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Trump Escalates Media Attacks; Critics Slam Trump; Health Care Bill Debate; Vote Not Likely Next Week. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 3, 2017 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:42] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

President Trump working the phones today, touching base with world leaders in advance of a big trip that includes his first face-to-face with Vladimir Putin.


REP. JIM HIMES (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Trying to predict President Trump is a -- is a fool's errand. You know, I have to assume that there's going to be a lot of discussion about Syria, which will be very important. Hopefully a reference to the situation in Ukraine, which is also pretty dire. I have very little confidence that the president will bring up the Russian attack on our voting system last November.


KING: More on that in a moment.

Congress is home for the Fourth of July, but talks on a Senate Obamacare replacement deal continue. And, yes, it's complicated.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I mean the bill is just being lit up like a Christmas tree full of billion dollar ornaments and it's not repeal. We don't repeal the regulations. We don't repeal the subsidies.


KING: And the president adds a body slam to his war on the media and a style he calls "modern day presidential."


THOMAS BOSSERT, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: He's the most genuine president and the most non-politician president that we've seen in my lifetime. And he's demonstrated, whatever the content of that particular tweet is or any tweet, he's demonstrated a genuine ability to communicate to the people.


KING: That's one take.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, Karoun Demirjian of "The Washington Post," Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times" Perry Bacon of FiveThirtyEight and Betsy Woodruff of "The Daily Beast."

Consistency is not a Trump trademark. The president has abandoned campaign promises on immigration, China, Medicaid, the export/import bank and more, including, yes, yes, golfing. He put himself front and center at a big Rose Garden celebration of the House health care plan. Then he found out what was in it and called it mean. The one constant is his war on the media and he is turning up the volume. This Saturday night at what was supposed to be a tribute to veterans.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fake media is trying to silence us, but we will not let them because the people know the truth. The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House, but I'm president and they're not.


KING: And then this Sunday morning.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's going to happen?


KING: The president calls such things "modern day presidential." Whatever you call it, we should not be surprised. This president sometimes switches positions on policy in the same speech. But the media whining is his gospel, spelled out by his chief strategist one week into the new administration. Quote, "the media here is the opposition party," Steven Bannon told "The New York Times." "They don't understand this country."

And so there we are on Monday heading into July 4th.

We should not be surprised by this and I think sometimes people in our business get overly whiney about it.


KING: As the president whines about us --


KING: The president whines about us, we whine back. But this is clearly a political strategy. Clearly designed to keep his base locked in. What else is it?

MARTIN: I totally agree that we shouldn't whine back. We should just cover him for what he is. And we should also cover the fact that it does not get him five more Senate votes. There is no obscure senate rule that says if you have a good tweet content you get five more votes. And the fact is, is that all the attacks on the fake news media don't move Shelley Moore Capito, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Dean Heller. They're still nos on health care. Nothing else matters right now. And so the obsession over what he tweeted -- and I get it that we have to cover this, but it doesn't change the fact that his agenda is stalled and that's the really story I think right now in this presidency.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": If you want to give him the benefit of thinking that this is a strategy and not just an impulse sort of a move that he does this, but he thinks it out, then you could say maybe, maybe it's to rile up his base and that's a little bit of saber rattling for some of these people like Dean Heller that have a 2018 race, but it's not really working. He particularly does not seem to be perturbed by that. It's distracting the cable attention. He watches the cable shows. It's potentially like distracting the negative attention on the policy matters away from that because we're discussing this. But its (INAUDIBLE) --

MARTIN: But it's not even aimed at the Dean Hellers of the world.

KING: Right.


MARTIN: It's just -- it's just hitting the media generally. The one time they actually took aim at their own party in those commercials against Dean Heller, the second that Heller and Mitch McConnell complained in a White House meeting about it, they yanked the ads off the air.

[12:05:10] DEMIRJIAN: Right. Right.

MARTIN: So it's just mostly complaining about the media, but it's not aimed to actually moving Senate votes, which is the whole issue now.

DEMIRJIAN: No, it's just showing his people that that's (INAUDIBLE).


KING: And the president goes to a veteran's event and lashes out at the media. The president, on Sunday morning, when a lot of people are going to church or sitting at home having breakfast with their family, posts a video, you know, doctors in the CNN logo, lashes out at the media. Then his staff goes on television and complains that we're covering what the president said and did.

BETSY WOODRUFF, "THE DAILY BEAST": It's really extraordinary. That said, we have to give him credit for being consistent on the media. He's been all over the board on just about everything else except trade. But when it comes to bashing reporters, he's extremely thorough and consistent about it.

That said, this isn't something new to his time at president. For his entire career, he's been aware of the power, influence, role the media plays in the American political and cultural conversation. He watches cable news from the White House the way that a TV executive watches. He pays attention to chyrons, he pays attention to graphics, he keeps an eye on hair and makeup, how the visuals look, not just the way a typical TV viewer would watch TV. And part of the reason his tweets get him in so much trouble is he's live tweeting the shows he's watching's. When he digs himself into the biggest holes, like the Joe and Mika thing last week, it wasn't about policy, it wasn't about Congress, it was about cable news. And that's something that I think is just crucial to understanding his presidency, that it goes back years and years to his life, his career as a voracious consumer of television media.

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: You know, my concern is not just like at the media as such, but about the sort of war at times the White House has had on independent facts and independent ideas.

KINGA: Right.

BACON: Like the fact that they're bashing the CBO constantly is basically like the media -- no, there's no kind of objective reality in the world, and they're constantly fighting that. And that I am concerned about, is CNN being a part of trying to create and trying to show what is reality in our culture.

KING: Well, he beats up on news organizations, that say (ph), and maybe we don't give enough credit for some of the executive actions he's taken, but that say he promised a wall, the Congress won't pay for the wall.

MARTIN: Right.


KING: They promised to repeal Obamacare. He said it would be easy. We're almost six months in and it's very hard. We could go on and on with the list. And you do that. And he -- there's another network he doesn't criticize where they -- when they interview him, they ask him, sir, we're confused, are you excellent or are you extraordinary?

But let's -- let's get into the part of this debate. Here's Republican Congressman Scott Taylor, who I think has a pretty good take here. He says the president knows how to drive the content, the conversations on television. He wants it to be about him.


REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: I think you -- I think you guys are getting played, man. I think every time he does this, you guys overreact and I said you guys, I mean the media in general, you overreact and you play right into his hands. I don't think any American, most Americans, excuse me, certainly some, maybe, but most Americans out there believe that he's incite violence from a WWF clip. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, I want to pick up on the last part because there was a conversation, if you looked at social media yesterday, was the president inciting, encouraging, giving a green light to violence against journalists. I don't take it that way, although I do think, you know, you certainly can. Anyone watching that certainly can. Knowing this president's history, as you mentioned, I took it as something else. It's more of his way of punching, but not -- not a physical way.

But here's, you know, Richard Haass, who's the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, says "POTUS inciting violence versus journalism, only a matter of time before someone actually does it. Suspect this in Erdogan's Turkey, not in the United States."

And interesting -- the way -- when I look at members of Congress, Mike Kaufman, swing district in Colorado, a Republican congressman but it's a swing district, a tough district --


KING: You know, he tweeted yesterday, "that's exactly what I meant when I said stop the Twitter tantrums." Those Republican members of Congress worry about this from a -- if Trump is not all that popular in their districts, they worry that it poisons the water back home.

DEMIRJIAN: Which is potentially does for some of these people who are trying to, you know, are not necessarily catering to an electorate that is all Trump Republicans and need to worry about that.

But, I mean, it's -- it may not be a total inciting to violence, but it's certainly something in between where it's making it OK. It's making it palatable. It's making it, you know, a normal part of the conversation if the president is doing it. And that may not be going so far as to say, go beat up the media, which is certainly, you know, the gold standard against the president (ph).

KING: It does tell you this White House has a strategy. And, again, we should not be surprised by this. Sometimes when the president, you know, doesn't do more to reach out to Democrats, people say, why isn't he reaching out to Democrats. They have decided, they got elected on this base --

MARTIN: Right.

KING: And that's what they're going to keep here. I just would remind people, when the president gets mad at us when we raise these questions, look at the polling. The American people have questions about his temperament. Is he intelligent? Yes. Six in ten Americans say the president's intelligent. Does he have good leadership skills? A majority say no. Is he honest? Nearly six in 10 say no. Is he level headed? That's almost two-thirds of the American people. That's a lot of Republicans who say, no, their president is not level headed. And I suspect -- this poll was taken last week -- I suspect tweets like --


KING: The body slam don't help.


BACON: Go ahead.

WOODRUFF: I think level headed, though, can be, in some cases, code for insider establishment boring, and Trump ran on a platform of being somebody who'd shake things up and drain the swamp and take these really dramatic actions. So, obviously, for most of us, it's a negative to be considered not level headed. I think for a lot of Trump supporters, they like that he's very brash. They like that he's willing to buck norms. I mean if you look at Trump Reddit, for instance, they were thrilled with the fact that he tweeted that WWE video.

[12:10:22] KING: Right.

WOODRUFF: So I think -- I think for context on that, it's important to remember, that the things that most Republicans, most politicians, try to avoid, Trump kind of embraces and sometimes makes work for him.

BACON: He's saying it's a political strategy. I think this -- right, attacking the media is part of his brand. That said, I'm not convinced Republicans love this either. And the number I would say is, his approve rating of the Republicans in the 80s, like low 80s. Usually first year of your term, your own people in your own party are in the 90s, 95s. So it suggests to me that even as a political strategy, I'm not sure this is the best one. He should probably be in his first year -- like, you know, he was elected in a controversial way the way George W. Bush was, but George W. Bush tried to broaden out that coalition some and get his numbers up, at least in his first term, made it easier to win a second term. I'm not sure Trump is pursuing a strategy I think is that smart, even if it is a strategy.

KING: But clearly a deliberate part of this from day one has been to undermine the credibility of any organization that might question the president. Question his strategy, question his policies, put up a scorecard that says Obamacare is still the law of the land, they haven't built the wall, and so on and so forth. Listen to Republican Senator Ben Sasse, who's on "State of the Union" with Jake Tapper yesterday and he says, look, the president has every right to complain about coverage he doesn't like, but --


SEN. BEN SASSE (R) NEBRASKA: I mean there's an important distinction to draw between bad stories or crappy coverage and the right that citizens have to argue about that and complain about that and trying to weaponize distrust.


KING: Weaponize distrust. It's an interesting way to put it in the sense that the president does not want his bases especially to trust people who are critical of him. He says everything critical, any poll that's critical is fake news. Any report that's critical is fake news, despite the fact that it's based on fact.

MARTIN: Yes, and that's how you, I think in part, keep your base, by trying to delegitimize the mainstream press. And if you looked, as I did yesterday, at the front pages of major papers across the country, here's what they were focused on. It wasn't Trump's tweets. You know what it was? It was Medicaid --

BACON: Medicaid, yes.

MARTIN: And health care broadly. And, John, to your point, I think this is why Trump wants to create this dynamic with the media because if his supporters don't believe those stories about folks losing health care coverage, or folks losing, you know, Medicaid, if they have disability, then I -- I think that the assumption is that his party will suffer less at the polls next year if folks don't believe that. The problem, though, is, that if people don't have their coverage next year, it doesn't matter what he does or doesn't say, it's going to be their lived reality.

KING: Yes, it --


KING: Yes. Right, it won't be fake policy if they cut back the Medicaid or if they change health insurance. That will be your real life and not fake policy. That's an excellent point.

Everybody sit tight.

Next, the Senate majority leader likens the health care debate to solving a Rubik's cube. If only it were that easy.


[12:17:29] KING: Welcome back.

So how are the Senate Republican health care negotiations going? Well, it depends on who you ask. The White House's appointment with Congress says things are getting close. The Senate majority leader says he's still working to find 50 votes for one big bill to repeal and replace. But conservatives, not impressed.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I don't think we're getting anywhere with the bill we have. We're at an impasse. Every time you add more federal money, more spending for the big government Republicans, it offends the conservatives. So right now this bill, which is not a repeal, has become the kitchen sink.


KING: Now, if conservatives like Rand Paul had their way, there would be two steps. One vote on repeal and then debate on replace. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: Sometimes when you lump too many things into one piece of legislation, you doom its likelihood of success. And I fear that that might be where we are today.


KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill with more on both the process and the substance debates.

Hey, Phil.


Look, on the process, the separate repeal and replace option is not the option. As you noted, Mitch McConnell making very clear, they're still planning on going forward with both. And there's a lot of external political issues here right now when you talk about senators being home for recess and the pressure that can put on them. But behind the scene, it's the policy here that really matters. And if you look at what this bill does, at least the proposal, if you look at the moderate centers, the senators not just from Medicaid expansion states but from states with large Medicaid populations just in general, they're taking a look at this bill and looking at the changes, reforms to the program itself, seeing reductions in spending in the second decade of up to 35 percent for the program. A change in how federal spending is actually applied to the program. Now, that's something conservatives have always wanted. But when you come from a state that has a very vulnerable population, that's problematic because the state is going to have to pick up that money right now. And I think we talk to a lot of these senators, they're very wary that that could actually happen. So they want more money over there.

But I think the real focus right now, John, is on the conservatives. And if you look at what they want, obviously they want as much of the Obamacare infrastructure kind of taken away as possible. And where that stands, it's all about regulations. And when that matters, Ted Cruz matters. Specifically one of his proposals. And it is this. And it could be crucial to unlocking conservative votes. What Ted Cruz is proposing is, for any exchange or any insurer that offers an ACA compliant plan on the regulatory side of things, they must offer one that's not. Essentially what that would mean is pre-existing conditions and essential health benefits, all of these really key protections that are required by the Affordable Care Act wouldn't be available. Now that would certainly drive premiums down for those plans, but the real problems would be, do Republican senators really want to deal with preexisting conditions? And perhaps, more importantly, would insurance markets be able to handle that? The big question is, where are senators on this? The Senate majority leader, other members of leadership have been very warry of this idea. But listen to what White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short had to say.

[12:20:18] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN ROBERTS, CBS ANCHOR: Are you worried that they'll push it so far to the right that you're going to lose a lot of those moderates that you need to have?

MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS DIRECTOR: No, not at all. We support Senator Cruz and Senator Lee's efforts. This is similar to efforts that transpired in the House and we think that it's perfectly appropriate, his amendment, and so we hope it's part of the process in bringing everybody together.


MATTINGLY: Now, John, to me, my ears perked up because that sounded a lot like an endorsement or at least kind of a tacit endorsement. And what that means going forward, whether the White House gets behind this proposal that has kind of a lot of wary senators right now could be a very, very important issue as they try and map all of this out. Again, a lot of questions. They're not close to 50 yet. But these are kind of the dynamics of a debate that we're going to see kind of come to a head here in the next couple of weeks.

KING: Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill. Phil, say hi to the tourists for us up there as well.

It's an interesting point is that the bill moves to the right, and the White House seems to be saying that's OK with us. Mitch McConnell can only lose two. If the bill moves to the right, that means you're going to lose Susan Collins and Dean Heller.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: The question is, can you lose only those two or do you also lose Lisa Murkowski and Rob Portman and so on and so forth. You mentioned Shelley Moore Capito in the last debate. How does he make this math work?

DEMIRJIAN: I don't know that he does because maybe you could say, well, you know, you can throw some opioid addiction money there into the pot there.

MARTIN: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: But then Kasich was on television today, the Ohio governor, who's also a Republican, saying that's just an effort to buy you off. He's put that out there for the Ohio voters, you know, don't fall for this crap, basically. So if you -- you're talking Shelley Moore Capito has to then, you know, somehow be convinced. You're talking about Lisa Murkowski. There's others there too that we -- we haven't heard Jeff Flake talk all that much, but he's also from a Medicaid expansion state and so it puts all of these people in a strange bind where they're going to have to face the political pressure and say no to the political pressure. But, you know, if Trump is thinking, I can't lose the House because if I go too far towards the middle I'll lose the House, then he may lose the Senate before it even gets back to the House (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Well, I was going to say, because otherwise if you move it to the left --


KING: To get Collins, to get Heller, to get Portman, Moore Capito and Flake, then you lose Lee, Cruz and Rand Paul. And there's -- (INAUDIBLE) on that side, which is why -- let's listen to Mitch McConnell. Imagine yourself trying to figure out the Rubik's cube and meet the Senate majority leader.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm sitting there with a Rubik's cube trying to figure out how to twist the dials to get to 50 to replace this with something better. The American people said we elected a Republican president, a Republican House and Republican Senate, we want to see some results. And I can't say anything other than I agree with you. But it's not easy. And we're going to continue to wrestle with this and try to get it done.


KING: He went on to say during his trip home, it's not easy making America great again, is it? That was --

MARTIN: That was pretty self-aware of Mitch McConnell, by the way.

BACON: Yes. Yes.

MARTIN: For a guy who plays his card close to the vest, it's fascinating to watch that clip back home because he's usually very sort of tacit turned (ph). And to sort of say out loud that, yes, you guys elected Republicans, he wants stuff done, I don't believe that --

KING: I think that's a message --

MARTIN: Fascinating.

KING: That's a message, though, because he knows there's no policy solution to 50 votes.



KING: You can't turn the cubes to get those more moderates we talked about and keep the conservatives. You can't turn it to get the conservatives and keep the moderates.


KING: So I think his argument in the end is, I've done the best I could. We have to pass something --


KING: Because we promised we would pass something. MARTIN: Yes.

WOODRUFF: And I'm very skeptical that the Ted Cruz, Mike Lee alternative is a silver bullet that will get this done. It's certainly an interesting policy idea to put out there. But any time you start talking about people losing coverage for pre-existing conditions, all of the moderates get very antsy, get very concerned.

Now, perhaps the subtext here though is that in other, you know, corners, as far as the policy world in D.C., there is some weird optimism that if health care fails, it could make tax reform easier because the president would be so desperate for a win. So maybe the sunny side up that McConnell is thinking about is, we'll do the best we can and see what happens.

KING: And so you mentioned this earlier, the -- this president has an amazing communications platform. He has his followers on Twitter. He has the Rose Garden.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: He's a great communicator. He tweeted out over the weekend support for what the conservatives are saying, if you can't get a deal in the next few days, split it. Do repeal and replace. That is not what the majority leader wants. But is that the administrational policy? Again, it depends who you ask.


TOM PRICE, HHS SECRETARY: No, we don't think so. We think that Leader McConnell and his senators within the Senate are working to try to get this piece of legislation on track.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: It could either be repealed and replaced at the same time or you could do what happened in the 2015 Senate bill where every Republican senator who was there, except for one, voted and they voted to immediately do away with it, penalties and taxes, under Obamacare, to they dealt with Medicaid as well.


KING: When the leader in the Senate has said -- talking about splitting this undermines what I'm trying to do, why would the president tweet it and why would Kellyanne Conway go on television and say, you know, that's OK?

[12:25:02] WOODRUFF: On top of that, the really amazing irony here is that months ago, when the health care conversations were first kicking off, McConnell and Ryan were both open to the idea of doing first a clean repeal and then a replace. But they heard from the White House that's not going to work, that's too complicated, it will be a mess. They decided not to and now all of a sudden the president's saying, never mind, that's what I want to do. I mean the president's gong to have a huge credibility problem. BACON: We should note, I at last -- I at least -- I sounded like that

in March and April. The White House seems confused. The divide in the House and the Senate, the House, between the moderates and the conservatives, and then a bill passed.

KING: Right.

BACON: So we should be clear that it seems hard, but this party is really driven by the idea of getting rid of things that Obama did, particularly Obamacare.


BACON: So I do think we should be open to the fact that maybe they'll get there just because everybody wants to get there.

KING: A secret plan. Maybe they will. Maybe they will. Up next, the president is prepping or a big international trip. And in addition to dealing with Vladimir Putin, some progress against ISIS could soon force some tough choices.


KING: President Trump's prep work for a big economic summit includes calls today with the leaders of Germany, France and Italy. The biggest headline on the G-20 agenda, the president's first face-to-face with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. In a moment, the question of whether President Trump will rebuke Putin for Russian election interference.