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Trump on NFL Anthem Policy; New Travel Rules; Deadline Looms for Health Bill. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 25, 2017 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:22] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

The NFL and its players take an international stand and knee against President Trump, responding in force to his labeling a few players, quote, sons of bitches, for exercising their right to free speech.


DESHONE KIZER, QUARTERBACK, CLEVELAND BROWNS: I know for a fact that I'm no son of a bitch. And I plan on continuing forward and doing whatever I can for my position to, you know, promote the equality that's needed in this country.


KING: Plus, the last-ditch Republican Obamacare repeal effort is short votes, and the deal-making to try to win support includes more money for states with wavering senators.


SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D), WASHINGTON: You should not be able to bribe states and governors to say, we will give you a little bit more money now, but after the next several years, we're going to cut access to Medicaid.


KING: And a new travel ban from the Trump White House focuses on seven countries, including North Korea and Venezuela.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The travel ban, the tougher, the better.


KING: We begin, though, with the controversy the president set off over the weekend. Like many Americans, Mr. Trump eager to play Monday morning quarterback today, and he's giving himself rave reviews for escalating what was a modest controversy into an international faceoff of over patriotism, free speech and race. Sent from the president iPhone 7:31 a.m., many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday, which was a small percentage of total. Those are fans who demand respect for our flag.

Then, eight minutes later, the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It's about respect for our country, flag and national anthem. NFL must respect this.

Again, shortly after 9:00 a.m. hash tag standforouranthem.

The president went out of his way to pick this fight Friday night when he said NFL owners should fire any, quote, sons of bitches, who knee in protest during the national anthem. He wanted a big debate and he got one.

Last year, this started with one man. You see him right there, and two of his colleagues, Colin Kaepernick. This photo taken exactly one year ago. But take a look at yesterday. Players, coaches, owners at stadiums from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, London, everywhere in between, locking arms, some kneeling, some staying in the locker room while the anthem played.

In Chicago the Pittsburgh Steelers sideline empty as the "Star- Spangled Banner" echoed in Soldier Field. Only one man, the left tackle, Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, trickled out of the tunnel. You see him there.

Again, the president insists this is not about race, but until yesterday it was a small group of African-Americans kneeling to protest police shootings or other race-related issues. They call it using their First Amendment right to free speech to make what they say to them is a very important point. The president of the United States called them sons of bitches.

Plus, it was an African-American NBA star the president criticized by name on Twitter over the weekend. Today, the NFL owners, overwhelmingly white, many of them Trump donors, say the president is wrong and divisive to stoke all this. So does the Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady, a self-described friend of the president.


TOM BRADY, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: I certainly disagree with, you know, what he said and, you know, thought it was just divisive.


KING: Part of the president's Twitter tirade against player protesters included this, sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their national anthem or their country. NFL should change policy.

CNN's Hines Ward played in the NFL for 14 seasons. Full disclosure, Hines, you are an unpaid volunteer coach during training camp with the Steelers last month. Fans almost came to blows about this yesterday. Some Patriots fans

were booing when the players took a knee. Any chance the league will see this as a big enough distraction to listen to the president and take his suggestion about changing the rules?

HINES WARD, CNN SPORTS CONTRIBUTOR: No, I don't think it's going to be a distraction to the team. If anything, what we saw yesterday was a sense of unity. I mean from owners, to coaches, to players, to ball boys. I mean it was amazing to see the support that the entire league come together as a unit and show that we support each other regardless of the circumstances.

KING: Unusual for a president, any president, to get involved in this way. Again, you were in a locker room for more than a dozen years. You were with -- some of the athletes are black. Some of the athletes are white. They're from everywhere around the country. They have every different political views. We saw even last year when Mr. Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, when Tom Brady said kind things about President Trump, it caused a little mumbling and murmuring on that team. What did you see yesterday in terms of having lived through various social controversies, cultural controversies, political controversies as a player, what did you see yesterday that most jumped out at you?

WARD: Well, the thing that I saw, it was very hard to put politics into sports, and for many reasons. I mean you got guys who are protesting, doing the silent protest of what they've experienced. Then you've got guys who the flag is a whole new meaning to them. And then you have guys that are in the middle that really don't want to get into a political stance or whatnot, all they want to do is just play football. I mean that's the reason why they grew up loving the game. They just want to go out there and play football and not have to make a choice.

[12:05:28] But what I saw yesterday of everyone being united, I mean it makes it tough because it's kind of like oil and water. You know, you really don't want to mix the two because they don't go together. At one point you have players kneeling and then on another point you have players standing for the national anthem and you take -- like you were talking about the player from the Steelers, Alejandro. I mean who are we to sit there and tell a guy who served for our country, did three tours over in Afghanistan, that he can't run out the tunnel and sing the national anthem?

So I'm not upset with his choice. And he didn't tell any of the players that he was doing it. But for him to stand out there alone and to do it, I just wish that there were other players show support for him, just like they're showing support for the other protesters that are taking the knee.

KING: What would you have done if you were in the locker room yesterday and the decision was go out, stay in the locker room, go out and stand, go out and kneel?

WARD: Well, for me, it's a personal choice because of the military background. My father served in the military and I have close friends. And I reached out and I actually texted a dear friend of mine who served in the Marines, who lost his leg, and I asked him, what did he, you know, think about the NFL players standing out and not singing the anthem or standing for the flag?

And what he told me was very interesting. He told me that what that flag represents to him -- now, he's been -- he served for our country and now how they drape the American flag over the casket of someone, a dear friend of his, and then folded the flag up and handing it to the wife, he said, that was more saying thank you because of the sacrifices that he made for our country. And so that flag and what it means to these military guys is a whole new meaning, especially for NFL guys who could never talk about what their life experience because they've never been there before.

KING: It would be a great, thoughtful and maybe even helpful conversation if we could have it as a conversation. Yesterday we got confrontation.

Hines Ward, appreciate your insights. It's very important as we continue this conversation.

With us here to share their reporting and their insights, Kimberly Atkins of "The Boston Herald," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Eliana Johnson of "Politico," and CNN's Manu Raju.

Well, the president got what he wanted. He got attention. He got a big fight. He insisted it had nothing to do with race. And could have been a one shot, if you will. The president did this Friday night. Could have seen what played out yesterday. Could have gone quiet. But it's clear the president likes this if you look at his Twitter feed today, that he wants this to continue, so we will go through this, at least for another week. We'll go through this at least for Thursday -- Monday night football, Thursday night football, Sunday, next week. Why does the president see this as a win?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, "BOSTON HERALD": Well, the president likes to wage these sort of us versus them battles. We saw this on the campaign trail throughout his presidency. Remember when the Black Lives Matter protests were reaching its height, he declared that he would have a law and order presidency and that he firmly backed police when that was -- too was not a debate against -- it was not a battle between police or Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter wasn't anti-police. Here he's doing the same thing. He's taking what was a protest, a civil rights protest, that had largely, as you pointed out, died down -- Colin Kaepernick isn't even in the NFL anymore -- and pushed it into and phrased it in terms of a battle against the military, which isn't what it is, but it fuels his base. He likes waging that battle. And it diverts attention away from this health care bill that's probably going to fail.

KING: Well, that's an interesting point there, as he's starting a big fight here because he's losing a big fight over here. That's one of the points. But us versus them in the context of football -- I'm a Patriots fan. I grew up in New England. I hate the Jets. I hate the Bills. You know, that's -- that's it. I don't hate them. That's just the way you're raised. That's the way it goes. We have this conversation in baseball sometimes. But why bring this into sports? The president -- that's an escalation.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is an escalation and the president knew exactly what he was doing. He did it on Friday night in Alabama. He was down in Alabama giving a prime time speech talking about race. He can say it's not about race. It is absolutely about race and he knows it's about race. He knows it is about something that -- he's tapping into something, a, that's already there, which he's done a lot. You know, viewership is down in the NFL, in part because of this, as some people believe.

But he clearly wants to remind his base that he is with them. He has been, you know, doing some deals with Democrats. He'll be doing more deals with Democrats. He's failing with other things, not getting some things done, too. It's a -- he was in a comfortable position of a rally, so he decided to go with this.

But Ben Sasse, the Republican senator from Nebraska, had an interesting message to players. He said, he wants you to take a knee because it divides the nation with him and the flag on the same side. Don't give him the attention he wants.

Of course, Ben Sasse, no fan of this president. But interestingly now the -- the president is on the same side as, you know, some supporters and also the flag. It's a -- it's hard to see the exit route off of this for the president. He wants to keep it going.

[12:10:09] KING: Maybe he doesn't want an exit. Is that the point? I mean I'm old enough to remember when, you know, some conservatives used to goad (ph) the Democrats to come out publicly and support flag burners because you want -- you want (INAUDIBLE). Do you support a flag burner? Nobody wants to burn the flag.

What is the president's goal here? Is this just to have a dust-up to continue -- to lead this program, lead other national conversations at a time we should be talking about they're likely to fail again on Obamacare repeal. We have no idea if they can get tax reform to the finish line. Or is about something bigger and different?

ELIANA JOHNSON, "POLITICO": I think Donald Trump is not a politics president. He's a culture president. And though he's not the traditional culture warrior who talked about sexual ethics and religiosity, he is a culture warrior in that he's a genius for identifying sort of cultural flashpoints and sticking his finger in them and igniting national debates over them.

And so I think what he did was deliberate and he doubled down on it when he saw the crowd reaction. It obviously wasn't in his scripted remarks. But it's a debate that he wants to have. And at the very base of it, you know, when you poll people, do they support standing for the national anthem versus, you know, having athletes kneel? The majority of Americans are with him. I think it depends on how people -- what people perceive this debate to be about. Do they perceive it to be about standing versus not standing or the freedom to do so versus not doing so, should someone be fired versus not? I think it's unclear how that's going to play out. But the way the president perceives it. It's clear the White House thinks this is a winning issue for him. I don't think anybody in there has too many qualms about him continuing this debate.

KING: To make your point -- hang on just one second. To make you point about the president thinks it's a winning issue for him, we learned about what is most, first and foremost, on the president's mind, what he tweets about. No teleprompter. This is what he wants to be talking about.

Here's his Twitter feed since Saturday morning. Sixteen tweets about sports and the national anthem, two about health care, one about taxes, one about North Korea, zero about Puerto Rico, where there's a desperate need for some help and the president could help get that help there. That's the president now.

I do want to bring this into the conversation. This president is not always consistent. That's, I think, a fair fact. Private citizen Donald Trump, in October 2013, when President Obama was getting involved in the debate about whether the Washington Redskins should change their name, because some people think it's offensive and it's racist. President Donald Trump -- citizen Trump tweeted then, presidents should not be telling the Washington Redskins to change their name. Our country has far bigger problems. Focus on them, not nonsense.

RAJU: Yes, put that in the book of, "there's a tweet for everything." I mean there really is, especially on this point.

But, you know, I think that you often hear Republicans in this town say that they wish the president would lay off Twitter. This is another example of that. This is a fight that the White House may see as a winning issue, but certainly he's not going to secure a lot of support from his own party on Capitol Hill, particularly in light of the aftermath of what he said in Charlottesville. He said there were some very fine people who were marching along with those white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but how come there are not some very fine people who are taking a knee and protesting what they believe are concerns that they have over civil rights. So I think whenever he dives into these cultural war issues, he doesn't have a lot of support from people in this town. He may speak to that 30 percent or so base.

KING: It was this -- the interesting strategic (ph) discussion. I said this yesterday. Sometimes we need our president to lead the country through conversations about difficult issues. The president has every right to say, I get your point, you have the right to demonstrate. I wish you'd find someone -- could you please find some other way? Can we have a conversation? Let's not do this to the flag. Let's find another way. That's not -- he's not having -- trying to have a conversation. He wanted a confrontation. And listening to the Steelers coach, Mike Tomlin, here saying, you want a confrontation, president, you got one.


MIKE TOMLIN, PITTSBURGH STEELERS COACH: We've got a group of men in there. men that come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, creeds, ethnicities, religions and so forth. That's football. That's a lot of team sports. But because of our position, we get drug into the (EXPLETIVE DELETED), to be quite honest with you. And so some have opinions. Some don't. We wanted to protect those that don't. We wanted to protect those that do. We came here to play a football game today and that was our intentions.


RAJU: I think that's a frustrating thing for a lot of -- even sports fans is that they watch sports to get away from politics, to get away from all the noise.

KING: Right.

RAJU: And, yes, this was an issue certainly some people were protesting, but it was a small number of people. And the president just injected politics into something that people hoped could stay away from all of this.

ZELENY: He started -- in terms of the people at the White House that have qualms about it, I'm told that his chief of staff, John Kelly, is actually quite alarmed by this. And it's one of the things he can't control. He says he can control what the president -- who sees the president and what the president reads, but he cannot control what he says in a rally or what he sends out on this.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: And I am told that he is alarmed by this, does not know how this will end exactly. And after spending 45 years in the Marine Corps, he sees himself as, you know, someone who does not want to be on this side of this argument here. So I think internally in the White House there's a little consternation.

[12:15:05] I was also told this morning it happened on a Friday evening going into a Saturday when he was basically alone. Melania Trump was in Canada, Ivanka Trump was down for the Sabbath -- the Jewish Sabbath. So he was sort of alone and tweet to his own devices. So these things often happen on a Friday into a Saturday.

KING: Well, General Kelly grew up in the same town I grew up in. He's a little bit older than me, but he has a pretty good memory, I think, of what happens when people start injecting themselves into these issues. They can turn into powder kegs. We shall see how this one goes.

Up next, the tougher the better. That's the president's position when it comes to the new travel ban rules, while his critics say it's nothing more than a new way to enforce the Muslim ban.


KING: Welcome back.

The president is rolling out the latest version of his travel ban. Quote, making America safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet.

[12:20:01] The new rules drop Sudan from the president's original list and now include non-majority Muslim countries Venezuela and North Korea. The restrictions, which take effect next month, vary by country and include a phased-in approach. They also include enhanced screening and vetting requirements for countries like Iran and Somalia. Critics of the president, like the ACLU, say the changes are like putting lipstick on a pig. Trump's original sin of targeting Muslims cannot be cured by throwing other countries onto his enemies list, the ACLU says. The president's take?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The travel ban, the tougher, the better.


KING: That's the president's take. Undoubtedly, this will end up in court. We're lucky we have an attorney at the table who also happens to be a reporter. You've covered this issue extensively. I guess two questions. Number one, you do have now non-majority Muslim nations on the list. I assume that makes the president's case easier in court or, put it this way, makes the -- those people attacking it more difficult to say this is just about Muslims. Number two, he also had -- he's been president now for eight plus months. Is it harder to get standing in court to say, here's what he said as a candidate, now that you do have an eight month record as a president?

ATKINS: Well, the challengers to this case were prepared for this. They were prepared for this travel ban, which expired last night and they knew it was going to -- to change in some way in order to make -- for the government to make the case, look, this is not a Muslim ban. We're banning North Korea and some -- a few officials from Venezuela as well. But thy are still sticking with this saying that that is just, as you said, lipstick on a pig in that this is still devoted to giving his base what they want, which is the Muslim ban that he promised on the campaign trail. The words and statements that he's made and the tweets that he's made since then will definitely be part of this case.

But it is. It's tough for a lot of reasons. This is a different ban than the one that they -- that they sued over. That one has expired. And even though the argument will take place before this new one goes into effect on October 18th, the fact that it is changing, the Supreme Court could do a number of things. They can say, you know what, I'm going to remand this back, try again, sue over this new one, we can start all over. They can ask for new briefings. They can change -- you know, give -- you can give the parties more time to argue this out.

So we don't know procedurally how this will matter, but at the end of the day, Justice Anthony Kennedy, he is going to be the decider on this, on this court that's evenly divided, on where the power of the presidency to implement immigration policy, which is broad, and -- and whether -- whether racial discrimination -- or rather religious discrimination is something that the Supreme Court says this president, even with his authority, can't do.

ZELENY: I think this is also -- I mean the rollout of this is much different, obviously, than the first week of this administration. This is something that has been obviously more thought out, I guess. You know, they've had all these rulings to sort of help them along the way here.

But the president, you know, this is much softer than he initially discussed back in, you know, 2015. But again, this is all about the Supreme Court here. So the White House is not necessarily -- it doesn't seem to me all that enthused about this.

KING: But you --

ZELENY: We do not see the president talking about it. We've not seen him doing some big proclamation. Largely I think they want to keep him from talking about it, because every time he talks about it, he, in fact, just called it himself a Muslim ban. (INAUDIBLE).

RAJU: Yes, and he said that. He said recently that he wished the ban was broader --

ZELENY: Right.

RAJU: And was more specific, which suggested very much that he wanted it to be an outright Muslim ban, which he called for initially on the campaign trail. What will be interesting to see is if the court looks at any of the thing that he said on the campaign trail to suggest that is their true intent (INAUDIBLE).

KING: And they likely will. You make a key point. I don't think they want the president out talking about this, because when he talks off the cuff about this, those words are then brought into the court cases, saying this is the president's true mindset.

But less chaotic, controlled process, clearly a well-organized process, clearly they've had the lawyer scrub the language, much more so than the first time around. That's the legal argument.

We talked earlier, I'm not sure where the NFL debate ends up for the president politically. But this one, out in the country, the president's on pretty safe ground. If his case to the American people is, I need to do things to keep you safe. And if I'm going to make a mistake, I'm going to overdo it, not underdo it. That's a pretty solid case you can sell to the American people.

JOHNSON: I think that's right. And I think one of the places where President Obama miss stepped was in sort of chastising the American people when they felt real fear in the wake of domestic terror attacks. Granted many of those were perpetrated by domestic grown terrorists. But he tended to come out and tell the American people that their fears were unfounded and that they came from racist sentiments. And that was something that was, I think, a difficult sell to the American people, who tend to want to be reassured. And Trump does somewhat better on the ground where the quality -- he is a strengths guy and he does better when he's working in that realm rather than in the sort of post-hurricane comfort zone.

ATKINS: But that works with his base, though, remember, because this ban still does not affect places like Pakistan, places like Saudi Arabia where people actually came and perpetrated terrorist acts on U.S. soil. So it's a tough sell to say, hey, we're keeping you safe when still these countries aren't the ones that are posing the greatest threat.

[12:25:03] KING: The next test in a court somewhere in America. We'll keep an eye on that one.

Up next, Republicans running out of time on their efforts to, yes, deja vu, repeal Obamacare.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've been watching for seven years as the Republicans have been saying repeal and replace. Then you have John McCain voting no for whatever reason. And, by the way, Arizona's one of the biggest beneficiaries. It's also great for Maine. It's also great for Alaska.


KING: It is if you haven't -- didn't know this already. Deadline week for Republicans hoping to keep their Obamacare repeal promise. And those comments you just heard from the president make clear, he's closely tracking the vote count. It takes just three Republican no votes to doom this latest repeal and replace attempt. Arizona's John McCain is a no. Maine's Susan Collins is a most likely no. And Alaska's Lisa Murkowski says she has profound concerns. Several conservatives also now say they are nos or leaning nos. And so there's a late scramble to rewrite the bill with that deadline just ahead.