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INSIDE POLITICS

NK State Media: Nuclear Strike Against U.S. If Provoked; GOP Rep: Need New Direction or New Speaker; Health Care Failure Hangs Over Lawmakers Heading Home; Ad Slams GOP's Repeal Plan as "the Worst"; Trump: "A Lot of Progress" With Jobs Agenda; White House Downplays Talk of Infighting; Report: Breitbart Writers Told to Lay Off Kushner. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 11, 2017 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:30:06] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: But in your conversations with folks there, is there any indication that seeing President Trump take military action in the Middle East, is it possible -- would it make the regime there more conciliatory perhaps or the opposite?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The opposite effect is what officials told me over the weekend when we were discussing Syria, John. They said that there's a big difference between North Korea and Syria. And that if something like that were to happen here, they say North Korea would absolutely fire back and they do have a significant amount of weaponry and a very large standing army. And they have a lot of decades of rhetoric telling this country, telling the citizens of this country that they need to be prepared for war at any moment.

Conscription for men is 10 years in this country. So, you have a lot of people in civilian jobs with military training and a military background. So, it's certainly a much more complicated and dangerous situation here in the Peninsula especially considering how many people are sitting in South Korea along with 28,000 U.S. troops and 50,000 more in Japan and many others sailing around the Asia-Pacific region.

KING: Will Ripley live for us in Pyongyang, 1:00 a.m. Wednesday there. Will, appreciate the fresh reporting. Thank you very much.

Let's come back into the room. And it's a reminder as we -- again, the secretary of state is in Moscow dealing with the fallout from Syria, seeing if they can somehow find a venue to start some political progress about those conversations. That the president of the United States by sending the naval warships there is forcing the issue with North Korea as well. And just as the serious situation has complicated, the North Korea situation might even be more complicated or risky.

MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC: It's complicated, it's risky and it is real. And this is a real -- this is the rubber hitting the road in terms of reality. This is something that could actually happen. And all of the critiques of Donald Trump that we heard from Hillary Clinton, the erratic temperament, the itchy trigger finger, the lack of sophisticated understanding of foreign policy. If he doesn't handle this -- or if he handles this in a way that actually provokes some kind of retaliation or conflict that we're going to have to look back on those words.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: And it's also a reminder that crisis find presidents. I mean, this is what defines presidents. Not necessarily their agenda getting what their agenda through. Of course that's important as well. But being outside events shape the course of history, shape the course of the White House, shape the course of this president, could be happening here that was happening also in the aftermath of Syria last week.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Right. And everything we're talking about domestic policy, health care, tax reform, the economy could be put way back on the burner to deal with something like North Korea which -- I mean not to belittle the situation with Syria by any means which is a very difficult situation, but North Korea has the potential to make Syria look like Switzerland. I mean, you know, I know it's gloomy. You look at the allies and the complications in North Korea at this time. And the president is tweeting out about it today. And I'm not sure what he's trying to accomplish through those tweets about North Korea, who he's sending the message to or if he's sending a message to anyone at all.

KING: Well, with that interest. Let's look at those tweets because it is interesting. And again, this is one of the most intractable problems on the planet. It is the most unpredictable hermit regime on the planet. And can you solve it with Twitter diplomacy?

The President tweeting this morning, "I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!

North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not we will solve the problem without them. North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!"

So number one, linking it to China trade is interesting there. They're making it a transaction, if you will, to get Chinese help. And there are some indications after the Trump-Xi summit in Mar-a-Lago that the Chinese are putting at least an economic pressure on North Korea. We'll see if it reaches the scale necessary to change behavior in Pyongyang.

But the idea that, if not, we will solve the problem without them. The president in his own words, he said that in an interview with the Financial Times, now he's saying it in his tweet, he has laid down a credibility marker.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: Right. Well, also that's a conversation that we presumably happen with Xi himself and didn't maybe have to happen on Twitter, but this is the new world -- part of his pitch was strength and unpredictability. Now, there's merit to both of those things to the world believing you and had taking you at your word and some unpredictability then not knowing exactly how you'll react. But it makes a lot of American citizens and a lot of people around the world jittery to watch him wage Twitter wars and then worry about actual real war.

You also have the issue of his supporters. Many of whom were sold on the idea that we weren't going to be intervening or doing a bunch of policing around the world. And I think that's going to be a tough sell to some of them. Not all of them, many of them will say, well, Trump is showing strength and I like that. But there is this vocal minority at least who will be angry about this kind of way.

KING: So, of course, that's one thing, if it becomes something protracted then it's different, because he launched cruise missiles in the Middle East, send a carrier group into Asia. Now, that doesn't sound like America first.

[12:35:05] BALL: Yes, exactly. And to your point, there have been already several vocal Trump supporters particularly on the sort of alt-right who are disturbed by the amount of military action that's already underway saying, this is not the American -- where are the American interests stake here? Where is the Trump who said that all these interventions were terrible ideas? Serious but very specifically, right? So, we don't know.

KING: We don't know. But one thing we do know is he has a more establishment-driven national security team. That would seem to be convincing the president that what he's doing right now is the right course of action.

Everybody sit tight. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says the administration has already achieved so many great things. So, as the first 100 days run out, what is the Trump administration's biggest achievement?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is visiting the U.S.-Mexico border today to promise more aggressive enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. It's part of an urgent effort by the Trump White House to cast its first 100 days in office as full of action, even though the president cannot claim one major legislative victory. And the fallout from the biggest White House legislative failure continues.

[12:40:00] Listen here. Tea Party Republican Justin Amash, one of the conservatives attacked by the White House in recent days because he opposed the president's ObamaCare replacement plan says he and his allies are not the problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R), MICHIGAN: Nobody likes to feel like they're in Washington and they're totally left out with the process. And none of you like to feel like you send representatives to Washington and they're left out of the process. We can fix it, but we need either a change in direction from this speaker or we needed a new speaker.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Responding at the table because it's not new from Justin Amash to be stirring the pot and to be against the leadership and against the establishment. But most of that -- you go back when Obama was president, you view that as a, you know, OK, this is not good for the Republicans. But, now when you have a Republican president who wants to get stuff done, this family feud we learned on their biggest signature issue repeal and replace ObamaCare, they couldn't get that done.

When they come back, Manu, they've only got a few legislative days to keep the government up and running. They have a spending plan. They say they're going to do the tax reform. Some people say they're going to try to come back to ObamaCare. Talk like that as they're home for recess suggests that the problems we saw a week or two ago are coming back.

RAJU: Yes, absolutely. And one thing that you will see as they try to move forward on the spending negotiations is that they're going to try to keep the government open by cutting a deal with Democrats not with Justin Amash and the House Freedom Caucus. They're going to try to get the bill through the House and the Senate that can get bipartisan support.

On spending issues, assuming there are no writers that could say put up with the funding for Planned Parenthood or build -- some of them call for the constructions of the wall with back on the boarder of Mexico. They should be able to get that done. And it sounds like that's very possible.

But, things are more partisan along party lines, maybe like tax reform for instance where they need those conservative supports. They need those Justine Amashes of the world. It's going to be incredibly difficult to get Republican and conservative policy through. Not just in the Senate which is always difficult, but also the House because a lot of these folks on the House Freedom Caucus and others just do not believe that Speaker Ryan is doing -- pushing legislation that conservatives promised while they campaigned.

BALL: I'm actually surprised and a bit impressed that we have returned to our previously scheduled Republican civil war. Because I, you know, I was in the House on the first day of the session when they unanimously reelected Paul Ryan as speaker. And that seemed to be showing that now that they had a Republican president they were going to be much more unified. And the Freedom Caucus was the hell no caucus when there was a Democrat in office. But now that there was a public -- a Republican they could all come together.

That turned out not be true because these guys actually believes the stuff that turns out. And they are actually going to stand on principle, agree with it or not, especially on matters of spending.

KING: On spending. But you say if they try to work with the Democrats and they drop the -- stop planning Planned Parenthood. If they drop other things that the conservatives want, that mood is going to continue. They're going to still be mad. They just -- they didn't get what they want in the ObamaCare fight. If they don't get what they want there and also stoking this during recess because here's been talk of coming back for ObamaCare. You have interest groups on just about every side of the debate are running ads. Some targeting House members, these targeting senators.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People who know health care the best say the Republicans Health Care Repeal Bill is the worst. The country's top nonpartisan experts say 24 million more Americans will be uninsured, 14 million next year alone. Tell Senator Heller vote no on the Republican plan to take away your health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Again, those being run against three senators who have viewed this more on the moderate side. Who would, you know, would oppose a conservative -- if something conservative came out of the House. The bigger question from my view is, if you're the president of the United States and you're his team and you're 82 days now. And you're looking at the 100 days and you know you failed on ObamaCare and you're trying to get a few more things done. That climate has to tell you this is tough.

PETTYPIECE: Yes. I mean, it also got tougher with the -- going the nuclear option on Supreme Court nominee. And --

KING: A big win but at a price.

PETTYPIECE: Yes. And I do think there really genuinely was a chance for the president to work with Democrats. I think he could have united them. He could have formed an alliance with Schumer. Those two had a previous relationship with each other.

I mean, Trump is not some conservative ideologue, you know, he has Democratic views as well and a lot of Democrats from the White House. So, there really could have been a chance to work with Democrats but they didn't reach out soon enough. And now this toxic environment with the nuclear option, with these ads running in their district I think it's -- I don't know. I don't see how they come together, I think it's going to take awhile. It's going to take a lot of relationship (inaudible).

KING: And the president knows this debate is going on because he knows how the media works. He watches a lot of cable television. Listen to him this morning. He's in a meeting with CEOs at the White House. He knows people are starting to build their 100 day list, good, bad, accomplished or not. Here's the president's take.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[12:45:01] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At the top of our agenda is the creation of great high paying jobs for American workers. There have been a lot of progress. You see what's going on, you see the numbers. We've created over 600,000 jobs already in a very short period of time and it's going to really start catching on now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's just a little fact check for those of you good at math at home. The president said we've created over 600,000 jobs. Our count is 317,000 jobs so far during the Trump administration. Still not a bad number.

A couple of months into office. He's counting I think there are some jobs from the last month of the Obama administration. But to the point the president wants you to think the economy has been well, look at the markets. So maybe I didn't get health care back to the Congress but he's trying say on the stuff that matters most I'm doing fine.

HAM: I think we underestimate of that how much Gorsuch matters to people who voted for Trump and people who took a gamble on him. So it's not a legislative victory but it is a big victory.

KING: That's right.

HAM: Plus some of the economic messaging in working with these CEOs and looking more business friendly in these one off deals, he sent a list hook. I think those can sustain him for longer than many people in D.C. think they can sustain him. But eventually something has to happen in Congress and it has to look different than it did on health care. And I think Ryan's office knows that and is attempting to make some changes. But you still have a timetable that is really, really tough for these guys to get something major through.

But as far as wanting a new speaker, don't anybody want that job. That's the part of this that always cracks me up. Ryan himself I contend has always been like the guy in courts who says like I wasn't even supposed to be here today. That is his job.

KING: They've got a rotating apprenticeship.

HAM: Yes.

KING: And they take it political.

PETTYPIECE: Well, and on the job and economy. You know why companies are creating, you know, creating jobs in a way the stock prices up on the hope and promise of what the president said he would deliver on tax reform, on infrastructure. If you can't -- and, you know, on a border tax. That's what these manufacturing companies were saying here.

OK. Well, if you can't deliver on that, we'll, you know, forget about it. You know, they'll go open the plant in Mexico. They're not going to hire more jobs if they don't think they're getting their corporate tax rate cut.

RAJU: And if they don't get tax reform done, they don't get the border wall done, they don't get repealing ObamaCare done, and the things that he said he would do in the first 100 days like label China currency manipulator, and he -- and drain the swamp agenda which we've really not heard (inaudible) about -- I mean, that's going to be a big failure for a lot of people who voted for him.

HAM: As we all know things get easier after 100 days.

MANU: Yes.

KING: That's right.

(CROSSTALK)

BALL: But the president has one big thing going for him which is it is April of an odd numbered year. They have a lot of time to get their acts together, pull a rabbit out of the hat, figure out something else. And even if they shut down the government, voters don't remember that after a year and a half.

KING: Right. We do keep -- we tend to keep score everyday and every week. The president has a longer term calendar. And he has behind him at the moment a pretty healthy economy too which always have surprise on that.

Everybody sit tight. Next, intrigue on top of the intrigue. West wing staff views and now this as the conservative Breitbart organization told its reporters to back off presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:51:57] KING: Yes, and many of you probably heard about this, there is infighting in the Trump White House. So much at such a high level the president himself felt compelled to order top aides to get together and work it out. That open west wing warfare is causing a lot of buzz in Washington. And a giant collective yawn among veterans of the president's family business.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I don't know who's leaking the information, if there's a leak at all. It doesn't -- to me, it doesn't make any sense. There's -- is there fighting between Jared and Bannon and Bannon and Priebus and this one and that one?

Probably. Probably. And it's not fighting the way that the media wants to portray it. It's a difference of opinion. That's all that it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Michael Cohen, the president -- Trump Organization attorney. He's lived this. This is how the president does things. He surrounds himself with people. He likes when they fight it out.

He likes a difference of opinion. He likes a little bit of sharp elbows and some shouting from time to time. The question has been, can what worked in your family business work in government? And it's been an interesting week in that question, correct?

PETTYPIECE: Yes. I think -- I mean, there is the fighting and then there is the paralysis you can create on issues like tax reform where you have five factions fighting with five different views. And it was, you know, when Jared was putting together the administration, recruiting people, intentionally looking for different sides. We're going to put Peter Navarro and Gary Cohen in a room and let them duke it out.

But as a result now, we're just at a place where no one knows what the administration's position is on anything. They -- the president doesn't know. Presumably at some point, he'll make up his mind. But is this the best way to get to that is, you know --

BALL: I thought that was a pretty big presumably. Because when he is --

PETTYPIECE: Yes.

BALL: -- is that the president is unable to sort of have the buck stop on his desk, put his foot down and say, I, you know, have a core of firm policy believes and therefore we shall come down on this side. That may have been part of his appeal of someone who could create a team of rivals just like Lincoln and choose the most pragmatic course. But it's hard to see that he's really settled any of these debates.

KING: And they're supposed to be that. And those organizations, if you have these debates you do them in private and the president makes a decision and as long as everybody is rowing in the right direction. So what if they had a bloodbath to get there on the whole thing. The question is -- before you jump in, I just want to say one of the issues has been Steve Bannon, the populace America first chief strategist came from Breitbart News. Jared Kushner is the president's son-in-law who's an independent or was an independent, a Democrat as Steve Bannon likes to say. And so, you have this story in the Business Insider saying, Breitbart told to back off Jared Kushner essentially.

So, this internal -- it's not only internal fighting inside the White House then it plays out in the different factions of the conservative media around the president.

RAJU: It's fascinating to watch it all play out. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that you have a transactional president who does not, as Molly said, have firm policy beliefs, not an ideological president. And you have these different factions who are fighting to influence the president.

[12:55:01] And the question is who is he actually listening to at the end of the day? We do know -- of course, Jared Kushner has his ear in a lot of issues but is he listening to him on key issues? And is he listening to him at the expense of someone like Steve Bannon who has contradictory views on some key issues.

I don't think we know the answer to that. And a lot of his reason why is because Trump is not clear on where he stands on a lot of this. KING: And when you hear some of these talks, some people think especially some of the moderates would like, you know, well, get Steve Bannon. Get him out of there. The moderates still like him. You hear a lot of conservatives say, be careful Mr. President, if he's on the outside he may stir up trouble for you.

HAM: I mean, yes. He is always stirring on Trump. Well, I think with Trump and with Bannon as well is what they have in common. Everything is a fight and every fight is public is how this is turning out. And the question is, that certainly served him on the campaign trail actually. A lot of that sort of chaos and keeping people on their toes, one would think and it seems 100 days or (inaudible) days that a disciplined campaign for the things you want to work towards would help your White House as opposed to this.

There's a lot of eyes in team over there. And all the eyes are telling a different story to every media source. And Trump sort of thrives on that. But I'm not sure his agenda such that it is will ever thrive on that.

KING: Right. He has thrive down so far reminds me of the interview where he gave and said, I'm president, you're not. He won with it this way. And so far he thinks he can govern this way, well see.

Thanks for joining us in "Inside Politics." See you back here noon Eastern tomorrow. Just moments away now from a live White House briefing, Wolf Blitzer will bring you that when it happens. Wolf's in the chair after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer.