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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Calls Leaders Of Germany, France, Italy; CNN: Trump Plans To Focus On Syria, Ukraine in Putin Meeting; Christie Has Historically Low Approval Rating; N.J. Lt. Gov. Slams Christie For Using Closed Beach. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 3, 2017 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: -- 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. First though, there's no doubt Syria will come up in that meeting and some progress in the war against ISIS could bring some very tough choices to the President's desk soon.

Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon for us with more. Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hi John. Well, you know, we know now from the White House that the two leaders are going to discuss Syria. We don't know exactly what they're going to talk about, but as you say, on the table, here's the way it looks right now.

The fighters that the U.S. has been backing for months, the so-called SDF, Syrian Democratic Forces, are making progress towards getting to Raqqa and fighting to get ISIS out of Raqqa, its self-declared capital in Syria. That will, by any measure, be an extremely important victory in the war against ISIS. But if they get it back, now the problem for President Trump is it opens up a whole host of new problems, and mainly, Russian backing of Bashar al Assad.

You know, this is still Assad's country. The fighters might get Raqqa back, but what is President Trump do for them to be able to hold on to Raqqa? The billions of dollars in reconstruction, the civilian government that would have to be installed there, and what happens if Assad backed by Russia, also backed by Iran begins to move his forces towards Raqqa again?

That could happen in the coming months, and will the fighters that the U.S. backs be able to hold them off? Will this be some separate enclave? Because right now U.S. policy doesn't really address the issue of the Trump administration trying to get Assad out of power. It's something that the two men may well talk about, not clear they'll have a solution. John.

KING: Something to keep an eye on. Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon.

Barbara raises a fascinating question. This is part of the idea. We know the President campaigned saying he'd like to have a good relationship with Putin. We know the election meddling and other developments including Russian behavior in Ukraine have made that less and less likely. But we have had in the past presidents who are mad at a country, a big country like Russia about one thing but have to work with him on others. President Obama worked with Putin on the Iran nuclear deal. At least conversed from time to time about Syria.

Put it this way, this President has not articulated a clear Syria policy yet. Is this the moment?

BETSY WOODRUFF, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, we have to wait and see. And remember, Obama didn't ever clearly articulate what he wanted to do in Syria either, so this is --

KING: After the red line collapsed.

WOODRUFF: Exactly, exactly. This is a long running problem, it's a major issue for folks in defense. Because they're not exactly sure what the goal is. And it stands in sharp contrast to Putin's policy in Syria. Putin knows exactly what he wants, he wants Assad in power. After ISIS is driven out, he wants Assad to control more territory than before once access to the World War I report.

Trump and the United States have been very vague about this. At best what you hear is some sort of loosely partitions, confederation, maybe Assad will control part of it. That's not a way to handle a military conflict and eventually Trump's going to figure it out.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: The problem is that, he doesn't have as many choices to make in the situation as Obama did. I mean, one, this is a new conflict, there is more that United States could do to throw its weight around. Russia has worked its way in, it's established also. You're talking about Donald Trump versus Vladimir Putin. Donald Trump is a neophyte at this politics game. Vladimir Putin is the best in the business. He's among the best in the business at least. He's, you know, FSB trained. I mean, he is former KGB -- excuse me, I'm messing at my acronyms.

Anyway, the point is, the guy knows how to read people. He knows how to play the political map, he knows how to smell weaknesses in other people and he knows how to control things. So he may just bring Trump along for a ride in which case, it's going to be him dictating what would be a good way to go forward and not necessarily our President.

KING: And Assad is his guys, Putin's guy, and Assad is in power which makes -- you run ISIS out and you hand a gift to Assad. We'll say as that plays out. What is the expectation? Here's what H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser said about the agenda.

Quote, there's no specific agenda. It's really going to be whatever the President wants to talk about. Here, whether it's Republican hawks or Democrats in Congress all say he better and well better raise the election meddling.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes.

KING: The White House has said, we don't know if it will come up or not. Can the President of the United States after what happened in the 2016 election -- I mean, first meeting with the Russian President and not rebuke him for the Kremlin meddling?

WOODRUFF: Given here the President of the United States is, I think the answer to that is yes. That certainly something in Trump's wheelhouse to not rebuke him over that.

KING: But there are smiles at the table -- I'm sorry for interrupting but that's not funny. That's not funny if you're thinking about the United States brand whether you're thinking about in the rearview mirror or thinking about 20 years ahead., 2018 midterm elections, 2020 re-election campaign for this President, it would be stunning, except nobody would be surprised by it.

JONATHAN MARTIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, that's why we're smiling because the answer to your question is of course it wouldn't be surprising if he doesn't do that, because this President does not adhere to longstanding American political norms. We knew that for the year and a half that he ran for president and guess what? He got the nomination and won the presidency because his party didn't really care that much about the fact that he flagrantly, discarded longstanding American political norms.

[12:35:06] And so this is where we are. He's now the President of the United States. So why should we assume that he suddenly going to confront Putin about their meddling in the election when for the last year and a half he's done things his way and his base does not care.

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: The difference should be he doesn't seem to really think this is a big issue. I mean, Comey talked about it in his testimony couple of months ago that Trump never asked me about what happened to Russia. This is very little interest at least from the President. His staff feels differently, but the cabinets are going to still feel differently.

The President is not very focused on -- because, you know, Russia's not interfering in our election, they've done in other elections as well. They could in 2018 or 2020. Trump is not raising these issues. He's not the president -- he may not bring it up because I don't get a sense that he -- for him that's an issue about you're undermining my election victory not about American security.

WOODRUFF: And the other thing is to hear is that, if Trump isn't willing to go hard after Putin when he is in the United States and Putin is in Russia and they're divided by an ocean, it seems very unlikely that when they're in the room together, when there's that physical presence of these two men with enormous personalities, then all of a sudden Trump will find, you know, conviction and unwillingness to --

MARTIN: And Trump has a history of confrontation in person. Everybody who covers the White House knows that your fired tag line is richly ironic because the guy can't fire anybody. So, if he can't even fire his own campaign staff, how is he going to sit face-to-face with a Russian leader? He's flattered him by the way for years now and confront him? It's not who he is, right?

KING: So you spent some time reporting in Moscow before you came back to Washington. What will Putin take away from a meeting, a first meeting with President Trump, if President Trump does not mention what, yes, Russia has done this for years, yes, Russia is doing this actively in Europe as we speak. But from a U.S. perspective, every intelligence agency says it was unprecedented in 2016. If the President of the United States doesn't even mention it, what is Putin's take away?

DEMIRJIAN: Possibly as much as getting his compound stock. I mean -- actually we're in a situation of right now is that the Russians want their compounds in New York and Maryland back. That Obama's said that they were using for intelligence gathering purposes that may have contributed to the crisis we're in. You have a president who is saying -- who's unable to disassociate the allegations about himself from the problem that exists of Russian meddling in this country where it's being played out as it has in other countries as Perry said.

And if you -- and you also in the administration who would actually been floating the idea, well, maybe we should offer them carrots not sticks. And those compounds are part of this. They've talked about, you know, not wand (ph) their hands tied on sanctions. Remember, Congress is considering a sanctions bill right now that will be pretty, pretty severe and that hasn't gone far enough. The President still has the authority.

So Putin may walk away with a lot, actually because he may be able to convince Trump that he needs -- that the United States needs to give Russia something for Russia to play ball. And if he's able to spin that better than Trump is able to command the situation, we may end up in a very different situation.

KING: Perhaps he will surprise us. The President has surprised us in the past so we'll see what happens, a very big week ahead.

Up next, I should mention this, President Trump plans a quick return to Europe after the G20. He's accepted an invitation to visit Paris for Bastille Day celebrations. And, French authorities over the weekend charging a 23-year-old male with plotting to assassinate the French President, Emmanuel Macron, during those festivities. The suspect was arrested after authorities were alerted to an online effort to buy an assault rifle.

Next, no joke. Will a guy driving an Uber in Iowa this weekend challenged President Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:42:28] KING: All right, a little politics now. Listen here. The question, straightforward. The answer, not so much.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAKE TAPPER, THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER HOST: Is there any chance that you'll challenge President Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020?

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: Well, first of all, let's be clear why I'm going to be in Iowa this weekend. I don't want to admit it anywhere let alone on national TV but Nebraska lost to Iowa last year in a football game and I lost a bet. So I have to drive Uber in Iowa next weekend. So that's the reason I'm going to be in Iowa. It's about Hawkeyes and Huskers bloodletting on the football field and the aftermath of that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: A note for the record, Senator Sasse did not rule out challenging the President in 2020 which gets me back to the question. Could a guy driving an Uber in Iowa this weekend challenge the President in the primaries as a Republican in 2020?

BACON: I think this guy definitely is thinking about it. If you watch him, he's trying to frame himself as the (INAUDIBLE). He's got a book out. It's not about politics. His tweets are constantly about the need for civility in politics. It's not subtle who he's talking about.

Also, Tom Cotton has been to Iowa too, and John Kasich has been to New Hampshire already. If he go to Iowa or New Hampshire, he is -- without question, you're trying to increase speculation about what you're doing next. So --

KING: But it takes courage to challenge a sitting president.

BACON: It does.

KING: And if you watched what happened, Trump chainsawed 16 other people in the 2016 primaries. People with a lot of political experience. The question is, if it was one-on-one or two-on-one, could it happen? And I would note this, the President had a fundraiser at his hotel here in Washington last week, raised $10 million. Even before that, he had raised $7.1 million already in the first three months this year. They're doing that on purpose. They're doing that to send a statement. Don't do it.

MARTIN: Yes. Look, I think that it's hard to beat a sitting president when you primary them, but you can really wound them. Look at the elections where incumbent presidents have lost in modern American history, 1976, 1980, 1992. What all three have in common, the sitting president was challenged at a serious primary before he lost the general election, all those races, so Trump could be wounded.

But guys, I think we're looking way too much in the future right now. Who the heck knows what the world looks like in the winter of 2020 or late 2019? What's Trump doing at that point --

KING: By 2018 midterm elections -- what happens to the party in 20 -- if the party gets wiped out in 2018, there will be a rationale to do it, at least.

DEMIRJIAN: Right.

MARTIN: Absolutely. WOODRUFF: You know, what's interesting thing about Sasse is that he hasn't actually backed Trump on many policy issues. He's always been at the forefront for criticizing Trump's demeanor, the way he talks about the press. But when it comes to votes to what Sasse uses his power, to the U.S. senator (INAUDIBLE), he's not someone who is really causing that much trouble for him.

[12:45:05] I mean, he's not someone who's making a lot of noise about health care. If Sasse were to run against Trump it would be hard for him to draw much of a contrast beyond just the midwestern --

KING: And for one of the -- so this constant talk that, you know, Donald Trump was not a Republican, he was a Democrat then was an Independent rather than Republican, it is his party now, that's the point I want to make. But Sasse, you're right, he's not really harsh in his criticism. He's questioned the President's tone, questioned his tweets. Not terribly harsh and yet listen to the Iowa Republican Party chairman here commenting on the great senator from Nebraska.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF KAUFMANN, IOWA GOP CHAIRMAN: We had Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska. He crosses the Missouri River and in that sanctimonious tone talks about what he doesn't like about Donald Trump, what he doesn't like about Donald Trump. You know what, Senator Sasse, I really don't care what you like. We love Donald Trump, and if you don't love him, I suggest you stay on your side of the Missouri River.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The point --

MARTIN: He is Donald Trump party, men.

KING: -- that the point being -- since winning, the President and his organization have put their people in, you know, have their people in the states in the right places.

MARTIN: Well, and, look, the voters in Iowa are directing Jeff Kaufmann there. Jeff Kaufmann is looking at the polling. I mean, guess what, the ranking file Iowa conservative activists like Trump. Also, Jeff Kaufmann got a guarantee from Trump early-on caucuses, but guess what? Donald Trump is going to guarantee Iowa's first in the nation status. But that is also in the back of his mind. I should add too into politics there as well.

KING: Gambling in the casino.

MARTIN: Yes, absolutely. As long as the ranking file voters are just fine with Trump and as long as he is not violating party orthodoxy, he's really not at this point, I just don't think it's going to be a factor. Now look, if Steve Bannon somehow got his way and Donald Trump came out for a tax increase on the top bracket, now that would be fascinating, right? Because -- then you're talking about violating party orthodox in a way that Trump has not yet.

KING: All right, then you have a Pat Buchanan, no new taxes -- Read my lips, no new taxes.

MARTIN: That's right.

KING: We'll a fun one like that. A long way to go but we got to watch these guys and if you see an Uber driver in Iowa this weekend who looks familiar Ben Sasse, get him on the record.

Up next, there's no lifeguard to save Chris Christie from himself.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:51:20] KING: Welcome back. It's summer. The July 4th holiday and in New Jersey that means the shore, and Springsteen tunes. But there was no one bopping down the beach with the radio yesterday except for the New Jersey governor and his invited guests.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I said last Monday, a week ago today, that no matter what happens, we were coming here as a family this weekend. This is where we live. One of the places we live.

And so, what a great bit of journalism by The Star-Ledger. They actually caught a politician being where he said he was going to be with the people he said he was going to be with, his wife and his children and their friends. And so, it's really a bit of -- I'm sure they're going to get a Pulitzer for this one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's Governor Christie, they are bit surly, if you didn't notice, trying to justify these pictures. He and his family alone toes in the sand while the rest of his state, well, couch-ridden barred from the state-run beaches after Christie responded to a budget stalemate by closing all public tourists attractions. If those weren't enough to get his constituents angry, this will. The governor insists he wasn't doing what you just saw him doing. Tanning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: No, I didn't, Claude, but go ahead. I didn't get any sun today. I'm done. We're talking about the closure of government and you're talking about your TMZ stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: One New Jersey paper ran this headline to sum up Christie's attitude as he run out his clock in office. "Let Them Eat Funnel Cake".

MARTIN: That's pretty good. Always good to have it (INAUDIBLE).

KING: The legislature is in emergency session right now trying to break the budget impasse. You know, he's authentic, I guess is the right way to put it. Would you close state-run beaches and then go to the state beach if you're the governor? MARTIN: Not if you are looking to run for president but those days are behind him. It's remarkable. The thing about the rise and fall. The numbers he had in that state and where he is now -- John, you're a baseball fan -- he is nearing the political Mendoza line which in baseball is 200 of politics. He is nearing single digit potential. He's 15% approval now --

KING: Put up the Quinnipiac Poll as John have been talked to you. This is the governor's approval rating.

MARTIN: He could fall now below 10% given this story. It's so easy to understand as you said. I mean, you can't take advantage of something when your own voters are not able to access the beach. It kind of infuriates them and he's so cavalier about it which is sort of his way. But I think that that reflects somebody who is looking in the rearview mirror at his career in politics, at least.

KING: And if we show you the Jersey Journal, "Jersey to Christie: Get the Heck off the Beach". I mean, they're having fun with this. You know, it's feisty.

MARTIN: Her -- yes.

KING: Politics is feisty in New Jersey. You got to like that. Would you have gone to the beach?

WOODRUFF: Probably not. I think not. I like to tell myself I wouldn't have. I mean, he's the grinch who stole the Fourth of July. How do you clean up after that? It's just -- the visuals are catastrophic.

MARTIN: Well, he lied about it, too, right? He said no sun today at a press conference. And then --

KING: He had a hat on. He had a hat on.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: That's good incredible, right?

DEMIRJIAN: The crazy thing is that the photographer, they actually will side piece in The Star-Ledger, the photographer is pretty sure that Christie met him that they made eye contact who doesn't paying enough and doing several passes and then he went and lied about it anyway. Well, that's right, that is more than why.

KING: He told his versions of events. He was wearing a hat. That's not sun, is it?

(CROSSTALK)

BACON: His lack of options not just in New Jersey or presidential but also he's probably not in the cabinet either. I mean, that was -- and people thought, A.G., V.P., all of it is win-a-way -- I mean, what a fall. KING: And if you don't think he sucks (ph) like at the moment, his lieutenant governor is running for governor. She was a Christie ally most of their term. Here's her on Twitter today, "It's beyond words. If I were governor, I sure wouldn't be sitting on the beach if taxpayers didn't have access to state beaches." So, we have two lieutenant governors?

(OFF-MIC)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

[12:55:07] KING: So, we're having fun with this. How does it play out?

MARTIN: She's going to have a very hard time winning state-wide office giving all --

KING: Because of his unpopularity.

MARTIN: Yes. The combination -- the sort of Democratic energy and the governor's unpopularity. I'm not totally sure that he couldn't get some kind of a job in the administration here. But knowing Governor Christie a little bit, his passion much like Donald Trump is the media. And I think he would be a happier guy doing sports talk radio or some kind of media than he would doing a second-tier job in the administration.

BACON: To be a little serious, this is what people hate about politicians. This is -- everything we talk about. People hate this kind of hypocritical bad behavior. I'm not tanning. Are you insane? I mean, this kind of stuff is what the people hate in politics and I agree with them about that.

WOODRUFF: Can we also agree that what the Star-Ledger did, they flew a plane over the beach, right? That's a pretty extraordinary journalistic undertaking.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Good to know newspapers --

MARTIN: Well the process is still flourishing --

KING: Newspapers are spending money, again. That's good.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. See you right back here tomorrow. Celebrate July 4th with us.

Brianna Keilar up next. She has an interview by the way of Governor Christie's spokesman. More answers right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, I'm Brianna Keilar in for Wolf Blitzer. It is 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 6:00 p.m. in London and 9:00 p.m. in --