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President Fans Fight Flames Within GOP; Trump Threatens War, Calls Out GOP Critics By Name; The Trump White House On The World Stage; Tillerson Wants "Discussion" On NATO's Russia Posture; Hillary Clinton Makes Implicit Dig At Trump; Biden Indirectly Knocks Clinton's Failed Campaign. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 31, 2017 - 12:30   ET



[12:30:] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump naming names. Maybe even thinking about what this might look like in 2018 now as he escalates a risky fight with members of his own party. His targets are members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who exactly concessions in the president last week and then still would not support him on the Republican ObamaCare replacement plan.

Here's the president on Twitter. "Where are Representatives Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan and Raul Labrador? That's one tweet. The president went on to say, "If Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan and Raul Labrador, would get on board we would have both great healthcare and massive tax cuts and reform."

So who is he picking on and why? Well, Raul Labrador is from out here in Idaho. You see the president carried the state with 60 percent of the vote. So should the congressman be worried? This is his district, 68 percent out here in the conservative western part of the state. He's on pretty safe ground back home. He thinks the voters back home support him in standing up for the president. In fact he tweeted yesterday, the president should remember who his friends are. Saying the conservatives have been nice to the president.

Jim Jordan, he's from here, right here on this district that stretches from Cleveland all the way down near Columbus. He got 68 percent of the vote in his last election. He's not worried either. He came to Washington, he promised, say no to spending, say no to big government. He tells the president he's doing him a favor when he opposed that health care bill.

Mark Meadows is the head of the Freedom Caucus. His district is down here in North Carolina, another state that Trump won. The Meadows' district out here, the 11th District, 64 percent for Mark Meadows. Donald Trump, yes also carried that district and did quite well but about even with Mark Meadows. Maybe ahead of him in some areas, a little behind him in others.

The Freedom Caucus members, they don't feel intimidated by the president. Their friend in the Senate Rand Paul says the president should think again about the strategy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think the Freedom Caucus is doing what's best for America. They're very principled and honorable men and I think that we're trying to also let Republicans know that if we pass something bad, if insurance rates are going up at 20 percent, 25 percent a year from now after Republicans have taken ownership of health care, that won't be good for the party.


KING: Is this a president who's understandably frustrated, just lashing out, or is this part of a real actual strategy to take time and effort and personnel and man hours in the Republican political operation at the RNC and inside the White House to find primary challenges to run against these guys?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: I feel like he's blowing off steam. It is a surprising move on his part to do this. I mean, these -- about the Freedom Caucus members, they don't like to be urged to be part of a team. That is the whole point. They are busy --

KING: History suggests when pushed, they stay right where they are.

RAJU: Exactly. They actually created the Freedom Caucus because they did not want to be part of the leadership's team. And it's also curious to even attack them alone on the health care failure because it was opposition really across the board within the Republican conference. With moderates like Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania opposed the bill. Rodney Frelinghuysen who's the chairman of that powerful House Appropriations Committee also opposed the bill. So, Trump taking aim at them, I'm not sure that's going to change their minds in any way.

KING: And the president said on day one of his campaign and announcing that if you can't make this deal, you're not very good.


KING: He was the one in the room trying to make the deal. I just want to give you a little more flavor to this. This from a Robert Costa in the Washington Post. This is an anonymous White House official. "Our view is: There's nothing as clarifying as the smell of Air Force One jet fuel."

Essentially threatening. The president's going to go into house districts. Mark Sanford, former governor now congressman from the state of South Carolina, he says his Mick Mulvaney his former colleague now the budget director of the Trump White House and a former South Carolina congressman. "The president asked me to look you square in the eyes and to say he hoped that you voted "no" on this bill so he could run a primary challenger against you in 2018."

Really? CAROL LEE, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, I'd say a couple of things first on Air Force One jet fuel. The president doesn't typically go to house districts and there's a reason for that. It's very expensive, the vice president usually goes. The president raises money for the congressional committee.

And so that's just not necessarily

KING: And especially (inaudible) 70 days in to threaten members of their own party --

LEE: It is clever quote. Right. I mean, it's not really -- yes, yes. Second, you know, he can say this now, but who knows where they're going to be in 2018 and campaigning again in these districts. There's probably a low priority even if he could do it.

And third, how is he going to -- unless he can find someone who -- in each district who comes up like a Trump figure, he can't outright these people.

KING: These guys are pretty conservative.


KING: I don't know that he's going to get to the right of these guys.

[12:35:01] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's what Rand Paul said, right? He said, these people are principled. I mean, they were sort of Trump before Trump in terms of being anti-establishment and sticking to certain core principles even though Trump doesn't stick to core principles.

So, yes -- I mean, this was really odd this idea -- and the other thing is he tried this already, right? I mean, during the process of negotiating for health care which lasted what, 17 or 18 as, his people were threatening some of these guys with primary cherries -- primary races and he was doing the same thing to Mark Meadows. You know, I'm going to come after you. So, I mean, this is -- it's just absurd. I mean --

KING: And the big lesson is you have a non-ideological Republican president who did not settle his victory, did not settle the ideological feuding we've seen throughout the Obama administration within the Republican Party. Here's Adam Kinzinger, a more leadership-friendly member of Congress. You might call him (inaudible), this is colorful.

"We are the Charlie Brown party, hoping that this time, things will be different. But time and again, the Freedom Caucus is Lucy, pulling the ball out from under us, letting us take the fall and smiling to themselves for making a splash. It's a cheap tactic, not a way to govern, and enough is enough."

It might be a cheap tactic but they negotiated some concessions from the president and still said no. But no one should be surprised by this. Go back and look at their first campaign ads and their second campaign ads. They're going exactly what they said they're going to do. It's the White House team that to me that's seems unprepared to understand who they're across the table from.

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: If you're going to do a battle with Lucy you better have like cover your potty, (inaudible)


TALEV: That's problem. It's that they're -- that's fine if you want to play like (inaudible) with their Freedom Caucus and see -- you know, well -- and see if you can pre-empts a lot of challenges but then God, I don't want a primary fight. Then that's a tactic and a president can try to use kind of fear or the fear of fear to see what they can get done. But the problem you need somewhere else to go to (inaudible) together a majority for legislative victories. And we have not seen yet the sort of real groundwork and average that it would take with democrats.

HENDERSON: And I think this bill was hated, right? It was like a crap sandwich, right? I mean, premiums were going to be up.

A lot of his base voters, older white Americans, are we're going to lose coverage or have premium hikes. So, I mean, the idea that -- I mean, he's asking people to get on board. On board what? This bill?

KING: A lot of single payer Democrats voted for ObamaCare because they at least thought the compromise were going to make health care better. These guys did not think this bill was going to make it better that's what he didn't.

I just want pop out the cover of the "The Economist". Donald Trump follows the media a lot, I don't know how much he picks up "The Economists" now that he's president, I'm sure he did. This is the business community.

That's "The Economist" view of the Trump presidency so far and if you're a golfer, you get what they're trying to say there. I bring this up in the context that Katie Walsh, the deputy chief of staff announced yesterday she was leaving the White House. They are trying to say that this is a good thing. Now a shake-up, not a bad thing, she's not being pushed out they insists. They say -- you see her there next to Sean Spicer who she worked with through the Republican (inaudible). She's a more established Republican.

They say the value of this move is she's going to now go out and work for the outside pro-Trump pact which didn't do a good job helping them during the health care bill. Hasn't done a good job helping them in first seven days of this administration. They are viewing this as a plus. Is that the real story?

LEE: No. It can't be. I mean, it's so early for someone that senior to leave and it reflects very minimally suggests that there's -- it's not all settled in there which is --

KING: My understanding from a friend of the president is that he and Jared Kushner both love Katie Walsh. Think she was critical in the campaign, think she's been good in helping (inaudible) during her time in the White House. But they also suspect her of being part of the leaks.

LEE: Well, there is also --

TALEV: There's lots of leaks in the White House, right?

KING: The question isn't whether I know that. I don't think that's the appropriate question. They know that.

TALEV: Of course they know that.

LEE: She was also viewed very suspiciously by some of the original Trump aides (inaudible). But with -- it's so interesting, here's an administration that has not filled a lot of positions and yet we keep seeing people leaving and moving, and this one was escorted out here and there. And so it's like they're not even filled and there is already leaving.

HENDERSON: But Ivanka just came aboard, you know that.

LEE: Yes.

KING: I'm going to run the government just like I ran my business. Up next, U.S. elections have consequences at home and around the world. President Obama looked at Syria and said Assad must go. President Trump says he can stay.


[12:43:13] KING: Welcome back. There's so much happening here at home that some big Trump administration changes on the world stage aren't getting that much attention. The new White House for example said this week, it wanted to move ahead with a fighter jet sale to Bahrain and drop human rights conditions the Obama administration had attached to that deal.

In Ankara yesterday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson praised the Turkish government. Made no mention of a crack down on the media and political opponents that critics see as a slide toward authoritarianism. And both Tillerson and Nikki Haley the US Ambassador to the United Nations made clear in the last 24 hours the Trump administration is abandoning the Obama administration's demand that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad yield power.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Let there be no mistake just so we can be clear. There is no space between Turkey and the United States and our commitment to defeat Daesh, to defeat ISIS. Not just in Syria and Iraq but as members of the greater coalition to defeat Daesh. Anywhere Daesh show it's face on planet earth they will be confronted by the coalition to defeat them. The status and the longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: The echo that is across the pond over in Ankara, Turkey. Here in New York, Nikki Haley, the U.N. ambassador met with wire reporters and she said this, "Our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out. Do we think he's a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No."

A dramatic shift from the Obama administration. That happens. Elections have consequences. One of the things that was interested to me yesterday as this was moving around in diplomatic circles was complaints from other U.S. Allies, the European Union for example on record saying Assad must go impart because of-- they were ahead of President Obama. President Obama came in behind them after that saying we didn't get a heads up that this was coming.

[12:45:00] RAJU: And pushback too from some members of his own party. John McCain issuing a statement saying that he was, quote, deeply disturbed by this move pulling back from the Obama administration even he was critical of the Obama administration not going this far particularly on the drawing the red line on Syria. So this is not going over well internationally. Certainly not here at home, they're not getting a lot of support from other side on this.

KING: It's sort of old school real politics. You put pragmatism ahead of morality if you will take short handed. But you cannot read this any other way that if you drop regime change, that's a victory for Iran and for Russia.


LEE: Yes. But-- and this was trending in this distraction for some time since Russia started launching air strikes in September of 2015 in Syria. And, what I think is happening here is they are articulating what the Obama administration had already put into practice which as the president dropped his demand that Assad -- you must remember everybody he was saying that his days are numbered, they weren't. And they had shifted once they went into Iraq and then Syria to against Islamic state to prioritizing Islamic state over regime change. And then all of their negotiations -- I mean, they had like some little shred that they were holding on that there would be a political transition in which Assad would eventually go but they had extended it. And so they're just saying out loud what U.S. policy basically has been for some time and it's just a more --

KING: A surrender by the Obama administration because his policy was such a disaster.

LEE: Right. It's an acknowledgment that you can't -- there's no solution-- political solution in Syria that does just not favor Assad and Russia because Russia has so much skin in that game.

TALEV: And yes, there is a difference between just shifting your own policy internally and stating that shift publicly.

LEE: Correct.

TALEV: And when you state that shift publicly, you know, you're doing two things. Number one, you're still going to those other countries that have a different position from you, OK. We can get together now. But you're also telling Assad do like do whatever he want.

LEE: Yes.

TALEV: And that's the part that our allies, you know, are balking against on humanitarian grounds. It's very interesting to watch.

KING: Zero good choices here. For the previous administration or for this administration, but a big shift. But if you think certainly this is a win for Russia. But at NATO today anyone expecting a giant reset with Russia? Not exactly.


TILLERSON: We want to obviously have a discussion around NATO'S posture here in Europe most particularly eastern Europe in response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere.


KING: That's the Secretary of State Tillerson. The secretary of defense has a similar message essentially saying that sanctions are not going to be lifted against Russia until they give back Crimea. I think we'll all be rocking chairs by the time that happen just base on the current trajectory. How important is that? Rex Tillerson's first NATO meeting. There was even some talk he wouldn't show up. Here at least saying, you know, on this one rather saying (inaudible).

LEE: It's very important because that's exactly what NATO allies wanted to hear. I would say broadly on the Russia policy. It's the reset that everybody thought would happen. We read about this week in (inaudible) journal was not happening.

The Russians have asked for an early meeting with President Trump, they're not getting it, they're pushing them off. And it's for two reasons. One, inside the White House there's talk of, you know, cutting some grand deal with Russia right now and this political environment with all these investigations is not the doable thing. It will be under too much scrutiny and everything will be looked at for the reasons that maybe or maybe not they are doing them for.

And two, Russia has been antagonizing the U.S. and President Trump and it hasn't stopped. The cyber intrusions haven't stopped. They've deployed missiles that violated treaties and that's been really frustrating an eye opening for the --

KING: If you're trying to figure out sort out of Trump doctrine in all these, it's more transactional. It's seems to be more transactional as we go forward. We'll keep watching that, only 70 days and sit tight everybody.

Up next, Hillary Clinton return to public life continues with another speech and an apparent dig at President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:53:00] KING: It was the 2016 primary that never was. Hillary Clinton squaring off with Former Vice President Joe Biden, both back out there this week. Clinton, this morning, here in Washington at Georgetown University with a sort of kind of dig at the president.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Study show -- here I go again talking about research, evidence, and facts.


KING: She went on to say women do a better job in peace negotiations. Five non-state yesterday at pen and middle class Joe had some unforgiving words about Secretary Clinton's campaign.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the first campaign that I can recall where my party did not talk about what it always stood for. And that is how to maintain a burgeoning middle class. You didn't hear a single solitary sentence in the last campaign about that guy working on the assembly line making $60,000 bucks a year and a wife making $32,000 as a hostess in a restaurant and they're making 90 grand. They got two kids and they can't make it and they're scared.


KING: He has a point.


KING: He has a point. But wow, that's a pretty damage.

HENDERSON: You know, anything, you know, Biden, what did you talk about in your campaign? Oh, guess what, you didn't run. He decided not to run. And telling a lot of these things, he seems to be sour grapes.

He certainly could have run if he wanted to. He had some sort of family reasons not to. But this sort of rewriting and the revision is about, you know, what, you know, and griping about the kind of campaign that Hillary ran, you know, I mean at least she had the guts to get out there and run.

KING: Yes. But he did gripe to them during the campaign.


KING: That's the Bill Clinton at times that she wasn't spending enough time on these issues or in places like say, Wisconsin or Michigan or never mind.

RAJU: Yes. That's why -- I mean, look, we talk about all the, you know, Russia intervention in the election and whether or not that impacted voters at the end of the day. But at the end of the day the candidate does matter. The campaigns do matter. She did not run a successful campaign in a lot of key states and Democrats know that like Joe Biden.

[12:55:05] And they believe that there needs to be a serious course correction not just 2020 but 2018 to have a message of not just we don't like Trump but what are we for. I don't think the party --

KING: Especially in this confusing globalist world with trade and all these economic issues, what are the jobs of next year and 10 years from now. Trump you can disagree with the description but he talked about it and she didn't.

TALEV: Yes. But that's true. But Biden and Clinton actually both share one belief right now in which they're not turned against one another and that's the importance of diplomacy in the world. And their real sort of objection to what President Trump is trying to do in terms of budget cuts, reducing diplomacy. If they can find a way to both talk about that without sounding like partisan hacks, to talk about it in a bipartisan way, and bring together depending on that, they actually could have a go at sort of doing something good together.

KING: The problem for the Democrats is no disrespect intended but they're not the future. And who are the next generation Democrats? That's a huge question still 70 days. And we'll figure that one as we go.

Thanks for joining us here on INSIDE POLITICS, I'll see you back here on Monday. I also hope to see you Sunday morning 8:00 a.m.

A reminder, just minutes away from the White House press briefing. We will take that live. My colleague Wolf Blitzer picks up our coverage after a quick break.