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Trump Meets With Hill Leaders On Tax Reform Today; Trump Gives Congress Six Months To Figure Out DACA Fix; North Korea Threatens To "Blow Up U.S. Mainland"; South Korea Holds More Live-Fire Drills; Clinton Slams Bernie Sanders In New Book. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 5, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: -- very interesting. And all that matters including those investigations. Manu Raju, appreciate the reporting.

As Congress enters this crucial stretch, President Trump will meet today with the big six including GOP Senate and House leaders McConnell and Ryan. The topic, tax reform. That means today marks the first presidential meeting with leader McConnell since their summer war of words.

There was that heated phone call, remember, in early August between the two sources describing it to CNN as a conversation that quickly evolved into a shouting match. President Trump voicing his frustration over those Russia investigations and the Russia sanctions bill he didn't want to sign. And remember this --


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Now our new President of course has not been in this line of work before, and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the Democratic process.


KING: Tick, tick, tick, tick. That didn't sit well with the President and didn't take long. He hammered McConnell in a barrage of tweets during the summer recess. Remember this one said on Mitch McConnell said, "I had excessive expectations, but I don't think so. After seven years of hearing repeal and replace, why not done?" And there was this, "The only problem I have with Mitch McConnel is that after hearing repeal and replace for seven years, he failed. That never should have happened."

None of us are invited to the meeting today at the White House, unfortunately. We make light of this because of the political theater and the drama, but when you have Harvey relief, Irma coming at the United States, a budget bill, the quicksand that is the debt ceiling debate, the Russia investigations, the immigration debate that Congress may or may not turn its attention to, and I could go on for a while. How much the dysfunction between a critical player in the United States Senate, the critical player in the United States Senate and the President of the United States mean? MOLLY BALL, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: I actually don't know if it can get any worse. You left out my favorite of the Trump tweet which was the, Mitch, get back to work one. But, you know, already we had a President who congressional leaders felt was not doing anything to help advance their agenda except be a Republican President in the White House which I do think is a factor.

You know, there are many of these issues that the reason they were so difficult when Obama was in office was because you had a Democratic president and the Republicans and Congress didn't want to give him a win. Now it's cynical as that was that means with a Republican in the White House. They will be more eager to do things like raise the debt ceiling just as Democrats have flipped on this issue depending on who was in the White House.

So, I think what you're going to see is a sort of divorce between Capitol Hill and the President, where Capitol Hill sort of goes their own way. Not expecting Trump to really help them do the heavy lifting. Just hoping he'll sign the stuff that they put on his desk and the question as always is going to be less a rift between Trump and Republicans, but the divisions between Republicans that we've seen so many years.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There's only question though that for the first time Republicans control, you know, all levers of power here in Washington in 10 years. It would be much more productive and this time would be much better spent if they were working together because, you know, if -- the President would have Senator McConnell in.

But a senior White House person who deals with Capitol Hill told me earlier that, look, what you were saying. And we are sort of operating separately here but members of Congress will get the legislation done and give us things to sign, because they know that they need to. They're on the ballots next year. The President's not on the ballot next year.

So -- But it is very, very unusual, the fact that, you know, these high-level name callings, but there's no doubt. Mitch McConnell is probably the one Republican in Washington that President Trump needs.

KING: But what will they give him? What will they give him? It's their job to keep the lights on. And they're having a hard time passing a spending bill. The government runs out of money at the end of the month. They have to pass that spending bill. They also -- with that, pass an increase in the debt ceiling because the government has to borrow more money, needs the authority to borrow more money to pay for bills already incurred.

What happened to repealing and replacing Obamacare? What happened to tax reform and what happened to infrastructure? Candidate Trump and -- said all three of those. Republican Party wanted Obamacare repeal -- the tax reform, they sort to said, OK, Mr. President on infrastructure, we are now talking about getting Harvey aid, debt ceiling, keeping the government open done. Are any of those big- ticket items? Do they have a prayer? JULIE BYKOWICZ, REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, and now you've got this DACA dynamic as well and you've got the President going out to North Dakota later this week to talk about tax reform, ostensibly tax cuts and tax reform. But it feels like there's just so much else going on right now and then, again, just to introduce another very complex issue just today. It's going to be hard for him to stay on message on these agenda items.

And then you're right back in the spot where you saw the President before the health care reform debate, where he doesn't quite know what to say. He doesn't quite know how to talk to his base and others about what's going on in Congress.

KING: And he keeps fighting them. His own party.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. And that is making this all the more difficult, but I think this will exposes that he basically is not part of the institution Republican Party, right? He's closer to a third-party actor than he is and sort of leader of the GOP. I think that reflected when he's coming after McConnell.

I think that there's hope, not necessarily in tax reform but for tax cuts at least. Here's why.

[12:35:04] The House folks have going to -- have something to run on next year, OK? They can't run on the DREAM Act, Harvey spending and keeping the lights on the government. It's not quite paging (ph) the House guys want to run. They need something to hold up to voters in the fall 2018 when they're running for re-election.

And also if there's anything that the GOP knows how to do it's cut taxes, OK? This is their DNA, man. But as why they exist, a lot of these folks up there, is to cut taxes. So I think there's still hope for that. I don't know what it will look like, but it's going to be some kind of tax cut.

KING: You may well be right but it was their DNA to repeal Obamacare too and we haven't seen that.

Up next, the North Korea nuclear crisis puts one Trump administration official back in the big spotlight.


[12:40:12] KING: The hope, of course, after the big weekend drama is for a de-escalation in tensions between the United States and North Korea. We're not seeing it either in rhetoric or on developments happening on the ground.

Today, the regime in Pyongyang threatened, get this, "to blow up the U.S. mainland and to annihilate the wolfish U.S. imperialists." South Korea, meanwhile, conducting more live-fire drills at sea. This one captain saying that if provoked, they'll hit back at the North and quote, bury them at sea. CNN's Will Ripley is with us now live from Tokyo. Well, also hearing reports that a large North Korean missile is on the move. What can you tell us?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And the thing we need to keep in mind through all of this is that, yes, it's very likely according to South Korea's National Intelligence Service that North Korea will be launching another intercontinental ballistic missile perhaps by Saturday. Saturday is a major national holiday. But this is going to be a missile test just like all the other missile launches just like the nuclear test.

And to put things in perspective, the United States back when it was still testing nuclear devices conducted more than 1,000 nuclear tests, North Korea has conducted 6. Russia conducted more than 700 nuclear tests. So, yes, they gain scientific knowledge. It's a disturbing advancement for the nuclear program.

North Korea is the only country that's tested nuclear weapons in the 21st century. And if they launch this ICBM, will be provocative, reckless, they're like -- there won't be a warning which potentially puts planes and ships in danger, hypothetically, because we're not going to be told to stay out of that area. But this is about propaganda.

And, in fact, there was a statement from North Korea's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva calling these gift packages. These missile launches and the nuclear tests gift packages to the United States. I'll read you a portion of it. He says, "T U.S. will receive more gift packages from my country as long as it relies on reckless provocations and futile attempts to put pressure on the DPRK."

So at the end of the day, this is about sending a message to the United States. It's not about North Korea trying to intentionally start a war. The concern, though, is that there could be a misstep that could lead this region into an accidental war. A lot of times that's how wars start and that's the real concern. Russian President Vladimir Putin expressing that saying that we're headed for a global catastrophe if the U.S. continues trying to put pressure and sanctions on North Korea, and that he says are useless.

Interesting thing to watch, John, he's hosting an economic forum in Vladivostok starting tomorrow. The leaders of Japan, South Korea and there's also a North Korean delegation there noticeably absent, the U.S. and China. Could Putin actually be trying to play the role of peacemaker here? He's been talking a lot about the issue on the Korean peninsula.

KING: We'll keep an eye on that among of many things we're tracking in these crises. Will Ripley live in Tokyo. Will, thank you.

Big test for the Trump administration here and some of the strongest language we've heard during the standoff came yesterday from the American side. The United States ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, listen here, speaking bluntly at the Security Council.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED STATES: For more than 20 years, North Korea has defied our collective voice. I must say, enough is enough. We have taken an incremental approach and despite the best of intentions, it has not worked. His abusive use of missiles and his nuclear threats show that he is begging for war.

When a rogue regime has a nuclear weapon and an ICBM pointed at you, you do not take steps to lower your guard. The United States will look at every country that does business with North Korea as a country that is given aid to their reckless and dangerous nuclear intentions.


KING: Should we be surprised? Are we surprised that she has emerged as such a strong spokeswoman for the administration on these security issues? You have now a generalist of the White House Chief of Staff, a generalist of Defense Secretary, big CEOs, a Secretary of State. But on these big crises, more often than not, Nikki Haley has emerged as the go-to person.

ZELENY: IT does sort of surprise me -- I mean, looking back to some six or seven months ago. She was the Republican governor of South Carolina, who was not, you know, on the inner circle of the Trump team at all. She has emerged --

KING: In fact, a Trump critic --

ZELENY: Absolutely. She had emerged as a power center. And I think part of it is because the President, I'm told, respects and likes her. He likes her on screen, on camera, on television. She's also in New York. She also is not sort of stuck in the, you know, the muck of things in the West Wing there. So it is interesting, though, that she has emerged as this voice. And I think she, you know, is speaking for the administration there and in some respect, she is speaking, you know, with a more succinct message than most others if not everyone.

BALL: Well, the way that Nikki Haley stands out in the group of people that you just mention, she's the only one who's a politician. And anyone who's cover her as a politician, who's cover her as governor knows that she is savvy, she is ambitious, she is well spoken. So it does, in a way, makes sense that she would be the one who is presenting the best public face of this administration. The most articulate. The most well reasoned.

[12:45:02] She's impressed a lot of people but, you know, you have a Secretary of State who seems to be flailing and has no appetite for being in public. A President who doesn't seem to be very interested in the sort of foreign affairs end of the job and even the generals, even someone like General Mattis, they have not been in politics. They have not been in a situation where it was their job to sell something to the public. Nikki Haley's done it a lot.

BYKOWICZ: And what she's been doing so well is taking in what the President is saying and sort of saying the same thing but translating it into a more traditional context for people across the world to understand. I mean, she's not off message with him at all. She's just saying it in a more --

BALL: She has sometimes been off message.

KING: Seems to be pulling him sometimes.

MARTIN: Yes. I think --

KING: To a more hawkish, more traditional with, I think, foreign policy.

MARTIN: I think it's two things. She's pulling a vacuum, right? I mean, this is an administration of entrepreneurs. You free lance because there's no rules, there's no checking, just do what you want to do basically. And so, she's taking advantage of that. Trump likes her on TV.

But also, she catches attention and draws these sound bites that we play back because she's a hawk. And because she will say that out loud in a way that others folks won't. Certainly Tillerson comes to mind. And so I think that's why that she's more memorable --

KING: There'll be a test. Is she effective? Because the United Nations has not known -- she's read through all the North Korea resolutions the other day. The United Nations is not known for actually doing stuff. They talk about a lot of things.

But here's another moment just a few months ago. And I want to warn you, some of this a little graphic. Remember when you had the chemical weapon attack inside Syria, Nikki Haley going after the Assad regime but also Vladimir Putin.


HALEY: We saw rows of lifeless bodies. Some still in diapers. Some with visible scars of a chemical weapons attack. Look at those pictures. If Russia has the influence in Syria that it claims to have, we need to see them use it. We need to see them put an end to these horrific acts. How many more children have to die before Russia cares?


KING: It's -- she was known as a rising star in the party anyway before on this. But it has changed the conversation about her in Washington. She speaks with force, she speaks with clarity and, to your point, she speaks as more hawkish, traditional Republican Party. She sounds like a John McCain not a Donald Trump.

ZELENY: and, in fact, she talks to him a lot. She's very close to John McCain and Lindsey Graham as well. But that's the thing. I mean, she is filling the vacuum.

The big question is, does she have an impact on the policy of this administration, specifically if there's a military decision? I'm not so sure that she does, but she has leading them at least in a public message setting. BALL: I have to say, though, is there is a theme to this administration's policy so far, and it has been somewhat all over the map. If there's a theme, it is that they have viewed much closer to a traditional Republican line than you would have expected from the President's campaign rhetoric on everything from Israel to Afghanistan. And I think Nikki Haley is part of guiding that.

King: Right. That's one -- you've seen the criticism from the outside, now on the outside. Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka saying, who are you surrounding yourself with, Mr. President.

Next to point up next, so Clinton is writing a book. Yes, she has a lot to say about Donald Trump, but also about Bernie Sanders.


[12:52:21] KING: Welcome back. Yes, 2016, seems like the song that never ends and it seems Hillary Clinton will continue singing it as long as she can. Her new 500-page book called, "What Happened" doesn't come up for a week. But the excerpt show it won't be short on grievances, plenty of them directed at Senator Bernie Sanders.

Clinton dismisses her Democratic primary rival as a disrupter who she says, merely wanted to watch the Democratic Party burn and inflicted quote, lasting damage on her campaign. Clinton's book likened Senator Sanders to the hitchhiker from the movie, "Something about Mary" promising the same thing only faster. "On issue after issue," Clinton writes, "it was like he kept promising four-minute abs, or even no minute abs, magic abs." OK.

I get it. I get it. It was a bruising primary campaign. She thinks it hurt her. This is -- this cleansing and closure, or is this further dividing the Republicans fractured? We spent a lot of time talking about that? Is this further adding fracturing to the Democrats?

ZELENY: And President Trump's going to be thrilled to have Hillary Clinton back in the conversation. Look, I think she's right that Senator Bernie Sanders hurt her. What she doesn't acknowledge there -- and we'll see if she does in the whole manuscript is that they were her decisions that Bernie Sanders seized upon. Her decisions to make the paid speech. Her decision to do the private e-mail server. So at the core of all that, yes, he hurt her, no question, in states like Wisconsin and Michigan, but they were her decisions he seized on.

KING: And he took advantage of political openings.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: So he didn't create those openings.

ZELENY: Guilty as charged. Yes.

MARTIN: No. Look, I think -- and in Hillary's defense, she couldn't do this book and not account for the Bernie factor I think that she sort of had to. But, at the same time, Bernie and his lingering effect on the party is such a raw issue on the left right now. And for her to come along and do this, at this point, is going to reopen this wound that actually hasn't totally closed, not helpful.

KING: Let me read this part before you jump in. "When I finally challenged Bernie during a debate to name a single time I changed a position or a vote because of a financial contribution he couldn't come up with anything. None the less, his attacks caused lasting damage making it hard to unify progressives in the general election and paving the way for Trump's quote, crooked Hillary campaign.

Again, is it because Bernie couldn't name one? Or, I mean, Bernie didn't take millions of dollars for paid speeches? Bernie didn't run the Clinton Foundation, Bernie didn't set up a private e-mail server?

BYKOWICZ: I know. And it feels so uncomfortable to keep relitigating this over and over. But at the same time in ways, in some ways, get the book out. It's well before mid-terms and sort of gets 2016 out of the way. She obviously wanted to write a book and has something to say about the Democratic Party. Which we all know from covering it is a mess right now.

[12:55:03] So whether this book kind of helps kind of break, open more wounds so that they can heal or serves as a diversionary tactic, we'll see.

BALL: No -- I mean, I think there are actually two separate wounds in the Democratic Party that this sort salt, right? First, you have the Bernie supporter still feeling mistreated by the DNC and then you have the policy issue day she points to. The desire of the base for more a Bernie-style platform she never seems to have come to grips with.

KING: Well, good reading for 2018 and to 2020. I suspect a lot of these fights will continue. Thanks for joining us. See you back here this time tomorrow.

Waiting for the White House briefing to start about half an hour. Wolf Blitzer will be in the chair for that.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Moscow, 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning in Pyongyang, North Korea, wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Breaking news, we are only moments away from the White House briefing as protests erupt over the President's plan to end of the DREAMER Program for giving Congress six months to save at the battle. Beginning right now, speaking of Congress, the clock is ticking. Just a short time from now, lawmakers are back in session facing --