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GOP Delays Senate Vote After McCain Surgery; Trump in 2015: "I Like People Who Weren't Captured"; Poll: Trump Approval Rating Drops To 36%; Trump Has Spent 21 Weekends As President At A Trump Property. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 17, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: -- somebody who has this procedure, somebody his age, who has this procedure? How long until up on their feet? How long it can come back to a grueling Senate schedule?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's -- there's no hard and fast answer to that. I will tell you that, you know, being up on your feet, obviously, was able to go home. It could be up on his feet.

I think recovering from this, and I just simply recovering, a, from the operation itself, and b, you know, having had an operation on the brain, you're going to have to have a follow-ups visits with the docs. You may have a follow-up scan, there maybe other things. I would say, you know, typically, I'd say a couple of weeks and, you know, I know he's tough. But he is 80 years old. This is, you know, serious operation for anybody. That would be pretty standard.

What you're hearing is about a week, and that may just be aggressive. He may be able to get back on his feet and doing things within a week. But to be back to 100% as you say, at least a couple weeks, John.

KING: Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, thanks.

GUPTA: You got John, thank you.

KING: As we continue the conversation, a little context on Senator McCain's role in the Senate. He's not a central player in the health care negotiations but his vote is critical because of simple math. It's just a 52-48 state majority. The leadership can only afford to lose two votes and they want the senior members especially to be onboard with the plan.

McCain's influence is much more often seen on national security issues. He recently returned, for example, from a trip to Afghanistan. And remember, he was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and he has a history of poking his own party's leadership including President Trump's late on the issue of Russian election interference.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: There's a lot of aspects of this whole relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin that requires further scrutiny and so far, I don't think the American people have gotten all the answers. In fact, I think there's a lot more shoes to drop from this centipede.

Since it's going to be part of this centipede that the shoes continue to drop every other day. (INAUDIBLE) action out of the room, everybody knows that and I predicted it, too, weeks ago. I said there will be more shoes to drop from this centipede and there will be more shoes to drop.


KING: We have covered Senator McCain over the years, when he likes a line, he sticks with it and he likes his own sense of humor. But, you know, I don't want to over elevate and I don't want to send all the sound like in obituary. Senator McCain will be back. We all expect soon enough, but he does have a rather unique role in the Senate because of his history.

He likes the term maverick. The leadership would use a different term probably not family-friendly sometimes. But he's being critical of this President especially on the Russia meddling and his defense spending plans and the like. He does have a unique role in the Senate.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: He's the giant of the Senate. I mean, he is someone who, when he speaks, people listen. He can drive conversation. He forces people to respond. Of course, he's chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a very influential committee. And now, he's not central in the health care negotiations but he has in a lot of ways been driving the conversation about the pessimism about the health care debate saying that he thinks that it could be dead.

And then, on the vote itself, he signaled that he's going to vote yes to proceed to debate which, of course, the first critical vote but he was not sold on the actual policy. He wanted some significant changes to the bill on the floor and to be in line with the governor from his state. No guarantee that would happen. He would be no guarantee vote as one thing about John McCain. You can never necessarily count on him if you're a leader from that party.

KING: And his state's junior senator, Jeff Flake, who is up for reelection next year considered one of the vulnerables. The Trump people have been meeting, looking to see if they can even find a Republican opponent which anguish the leadership. But if you're Jeff Flake you watch on John McCain's cover.

If you're going to vote yes, you want at least to have your senior be on the same page on this instance. So, the signal he would send to younger members, if he said, look, we got to get onboard, the leadership is important.

JACKIE CALMES, L.A. TIMES: Well, and the Trump -- President Trump's efforts to find an opponent for Jeff Flake is not going to sit well with John McCain at all and could actually push him, if he needed a little push. Given the pressures in Arizona to oppose this, it wouldn't take much to push him over. So, what they need him for is this first procedural vote to just get it to the Senate floor and debate but there is no assurance that he'll vote for the bill in the end.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST OF NPR'S MORNING EDITION: And what you have said is if we don't reach consensus, we, Republicans don't reach consensus. It's time to return to regular order as he puts it in hold hearings and talk to Democrats and find something that everybody can agree on which in a way is poking his party again.

KING: Right, and let's think more globally. One thing, if you've covered Senator McCain for a long time, he has a memory. He does not forget certain things, especially if he precedes them slight. He has incredibly proud of his service and his life was defined by a horrible chapter when he's a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Remember, early in the campaign, then-candidate Trump mocking John McCain to a degree insisted that's not what he meant but saying John McCain is not a war hero.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a war hero.

TRUMP: He is a war hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five and a half years --

TRUMP: He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK? I hate to tell you.]


KING: John McCain remembers such things. So, I think that's a fair statement.

JULIE DAVIS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, and not only can he give cover to fellow Republicans, if he's on the president's side, and they are thinking of doing the same, but he also gives cover to Republicans who are willing to be critical of the President Him and Lindsey Graham, are two of the, you know, most outspoken Republicans when it comes to criticizing this President on the Russia issue, but also in terms of policy and the fact that the White House has not gotten its act together to really drive an agenda on Capitol Hill.

[12:35:13] And so, if they see him drifting, and if here's an indication that he's going to part ways with the administration, that's good cover for them as well.

RAJU: And the President spent such a little time to actually trying to court John McCain, really has not done much of that at all. He didn't even really apologize for those remarks about POWs. And when I asked McCain about that remark about POWs he said, he shouldn't apologize to me. Apologize to the rest of the POWs and we really have not heard that from the President.


KING: All right. Up next, the Trump presidency hits the six-month mark this week. And while the President is attacking the numbers, they show a historically unpopular start.


KING: Welcome back. President Trump hits the six-month mark on Friday and half way through his first year, the polls are bleak. Here's his take on one new set of troubling numbers. The ABC- Washington Post poll, even though 40% is not bad at this time, it was just about the most inaccurate poll around election time. Well, that's not true and not true.

[12:40:08] Let's look in what the President was talking about there. Number one, let's just look at the poll numbers he's talking about, the new Washington Post-ABC poll has the President's approval rating at 36% as he approaches the six-month mark disapproval at 58%, nearly 6 in 10 Americans. This in new Bloomberg poll out too with very similar numbers, they're about that junk (ph).

About 4 in 10 Americans approve. Almost 6 in 10 Americans disapproved of where the President is right now. So, is that not bad at this time as the President said in his tweet? Well, not really. But let's take a look at some historical averages here.

Presidents at or near the six-month mark, now President Ford, six months after President Nixon resigned. President Clinton, remember, he won the election in 1992. Ross Perot was involved. Putin won the election with 43%, so his poll number started out low.

Compared to Clinton and Ford, Trump's in the ballpark. But look at President Nixon, George W. Bush, President Obama, Ronald Reagan. Nearly 6 and 10 approved of their performance at this point. The disapproval number is much narrow (ph). So, President Trump is historically unpopular at the six-month mark.

What about that other point he made that the Washington Post-ABC poll was so inaccurate back around the election. Well, let's look at the last ABC-Washington Post tracking poll, 47, 43 they had it. Clinton on top of 47, Trump at 43%. That was the last pre-election poll.

And let's look what happened election day. 48.5 for Hillary Clinton, 46.4 for Donald Trump, so off a little but if you think about the statistical margins of error in polling, it's actually pretty close. So, the President's attacking these poll numbers, however, they're bleak, and they're scientifically OK.

RAJU: And one number that was particularly should be concerning to the White House is there is a 48% of voters disapprove strongly of the President. That is higher -- both President Obama and President Clinton did not reach that level. President Bush, George W. Bush didn't reach that level until late in the second term. It shows the intensity of the opposition towards him is much more firm than the previous presidents. And it makes it much harder to win over some of those more persuadable voters who may not have their opinions firmly locked in yet. It shows that a lot of people are pretty firm at this point.

We have some ways to go to change that opinion and also could hurt his ability to sell his agenda with members of Congress who do look at those numbers. Even as the White House's counselor.

KING: Can it be changed? When you talk to people inside the Trump White House or in political circle outside the White House, are they seemed reasonably convinced that they can't be changed much and that's why they have the strategy they have? A lot of people criticize him, why doesn't he reach out to Democrats more? Why he's not doing any more outreach?

They think this is what it is. And that he is a 40% president. And that they need to keep -- they kept -- their main priority has to keep what they got and not lose anybody.

CALMES: Well, that's sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy because he's done nothing not just from the day he took office but from the day he was elected in the whole transitions period to expand his base. He's been playing to the base for the entire time on every issue. And so if, you know, the really worrisome thing about those polls you've showed is that the independents are right where those numbers you showed where 6 out of 10 are opposed, are disapproving of his job. And which just shows how he's done nothing. And it's worse than Election Day. So he's done nothing. He's deteriorated.

INSKEEP: Although it's worth pointing out, he did win one presidential election with approval ratings that were not very good at all. But it's clearly on the Presidents mind because the margin of error in that 2016 poll is actually less than the margin for error in the President's own tweet. He said he was almost 40%, 36 is not almost 40%. You're off by four points. That's a big margin of error.

KING: That's the new math.

INSKEEP: Thank you very much. Thank you.

DAVIS: And -- I mean, what this rally underscore is that you really never had a honeymoon period at all. No kind of window of opportunity to really push his agenda and to really sort of build up that level of support that he didn't have when he came in. And so now he's in a situation that because there's been so much sort of crisis around the White House where every time that the White House wants to sort of get back on balance, they pivot to something that appeals to the base. Something hard-line on immigration, something hard-line on trade, something like that. And that instead of expanding the universe of people who support him just, as you said, is there towards solidifying this 40% that he can -- that the White House does realize that he can't lose. KING: To that point, this will be Made in America week. Now they've had infrastructure weeks. They've had other weeks they've been consumed by other news. Most of it the Russia investigation only, but they say this will be Made in America week. Which should be, especially if think about Donald Trump flip Michigan, flip Wisconsin, flip Pennsylvania, if you're talking about manufacturing states called the Rust Belt states where the Trump voters where you think they'll be smart, right? Bring that out.

I was actually stunned it tells you about the White House political operation. Why not on a Monday morning in the summertime when Congress can't vote on health care presented by McCain here, come out and do a big presidential event today to try to drive this topic. So we're going to start the program with something the President was talking about.

But to your point about the base versus how do you win, Steve makes a critical point. Winning the presidency is not easy and he won, he won.

[12:45:07] And so, everybody who wants to roll their eyes ands say Trump in aberration to Trump because he won the presidency. He's the President of the United States and isn't easy. But in the counties that he flipped, the counties that he flipped, or Obama counties in 2012 that became Trump counties, Republican counties in 2016. It's the NBC-Wall Street Journal numbers, his approval rating 44%, his disapproval 51%.

Those are the key counties when we get -- we don't know who the Democrats are going to nominate. We don't know if they'll be an independent candidate. We have no idea what the 2020 bill (ph) would look like. But those are the counties you're going to go back and look and say here's how he changed America and stunned us all. What's the state of play in six months in, that's not good for the President.

RAJU: No, it's not. And I think you make a key point too about where has the President been in driving a message before his trip to France last week, we didn't see the President in a public at all between his other international trip and this one. And this is supposed to be the Made in America week. And what's the President not doing this morning, he's tweeting about his son. And that puts the story back in the news. Every time they try to get back on message and maybe turn around those poll numbers, they're dealing with issues oftentimes of the President's own making.

DAVIS: Well, and while Steve points out that, you know, the President was able to win the election with this narrow coalition, members of Congress who are looking nervously towards 2018 realize that that may not be the case for them. They are not Donald Trump and they have to deal with the politics in these places where he has really fallen down in the estimation of the voters. And they are wondering what is the Republican Congress delivered for us, and that is a problem that the President has yet to internalize and yet to actually do something about for Republicans who need to win.

KING: And as we look at polling. You'll see a lot of it this week. The President is hitting six months. A lot of people are going to poll, get out there and test all these things.

And one of the things I like to do, you look at national poll numbers is of course same as in presidential, you look at some key states. The Des Moines register has the Iowa poll this weekend. The President's approval rating in Iowa, a state that was kind to him, 43% approve, 52% disapprove. So even in places where you're looking, if you're looking back at the map of 2016 and how the President got here, it's clear that six months in even among places where he has a base, people have some doubts.

CALMES: Right. Right. And, you know, this is really as good as it gets. He is, as Julie alluded to, he has lost his honeymoon period. And the only way to get it back is to, through presidential acts, through achieving things. And on every -- there's nothing --

KING: So how does he do that when the Congress is clearly were six months in? And, you know, you can kick -- if you ask Trump voters, they blame Congress.

CALMES: Right.

KING: Why haven't we repealed Obamacare? Why haven't we done infrastructure? Why haven't we moved on a tax reform? But we're six months in and we have no answer to health care debate insight. And there's a question of whether you can get to tax reform and infrastructure which is best the tax reform as hard if not harder than health care?

RAJU: It's going to be really hard. I mean, getting those two main items, health care, tax reform done incredibly difficult to get that done, infrastructure, another big campaign promise. Where is that right now? It's going to get harder to get things done as we are close to midterm elections.

But you never know what happens in the world. Outside events can certainly change things. How does the President respond in those key moments? But let me go over everything on these investigations that they keep struggling to respond to. And that continually takes them off message and makes it harder to sell their agenda.

KING: Well, I was just -- again, end on this point that I said earlier that I just stunned on a Monday in the summertime where he had the stage all to himself. He's tweeting about the Russia investigation not trying to drive the story some other way.

Up next, another weekend, another visit to a property bearing his name. This time, for a big golf tournament.



[12:52:50] TRUMP: Obama, it was reported today, played 250 rounds of golf.

Every thing is executive order. Because he doesn't have enough time because he's playing so much golf.

I'm going to be working for you. I'm not going to have time to go play golf.

I love golf. I think it's one of the greats but I don't have time.

I'm not going to be playing much golf, believe me.


KING: Welcome back. Candidate Trump as you see loved to talk about how much President Obama golfed and how little he would play once in the Oval Office. Well, this weekend President Trump didn't play, he just watched others tee it up.

The leader of the free world spent a good portion of his weekend watching the U.S. Women's Open. You see him there inside the glass enclosure. That's the 15th hall. He did have good reason to be there. The event was held at one of his namesake golf courses, the Trump National, Bedminster, New Jersey. But his attendance underlines just how much time President Trump spends at Trump properties. Since his inauguration, the President spent about as much time at a golf club as some pros, a total of 40 days, 40 days.

Twenty-one of 26 weekends of his presidency, he has been at a property that bears his name. Now critics, the ethics watchdogs light up and spin like tops, and people around the President say the American people knew exactly what they were getting. His name is Donald Trump, he's a developer, he owns these properties, he's comfortable there, why wouldn't he go there?

INSKEEP: Did the American people know he that would be allegedly taking advantage of his position in order to promote those properties? This is a President who's built his brand in transgressing, in violating rules and going past norms. And this is a case where he seems to be explicitly going against his own rule. Bad if you're president spending time playing golf except he's president so he's going to do what he wants.

MANU: Yes.

DAVIS: Well, and the President had, you know, came into office with this standard of, well, it's impossible for the President to have a conflict. That was his rule. It's like because you're the president you can't possibly have a conflict. But the fact is every time he goes to one of his properties, it's advertising for the Trump organization. You see the sign on the golf course, you see the sign on the, you know, glassed enclosure there.

It's in a public domain that he is at a Trump property. There are shots of what that looks like and that accrues to the benefit of his company. Also, there isn't any transparency with regard to these visits.

[12:55:04] I mean, it became a joke when we would go to Mar-a-Lago with President Trump and we'd be sitting in vans, the press pool would, outside of the property, and we knew that he was at a Trump property and it was a golf course, but we could not get the White House to confirm that he was golfing. They won't say what he's doing, they won't say who he's doing it with and this has become a pattern.

RAJU: And that's much different than the Obama years. They did actually acknowledge that he was golfing and President Obama, of course, have played a lot of golf. There's probably -- there's nothing wrong with playing golf as a president but just admit to it and also of course he criticized Obama for it.

KING: But it's a stressful job and there's technology available. A president should be able to take time off, like George W. Bush went to Crawford, the Democrats screamed there, so let the president do what he wants to do. But who meets with him? There is a group crew that had sued for access and they said today in a press release, they've been granted access to the logs of Mar-a-Lago. We expect to see that sometime in September. We'll see if we get results on who the President is seeing when he's there.

Thanks for joining us on Inside Politics. I'm glad we're back after a week off. Wolf Blitzer back in the chair after a quick break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Raqqa, Syria, 2:00 a.m. Tuesday in Seoul, South Korea. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

We start with a new push from the White House, they're calling it Made in America week. Like past theme week, so the White House now looking to change the narrative from the multiple Russia story angles to more control --