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Trump Hosts GOP Senators; Calls for McConnell to Go; Trump on Voter Data Sharing. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 19, 2017 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:09] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

A big hour ahead and it begins at the White House. President Trump is summoning Republican senators. You see their business right there leaving the Capitol to head down to the White House. The president will have lunch with them in hopes of somehow rescuing Obamacare repeal efforts.

Also at the White House just moments ago, the president addressing the first official meeting of his election integrity commission. Democrats call it a sham. The president says it is critical to investigate whether there was widespread election fraud across the country.

Plus, there was a second Trump-Putin conversation at that big G-20 Summit. The president went solo. Says it was no big deal. But your government wasn't going to tell you it happened and has no official record of what was discussed.

Up first, though, the brutal internal Republican finger-pointing over health care and this hour's big lunch at the White House, even though most Republican senators now going to lunch were apoplectic yesterday when they heard this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let Obamacare fail. It will be a lot easier. And I think we're probably in that position where we'll just let Obamacare fail. We're not going to own it. I'm not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it.


KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, "The Atlantic's" Molly Ball, FiveThirtyEight's Perry Bacon, Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast," and Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal."

A quick table setter for this big White House lunch that's just moments away and our conversation. In a tweet this morning, the president promised Senate GOP health care plan, which at the moment does not have a pulse, quote, "will get evening better at lunchtime." The president also says of his lunch guests, "they must keep their promise to America."

Now, that's one of the many things about the president that annoys Republicans. He was elected as a Republican, is the leader of the Republican Party now, yet he routinely speaks of the GOP as "they," not "we," and makes clear, as he did yesterday, you just saw that, he accepts no blame for the GOP health care debacle that has defined his first six months.

So, distrust of the president is one lunch dynamic. A few people at the table also are venting at the majority leader, Mitch McConnell. Some even saying maybe he should go. And a handful of the senators invited awoke today to conservative calls that they face primary challenges those Republican incumbents and calls for President Trump to help such challenges.

Kumbaya. Who's going to break the bread?

We're making light of this, but this is a defining challenge for the president, the Republican Party, and it comes at a moment you have this dysfunction, this distrust, this ideological fights. There's a civil war within the party that we saw play out throughout the Obama administration that some thought might end when you had a Republican president. It clearly hasn't.

Issue number one, he seems to think if he gets them around the table he can revive legislation that essentially died yesterday. Can he?

JACKIE KUCINICH, "THE DAILY BEAST": Well, it remains to be seen.

MOLLY BALL, "THE ATLANTIC": Yes, the question I think is, how much is the president going to put his back into this effort? Because, you know, what we have seen so far, and what we've heard from a number of members, is that the president has not seemed particularly committed to selling this policy, pushing this policy, and that may have been intentional given that he's now trying to say, this belongs to them, not me, which, as you said infuriating the nightmare scenario for Republicans is, you know, they are on the hook for voting for something unpopular, the president is blaming them for its failure and for general congressional inaction and dysfunction, and then you have conservatives trying to primary them from the right. Obviously an energized left.

At the same time the political problem for the Republicans is that Donald Trump is not on the ballot in 2018, they are. So, you know, I quoted a Republican congressman in my article yesterday saying, there was one thing that could unite the clans. Republicans have been divided for a long time on health care and many other issues. But a president who was really leading and who was really committed and engaged and was trying to bring people together across the spectrum, they don't feel that they've had that to date.

KING: And so you're at a moment of crisis for the party about health care, number one, tax reform is just as complicated, if not more so, getting Republicans to spend government money on infrastructure and trying to get Democratic votes on that would be also very complicated, if not more so than health care. Different, but still complicated. At this moment, when members of his own party watch the president yesterday essentially in a Pontius Pilot moment saying, you know, this - not mine. You know, do you have any trust that you're going to cut a difficult deal with this president? That he is going to keep your back?

KUCINICH: He's got a lot of work to do to regain the trust of his - the Republican conference. I mean let's not forget, we're not too far away from when he had that celebration with House Republicans at the White House and then turned around a couple of days later, behind closed doors, and called the bill they had passed, which he celebrated, mean.

At the other - at the same time, he's also shown that he'll go after members of the Republican conference. That instead of persuading them, he - his PAC ran ads against Dean Heller. He - there was a story this week, I believe it was in Politico, about how he's trying to recruit a primary opponent for Jeff Flake. He's shown that he will go after his own party and that does not engender a lot of trust, or that, you know, maybe you want to put your neck out for this guy. That's not happening right now.

[12:05:16] KING: Right. And as we continue the conversation - sorry, Michael, I just want to let our viewers know, you're watching a bus out in front of the United States Capitol. That will bring the senators. There are 52 Republican senators. John McCain is home recuperating from surgery. So 51 have been invited. We don't know how many of those 51 are going to show up. That will be part of the interesting question. To Jackie's point, recruiting a challenger for Jeff Flake. Will Jeff Flake be across the table from the president today? If so, will he say something to the president? That's one of the many, many interesting dynamics here.

I'm sorry.

MICHAEL BENDER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, one of the things that Jeff Flake may be able to say is, point to the clip that you showed earlier when Trump welcomed reporters into the White House yesterday, he said one of - maybe the solution here is to elect more Republicans. Well, he's also going after some of these Republicans. So hard to kind of square those two.

And where Trump falls on this is a good question that Molly brought up earlier. A lot of people put the blame, say he's not - he doesn't care about health care policy. He's not that interested in health care policy. "The Wall Street Journal" and NBC had a poll out yesterday which sheds a little bit more light on this. We looked at the counties that voted for Trump. The House health care plan had support from 13 percent of the people in Trump counties, 37 percent said they opposed it. So that may also shed a little bit more light on why Trump is not so willing to sort of take the reins on this issue.

KING: Put a personal investment in it, which if you look at the moment, you might understand that. My voters don't like this. My people don't want this. I'm going to stick my neck out. However, he's a Republican president with a 52-48 Senate majority. He can't afford to lose any seats next year. The House majority's a little bigger than that. But, still, if you have a wipe-out year, it's conceivable. It's a heavy lift for the Democrats, but it's conceivable. Does this Republican president understand this is the part - the senators tell you know, most Republican congressmen tell you know - the governing piece of this, that if they fail to pass an issue that is signature to the Republican Party, and their base stays home next year, he might be a lonely Republican president with at least a divided Congress, one chamber going to the Democrats, and he hasn't gotten much big done - signature achievements in his first six months. He'll get zip done if the Democrats take a chamber of Congress.

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: I think he does understand it only because remember when the House bill failed initially, the White House got more involved, worked on the compromise, worked with Meadows and (INAUDIBLE). So I think they are aware of this. And I - my understanding is that they are working on the Mike Lees and people like that.

I think the smart thing for Trump to do, and I think he's doing that is, focus on the conservative members. And it seems to me they are people who live in states Trump won, overwhelmingly in some cases, and trying to move those people. It's hard to see Susan Collins getting on board of a bill with these kind of Medicaid cuts on it, but it's not going to be why the Morans (ph), the Mike Lees, the Rand Pauls. If the president has any power, it's in states where he won a role like Kentucky or like Utah.

KING: But they don't like the bill. They don't - they don't like -

BACON: They don't like the bill. The bill is a big problem for -

KING: They don't - they don't like the - for different reasons. Mike Lee thinks it has too much government rules and regulations, too much government money. Susan Collins thinks they want to cut too much from the Medicaid program. So take too much away. It depends where you are in the country, where you are on the spectrum.

But across the spectrum, nobody looks at this bill and says it's great. We like this. We love this.

BALL: Right. And there - well, there hasn't been a big sales effort on the part of the White House. There hasn't been much of an argument made by the Republicans in Congress about how this is going to help people. How it is going to be good for people in their everyday lives.

Instead, if there's any positive message people here, it's just that this is good for markets. There's no sense that this is good for human beings. And so I think Jerry Moran's a really interesting case because he's someone who's usually seen as a good solider. Usually a reliable vote for leadership. Not someone you would expect to stick his neck out. And that way probably representative of sort of the median Republican senator. Unlike a lot of them, he went home and he listened to his constituents. He held town halls in very rural, very red parts of the state. And what he heard was overwhelmingly negative. And you have to think that that had a big impact on his decision-making. KING: Right. Right. Democracy matters.

So to that point, their - Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has said, I don't know if I have trust in Mitch McConnell anymore. There are some other Republican senators who privately say, just as Democrats say about Nancy Pelosi, you've heard this about Paul Ryan in the House, that maybe we need a change in leadership. Maybe it's generational. Maybe it's philosophical. It's time for change. It's a very small number of people saying that about Mitch McConnell right now. We should be clear about that. But the fact that it's being said in this environment, it gets attention.

I want you to listen to Rand Paul, who sometimes has fights with his home party's - his home state senator, Mitch McConnell, who is his leader. Here he says it's not McConnell's fault, but then listen to the rest.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I don't think the fault lies with leadership. I think the fault lies with those who promised to repeal and won't now vote to repeal. As far as I know, Senator McConnell promised to repeal and he will vote to repeal if it's brought up.

I think the question should be asked to the people who voted for repeal previously, an identical bill, and now say they're not going to vote for an identical bill? That's a - that - they've got some serious explaining to do when they go home.


KING: So here's the question, the president's going to have lunch with them. The president annoyed Mitch McConnell by signing on to this idea that maybe we should separate, have a vote on reveal and then have a debate about replace. Senator McConnell didn't want to do that. Now he says, fine, let's have a vote on repeal with a two year - it doesn't take effect for two years, and that gives us time to then do the replace. A number of Republicans yesterday said, no way, we are not voting to repeal without any guarantee that we tell voters how to replace.

[12:10:24] Can the president change that dynamic and essentially get the Republicans to keep their commitment to repeal and then essentially pressure them, put a clock on them that they have to deal with replace?

KUCINICH: They haven't really show to be great at meeting deadlines. So I think the moderates, in particular, have reason, good reason, to be nervous about this. But let's not put all the weight on the White House for not knowing how to govern. You've got a lot of Republicans -

KING: Absolutely. Right.

KUCINICH: Who do not know, who have never had to govern because they've been elected since - they haven't had a Republican president before. So they are used to taking these ceremonial votes that don't go anywhere, that get vetoed, and go back home and say, look, I tried.

Well, now you can actually effect change and they are afraid to do it.

KING: But when you know your party has this - you're absolutely right, every member of the House Republican, every member of the Senate Republican who promised for seven years, some of them weren't here the whole time, but they campaigned on it, if you send me there, I will be part of this, they share in this because trying to figure it out and how to be the governing party. But when you have the dysfunction, it falls on the leader to try to manage the dysfunction. This was the signature of the Donald Trump campaign, they're stupid in Washington, they don't' know how to negotiate. Send me there. I will cut the deal.

And yet yesterday he says, I won't own it. This is the same guy who in 2012 tweeted this about President Obama. Obama's complaints about Republicans stopping his agenda are B.S. since he had full control for two years. He can never take responsibility. Oh.

BENDER: He needs to get past this health care issue. I mean that - to go past - to go back to our poll, in the Trump counties, the people who said they voted for Trump, this health care bill only has 25 percent support. So the idea that they're going to repeal this, I mean this is because the voters - these voters think this that is, you know, ideological, it's because a lot of them are benefiting from this - from these entitlements.

So it's hard for me to imagine Trump taking the reigns on this issue now to just repeal. And, again, the other thing - one other thing our poll shows is that there is some bipartisan support in the Trump base for other issues, on his foreign policy positions, his economic positions. So if he can get past that, maybe he can, you know, appear more like a leader and get something big done.

And the question of McConnell and what he can get done, I just want to point out one thing, that McConnell has now delayed the health care vote more times than Paul Ryan.

BALL: Well, and - and -

KING: That's a great point.

BALL: And speaking of McConnell, I mean, we all know what Trump's end game is. Trump just wants a win. He doesn't really care what's in the bill, he just wants a win. He wants to put it on the board.

But what is Mitch McConnell's end game? And I've been talking to a number of people close to him in the last few days. And not really - they - there isn't really a clear answer. Does he want repeal and replace? Is that - would that be his first choice? Does he just want repeal? Does he not want to do anything at all and want to have an excuse for killing it and sort of showing that he tried. No one really knows, including members of his own caucus what McConnell's ideal end game is. And the consensus among people close to him is that he just wants to get it over with. He just wants to move on to other things.

KING: And whatever he does, he wants to keep his majority next year. It's so narrow, he wants to keep it and hopefully build it by a seat or two. Hard (ph) in the president's first midterm.

You're still watching the busses there of United States senators heading down to the White House for a lunch. It's supposed to begin at the bottom of the hour. We'll keep track on that.

But next, another big event at the White House just moments ago. The commission sparked by an evidence-free tweet huddles on White House grounds and promises to find the facts.


[12:17:56] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they're worried about. And I ask the vice president, I asked the commission, what are they worried about? There's something. There always is. If we want to make America great again, we have to protect the integrity of the vote and our voters.


KING: There's something. There always is. The president of the United States a short time ago at the White House. That is the first official meeting of an election integrity commission formed by the president. You might remember after the election he said the only reason he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton was that 3 million to 5 million undocumented people voted illegally in the election. And that is why he lost the popular vote and he wanted to have this commission to find the facts, to figure that out and then to help states figure out how to make sure it never happens again.

The vice president - actually, let's just play it. Let's - Vice President Mike Pence is the chairman of this commission, the co- chairman of this commission. Now, we all know how it started, but here's Mike Pence stating this is the mission.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me be clear, this commission has no preconceived notions or preordained results. We're fact finders.


KING: Now, if that's true, great. If they are going to help states clean up their voter rolls, help states deal with the new technology, help states deal with something that has never been mentioned by the leadership of this commission, Russian hacking of state data systems, that's fabulous if they could do that. But will any - but to the critics, will they believe there are no preconceived agendas here?

BACON: As long as Chris Kobach is in charge of it, this is hard to think people are going to - I mean he's known for pushing voter ID laws and controversial ideas like this. It's hard to think that - also just - just give the viewers a bit of context here. President's create commissions to highlight problems that are new in the country and bring attention to them. So it's not - it's not irrelevant. It's not policy that is not irrelevant. Obama talked a lot about commissions to talk about police brutality, for example, our police shootings.

The idea that the president is speaking at an event like this about a - and continuing to pressure the idea that there's some kind of election fraud problems and there are missing voters and fake voters is problematic because we see - we have no evidence of that and he keeps sort of alluding to something. And his speech today was full of three or four mentions of this kind of voter fraud problem that expert after experts say doesn't exist.

KUCINICH: Not to mention -

[12:20:11] KING: Doesn't exit - doesn't exist on a large scale.

BACON: Yes, a large scale. Right.

KING: And, again - again, there have been studies that show there are people registered in two states. You move from state a to state b, you forgot to tell state a, you're registered in two states. it would be great if they could somehow, with technology or some other way, figure that out and sort that out. There are people who died years ago who are still on voter rolls because nobody in their family took them off the voter rolls. It would be great if that could be (INAUDIBLE), but there's zero evidence especially, never mind - there's zero evidence that this happens in the tens of thousands, let alone the 3 million to 5 million.

BACON: Three to five -

KING: Which is fantasy.

KUCINICH: Not to mention a lot of states don't want their help. Not only - states run by Democrats. States run by Republicans are saying, you know, we're good, thanks, because they take a lot of pride in how they conduct their elections. They say that they certified their elections and they're fine and everything was above board. So they want the federal government to but out.

Not to mention some of these states have laws that say what data they can actually give to the federal government and what data is private. So you'd think a voting commission would have, you know, done some Googling beforehand and made note of this, but it seems like, at least in that first week there was - there were these statements coming out saying, what are you guys even talking about. We can't give you that because of state law.

KING: Well, Chris Kobach's own state -


KING: He's the Kansas secretary of state, who you mentioned, has long said there's widespread fraud and that we don't understand that, you know, millions of undocumented are illegally voting in elections. And, again, other Republican secretaries of state say, hello. But, you know, but in his own state camp fully complex (ph), so they had to know that. So some people think it was done to make -

KUCINICH: Always a reason.

KING: It was done to make a statement, not to get information.

BENDER: It just goes to the question of credibility here. I mean what these states are saying is that they have laws. That they can't give - I mean there's something here where Trump is pushing a commission on integrity and then criticizing states for following their laws to not give them the data that he wants. And also to the broader point you were making before, I mean, I don't know about critics, but it's a credibility issue and I don't know how he squares voter integrity issues and his unwillingness to take the Russia meddling seriously.

KING: That's a great point.

Before you jump in, I just want to go back to the point, for those of you who have forgotten. Remember, after the election, Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote. President Trump won the Electoral College fair and square. He's the president of the United States. That's the way the system workings. But he said that he would have won. Would have won. He insists he certainly would have won the popular vote had there not been this widespread illegal voting. He was pressed on it back around the Super Bowl by the former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.


BILL O'REILLY, FORMER FOX NEWS HOST: Is there any validity to the criticism of you that you say things you can't back up factually and, as the president, if you say, for example, that there are three million illegal aliens who voted, and then you don't have the data to back it up, some people are going to say, that it's irresponsible for a president to say that. Is there any validity to that?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, many people have come out and said I am right. You know that. Let me just -

O'REILLY: I know, but you've got to have the data to back that up.

TRUMP: Let me just tell you, when you see illegals, people that are not citizens and they're on the registration rolls. Look, Bill, we can be babies, but you take a look at the registration, you have illegals, you have dead people, you have this. It's really a bad situation. It's really bad.


BALL: Well, you know, in addition to the credibility issue, there is an issue as well of where the president is focusing his attention, right?

KING: Right.

BALL: Because you have the president still obsessed with his own legitimacy, still obsessed with re-litigating the election and its results. You remember when Trump first started talking about this shortly after

taking office, Mitch McConnell said, no, this is not something the Senate is interested in pursuing. We have bigger fish to fry. We have this long, legislative agenda, all these promises we've made, serious issues to address in this country, and yet this is what the president is spending his time focused on.

KING: And to your point, to the point that was made earlier about, you know, number one, a lot of constitutional conservatives in the Republican Party say the Constitution says elections are left up to the states. Unless you see any huge, widespread problem, stay way, as you said, it's not our business.

Back when this commission was first being formed, "The New York Times" quoted the Mississippi secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann. I just love this quote. He said when he got the request for the information, "my reply would be, they can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from."

So this is not just liberal Democrats or Trump critics saying this is more of a conspiracy theory. A lot of this is Republican secretary of states. To your point, I think you made it, Jackie, saying, we do just fine. We know how to run our elections. If you see a problem, bring it to our attention, but don't go saying that we have these - all these people fraudulently voting in elections because that's not true.

BACON: I think it's important, it goes to sort of what I call identity politics. Look at how many times he said the word "illegals" in that clip you showed. Oh, several times. I mean I think it goes to this idea that sometimes people think that illegals means Latinos and there are lots of Latinos who are voting illegally. We don't have a lot of data - no data proving that. but I think that goes to the point that Trump, for a lot of reasons that I'm not sure totally why, but it appears they're going for a base strategy. If you look at what they do from the tweets, to the commission, to a lot of their policies, they're not necessarily geared toward building the coalition to 50 percent but maintaining his 39 or his 43 really strongly. I think this fits into that strategy.

[12:25:09] KING: The president did say - I want to say, at the top of his remarks, we played you part of them, he did say that voter suppression and voter intimidation are also things that should not be allowed in America. A lot of the critics have said they view this commission as an attempt to further voter suppression. So let's accept the president at his word. This is the first initial meeting. We'll keep track of the commission as it goes forward and see how it plays out.

Up next, President Trump's undisclosed second meeting with Vladimir Putin and new details of his son, Don Jr.'s, campaign season sit down with Russians.


KING: Welcome back. Yesterday in this hour, CNN first reported the identity of that eighth

participant in that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting that Donald Trump Jr. arranged with Russian who had promised him dirt on Hillary Clinton. Today, a former Democratic senator calls that man Ike Kaveladze, quote, the poster child of laundering Russian and other foreign money though U.S.-based banks.

[12:29:54] So did no one in Trumpland do even a cursory background check of Kaveladze or the Kremlin-linked attorney at that meeting? Did they not care even though the candidate's son, campaign chairman and son-in-law senior adviser were in the room? Again, having been promised dirt on Clinton from the Russian government?