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Trump's Approval Rating Sinks; Trump Blames Congress for Russia Relationship; New Policy for Immigration; Trump's Top Priorities; Trump's Conversation on Mexican Wall; Trump's Australian Heated Call; Kremlin on Sanctions. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 3, 2017 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:05] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Ana.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

There are fascinating, new details of rocky early calls between President Trump and key allies. Blunt talk on the border wall and a deal with Australia the president says makes him look like a dope.

Plus, the 200-day mark is just around the corner and the president has signed just one piece of major legislation, Russia sanctions he made clear today he despises.

And the president's poll numbers, well, they're moving the wrong way, from very bad to even worse. The slip includes parts of the Trump base, which helps explain this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For decades the United States was operated and has operated a very low-scaled immigration system, issuing record numbers of green cards to low-wage immigrants. It has not been fair to our people, to our citizens, to our workers.


KING: Let's begin there with the president and a presidency in trouble. Just wait for the second 100 days. That was a big White House line at the 100-day mark when the reviews noted the lack of a big legislative victory and a West Wing in constant personnel and policy chaos.

Well, this is day 195. Obamacare, still the law of the land. Tax reform and infrastructure, still in the starting gate at best. And these numbers, take a look, they say it all, the president's approval rating, 33 percent. Disapproval, 61 percent. The lowest approval and the highest disapproval of the Trump presidency as he approaches the 200-day mark.

And some trouble with the Trump base. White voters without a college degree, the president is now under water. Fifty percent of those voters, key to his victory, disapprove, 43 percent approve. You see the shift, approval rating down ten points in just the last month.

That's one slice of the Trump base. There's another, white men. The president breaks even, 47 percent approve, 48 percent disapproval. But, again, look at this, just in the last month, these numbers down, disapproval up among white men. A key part of the Trump base.

What do the American people think about the president on the issues? Take a look at this. he's under water on everything except terrorism, where he breaks even. On the economy, the president says jobs are booming, 52 percent disapprove, only 41 percent approve. You see the numbers, foreign policy, immigration. Whopping disapproval on health care. The president's struggling to win the American people's support on big issues.

And these numbers, frankly, are damning. Seventy-one percent of the American people say the president of the United States is not level headed. Sixty-three percent say he's a bad leader. Sixty-two percent say he's dishonest. Sixty-three percent say he doesn't share their views. Six in ten Americans, 59 percent there, say the president does not care about average Americans.

Trouble with the base is one reason you see the president moving back to issues he likes. Issues from the campaign. West Virginia trip tonight. Yesterday, the president at the White House and then his senior adviser on immigration issues, Stephen Miller, playing up big issues from last year's campaign.


STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE POLICY ADVISER: It's the divide between how Americans think about immigration and how Washington thinks about immigration. So to everyday Americans, this is the most rational, modest, common sense basic thing you can do. Of course you shouldn't have foreign workers --


MILLER: Of course you shouldn't have foreign workers displacing American workers. In Washington, this present as sea change from decades of practice. So it just depends what lens you're looking at it through.


KING: With us this day to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg Politics," Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal," Seung Min Kim of "Politico" and Jackie Calmes with "The Los Angeles Times."

The lowest approval, the highest disapproval of his presidency. It's easy for people out there in the country watching to say, it's just one poll. But as we approach the 200-day mark, you see the implications of this, the ramifications of it everywhere. The White House returning to immigration, other base issues, because

you see that slip in the Trump base. That's all he's had since day one of his presidency. And you see it on Capitol Hill. More and more Republicans saying, sorry, Mr. President.

You work in the building every day. Do they get this? They often say fake news, fake polls? They have to understand this. They see this even before we do because they have their own polling from the Republican National Committee.

MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG POLITICS": Yes, of course, all White House's keep their eye as best as they can on their internal numbers like this. And, look, this is a vital time for so many reasons and it helps you to understand that what happened with Anthony Scaramucci didn't happen in a vacuum. There already were all these factors building up to this moment and a real recognition inside the White House how important it was to have a reset and an organizational reset to bring things under control and move forward with more -- if possible, one more cohesive plan.

But the timing of this now right ahead of the August recess and the recognition that when members come back -- and we talk about this all the time, when members come back, they're there for about a minute before the start running for re-election. That this is essential for the president to hang on to Republicans, both so that they can all win together and so that the Republicans don't split away from him and leave him very venerable (ph).

KING: And you see -- you're beginning to see some evidence of that. The president's ranking among Republican, 79 percent approve. 17 percent disapprove. So the White House could say, we still have 79 percent of Republicans. That's down a little bit from early on. There are cracks there. I wouldn't call that a splintering yet but there are cracks there.

But can a president -- he didn't win the popular vote. And that has bothered him since day one. That's an understatement, I know. But can a president with a 33 percent approval rating govern?

[12:05:14] JACKIE CALMES, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Not very easily. And especially when he's not helping himself, like going to Margaret's point about he needs to work with Republicans to advance this agenda. This morning he's tweeted -- he's blamed the Congress, which is run by his party, for both bad relations with Russia and the health care debacle. And, you know, so Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican majorities are going off on their respective vacations, you know, and they're sniping at him. So it's like a bad marriage which the spouse is going off on separate vacations contemplating divorce.

KING: But they're going home to places where, again, you know, some of those House members from safe Republican districts, where they're going home and they're saying, help the president. There's no question about that. There are people out there saying, work with the president, get things done. They blame -- a lot of Trump voters blame the Congress more than the president. But for the ones from big states and diverse states, 71 percent, not level headed, 63 percent, bad leader, 63 percent, doesn't share our values, 62 percent, dishonest. You wander the halls of Capitol Hill every day. There's no fear factor anymore, is there, about this president?

SEUNG MIN KIM, "POLITICO": No. There's definitely a turning point between kind of relations between Republicans on Capitol Hill and Congress. And now in that -- with the House guys in those conservatives districts, where Trump is still very popular, you don't get that fear factor just yet. But covering the Senate, where senators do represent entire states, much more diverse populations, you really do see this act of defiance against the president in these past several days.

First of all, the Russia sanctions, major slap at the -- major slap at the president. You have Republican lawmakers drafting legislation on kind of what to do if he does end up firing Special Counsel Bob Mueller. I mean that's a very big development here on Capitol Hill. And you have -- and Senator Jeff Flake who is -- it's not new that he's a Trump critic, but he wrote this very scathing indictment of his own party of aiding and abetting the rise of the president earlier this week.

KING: And we're in August. As we get closer to 2018 -- if those numbers don't change as we get closer to 2018, you see Republicans starting to walk away now, it will be a full sprint.

All right, to the point Jackie just made, Michael. The president tweeting this morning, our relationship with Russia is at an all-time and very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can't even give us health care.

We'll come back to the Russia question later in the program and the Russia sanctions, but the idea that yesterday the president invites two senators down who've had an immigration bill in Congress for months. He brings them down to the White House to talk immigration. Now he's bashing Congress.

This sounds like candidate Trump to me. This sounds like Donald Trump the guy running for president talking about immigration, bashing the establishment Washington of both parties trying -- that was his mojo in the campaign. Why now?

MICHAEL BENDER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, I think the poll numbers are the reason why. And candidate Trump is the version of Trump that's had success. President Trump hasn't had really, obviously, any major legislative success and has been pretty successful on the regulation front and that's not nothing here. But what's going to get the coverage and the major fundamental changes on The Hill, he's not -- he's not having any success. And it's a clear effort, to your point before, to go back to the base, the immigration issue. There's no clear path forward on it.

Stephen Miller's performance, you showed a little bit of the clip there before, he was encouraged to go out there and tangle up with the press, the -- that front row and to get into it with them and to battle with them because they -- they know that plays with their people.

KING: And they got what they wanted. If you look at the conservative media today, the dust up with CNN's Jim Acosta, Stephen Miller just talked about the issue in general dominating a lot of the conservative media.

But my question is, do you run the risk? This immigration stuff's going -- am I wrong, is it going anywhere in the Congress in this short term?

KIM: It's going absolutely nowhere.

KING: Right. Yes.

KIM: I mean just look at the Senate. No Democrats would ever support anything like that. And no pro-business Republicans, the ones who are allied with the Chamber of Commerce, who area always more pro- immigration, pro-labor, they will not support it either. I mean this is going straight to nowhere.

CALMES: Right.

TALEV: But there's this ongoing debate inside Trump world, inside the president's own mind, as far as you can tell from his statements and his approach, which is, is the problem that when he's been governing, he's less pure Trump than he was when he was campaigning, and that's why he should return to that? Or is the problem that it's harder to govern than it is to campaign and that that is the reason for the sort of diminishment of his popularity amongst some of those crucial Republican voters? And as long as he's struggling with that, you're going to see this kind of move to the right, move back to the center, move to the right, move back to the center. It's fundamentally a question he has to resolve for himself.

KING: And he's going to be in West Virginia at another rally tonight.

TALEV: Moving to the right.

KING: He just noted -- he just noted that he has some big announcement. We'll see what the big announcement is. But he's on the road in West Virginia going back -- this is I think one of the issues, one of the questions, going back to a place he won. Going back to a place that he won by 42 points.

If you're the president of the United States and you're trying to advance things, are you ever going to go into a place maybe where you're 50/50 or perhaps even under water?


KING: I just want to put this up, because at the 100-day mark, I was one of the people who said, look, he's new. Yes, they've had some staff issues. All new presidents do. Maybe his are more magnified than others, but they all do, so let's give it a second 100 days to be fair to judge them.

Well, let's look at it. Obamacare repeal and replace, some progress if you count the House vote, but at the moment going nowhere.

[12:10:05] Tougher trade deals. They talk about this a lot. We're told the China trade announcement could come as early as this week, but so far it's been mostly talk and they're trying to renegotiate NAFTA. We'll see where that goes.

There has been some progress and crackdown on illegal immigration. Borders crossings are down. Immigration enforcement in the states. I think the president can claim some success there. But, build the wall? Still unclear. Stuck in Congress.

Tax reform? Still stuck in Congress. Infrastructure is an idea, not a plan.

If you're thinking -- yes, regulations reduced. Some executive actions. But if your big legislative victory at this point is the one bill you despise, Russia sanctions, what does that say about this White House and its effectiveness?

BENDER: Well, we'll -- there is no -- there -- your board there I don't think is all that different from the dry erase board in Steve Bannon's office where he's got 100 different things and there's not a lot of check marks on that board either.

KING: Right.

BENDER: But they are just -- I mean this is the strategy right now is to barrel down through this with the base. I mean the two polls you showed earlier, last week I think we can agree was the most tumultuous week of a very tumultuous presidency --

CALMES: Which is saying something.

BENDER: Absolutely. And it's -- and on polls taken as the Scaramucci --

KING: Right.

BENDER: I mean no one wants to be embarrasses. The Trump voters don't want to be embarrassed. They're desperate for him to get some kind of victory. And they have to -- they have to -- if they lose that base as all, they're toast. So they have to like -- I mean they have to pull them back together before they can move forward on anything.

KING: right. And just as we move on in the conversation, I will just say, he was counted out before as a candidate, as president. So we'll see what happens. But there's no question these numbers, after that tumultuous week, tell you something, especially with everybody home for summer vacation, I suspect members of Congress going home, they listen to those people back home. Bed wetting I think is the term I use often. It happens right here.

Up next, President Trump, in his own words, New Hampshire, he says, is a drug-infested den. And a deal passed on by the Obama White House, the president says, makes him look like a dope.


[12:16:13] KING: Welcome back.

Some new and colorful details today to say the least of some not so diplomatic conversations that drew headlines back in the early days of the Trump presidency. The late January calls were with two key U.S. allies, Mexico and Australia. And transcripts reported today by "The Washington Post" help take us inside how the president deals with other leaders and how much he is guided by his campaign promises.

Listen here, speaking to President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico, the border wall, of course, comes up. And President Trump said, believe it or not, this is the least important thing we are talking about. But politically, this might be the most important.

And on a call with the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, when discussing a promise President Obama made to allow some 1,250 refugees into the United States, President Trump brought up his campaign travel ban promise and said, OK, this shows me to be a dope. I am not like this, but if I have to do it, I will do it, but I do not like this at all. I will be honest with you, not even a little bit. I think it's ridiculous and Obama should never have signed it. The only reason I will take them is because I have to honor a deal signed by my predecessor and it was a rotten deal, the president went on to say.

So what do we make of this? There are people who say clearly the president speaks in a blunt style. He uses language they wouldn't teach you at the school of foreign service. But there are a lot of Trump supporters who say, good for him.

CALMES: Right.

KING: Good for him. He speaks his mind. And as he goes through these issues, he takes affinity to his campaign promises, which we should applaud a politician for, shouldn't we?

TALEV: OK, well, it helps you to understand why Pena Nieto could not come to the United States (INAUDIBLE), number one. It tells you that people are letting go of a lot of stuff from within the White House that's still classified.

CALMES: Right.

KING: Right.

TALEV: I mean I'd be delighted if a transcript like that landed in my lap. I'll just say that.

And those are -- actually, those are my two main (ph) points.

KING: No, to -- but the leak -- the leak part is an interesting point.

CALMES: No, it is -- KING: You know, Anthony Scaramucci came in and left. One of his goals was -- we'll get to him later -- but one of his goas was to stop the leaks of information he thought was damaging to the president. One of John Kelly, as the chief of staff, one of his things is, you know, let's have some order and discipline and leaking stuff that can damage the president -- the question -- you know, some people will find this damages. Some people won't.

TALEV: Right.

BENDER: I thought that's why Scaramucci left, because he got -- he finished his job on the leakers, no?

KING: It was a quick job (ph).

Let's -- more of the Mexican conversation, because it's interesting. Everyone says Trump doesn't have nuance. Actually, he's trying to negotiate here. You're laughing, but -- but, listen, he -- you know, the Mexican president says my position has been and will continue to be very firm. Saying that Mexico cannot pay for the wall. President Trump, but you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press because I cannot negotiate under those circumstances. That sounds to me like the president is actually acknowledging, you're probably not going to pay for it in the end. I get it. We'll negotiate that. But if you go out and embarrass me like that, I have to punch back.

CALMES: Right. Right. Well, absolutely. It's utterly cynical on Trump's part to suggest that he knows they're not going to pay for it, that he can't -- that Pena Nieto --

KING: Cynical or realistic? Or cynically realistic?

CALMES: Well -- yes. I mean for him -- and then to suggest its -- politics, it's all on his side. He's worried about his politics. But what about Pena Nieto? Is he -- he's, if anything, less popular in Mexico than Trump is, and he's supposed to let the president of the United States, the big United States on their northern border, saying the things he's saying about Mexico and not hit --

KING: Right.

CALMES: I mean his -- he'd have zero percent approval if he didn't stand up to the president of the United States on this.

BENDER: You see -- you see him negotiates here, though. Absolutely. I mean and the idea here -- I mean in one reading of this, where he says, this is the least important thing we're doing. I mean there's a reading here where you can see him trying to convince the Mexican president here that, don't worry about it, you know, this is -- like, you know, it's easy. You don't have to worry about it. We'll just get past it, right, as opposed to him being like, this doesn't mean anything.

KING: Right. And here we are six, almost seven months in and we're not -- we're not passed it. It's still there.


KING: Let's move on to the Australian conversation. Malcolm Turnbull, close ally of the United States, the president's talking about a deal negotiated by the Obama administration to take 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center, relocate them to the United States.

[12:20:08] The president, of course, notes, I had a campaign promise. You know, I said a travel ban. This is going to kill me. I'm the world's greatest person that does not want to let people into the country and now I'm agreeing to take 2,000 people. And I agree I can vet them, but that puts me in a bad position. It makes me look so bad and I have only been here a week. The prime minister says, with great respect, that's not right. It's not 2,000. Trump says, well, it's close. I've heard like 5,000 as well.

So, in these conversations, like in his conversations with the American people, the president's often far from the facts. It's 1,250. But he goes on to say, this is going to make me look like a dope?

CALMES: Right.

TALEV: But, yes, but it's a commitment to a major military ally, you know?

CALMES: Right.

TALEV: And so it -- look, this is, on the one hand, really fascinating. It helps you to understand how he thinks and how he talks with world leaders. And that's actually pretty humanizing, even if you can see some of the problems with the strategy.

There's another element that I flag, which is that at one point, as he's -- in this article as he's venting, he says that the only guy who's been nice to him all day on the phone was -- was Putin.

KING: Right. But let's read that part.

I just want to say, Senator Lindsey Graham just said, the leaks of these transcripts are a disservice to the president. He wants to find the leaker. So we have yet another leak investigation. The attorney general is going to be a very busy man over at the Justice Department.

But to that point, he's -- the president says, look, I spoke to Putin, Merkel, Abe of Japan, to France today, and this, meaning Australia, was my most unpleasant call because, I will be honest with you, I've had it. I've been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous.

KIM: And remember the consequences on Congress, too, of these calls. If you recall, when the information of the initial phone calls leaked back in February, it was Senator John McCain, you know, as the Armed Services Committee chairman, having to make calls to the Australian ambassador saying, I want to reaffirm our friendship with the country of Australia.

TALEV: Right.

KIM: I don't think it's something that Senator McCain has had to do before, swage relations with Australia, of all countries. And also with the border wall issue, I mean that's still a major issue in the funding fight in September. So Democrats can look to this and say, well, he says in private calls that it's the least important part.


KING: I want to sneak in this one, because the president does have to run for re-election some day and there is this place called New Hampshire. And in the call with the Mexican president, Pena Nieto, he says, you know, we have the drug lords in Mexico that are knocking the hell out of our country. They're sending drugs to Chicago, Los Angeles, into New York, up in New Hampshire. I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug infested den. Is coming from the southern border, meaning the drugs. The Republican governor of New Hampshire just kicked back saying I have a great state, Mr. President.

CALMES: Yes, and both Democratic senators.

Can I just say, I mean I agree on some level with Senator Graham. It's too bad these came out now. Say, I enjoy reading them. I'm greatly entertained. And I invite anybody out there that wants to leak similar transcripts to send them to me, not Margaret.

KING: "Bloomberg," CNN, "L.A. Times," "Politico," "Wall Street Journal." Mass e-mails are fine.

KIM: "Politico," yes.

CALMES: And having said that, we really didn't learn anything in these transcripts that we didn't already know about both of those calls, or about him.

KING: Right.

CALMES: If only because of his own tweets and subsequent leaks. Other leaks that have come out have arguably been in the vein of a public service. Of people in the national security and intelligence community who are so worried about certain things that they leak. And this was not.

And I -- what I worry about is that it will encourage Trump to do just what he did at the G-20 with President Putin, which is to go off in a meeting with just one person, no note taker, and there's no -- two and a half hours and 15 minutes of no record of their conversation like this.

KING: That's a great -- it's a great point. And I -- again, you're right, I don't think we've learned anything -- we learned some particular language and some of the personal dynamics. I think if you're a Trump voter, you're going to say, good for the president, at least in that first week he's remembering his campaign promises. So I think in Washington there will be a lot of shock and horror at the language. I think out in America, especially in Trump country, they will say, good for you, Mr. President, for standing up to those guys. We'll see how it plays out.

Ahead, the Kelly effect on the Trump West Wing.

And, next, the president hates the new Russia sanctions he just signed into law and the Kremlin is mocking him for letting it happen.


[12:27:56] KING: Welcome back.

Presidents normally celebrate signing major legislation. But President Trump instead is heaping scorn on the first major bill he's signed into law. It was a set of new sanctions against Russia because of that 2016 Kremlin election meddling. Meddling, of course, designed to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.

This morning the president tweeted, quote, our relationship with Russia is at an all-time low -- and all-time and dangerous low -- excuse me. You can thank Congress, the same people that can't even give us health care.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton is often a Trump ally. Remember, he was at the Trump White House just yesterday for an immigration event. But he says the president is dead wrong about who to blame for tensions with Moscow.


SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Our relationship is at, not maybe an historic low, but it's pretty low. But, ultimately, the responsibility falls primarily on Vladimir Putin. He's the one that has invaded countries who are our partners. At every point where Vladimir Putin is pressuring the United States and our allies, we need to push back.


KING: More on the fallout here at home. That conversation in a moment.

But, first, CNN's Matthew Chance is in Moscow to share what we call, Matthew, some colorful reaction from key Russian leaders.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, colorful reaction and, in fact, the Kremlin and others in the upper echelons of power here in Russia have been pouring their own score on the decision by the Trump administration to sign this law and the fact that the Congress passed it. They called it irresponsible, and something that is short-sighted.

The prime minister of the country himself, who's been criticized for being a weak figure in the Russian political system, has said this. The Trump administration demonstrated complete impotence in the most humiliating manner, transferring executive powers to Congress. The American establishment completely outplayed Trump. The president of Russia is not happy with the new sanctions, but he could not sign them -- but he couldn't not sign the law. The president of the United States, of course. These sanctions (INAUDIBLE) primarily as another way to put Trump in his place.

[12:29:54] And so this is the Russians heavily criticized Congress. Heavily criticizing Trump as well for signing this order (ph). And I think it marks a sort of new phase in this very complex and constantly evolving relationship between Moscow and Washington. The Russians seem to be saying, look, we hoped this -- that Donald Trump was going to be the man to turn this relationship around.