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5 GOP Senators Balk at Own Party's New Bill; Trump Drops a Dozen Misdirections in Iowa Speech. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired June 25, 2017 - 08:00   ET



[08:00:17] JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): The Obamacare repeal fight moves to the Senate.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said, add some money to it. A plan with heart.

KING: Democrats call it Trumpcare, and mean.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: For once on the subject of health care, I find myself agreeing with the president. His health care bill is mean.

KING: Plus --

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Lordy, I hope there's tapes.

KING: Nope. The president admits he made it all up.

And Nancy Pelosi stares down her critics.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Have your fun. I love the arena.

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 the United States and around the world, thanks for sharing your Sunday.

A lot to talk about. The Russia election meddling investigation drives a constant anger in President Trump and a constant effort by aides to find some way to calm him down.


TRUMP: Look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey. But there's been no collusion, no obstruction and virtually everybody agrees to that.


KING: Plus, one rally speech at least a dozen fall for misleading statements. Yet another reminder that truth and transparency seem to rank low among this president's priorities.


TRUMP: The Paris agreement would have cost America millions of lost jobs and billions and billions of dollars. They all say it's nonbinding. Like hell it's not binding.


KING: It was nonbinding.

But we begin this Sunday with a complicated problem and some simple math. Senate Republicans plan to vote this week on their plan to replace Obamacare but are well short in the hunt for 50 votes.


SEN. DEAN HELLER (R), NEVADA: Telling you right now, I cannot support a piece of legislation that takes insurance away from tens of millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of the vets.


KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg Politics", CNN's Manu Raju, Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal", and Karoun Demirjian of "The Washington Post".

Dean Heller, you just saw him there, of Nevada may be the most vulnerable Republican senator up for election next year. Heller is a moderate who thinks the new Republican health care plan in the Senate is too cold.


HELLER: The biggest lie in health care in the last ten years was that if you like your doctor, you can keep him. That was the biggest lie on health care. Here is the second biggest lie. This bill passes, second biggest lie is that premiums are going down. There isn't anything in this piece of legislation that will lower these premiums.


KING: So, count Heller as a no. Count Rand Paul of Kentucky as a no, too, for very different reasons.

Rand Paul, among the conservatives who called the plan too costly.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: We have more government subsidies in our bill perhaps than Obamacare has. Our bill may cost more in the first two years than Obamacare costs. That's not repeal. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's a big policy problem within the Republican family. And now, thanks to a super PAC ad run by allies of President Trump, perhaps a big civil war, too.


AD ANNOUNCER: Heller is now standing with Pelosi. Unacceptable. If you're opposed to this bill, we are opposed to you.


KING: Welcome to a very interesting week ahead.

I'm going to start with you, Manu, because you spend so much time wandering the halls on Capitol Hill. This just doesn't work from a policy perspective, in a sense you have Dean Heller, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, a bunch of more moderate members over here, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson, a bunch of conservatives over here. Mitch McConnell can only afford to lose two votes.

The math simply doesn't work. If you cater to the guys on the left, you won't get the guys on the right. If you cater to the guys on the right, you lose the guys on the left.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Look, I talked to senator -- a top Senate Republican yesterday who's involved in this health care bill, who was very pessimistic about this. And because he, in his words, he said Mitch McConnell is going to have to pull a rabbit out of a hat. It's very difficult right now because of the math. You're most certainly going to lose Susan Collins.

Dean Heller, by that press conference, made it sound like there's no way he could vote for this bill, and if he does turn around and vote for it, he could -- presumably, a huge problem for him in his re- election.

Who else? Rand Paul has been downright against the structure of this bill from the beginning, from the against house health care bill, how to get Rand Paul on board the end of the day would be extremely difficult, unless you really change the bill or if he changes his view on this.

That's three right there. Perhaps you can get Ron Johnson. Perhaps you can get Ted Cruz. Perhaps you can get Mike Lee, but you still have to move to the right to do that.

And what does that do for people like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who is still a holdout? Rob Portman, who comes from a Medicaid expansion state?

[08:05:00] There are a lot of problems. The ultimate question this week for Mitch McConnell is, does he want to put his members through this vote, which may not pass, or does he punt it and try to negotiate for a deal perhaps later this month?

KING: I want to get to the policy in a moment, because that's what matters most to the people watching at home, how is this going to change my life, my health care bills, my health care access? Whether my kids get coverage or not, preexisting condition, we'll get to that.

But what about the president's involvement? Number, the super PAC ad is run by a super PAC. It's essentially former Trump campaign officials who formed a super PAC to protect and defend the president's agenda. Now, they're jumping in.

And it's noteworthy, they could have attacked Ted Cruz. They could have attacked Rand Paul. But they decided to attack a moderate Republican senator from Nevada, perhaps the most vulnerable Republican.

What signal does that send within the family?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, it tends to signal -- it's really interesting to see this. So, I mean, I covered Nevada politics pretty closely when I was with "The Las Vegas Sun", and these sorts of ads, there's always very intense primary contests there and the moderate Republican always comes out of them winning basically.

So, it may not work as well as they're hoping with Heller because Heller's real concern is that he is running in a state that's a bluish state, a shade of purple and he knows that going forward. And he also can look at a track record of having survived these sorts of primarily challenges if they find somebody who doesn't have as much recognition as he does.

But in general, for the party, it sends a message that if you don't fall in the party line, if you start to go more towards the center, we are going to come o after you immediately. It's more forgivable to take the stance of, yes, full repeal. Go further to the right. Go further to the right.

All of this talk about let's come together that we've been so -- you know, in the aftermath of the Scalise shooting and everything like that, that doesn't apply.

KING: That disappeared very quickly.

MICHAEL BENDER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: There is basically no involvement right now from President Trump or this White House. The legislative affairs team is working on this behind the scenes. But Trump has been pretty hands off, which is a pretty big difference from how they did it in the House. They basically put the ball here in McConnell's court.

As this was moving from the House, I heard from senior House officials frustrated by a fledgling White House trying to get involved in a process that they weren't familiar with, in the legislative process, they were inaccurate on both counts, if not, you know, a certain amount of credulity dealing with the Freedom Caucus. So, now, they put this in McConnell's court. We could see a push here

at the end from President Trump, and probably will, but that's not going to help them save the blame, avoid any blame.

KING: Not involved in the details of the negotiations, yet involved in the political context about this. So, to Manu's point, if you're a Republican and you have to cast a potentially career changing and, for some, potentially career-ending vote in three or four days, first, you have the president tweeting yesterday, I cannot imagine that these very fine Republican senators would allow the American people to suffer broken Obamacare any longer.

OK. Relatively just a little nudge to Republican senators here. But here, he does an interview with "Fox & Friends", and he's asked about a Facebook posting that former President Obama put up, essentially saying, you know, what the Republicans are trying to do is mean.

Listen to the president's answer.


TRUMP: They actually use my term "mean." That was my term, because I want to see, I want to see -- and I speak from the heart. That's what I want to see. I want to see a bill with heart.


KING: He actually used my term "mean." That's -- the president had a Rose Garden celebration saying the House passed a bill greatest thing since sliced bread and then called it mean. If you're a House member and you passed that vote, guess what? Those words are coming back to you in a political ad.

If you're a senator who has to decide this, this week, and you see now, the president confirming -- remember, the White House said, oh, that's not what he meant. They run out there to say he didn't really mean mean. Now, the president is essentially confirming, I called it mean.

What confidence do you have if you're a senator about to cast this vote that the president, who has swayed with the Republican base and his base, has your back?

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: Yes. The message you can take away is that they're playing hard ball. That right now, the focus is on the politics not the policy. And that this is -- in many ways, the Senate version of what the House did. And the messaging for that was, let's get a bill passed and we can work out what the real bill is later.

So, again, in repeat of this, asking senators to go on the board with something that is that going to be ultimately in the end what passes. And that's part of the problem. I agree that the only way to do this is to bring the right in. But to bring the right in.

KING: But the stakes are very different now, because if the Senate passes the bill, the message will back to the White House be, you have to pass the same bill. We can't go through this again. Then, you're changing health care law, then you're changing law.

And if you look at the Senate -- I just want to put this up there because the policy matters. Yes, this is not a full repeal of Obamacare what the senators are looking at. It would repeal the taxes created, it would repeal some of the subsidies, right out of pocket costs, it would repeal the individual mandate, it would repeal the employer mandate.

So, that part of Obamacare gets pulled out. It would change Medicaid expansion, that's what the moderates say it goes too far. Conservatives say it doesn't go too far enough. Changes some of the tax credits that would allow states waivers on that big question of essential health benefits, what must be covered in your health insurance policy. It takes away Obamacare prohibitions on annual lifetime limits on insurance coverage, a lot of people don't like that because states could opt out and restrict people and it changes health savings account rules.

It keeps the pre-existing condition policy roughly, there are some changes there. And you stay in your parent's health insurance until you're 26.

[08:10:02] That's roughly the same. Keep might be a little bit strong there.

But the policy here matters because if the Senate passes this bill, the argument is that you go to the House and you say, we can't change this. We just got this through the Senate, Mike Pence would like to have to cast the tie-breaking vote, do it or not. Mark Meadows out of this Koch retreat was saying two amendments, could have this whole thing done by July 4th. I suspect that's a tad optimistic.

RAJU: Yes, very optimistic. They got to get out of the Senate first and that's still going to be very difficult. But I think the -- what was remarkable to hear President Trump acknowledge that he called the health care bill mean. The problem for him is that he does not -- he's not ideological about this. He does not have a really firm view about how he wants the health care system to look -- what he wants it to look like.

But there are members of Congress who do.

TALEV: Right.

RAJU: They feel very, very passionately about health care policy and have a very staunch, ideological view about the direction that this is going. People like Rand Paul who believe that the subsidies and the tax credits in the bill will be more generous, will actually be more expensive than the subsidies in Obamacare. These are fundamental policy questions that the White House and the president himself does not want to engage in.

And the key question, of course, is going to be when the Congressional Budget Office releases estimate as early as Monday, Tuesday. How does that affect the votes even more? It could be pretty bad.

KING: All right. Because then you have a number saying, how many millions of Americans lose their health care coverage? What this does to the deficit? Do premiums go up? Especially, one of the big questions for the president, does he turn on this piece of legislation when he sees that Trump voters have their premiums go up. So, these tight compact schedule this week, but several chapters as we go.

Stay with us. Up next, one speech that doesn't mix truth or exaggerations, the president's troubling trouble with the truth.

And politicians say the darndest things. A new twist from the president. He's going to build a wall and Mother Nature is going to pay for it.


TRUMP: We're thinking of something that's unique. We're talking about the southern border -- lots of sun, lots of heat. We're thinking about building the wall as a solar wall so it creates energy and pays for itself.

This way, Mexico will have to pay much less money. And that's good, right?



[08:16:37] KING: Welcome back.

One of the big headlines from this past week, the president now says he did not record his conversations with the former FBI Director James Comey, but he offers no apology for misleading the country by suggesting there might be tapes. In fact, the president wants credit for the misdirection.


TRUMP: When he found out that I -- you know, that there may be tapes out there, whether it's governmental tapes or anything else, and who knows, I think his story may have changed.


KING: Now, if you translate that at home, that's the president of the United States, in his own words, saying it's OK for the president to mislead. That might help explain how this happens and happens repeatedly. "The New York Times" reviewed the president's 70-minute rally speech in Iowa this past week. It found 12 statements that are either not true, way out of context or exaggerated.


TRUMP: We've ended the war on clean, beautiful coal and we're putting our miners back to work. Last week, a brand new coal mine just opened in the state of

Pennsylvania first time in decades. Decades. We've reversed it.


And 33,000 mining jobs have been added since my inauguration.


KING: Tad out of context there, as was this.


TRUMP: I was just told by your great governor and ex-governor that your insurance companies have all fled the state of Iowa. Pretty sad, isn't it? Well, they're fleeing -- I'll tell you what, they're going from every state.


KING: Now, some of these, you could say he's a little off, maybe got bad information from the governor.

But when you look at the context of this, back to Barack Obama's not from the United States, to largest inauguration crowds ever, to most of these rally speeches when you go through them, you can find six, eight, 10, 12, again, some just plain factual errors, others are more hedging and other politicians do stuff like this.

But why? Why is this such a constant theme of this president? Why can't -- you know, he's got a good team of people. They can check facts. You can make the same points but make them factually.

BENDER: Well, when you talk about context, I think you have to go back even further. I mean, this president built an entire campaign on mistruths, was constantly fact checked by the media and the voters just didn't care. He was never penalized for it.

So, until he's penalized for it, these sort of truthful hyperboles, as he's long called them, will continue.

TALEV: It's sort of long been described as a business tactic that he took with him unto the campaign trail. You know, a long time real estate business, there's a lot of hype. You want to get the buzz going.

But what -- the question was always, is he going to govern the same way that he ran his business or publicity empire? And the kind of predicate he seems to be laying down is to say, look, it's OK for me to mislead as long as I have a goal behind it that will one day later be revealed.

So, the question in the actual governance context is whether this undercuts his credibility, A, with voters, B, you know, with world leaders, C, with business and does it affect the stock market? So far, it really hasn't. But both on the Mueller front as the

Russian investigation continues and as we lurch closer to the midterms, this is very striking. It's a real departure from the way most politicians behave.

RAJU: And they do have consequences, a lot of his statements to the worst for him. I mean, look at what happened with this tweet about the tapes, leading to James Comey giving the memo to his friend, who leaked to the press, as an effort to try to get Bob Mueller named as special counsel which, of course, happened.

[08:20:08] One thing that, you know, we were talking to Republicans about these statements is that they -- Lindsey Graham, I talked to him Thursday about this. He said to me, he said, maybe the president will finally understand that his words matter.

TALEV: They've been saying that for months.


RAJU: You're hearing Republicans say that for months. The president does not seem to be nearly as concerned as a lot of people in his own party, that things that he says are not true, especially his tweets that take the party significantly off message hurts their party at the end of the day, the president does not seem to share that view.

KING: In "The New York Times" article, there's simply no precedent for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths. Every president has shaded the truth or told occasional whoppers. No president in the Republican Party has behaved the way that Trump is behaving. He is trying to create an atmosphere in which reality is irrelevant.

Is it that calculated? Is it just how he behaves? I mean, does he get up saying, I'm going to, you know, hedge the truth, fudge the truth, tell mistruths, because I'm creating to create this? Or does he just do it because it's what he does?

DEMIRJIAN: I don't think it's that calculated. I think you would be hard pressed to find people who think, ah, yes, Trump laid out this whole good plan to make sure that we believe this mistruth. He contradicts himself half the time. And so, it's very kind of --

KING: Sometimes in the same speech.

DEMIRJIAN: Sometimes in the same speech. Often times in the same context of, you know, an investigation, or a bill or whatever it is. He can't stick to his own message and he sometimes ratchets back and starts to go to plan A again when plan B doesn't work out in terms of what he said. But it seems like he's just somebody who, you know, shoots from the hip on instinct a lot of time. And that has worked well for him in a business context where he has people kind of make things work the way he wants to change them.

When you got these many checks and balances and swirling procedures for how things work when you're governing, you know, when you have checks and balances and your team is under investigation, you can't just call the shots by changing your message but he's still reacting. Not so much --

KING: And there's the truth question and transparency question. His deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, says they're among the most accessible press teams in history. I covered a lot for 10 years, I'm not there every day in this administration, but from my colleagues that suggest that that's not exactly the case.

One thing they have done, and they have the right to do this, and sometimes we overreact. As long as they're accessible, I think that should be, did they answer our questions? Should the camera be in the briefing? Could you have audio in the briefing? That's all debatable and we can fight it through.

But we've had a slide back to just more audio briefings, less on camera briefings, to the point where CNN decided to send a sketch artist to Sean Spicer's briefing this past week. You can see some of the art work. I think Sean my actually want these. This is nice to have, hanging up in the office here.

But, you know, I'm making fun of this. Again, they have the right to conduct business the way they want to conduct business within limits, in the sense that the people watching at home pay them. The people watching at home, it's their country. You should be able to get answers from the White House. Where is the transparency debate right now?

TALEV: Well, let's go back to kind of the beginning. We haven't seen the president's tax returns. The visitor log policy has been changed.

These are some really fundamental things. And just because they're old news it doesn't mean that they're not news that's important to the context of all of this. There's much less record transparency, thoroughness transparency. There is completely an ability to walk into the lower press or upper press office if you need to see the press secretary or the deputy press secretary, it's completely possible to do it. And that's great and I give them credit for that.

But the briefing -- if the briefing situation is a modulation, there's precedent for that. If the briefing situation is a slide towards a more permanent policy where there is less of a willingness on a daily basis to go and answer the public's questions, and be public about what the administration's policies are, that's problematic.

KING: And it's especially problematic when you ask important questions. Does the president believe Russia meddled? Does this -- I haven't talked to the president about that. I haven't talked to the president. His spokesmen are increasingly I think afraid to speak for the president because they're afraid that he will contradict them on Twitter and elsewhere. We'll keep on top of this one.

KING: Next, this week's developments in the Russia election meddling investigation, including word of a new early morning call designed to keep the president's anger and his tweets in check.



[08:28:38] DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I have never been pressured. I have never felt pressure to intervene or interfere in any way.

ADMIRAL MIKE ROGERS, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR: To the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate. And to the best of my recollection, during that same period of service, I do not recall ever feeling pressured to do so.


KING: We now know a lot more about what director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and National Security Agency chief, Admiral Mike Rogers, refused to discuss there in that public congressional testimony. Both since have been called into private interviews with congressional investigators and with the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

In those conversations, CNN has learned, both Director Coats and Admiral Rogers say the president made them uncomfortable by asking them to make public statements about the Russia election meddling investigation that would be favorable to the president. Both described the president's request as highly unusual, and both declined to do what he asked.

That's just one of the new investigative wrinkles of this past week, the president admitting his threat about White House tapes was hollow is another. Trump loyalists say misleading the country about White House tapes is no big deal. Democrats disagree.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: It definitely bolsters and provides evidence for obstruction of justice. Clearly, the president's purpose or motive here was to have an effect on Comey's testimony and I think that the intent was possibly to intimidate or threaten him. But to go to the merits, Jim Comey's testimony never changed.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Obstruction is part of the political debate. What Special Counsel Mueller concludes about the president's conduct is the judgment that matters most.

"TIME" puts the special counsel on the cover this week with the headline, "Lie Detector." It is Bob Mueller's conclusion, the conclusion of his staff, that will go a long way toward what has become a very political debate, pretty partisan debate. We don't see the classified briefings. So you see this partisan thing.

What else did we learn this past week? Among the nuggets was that the president now has an early morning call with his legal team. Essentially the White House is trying to calm him down. They know when he gets frustrated he lashes out at his legal team, he lashes out at his White House counsel, he sometimes lashes out on Twitter, sometimes at the special counsel, sometimes at the Democrats in these investigations, even though they're all led by Republicans. What else?

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: Well, that effort is reported by "The Post." A fascinating tidbit but not sure it's working at this point. One of the most interesting things to me was in this 11th hour decision to go ahead and respond to the House Intelligence Committee's request, to kind of formalize what the president had said on Twitter, right, which was that there was no more tapes.

The way that the White House did it was to have their legislative affairs director, not the White House counsel, put out a statement, and for that statement to essentially repeat what the president has said on Twitter and not put out a broader, more blanket statement that says there is no such thing as a secret taping system in the White House. That does not exist. That isn't true. Instead, it's essentially, we refer you to what the president has already said, signed the legislative affairs director. That's very interesting.

KING: Answers to questions that end up raising more questions in many cases. And among the conversations this past week, the president did two interviews with "FOX & Friends." One of them, he was asked about Bob Mueller, the special counsel, do you have confidence in the special counsel? Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome. But he's also -- we're going to have to see. I mean, we're going to have to see in terms -- look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey. But there's been no collusion, no obstruction. And virtually everybody agrees to that.

Robert Mueller is an honorable man and hopefully he will come up with an honorable solution.


KING: Interesting, Sean Spicer at the end of the week says, yes, of course, the president has the power to fire Bob Mueller but he has no intention of doing that right now.

Just a quick fact check before you jump in. While he is very, very good friends with Comey. They have had professional friends, they've worked together for some years. If you talk to former colleagues, and people who know them well, they're not golf buddies or dinner buddies. They're professional. They have a long professional respect.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. And that's why you can see the push and pull there between instinctual Trump and lawyered up Trump. KING: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: I mean, Trump wants to kind of cast a shadow over Mueller. That's why he's saying, oh, they're very, very good friends. Even though we know that they're not. They're just, you know, colleagues that had worked together in the past. And then kind of remembering that he's got to stay on message and he's saying, OK, there's no obstruction, there's no -- you know, no collusion and Bob Mueller is an honorable man, which is the line that most people in the GOP are taking.

You would be very, very hard pressed to find more than a handful of real Trump devotees on the Hill that would say anything bad about Mueller. And it's putting them in a bind. People -- you can see people like Jon Cornyn, for example, who want to be able to defend the president but do not want to throw dirt on Mueller because they really respect him, having problems because they know that in the end if Mueller finds obstruction, if Mueller finds something, it's going to come back to Congress and they have to decide what to do about it. And it will --


KING: Right.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The thing that Mueller is looking at, too, is the pattern of activity by the president. Not just his firing of James Comey, which they say is perfectly within his legal rights to do that but also his conversations with James Comey at a time and his apparent asked according to Comey's own testimony that he dropped the Michael Flynn investigation and the loyalty pledge, of course. The White House denies that. So we'll see if the president goes under oath and says that as well. But what we learned as well that, you know, the intelligence chiefs, both Mike Rogers and Dan Coats, told Senate investigators and Bob Mueller that the president asked them to publicly say that there was no collusion, that he's not under investigation.

They did not feel that he -- that they ordered them to squash the investigation in any way. But it doesn't really matter what they felt. It matters what the president's intent was. And that's the question that Bob Mueller is going to have to decide.

KING: And it's a tough one going forward. And again it's back to the earlier point about the president's trouble with trustworthiness. The number is in the tank. If you get into a he said, he said, that's where it would be really interesting. Bob Mueller -- if and when he gets to an interview with the president, who says 100 percent he's going to do it.

Another big story this week was the "Washington Post" story, extensive reporting looking back at the Obama administration, when the Obama administration first came to understand the scope and the depth and the intent of the Russian election hacking. And in that story, we knew the broad outlines about this. That they came to be aware of it in 2016. [08:35:07] But in that story, fascinating documented sources about how

they came to conclude Putin, not just the Russian government, but Vladimir Putin directly getting involved. The president, if we could show you a little bit of the screen grab of the story that shows in "The Post," this has been dominating conversation in Washington the last few days, including one great line in it.

"It was the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend. I feel like we're sort of choked." This is a former top Obama administration official essentially to the point of saying they didn't get out in front of this before the election. They didn't inform the American people about this before the election. They didn't take a 2x4 to Russia on this question before the election. It's a pretty candid assessment that they kind of blew it.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes. And in a way this is -- Obama tried to exercise restraint in a lot of different ways, and he was criticized for that during his presidency. But in this case, there was this push and pull where they knew they were close to the election, they didn't want their decisions to be seen as political in any way. They thought Clinton was probably going to win the presidency as well.

And so they're making all these decisions in the context that isn't the actual context. Trump is going to win the presidency. It's not just this one event with the Russians. But as they later found out when they ordered the full intelligence probe, a very, very -- a piece of a very long pattern that was leading up to this point where they could have basically tied and glued all those pieces together and didn't see it.

And so this is -- and they wanted a bipartisan backing to actually do this and they didn't get it when they went to the Gang of Eight in Congress. And so this idea of err on the side of caution is what kind of led them to not make decisions to pull triggers that might have now, in retrospect, been the things that they wish they should have done.

MICHAEL BENDER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think that's one of the interesting political questions out of that story is, how much of these decisions were made based on the idea, the assumption that Clinton was going to win, which is an idea that was even prevalent within the Trump campaign at the time. But -- and now we see the president's reaction to this, right? I mean, the day before the story comes out, all this stuff about Russia and their meddling in the election is a hoax.

TALEV: It's a hoax.

BENDER: And now that it's out, now that the story has been reported it's, why hasn't Obama done something quicker?

KING: Go ahead.

DEMIRJIAN: I was going to add there's one little bit, though, in that story that I think is really interesting to note, which is that these implants that the Obama administration put into the Russian infrastructure systems to be able to be triggered at a point in the future.

KING: Cyber bomb.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. Cyber bomb, basically, that, you know, to scare Russia off basically from doing anything else bad because we could set them off, that Trump has not yet taken an action against that. So this -- again, this conflict between what Trump is saying publicly about everything with Russia is a hoax but he's not -- if he knew about it, he's not actually signing any orders.

TALEV: And what do -- what do Coats and Rogers know? What do all of --


TALEV: Those top intelligence officials know.

KING: Right. Yes. The president has to make a choice. You can't read one story in the newspaper and says it's a big deal and then go off and say it's a hoax the next day. But so it goes.

Coming up, another special election loss brings calls for Nancy Pelosi to step aside. Is the problem for Democrats the message or the messenger?



TRUMP: They thought they were going to win. And they've been unbelievably nasty. Really nasty. And they thought -- they spent close to $30 million on this kid, who forgot to live in the community that he was in. I mean, you know. Look, I'll tell you about the Democrats. I may make it a little hard to get their support but who cares.


KING: That's the president celebrating this, the big Republican win in this past week's Georgia's congressional district. The 6th District, the Republican won with nearly 52 percent of the vote. Democrats had invested a lot of time and money in this race. They hoped for a win here. So a big setback for the Democrats. But whether this is a giant indicator of the 2018 midterm climate, that's more debatable.

Let's look here. On the plus side for Democrats, they currently have an eight-point advantage when voters are asked, what do you want next year, a Democratic or Republican Congress? Democrats have an eight- point edge right now in the NBC-"Wall Street Journal" poll. Comparable to 2006 when the Democrats took back the House. A much bigger edge for Democrats now than the Republicans had in 1994 and in 2010, two huge years for Republican. So Democrats can look at that, feel reasonably confident, heading into next year.

But there are some mixed signals. Again this is good for the Democrats. When you asked who is looking out for the middle class or who is better dealing with health care, Democrats have a big edge. Republicans minus 13 points on the middle class question, Republicans minus 17 points on who's best to deal with health care question. So good news here for the Democrats.

But two issues that often drive voters? Who is best dealing with the economy, who's best to shake up Washington, D.C.? Republicans have a good edge on those issues going in.

Here is one thing Republicans look at, at this NBC-"Wall Street Journal" poll. Five tumultuous months of Trump. Right? They started this way. Add that up. 47 percent of Americans back in January said they wanted the president or Republicans in Congress taking the lead. 41 percent said they wanted Democrats taking the lead. Five months later, 45 percent for the Democrats and 46 percent for Republicans. So a slight rise for the Democrats.

But again Republicans look at the last five months and say, OK, we slipped a bit. But that's not so bad. Numbers aside, some House Democrats took the Georgia loss as a grounds for a coup.


REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO: I don't think people in the beltway are realizing just how toxic the Democratic Party brand is in so many of the country.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: You think Nancy Pelosi is more toxic than Donald Trump?

RYAN: You know what? The honest answer is, in some areas of the country, yes, she is. And I think that in certain areas like in some of these special election districts, it doesn't benefit our candidates to be tied to her.


KING: Are the Democrats overreacting, going after their leader, Nancy Pelosi, or do they have every reason? 0 for 4 in these special elections but all pretty solid Republican districts.

RAJU: They were solidly Republican districts but they used -- Republicans effectively used Nancy Pelosi as a boogie man in each of those districts, they had an enemy to run against. And look, Pelosi is defiant. She says she's not going anywhere. She's telling her critics in the Democratic caucus to bring it on. But there's no question that this is probably the weakest position that she has been in on top of her caucus because of these lingering questions about whether or not she's the right person to bring this party back to the majority and whether or not it's time for a new generation of leadership, given the fact that she is such a big target for the Republicans.

That being said, she's a powerhouse fundraiser, she has a lot of support among the left in her caucus. People have a lot of loyalty. And Democrats could still win back the House, despite all of that because of the president's poor numbers, the Democrats doing better in the generic ballot, as well as there are roughly two dozen seats that Republicans occupy in districts that Hillary Clinton won. And that's about the number they need to take back the House.

KING: Just as we continue the conversation, I just want to bring Nancy Pelosi into it because whether you're a Democrat or Republicans, whether you like Nancy Pelosi or you don't, if you love politics, if you love politics, this answer was great.


[08:45:11] REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: As far as some of the enthusiasm in my caucus, I always listen to my members. I respect the ambition that exists in any caucus. It's a part of our life.

When it comes to personal ambition, having fun on TV, have your fun. I love the arena. I thrive on competition. And I welcome the discussion. But I am honored by the support. Every action has a reaction. I try to say that to them. Every attack provokes a nest of reaction.


TALEV: Look at that smile. She would shiv you, make no mistake.


TALEV: But there is -- there is a generational divide in the Democratic Party.

KING: Right.

TALEV: They're at a crossroads. Clinton didn't work out. A lot of people think Nancy Pelosi is old news. Fine. The midterms, much like they will be for President Trump, are going to be an absolute pivotal test for Nancy Pelosi and the future of the Democratic Party.

It's hard to understand, though, the strategy behind the breakaway Democrats if they don't have enough support to put it over the top. What is the strategy dividing them Democratic Party?

KING: But if their strategy is to get Nancy Pelosi to sit down with them and others and maybe actually do what Hillary Clinton never did, have a compelling economic message, that might help.

You can't just be just anti-Trump. You can't be just let's hope the Russian investigation finds something terrible about Trump. How about being for something that affects people out there worried about paying for college or worried about getting or keeping a job.

DEMIRJIAN: That's definitely a consideration. I mean, the problem that Pelosi is going to have to balance is that it's not just them with Nancy Pelosi, Pelosi is also going to have to bring along a whole bunch of the left side of her party that is a lot more liberal than her and a lot more unwilling to make -- you know, concessions about the message, or any other number of issues. She's tried to test on certain things that have gotten her excoriated

by the more liberal wing of her party. But the other question is that, you know, it's easy to target Nancy Pelosi. And that was a message not just from people targeting her but to anybody else who was going to join them. It's easy to target her. But if she goes away, if you take her away, who comes in that actually has the tactical experience to keep a caucus that is, frankly, a frayed caucus together?

You had a big split, an eruption in the Democratic Party, during the presidential election. We've got the Hillary Clinton people, the Bernie -- somebody has to hold that together.

KING: And they're going through some of the same tensions internally that the Republicans went through in the sense that do you want to be a congressional party, do you want to be a coastal party in the Democrats' case? Or do you want to be a national party and try to win everywhere? It's a tough one.

Our reporters share from their notebooks next, including a sudden snag in bipartisan effort to slap new sanctions on Russia.


[08:51:44] KING: Let's close as we always do. Head around the INSIDE POLITICS table, ask our great reporters to share a little something from their notebooks. Get you out ahead of the big political news just around the corner. Margaret Talev?

TALEV: Well, first of all, domestic politics, there's actually a lot of foreign policy coming down the pike in the week ahead. And the most interesting visit may come with South Korea's new president. He and President Trump actually have diverging views in many ways about what to do about North Korea. He's talking about let's bring the North Koreans in for the Olympics, that sort of thing. But the death of Otto Warmbier and the new South Korean president's press for China to do more may give them some common ground to move forward. It'll be a really interesting meeting to watch.

KING: Back on the world stage. It's fun to watch. Manu?

RAJU: John, Harry Reid, the former Senate Democratic leader, may have retired from Congress but doesn't mean he's out of the scene. Actually behind the scenes he played an instrumental role in getting Jackie Rosen, the Democratic congresswoman, to announce her Senate candidacy against Republican Dean Heller. And of course, her -- she's viewed as a top tiered candidate by both Republicans and Democrats and her candidacy is viewed as one reason why Dean Heller may eventually be a no vote on this bill because this is going to be a very tough race for her.

Reid, of course, was -- for him, I should say. And Reid of course was instrumental in getting the health care bill passed in 2009 and before Brian Sandoval and Dean Heller had that press conference on Friday, guess who met with Brian Sandoval beforehand -- Harry Reid.

KING: Gone but not gone.

All right, Michael?

BENDER: Right now, John, there are two totally separate press teams operating inside the White House. One that we all know of is the one headed by Sean Spicer, who's been a target of President Trump basically since day one of the administration and is overseeing a reorganization of that office that he may or may not be a part of in the end.

Lesser known is a separate team, deeper inside the White House, that is basically attached with protecting the family. The president, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. What I'll be watching for in the next couple of weeks is whether or not these two teams will be merged as part of this reorganization.

KING: Maybe we can get the family team to do audio-only briefings for us as well. Never mind. Karoun?

DEMIRJIAN: We've been calling this fits and starts of all these different Russia probes competing on Capitol Hill to an extent that, you know, is overwhelming. But the place where Congress can actually have the most real and most impactful effect is in the sanctions bill that are right now is sitting, stalling in front of the House. In the next few days, we're going to see signs about whether the House is actually going to move this forward or they're going to just hold back.

And the reason this is important is because there's a provision in this bill that actually checks and ties the president's hands on what he can or can't do, vis-a-vis pulling back Russia sanctions that people think may be advantageous to his policy, to his personal bottom line, to a whole bunch of other things. Right now my sources are telling me that people in the House do want to move forward. But the question is, will the president exert enough pressure over the leadership as he's planning to, to make that stop in its tracks and what results will show you basically how Congress and the administration are going to be facing off in all of these matters going on the wind.

KING: It's a big test and a big question. I'll close with this. Yes. Deep doubts about President Trump offer Democrats a big organizing framework heading into the 2018 midterms. But halfway through 2017, voters identify little positive about the Democratic brand. Even its big edge on the question of which party best looks out for the middle class isn't as big as it once was.

As the party debates its leadership and its message, here are some very telling words from the veteran Democratic pollster, Peter Hart.

[08:55:03] He writes this in his analysis of the latest NBC-"Wall Street Journal" poll, quote, "The numbers that look good for the Democratic Party are really negative results about the Republican Party and Donald Trump." Hart goes on to say, and Democrats should take note of this, quote, "None of these numbers tells a single positive story of Democratic achievement." Yes, Republicans have problems but Democrats, ouch.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again thanks for sharing your Sunday. Up next "STATE OF THE UNION." Have a great day.