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Tillerson: Iran Deal Ignored "Other Serious Threats"; Trump Signs New Executive Action on Steel Imports; Open House Seat in Montana Next Test for Democrats; Sanders: Democrats Must Open Door to Independents. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 20, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, Assad comes or goes with a definite disagreement and definite mixed signals here. The Iran thing is simpler. Under the -- a Congress requires you certify, are they complying with the deal or not? The evidence -- you know, how much they oppose the deal does not show that they are in violation of the deal.

So, they had to send that in but that's not the language that they wanted to be the headline. They did not want the thing to be Trump finds them in compliance. They want the language to be Trump is tough on Iran. So, they came up and said look, just because he's in compliance with the moment is doesn't mean we're giving up on our tough stance on Iran because they've been doing terrible things. It's not as inconsistent I think as some of the other ones.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And so the question is, do they follow through because if you go back to the campaign, that was another one of those on day one. You know, I'm going to get -- I'm going to grip up Iran nuclear deal --

MARY KATHATINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: All he said different thing though.

BAKER: In fairness, yes, a different kind to shared, we negotiate and then he sometimes, they'd rip up. He was all over the map on it.

HAM: But I do think on -- if we can sort of try to unify some of the idea for them seems to be. And that -- by the way, this process seemed to take a normal track through the administration with a little bit of a turf battle and some infighting but Rex Tillerson coming out on top and saying, we're going to go abide by this rules. It would have been pretty disrupted to go to the other direction more of a ripping up situation.

But they wanted to say want to say look, I know, you're enjoying your carrot over here but we still have this have the stick. And the idea for many of voters was that Obama was not referencing that stick in any way (inaudible) performance, they'd like this more. And they like the idea that perhaps it's not pushing us immediately into ripping up and changing the game entirely. MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: What I think it's not clearly yet is whether this is just some rhetorical red meat for the base that needed to hear this because the visual of Tillerson certifying that they're in compliance (inaudible) to the original rhetoric. Or whether they really are creating room and trying to signal the allies, hey look, we understand it's complicated but we still may want to reserve the right to pull out of this. I think there's a real dichotomy in terms of Trump's national security and foreign policy. In that, his team is quite respected whether it's like McMaster, Mattis, the whole group. And yet there are mixed signals on policy that allies now at this 100-day marks still really don't know how to read and who speaks for the president.

KING: And to that point, (inaudible) so happy in the last (inaudible) because he likes the president's national security team. But then with some like this happen, she want strikes in Syria, those who want more aggressive actions say, good start. Now, create no fight zones, now create safe zones, now put more boots at least in the neighborhood if not on the ground. To your point, they certify Iran but very tough talk from the secretary of state. Senator Marco Rubio says, good you're going to take your time but I hope in the end you still going to get out of this deal.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I hope that they are and that's what they had said on the campaign. And obviously it takes some time to get to the proper position and perhaps they're working at in different angles. But ultimately, everything -- I expect the president to do everything he said on the campaign and this one of them.


KING: Or do you as often happens and we've seen candidate Trump has become more establishment on foreign policy as President Trump. Do you say, I don't like it but I inherited it and as long as they stay within the lines, you know, we're going to these other things, we're going to go, you know, go after them for supporting his (inaudible). We're going to be really mad about what they're doing in Syria. But in the terms of this deal, we're going to watch it like a hawk but we're not going to change it.

BAKER: Yes. I mean, part of the problem is we've already given Iran a lot of the benefits of this deal upfront, all right. And so, what they're going to do if they -- (inaudible) this on their own. Basically, Europeans going be out there saying, fine, do what you want but we're going to still do business with Iran while your companies by the way including companies like Exxon Mobil potentially, you know, our cut out.

And so, there's a real disincentive to actually throwing it out altogether. And I think, (inaudible) is to provoke Iran. The fact that Iran does nothing to justify perhaps a broader concept against whether they get out of this deal or to do other sanctions.

MICHAEL SHEAR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Even if they don't. Look, part of diplomacy and part of politics at home is about tone and emphasis, right? So, you could end up seeing in the end, a policy approach that basically tracks where the Obama people were keeping the deal in place. But emphasizing the other bad things that Iran is doing but just really emphasizing those other bad things in a way that the Obama wasn't perceived as being very aggressive.

KING: And those --

SHEAR: They that may fly back home.

KING: And those who've been in diplomacy for 20 or 30 years who passed the foreign service then, they're like, you know, what's the predictable strategy here Trump likes that in Pyongyang and in Tehran. They are wondering what are these guys up.

HAM: Was a -- it certainly what (inaudible) said they don't know who they're dealing with and the Americans are great. I mean, that's a different than perception between (inaudible) from the Washington and folks out in America.

KING: Folks out in America?

HAM: I'm sorry.


KING: In terms of (inaudible), in terms of the mixed signals, was it a bluff? Did they not know? Was it a miscommunication when they said the USS Carl Vinson carrier group was on its way towards North Korea and it turns out it's actually headed in the opposite direction form some pre-scheduled exercises with Australia?

BAKER: It's going to get there eventually, what are you in a rush for?

KING: It's circling a little bit.

BAKER: I do think that --

KING: It's now become an issue in the Korean presidential election, South Korean presidential election where they're saying, wait, don't lie to us.

[12:35:03] BAKER: Can we count on you this guy? And look, President Trump obviously does like to be unpredictable. And there is a -- there's clearly an obvious argument that that's an advantage to keep your enemies off balance. On the other hand, your allies or your potential partners like predictability, they like certainty. And the Chinese certainly knew where our boats were, right?

They understand exactly where our boats were. And they had (inaudible) I think I know where their boats are. What's the game here? And it may have been a simple miscommunication. And it raises certain basic questions of competence in the eyes of people like China and South Korea. KING: Right. That publicly, the President was sanding an armada. Now, those are the terms he used. Now, we're going to the tape now, the president of the United States just had a meeting at the White House with heads of steel companies in the United States. Do we have the tape ready to play yet?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We appreciate everybody for being here to the historic day for American steel and most importantly for American steel workers. Thanks especially to Secretary Wilbur Ross for helping to lead this critical effort. We've been working on it since I came to office and long before I came to office. We're going to fight for American workers and American-made steel. And that's beginning immediately.

For decades, America has lost their jobs and our factories to unfair foreign trade. And one steel mill after another has been shutdown, abandoned, and closed and we're going to reverse that. Other countries have made a living, taking advantage of the United Sates in so many ways. As you know, I've been talking about that for a long time. As I traveled the country, I saw the shuttered factories and the shuttered dreams and I pledge that I would take actions. And I think it's probably one of the primary reason I'm sitting here today as the president.

And since the day I entered office, I have followed through on that pledge big league beginning with our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership which would have been a catastrophe for our businesses and for our workers. I'm very proud of that withdrawal. Some people say, oh gee, I wish he didn't do that but the smart people say, thank you, thank you thank you. That would have been another NAFTA disaster. And NAFTA, believe me, was a disaster and continues to be a disaster for our country.

On Tuesday, I signed an order to enforce the buy American laws and stop foreign countries from stealing contracts from American companies and essentially from American workers. Today, I'm directing the Department of Commerce to immediately prioritize the investigation it begun yesterday and really long before that because Wilbur and I have been working on this for a long time into foreign steel arriving into our markets and to submit a report on the effects of these foreign steel products on the national security of the United States. It's not just the pricing; it's not just employment, it also has to do with the national security of our country which people never talk about. I talk about it.

Maintaining the production of American steel is extremely important to our national security and our defense, industrial-based. Steel is critical to both our economy and our military. This is not an area where we can afford to become dependent on foreign countries. And we have product where we actually need foreign countries to be nice to us in order to fight our people and that's not going to happen any longer, believe me, especially as it comes to steel.

This investigation will look at how steel imports are impacting the United Sates national security, taking into account foreign practices such as steel dumping. Dumping is a tremendous problem in this country. They are dumping vast amount of steel in our company -- in our country and they're really hurting not only our country but our companies.

They're targeting of American industry and other foreign strategies designed to undermine American industry as a whole. Based on the findings of this report, Secretary Wilbur Ross will make formal recommendations to the White House in a very, very near future. He'll be back very soon with those recommendations that we will implement.

For now on, we're going to stand up for American jobs, workers, their security, and for American steel companies and companies generally. Today's action is the next vital step toward making America strong and prosperous once again. And I want you to just add, I wasn't going to do this but I was in Wisconsin the other day. And I want to end and add by saying that Canada, what they've done to our dairy farm workers is a disgrace, it's a disgrace.

[12:40:05] I spent time with some of the farmers in Wisconsin and as you know rules, regulations, different things have change and our farmers in Wisconsin and the New York state are being put out of business, our dairy farmers. And that also includes what's happening along our northern border states with Canada having to do with lumber and timber. The fact is NAFTA, whether it's Mexico or Canada is a disaster for our country. It's a disaster. It's a trading disaster.

And we'll be reporting back some time over the next two weeks as to NAFTA and what we're going to do about it. But what happened to our dairy farmers in Wisconsin and New York state, we're not going to let it happen. We can't let Canada or anybody else take advantage and do what they did to our workers and to our farmers. And again, I want to also just mention included in there is lumber, timber and energy. So, we're going to have to get to the negotiating table with Canada very, very quickly.

Again, just to tell you, this is another NAFTA disaster and we're not going to let it continue onward. I think what I'd like to do is ask a few of the people if they'd like to -- these are some of the great steel companies of our country. Now, some of those companies were much bigger years ago. U.S. steel would be an example and others would be examples but they were much better -- these were the greatest companies in the world years ago. And today they've been hurt but they'll be great again and they'll be great I think very soon.

We're going to impose very, very strict regulations on unfair competition from the outside world. Perhaps I could ask the head of the United States Steel to say a few words.

MARIO LONGHI, UNITED STATES STEEL CEO: An honor, Mr. President, Mr. Secretary. I think the signing of this executive order clearly demonstrates your understanding of the fundamentally importance that our industry has.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: All right, you're watching a tape of the president of the United States. He signed an executive action asking for a study by the Commerce Department of whether unfair steel imports from foreign countries are undermining the U.S. steel industry and undermining U.S. national security. That's the key determinant of whether the president can then take action under trade laws if it's undermining U.S. national security.

Let's bring the conversation back into the room as the rest of the tape rolls there. Interesting because this issue, trade, unfair trading practice by others, I didn't hear the president specifically say China. During the campaign he specifically did. He's trying to gloss over differences, specific differences right now because he needs their help in the North Korean situation. But this is a trademark Trump issue especially when you think of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, the big blue states he turned red.

Yes, the immigration issue (inaudible) changing Washington in power, but I would argue the trade issue was critically important. But much more low key presentation here from the president when he's sitting at the desk as opposed throughout the campaign trail.

HAM: Right. And I think this is one of those moments where we can sound like a broken record. But underestimate the impact that has on many people in those states who go, look, they're doing something that matters to me and this is a concrete thing, they're going to do this study. And even if it's something where the study comes out much later and then, any policy changes or even later than that, they are getting a signal that this guy cares about me.

KING: It's on his radar. Talking about steel industry but also then curiously going after Canada. He went to Wisconsin on Tuesday, he said, dairy farmers there told him about what they believe to be unfair Canadian practices. Then he went on to talk about New York state dairy farmers. Then he made it about timber and lumber as well, picking a fight with Canada while he was trying to help the U.S. steel industry as well.

TALEV: And it's really interesting. It's one thing to send signals to China (inaudible) don't appreciate certain tactics there is whether it's with currency or steel or whatever. But Canada, you know, Canada right there. And in those early weeks of the Trump administration, it looks like the president was differentiating between the relationship he wanted with Trudeau and the relationship that he wanted with Mexico. The rhetoric he was willing to use, how big of a problem and tweaks might be necessary for NAFTA vis-a vis of the two countries. This is just completely different of what we've seen --

KING: It's different and if you're -- if that's -- if you're on the North America desk at the State Department, you're now thinking -- you know, you're making phone calls and you're sending e-mails and you're trying to translate. But if you are a worker in the United States in one of those industries, you know, we'll see -- six months we'll see what's done about it. But you have a president of the United States who is aware of your problem or what you believe to be a problem which doesn't always happen. SHEAR: And that may be what this all, what that's all about. I will say what's also interesting though when we were down at the Xi summit down in Palm Beach. This steel initiative that they're taking today was sort of portrayed to us as one of those tough, get tough on China things that was going to -- that was sort of, you know, going to -- sort of the Bannon portfolio of how sort of we're going to blowup the relationship with China. This seems heck of a lot weaker than what we were sort of led to believe.

[12:45:01] BAKER: We had a dollar for every study ordered by the president then we wouldn't have to worry about the government shutting down next week. But the question is what he'll do in 90 days whatever it is and comes back. Do you actually take action? And -- because the sense of momentum that he's getting now from voters, he didn't go ask for if the steel industry is still suffering.

KING: Well, that's the question. Is what's -- when we get into -- back into (inaudible) cycle what are the results as opposed to the attention. But he's paying attention. We'll see if he gets the result.

Sit tight. Sometimes when you finish first you still on to get a participation trophy. Democrats come close again but what do they need to do to win?


KING: Democrats came close in Kansas, then closer still in Georgia. So, is the third time the special election charm? Montana is up next and this is the Andy Warhol moment for Rob Quist.


ROB QUIST (D), MONTANA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: There's nearly 300 millionaires in Congress but not one Montana folk singer. After a career using my voice for the Montana we love, I will be a voice for you.


[12:50:04] KING: There's Rob Quist, he's the Democratic candidate in special election in Montana to replace a member of the Trump cabinet now. Democrat say this closed special elections in red districts prove there's a lot of energy in the party. OK. But the goal of elections is winning.

That's not to criticize the activists who work in these campaigns and you get closer and a lot of Republicans were saying, what about 2018, should we be worry? But how frustrating -- is there a risk of a morale problem in the Democratic Party if you keep coming close and then coming up short.

BAKER: Well, I think which is totally going near this special elections actually mean almost nothing. And we constantly make a big deal out of it because it's the only game we have in town to measure a president's success or failure at an earlier moment in his presidency or eventually her presidency. But having said that, if the Democrats were to lose three in a row, it creates the narrative that they can't pull it off and they don't yet have, you know, an answer to their own problems. The Republicans may have their divisions but the Democrats are not in great shape either.

KING: And it creates pressure now because the base wants help. And so, we came close in Kansas, we came closer in Georgia. Now, can we get Rob Quist of the line in Montana? Your colleague Jonathan Martin went out there to look at the climate out there and he says, you know, this is quoting Julius Shaida (ph) who's a yoga teacher in Montana.

"This is the time for the 50 state strategy. What are they waiting for? The energy is here. I read they didn't support the Kansas candidate. That's very upsetting to me."

So, the Democratic base is going to say it's sending money, sending resources when -- no offense to the Montana race, maybe it is, I had to look deep into the polling data. But the party might be thinking, you know what, we should be worried about 2018. Special elections aren't worth all the salt. Maybe we should be saving our resources.

SHEAR: And look, probably the biggest test of all on this, and I do subscribe to Peter's idea that these things ultimately don't mean as much as we think. But it's probably the Virginia governors' race which is going to be happening this year. There's depending on how the primary goes in June. There could be a candidate who is essentially a virtual stand and kind of the Obama coalition, Tom Perriello who used to be congressman. If he wins and then runs against the Republican, that's probably the best test that we have of whether or not that coalition --

KING: The primary in that too because you have a Clinton and a Sander race essentially in the primary and you have a Trump establishment race on the Republican side.

TALEV: But I think Virginia is different. That has always been -- that we've known for months, right. This is the first test. It's actually the beginning of , you know, the 2018 --

KING: State wide, purple state wide.

TALEV: Maybe the next presidential election, blah, blah, blah. But these are sort of different test cases. And Georgia just reinforces how Democrats really want Georgia to be closer than it is and it just hasn't bee been. And it demonstrates to some extent the perils of dreaming too much about Texas before its time also.

KING: Right. Now, this, we'll see what happens. There's still two months now for the run up in Georgia, well see what happens. But the Republicans are happy they get it to runoff.

HAM: Well, I think in 2010 what you discovered in that sort of Tea Party way is that many of these districts were mismatched to their leadership. That those districts were more concerned of, are there a bunch of districts out there that are more liberal than their leadership. And I think it's an open question. I would say it's less likely that it was the other way around in 2010. So there is for sure energy and I think these close finishes have sent out a signal to their right to watch out for that. But does that energy lead to flipping seats? I am not sure that will.

KING: And we talked earlier there's -- you know, there's some moving ground in the Republican Party too as we see in the town halls that Trump was not a traditional Republican. Is our party changing or is he just, you know, here temporarily then we'll go back to being the old Republican Party. We don't know the answer to that.

The Democratic Party, you have this national tour now. Tom Perez, the recently elected Democratic National Committee Chairman is taking Bernie Sanders who lost in the primary to Hillary Clinton. They're going around the country, going around to largely to red states, but other states were trying to figure out, what do we need to do, let's get some feedback. One problem, this is to revive and rebuild the Democratic Party of which Senator Sanders is.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC ANCHOR: Do you consider yourself a Democrat?

BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: No. I'm an independent and I think if the Democratic Party is going to succeed, and I want to see it succeed. It's going to have to open its doors to independents, who are probably -- there are probably more independence in this country than either Democrats or Republicans. And (inaudible) going to open its doors to working people and to young people and create a grassroots party. That's what we need.


KING: If you are paying close attention, Chairman Perez was like looking where's the -- energize anything? Get me out of here. But that's -- you know, it's a fun moment and it's good theater but does it get at the fundamental problem at the party. That the guy who came really close in their primaries still does not consider himself a member of the Democratic Party, he's out there seemingly trying to rebuild.

BAKER: And who is their leader, right? I mean, you had Hillary Clinton in the wings four years ago. You had even Barack Obama at this point in the 2008 cycle beginning to start to show himself as a serious figure in the Democratic Party. You don't see anybody like that. You have Elizabeth Warren. You have -- you know, I think Bernie Sanders I presume is not running again. So who is the next generation --

SHEAR: And by the way a lot of longing for President Obama to step up and he's not going to do it.

KING: He's not going to do it.

SHEAR: He can't run again even if he's trying to step up.

(CROSSTALK) BAKER: No, no. Yes -- I mean, I'm saying he's not to run but to provide the kind of help --

KING: To be more out there and help a friend.

TALEV: But then he want Tom Perez -- Democrats want Tom Perez to be the inside of the Democratic Party.

[12:55:02] KING: But if you say -- that's an excellent point because -- I know you have a point but please jump in after this. Tom Perez, at the moment he should be the inside voice because as parent and as someone who doesn't think profanity actually wins (inaudible) much in politics. I know people are going to say Trump won, Trump won, but this is Tom Perez on the trail.


TOM PEREZ (D), DNC CHAIRMAN: Those Republican leaders and President Trump don't give a (inaudible) about the people they were trying to hurt. They call it a skinny budget. I call it a (inaudible) budget.


KING: I think that's unnecessary thought.

HAM: And I think that Bernie Sanders sort of alludes to that a bit in saying look, this message that Democrats give an expletive about people, I think that's a message that sort of led to Trump because many felt elbowed out of this coalition. They felt like, oh you're the only good people and we are the bad people. We are the deplorable and therefore we're going to go a different direction. So I think repairing that messaging is actually part of this. And as we know, the children are listening.

KING: I think he can do it with manners. I really do. Cash is good, manners good also. But that's it for Inside Politics. See you back here tomorrow. The news continues after a quick break. Wolf Blitzer will be with you.