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INSIDE POLITICS

Poll Grades Trump's Performance on Issues; Today: Pres, Health SECY Meet on Opioid Crisis; Buzz Begins Over Dem Contenders for 2020; U.S. Intel Concludes North Korea is Making Missile Ready Nuclear Warheads. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 8, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


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[12:31:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're doing very well in the fight against ISIS. As you know the border was a tremendous problem, and now close to 80% stoppage.

We're unleashing a new era of American prosperity, perhaps like we've never seen before.

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DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump gives himself high marks on his handling of some of the big issues. And there is good news is that with the economy is still humming along. More than half of those surveyed in this new poll say things are going well.

Well, they are split evenly on his handling of the economy. The president is under water on hot button issues across the board from health care, to foreign affairs, to immigration. And on health care specifically, check this out. He has 31% approval on his handling of health care. And compare that to President Obama's record. Do you remember how slammed he got on Obamacare? But the lowest he ever dropped was 36%. So that tells you a lot about kind of where things stand for the president.

And Jeff Zeleny, you know, the idea having health care is one thing, but also on immigration which is supposed to be his calling card, taxes as well, the economy.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean I think that it's a reality of, again, he hasn't, you know, worked 201 days in and there haven't been any accomplishments that have been wracked up on that. But even more than that, he doesn't talk about these things a lot. I think that is one thing at least his advisers hopefully he will change and start talking about things.

We saw it on immigration a week ago. Even the fact that if he talks about it, his supporters and his base will feel more reassured that he may ultimately do something about it here. But I think the, you know, in any polling we always have to, you know, have huge caveats, especially this early. Because eventually it will be -- BASH: Yes.

ZELENY: -- compared to who --

BASH: Exactly.

ZELENY: Compared to what? And I think Julie mentioned something earlier that's really a mind-set of the White House that they -- there are some of his advisers who believe that staying right below 40%, or at 40%, will be just fine.

Because a Democrat obviously will ultimately run against him and an independent may run against him as well. And you can win the presidency against with 39% of the vote or 40% of the vote. So they really believe that keeping the base happy and fired up is very important. But there are some worries on those --

BASH: Yes.

ZELENY: -- on the issues that we should point also out. Republicans control the entire apparatus of the government here for the first time in a decade. So this was the year to accomplish something. Next year's harder, obviously.

BASH: You said there are some warning signs. If we go down just to the question of whether the Trump administration has been a success, and you break it down by party, Republicans are at 76%, which may look good. But kind of the rule of some in politics is you don't want to go below 80% on anything in your own party. So, that's a big sort of red flag.

MARY KATHERINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: Yes. It is for sure. And I think a lot of those comes from the fact that I'm not discounting it for that reason. But it comes from the fact that Republican Party and probably won the presidency while going through divorce. It is still going through that divorce and is trying to figure out if they can co- parent America with Donald Trump in a successful way. And so that risk is going to remain.

These numbers are always going to be I think lower than they would have been in a more traditional GOP presidency. It doesn't mean they're not troubled. And it also signals perhaps other roads for Donald Trump's take that are outside of the Republican Party.

BASH: And Mary Kath, I saw you in my peripheral vision. You're not in your head when I mentioned there is good news which is more than half of those surveyed in the poll things that go -- or the things are going well. And traditionally, again, when pollsters look at these things, you know, it's right, wrong track. How do people feel about the country? That's not as bad as the other numbers?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Sure. I mean I think that was one bright spot in this poll that was very extensive. But I thought what was really interesting about the economy question was that not a lot of people are, you know, necessarily giving President Trump credit. Even if they do feel like the country is generally moving in the right direction, if you look at the question of is he handling the economy well, well voters are actually pretty split.

[12:35:13] And when you ask the question of how is he handling middle class issues, more people think that he has not handling the issue well than people who think that he is.

So, you know, Jeff, you were saying, you don't often see the president staying on message and talking about some of the successes, the little successes that he has had here and there. This is a problem the administration has and we've been talking about all throughout this year.

BASH: And talking about the issues later today in New Jersey on this working vacation. The president is going to address an epidemic in this country, and that is the Opioid crisis.

Chris Christie who is leading the commission for the president told CNN over the weekend that the president has to declare a national emergency, a public health emergency.

So this is an area where he needs to take control. I mean this is the ultimate test of leadership. I think he's going to talk about it today.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, absolutely. And I think, you know, the White House had hoped that opioids might be an issue to help them get the health care package across the finish line. In the end there was a lot of wheeling and dealing. Can we maybe, you know, bring some people onboard to that legislation by talking about the money that would be in there for opioid abuse, of course that didn't happen

And so now they're taking this opportunity and I would add they want to add some things to his schedule to keep him busy and to keep him engaged on policy during his vacation. And I think this is a good opportunity to do that.

I do think that, you know, if you look at that number in terms of his support among Republicans is interestingly dangerously low. And the theory of the case of a lot of allies of this White House and of the Trump advisers was he can be a little bit, you know, less popular among Republicans -- conventional Republicans if he can make progress among those independent motors or people who don't consider themselves Republicans but are conservatives. They believe on some of the populist themes that he brought up during the campaign.

He also hasn't really cultivated them. And so I think that the hope is that maybe by focusing on opioids and some of this other issues that he might be able to activate, you know, sort of that level of support. But so far he hasn't really accomplished anything on that.

BASH: All right. Everybody stand by. Up next, Democrats are already eyeing the 2020 presidential raise. We'll tell you who has been trying to raise their profile next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:41:27] BASH: It's not something that would normally garner much interest this early in a president's first term, but these times are anything but normal. And buzz is beginning when it comes to which Democrats might run for the White House in 2020.

There are lots of names in the political either, including Senator Kamala Harris of California, Duvall Patrick the former governor of Massachusetts. Also the man who might have gotten the nomination last time around had he run, the former Vice President Joe Biden. And he has been active in politics just this week. As a matter of fact, reporting a robocall for the mayor of Detroit.

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JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: This is Vice President Joe Biden. Mike Duggan is a very good friend of mine. No mayor in America has done a better job for this city than Mike has done for Detroit. We've all seen what happens in this country when people don't vote. So vote.

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BASH: Another Democrat keeping a high profile is Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. And last night she highlighted one of her signature moments in Washington with these tweets about the stand she took against Jeff Sessions during the Senate debate over his nomination for attorney general.

I can already hear Bernie Sanders, you know, in his living room saying, why are we talking about this already? But, you know what --

ZELENY: He should talk.

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ZELENY: And he was in Iowa recently as well. So that is the --

BASH: Exactly. There you go.

ZELENY: -- the best example there. I mean the list of names there that you read off is incredibly interesting. We're not going to know for sure till after the midterm elections. That's when things sort of start to show or to see who is the most popular campaigning this fall.

But Senator Kamala Harris is fascinating to me. Because she arrives in Washington, the exact same time Barack Obama arrived in Washington at 2005 for him, 2017 for her, in terms of the first year of a new Republican administration.

So I think that that, look, she -- the party generally looks to someone new, not someone old. The future, not the past. We'll see if that's true this time. But it's a huge problem for Democrats. There is no bench for the party.

So they can be laughing all they want about this of poll numbers for Donald Trump. But the reality is, Democrats are in complete disrepair and disarray in their own Party. There's no leader.

BASH: Right. So you just gave me an awesome segue ways. Thank you for that.

ZELENY: OK.

BASH: You're a really good friend.

Our old and new, let's look at the people who everybody knows. Household names when it comes to Democrats. Joe Biden is 77 years- old, Bernie Sanders is 78 years-old, Elizabeth warren is 70 years-old. Then, let's just -- we're not going to put their ages up but we can just tell you they're all -- most of them are considerably younger. Not all, but most of them.

But there are certainly new faces from Kamala Harris. We are talking about to Cory Booker, to Terry McAuliffe, Andrew Cuomo, Seth Moulton and he's the congressman from Connecticut. So we have this kind of bench. Maybe it's a back to back bench but it's a bench and at these people are sitting on it. What do you make of that Julie?

DAVIS: I mean, listen, if Democrats are going to be able to make a case for themselves for the next presidential election, they're going to need to have something fresh face.

One thing we learned from the last election is that voters are hungry for something different. They want to see turn of the page, they want to something that they don't have right now.

Now, Donald Trump is also 70-years old. I mean he's not a spring chicken. So I think there is that chance here for Democrats to have a reset. But in order to do that, they need to have a coherent message.

BASH: Yes.

DAVIS: They need to have something that we really haven't seen from them. And frankly, Donald Trump is making it really easy for them this year. The Republican leadership in Congress is making it easier than it should be for them because they can just sit back and watch the disarray.

[12:45:04] And as you said before the fingers pointing from the House to the Senate and the White House and back, they're not under much pressure to come up with that message. And yet they really are going to need it. And certainly after the 2018 elections --

BASH: But they have to. They have to. And they have to come up with something that they lacked in a big, big way which is an appeal to voters out there who are looking for a message of change and how are you going to help me with my pocketbook and somebody who can relate to them. And that's something that Jerry Brown, who's the governor of California, said on "Meet the Press" this Sunday. Let's listen.

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JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: The litmus test should be intelligence. Caring about the, as we -- as Harry Truman or Roosevelt used to call it the "Common Man". If we want to be a governing party of a very diverse, and I say diverse ideologically as well as ethnically country, well then you have to have a broader. A party that rises above the more particular issues to the generic, the general issue of making America great if I might take that word.

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BASH: We're going to talk about that and we're going to continue this discussion in one minute. But we have some news. I want to get straightaway to our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr about some new information about North Korea. North Korea and what it is doing with its nuclear program.

Barbara Starr, tell us what is going on and bring us up to date, please.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Dana. Let me bring everyone up to date. The "Washington Post" has just posted an article. And I want to read to you right away what the "Washington Post" is saying at this hour.

They are reporting that North Korea "Has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles." The key words, "North Korea has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead."

The "Washington Post" reporting this according to a U.S. Intelligence assessment by the defense intelligence agency. CNN has not yet independently confirmed this.

Why is this so important? Because developing a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside a missile is one of the last key pieces. Perhaps "the key piece" of what North Korea needs to accomplish to be able to carry out its long-standing threat to attack South Korea, Japan, the United States, in particular.

You combine that miniaturized nuclear warhead, you put it on top of one of the intercontinental ballistic missiles they recently tested, and this does become potentially very, very serious for President Trump to have to deal with. It would mean if all of these pieces and parts works that North Korea could at some point sooner rather than later, target the United States.

Now, let's just pull it apart for one second, Dana. One of the key things that North Korea -- the U.S. is not sure they have fully accomplished is something called re-entry. I don't mean -- like I said earlier today, I don't mean to geek out on everyone. But if you want to attack with a long-range missile, you fire that missile up into the atmosphere to a great distance. You bring it back down into the atmosphere and aim it at a target, perhaps thousands of miles away.

It is that re-entry into the earth's atmosphere that North Korea has to be sure it can do. It has to be able that missile, that warhead, have to survive the extreme heat of re-entering the earth the atmosphere. So there are some pieces and parts. Still, their guidance, their control, their re-entry, the real sophistication of being able to launch a missile and target thousands of miles away.

But make no mistake. If at this hour all of this is correct, that they have a miniaturized nuclear warhead that they can put inside a missile. It is hard to see where the Trump administration goes from here at this point. Because the president has long said, as every president before him, that they would not allow North Korea to be able to threaten the United States or to threaten U.S. allies in the region. Dana?

BASH: And that really is the key, Barbara. The key sort of reporting that every American president has dreaded, everybody in Congress, every American is that North Korea is going to get to the point where, as you said, there are some things that they apparently still have left to put into their technology. But the idea that they could get this into the missile and this missile could potentially hit the United States of America is, again, the thing that everybody has been worried about.

STARR: That's right. I mean, does anybody want to take the bet that they're going to be able to accomplish it on any given day.

[12:50:04] And I think it's important to go back really to when President Obama met with Mr. Trump just after the election. There were indications at that point that President Obama had briefed Mr. Trump very seriously on the North Korean threat.

And we know that President Trump continues -- we are told by I believe it's the CIA Director Mike Pompeo, that the president asks him nearly every day for the latest information about North Korea. We know from multiple sources that the president obviously extremely concerned about it. We have seen his public statements, his public tweets, his public persona on this subject. And it's quite adamant and quite wordy.

But we know from people we have talked to behind the scenes that President Trump is seriously very, very concerned about this, because this has always been the calculation for the U.S. Military and intelligence community.

How do you let -- if you let it get to the point where North Korea actually has all of those pieces and parts, the missile, the warhead, the re-entry, the nuclear materiel, the targeting, the guidance, what do you do about it? You know, we've talked a lot could you launch a pre-emptive strike, could you launch a small strike? North Korea has vowed it would turn South Korea into a sea of fire. It would retaliate immediately. Tens of thousands of South Koreans would be killed.

The notion of how you deal with North Korea militarily has been something that military planners know the options are out there, but they know they are very grim. It is very difficult to stop this program. They have multiple sites. They have multiple production facilities. Much of it is hidden underground. There is a very limited reality here for those who think you could conduct a small strike and send a message to North Korea. All military planners we've talked to in recent years have said, a limited strike is not realistic against North Korea. It is really a catastrophic scenario of all-in. And that is why we've seen such an emphasis on diplomacy.

With this "Washington Post" report now, this would cross an additional vital step putting North Korea on the road to being able to credibly, potentially attack the west.

BASH: Barbara Starr, thank you so much for your insights and reporting. I want to now go to CNN International Correspondent Will Ripley who is in Beijing.

And, Will, you've spent probably more time than any, if not, most American journalists inside the hermit kingdom, inside North Korea, the regime there. What do you make of this report, knowing what you know about how the North Koreans operate? I mean, I'm guessing the way that they like diplomatically for the world to see them as strong and have the ability. So I'm guessing that they are applauding at the notion that the west and the intelligence services in America are very concerned that they could potentially have this capability?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, keep in mind, Dana that North Korea was claiming I believe it was March of last year when they put out that photo of their Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un standing in front of that metallic ore that they claimed at that time was the miniaturized nuclear warhead. And I remember speaking with analyst who were so skeptical saying that North Korea was years away from developing that technology. That was last March.

And now, here we are. North Korea has launched so many missiles and a really a frenzied pace. They have made such rapid progress exceeding pretty much the expectations of anybody, and even from when I started going into North Korea for the first time in late 2014 to where we are now.

The tone of the officials in the country who I speak with has never changed. They have always confidently said that they have ICBMS that they're developing nuclear weapons and that they will use these weapons against the United States if they feel provoked. That was always considered rhetoric, for many years.

North Korea has long threatened to annihilate the United States. This is a threat that we've heard time and time again. But what's new and unprecedented is that they actually now have in their arsenal a weapon that most analysts agree might have the capability to do that.

Now, keep in mind, for they have for decades have had conventional weapons, you know, pointed directly at the metropolitan area, Seoul, South Korea. They could annihilate much of that city with the conventional arsenal that they have on the northern side of the demilitarize zone and they haven't done it.

North Korea also have chemical weapons in their arsenal. They could launch a chemical attack at any time against major cities around the world including the United States. They haven't done it. And the sense I get from North Korean officials is they don't want to use this ICBM. They don't want to use nuclear weapons either.

[12:55:11] But the real risk here and I think that danger is acknowledged on all sides is that if something were to happen, if something were to trigger a series of events, and then it became an unstoppable scenario that would lead to a war, that would truly be catastrophic. And that's what I think most experts will agree is the real danger right now.

BASH: Absolutely. Will Ripley, thank you so much for that report. And I want to just again reiterate what the "Washington Post" is reporting, CNN hasn't independently confirmed this. But it is that the intelligence community says is that North Korea has produced a nuclear weapon from ballistic missile delivery to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.

And with that, we are going to go to a quick break and Wolf Blitzer is going to take over with the breaking news right after it.

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