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Trump Admin Sending Mixed Signals on Syria; Trump to Bannon and Kushner: "Cut it Out"; GOP Rep: Conservatives "Endangered Species" in White House; 16 Golf Outings for President Trump and Counting. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 10, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] CAROL LEE, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: You know, some clarity when he is in Moscow.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: To that point, and again, if you go back to the previous administration and now in this administration there are no good choices. When you look at the list of options in Syria, there are no good choices. But, now that you've punched Assad and you're already fighting ISIS inside of Syria, the question is, you've got two enemies within the same country. Now, Senator Marco Rubio was talking about this, this weekend because he listens to that.

LEE: Yes.

KING: The way Tillerson put it one way and then the way Haley put it. And he said, these people have a bit of a problem.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: There seems to be a difference between what Ambassador Haley is saying. As she said last night that Assad really has no future and what I heard this morning from Secretary Tillerson. But look, I don't mean to pick a fight with anyone here. What I'm telling you is I think that the strategy he seems to be outlining is based on assumptions that aren't going to work.

There is no such thing as Assad, yes, but ISIS, no. This focus that you can defeat ISIS as long as Assad is there is not true. They are two sides of the same coin. As long as Bashar al-Assad is in power in Syria, you will have a reason for people to be radicalized in Syria.


KING: But if you accept Senator Rubio to you -- and he has long articulated it and John McCain is in roughly the same camp that means are probably more U.S. boots on the ground at least in the region surrounding it, safe zones along the Turkish Syria border. No fly zones and much more heavy investment or potential risk to American forces and of American dollars and American diplomacy. Is this president prepared to do that or does he disagree?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and is Congress prepared to have a voice on this that goes beyond talking on a Sunday talk show, right? I mean, that was a big difficulty that Obama had whether or not they were going to -- Congress was going to authorize the use of military force. You have some people like Lindsey Graham. So, you know, this basically is covered by the original AUMF after 9/11.

So I bet that's a real big question. We have these critics, Marco Rubio and the hawks particularly saying that this is clear as mud in terms of what Tillerson is saying versus Nikki Haley. But I think the real question at some point is going to be, if they want a more robust response that goes beyond this pin prick attack, then what are they willing to do in terms of voting.

KING: And president change, especially when first tested. A new president gets tested in the world stage they often end up throwing a lot of stuff they said on the campaign trail overboard or at least modifying it. I'll read this from a guy named Peter Baker in the "New York Times" this Sunday --

HENDERSON: Smart guy.

KING: -- "To the extent that a Trump Doctrine is emerging. It seems to be this: don't get roped in by doctrine." I think that is what we see early on.

He is a transactional person and so he's looking at this one crisis at a time. But can you do that? Can you sustain a presidency and can your allies figure out what you're going to do? Can your own team figure out what they should prepare for, if you look, OK, this is Syria chemical weapons use Tomahawk cruise missiles, but what about at the end of the week if North Korea launches another missile?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right, that's exactly right. There was a lot of relief and support offered by other foreign policy establishment in Washington and around the world among the allies after he launched the cruise missile strike because they felt like it was something that the long time in coming. President Obama should have done it. But the second day thinking is, what does that mean? How do we predict? And we want -- our allies want an American president predictability under, you know, a certain consistency. And they're not getting that here at this point, and I don't think that one strike necessarily means he's changed his mind.

Syria is now really an American problem. He used the language. He said instability in the region is a threat to American security. That's a big change. Whether he means that enough to put more boots on the ground, whether he means that do the kind of risky and dangerous things that might be required. That's a different question.

KING: And especially if you studied the campaign or even before he was a candidate, back to 2013 when Syria crossed Obama's red line, used chemical weapons. And Donald Trump then a private citizen perhaps thinking about running for president, but a private citizen said, don't do it. Don't do it, don't do it. It's not America's interest. Don't get caught up in this (inaudible) throughout the campaign. He was the America first candidate to the degree but now as people try to figure out who is he now.

Again, listen to General Hayden trying to say, this was not America first.


RET. GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: What pushed this into the red was that we wanted to make the statement that that was unacceptable activity. And what's really remarkable, that's about as far away from America first as a philosophy as you can get. That's America, doing something unilaterally for what I call the good of the order, rather than a narrowly defined American self interest. It was a remarkable flip from the man we saw in the campaign.


KING: A remarkable flip. But the question is what comes next because he's now drawn the red line on chemical weapons. He saw the pictures of those babies after that attack and he said I'm not going to stand for that, I'm going to throw punches. You know, there's a lot of people think President Obama should have thrown along time ago.

The question is, as you also noted earlier in the program, that air base has back up and running. They have launched conventional weapons attacks, dropping bombs from airplanes on the very same province. Now, Lindsey Graham looks at that and says, here's Bashar al-Assad's answer to President Trump.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If you killed babies with conventional bombs there's still a moral outrage. Here's what I think Assad is telling Trump by flying from the space, "F.U." And I think he is making a serious mistake because if you're an adversary of the United States and you don't worry about what Trump may do on any given day, then you're crazy.


[12:35:12] KING: Strong and colorful language. There not a surprise from the senator from South Carolina. But to the point about the "F.U.", and forgive me for repeating it in that way, but it's important to the idea that what Lindsey Graham is saying is, OK, you said no chemical weapons. So, I'm going to use the same air base. I'm going to bomb the same province. And guess what, I'm going to kill more children. What are you going to do if it's not chemical weapons?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE SORRESPONDENT: Well -- and to Peter's common, I don't think we know. I mean, this is not a president who's driven by doctrine. It's not a president who's driven by ideology. And I think that the people who supported him and supported his America first policies, they will give him some leeway on something like this. They will give him the leeway on doing these military strikes in response to chemical weapons. He could maybe make an argument to do a little bit more beyond that.

But I think that one of the things this president has pride himself on it is sort of knowing the pulse of the American people. And what we know about the pulse of the American people is they don't want boots on the ground in another country. They don't want another ground war, they don't want a full response like that because they're just war weary. They are tired and they feel like they don't have a lot to show for it particularly in the Middle East.

And so, that's something that we're going to have to see this president straddle is not wanting to come up and to meet, but also answering to the people who put him in the White House.

KING: Right. And a lot -- you hear a lot. It's been interesting to hear the praise from the John McCains to the Marco Rubios and the disbelief from the Rand Pauls and some of the Tea Party members who are more libertarians and keep America out of the world. And so far the point about the American people and the president follows these things, 57 percent in the CBS poll out today approve of the strikes in Syria, 36 percent disapproved. So if there's any question, the president has some pretty strong political ground here.

The problem is, what is the standard? If we see more bloodshed, more killing, and if after the Tillerson-Lavrov meetings in Moscow, Russia doesn't intervene to help. What does Trump do?

LEE: Exactly. And I think all of us would not have expected that this President would have a secretary of state who's out there talking about the U.S. intervening crimes against the innocence. And so this is not something that anyone expected President Trump to take on. And yet he has political cover for this one initial strike. But what happens next is the question.

And what happens if Russia doesn't agree that Assad has to go? What happens if Russia isn't shamed because, you know, they used a word of a -- start calling him incompetent because of the chemical weapons, that Syria still had chemical weapons. What if none of that works? And what if Iran reacts? What if -- you know, they have a number of ways in which they can really make life miserable for the U.S.

We have forces in Syria, we have forces in Iraq. Iran has militias there. This president needs Russia and he needs Russia to do a number of things. But it's not clear Russia is willing to do or has any incentive to do.

HENDERSON: Yes. And does Donald Trump look like a hypocrite if we get more images from these provinces in Syria where it's barrel bombed, right? And there are children who are dying as we've already seen. But if there images because we know that's what changed his mind in many ways, those awful images that Nikki Haley showed in that video. So what happens if that happens again? And we imagined that it will.

KING: That's the gravity of the job. When we come back, the U.S.- China summit wasn't the only diplomacy down at Mar-a-Lago last week. The president tells three of his top aides, figure it out.


[12:42:25] KING: Welcome back. Cut it out. It's a phrase parents sometime use with their toddlers and teens. Or words you might hear when one kid is picking on another at the playground. And it turns out "cut it out" is a message the president of the United States felt he had to deliver to two of the most powerful adult men in Washington.

Trump's Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner along with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus were part of a work it out session Friday at the president's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Eighty-one days into the Trump presidency, the one constant has been rumblings to that Priebus-Bannon-Kushner wrestling turf wars and policy battles. But, the president told them to work it out and to cut it out. So, it's done, right?

MURRAY: Everyone, behave yourselves. Everyone got their wrist slapped. Look, I think the president could have said, one of you is out of here and clearly they decided not to go that route. It's almost like they don't want to a major staff shake-up at end of their first 100 days. We've had a lot of that kind of drama.

I think that you are seeing very different factions on policy this time. It's not necessarily a personality clash like we've seen in the past. But, Steve Bannon stand for very different things than Jared Kushner stand for as well very different things than Reince Priebus stand for. And for as now (inaudible) Reince has been another name that's been in the chopping block from day one. So, it looks awfully good for him in the retelling of this meeting that President Trump looked over his shoulder and said, Priebus you go make these buffoons play nicely together.

KING: You (inaudible) but you make an important point, because we saw this in the Trump campaign. And so it's no surprise that some of those chaos and staff turf battles and sharp-elbows has come to the Trump White House. But the policy differences, look at the ObamaCare debate. Why couldn't they get a bill? Because you have several factions in the Republican Party who think very differently about policy. To your point about a potential turnover and shake-up.

Listen to Kellyanne Conway here. She was asked as the story try to bubble out the weekend. Well, someone got to go.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Bannon there to stay? Is Reince Priebus there to stay?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I would assume. So, that's up to Donald Trump. In other words, I have heard -- I've heard nothing but rumors and (inaudible) in press reports that would make any of us believe that anything other than the real shake-up going on Washington is the way Donald Trump is coming in as a disruptor.


KING: It pivot, pivot, pivot. A pivot as they say in Washington. But one born of experience and I assume so -- meaning, if people would say that's up to Donald Trump, because she was out saying the president have 100 percent confidence in General Flynn -- (OFF-MIC)

KING: -- a few hours before he was fired.

[12:45:02] BAKER: But Kellyanne Conway came and said that, I'm going to be there for a long time. I would start to pack my bags. I mean, so I think actually she has learned that. And, you know, at this point you can't predict because it is one man. It's not a predictable situation. And what's interesting as you talk about policy, that's what is at the heart of this as much as personality is policy. And Steve Bannon lost last week (inaudible) on Syria.

He doesn't think that United States should be more involved in that war there. And that's part of I think a larger trend right now in which he has not been winning some of the battles that he wants to win.

KING: And remember he was on the cover of Time as you know, essentially as the president, the backdoor president, the shadow president.

BAKER: Yes, the president alone.

KING: How minimized is he? You mentioned he gets knocked off his principle seat at the National Security Council. There's other talk that in terms of, you know, the Syria strikes, not America first, some other domestic issues. Not that robust action on trade that the president promised on the campaign (inaudible). Has Steve Bannon become a lesser, smaller figure inside the inner circle?

LEE: Well, he's certainly at odds with the president's son-in-law which is not a great place to be if you're in the White House. And the interesting thing about this is we've all covered a number of, you know, discontent in the White House. This person is fighting with this person. This isn't even a dynamic that people are trying to deny. So, it has -- it's actually really bad.

But from the president's perspective, the one place where he is doing really well in the polls is among his conservative base and that is Steve Bannon. And so, there is a certain value that he brings to the table.

KING: And yet you mentioned he has -- the president has kept his support among his core supporters and Republicans more broadly dropped a little bit within the 80's, high 80's. Now, it's around 80 or on the 70's if you look at some polls. But as these all plays out conservatives get nervous. This is Steve King, the congressman from Iowa, a very conservative on immigration, trade and other issues tweeted this out. "At real Donald Trump, Steve Bannon is the lynchpin to your energized base. Conservatives are an endangered species in your White House."

HENDERSON: Yes -- I mean, maybe some of the three faces of Donald Trump. I mean, one of whom is Bannon, the kind of bright broad wing. And then you've got Jared Kushner who is sort of the New York moderate Democrat part of Donald Trump. And then Reince Priebus who is there and as the conservative sort of establishment Republican.

I think one of the problems is maybe we sort of get back to the sibling rivalry thing. All of these people believe or think they should be the first born favorite son, right. And it is up to Donald Trump to finally figure out who really is the favorite son. I think my money would be on the real son-in-law?

LEE: But it's just like. Can we acknowledge the irony here? This is a president that likes to sow this sort of --

KING: Right.


LEE: And so -- and now, he's figuring having to referee it and it sort of --

HENDERSON: Technically stoking it for --

KING: But it's interesting to watch is the three of them seem to be, every couple weeks, they have to kind of seance to break out the Ouija board to figure out their differences to watch General McMaster who's come into the National Security Council. General Flynn was out and now K.T. McFarland who General Flynn (inaudible) number two, former Fox News personality, you might be familiar with her, she's now going to leave to become the ambassador to Singapore, as General McMaster put his stamp on the operation. And he was asked to be played a little at the top of the show about Steve Bannon being shoved out. And he says, no big deal, because that's -- if you're a bureaucratic inside and you're winning, you keep a poker face.

BAKER: Well, he weighs six weeks to do it. He didn't actually do it the second he came in as national security adviser. He sort of laid the groundwork so it was done quietly. And this was not, you know, splashed out there. It was posted on the federal register. Not exactly a way of bantering, you know, this news.

And the president then helps Steve Bannon by kind of minimizing a little bit by telling a couple of my colleagues who went on to see him, by the way, I think Susan Rice committed a crime, boom, bigger story. So, they really actually manage to try to, you know, to manage this in way that it's been helpful to General McMaster.

KING: We'll see when the next Trump meeting as to figure out their differences or the next round of leaks, I guess. Up next, a study in golf with contrast. Tears of joy from a first time champion and what looks more and more like a weekend routine for the new president.


[12:52:44] KING: Welcome back. Maybe you noticed there was huge big league golf news yesterday. Sergio Garcia won the Masters and he did it with no shortage of drama. In a playoff, the golfer sank a putt to claim his first major title. I think we could show you peek of that, there you go. It took Garcia 74 tries to win his first major. Meaning, he's now won 1.4 percent of every major tournament he's ever played. Now, it's by no means a perfect comparison but guess who hit the links on 75 percent? Nine of the first 12 weekends of his presidency? The same guy who said this about a different commander-in-chief he thought maybe was trying to go pro.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He goes out and plays golf so much that he doesn't have time to convince Congress to go and let's do it the way it's supposed to be done, right? Right? I mean, he's played more golf than most people on the PGA tour. This guy. Like, is it over 300 rounds? Hey, look it's good.

Golf is fine. But always play with leaders of countries and people that can help us. Don't play with your friends all the time.


KING: Sixteen times. Sixteen times since taking office the man who just said that has been to a golf course. I've always been one who said let a president get some stress relief, whatever it is they want to do. George Bush was to cut wood in Crawford, Texas, you know? So what? Except he's on the record being so scathing about President Obama.

HENDERSON: And Spicer come out and say, oh it's different because Donald Trump --

KING: It's him (ph).

HENDERSON: -- right, right. And that he is playing sometimes with leaders, he played with Abe, of course -- but, yes -- I mean, so hypocritical. It will be interesting to see what Democrats do with this because you saw Republicans really make, hey, as Donald Trump was doing there. It'll be interesting if you see sort of he silly assembled video web ads about Donald Trump, you know, out in the links --

KING: Does it matter? Remember, I've just -- I always think about images in politics. And, you know -- and George W. Bush and his team was successful in casting John Kerry as this elitist. Because he went -- you know, he was on the wind surfer.


KING: They essentially said he's a French guy with a wind surfer. But if you look at some of the images about Donald Trump, here's a cover of "The Economist" a little ways back talking about the Trump presidency in the (inaudible) hall on a golf course. You see "The New Yorker" there, the president golfing. You know, you see the back of the White House there, the south lawn.

HENDERSON: And looking like he's gained weight in that photo. I mean, I hate to go there. (CROSSTALK)

KING: But you did.

[12:55:01] MURRAY: There aren't that many actual images of Donald Trump golfing because they seem to realize how hypocritical it is that he was out there on the campaign trail saying this. And so most weekends they won't even admit that he's actually golfing even though he's at the golf course and it's up to our entrepreneurial CNN photographers and others to sort of find ways to snapshot him on the golf course. We know he's golfing. I feel like they could make is easier on themselves by just saying, hey, here's we've golfing with. Like he -- this is how we get deals done.

BAKER: George W. Bush actually mentioned, he actually did stop golfing --


BAKER: -- after, you know, the war has begun. He said, look, I don't think it's right, send them wrong image. It's not that he didn't relax, he went biking and so forth but he thought that it was wrong until he left office but there is a difference. I think that in fairness to President Trump, he took Rand Paul golfing the other weekend. He spent like five or six or seven hours together which is an extraordinary amount of time. And Rand Paul suddenly, who had been very critical of the president --

KING: Right.

BAKER: -- is out there backing him up on the Russian investigation, on health care, on other things. So there is potential benefits if you do it right and that's the question.

KING: Golf diplomacy. That will be the trademark. All right everybody. Thanks for rocking and rolling with us today and thanks for joining us at home. You're watching "Inside Politics." We'll be back here tomorrow same time.

Minutes away from the live White House press briefing. Wolf Blitzer in the chair. We'll bring you that in just a moment.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Right now, we're keeping a close eye on the White House --