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Trump Debut at U.N.; Trump Meets with Leaders; Withdrawal From Paris Agreement; Hurricane Maria Eyes Caribbean; New Push for Obamacare Repeal. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 18, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:20] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

President Trump is attending his first United Nations General Assembly, pressing for stronger global isolation of North Korea and for a leaner, more effective U.N. management.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the main message is to make the United Nations great. Not again. Make the United Nations great. Such tremendous potential. And I think we'll be able to do it.


KING: Plus, big turns in the Russia election meddling investigation. A remarkable public airing of differences within the president's legal team and a warrant from the special counsel to FaceBook demanding more information about accounts and ads now traced back to Russia.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: They're not above the law. And it is illegal for foreign countries to undermine or participate in elections. So buying those FaceBook ads is illegal.


KING: And Republicans racing the clock. Two votes shy, they say, in yet another Senate effort to replace Obamacare.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Barack Obama moved heaven and earth to pass Obamacare. We've got to be as committed to repealing Obamacare as they were to passing it. We have to show the same passion for federalism as they showed for single payer health care and Washington centric solutions to every problem in your life.


KING: First, though, the president's big day. Make the United Nations great. Not great again, but great. Those words you just heard from President Trump, a deliberate, pointed play on his 2016 campaign slogan and part of high-stakes week at his first United Nations General Assembly.

The big speech is tomorrow. But in his first act this morning, the president made his case that the U.N. is handcuffed by too much red tape, he says, and he also says it's too dependent on the United States.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United Nations was founded on truly noble goals, yet in recent years the United Nations has not reached its full potential because of bureaucracy and mismanagement. To honor the people of our nations, we must ensure that no one and no member state shoulders a disproportionate share of the burden, and that's militarily or financially.


KING: Now Iran and North Korea are the two global problems highest on the president's U.N. agenda. For other world leaders, trying to get a true sense of just who the American president is and how he views the world is the giant challenge.

Candidate Trump, you might remember, promised to shake up the world. Remember, rip up the Iran deal, label China a currency manipulator, move the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, shred the North American Free Trade Agreement. President Trump has done none of those things. So far adopting a much more conventional foreign policy despite a most unconventional way of communicating.

CNN's senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is at the United Nations for us.

Jeff, the president's big address tomorrow, as we noted, but is setting the groundwork for some big meetings today. Take us through the agenda.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, he is indeed. And you captured there the pragmatic presidential tone, the measured tone that the president brought here today in his first appearance ever at the United Nations. Yes, he's from New York City. Yes, in fact, he lives just up the street. But he is -- you know, for the first time, you know, allowing world leaders to take a measure of him.

And when he was walking into the building earlier today, he was asked about North Korea and he says, as far as North Korea, you all know how I feel. Yes, the world knows how he feels. The bigger question is the what he intends to do about it. So we are expecting a few more specifics on North Korea tomorrow when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly here.

But otherwise, John, a much more measured approach, at least in tone for this president. Yes, scolding the U.N. Many presidents have come here and done the exact same thing, particularly Republican presidents. But certainly not the defined anti-U.N. that we heard so much from on the campaign trail from then candidate Trump. President Trump today sounded more presidential, John.

KING: Keeping to a script, at least at that first meeting. Although unscripted as he walked out.

Jeff, one of the mixed signals coming into this, the administration, I think, trying to clarify it this morning, is the president, is the Trump White House considering re-entering or not withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords?

ZELENY: And that is something that has been sort of in the atmosphere here, in the air here. But his -- the president's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, was meeting with some officials from 12 major countries, large countries, and he said, look, the United States is not planning on changing its position on the Paris Climate Accords.

Of course in June the president announced that he was stepping back unless there could be a better deal negotiated. But with, you know, more than 190 countries involved in this, the chances of renegotiations are quite complicated, to put it in the most charitable of light there. So Gary Cohn saying today that the U.S. is planning on staying out that was climate accord.

[12:05:15] Of course, that is one of the most controversial decisions this president has done. Certainly it did not sit well here in the U.N. But for all the talk of that, John, it is North Korea, Iran, other matters on tap for this president. He'll be meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu in the next hour.


KING: Just the beginning of what will be a fascinating few days ahead. Jeff Zeleny outside the United Nations.

Jeff, thank you.

With us to share their reporting and their insights here, Julie Pace of "The Associated Press," FiveThirtyEight's Perry Bacon, Jackie Calmes of "The Los Angeles Times," and "The Washington Post's" Karoun Demirjian.

I want to start with this afternoon because we have been waiting for months -- and the world keeps asking, who is he? Who is he? Is he the candidate? Is he going to keep those promises? Is he the more conventional Republican president we've seen for the most part, not in how he communicates, but in how they act so far?

He's going to sit down with the Israeli prime minister, as Jeff noted, in an hour. There is nobody on the planet who more wants the United States to rip up the Iran nuclear agreement than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president has hinted he's dissatisfied. We've heard about tension between the president and the secretary of state for recertifying.

Is this just bluster, the president saying -- essentially leaning pressure on Iran, or is this the president prepared to rip it up and walk away?

JULIE PACE, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": So far it's been just bluster. He's had a couple of opportunities to take steps that would move the U.S. toward pulling out of this deal and he's blinked at every turn. And that's because this deal is actually written fairly narrowly. It focuses specifically on the Iranian nuclear program. It doesn't focus on their other destabilizing activity in the region. It doesn't focus on their support for terror groups.

That's a lot of the talk that you hear from administration officials. Certainly you hear it from Netanyahu. They're very frustrated with that. But that's not part of this nuclear deal. And that's where Trump has run into trouble here.

He'll go into this meeting with Netanyahu, who will push him again, as he pushed President Obama, to take tougher action on Iran. It is likely that Trump will come out and talk tough on Iran, but so far we've seen no indication that he is moving down the path to withdraw from this agreement.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": The big day, though, isn't -- we haven't seem that day come, yet, right, because that's next month and he can actually do something that seems like it's a pass, but maybe actually the pass ends up getting us towards ripping it up and not having to take personal responsibility or take it on the chin himself and that sort of thing.

So it's going to be really interesting to see what he tells different people at the U.N. on the same topic because there actually is a way to thread the needle for the president right now, not for the country, not for the Iran deal, right? But if the president says, I'm not going to certify that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal come October 15th -- it's mid-month in October -- then that kicks it to Congress for 60 days and then the egg is on their face if they decide to rip it up and send -- you know, and put those sanctions back in place and let Iran say, well, the deal's off.

But it's going to be interesting to see which signals he's sending because he may send one to Netanyahu and then another one to Macron a few hours later because they have very different perspectives on that deal.

KING: Shocking. Shocking that might happen.

And another thing where everyone's watching for ever signal is North Korea. They did get some sanctions out of the Security Council a week or so ago. North Korea responded, showed its great fear of those sanctions by launching yet another missile over Japan. It has sense said it's going to build up a military equal to the United States. This is part of their propaganda regime.

But listen here. This is the national security adviser and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, leaning very much forward into the idea, we're running out of patience and we're looking at military options.


LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This regime is so close now to threatening the United States and others with a nuclear weapon that we really have to move with a great deal of urgency on sanctions, on diplomacy, and on preparing, if necessary, a military option.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: We have pretty much exhausted all the things that we could do at the Security Council at this point. Now, I said yesterday, I'm perfectly happy kicking this over to General Mattis because he has plenty of military options.


KING: At some point your words have to have meaning, right? You have to have something -- you know, your credibility is on the line if you keep saying things like that. And if Pyongyang does not respond to that, if Russia and China don't say, OK, we're going to get more urgent in trying to help you, are they boxing themselves in?

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: I think the idea of a preemptive strike at this point in the world's history, after Iraq and so on, is sort of hard to see. And so, yes, I think they're making threats that I have a hard time seeing them actually execute. And in that sense they are -- diplomacy is the option. I'm not sure why the U.N. ambassador, of all people, are saying that's not the option. It sounds like an empty threat. It's sort of the way Trump has talked too. And I feel like their policy has to get closer to, of course there's always a military option and you should say that as a negotiating tactic. But in reality, we're going to have to go to the negotiating table because that's the real only option here.

KING: But it's -- I mean the president hasn't said red line, but that's a line. They're drawing lines.



KING: Yes.

JACKIE CALMES, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": The only thing he hasn't said are the two words "red line." He's drawn a red line.

And it's interesting -- since he first said "fire and fury," there have been three missile launches and an underground nuclear test, the first in, what, six years. And can you imagine what civilian Trump would have tweeted by now if anybody else -- if Hillary Clinton were president and there had been that many provocations from North Korea by now? But he's finding out what every other president for the last two decades has found out, that it's not easy. If it were easy, it would have been stopped by now.


[12:10:14] KING: Right. It's a great point you make. I was just reading some stuff over the weekend and what is President

Trump most concerned with at the United Nations? Iran and North Korea. Two of the three in George Bush's axis of evil.

DEMIRJIAN: That's right.

KING: That's 2002. That State of the Union Address if you go back to that.

The big question for many world leaders is we try to figure out who is this president? Who is he? He's said a lot of things in the campaign. Every candidate when the becomes president changes their mind. Donald Trump is not unique in that regard. Every candidate running for presidents says things about foreign policy. Then they get the job. Then they get the briefings. And, oh, they deal with it in different ways. That happens. That doesn't make him unique.

But people around the world are saying, who is he? How is he going to interact? Do I read his tweets? Do I read his words? Do I read his body language? Do I trust the secretary of state? One person who has had some dealings with him is the British prime minister. A lot of these other world leaders are getting their first glimpse at him. Listen to Theresa May, who just over the weekend had another dustup with President Trump when he tweeted about the London terror attack.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I think the point about the special relationship between the U.K. and the U.S. is that when we do disagree, we're able to say so, and pretty bluntly. And, for example, on the Paris issue that you talk about, the Paris Climate Change Agreement, I made very clear I was dismayed when America decided to pull out of that. And I -- as I've said to President Trump, I hope that they will be able to find a way for America to come back into the agreement.


KING: Some mixed signals. But is there any such way for the Americans to come back into that agreement?

BACON: Well, the way it works is, we don't actually formally withdraw until November 2020. So in that sense the question is now, he gave a big statement and we covered it, we should have. But in some ways the question is, how does the U.S. actually involve itself or not involve itself in the negotiations for the next three years. And right now I think the sense is, I can't tell because it sounds like -- my sense is that they're going to pull back (INAUDIBLE) compared to if Hillary was president, we're going to be much less involved. The question is, are we not involved at all? Are we somewhat involved? Or are we -- we never send anyone to the meetings for the next three years. And that's the choice they have not made yet.

KING: Right.

CALMES: Well, he says that we're -- he -- that -- well, the administration's statement was that the United States would come back into it, full-fledged, on -- if the terms are more to its liking. The terms are essentially set by each individual nation. It's a non- binding and each -- each country defined the terms by which it would meet targets. So it's really going to be -- I mean --

BACON: We can just -- we can just (INAUDIBLE) --

PACE: (INAUDIBLE) it's always been the (INAUDIBLE) the administration's agreement which is that you could change the terms.

CALMES: Right.

KING: Right.

PACE: And there's this reluctance I think on the administration's part to go that route because I think the president wants to be able to say, because he hasn't followed through on some of these other foreign policy promises, he wants to be able to say that he's withdrawing from this accord.

KING: He doesn't want to say that he's changing the terms that's still part of Barack Obama's Paris Climate Change agreement.

PACE: Right. Right. Exactly.

KING: All right, everybody sit tight. We're going to take a break.

But when we come back, Republicans say yet again they're just a voter too shy of an Obamacare repeal plan. This time will they get to the magic number? And we'll give you an update on Hurricane Maria, now upgraded to a category three.


[12:17:14] KING: Less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma devastated parts of the Caribbean, some of the same islands now bracing for the possibility they could get hit again. Right now all eyes on Hurricane Maria, upgraded just moments ago to a category three.

Let's bring in our master of all this crazy weather, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

Chad, what's the latest?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The latest is the hurricane hunter just flew through it, fought a deepening eye, just significantly lower pressure than we had just three hours ago. And the wind speed up to 120 miles per hour. It's why it's up to a category three now.

Really, Dominica in the teeth of the eye. But from Guadeloupe down to Martinique, those are the islands that are going to get hit with the first part of this storm. Then it kind of gets into some open water and heads to St. Croix, into Vieques and then into Puerto Rico.

Now, this is an area that did see some damage, but Irma was slightly farther north than where we are now. Really from the BVI to the U.S. Virgin Islands, that's where the significant storm was. And this time they're on the south edge of that, not in the teeth of the eye.

Here's five days from now right here. That's as far as we can truly tell you what's going on. And then after that, hurricane models taking it either to the north or to the northwest. We are hoping for this west wind to blow it out to sea. That is the forecast about eight days from now for a significant surge from the west to put this storm in the middle of the Atlantic rather than in the middle of the United States.

Here's the cross between where we were with Irma and where we are now back out here with Maria. I'll zoom you in. Anywhere from Puerto Rico, right through here in the cone, all the way to Turks and Caicos, this will be the double place, the double whammy. Yes, with Irma and yes with Maria as it turns to the north at 140. And one forecast now one -- at least for one or two hours before a landfall in Puerto Rico, this storm may be 150 miles per hour.

Here is Jose. Jose has lost a lot of punch overnight. It's gulped in a lot of dry air and it looks terrible. This is the good news. Now, it's still a hurricane. It's still 75 miles per hour. So we will still see significant wave action along the East Coast and also some tropical storm force winds from Long Island back to about Block Island and maybe Nantucket and maybe Cape Cod. But, for now, that's it for Jose. A dying storm in cooler water.


KING: We'll keep in touch, Chad, throughout the day and throughout the week. Appreciate the update.

MYERS: Sure.

KING: Turning now back to politics. One last time and with the clock ticking, ticking down fast. Yes, Republicans are scrambling to try to line up enough votes for one last attempt to replace Obamacare. The failure to do so the past eight months is a giant scare on the Republican-controlled Congress and on the Trump White House.

[12:20:04] Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, say they have the answer now. And with the president's help, they're scrambling to win support. But they're in a time crunch. The rules of the game changed at the end of the month.

CNN's Phil Mattingly joins us now live from Capitol Hill.

Phil, we've been here before. Realistic or not they can get this done in the narrow window?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I've been told to take it seriously. And that's a dramatic shift on this specific proposal than where we were just eight or nine days ago when leadership aides, senior senators themselves, were all dismissing this, saying it was too big of a lift, saying their people had enough -- hadn't had enough time to look at the legislation. That's changed now. And, really, you talk about Senator Graham. You talk about Senator

Cassidy. They are responsible for that shift. They have been button- holding members. They have been working on outside groups. And they were the driving force behind a lunch last Thursday, all Republican senators, where it was decided that leadership was going to give this a go. They were going to see if they could get the votes to actually move this forward.

Now, does that mean that they have 50 votes? I'm told specifically they do not have 50 votes now. And it's worth noting, John, as you kind of did, they've never had 50 vote when it came down to that final vote. So the ability to get there, when you know 46 Republican senators are probably going to vote for anything, is to kind of bridge that gap over those last four or five that you're going to need.

That's what they're going to be working on now. Leaders will meet tonight. On Tuesday they will have another closed door lunch. That will be kind of the big moment.

And I think it's worth noting real quick kind of what this proposal does because it's extremely important. It's a shift from the past Republican repeal efforts in the sense that it doesn't leave any tax credit or subsidy in place. It takes the money from that leaving a lot of the Obamacare taxes in place and changes them into block grants. It would be given to the states. The states would be given tremendous flexibility in terms of how they would apply that money.

Now, to a lot of Republicans, to anybody who backs federalism, that's a very attractive option, but it leaves a lot of potential gaps in terms of the protection specific states would cover. The amount of money that would go to specific states. The funding allocations would change, no question about it.

On top of all that, it repeals the individual mandate. It repeals the employer mandate as well. So there's a lot of things that are attractive here for Republicans. There are a lot of things that Republicans, conservatives like a lot. But there are also a lot of open-ended questions. Medicaid expansion would end by 2020. That's obviously been a huge issue for a long period of time. As I noted, most of the tax -- the Obamacare taxes would stay in place to help fund this transition (ph). So there are a lot of questions to be answered. There is currently no CBO score. They're trying to rush that right now.

So, John, there are a lot of open issues right now that you would expect would take weeks. But as you noted, they've got days at this point. And that's why it's an open question, but it's worth taking seriously.

KING: Well, Phil Mattingly, always working overtime anyway. Just add a couple extra hours to the day in the next couple of weeks, Phil. We'll keep in touch. Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

At the end of the month, important, because to pass it with 50 votes, Mike Pence could break the tie. They have to do it -- forgive me America -- under the Senate reconciliation process. They have a reconciliation that expires on September 30th. So to get it done with 50 votes, they have to beat that clock because of their own rules.

To Phil's point, when you do talk around town a little bit, a week ago everyone was like, nah. Now people are saying, you know what actually, take this seriously. It's possible. Because Republicans know, this was their signature issue for seven plus years and they haven't been able to do it. That it's a miserable failure if they go into the 2018 midterm year. But that's the politics. The policy is what's taken this off the track every other time. Can they get there?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, they have a -- I mean they can be -- they have whip list of basically two people, maybe three, if Rand Paul decides to change his mind, who this morning tweeted that he was not on board because he says it's just Obamacare and letting the states run it.

Susan Collins has never been really on board with these things, so that would be a real stretch for her. So you're talking John McCain and Lisa Murkowski. And that's not even enough if they have just those -- actually that would (INAUDIBLE).


DEMIRJIAN: But, OK, so McCain, Lindsey Graham's his best friend. Lindsey Graham has written this bill. But they haven't always gone in lock step on everything. And then Murkowski, what do they have to offer Murkowski especially at this juncture? So, really, we can have all the effort in the world leading up to this point. It may be very serious. And, yes, it may be, you know, that everybody gets in on this and says, we can do this the next few days, rally around the party flag, except for you're talking about just a tiny handful of people being still the same ones in play and can you flip them? I don't know what's changing.

KING: And -- and we're talking -- and I want to stay in the Senate -- but and you're talking if you -- if you can get it through the Senate. I saw Santa Claus at the National's game last night. So anything is possible.

If you can get it through the Senate, can they then go back, well, is this enough to satisfy the House, which is a whole other question? But the one big difference this time, you mentioned Murkowski and McCain. They do have a smart political strategy. They're working the Republican governors in those states, trying to get them to come out and urge their senator, saying this is OK.

And the governors do like a lot of this because they get more flexibility. But a lot of those governors are also worried, year one, year two, year three are great --

CALMES: Right.

KING: But then Washington says, we're going to give you a little less money. You can do this with a little less money, a little this, we're going to change that.

DEMIRJIAN: Also how -- I'm sorry to jump in again, but, you know, McCain, at this point, just won re-election, is dealing with a health crisis. I'm not quite sure how much political pressure his governor can actually exert on him, unless it's about protecting Jeff Flake in some way, because he's coming up.

KING: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: And with Murkowski, again, that's a non-denominational governor's seat. It might be one that she eventually might want some day. And it's not pure politics in that -- those states compared to other places.

KING: Those are the two, to borrow John McCain's favorite word, the two mavericks in the Republican -- the two most mavericks in the Republican caucus.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. Right.

[12:25:09] CALMES: And often on a boat like this, the way you can win is to just persuade the holdouts that this is just a vote to move the process forward. It's not on the substance of this deal. Well, in this case, moving the process forward means it goes back to the House, which, you know, I would be surprised if they took it because you are keeping in place all the tax increases of Obamacare that they have criticized for seven years. And then, you know, so what comes back to the Senate would be arguably less than the holdouts would prefer.

KING: And so if you talk to -- if you go back through the history of this over the last seven months, the House passed its bill. The president celebrated that. Then he called it mean. The Senate was doing some things, then the president got involved in ways, the White House would disagree, the Senate majority leader thinks undermined him as he was trying to get to the finish line.

Now Lindsey Graham, who has fought repeatedly with Donald Trump, mostly on foreign policy questions, also on some other issues, listen to Lindsay Graham here going, of all places, on Breitbart Radio saying, Donald Trump, he's like Mariano Rivera, the great Yankee's closer. He's going to get us to the finish line.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Number 45, Donald Trump, is on the phone. He's the Mariano Rivera of presidents. He's going to come in and close the deal with some of these governors that are show reluctance. That's to everybody out there, from Arizona, this is the last best chance you'll have to take the power away from Washington and put it in Arizona.


KING: Using the -- complimenting the president of the United States to target his good friend John McCain in Arizona. Senator McCain's a big baseball fan. He knows Mariano -- it's going to be a cutter, senator, followed by a cutter, followed by a cutter. That's what Mariano Rivera's going to throw you when he calls.

PACE: Washington has just been so weird lately. Trump cutting deals with Chuck and Nancy. Lindsey Graham's on Breitbart Radio. We're in a bizarre territory here.

KING: Up and down.

PACE: Up is down. I think that, yes, it is true, that John McCain, Lisa Murkowski might be immune to some of the regular political pressures that you try to leverage in these types of situations, but the Republican Party rite large is feeling a lot of political pressure. They look into 2018. They look at this very favorable map that they have, particularly on the Senate side, and they don't know how they're going to run in this climate. They know that tax reform could quickly end up being a tax cut, which is a little less substantial. They know they need to run. And I don't think you can discount that kind of pressure that's on these members right now.

KING: We'll watch this as it plays out throughout the week.

We want to take a quick break. Want to note, President Trump is at the United Nations. President Xi of China is not there. But the two leaders spoke today. I'm sure North Korea came up in that discussion.

Up next for us, FaceBook now caught in the middle of the Russia election meddling investigation.