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Source: Kushner Proposed Secret Line to Kremlin; Trump Returns Home as Admin Faces New Russia Questions; Trump Debuts on the World Stage, Scolds NATO Allies Over Defense Spending; Trump and GOP Trying to Revive Stalled Agenda; Empty Your Notebook. Aired 8-9a ET
Aired May 28, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:16] JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): Blunt as always.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying.
KING: Ruffled feathers at NATO and a spirited climate debate at the G-7.
Plus, a mess back home. Now, a court loss on the travel ban and a stalled agenda in Congress.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: So, obviously, I disagree with that. Let me explain what this means.
KING: And as the Russian meddling investigation expands, a Nixon comparison.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We were furious about the past presidential election, of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice.
KING: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.
KING: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. To our viewers in United States and around the world, thanks for sharing your Sunday.
President Trump is back home from a debut international trip that left key allies frustrated, but that Mr. Trump labels a huge success.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think we hit a home run no matter where we are. We're thrilled to be here right now and we're getting back on that very big plane. We're heading back to Washington and the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: He got back last night and it is a very consequential week ahead. The president's policy agenda from health care to tax reform and federal spending is in deep trouble here in Washington. He also promises a decision this week on whether to withdraw United States from the Paris climate accord. That was the subject of a fierce debate on the trip and it is also a subject of a fierce debate within the Trump inner circle.
First, though, the president's mounting frustration with the thickening cloud over the White House. The president vents to friends that the Russia election meddling investigation is in his view, out of control and there are White House meetings today, a Sunday, as the president is said to be mulling big staff changes and mulling hiring more lawyers.
The president's own conduct is under investigation by the new special counsel. Now, we know so too is the conduct of his son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner. He's among several Trump loyalists whose campaign Russia election contacts alarmed U.S. intelligence officials.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Frequently, individuals who go along a treasonous path do not even realize they're along that path until it gets to be a bit too late. And that's why, again, my radar goes up early when I see certain things that I know what the Russians are trying to do and I don't know whether or not the targets of their efforts are as mindful of the Russian intentions as they need to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: With us this Sunday to share their reporting and their insights, Abby Phillip of "The Washington Post," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Michael Warren of "The Weekly Standard", and Karoun Demirjian of "The Washington Post".
Let's begin with the question. Is this a little odd, but OK, or is this the act of someone, as you just heard from the former CIA director, someone on a treasonous path?
Jared Kushner and retired General Michael Flynn meet with Russia's ambassadors to the United States in December, seven weeks before Donald Trump will take his oath as president. Kushner at that meeting proposes a secret back channel between team Trump and the Kremlin, so the two can compare notes on Syria and other global hotspots.
Now, remember, Barack Obama is still president. Tensions with the Kremlin are high. And the FBI investigation of Russian election meddling is already public knowledge.
Kushner says this back channel needs to be hush-hush and "The Washington Post" says the Russian ambassador told his bosses back in Moscow that Kushner proposed using Russian diplomatic facilities for these calls presumably so that U.S. intelligence agencies would have a harder time eavesdropping. That is the question the president came home to. His son-in-law, one
of his closest aides, a person who's supposed to be involved in domestic policy, international policy, keeping the trains on track at the White House, how do they explain this? How do they explain Jared Kushner meetings with the Russian ambassador that he did not disclose until they were in the media, now this idea of a back channel that some say frankly is un-American?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, how they're trying to explain it is, I mean, they're meeting at the White House this afternoon to try and figure this out. I mean, it's naive at best. It may be something more at worst. We don't know the answer.
But even though he was a private citizen, this is not a business deal. So, this is what you have the veterans of Washington -- not establishment people, but people who have been in this town certainly, on why did they do that. But there's also not been a full accounting of all the meetings that Jared and others had with the Russian officials. This could have been dealt with weeks and months ago, but it hasn't. So, now, they are sort of stuck with this.
But the whole specter of Russia was hanging over the p president. His silence about it. He's afraid to talk about this investigation. It had European leaders wondering why is he being so silent about Russia? Is he going to stand up to Vladimir Putin here?
So, I think that the -- you know, Jared Kushner was always sort of the invincible one inside because he's loyal to the president.
[08:05:05] Now, these meetings have really implicated him. If he did anything or not, we don't know. But it's a huge problem.
KING: If he did anything or not, it's a key point. Innocent until proven guilty. However, congressional investigations four months into a presidency that's had a cloud from day one, and the cloud is getting thicker, not lighter. But when the president came back last night, if he didn't know this on the trip, when he landed at the White House on Marine One last night, he was reminded this isn't going away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. President, did Jared try to set up a backchannel to the Russia?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Go ahead.
MICHAEL WARREN, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: How typical is this for the Trump presidency? Every time they have something of a good moment, political moment, whether it's Neil Gorsuch, whether it's most of this trip overseas, there's something else, you know, something else they weren't clear on or weren't entirely truthful on that seems to interrupt it. I think this is a real problem. It's an ongoing problem.
You do wonder at what point do the staff and does the president break from this sort of constant barrage of scandal after what ought to be a good news cycle for him.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: It's also a problem because some of the explanations don't pass the smell test. Back channel communications, why do you do track two diplomacy in the first place? It's to keep it from the public. Not to keep it from the executive branch, knowing what's going on, if you're talking about Syria. And that's because you don't want politics to get involved.
So, if you're going to set that up, why do it in a way where the FBI, the CIA, all the intelligence community can't actually hear what you're doing. That doesn't really, that's not really how it works.
Also, the follow up meeting is also raising a big question. I mean, the follow up meeting was with Sergei Gorkov, who's the head of Vnesheconombank, which in Russian literally means outside economy bank. And they do two things. They do foreign investments to benefit the Russia state and they manage the state pension funds.
So, I mean, you -- and they're under sanctions, right? So -- and the guy Gorkov has a history as FSB, you know? He's not a military guy to talk about Syria.
None of these things seem to match up if it's a completely innocuous, very innocent meeting just because they want to do a better job in the Middle East.
WARREN: Well, who's at that early December meeting with Jared Kushner? It was Mike Flynn, who has a very interesting relationship with the U.S. intelligence community and sort of intelligence infrastructure and, you know, it does raise those questions.
KING: And to that point, listen here, the former CIA director, Michael Hayden, was on with Michael Smerconish yesterday. And to that point, he is of the opinion now this is just stupid or naive in the sense that because of Mike Flynn perhaps talking to Jared Kushner, that Jared Kushner decides we can't trust the Obama people, we want to be able to get off on day one running, so let's have this back channel communication.
We have this usually a one president at a time role in the country, but here's General Hayden's take.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: General Hayden, is this nefarious or is this naivete?
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, Michael, right now, I'm going with naivete and that's not particularly very comforting for me. I mean, what manner of ignorance, chaos, hubris, suspicion, contempt, would you have to have to think that doing this with the Russian ambassador was a good or an appropriate idea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABBY PHILLIP, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I mean, it seems like a couple of things going here. Both Kushner and a lot of people close to this president have never seeped to really grasp what they lack in terms of their understanding of how things work in Washington. How diplomacy works, how foreign policy works. And so, they charge forward in the transition and elsewhere, doing things without really consulting with people who did know.
And the question of why does the White House not create some kind of narrative around these meetings to help explain their side of the story, you know, one of the things I constantly worry about is how much does the president know about what happened around him during the transition and during the campaign. And it's hard for him to understand this Russia investigation, why it exists in part because some of these things he may just be learning about himself and he thinks it's all overblown, but if he doesn't have a full understanding of the picture here, it's hard for him and his staff to figure out what can they say to make this make sense for the rest of the country.
And it's you know, it seems like they're going down a tunnel. Not really even knowing what is ahead of them.
KING: And they do know though. Kushner knows and to Karoun's point, if you wanted to just say, look, we wanted to get off the ground on day one running, so we wanted to open this channel of communications with the Russian so that we can start on day one, so it didn't take weeks and months to get to know each other.
OK, but then don't disclose all the meetings that you have. Lay it all out there, and then explain why you met with former spy who now runs a bank who's close to Vladimir Putin, whose only job is to send investment into -- you know, move money around.
DEMIRJIAN: Under sanctions.
KING: Yes, and he's under -- he's under sanctions. That's where they are in trouble.
So, Hillary Clinton in a commencement speech this week recalled, she was the student speaker at Wellesley College, back at Wellesley College 49 years later.
[08:10:00] In 1969, it was Richard Nixon. She did not say this by accident.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: We were furious about the past presidential election, of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice, after firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: The Democratic base loves that. Trump loyalists say, sore loser. She's out over her skis. We don't know where this is going in terms of the investigative thing.
But, but the cloud does have the president meeting today with his legal team. The senior staff coming in on a Sunday after an international trip where everybody's tired to talk about a staff shake-up. How serious is this? We've heard in the past, the president's mad, the president is venting, the president thinks his staff isn't doing a good enough job and it's just past.
How serious does this talk of a major White House staff shake-up?
ZELENY: I think it's pretty serious. It's more serious than it's been at any other point up until now. But there are limited options. A, there are not a lot of people in Washington who are eager now to go inside and work there. B, there's still a sense of, you know, division inside the west wing here. Everyone's not on the same page.
But I think that -- one of the things I was seeing when traveling over the last week with the president, the administration is not clear on its policy toward Russia. On Thursday, I believe it was, Gary Cohn, the chief economic adviser said the president didn't know his view on Russian sanctions. That sort of created a bit of an uproar.
The next day, he said of course he knows he's going to leave them as they are or strengthen them. The policy toward Russia has been muted or confused by all of this and I think until the president sort of realizes that this investigation is serious, not fake new, not sore loser Democrat, I think that's a huge challenge.
I'm not sure -- if you talk to a lot of Democrats who are eager to do the right thing, I'm not sure how helpful it is to this process to have Secretary Clinton out there doing this, because that injects politics into it and really this is much more serious than that.
WARREN: Especially if the rejoinder from Republicans going to be, well, the only president who was impeached, your husband.
KING: But to that point -- to that point, you read all these accounts of the potential White House staff shakeup. And they said they're going to follow the Clinton model, where essentially you take a crisis team, you have a government team. If you're asking about health care policy or tax reform policy, you talk over here.
If you're talking about, in this case, it was Monica Lewinsky back in those days, then it was Mike McCurry handled the government, Joe Lockhart handled the crisis, but something like that in the Trump White House now.
If you see these stories that say the Trump people want to follow the Clinton model. I just want to remind people, Clinton got humiliated and impeached.
PHILLIP: And also, this White House is fixated on this idea that this is a PR problem, which it is not. It is a real thing. And the source of a lot of their grief over the last couple of weeks
has also been the president himself. So, they're working hard to try to figure out how do we restructure the press office and communications job to deal with these inquiries to communicate better. At the end of day, that's only a part of the problem. It's not the full picture and the Clinton model was in part successful in a limited sense because they actually had policy to kind of go back on. But they had some sort of track record of governing, where as this White House is really struggling to get their feet under them in terms of real policy and real agenda items they want to put out there.
KING: They also had a booming economy. We have an economy now that's kind of sluggish. We'll see what happens.
And to your point about a nine-day international trip, no press conference from president of the United States. No tweets about this subject either. So, at the moment, he seems to be listening to the attorneys. We'll see if that plays out.
Up next, a public rebuke of NATO allies and a public break with other global economic powers. The president's overseas trip was trademark Trump and it left key allies frustrated and worried.
And as we go to break this Sunday, a reminder, this is Memorial Day weekend here in the United States. It's about much more than the beach or backyard barbecue.
[08:17:54] KING: Welcome back.
It should no longer surprise anyone that President Trump is different and disruptive. Still, it was fascinating to watch the Trump effect as the president made his debut on the world stage these past nine days. He sees it as a big win.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Saudi Arabia to Israel to NATO to the G7, we made extraordinary gains on this historic trip, to advance the security and prosperity of the United States, our friends and our allies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: If you're monitoring the president on Twitter, he's repeating that message this morning, saying it was hard work, but great progress for the United States. But it's a lot of grumbling from key U.S. allies on both the style and the substance.
Just yesterday at the final stop in Italy, the president refused to sign on to a communique backing the Paris climate change accords. So, the G-7, that's the leaders of the world's biggest economies, issued a statement in which six members offered praise, while noting the United States, the world's largest economy, is still debating whether to walk away from the deal. The president tweeted he will make that decision this week on -- he was heavily lobbied on the trip by the pope and other world leaders to stay put, to stay in the Paris accord. His chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, listen here. Interesting insights.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GARY COHN, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: If he were standing here, he would tell you he feels much more knowledgeable on the topic today. I think his views are evolving and he came here to learn and he came here to get smarter, he came to hear people's, world leader's views.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KING: It's interesting. Number one, they wouldn't do these briefings on camera. Part of the new White House media strategy. But number two, does the president take that as a plus, he came here to listen, to learn, to get smarter. He's evolving. It sounds like the president came here not knowing what he believed and is still searching. Which is it?
PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, it's hard to see. It's hard to know how he's going take that, but it's a pretty common thing with his aides sort of describing him as someone who's constantly evolving on all sorts of issues, on terrorism, on his view on Islam, on the Paris climate agreement.
So, you know, I think if he's tired of it, he hasn't said so.
[08:20:00] The message has not been delivered to staff to stop characterizing him in that way. But I think that it's also true in the sense that Trump is actually learning about these things and remarkably is going to have to make up his mind in a very short amount of time based on information, some of which he is just internalizing, so that's a lot to ask of him. In some ways, there's a lot of people hoping there's a certain inertia where the existing policy is so hard to get out of and causes so many other problems that it makes it harder for him to make a decision like that.
But I think it's still very much up in the air.
ZELENY: It's almost certain to announce, we believe, that he will withdraw from this climate accord. People would be very surprised if he would do anything else by that. But that is sort of interesting. You sort of wonder why he didn't he just say so. This evolving and learning is interesting.
But one thing I was struck by on this trip, he said in Saudi Arabia, I do not come here to lecture you. But in fact, in Brussels at NATO headquarters, he was indeed lecturing the U.S. -- the alliances and our allies.
KING: He didn't have to lecture a monarchy with a pretty horrible human rights record that has not kept his promises over the years to crack down on terrorism, but he did come to lecture NATO allies. ZELENY: So, that is an interesting sort of switch here. But, look,
we don't know if any of this will work. Maybe it will. I think we have to keep an open mind in terms of his ability to unite the Arab world around the fight against extremism. It's a huge challenge. No one has been able to do it, or Middle East peace as well. But let's, you know, sort of be an open minded about this.
But the whole lecturing idea, I think the trip started off in a positive way. The skepticism toward him and his administration, he did nothing to reset that all Europe. I don't think he was trying to. His America first agenda was out front there, but second part of the trip is so interesting.
KING: But in terms of -- you mentioned in the last block, they don't have a clear Russia policy. They're still back and forth. The Paris climate accord was an issue in the campaign, where he said he was against them. It has been issue from day on the administration where they've had meetings and he said cabinet secretaries go on television because they think that's the best way to lobby the president and say, we need to pull out of the Paris Accords.
Now, the pope says stay. The president promises the pope.
Listen to the Italian prime minister here essentially saying we need American leadership if we want other countries, India, China, the countries with the developing economies that are using more and more carbon in their economies, if we want them to pay attention, we need the Americans on board.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAOLO GENTILONI, ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We have simply taken note of the fact that six out of the seven countries fully confirm the commitments undertaken under the Paris agreement. It's very difficult to have an uncertain position on the part of the most important economic power in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: This was among the many complaints. You were on the trip. I was e-mailing and texting with diplomats and representatives of this government during the trip, that where is the American leadership, take a position.
They disagreed with George W. Bush quite a bit, especially the more liberal leaders in Europe during the last Republican administration. This is going to happen. There are going to be disagreements. But they know. He told them where he stood. They thought he had too much swagger, but he explained his positions.
The uncertainty is driving some the allies a little nuts.
DEMIRJIAN: Sure, but there's also -- you have to remember that we're talking about Donald Trump here. He's not a guy to join a group. American leadership to him is not going to be I'm standing linked arms with all my European allies, they're my best friends now, even though they're not paying enough defense money into NATO, right?
I mean, he's going to take the time he needs to separate himself so that people -- I mean, we are paying attention right now to the decision he makes. It's almost like LeBron, you know, choosing with team he's going to go to.
I know that's a joke, but it's kind of serious. I mean, this draws the attention on him, when he makes a decision one way or another. If it's to leave, it's going to be like whoa, if it's to say, it's going to be like whoa. And, you know, it's a similar thing to his whole talk about the Iran deal, and whether he was going to blow it up or not. We keep talking about that until the last minute and then he didn't.
KING: But if America is exceptional and if America is the leader, why not announce your decision especially if it's a bad one to their face?
WARREN: Why come home first? I think he doesn't have a strong opinion on and on anything he doesn't have a strong opinion on, I think people have realized within the White House and outside the White House, influencers that they can influence the president and try to be that last person in the room talking with him.
I think that's part of what Gary Cohn was talking about. He sort of represents "The New Yorkers, as the Bannonites call them with the White House, who support this. I think any other, most other Republican presidents would have already just said, we're not going to stay in this Paris climate change accords. But the president likes to be, likes to have people come to him and have to make a decision and he be the one who has to make that decision.
KING: Well, he's promised that this week. We'll keep on that.
Up next, more on the big trip, praise of kings and dictators. Then, was we mentioned lectures and a shove to Europe's democracies.
[08:28:43] KING: Welcome back.
The Saudis are thrilled. The Kremlin, too. Key European allies, though, more than a little rattled. For President Trump's many critics, this shove right here became the metaphor of his nine-day international debut, at the NATO summit moving the prime minister of tiny Montenegro aside so he could get to the front of a photo op
And this -- at an organizing built on unity and consensus, a public tongue lashing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defense. This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States. And many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: To the president's supporters, that's a welcome and trademark moment. Ditch the diplo speak, call out the free loaders. To his critics, an unnecessary and gratuitous lecture and public gift to Putin, for whom NATO is public enemy number one, and any sign of allied discord is a propaganda tool.
So, which is it or is it both?
WARREN: It's probably both. In a weird way, it does sort of send a message domestically back home, hey, listen, you know, the guy at the end of the bar who I think Trump really does represents, this is the kind of thing they've been talking about for years. Why don't the Europeans, you know, pay up?
Why do we have so many military installations all over the world?
But there's a problem there, which is it's not really how it actually works. You know, these aren't sort of dues. There's no debt being owed by these countries. They're all sort of paid up. But there are sort of guidelines by which these nations are supposed to be paying. It's just not exactly what the president --
KING: And the incoming from the Europeans was that the president has no grace. That he's won this argument. That President Clinton raised this. President Bush raised this. President Obama raised this. It actually started to improve late in the Obama administration but during that campaign and after the election that the NATO allies, most of them, many of them, they have said we will spend more on our defense. That's the point.
You spend a percentage of your gross domestic product on defense -- that he was winning this already and he could have said thank you but I'm going to keep an eye on this. He could have delivered the same message but they thought he was kind of a bore about it.
DEMIRJIAN: Right. Well, European leaders will tell you that they started doing this before Trump was even in the White House. So maybe he's just cracking the whip and being more brusque about it.
But that's kind of a minute ago, this is the classic, Americans aren't European, they're graceful and drink their tea with their finger crooked. We're the Wild West and we rope steers. It's a very different approach. It's almost caricatures right now how stark that difference is on display. But you know.
KING: And the style of Trump, the push to the prime minister of Montenegro; the American president's supposed to be up front for the photo op. That's how it works, how -- again, it's how he does things that sometimes offend people. But on the substance in the incoming that was most interesting to me
was that the president came from Saudi Arabia, where he received a commitment from the Saudi government to crack down on terror financing, to crack down on promoting extremism.
Now if that happens, the president will have changed the world. The problem for the other NATO leaders is they have heard this repeatedly for years and the Saudis have not followed through. So when the president said this, many found him to be naive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: There, I spent much time with King Salman, a wise man, who wants to see things get much better rapidly. The leaders of the Middle East have agreed at this unprecedented meeting to stop funding the radical ideology that leads to this horrible terrorism all over the globe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Many of those leaders will tell you, they have moderate Islam in their European countries and the Saudis, over the last 15 or 20 years, have funded the mosques that have become much more radical. They view the Saudis as a problem.
They just simply -- again, if the Saudis follow throw on what they promised President Obama, I mean, President Trump, the world will change.
But those leaders think, come on, buddy, you got had.
PHILLIP: You could practically hear the eye rolls as he said that because I think it's also the juxtaposition, the tongue lashing to our allies who are fighting with us in the Middle East, who came to our defense after 9/11 and the effusive praise for the Saudis and before the Saudis have even really done anything.
I mean, they've made a sort of verbal commitment to it but they haven't yet done it. And I think that there is some weariness that the president is hoping that this deal comes through.
But the proof is going to be in the pudding. This is a long game. It's not just you sign a piece of paper, it's like what are they actually going to do to stem this really deep problem that pits, you know, sects of Islam against each other. There is not just a piece of paper you can sign that can do away with that.
ZELENY: And there's a sense of naivete, I think, about this, because three times in briefings, senior administration officials said the president has united the Muslim world against extremism. That is simply wishful thinking.
If that would be reality, that would be amazing but I think there is this sense of just giving one speech in Riyadh does not solve the problem.
DEMIRJIAN: And it only speaks to about half the Muslim world, also. You remember King Salman, he is a spin artist like anybody else. And he's found a friend right now.
They were pissed at the Obama administration towards the end of presidency because Obama made a turn toward Iran. He did not step in front of the moving train that was about just a bill for the 9/11 victims. He just let Congress do its thing.
They were very, very angry about the way the situation was and they see a friend and an ally in Trump. They flatter him. He's learning on the job. He's not over that --
ZELENY: (INAUDIBLE) said (INAUDIBLE) unbelievable --
DEMIRJIAN: -- it was incredible.
ZELENY: -- different than President Obama going there in 2009, I was on that trip as well. It was --
DEMIRJIAN: They bring out the glowing orb and everything, right?
DEMIRJIAN: But, really, they knew how to cater to him and he is responding in kind because he is learning on the job and so -- and he's got an inimical relationship between his party and the Iranian leadership and--
WARREN: Sure. I -- just there's a parallelism here I think, with President Obama, which is the view that both presidents shared that by the force of their own personality and their own uniqueness that they can do something that has been bedeviling leaders --
WARREN: -- in that part of the world for hundreds, thousands of years sometimes.
KING: We'll see in this case if it work but there was a lot of skepticism.
Up next, a rude homecoming. The president's poll numbers are down again and the GOP agenda, health care, tax reform and more is in a spring stall.
KING: Welcome back. The president is settling back in at the White House. He's busy
tweeting this morning about what he calls the fake news but even though he's home, the challenges here at home might have him thinking of heading overseas again pretty soon. With four months into the Trump presidency, four months into complete Republican control of Congress, and not only has the GOP agenda stalled, the numbers are bleak.
First, is the president's own approval rating as he gets back to work here in Washington, 44 percent in January disapproved of his performance. That is up to 55 percent now, 55 percent of the American people disapprove of how he's handling his job as president; only 37 percent approve.
So the president is profoundly underwater, unpopular. Key to Republican agenda is the big health care bill. Right? Well, 62 percent disapprove of how the president is --
KING: -- handling health care, 57 percent disapprove of the current House Republican health care plan. This was the subject of a big debate this week. Republicans have promised to repeal and replace ObamaCare. A new Congressional Budget Office report gives Democrats energy. Listen here, Speaker Ryan says we have to do this. The Democrats say the Republican plan is a disaster.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Under ObamaCare, average premiums have gone up by nearly $3,000. This law did not drop premiums by $2,500 as promised. Between premiums surging up and choices going away, ObamaCare is on an unsustainable path.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), N.Y.: Unless you're a healthy millionaire, Trumpcare is a nightmare. This report ought to be the final nail in the coffin of the Republican effort to sabotage our health care system.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So it's a defining debate for the country, a defining debate for the Republican Party. It is something Republican leaders wish the president, if he's going to have political capital and political energy, would spend his time traveling the country, trying to sway Republicans and sway the country.
Instead, this is what frustrates him. The president's just back from the trip. It's his first Sunday morning in the White House and he's up tweeting this morning.
"In my opinion, many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the fake news media. Whenever you see the words, 'sources say' in the fake news media, they don't mention names.
"It's possible that those sources don't exist but are made up by fake news writers. Fake news is the enemy."
If fake news is the enemy, why do we hear from people on the president's own staff, people the president hired, people the president trusts, very close to the president, that he wants to fire people because they've identified leakers inside his own White House?
ZELENY: Well, that's one of the many inconsistencies here. But also he once said that the leaks were real and was going to get to the bottom of them. If now, the leaks are fake, that's confusing.
But the reality here is the thing that is frustrating many Republicans in this town, and people who want him to succeed, is that he has not accepted that this is a real investigation. It's not a fake investigation.
So like it or not, sort of accepting this is the first thing to getting your staff back in order and other things. So there may not be staff shakeups if he is saying this isn't real here.
But it all starts with him and his sense of grievance from the Oval Office and it seems to me the sense of this blast this morning is he is trying to program or counterprogram the Sunday talk shows that that sense of grievance is alive and well.
WARREN: Which he didn't really have to do. Just a couple of weeks ago, Bob Mueller was named to the special investigation here. Now we do have these new revelations about Jared Kushner.
But this is an opportunity and I think a lot of people naively thought that the Trump administration would take the opportunity to step back --
ZELENY: And stop talking about it.
WARREN: -- stop talking about it and push forward this agenda. That's what Capitol Hill Republicans would like. But they're not going to get their way.
KING: With or without him, can they advance their agenda right now?
We are four months in. Republicans said give us the White House and we will govern, we will repeal and replace ObamaCare. We will pass tax reform, we will get the economy going, we'll wipe out the Obama legacy, what they thought was overregulation, too much government involvement in things like health care, education.
Where is the Republican governing?
PHILLIP: I think they probably can advance an agenda without him. The problem is that what they're concerned about a lot of time is that Trump is just going to show up and throw a monkey wrench into everything.
Throwing his weight around with members who are basically in his districts essentially and that can really complicate things, so they're trying to get ahead of that by working with the White House a little bit more, trying to hold their hand as they walk here because they don't want any sort of 11th hour surprises.
The difficulty for Trump always with policy is that policy doesn't always give you an enemy. And Trump kind of always needs someone to push up against.
And that's what these, that's what these tweets are about this morning. That's ultimately what Russia investigation is, it is something he can fight back on. And it's been so hard for him and his White House to focus on policy because it just doesn't give them that same kind of, you know, person on the other side of the line that they can fight with.
And they have to get over that if they're going to deal with that and move forward.
DEMIRJIAN: But before we give the Republicans in Congress too much credit, sorry, they have a lot of internal problems that were there before. The way they got a lot of stuff done when Obama was president was by working with Democrats. And they had an incentive to do that because they wanted to make their guy in the White House not look so bad.
Now, Democrats in Congress have little incentive to work with the president on anything they don't like. That doesn't mean across the board. They don't want to be blamed for a government shutdown, for example, but they have far less incentive.
And what Trump is really good at is exploiting weak points. And right now, it seems like Trump cares most about Trump, not about the cohesiveness of the GOP. That's -- we've reported that when it came to the health care bill, he wanted a roll call vote taken on a bill that wasn't ready, that they knew couldn't pass to get the nonloyal people on record in the party.
When you've got the Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday group and then the leadership holding everybody together and the president is sometimes exploiting those weak points, they just turn on each other more and --
DEMIRJIAN: -- they haven't figured out how to overcome that internally. And so when there's outside encouragement --
KING: I used to say the Democrats have perfected the circular firing squad but the Republicans have taken their place.
If the president needs an enemy, how about the former House Speaker, John Boehner, who left town because of these disagreements. You talked about the predate during the Obama administration, Republicans had a lot of philosophical differences.
He had a speech this week, said this, "Everything else he's done in office has been a complete disaster. He's still learning how to be president."
And then he was talking about the tax reform debate. He said, "The border adjustment tax is deader than a doornail. Tax reform is just a bunch of happy talk."
ZELENY: He's using his bully pulpit -- we miss Speaker Boehner for that, actually, it's refreshing. We -- the president is using his bully pulpit to complain about the FBI investigation, which is simply heightening the discussion about that.
Why not talk about his very successful journey last week -- in his view -- he's right back at this this morning.
But what Republicans I talked to on Capitol Hill are so frustrated by the fact he's not setting this aside, like you said earlier, and going out to sell his health care agenda. He had one schedule on his schedule this week, to go to Iowa on Thursday. The only red to blue state he has not visited.
He canceled that, so he's going to stay in his bunker this week, talking about this, not that agenda.
KING: Trying to figure out little crisis mode at the White House. (INAUDIBLE). OK, everybody sit tight. Reporters share from their notebooks next, including fresh insights on Jared Kushner standing with the boss, who, of course, happens to be family.
KING: Let's close as we always do, head around the INSIDE POLITICS table, as our great reporters to share a little nugget from their notebooks, get you out ahead of the big political news just at the corner.
PHILLIP: Right now, the White House is desperately seeking some backup from the outside to deal with this deluge of Russia-related stories. One of the things that they're trying to do is beef up the RNC.
They need research help, they need rapid response help and they need, essentially, the Republican National Committee to kind of restaff after so many of its staffers came into the White House after the transition to help staff Donald Trump's administration.
So I'm told they're coordinating with the RNC right now, trying to get that situation rectified so that, as they go forward, in addition to some of the war room efforts that they're considering creating within the structure of the White House, they really desperately need some outside group help.
They have a couple of super PACs out there that are a little bit outside of their circle of control. The RNC is something that they have a little bit more say over and they're working with them, trying really hard to get a little bit of help as they head into a really tough string of news in the next couple of weeks.
KING: Some grumbling in the party already, the RNC should be focused on 2018 elections, not the White House. We'll see how that plays out.
Jeff, welcome home.
ZELENY: Thank you. We've been talking about the cascade of stories about Jared Kushner have drawn this Russia investigation within steps of the Oval Office really for the first time.
But overnight, we're learning one of the reasons he came home early from this trip was because he knew "The Washington Post" story was coming. He didn't want to be at the president's side when this happened.
So the reality here is this is all settling in to the West Wing, yes, he's not specifically the subject or target of the investigation but he is front and center in the middle of it now.
And this creates an opening, a power center shift once again for Steve Bannon to have much more power and the aides privately will say that Jared Kushner is going to remain, he's going to keep his head down as he does.
But this raises more questions about him and they don't know how to answer them. The best defense explanation so far, if he was back channeling with the Russians, he wasn't colluding with them during the campaign but that is probably not you know, the best answer there.
KING: We'll get a better answer as we go on.
WARREN: Well, I think the perception has always been that Jared Kushner, because he's the son-in-law of Donald Trump, he's sort of untouchable or invincible. And I think that's generally almost entirely true but not entirely true. I've heard from senior White House sources that Trump himself has told Jared Kushner, look, people like you, young, wealthy, New York liberal Democrats, are not the reason I'm in the White House.
Now despite that, he brought Jared Kushner into the White House because of his loyalty, because his usefulness within the White House, because of the expertise he thought he might bring.
Now, if Jared Kushner becomes unuseful to the president, I think you might see a shift. The caveat to all of this is, as, Jeff, you mentioned, Jared has a lot of enemies within the West Wing; chief among them, Steve Bannon.
So you do have to keep that in mind. You hear this talk about the potential for Jared to even leave or get a demoted role within the White House that could be coming from the enemies who are looking at an opportunity and taking it.
KING: The game of thrones. (CROSSTALK)
KING: -- inside the Trump White House.
DEMIRJIAN: Well, as of these other chapters unfold in this drama of what's been going on between the Trump administration team and Russia, Congress has been pushed off to the side a little bit as these different revelations have appeared.
In the coming days, we're going to have to see basically -- it's going to be very telling for how they start to reassert themselves because there were several investigations that were going on.
There is a one pocket of subpoenas out for Michael Flynn but the two heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee just gave themselves -- or were given by the senators really unbridled authority to start to take much more direct moves. And we have some deadlines coming up on existing subpoenas in the next few days.
We have the authority now for the two leaders, just with a phone call, to try to attack -- not attack but require and compel legally more information from other people. And you're starting to see that, even though there was a sense of, oh, we have time, we're trying to do this right just a few weeks ago, as everything else kicks into high gear, you're going to see some kicking into high gear happening on Capitol Hill, too.
The question is, will it be effective?
Or if they end up getting compliance from people, does it --
DEMIRJIAN: -- mean that they won't actually get what they want?
KING: Well, we'll see how that one plays out, a little tension probably, special counsel in Congress.
I'll close with this. Get ready for a presidential road show here at home with the focus that just might annoy Republican leaders in Congress.
The White House is making plans for its version of "Antique Roadshow," travel designed to promote the president's big infrastructure ideas by highlighting America's old and decaying roads and bridges. The plan is still tentative but Cincinnati is penciled in as a stop next week. And additional stops are being discussed.
"Unhelpful" was the one-word reaction of an top Republican congressional aide. Health care and tax reform are atop the congressional Republicans' priority list. And a constant complaint from GOP leaders on Capitol Hill is that the White House political strategy is, to them, scattershot and often counterproductive.
Keep an eye on that.
That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday. Up next, "STATE OF THE UNION." Have a great day.