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Trump's U-Turns On Campaign Promise; White House On The Verge Of A Staff Shake Up; Spicer Promises "Egg-Cellent" Egg Roll. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 14, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: But this week also is rich with examples of what the President likes to call flexibility, which sure sounds a lot more gentile than flip-flopping or breaking a promise. Candidate Trump embraced a tea party demand, get rid of the federal export/import bank. Many fiscal conservatives view that place as corporate welfare.

President Trump this week praised the EXIM Bank and promised to keep it. Candidate Trump was a harsh critic of Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I think it's very political. I think she's very political and to a certain extent I think she should be ashamed of herself.


KING: President Trump though told the Wall Street Journal he hasn't decided yet whether to replace Yellen when her term ends, went on to say, "No, not toast, you know, I like her. I respect her." OK. And this promise was a campaign classic.


TRUMP: I'm going to instruct my treasury secretary to label China a currency manipulator, the greatest in the world.

China is a grand master, like a grand master chess player. They're a grand master at currency manipulation.

Nobody has ever manipulated currency like China.

Label China a currency manipulator.

Label China a currency manipulator. They are the greatest currency manipulators ever.


KING: Never mind. The President has now decided to let a deadline pass and will not label China a currency manipulator. Mike, I want to start with you because you had an interview with the President this week in which some of these gymnastics occurred, what does he say? Situations have changed, circumstances have changed, I've learned a lot I didn't know as a candidate, or does he just shrug and say "I'm flexible"?

MICHAEL BENDER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: No. He has reasons, you know, whether you agree with those reasons or think they're valid is another question. But I think Trump's flexibility -- flexible is an interesting word there. I think maybe the more precise one is transactional.

I mean, China is currency manipulator. China is a great punching bag when you're trying to energize your base of voters, Trump's base of voters. Not so great when you're trying to get them to help in North Korea.

You know, what this has done, we saw this yesterday at the White House briefing, Sean Spicer was asked several times what issue is Trump -- won't he negotiate on? And I'm paraphrasing a little bit here but his answer was this was about results, not principles, right?

But I think the bottom line here is we haven't seen -- we've seen the transactional approach. We haven't seen what results domestically or foreign policy that is result in.

KING: And so the question I had is this town talks about these things and obsess about these things. What happens out there? What happens out there? To Trump voters, if you're a Tea Party voter, and you want to get rid of the EXIM Bank, you want to get rid of Janet Yellen, do you hold this again the President? Or do you say, "Well, I just want him to be strong. I want it to be good. I want the economy to be good. He had broad latitude. That's what I can get.

Remember, you know, John Kerry was for it before he was against it. I mean, politicians get crushed for these kind of things. And the President this week, we run out of paper trying to list them all.

KAREN TUMULTY, THE WASHINGTON POST: John, you forgot NATO suddenly not --

KING: NATO is not obsolete anymore, yeah. There's more. I've got more. You want to hear that out? But is there a price to pay or do his voters, you know, just think it's OK as long as he's OK with it, I'm okay with it?

RYAN LIZZA, THE NEW YORKER: You know, I think for every voter the red line is somewhere different. I mean that famous quote after the election that his voters -- Trump voters didn't take him necessarily and literally but they took him seriously.

I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but China is not a currency manipulator.

KING: And you have to stop. LIZZA: And hadn't been for many years. So what Trump was actually saying on the campaign trail just wasn't true. So, the idea that he would do that would probably be crazier than reversing course.

So, you know, a candidate who when faced with reality and a new set of facts and adjusts to them, there's a certain, you know, you have to respect that to a certain degree. You wouldn't want them to take all of their preconceived notions from the campaign trail and institute them if they were wrong.

KING: The other term is evolution, I guess, is the polite term.

LAURA MECKLER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: This is so much that he said as a candidate that really was not based in any kind of steep policy understanding. He's not a policy guy. He didn't spend hours --

KING: A lot of this was not based in this galaxy.

MECKLER: Wait. I mean, he was just -- he just sort of had these positions and he insisted that they were right, you know, without any real not at all to what the facts were. And he just did it. Occasionally he changed positions even as a candidate.

And now when he -- it is an education. I mean, he is forced to deal with reality. And so yes, I think that that is good that he is actually adjusting to that. I think that for voters the question becomes less that any one of these issues is a social importance to them that, you know, the voter says I can't believe he sold out on the EXIM Bank and I can't move on. But it's more -- do they start changing their view of him. Do they view him as someone who's blowing up Washington or not?

KING: It's an interesting point. As I mentioned the EXIM Bank and Janet Yellen which, you know, there -- you couldn't find 10 voters in America who voted on those particular issues but they do fire up constituencies within the Republican Party which can cause you problems out there.

[12:35:03] Now, the question is, is he judged on that or to the point, is it just about actions. It's just about big things.

As you jump in, I just want to put up on the screen, his big campaign promises were approaching couple weeks though to the 100-day more. But if you look at this here, repeal and replace Obamacare. Cross that out at least for now. The President says he's coming back to it. Take China to task. That was huge on the campaign. Not happening. A reset with Russia, I'll give him question marks on that.

Certainly in the last couple of days, he sounds much more tougher and skeptical of Vladimir Putin but he said he hopes that gets better. You mentioned NATO obsolete. Cross that one off. Build a wall remains a question.

MECKLER: Well, last week his security secretary said that there isn't going to be an end to end wall. He says there will be technology in some places. This wall won't happen either. KING: I think that's fine on Trump voters. Trump voters wanted to be tough for immigration. They are saying tough for enforcement. I don't think the wall is going to cost him votes with the people reform.

TUMULTY: I think the most dangerous thing for him with his own supporters is to begin to appear to be a conventional president. But at the same time, this is the guy whose approval rating is really, really low. And for the majority of people who didn't vote for him, that's probably reassuring to see him, you know, making judgments based on actual information that is brought to him (ph).

BENDER: Spicer has been saying that Trump is shaking up Washington. I put the question to the White House a couple different ways last week. What is the deliverable for the anti-establishment base and what they pointed out to me was his five-year ban on administration officials lobbying the government. Fast forward to this week and they've already waived that for one of their staffers, a senior administration official who's gone to work for a business lobby group.

LIZZA: And just add to the list, the government wide hiring freeze was also reversed this week. So his own executive order was reversed.

KING: I think some of the tension will be the voters want action. He was the deal maker. He was going to get things done. And then action is good but what if the action is contrary to what they thought they were going to get in the campaign is the interesting question. We'll keep going on this topic and we'll make it personal as we move forward.

Next, the White House power struggle, try comparisons to the Game of Thrones. Word is some top advisers start falling, other houses were on the rise.


[12:41:14] KING: Welcome back. President Trump back at his Mar-a- Lago resort this week and it's now worthy that at least for now none of his top White House aides are with him. No, or they just not because there are several global hot spots for keeping an eye on.

Remember it was just last weekend at Mar-a-Lago where the President ordered his Chief of Staff to try to broke her peace or at least they taunt between Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon and presidential son-in- law Jared Kushner. The week since full of polycentric accounts, accounts Galore, who's up, who's down in Trump land.

Let's look at the growth stocks first. Chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, he's one. He's a rising star in the White House. He happens to be a Democrat and a former chairman of Goldman Sachs. Dina Powell also rising, she's Deputy National Security adviser for policy and a former managing director at, yes, Goldman Sachs. So Chuck (ph) this up as campaign chatter, no longer operative.


TRUMP: Wall Street owns Hillary Clinton. Wall Street, remember. On that I agree with Bernie Sanders.


KING: He's changed his mind?

MECKLER: Well, it's just another example of this, right? I mean, he is among the policy he -- we talked about how he had to adjust his positions as he came to the reality of policy. Well, the reality of his party is a lot of the people (inaudible) on this Democrat. But a lot of people in his party are from Wall Street. I mean, that's a very -- that's breeding ground for Republicans.

So, he seems -- it seems to be -- they seem to be nurturing his more pragmatic instincts, the part of him that wants to get a deal, who wants to find a way and as opposed to the more Steve Bannon, more, you know, crashing the gate instincts, so more nationalist stuff.

TUMULTY: But Gary Cohn is the one who most concerned with the sort of Trump true believers. I mean, he's a Democrat.

BENDER: Yes. I mean --

LIZZA: Even the leader of the nationalists, Bannon, work with Goldman Sachs, so they do get complicated, at least very much sort of left that many years ago.

But this -- I mean, this is -- we're talking about the accomplishments and trying to organize legislative agenda on Capitol Hill. They are internally so divided at the White House, that the idea of getting something out of the Capitol Hill it just makes it that much more difficult. These are deep, deep ideological differences on protectionism, on foreign policy and Cohn and Bannon --

KING: And the same differences you see within, you know, within the Republican Party on Capitol Hill or within both parties, essentially inside the Trump White House. You can find them both, the factions within the Republican Party and the factions within America, because they have some Democrats and independents in there as well.

LIZZA: But Cohn have an advantage. One, he's the head of the National Economic Council so he has a huge staff and he was able to hire up. Bannon is a man with, you know, he is senior adviser to the President but he doesn't have a big staff below him. He doesn't control any of the policy councils at the White House. That's the big disadvantage.

BENDER: And I think that is the most damming detail for Steve Bannon yet in a very bad couple weeks for him was the political story that said Stephen Miller is now working under the Office of American Innovation for Jared Kushner. Stephen Miller was not a Bannon staffer but he's closely aligned with Bannon and that Office of American Innovation was supposed to be a joint effort. If Steve doesn't have anyone helping him out over there working with him, he's in trouble.

LIZZA: Talk about palace intrigue. I mean, this is a complicated one, right? BENDER: Right.

LIZZA: Because Bannon and Miller have always been tied together and all of a sudden in the sort of trade press of Washington, D.C., we see it leaked out that Stephen Miller is separating himself --

KING: Just Trump White House survivor version. You think someone is about to get voted off the island you switch the other teams --

TUMULTY: But also in the name we never hear is Reince Priebus, the guy who is -- the chief of staff is supposed to be sort of bringing order to all of this.

BENDER: Right. It's his job to make this work. He was the first one and he's supposed to be the first one out. He may be last man stand but --

KING: And so, let's look at what the President himself told "The Journal" this week. This is, you know, one other issues that he's -- this goes back to the time cover with Steve Bannon was on the cover, it's a great manipulator. Everyone said that's going to get under the President's skin. It appears to have got under the President's skin.

[12:45:07] He says, "I do my own policy. I have my own strategist. I don't have -- I have people that I respect. I have people that I listen to. I have many people and then I make the decision. I'm just saying that Mr. Bannon is a guy who works for me, he's a good guy. But I make my own decision. I don't have people making decisions."

And then "The Journal" decided to editorialize on this point because it's so interesting in Washington. "Some conservatives say that sidelining Mr. Bannon would betray Mr. Trump's core outsider promises on trade, immigration and much else. But the reality is that Mr. Trump needs more political and policy victories in his young presidency. If Mr. Bannon can't deliver results, Mr. Trump needs people who can." What's now?

BENDER: An excellent point in "The Wall Street Journal." Excellent --

KING: But, you know, to be fair, you know, "The Journal" part normally -- the editorial page -- part normally of the Republican establishment, which has long been suspicious of the Breitbarts and the Bannons.

BENDER: I can tell you that inside the White House around Trump, they understand that the only bright spot in the polls right now is their base, is the conservative base and no one represents that even close other -- in that White House other than Steve. But to get those victories, OK, and you -- you know, Steve is not the guy (ph). Trump made Bannon his chief strategist and tasked him with getting all these campaign promises delivered. The guys he's talking about replacing him with don't have any legislative experience to do that. So I don't understand if you're bringing in Gary Cohn or Wayne Berman or, you know --

KING: Nobody in this White House has that kind of experience.

BENDER: Correct.

KINF: That's the hard part. In the same interview you had with the President you asked if there were going to be changes coming. And he said I don't intend to. Changes in a circle, said I don't intend to. And then he goes on to say from day-to-day I don't know. Essentially I'm flexible, right?

BENDER: Yes. That's right. Don't hold me to it. That's the new Trump doctrine.

LIZZA: So I have a piece that's posted in that gets into some of this stuff and someone from the more nationalist wing of this debate who was saying, you know, nationalism is winning this person said and everyone also predicted that Trump wouldn't win the election. So they are hunkering down for a long fight.

KING: Well, everybody loves a comeback story in this town in the country, especially some of the headlines involving Stephen Bannon in recent days. There's no indication he's out the door now. We certainly know he's in trouble. But if you want to have a comeback in American politics, that's what has to happen first, right?

BENDER: Absolutely.

KING: That's what asked and you bounce back. We talked about the growth stocks of Dina Powell and Gary Cohn inside the White House. And it seems to be a more than New Yorker, friends of Jared, friends of Ivanka. On the world stage now in New York and surprising people is Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor. No foreign policy experience when she took this job as emerged as a very forceful spokesperson for the administration

Listen on Nikki Haley here.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR OD UNITED NATIONS: He knew that when he hired me that I made it clear, I didn't want to be a wallflower or a talking head. That if he was going to hire me and if I was going to take the job, I was going to work hard for him. I was going to stand up for the United States. I was going try and make everyone proud. And I was going to do it in my own way.


KING: That interview with CNN's Jamie Gangel.

How long of a lease does she have because sometimes the President doesn't like when there are other stars in his orbit. He likes to be the star.

TUMULTY: You know, I think she's getting a lot of really good reviews and that I think is going to matter a lot to Donald Trump. And this is not an unusual or unprecedented kind of situation. You think of somebody like Jeane Kirkpatrick during the Reagan era, even going all the way back to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, U.N. ambassadors. It is a big part of the job to be a voice, to be seen, to be heard.

LIZZA: That's a great point. And often as a conscience, a moral conscience of an administration especially in an administration like this, where as we talked about before, some of value-based foreign policy isn't high on the list of priorities, she's a little bit more like Samantha Power in the Obama administration when she was ...

KING: If you're scoring the week, for those of you that keep score all the time, you have Nikki Haley had a pretty good one this week. Everybody sit tight up.

Next, Sean Spicer is taking a lot of heat and he's really weeks s the White House press secretary. But is the White House prepares for a big event Monday? You might say Spicer has a little hop in his step or at least his history.


[12:53:20] KING: Welcome back, it's Easter weekend, a big test looming Monday for the Trump White House. It's first Easter Egg Roll.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: With respect to the Easter Egg Roll, it's a huge topic. I appreciate that. I think we're going to have an excellent time. Come on. You can't ask the question and not get the answer.


KING: Come on. He's faced a lot of heat, given probs (ph) and egg- cellent time. On this issue Sean Spicer speaks with considerable authority. Something Jimmy Kimmel just couldn't help but connect to a very different line of questioning confronting the White House press secretary.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST: Before he was press secretary, Sean Spicer actually played the Easter bunny at the egg roll during the Bush administration. That's not a fake picture. That's the real thing. For the first time maybe in history, we got to see the Easter bunny apologize for comments about the holocaust.

SPICER: To try to make impact, comparison is a mistake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To be clear, you recognize that Hitler obviously did --

SPICER: I said, I'm well aware of what he did.

KIMMEL: Well, how can you be mad at somebody so cute? It's impossible.


KING: I yield the floor.

TUMULTY: They will be scrambling to pull this off. And then they have to poach him from his current job.

KING: Anyone top that?

MECKLER: They don't have the --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This whole conversation has connect.

MECKLER: You know, you just -- being in Washington, you get kind of hard boiled and it's important that you really take some time to think about what matters and -- fun for the kids and all that.

KING: I'm enjoying this way to that last year.

BENDER: You know, let's go back to North Korea.

KING: It is easier, right?


KING: It is easier.

[12:55:04] MECKLER: You know, they actually do have a major challenge on their hands with this Easter egg roll which is not an easy thing to fall off. It's amazing how many kids run on that lawn. And it's like a huge event. And we'll see if they can make it work.

KING: It is a key point. It's a great event. They have -- you know, every president has done it which seem, you know, in my time here in Washington, President George H.W. Bush, for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and President Obama, the question was here -- because of the staffing issue so they have to speak here because it's truly run out of the east wing, the first lady's office. She's not in Washington as much so they're ready to do this.

They say they're going to get to this. We shall see you on Monday. And Sean, we just had a little fun, sorry.

Thanks for joining us in "Inside Politics." I'll be back here Monday, also Sunday morning, 8:00 a.m. Hope you have you a great Easter weekend. Wolf Blitzer in the chair after a break.