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New Trump Poll Numbers; Trump Retweets Fox Story; GOP Donors Withholding Donations; Heller Faces Challenger. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 8, 2017 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:06] DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off.

Donald Trump is making history six months into his presidency, but not in a good way. He has the worst approval rating ever recorded by a CNN poll at this point in a presidential term. His trustworthiness is also nearing a new low despite comparing himself to honest Abe.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more president's than any president that's ever held this office. That, I can tell you.


BASH: Now, we don't have CNN polling from Lincoln's day, but we do have to compare President Trump's 38 percent approval rating to other modern day presidents in their first six months. And look at that, it is stunning. With the exception of Bill Clinton, all of them were well above 50 percent.

Yet President Trump's unpopularity is nothing compared to Congress'. And lawmakers are getting an earful from angry voters during this August recess.

Meanwhile, Democrats, hoping to capitalize on all the angst, are looking ahead to 2018, 2020, spotlighting some big names and big issues.

Here to share their reporting and insight, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Julie Davis of "The New York Times," CNN's MJ Lee and "The Federalist's" Mary Katharine Ham.

So, 201 days into his presidency, Donald Trump's job approval has dropped -- again. Down six points since his 100 days marked in April. His disapproval near or above 50 percent on nearly every issue, with health care at the top of that list at 62 percent disapproving.

And these are hardly the only unsettling numbers for the president. Just 39 percent of Americans now believe he can effectively manage the government, with 59 percent, nearly six in ten Americans, doubting his ability.

On that same question, when we just looked at non-college educated white voters, a key Trump voting bloc, he's still at 50 percent. And that's significantly down since April. And another serious concern in this poll is credibility. Fewer than one in four Americans trust most of what they hear coming from the White House. How does the administration address this lack of credibility? Well, listen to U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley this morning.


NIKKI HAYLEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: And the only way you get the trust is not by what you say, it's by what you do. And I think this president, if you look at the actions, whether it's from the Security Council, whether it's with unemployment, whether it's with all the new investment that's happening, look at the action. This is a time where we have to look at the American people and say, are they better today than they were yesterday? And I think they are.


BASH: Jeff Zeleny, you are our man at the White House. What are you hearing from your sources who work there about the reality of how bad the president's approval rating is, and all of the members inside of it?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first and foremost, they're not surprised by this, despite what the president says on Twitter. The White House is doing polls of its own and they realize what's happening here.

But there's also a sense that they're happy about the fact that Congress is even worse than the president, which is generally is. But I think we're going to start to see sort of more of a divergence. Yes, he needs an accomplishment. Yes, they want tax reform. But you're going to see more things that only a president can do using the power of the bully pulpit to sign on to things like immigration reform. No, it probably won't pass, but it shows the president doing something.

So they're not surprised at these low poll numbers, but they're also not that scared by them because they say the president's always been underestimated in polls. It's early, of course.

But, Dana, the trust number, I think, is something that is more than significant. That is a real problem here. And I think it's something that, you know, he -- it wasn't caused by one thing. It was a drip, drip, drip of the Russia investigation of no health care, of just, you know, these daily, random situations there of his own making. That is something his advisers would like to get up.

BASH: And not always telling the truth.

ZELENY: Not always telling the truth, of course.

BASH: Trump from the podium and elsewhere in the West Wing.


BASH: I want to, Julie, show another number on the screen, which is pretty telling about this president and where he is now. Can Trump be a change agent? Can he bring the needed change? Now he is only at 43 percent. That's down five points from, again, just in April at the 100-day mark.

This is who Trump is supposed to be. He's supposed to be the change guy. He's supposed to be the one who came here and started, you know, kind of breaking all the -- the china in the china shop and, you know, make Washington different. And the fact that only 43 percent of Americans think that he can do that now?

[12:05:00] JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": So I think this is a big shift, right? I think for many months now the White House has been essentially resigned to the fact that they -- that he is going to be at this sort of 40 percent, 37 percent, 38 percent, 40 percent. Not much up from where he was when he was elected president in terms of strong support, his core supporters. And they felt like that was OK because if he doubles down on his message and did what he said he was going to do, he could hold those people and he could make a convincing case for himself.

But now this idea that he's not been able to change the game in the way that he said he was going to, that he's not been able to deliver health care, that he couldn't cut the deal and be the master negotiator and drain the swamp and do all of these things I think is really starting to set in. And I actually think that this is a much bigger concern for them than the credibility question. Normally a president, at this point in his tenure, if the credibility looks that bad in some of these key polls and measures and, as Jeff said, they have their own measures, they're seeing the same things. They would -- they would care a lot about that.

This president thinks that he can say what he wants to say. Oh, he exaggerates a little here, he embellishes a little there, and that's what people expect of him. If he can't be the change agent that he promised he would be, people are not going to tolerate that for much longer and I think they're aware of that.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: I would also say, you know, we talk about these polls through such a political lens. And, obviously, these poll numbers were very important for the president and potentially how these numbers work out for him in 2020, if he decides to run again. But I think that it's very important to keep in mind that the credibility issue, it's potentially so, so significant in terms of how Trump can potentially lead in a time of crisis. I mean if you can imagine a situation, God forbid, there is a terrorist attack or there is a situation where things with North Korea escalate even more, or the president needs to ask Congress for approval to put boots on the ground somewhere, you know, this credibility issue is so important. And at a time like that, you could really imagine this hurting him.

And I think the credibility issue is also not just with the American public. If you look at the way that he has interacted with members of Congress, especially through the health care debate. A lot of these folks, at the end of the exercise, felt like, you know, he didn't really have our backs. We went out on a limb and he wasn't there to actually support us when we really needed it. And I think at a time when he really needs the support, not only of the public, but also of members of his own party, that is going to be very, very painful.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, "THE FEDERALIST": Yes, I'm with you, that the -- I think the change element of this for his voters is the more important part of this and for his support because that's the thing they were willing to sort of exchange some of the character issues and the credibility for it. And if you don't get the change on the other end, then people got -- start getting more upset.

You're right, like I think he faces real challenges in this situation where things get a little bit more heated. The other thing is, I do think it's important in understanding how much the credibility question matters to him to contextualize it in the fact that Congress is way lower. In the fact that in July polling media was around the same area.


HAM: That all these institutions, including, by the way, polling, just to mess with everyone's mind --

ZELENY: Right.

HAM: Also very distrusted.

BASH: That's so meta (ph).

HAM: So he's like sort of in the middle of a back pack.

BASH: Yes.

HAM: And so Americans view that slightly differently than they would if everyone else was up here and he's down here.

BASH: That's a really good point.

I want to talk about a tweet that the president sent this morning. He -- it's actually a retweet. And we can put it up on the screen. A retweet from "Fox and Friends." U.S. spy satellites detect North Korea moving anti-ship cruise missiles to patrol boat. After that retweet, Nikki Haley, his ambassador to the U.N., was on Fox, and listen to the way that she dissed the notion of talking about this publicly.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: I can't talk about anything that's classified. And if that's in the newspaper, that's a shame. It's incredibly dangerous when things get out into the press like that. You're not only just getting a scoop on something, you're playing with people's lives.


BASH: OK. So I'm not exactly sure if she knew that the president of the United States had retweeted that, her boss. But at the end of the day, that's -- that's the reality here. The reality is that she is talking about a concern about classified information getting out there and the president just retweeted it to his how many followers?

ZELENY: Thirty-three million or so.

BASH: Thirty-three million followers.

ZELENY: I mean it's very unusual. It's not the first time that it's happened. The president, as we know now, watches television a lot of the time. And he likes to watch "Fox and Friends" in the morning. He likes to send out messages. You know, who knows if he's endorsing that view or not. If that's what his -- sort of amplifying that was.

But it does speak to the fact that he's not following his own rules here. That story was built on anonymous sources or confidential sources, as we like to call them now, and he was sending it out.

Very odd for the president, again, to do this. The president can declassify anything he wants.

BASH: He can.

ZELENY: He wasn't necessarily intentionally doing that, I think, by social media.

BASH: Right.

ZELENY: But it sort of had that effect of him, you know, endorsing this viewpoint.

BASH: And it's not the first time he's done this.

ZELENY: It's not the first time.

BASH: I remember in April I was with the vice president in Asia and there was a -- he did an interview talking about nuclear submarines heading to the Korean Peninsula. And I asked the vice president about it. He's like, I can't talk about that because it's classified.

[12:10:07] DAVIS: Well, and, also, there was a "Washington Post" report several weeks ago that they -- they were going to -- the Trump administration was going to end this program whereby the United States covertly armed Syrian rebels, anti-Assad rebels, and that's -- it was a covert program. It was actually well-known, but it, technically speaking, was a classified program. The president then tweeted about the story and essentially confirmed the premise of the story and sort of pushing back against the notion that they shouldn't have ended that program.

And so what we don't see with this White House, certainly not with the president himself, is a -- sort of the carefulness of language when it comes to these things. These are extremely sensitive programs.

BASH: Well, there's carefulness of language and then there's downright hypocrisy. I mean this is a president who had his attorney general and his DNI go out and do a big press conference last week about how we're going to crack down on leaks and -- OK. I mean, when is the leak investigation starting on the Fox report that the president of the United States retweeted, all based on anonymous sources of classified information?

HAM: Yes, no --

BASH: I mean what's your bet? When is it going to start?

HAM: Well, the thing is with Donald Trump, and this is not a view I'm endorsing, it's just a fact about him. It is often just as simple as, when the rules benefit him, they are the rules. And when they don't, they're different rules. I think you see it with polling. I think you see it with anonymous leakers. And some of the stuff he has a right to be upset about leaking, particularly the transcripts of those full phone calls with country leaders that make him wonder, can he talk to these guys in the future?

But he plays by the rules that he wants to in the moment he wants to, and that can really trip up somebody like Nikki Haley, who, for instance, has a fairly consistent view of what should be out and what should not and seems to be sort of having --

BASH: She's put in a really tough position.

HAM: A foreign minister strategy as opposed to Donald Trump, who's just sort of tweeting.

BASH: Yes.

All right, everybody stand by.

Up next, the Republican senator who tweeted out a picture of naked ladies. I promise, I am going to explain that. Stay with us after the break.


[12:16:00] BASH: A United States senator tweeted about naked ladies. That happened. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley grabbed Twitter's attention with this tweet, delighted to show the beautiful naked ladies in my flower garden at my Iowa farm. I know, not exactly what you had in mind. This is family-friendly television, folks. But even when senators are home for August recess, they are just like us, tending to their gardens, posting on social media. Yet unlike us, when lawmakers are home, they are supposed to meet with their bosses, the voters who sent them to Washington. Congressman Will Hurd is kicking off a 20-stop tour he's dubbing D.C. to DQ. He's hitting up Dairy Queens in his district to meet with constituents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. WILL HURD: We're making 20 stops from El Paso to San Antonio to answer your questions. If you're not able to make the trip, you can still ask a question. Use the filter below and post your snap to our story.


BASH: And here's Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley meeting with voters on Monday.

But not everybody is getting a warm welcome. Just ask Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa if California. LaMalfa got hammered by angry voters at one of his town halls. And according to "The Los Angeles Times," one voter upset over LaMalfa's support for the House GOP repeal and replace of Obamacare shouted, "may you die in pain." Wow. A little much.

And this hour activists are expected to hold a mock empty chair town hall in Arkansas for Republican Senator Tom Cotton.

Let's bring in our senior congressional reporter Manu Raju, who has some new reporting on the ramifications, Manu, of Republicans failing to repeal and replace Obamacare.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Dana. I'm told by multiple Republican officials that at least $2 million worth of contributions expected to the National Republican Senatorial Committee will no longer go to the committee because donors are expressing concerns over the Republicans' failure to move on health care. Now this points to the larger concerns within the party right now that the failure to repeal and replace Obamacare could cost them at the polls next November, November 2018, when the House in particular could flip. And when senators, Senate Republicans, may have a more secure map, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is raising concerns privately that the party cannot take this chamber and their 52-48 majority for granted.

Now this comes, Dana, as Republicans are getting an earful from constituents and also explaining why they have not done more in saying that they need to do more. Here's Republican Congressman Shawn Duffy of Wisconsin explaining this earlier today.


REP. SEAN DUFFY (R), WISCONSIN: We have to start having some wins. We can't say we're going to be great and do great things, but not repeal and replace Obamacare. Can't not get tax reform done. We have to get the big agenda items across the finish line, and that's less about Trump and it's more about the Congress.


RAJU: Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, last night, also had some rather telling remarks, Dana, saying at a rotary club in northern Kentucky that our new president has not been in this line of work before. He said that he had excessive expectations and had -- about how quickly things can be done in the Democratic process and may have had too many artificial deadlines thinking that he could get things done.

And, of course, on the other side of the Capitol, House Speaker Paul Ryan saying the Senate is bottling things up. So you're seeing a lot of finger-pointing happening in the beginning weeks of this congressional recess, Dana.

BASH: That's so shocking. Great reporting, as always, Manu. Thank you so much.

RAJU: Thanks.

MJ, you walk the halls. I mean you probably wore out, I don't know how many pairs of shoes during all of the health care back and forth. And so I'm wondering what your perspective is on what Manu was just reporting. In all the time that you spent with Republican lawmakers, you know, worried that, on the one hand they need to keep their promises, their political promises. On the other hand, they don't want to mess up the health care system.

[12:20:07] LEE: Right. No, I mean this was a very, very tough period for these Republican lawmakers. They were feeling the tug and pull from both their constituents. And also the big promise that they have been making for years sort of weighing over them at every step of this process.

And I think this recess is particularly hard for them, and that's not -- that's expected. We knew that this was going to be a lot of, a recess filled with a lot of town halls, with very angry constituents, a lot of yelling. We've seen that throughout the year. And I think it's important to emphasize that this is not only about health care and whether Republicans were able to make headway on that one issue.

It is also that these Republicans go back to their hometowns, their home states, and they are having to answer for the president. Whenever the president puts out a tweet that doesn't make sense or is offensive, all of these members of Congress have to answer for them, and that makes it tough. Having been to these town halls, some of the most spirited moments, and spirited is a more flattering word, a euphemistic word, some of those moments where these members of Congress have to answer for the president, those are the moments that are the most painful.

BASH: You know, and, Jeff, this is part of why some Republicans, and Democrats, but more Republicans, are just saying, I'm not going to do these town halls.

ZELENY: Right.

BASH: Dave Brat, who is a congressman from Virginia, who I should say took out the House majority leader, a fellow Republican --

ZELENY: Right. Right.

BASH: In part by really on the ground swell of activists, he said, it is clear these individuals are more interested in scoring political points with television cameras running than in having constructive dialogue about issues. I will not spend 90 minutes being shouted at by individuals who have already demonstrated they have no interest in a productive exchange of ideas. So he has a point. You know, they are shouted at. But that's what -- that's the job you signed up for. You've got to just, you know, sometimes sit there and take it.

ZELENY: No question. I mean one of the biggest conversations in senators' offices and in members of Congress' offices, what are we going to do during the recess periods? Some of them actually wish they were here working. Because, you know, you're sort of damned if you do and damned if you don't. If you don't hold town halls, your rivals or someone running against you will say, you know, you're not being accessible. If you do hold town halls, you could have that video moment, that YouTube moment, that could be used against you as well here.

But I always think we have to give sort of a hat tip and some applause to the members of Congress who do hold these meetings.

BASH: Absolutely.

ZELENY: Because, you know, right or wrong, they get a lot of blowback.

But Senator Grassley from Iowa, you mentioned at the beginning of this, he is famous for doing all 99 counties in Iowa every year. A lot of Dairy Queens along the way as well. Andi think that that is something that the constituents, you know, appreciate.

But the bottom line is, about these relationships in Congress that Manu was talking about, boy, September is going to be a huge month for so many issues coming down the pike, from the debt ceiling, to tax reform and other things. I think that -- I can't wait to see how the president responds to what the majority leader was saying because --

BASH: Exactly.

ZELENY: That really exposes a big rift.

BASH: And the point you were making, MJ, about the fact that the president's -- what he does and how people view the president, and this is true of any president, not just this, effects of the trickle down or trickle over to Congress and they're the next people on the ballot. I mean enthusiasm in our new poll breaks against Trump 2-1. Among Republicans strong approval has dropped. Republicans, who you need to get out in the midterms from 73 to 59 percent now. So this is a big issue for these members, particularly all House members on the ballot, and the senators who are involved --

HAM: Yes, both answering for him in public and figuring out how he reacts to them in public after they're having these negotiations. I'm in favor of all lawmakers doing a bunch of town halls, partly because you get to meet with more constituents and partly (ph) because you makes it better at them and the chances of having that one video moment --

BASH: Yes.

HAM: Go down when you have a lot, a lot, a lot of moments with people.

ZELENY: Right.

HAM: But I sympathize with the idea that like sometimes they feel like they're not just being shouted at but shouted down. I mean when your constituents are saying, "I hope you die in pain" --

BASH: Yes.

HAM: I would argue that perhaps that's solidifying to the base of that Republican congressman as opposed to --

BASH: Yes.

HAM: Convincing people to side with you. And that's something they face out there. But I think the bottom line becomes, does any of it actually matter because in the actual congressional elections, Democrats, as of yet, and special (INAUDIBLE) --

BASH: Yes.

HAM: Have not figured out how to turn that tide.

BASH: That's true.

HAM: And are these districts mismatched to their leadership in the end? I think that's unclear at this point.

BASH: They -- they could be. There are a few who -- that are not.

HAM: Right.

BASH: One is in Nevada, the Senate seat, that is currently held by Dean Heller. Very -- very vulnerable. He just got himself a Republican primary opponent today. Listen to what his new opponent said when he announced.


DANNY TARKANIAN, CHALLENGING SENATOR DEAN HELLER IN NEVADA: I'm very excited to announce I'm going to run for the United States Senate here in Nevada against Dean Heller. We're never going to make America great again unless we have senators in office that fully support President Trump and his America first agenda. Dean Heller wasn't just one of the first never Trumpers in Nevada. He was one of the most influential. He actually helped Hillary Clinton win the state of Nevada.


[12:25:12] BASH: So this is -- comes from the other side, Republicans who go up against the president and challenge him, you know, get a challenge from the right. Now, Danny Tarkanian is -- he's the son of the legendary UNLV basketball coach and he has run many, many times unsuccessfully. So he's kind of a known quantity, which is probably good for Dean Heller.

DAVIS: Well, absolutely. But, I mean, we did see Donald Trump really personalize this with Dean Heller during the whole health care debate. And he had him at the White House, sat next to him, kind of ribbed him about how like you better do the right thing because your voters are watching.

Again, the problem is, members of Congress wanted to be able to go home this August and actually talk about accomplishments. If they can talk about accomplishments, if they can talk about a vote that they're proud of on health care or something that they've gotten done on infrastructure that's going to help their constituents, it's a little bit easier to answer for those, you know, (INAUDIBLE) tweets and some of the other behavior that their constituents might not like and might not like to see from the president. They don't have any of that. And so what they have to calculate now is, how far out on a limb do they go when it may just be that this president turns against them. He's already been -- saying quite a few things, you know, critical of the Congress. He's, you know --

BASH: I think that's going to continue (INAUDIBLE).

ZELENY: Right.

DAVIS: And that's a real fear. And that's -- you know, he can -- he can maybe insert pressure on them in that way, but it also could come back to bite him because if they don't feel like they can trust him in the end to be behind them on these tough votes, that's going to be a reason that they -- that pushes them over to the no column --

BASH: We have a lot more -- we have a lot more to talk about in CNN's new poll. We're going to break down how Americans grade the president on issues like the economy, foreign policy and a surprising figure on what we were talking about, health care.

We'll be right back.