Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Faces Pressure Over Puerto Rico; Price Racks Up Big Bill For Private Jet; A Look At Roy Moore's Conservative Views. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 27, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:06] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: The President considers tweeting part of his work. And that's where we get the best sense of what is most on his mind. Here are the numbers. Since Hurricane Maria hit, the President has tweeted 26 times about sports and the national anthem, 16 times on health care, eight times on Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico.

But as complaints mounted yesterday, the White House flipped the switch releasing photographs of the President in briefings, sending out deputies out to brief reporters on the Puerto Rico response. The Vice President got into the P.R. campaign with a tweet about a meeting with the Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert and started to Marco Rubio who was just in Puerto Rico.

And this evening's statement from the White House about the briefings included "The President made clear that there is no such thing as overresponding."

The complaints were yesterday. They seemed flat footed. In their defense, it is a hard challenge to get aid to Puerto Rico than it is to Texas and to Florida.

However, you knew the storm was coming. You know it wasn't the first storm, you know it's an island. You know about that challenge. So there have been complaints that hey why aren't we -- they don't seem to getting the constant attention as quickly as some of the other places did. But it was clear yesterday at the White House. They got the message that they needed to A, amp up aid and B, amp up the effort the public relations part of it.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDET: I mean, when I saw the Deputy Homeland Security Secretary, is that who was on with you yesterday.

KING: Elaine Duke, Acting Secretary.

BASH: I thought oh, OK. Something's changing. You could sort of watch the switch flipping as she began to talk to you. Look, we covered the White House during Katrina. We saw exactly what happens when an administration is caught flat footed.

And when a President says we're doing a great job. Then it was brownie. Now it's a series of comments saying how great people are telling him that the Federal government is doing. It is not easy. And also in fairness to the Federal government and to the White House, they just had two consecutive devastating hurricanes in the contiguous U.S.

So you know, it isn't easy. Having said that, the fact that the President was clearly otherwise occupied with this NFL thing that he is stoking up and dividing the country which is something we haven't seen a president do, I don't know ever because they're supposed to unite them and not sort of putting more focus on Puerto Rico the way that they have in the past 24 hours is bad P.R. and they get it.

KING: Even if behind the scenes the President's tweets taken, second to type them, a couple minutes to type. Even behind the scene they were spending much more time on Puerto Rico. The President sure left the impression that the NFL was more important to him.

He also sounds a bit tone deaf in a tweet where he's right. These will past the fact check, a lot of the infrastructure in Puerto Rico is in trouble because of the debt crisis. That is true. It sounds tone deaf when you do that during the crisis.

And so the issue is and Marco Rubio just back from Puerto Rico understands the administration is doing what it can. But even he wants to keep pushing, conditions are Puerto Rico are bad, have the potential to rapidly deteriorate into a widespread crisis.

A very concerned about those with serious medical conditions who run out of medicine and received no treatment for over a week, so you have Marco Rubio is very complimentary of the Florida response nudging the administration, speed it up.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Because the reality is that the optics is so, so important. The President's allies I think would say it's not really fair to talk about his tweets because there is so much we don't see that's happening. I think that's true.

Certainly, because a lot of his top officials are very, very closely engaged on this, but Dana, to your point about the tweets about the NFL, it's also true on the other side of this that the President will make it known very clearly through his tweets what his biggest preoccupation is, what his biggest obsession is at any given moment.

And I think when you're talking about more than two dozen tweets on a topic, it is clear very clear he is sending a message to the country and Americans and the world this is an issue he cares about if he had been tweeting in addition to the NFL tweets, to dozen tweets about Puerto Rico, that would be a different story.

KING: Now there's an arcane conversation in Washington that's very important potentially the people in Puerto Rico about what's called the Jones Act, this is 100 old law that requires if you're a ship going into a port in Puerto Rico, you have to have an American flag, you have an American crew.

Several members of Congress have for days said waive it. We can get other aid ships in more quickly. And as the conversation around town now, does Congress have the legal standing under the laws to ask for a waiver or does it have to come from the shippers, does it comes from the government of Puerto Rico, does it have to come from the defense department?

That's a situation where I get their rules and everything where why not issue a waiver and say if necessary. Just here's a waiver if you need it. We hope you don't need it, Sarah Sanders said at the White House we don't think it's necessary. We think American carriers are up to task. What's harm of signing the waiver and saying if you need it, here it is.

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG: Yes. This is another moment in time for presidential leadership. And it's difficult because you have your kind of ideological tenants that you can govern with in normal times and then have you National Security of Emergency. And what's going on in Puerto Rick has been compared to a war time situation and it feels like that for the people on the ground.

[12:35:00] There are people, hospital were dying, there are people who don't have any food or water. There is fear of wave of disease coming. And it's an important time for the President to make in the moment decisions that may not be decisions who would use in normal times.

And for him to say out loud as many times as he can to anyone who can get a TV or a phone signal or word to people in Puerto Rico, you're American citizens, we're coming to help you. And again, and again, and again.

KING: That White House statement last night instructive and there's no such thing as under responding here. That's a lesson President Bush deferred to Governor Blanco early in Katrina that he paid a huge price for her in decision as the White House took the blame in the end. So if you're the president, just do every thing you can and clean it up after the fact.

MICHAEL WARREN, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Send out a tweet that says here's where you can donate. I mean, that's what I keep going to is you could send every single tweet the President Trump had said in the last, you know, several days. And on top of that tweet out something that could have a practical positive effect.

KING: All right, up next, we shift gears. Private plane rides, soundproof rooms? That's draining the swamp, right?


[12:40:29] KING: Welcome back. In Shakespeare power corrupts an absolute power corrupts absolutely. In Washington, the swamp turns you into an alligator.

Take Tom Price. As a Georgia Congressman, he railed against wasteful spending but as President Trump's Health and Human Services Secretary. Well, he developed bit of a taste for private jets. He's now under investigation by the Department's Inspector General.

According to Politico Price has chartered at least 26 flights at a cost of over $400,000 to the taxpayers. The Treasury Secretary use of private planes is also under review.

And then there's this curiosity. Environmental Protection Agency Chief Scott Pruitt is spending $25,000 in taxpayer money, your money to build a cone of silence at his agency, a soundproof room where he can make phone calls or have meetings. What does he have to hide?

His aides say nothing, that this is necessary. But you might remember you can look this up on the internet as Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt got busted copying and pasting letters from big oil executives directly on to attorney general stationary. Private jets, extreme secrecy, it's not a good look especially when the boss won in part because of this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want the entire corrupt Washington establishment to hear the words we all I'm your messenger, just a messenger, doing a good job but just the messenger. We all are about to say when we win on November 8th, we are going to drain the swamp.


KING: I'm going to guess the President's not too happy especially about Tom Price and his private planes.

WARREN: No, the White House came out earlier this week and basically said look, this was not White House approved travel. I think they're trying to distance themselves. Expectedly from all of this.

This is a really bad look. It's not just the private jets. You should have look at the schedules that Secretary Price is going. He's going to these sorts of medical conferences, things he's gone to in the past when he was a congressman, a simple congressman and a Georgia doctor for very short periods of time.

There's a lot of fishy things here. It should be noted that it was Politico and the media who have expose this, I think. We should remember that that this is good reporting.

KING: It makes the President look bad and the President promised to drain the swamp. And we can give you a number of examples, the President's former aides who did not come into the White House making a ton of money trading off his name, that's not draining the swamp, that just replacing the alligator Mr. President.

But when you have somebody like Tom Price, it's not only what the President promised in the campaign, it's what a guy named Congressman Tom Price once railed against.


TOM PRICE, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: I think we've made it halfway of where we ought to do. And that is cut it from eight to four jets. Now we need to cut it from four jets to zero jets. This is another example of fiscal irresponsibility run amok in congress right now.

I want to say to the speaker, don't you fly over our country in your luxury jet. And lecture us on what it means to be an American. Don't you tell us about America.


KING: That was in talking about Nancy Pelosi back when she was Speaker of the House.

BASH: Who by the way coined the phrase drain the swamp.

KING: Yes, Mr. Secretary, we record things and keep the tapes. Sorry.

BASH: Look, this is why -- the irony here is, this is why is President Trump won because people are so rightly so disgusted with this kind of behavior. The notion that you can never mind use taxpayer dollars to fly privately as Politico found out but do so after you rail against the other party for doing just that.

It's like are you kidding me? I mean it's unbelievable. And it really is, look, if you kind of take a step back, you wouldn't excuse anybody for this because even if they've never been in Washington, they should have people around them to understand the basic rules and protocols. But Tom Price has been in Washington. You know he's a doctor. But he has been a congressman in Washington, he knows the rules. And it just is mind boggling.

WARREN: The problem is, he's been in Washington and he knows the rules. And simply kind of thing that --

KINGS: Exactly right. And it makes it a lot harder when it's actually justified. When do you have to get someplace and get back quickly because it's urgent or you're trying to go, as you mentioned Kathleen Sebelius the former HHS Secretary going in remote areas of Alaska.

It makes it harder to tell people look, we had to do it in this case or even if you have some other, even a family emergency or such, you know, life happens. I mean but it makes it really hard. Again, here's what this costs. Let just put this up on the screen. He took a chartered at the Philadelphia at a cost of $25,000.

[12:45:02] You can drive there for about $46 in gas its 125 miles. You can take a train, its $123. You can get on a United Airlines flight, might cost you as much $725 there. There's a bit of difference, I think the average Joe gets it between $725 of their tax money or $25,000 to go to Philadelphia. Now they say oh, security, oh, the time at the TSA. They don't wait at the TSA. They get shuttled out to the tarmac.

LEE: Amtrak is very comfort by the way.

KING: You might run into Joe Biden. LEE: This is not a good look for Price. I think we're all in agreement. But I will point out that the decision of whether this ends up being a job-ending controversy for Tom Price, that all rests with President Trump and every reporting that my colleagues have been doing and in my covering of the health care debate, every reporting that we have is that the President doesn't blame Tom Price and actually likes him a lot and has seen him as a very loyal cabinet member.

So if the President feels like all of the, you know, disasters that we've seen in Congress with Republican is not being able to get their act together on health care, that all rests with Mitch McConnell and to some extent Vice President Pence because he has been so, so closely involved, then we're not really seeing any indication that Price will --

TALEV: But there's a rule for congressional Republicans in this now. And we're going to see --

KING: Right, oversight. Just going to say this will be a test, congressional Republicans say they want to give oversight. Will they do it in a Republican administration?

And to that point Elijah Cummings who's the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee said that of Secretary Price had an entitled millionaire mind-set and went on to say "The amount of taxpayer funds you reportedly spent on just one single flight earlier this month is more than some of my constituents make in an entire year."

That's why this resonates with people and you're right. The challenge will be the oversight committee says we'll take a look at this. Will they call them up, they can go through the records. Will the Republicans, you know, give aggressive oversight?

TALEV: I think they're certainly leaving open the possibility that they will. And I see the White House's response which was immediately out of the gate to say we did not approve this travel as to leave -- just enough cushion between the President and his HHS Secretary that if he needs to drop him like a hot potato he can.

KING: When we come back, we turn back to the top political story. Roy Moore wins the Alabama Senate runoff. He said he's a constitutional conservative unless there's a conflict with the bible.


[12:51:34] Welcome back. If you don't live in Alabama, you may not know Roy Moore but you may be reminded of some of his past legal battles that got national attention. As chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore defied a court order to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments inside the Supreme Court building.

Then in 2012, he told Alabama state judges to ignore the United States Supreme Court decision that same-sex marriage was right. Those strong stances on God prominent role in government or a staple of his Senate run as well. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: We wouldn't be having the demonstrations and riots and division in our society if we returned to one nation under god as it was. Some people see God as a religion. He's not a religion. He's something real.

Now we've got blacks and whites fighting, rich and yellows fighting. Democrats and Republicans fighting. Men and women fighting. What's going to unit us? What's going to bring us back together? A president? A congress? No. It's going to be God.


KING: Whether or not you agree with Judge Moore, you have to give him this. He's consistent.


MOORE: Homosexual conduct should be illegal.

You wonder why we're having problems? In Newtown, Connecticut? All across our country with killings? Stealing, committing adultery? We've forgotten the law of God.


KING: He is now the Republican candidate for Senate in the state of Alabama. He has been a national figure in his fights about essentially potentially a chief justice of the state, saying sorry Supreme Court of the United States, I will not agree with you on these questions.

He's a provocative candidate. He's a interesting candidate, the controversy for Republicans is if you're running for senator in Indiana and running senator in Colorado and you're running for senator somewhere else, you're going to get asked every time he says something, do you agree with Judge Moore?

WARREN: Yes, this is (INAUDIBLE) all over again. This is what Mitch McConnell feared.

BASH: Todd Akin who talked about rape as a woman --

WARREN: Correct in the Missouri Senate race.

BASH: Yes, right.

WARREN: And what Roy Moore had said over the years, his record is in many ways you can sort of quantify it this way so much worse in terms of the number of sound bites as you displayed there. And Republicans going to have to answer for, and this is not what they're looking forward to. They're also not looking forward to the fact that if Roy Moore is in the Senate, he's not going to be a reliable for Mitch McConnell or for that Republican conference or for that matter Donald Trump's agenda. You can imagine that there might be some judges who have otherwise good conservative credentials who for whatever reason we don't have a good sense of what Roy Moore may or may not do. He may not go with Republicans. And that's a problem, as well.

BASH: Can I go back to back Alabama, it is unlikely that Democrat can win that Senate race, but this opens up the possibility for Democrat to win because is he so well-known, maybe not so much outside of Alabama but so well-known in Alabama which helped him win in the big way did he last night but it could galvanize the people that don't like him in a way people won't expect.

TALEV: Terrific for Democratic fundraising efforts, right? And like under the old kind of rubric old rules of politics, Roy Moore would make a lot of the sense of the House candidate from the state. But the Senate at least used to be something really different.

[12:55:00] And a Senate represents the entire state, not just geographic district and says something about the party. It sort of more statesman like, you know, less lightning bolt throwing and more reason compromised based, you know, body, the Moore institution.

And this just really does change that dynamic. This gives Mitch McConnell a whole lot more of a challenge to deal with and gives Democrats in theory if they can figure out what to do with it a real opportunity.

KING: And yet the President a deleted a couple of tweets backing Luther Strange. We keep those too Mr. President, you can't just delete the tweets, and then tweeted out he spoke to Roy Moore the first time last night and said he sounds like a really great guy.

The question is and that's fine, that's what the President suppose to do as the leader of Republican Party. You know he's the Republican candidate. The question is what happens in the future as this place out. We will see. Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS, a very day.

We're expecting to hear from President Trump any moment. He took some questions from his reporters on way to Indiana. We'll bring you the video when it comes in. When that happens, Wolf Blitzer will be in the chair. We'll see you tomorrow.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Riyadh,Saudi Arabia and 9:30 p.m. in Kabul, Afghanistan. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much --