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Feud Heats Up Between Trump and Pro Sports; Trump Calls Out McCain for Opposition to GOP Bill; Trump Labels Kim Jong Un "Little Rocket Man". Aired 8-9a ET

Aired September 24, 2017 - 08:00   ET



[08:00:07] JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): Another dramatic "no" from John McCain and a last-ditch Republican effort to replace Obamacare is on the verge of collapse.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They finally get a president who will sign the legislation and they don't have the guts to vote for it.

KING: Plus, a big week on the world stage and a war of insults with North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

TRUMP: Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.

KING: And now, a war of words over athletes' protests during the national anthem.

TRUMP: Get that son of a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off the field right now. Out. He's fired.

KING: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.


KING: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thank you for sharing your Sunday.

President Trump is mad at just about everyone, it seems. At Senator John McCain, whose opposition likely dooms a last-ditch effort to replace Obamacare.


TRUMP: John McCain was not on the list, so that was a totally unexpected thing. Terrible. Honestly, terrible.


KING: Mad at Kim Jong-un, who called the president a barking dog after the president's tough talk at the United Nations. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: But I'm going to handle it, because we have to handle it. Little rocket man. We're going to do it, because we really have no choice.


KING: And now, mad at African-American athletes who don't agree with the president and who annoy him, apparently by exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.


TRUMP: That's a total disrespect of our heritage. That's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for, OK? Everything that we stand for.


A lot to talk about this Sunday. With us to share their reporting and their insights, Mary Katherine Ham of "The Federalist", Michael Shear of "The New York Times," "Bloomberg's" Toluse Olorunnipa, and CNN's Phil Mattingly.

We begin with the president's war of words with some of America's best-known athletes, a fight that raises a question of free speech, of patriotism, and of race.


LEBRON JAMES, NBA PLAYER: This guy that we've put in charge has tried to divide us once again. And, obviously, we all know what happened with Charlottesville and the divide that that caused. And now, it's even hitting more home for me now even more, because he's now using sports as the platform to try to divide us.


KING: Now, this is hardly the first time this president has started a new fight, seemingly because he's losing an old one.

And this one escalated quickly. It began Friday night in Alabama. The president was there to urge voters to turn out in a Senate race on Tuesday. But he got more animated voting -- venting, excuse me, about the silent protest a few African-American NFL players take part in on game day.


TRUMP: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag? To say, get that son of a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off the field right now? Out! He's fired. He's fired!

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Kneeling during the national anthem is controversial, sure. But is it the First Amendment right to free speech pretty high on that everything we stand for list?

The president then woke up Saturday and added the NBA's Steph Curry to his sports and speech debate. The Golden State Warriors are the NBA champs and star guard Curry said Friday he didn't want to take part in the traditional White House visit because of his many disagreements with the president.

So, the president fired back, of course, on Twitter: going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team, the president tweeted. Steph Curry is hesitating. Therefore, invitation is withdrawn.

And now, this has escalated further. Last night at the Oakland A's, a player takes a knee. The interesting part about it, if we can show you the picture there, Bruce Maxwell takes a knee. He's from a military family. He's an African-American. His white teammate, Mark Canha, puts his hands on his shoulder. Stevie Wonder at a concert last night takes two knees.

This is Sunday. It's game day on the NFL, the whole country now is going to watch. It's a very small number of NFL players who have been doing this in the past, in the rearview mirror. In the front-view mirror, what has the president set off here, and the bigger question is why.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, at 12:55 p.m. today, everyone is going to be watching and hoping that they show the national anthem and I think you're going to see a significant increase in those.

To your point, it hasn't been a very large group of people. It's maybe been a couple on each team. It's certainly not on every team. I think it's almost certain that that's going to change right now. I think the big question is, is, that's pretty much what the president wants, I think. There's a reason why he's still tweeting about it this morning.

This wasn't something he said on -- look, we covered him on the campaign. Sometimes he would riff on things and drop them immediately thereafter. Riffed on it, tweeted about it, tweeted about it again and again and it's still going this morning.

That's exactly what he wants. And I think this is something a lot of people said, don't feed into it, don't feed into it. But I think the issue here is, this is drawing the attention that the individuals have been looking for on this issue.

[08:05:04] There's a very real issue that they're backing here. So, you're kind of caught between two -- people are absolutely going to do more of it, and that's exactly what the president wants.

So, where does that leave us? MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: OK. Look, first of

all, Roger Goodell versus Trump is the Iran/Iraq war of sports conflicts. Can they both lose?


HAM: Second of all, if they had let him buy the bills, we wouldn't be talking about this. That's partly why he's mad.


HAM: As usual, Trump is crass in his language, and he's wrong about whether the president should be suggesting whether people get fired over expressing this. That's a private company that can make that decision. It's not exactly a First Amendment issue, but when the president gets involved, that can chill free speech and that's bad.

I'm somebody who actually agrees with Colin Kaepernick, about some of these issues, but this particular protest is a divisive, controversial type of protest. And people get their backs up rightfully about the flag and about the anthem.

During the year-long news cycle we have had about this, polling on Black Lives Matter, which is the cause he's backing, has gone from 20 percent disapprove to 57 percent disapprove. And NFL attendance has gone down. So, what Trump is doing here, and he does want more of it, is he is putting the entire left of this country and people who are against him or who criticize his policies on the wrong side of the flag and the anthem and they're going to do it loudly and obviously.

And even though some of those issues are real, politically speaking, his instinct is correct here. I don't think it's a good move for the country, but the instinct is correct that those people are going to look bad on the wrong side of it.

KING: The instinct correct if you want the fight. You make an interesting point, both of you. Sometimes we need our president to start a conversation about tough things in the country. And this is controversial.

The president could have said, I don't think Alabama is right place to do it, number one, given the history of Alabama, the home of George Wallace and a long list of other things I won't the take hour. But everybody can study here. Alabama is not a place to do it.

But the president -- might be great for the president to say, you know what? I understand your concerns, I respect your right, I deeply want to talk to you about this issue. Let's have a conversation. I just don't like the way you're doing it. Can we find another way than kneeling during the national anthem?

The president could have done that. What he decided to do was pick a fight. You can start a conversation or you can pick a fight. He picked the fight and now, we have, usually in this conversation, I'm saying, listen to senator X or congressman Y -- well, instead, listen to Golden State Warriors all star, all pro, Steph Curry. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN CURRY, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: I don't know, you know, why he feels the need to target certain individuals other than, you know, rather than others. I have an idea of why, but it's kind of a -- it's just kind of beneath, I think, the leader of a country to go that route. It's not what leaders do.


KING: Why? And six weeks after Charlottesville, six weeks after Charlottesville, when the president was already in a conversation about why are you giving some moral equation, moral equity to neo- Nazis and white supremacists, to people who are there to protest them.

MICHAEL SHEAR, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Look, I think that the answer to the question why, we can all sort of overthink a little bit. The common thread in all of the little clips that you show of President Trump at that rally was the roaring applause.

I mean, that's what he wants. It's his instinct. He's standing in front of a crowd, he's in Alabama, he understands the kind of crowd that has turned out for him, and his instinct is to want to give them the kind of red meat that will fire them up.

KING: That's a showman's instinct, though, not a president's instinct.

SHEAR: Well, and look, this is -- this president --

KING: It's not a presidential instinct is probably the better way to put it.

SHEAR: Well, and it's certainly not this president's instinct. I mean, you -- you know, part of all presidents have gotten into trouble when they've waded into controversial issues like race in kind of ad hoc ways. Remember, President Trump early in his presidency got into sort of hot water when he sort of weighed into the arrest of that black professor in Cambridge.

HAM: Louis Gates, Obama.

SHEAR: And that kind of got him into trouble because he did it in similar ad hoc way -- obviously, different context and different thing. But I think that we make a mistake if we think -- not that I don't think there are political reasons that this will be good for him. But I don't -- my sense is that this is some strategic thing. That he has done. I mean, it may be that he's trying with the tweets afterwards to sort of kind of continue and keep it going, but I don't have any reason to believe --

HAM: No, it's more of a savant situation. I think that his gut tells him that, and then the left always responds exactly as he wants -- that's the thing.

KING: We'll watch out that plays out in the political world. But in the sports world, this has done something very rare. Roger Goodell and the NFL Players Association are on the same page. Roger Goodell, a very highly paid white men, the NFL owners, highly paid, very rich white men, 12 of them issued statements essentially saying, no, Mr. President, you're being divisive. We respect our players. We may not like it when they do this either, but we respect our players and they have every right to do this.

I am fascinated to see what happens today, not just how many more African-American NFL players take this step. We'll watch baseball playing out, too, as the season ends here.

[08:10:01] But how many of their white teammates decide, you know what, we're either going to put our hand on their shoulder on the Oakland A's footage, or kneel with them.

How big of a conversation might the president have opened to?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: Well, sports is normally an issue that whether or not you're a Republican or a Democrat, if you're in a city, you normally can relate with someone who is another fan of the same team. Whether or not you come from a different background, you can -- you know, enter into a sports stadium and everyone loses their political background. You can say that --

KING: And often loses their racial animosity. Sports has been a kicking down barriers in the civil rights movement, getting people who maybe can't on the street or at the office think one way about someone who's different from them. In a sports setting, maybe realize, oh, wait a minute.

OLORUNNIPA: That's exactly right. And you can say these protests, some of the people who kneeled have set off more of a politicization of sports. But the president evaluated it significantly with his comments and attacking specific players by name.

And if you contrast that to his handling of the Charlottesville situation, it does sort of play into a theme that the president is being more harsh towards people who are expressing their First Amendment rights in a peaceful way than he was towards people who are part of this violent rally, waving Nazi flags in the middle of a city. That's something that a lot of people are pointing out that contrast. And if the president hasn't addressed it, the president says there are very fine people, part of that Charlottesville rally, and that's going to dog him for much of his presidency if he doesn't address this.

KING: And he didn't say he didn't like this, he didn't say, I hope, wish we could find another way. He said sons of bitches. He said fire them.

And now, he's telling NFL fans to not show up and if somebody does show up, if someone kneels, leave. I get your point about left/right, if you're asking people out there regardless of the color of their skin or where they come from, their political views, to choose between the NFL and Donald Trump, I guess we're going to learn a little bit today, aren't we? SHEAR: You may be surprised, right? I'm not sure people are going to

be leaving in droves, you know what I mean? And that stands to undermine his, you know, his authority.

HAM: I think he's more echoing a grassroots movement that has happened for the last year about boycotting the NFL. That doesn't mean it's going to be a huge shift, but there have been number changes for them because people are turned off by this kind of thing and they have an entire Saturday of college football that hopefully nobody will ruin.


KING: We'll leave that there, but watch the conversation as it plays out again today.

Ahead, the business we usually do here, John McCain again says no and the impact is huge.

But first, the president's strange visit to Alabama and why he thinks maybe it was a mistake. As we go to break, a quick look, First Lady Melania Trump's first solo foreign trip. She was in Toronto yesterday, leading the U.S. delegation for the Invictus game. Here's the U.S. first lady with the world's most eligible bachelor, the U.K.'s Prince Harry.



[08:17:04] TRUMP: Isn't it a little weird when a guy who lives on Fifth Avenue in the most beautiful apartment you've ever seen comes to Alabama and Alabama loves that guy? I mean, it's crazy.


KING: It's crazy, he says. That's the president Friday night in Alabama. His choice in hotly contested Republican Senate runoff is interim Senator Luther Strange, who's running behind and being painted as a puppet of the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.


TRUMP: I told Mitch, I would like to say this, you know, I don't like to, but I'm telling you. He doesn't know Mitch McConnell at all. Luther is a tough, tough cookie. He doesn't deal with and kowtow to anybody. He's not a friend of Mitch McConnell. He doesn't know Mitch McConnell, until just recently. And I don't say that badly about Mitch, at all.


KING: Nope, nope, not at all, not badly about Mitch at all. And then on top of that, there was this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I'll be honest, I might have made a mistake. Because you know, here's a story. If Luther doesn't win, they're not going to say, we picked up 25 points in a very short period of time. They're going to say, Donald Trump, the president of the United States, was unable to pull his candidate across the line. It is a terrible, terrible moment for Trump.


KING: I always love rally Trump, as we call him, the president out there. It's interesting, you don't see a candidate all that often say, this could be a mistake that I'm here, kind of criticized the Senate majority leader without quite criticizing the Senate majority leader. Effective? He also said he would come down and campaign in the general election for Roy Moore, the candidate he's there to oppose. That's not exactly disciplined messaging.

OLORUNNIPA: And we normally don't see presidents get so involved in Republican primaries this early in their presidencies. Not only is the president taking sides on the Republican primary, he's attacking the Republican majority leader. He's basically saying, maybe he made a mistake in making his choice and saying that, you know, even if my selection, my endorsed candidate loses, I am willing to, you know, endorse and back the other candidate, even though he also said that he believes that Roy Moore would have trouble against the Democrats.

So, not necessarily message discipline, but he seems to have done well during the general election in Alabama. And I think he thinks that his instincts there are going to help him.

KING: We'll see. But it's an interesting choice from the president. You know this from being on the Hill, Donald Trump was the disrupter in 2016. Here, he is siding with the establishment, with Mitch McConnell, with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, with the Chamber of Commerce.

The NRA is involved here on Luther Strange's behalf. But the president is on the other side of most of people, the nationalists, the populists, the pitchfork people in the Republican Party, in this race. But they sold the president on this saying, if Roy Moore comes to the Senate, you think it was hard to get Obamacare in the first seven months, your bring Roy Moore to the United States Senate, you're going to get zip.

[08:20:02] MATTINGLY: And you won't be able to trust him. And what it could set off going forward that could ultimately be problematic to your agenda.

Look, there's no question about it, the establishment side of the Republican Party, the Chamber of Commerce side is on one side here, and Steve Bannon and "Breitbart" and Seb Gorka and pretty much the entire kind of arm of the Trump wing, if you will, of the Republican Party is on the other side here, and the president is on the establishment side. That was a very big push from Senator McConnell, a very big push from that establishment Republican kind of echo sphere to get him on that side. I think the most interesting part about rally Trump is he says the

inside things out loud, which makes it a lot easier to report on, because these are things you're allowing aides to say on background, like giving you the real, true story, here. Everything the president laid out is the reality of the situation. This was an incredibly difficult issue for him to come down on. This is something that aides inside the White House were split on both sides. This is something that Senator Mitch McConnell worked very hard to get his support for.

And he would likely go campaign for Roy Moore if Roy Moore wins this primary. He said it all out loud. You don't even need background sourcing on that, which is helpful. But I think in terms of longer term for the Republican Party, for future primaries, Tuesday is a very big and very clarifying moment.

KING: We are grateful he doesn't have an inner voice, as they say. But to Phil's point, if Roy Moore wins, we will see more challengers, won't we?

HAM: Yes, well, it will also be interesting if Roy Moore wins and he has pulled ahead, when people repeat exactly what the president just said, that he was unable to pull him across the line, and he said, that's unfair. That will be an interesting moment.

KING: Who told you that?

HAM: But, look, I think this is a test of whether it's sort of the Trumpian instinct and the anti-establishment, you know, fire of the Republican Party is actually stronger than real Trump, standing in front of Alabama voters. And we've seen reporting and it does not surprise me at all that many of the rally-goers are pro-Trump and came to see Trump, but are not pro-Luther Strange. And it's unclear to me how those align. Many people have decided that the unifying theme of the Republican Party is to be anti-McConnell.

KING: And it is my bet -- to the anti-McConnell point, it is my bet that if Roy Moore wins on Tuesday night, by either late Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, what you'll get out of Team Trump is the president did do his best. He did get them closer to (INAUDIBLE) the numbers are, but this was McConnell's fault, that the atmosphere against McConnell is so deep out there with the Republican base, you can't do it.

And the polling supports that. Look at our new CNN poll by SSRS. Is president -- these are Republicans only. Is the president taking the country in the right direction? Seventy-nine percent of Republicans say yes. Only 16 percent say the president is taking the country in the wrong direction. Again, these are Republicans only.

How about Republican leaders in Congress? Forty percent of Republicans say right direction, 53 percent of Republicans say their leadership in Congress is taking the party in the wrong direction. So, there's no question, president Trump capitalized on this in the 2016 campaign. The Republican base is angry at the performance of their leaders here in Washington. This race is going to go a long way in either -- it's not going to

settle that, it's not going to close that divide, but boy, it could blow it wide open.

SHEAR: As John McCain might say, the only Republicans who are supportive of the Republican leaders are his close friends and family right now. That's a joke that McCain always makes.

Look, I think one of the interesting things to watch will be if Roy Moore wins, Luther Strange loses, is what lesson does Donald Trump take from that? You know, you can imagine a situation where he -- it deepens his anti-establishment, you know, instincts that are already there. You know, he will become convinced that, well, they talked me into this and it was the wrong thing to do and I've got to go back to the people who brung me here kind of thing.

And so, I think you could see that outcome really deepening his sort of Steve Bannon --

KING: That would really help the tax reform debate, right?

MATTINGLY: I think similarly, the kind of -- what happens if Roy Moore wins inside the Senate Republican --

KING: Right.

MATTINGLY: A lot of Mitch McConnell's push to get the president involved in this came from his rank and file, came from the NRSC chair, came from the recognition from rank-and-file Republicans inside the Senate Republican conference that this is severely problematic for our team, for our very slim majority, if something like this happens. We need this to move forward.

And so, if Roy Moore wins, how they react, whether or not they start moving into their very specific corners, what this means for the NRSC, what this means for fund-raising going forward, I think is going to be immensely important, not just for the next cycle, but for the next couple of --

HAM: Or maybe just a year-long tweet storm against Alabama. By the way, I'm from there. I can say that.

MATTINGLY: Yes, you can say that.

KING: All politics, very much, is local.

Up next, John McCain says no, again. So what happens to the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare?


[08:29:07] KING: Welcome back.

Republicans have just one week to take advantage of a Senate rule that allows them to repeal and replace Obamacare with a simple majority in the United States Senate. They have a new plan, but an old problem. Not enough votes.

And once again, Senator John McCain is a central figure. Remember, his dramatic two thumbs down -- 2:00 a.m. thumbs down was the final blow last time. This time, he gave us more advanced warning, saying on Friday, he could not in good conscience vote for the legislation known here in Washington as Graham/Cassidy.

McCain joins Senator Rand Paul in public opposition, which means just one more no vote dooms the effort to failure.


TRUMP: It's a little tougher without McCain's vote. I'll be honest. It's a little tougher. But we've got some time.

You can't quit when you have one or two votes short. You can't do it. And those people are not going to be liked by the communities that they come from. Because in most cases, I think in almost all of the cases, they got elected on the basis of repealing and replacing and they are not doing a service to the people that they respect.


[08:30:11] KING: CNN's MJ Lee joins our conversation for this discussion.

You've lost Rand Paul. You've lost John McCain. You only have one more to lose. Most people in this town think this is doomed. The president says he's not going to give up, they're keeping a lot of pressure on everybody, but the math here is pretty impossible, right?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. I mean, you have the two noes, the two public noes already, and then other two that leadership is desperately trying to get onboard, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins -- remember, they voted no last time and they have been very clear that these concerns that they have, they're not even sure if there's anything that can be done to get them to a yes. And I don't know if I really buy the argument that's out there, that, well, now that McCain has come out as a no, with maybe we see a flood of Senate Republicans also coming out to say no, because the last time when the vote happened.

Remember, this was a very, very close vote. We did not actually see a flood of Republicans say, well, now, that we know that this vote is not going to go through, that gives me the freedom and the permission to go ahead and say no. The Dean Hellers of the world still ended up voting no.

And I think it comes down to this great quote that Chuck Grassley gave to reporters this week. I think that we should be running that on our chyrons the entire week.

KING: Let's do that right now, because it's just awesome. This affects every single person watching this program who lives in the United States. This affects one sixth of the United States' economy. That makes it a pretty big deal, right? Quote: You know, I could maybe give you ten reasons why this bill shouldn't be considered, but Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That's pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.

So, essentially, this thing is kind of flawed, it's a car with no tires and no engine and the chip in the computer doesn't really work, but we're going to vote for it anyway, because we have to keep a promise. That's not a great sales pitch.

MATTINGLY: And yet, that's exactly the reason why it came back from the dead, right? They went from home in August. They heard from constituents a lot, but also from a lot of donors who said, you promised to do this. We made sure you got a majority, now, it's time to deliver on what's actually -- on what you said you were going to do.

That carries a lot of weight for a lot of people, particularly when it's been kind of the premiere promise that you've made and you currently hold majorities in the House, Senate, and you hold the White House.

And I think for Senate leadership who really kind of had to stiff arm towards this idea for a long period of time, until they flipped, because when they were meeting with members of their conference, behind closed doors, they realized that the pressure was really there. And that they had continued to promise this.

Now, to M.J.'s point a little bit, one person who's involved with this process told me yesterday, think about whatever your sports metaphor is, about how desperate that is, that's where we are. And he said Hail Mary is probably too generous at this moment in time, but as M.J. has pointed out, keep a very close eye on Senator Lisa Murkowski. That's the key, if their quadruple bank shot, if you will, to actually make these numbers work is somehow the changes they're making behind the scenes right now gets Lisa Murkowski onboard.

That creates some kind of momentum, conservative groups converge on Rand Paul, and try and flip him. Everybody thinks Susan Collins is gone, and then somehow the momentum carries over. You've got six days. You got the end of it all, maybe it happens.

KING: So they have to rename Graham/Cassidy the Penn State bill, the Penn State football bill, the Nittany Lion last minute Hail Mary bill, or something like that. But you mentioned Rand Paul, the president tweeted right at him this week. He said Rand Paul, or whoever votes against health care bill will forever be known as the Republican who saved Obamacare.

This is not just a test of Mitch McConnell's vote counting, Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, whether they can sell their legislation, but we had the previous conversation in a different context, how much sway does the president have over his own party?

He's repeatedly tweeted at Rand Paul. They spoke several times during the past week. And Rand Paul says no, I'm a no, this not Obamacare repeal. We're lying to people when we say it's repeal. I'm not voting for it.

HAM: He also voted for skinny repeal, which is certainly less conservative than the option put forth now, which is more of a health care federalism. Look, this gets to why people are so angry at Republican leadership. They won four national elections on this. Democrats are wiped out on every level across the entire country, partly because Obamacare was a car without wheels that was sold as the greatest car ever sold.

KING: If you like your racetrack, you can keep your racetrack.

HAM: Yes. So when they come to Washington and they're -- look, I'm realistic about what can get through here. And this is a minor change to fix some problems with Obamacare and the fact that the individual market was completely tanked by it. But there are a handful of Republican senators who don't want to do anything.

There's the status quo bias in health care that the only reason Obamacare got past it is because a lot of people and a lot of willing accomplices ignored the fact it would change things and would change things for the worst. There would be winners, but there would also be losers. And we made up the fact that was not true.

The president told us that that was going to be the case. It wasn't. And so, now, we're here having to admit that yes, there will be winners and losers. And when you make changes, that's what happens. And people don't want to make those changes, because they'll be responsible for the downsides, because there are always downsides.

OLORUNNIPA: In addition to Rand Paul saying this is Obamacare lite, you have all of these various medical groups, the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, the Medicaid directors, a large number of groups including Jimmy Kimmel and a number of governors saying this is not a good bill.

[08:35:13] So, they're up against that obstacle as well with several people saying that this bill is not going to improve the health care situation.

HAM: And suddenly the left is like, lobbies and corporations know what's best for you.


KING: That is a great contrast. You're right.

The newly made Republican, he switched parties, governor of West Virginia came out over the weekend and said, very bad. The governor of Alaska, we mentioned Lisa Murkowski, the governor of Alaska, saying, it's very bad for my population.

What does it tell us about John McCain? This will be one of his last acts in Washington, D.C. by most accounts. He's had bad health news. He's fighting brain cancer. He's here in town getting treatment. He decided to get out ahead, not wait for the actual vote, not wait

for them to bring it to the floor. To give them a heads up.

Last time, to your point, some of them did vote yes, but some of did that knowing that McCain was going to kill it. And they thought politically, I'll vote yes now, because I know he's going to take it down with me.

What does this tell us? It tells me and I know that he had a meeting with leader McConnell this past week, where Leader McConnell surprised him by having Lindsey Graham waiting when Senator McCain got there, that made Senator McCain mad. He described as somebody is being put in a hot box, trying to be pressured to cast his vote. He would not do that.

It strikes me that he wants his legacy to be that he stopped this. Is he stopping it because he thinks it's bad policy or is he stopping it because he thinks he's the person who's somehow going to force Washington go back to bipartisan conversations?

MATTINGLY: It's the latter, because he's noted several times that the block grant idea is something that on its face, he supports. And he -- part of the reason why this came back is because he said multiple times that the idea that Senator Graham and Senator Cassidy were working through both on a conference call a couple of weeks after the July implosion occurred, that like, OK, I might be -- I think I'm OK with this. I think I'm good with this.

It's the latter. It's the process. It's the legacy, it's all of these things. And I think the most interesting element of the last six days I think is probably ran into and spoke to Senator McCain 10 times on the Hill. He never wavered. He never changed.

And while we're trying to figure out, Senator Graham, because they're close friends, is that going to be the change? Or is he going to --

MATTINGLY: No, he made a very, very poignant and pointed speech on the Senate floor, in July. He followed that up with his no vote. The idea that all of a sudden he was going to flip, knowing that wherever his career ends up, this is certainly going to be a big moment in that career, I think when you talk to people around him, they just kind of scoff at the idea that at some point, he was just going to change his mind, all of a sudden, particularly given the process and the compressed timetable.

That is what I thought all week is he hasn't changed what he said all week. Why are we all surprised that he ended up --


HAM: He also knew all that when he ran on repeal, by the way.

KING: He did.

LEE: And on the legacy point, you know, it's impossible to have a legacy of being the person who bucked his own party over the issue of process, when there's a second vote. And you vote differently the second time. If he voted that way the first time in order to keep that legacy, he has to vote the same time -- the same way, rather, the second time.

And as Phil said, the process hasn't changed. This is another attempt to ram a bill through in a completely partisan way. And McCain has been clear all along that he has very, very serious issues with that. And he does not want the Senate functioning this way anymore.

HAM: Except when he was running on repeal, when he knew this was how this process would go down. All that information was available.

KING: There's a lot of room of mirrors to this debate. And I will say, we have a week to go. We'll see if we can pull this rabbit out of a hat.

But this goes back to met to transition. The moment Donald Trump won the election, they should have started conversations about how we're going to do this together. With the president, with the speaker, with the majority leader, they should have started then. They waited until they got to Washington and it got messy. They all head to different things. But we shall see.

Up next, rocket man, madman, barking dog, deranged -- the North Korea nuclear standoff gets personal.


[08:41:51] KING: Welcome back.

The president's top national security advisers urged him to take a tough tone against North Korea in the president's big speech this past week to the United Nations. But they also urged him to steer away from personal attacks on Kim Jong-un. The president's last-minute edits to the speech tossed that advice aside.


TRUMP: The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself, and for his regime.


KING: Now, it only escalated from there. Pyongyang called the president a barking dog. They called him deranged, senile, then this.


TRUMP: We can't have mad men out there shooting rockets all over the place.

And, by the way, rocket man should have been handled a long time ago.

We have to handle it. Little rocket man. We're going to do it, because we really have no choice.

He may be smart, he may be strategic, and he may be totally crazy, but you know what? No matter what he is, we're going to handle it, folks. Believe me. We're going to handle it.


KING: Is there any reason to believe with the rhetoric being what the rhetoric is that there can be any conversations about just dialing this back to start? Start by dialing it back? The confrontational rhetoric and the missile launches and the like? Hard to believe in this environment, right?

OLORUNNIPA: It does not seem like they're trying to dial things pack. It seems like both President Trump and the leader of North Korea are trying to ratchet things up as much as possible. Both have sort of fragile egos. Egos that they believe have been challenged by one another and the president seems to be wanting to move that forward and ratchet things up significantly.

KING: To what end is the question?

OLORUNNIPA: That's the point, that's the strategy. You have -- you're giving ammunition both to the leader of North Korea and other regimes that have reason to attack the United States and criticize the president, as well as to some of our allies, like the European Union, like Sweden, like France, who have spoken out against some of the words that the president use, including the attack saying that he would have no choice but to destroy North Korea.

That's leaving the U.S. more isolated.

KING: One of the arguments team Trump makes, and again, some of his own advisers have asked him to dial back the rhetoric. But what they say is if you get China rattled, if you get China thinking, wow, this guy could be serious about this military option thick, as opposed to saying all omissions are on the table, he says, totally destroy, that maybe they were behind the scenes. You did have the administration announce some new sanctions this week, say that the Central Bank of China apparently was going to crack down on financial interactions. We'll see if that comes about, that would be a success for the Trump administration, if that comes about.

The North Korean foreign minister spoke to the United Nations. The president said that he watched that speech. In that speech, he called Trump -- the North Korean foreign minister called Trump the commander in grief, the lion king, and president evil. He said the American people don't like the president.

The president tweeted this morning, just heard the foreign minister of North Korea speak at the U.N. If he echoes the thoughts of little rocket man, they won't be around much longer.

[08:45:01] It's the "they won't be around much longer", does he mean regime change? The foreign minister and Kim Jong-un and the elites that run the country, or does he mean the 25 million people who live in North Korea?

LEE: I think what he's saying is a part of his bigger goal of always trying to have the upper hand, you know, show he is the stronger person, the person with more strength. And this personal name calling and going back and forth with Kim Jong-un is problematic for a lot of reasons. Obviously, here in the U.S., a lot of his critics are pointing out that this simply is not presidential. This is unseemly, unbecoming.

I would also point out that this is the kind of reception that he is getting abroad, as well. I have been paying some attention to how South Korean local media has been reacting to all of this. And there's some buzz going around, because a conservative commentator in South Korea has made up a nickname for Donald Trump, playing off of the sound Trump, giving him a nickname that sounds a little bit like someone who has gone a little mad.

So, this is not something that the international community is ignoring. And in fact, they are getting worked up as well, as Americans are here in this country, because of the rhetoric that just simply does not sound presidential.

KING: And yet, a lot of conservatives who have not said nice things about this president said very nice things about the speech to the United Nations, saying, thank, Mr. President, for drawing some tough lines.

HAM: Yes, look, I think there's a difference between the Alabama statements and the U.N. speech, if you can separate them to some degree, which unfortunately we have to, because this president -- look, I don't think that Trump himself has a doctrine. I don't think he has a lot of strategy.

But, like, this is a place where it's really hard to make the argument that what we have been doing for four administrations has worked. And so, they're looking for a different way. And people are guiding him in that way.

KING: We'll see.

HAM: And you get a lot of stupid stuff on the side.

KING: A lot of stupid stuff on the side.

Just ahead, our reporters share their notebooks, including the big meetings Senator Lisa Murkowski is having back home this weekend. Could make her make her big decision on the Republican health care bill?


[08:51:37] KING: We close as we always do, head around the INSIDE POLITICS table, ask our reporters. Share a little something from their notebook, get you out ahead of some of the political news just around the corner.

Mary Katharine?

HAM: I'm just here to remind you about the much ignored Virginia governor's race. It's usually seen as a bellwether in these off years. It has two rather polite sort of establishment candidates. So we're not paying any attention to it, because other people are tweeting and yelling.

But it was -- the Democrat was ahead by five to seven points, even 10 points in some polls recently, but just this week, a Suffolk poll showed it getting much tighter, tied at 42. So, we'll see where that ends up. It will remain probably polite, but it has this undercurrent of the Trump culture wars and the NFL and the statue stuff. So, we'll see where it heads.

KING: It will be a fun one in the final week. We'll get to it, I promise you. Despite the tweets and screaming.


OLORUNNIPA: Refugee numbers. The president this week is going to release the number of refugees he expects to admit into the U.S. in the next fiscal year. We're hearing that that number could fall drastically from what President Obama did last year, with 110,000 refugees. It could be as low as 15,000 this year.

The president wants to drastically reduce the number of refugees coming into the country. It comes at a time when he's planning to reiterate his travel ban and potentially increase the number of countries or have new targets of countries that are going to be placed under significant restrictions for having their citizens come into the U.S.

KING: And that will set off a conversation, I'll say. We won't get into screaming and tweets. We'll see what happens.


MATTINGLY: You would be forgiven if you weren't aware this was actually tax reform launch week. This is the week -- very exciting, big rollout, all of these things are happening, focus on taxes.

But what's interesting, when you talk to Republican aides, as this prepares to rollout, is what they're preaching is patience. They've been working behind the scenes actually in a really kind of normal, unified rollout manner with the White House, House aides, Senate aides, White House aides. Working on a communication plan, working on a travel plan. How are we all going to do this?

When the framework is released, I'm told it's going to be on Wednesday, the president is supposed to travel to talk about tax reform, do the big rollout as well, that will be the start. But what everybody is saying is, we have to get a budget. We're going to go through regular order. Hi, Senator John McCain. Committees, hearings, markups, then floor. Be patient. The real concern right now, as the patience is the key,

can the president stay patient? Especially if health care goes down, can the president stay patient? That's where aides are worried right now and that's why they're saying, guys, just let it all happen.

KING: Best-laid plans. I'll just laid it there.


LEE: I'm going to be paying very close attention to local media in Alaska, the papers, radio, TV. As we know, Senator Murkowski is in her home state this weekend and I'm told she's meeting with some constituents. And this is really, really critical, because remember that last time when she went home after voting no, she told these stories about being greeted with tearful voters in her airport, thanking her for voting against this bill.

And she has made it very clear, perhaps more than anybody else in the caucus, that whatever the decision comes down to, it is going to be all about Alaska and sort of the culmination of these disastrous health care effects that the state sort of suffers from. And that it is going to be all about those meetings and what she hears from her people. So any color that we get there those meetings that she has with her voters and her constituents, they are going to be very, very important.

KING: And McCain getting out early with his "no" only adds to the spotlight. She can't -- she's not hiding behind anybody else at the momentum.

I'll close with this. Much has been made, quite understandably of the president Trump versus Stephen Bannon subplot of the Alabama Senate runoff. The "Breitbart News" chief and former top White House strategist is making a rare public appearance Monday for his candidate, the former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.

[08:55:07] Why the high profile? Bannon's hope is that a Moore win will not only help boost "Breitbart", but that it encourages and helps him encourage more anti-establishment challengers in Republican primaries. Bannon, for example, is actively involved in trying to recruit a better conservative challenger to Senator Jeff Flake in Arizona.

Congressman Paul Gosar is a Bannon target there. The Tea Party favorite previously has said, he's not interested, that he would not challenge Flake. But Bannon and his allies are hoping Gosar will reconsider and hoping a Moore win in Alabama might help their argument about the political climate.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday morning. Catch us weekends, too, that's at Noon Eastern. Hope to see you then.

Up next, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper. Have a great Sunday.