. If that is not coming together, you kind of wonder how long they will -- they will stay quiet on this -- on the parts of his agenda that they were swallowing in an attempt to advance their own.

KING: We'll keep -- quick.

PHILLIP: And the corollary to that is that the president also ran on promising people a lot of things, whereas Republicans for years have been talking about trimming the government, trimming entitlements, trimming everything. And that is in conflict constantly. And we're seeing it now. This budget is a problem partly because he has promised a wall and Republicans are kind of like, well, we kind of need to just trim things. And it's just not going to -- you know, it's not -- it has not been resolve and the president actually hasn't really shown leadership in how he wants to sort of marry those two things.

KING: Hour --

BROWNSTEIN: And his economic nationalism contains a lot more big, social welfare acceptance --


KING: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: Than the congressional Republican agenda. And that conflict was implicit during the campaign. It's becoming more implicit in governing.

KING: And the power of his personality so far unable to --


KING: Remove those significant differences, shall we say.

Up next, the congressional investigation of Russia's election meddling, adult version. The Senate Intelligence Committee promised to keep things bipartisan and stages a public hearing to lay out the scope of Kremlin shenanigans.


[12:17:48] KING: Welcome back.

A bit of a history lesson and more as the Senate Intelligence Committee, today, held a rare public hearing. The witnesses today, hardly household names, but they were called in to make a point. Moscow has been meddling in American elections for decades, but took it to a fierce new level in 2016. The committee leadership also tried to teach another lesson to their distrustful and dysfunctional colleagues leading a similar House investigation.


SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The vice chairman and I realize that if we politicize this process, our efforts will likely fail. The public deserves to hear the truth about possible Russian involvement in our election, how they came to be involved, how we may have fail to prevent that involvement, what actions were taken in response.


KING: Now that commitment to bipartisanship doesn't mean the members read from the exact same page. Chairman Burr made no mention of one committee focus, whether Trump campaign associates were looped in on the Russian efforts to discredit Hillary Clinton. The committee's top Democrat, not to shy.


WARNER: Campaign manager of one campaign, who played such a critical role in electing the president, was forced to step down over his alleged ties to Russia and its associates.


KING: So this was supposed to be the grown up version of the Russia election meddling investigation. What are we learning? We're very early on. This hearing, again, they're going to have a bunch of technical experts, a bunch of historical experts to say, hey, the Russians have been at this since they were the Soviets, so it's not new. However, they did add steroids, you might say, and aggressive more -- aggressive Internet. What are we learning from I guess the early tone of the Senate version of this?

WALTER: I think it's interesting that Senator Burr said, well, we didn't want to politicize this. It's already politicized. And I doubt that these hearings are going to change anybody's opinions about this.

A CBS poll came out this week, not surprising, but just to remind people that people -- that where you sit in your partisanship determines how you feel about Russia. Sixty-four percent of Republicans say they don't think that Russia had any influence at all in the 2016 election. Sixty-seven percent of Democrats said, yes, and they did it just to help Donald Trump, all right. Seventy-five percent of Republicans, there was no coordination with the Trump campaign, overwhelming majority of Democrats say absolutely there was coordination.

[12:20:02] So this is already here. It's not going to go away. I don't think these hearings are going to change anybody's opinion about this. If there's some bombshell that comes out of one of these hearings or a witness, which I doubt, that may start to shift this. But for now, I think, we're just going to see people sitting in their (INAUDIBLE).

HAM: Well, I think if that bombshell comes out in the arena that is more sober and is less partisan seeming --


HAM: I think that bombshell means more than it would somewhere else. And that may -- that may mean that people who are talking to the various committees are more willing to talk to this one.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, and also the contrast between the two processes has kind of raised the question again of why there are two processes, right? I mean why there wasn't either a joint committee to begin with or -- and I think even -- even people on the Senate Intelligence Committee will tell you, their expertise is right in the name, intelligence, right? I mean it's -- that is where they're going to be the most confident and they have the most expertise built up on dealing with the questions of what Russians -- what Russia did, whether there was coordination. Following the money, following financial relationships, if any, that are relevant between the Trump campaign and individuals or institutions in Russia, that's not so much their expertise. And I think even -- whatever the Senate Intelligence Committee produces, I think at the end of this process, there are still going to be people who say, we don't have the full picture and it does raise the question of either an independent commission or a joint -- a joint congressional panel.

KING: And Chairman Burr said this -- they hope to finish by 2018 -- end of 2018. There's an election in 2018. They think this is going to carry over for a while. So we'll see if it has an impact on that.

And also let's bring into the conversation -- remember, there's a House Intelligence Committee investigation. We'll get to that a little bit later in the program. You have the Senate Intelligence Committee, which went public today. You also have on ongoing FBI counterintelligence investigation --


KING: Which Director Comey last week said does include this question of, he called it, cooperation, not collusion. Were there -- were there Trump campaign associates in some coordination or some contact with the Russians as all this was playing out. Listen to Director Comey last night saying we're going to follow the facts. This is, I'll say, his best Joe Friday.


JIM COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Now, we're not fools. I know that when I make a hard decision a storm is going to follow. But, honestly, I don't care. If I have thought about it carefully and am doing the right thing, making the right judgment, it doesn't matter what's going to follow because it's not about that. And, honestly, the death of the independent FBI would lie down the path to considering impact. If we ever started to think about who will be affected in what way by our decisions in a political sense, we're done.


KING: A lot of Democrats --

WALTER: A collective -- that was a collective eye roll. That what you heard is a collective eye rolling of every Democrat (INAUDIBLE).

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Right.

KING: Yes, Democrats go back to last year's campaign and the public statements and say, hmmm, where was that Jim Comey when we needed him.

WALTER: They go, hmm, I don't know about that.

BROWNSTEIN: And, you know, I mean, you don't need to have a partisan intent to have an improper political role because I don't think there are even a lot of Democrats who think that Director Comey released that letter last fall because he wanted to elect -- tip the scales for Donald Trump or elect Donald Trump president.

The concern is that the letter was released more about the internal politics of the FBI. He was more focused on protecting their reputation. Perhaps concerned that agents -- more conservative agents might leak to the press the idea that they were sitting on information that could be instrumental in the election. And as a result, they put the kind of -- the politics of the FBI above kind of the impact on the election and the country. So you don't need a part -- like the question really isn't if we're making decisions based on who we think it's going to help or hurt in the electoral arena. You can still have an improper political roll just worrying about your own political interest.

HAM: Sure, but if you asked me -- if you ask me which of these three investigations I trust most --


HAM: The FBI is the one. And despite what happened in the -- or maybe because of it -- in the election. No, but I do think the FBI, this is their job.

KING: Right.


HAM: And it has an ending point in sight, especially now that we know it exists. And that part actually makes me feel better about the situation. So I think it's a healthy less leaked besieged, less political situation.

PHILLIP: And I think everybody should probably tamp down their expectations a little bit. I mean all these -- a lot of these investigations have been going on since the campaign. Up until January 20th, they really haven't come up with anything. We're still going -- we'll probably keep going for quite some time. We may not ever get a smoking gun. And I think people need to be prepared for that.

WALTER: That's right.

KING: And to your point -- to your point, you say you may not ever get a smoking gun. That is obviously because if you listen here to the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, he says there is no there there.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We have said more than once, and I want to stress, we know than according to opinion polls in the USA we have a lot of friends and I want to address them directly. We think the USA is a great country with which we want to have a kind partnership and relationship. Everything else regarding Russia is lies, hoaxes and provocations.

Reagan once said to the American people, I think it was regarding taxes, read my lips, no.


KING: That was George H.W. Bush. You think a good Kremlin history major like Vladimir Putin would know that was George H.W. Bush, not Ronald Reagan. But why don't they just shut these things down? Vladimir Putin says there's nothing there. It's all hoaxes and lies.

HAM: Well, I mean, there also may be no smoking gun because there's no smoking gun. It could very well be that all of this is less sophisticated and less sinister than some people are advertising.

WALTER: That's right.

[12:25:06] KING: Right, that Russia was meddling in the election and maybe some Trump people had some meetings they should have been more transparent about --

HAM: Right.

KING: But whoop-de-do.

BROWNSTEIN: But the question whether Russian was meddling in the election is not really --


BROWNSTEIN: You know, even if (INAUDIBLE) possible Russian meddling, I think we're past possible based on the judgement of all of the intelligence agencies.

HAM: Yes.

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: It also doesn't help anyone to have Vladimir Putin going out there and basically saying, oh, there's nothing going on here, nothing to see here.

WALTER: Also, remember, read my lips? He actually then raised taxes.

KING: Right.


HAM: To your point, I would enjoy a full day of just talking about what the Russians actually did --

KING: Right. Right.

WALTER: Yes. Yes.

HAM: Instead of the other speculation.


KING: Absolutely right, especially (INAUDIBLE).

BROWNSTEIN: You know, the last provocation (INAUDIBLE) might be a good name for a TV show.

KING: Yes, not bad.

BROWNSTEIN: That's not bad from Vladimir Putin there.

KING: Bad analogy, Vlad.

Up next, is the Trump White House turning into a family business? Ivanka Trump joins her husband, Jared, on the West Wing staff after repeatedly saying that wouldn't happen.


KING: Ivanka Trump in a major West Wing role? Nope, not happening. Straight from the source.


LESLEY STAHL, CBS NEWS: People think that you're going to be part of the administration, Ivanka.

[12:30:02] IVANKA TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: I'm -- no. I'm going to be a daughter. But I have -- I have said throughout the campaign that I am very

passionate about certain issues and that I want to fight for them. So, you know, there are a lot of things that I feel deeply, strongly about.