Return to Transcripts main page


Trump and Corker Bitter Feud; Corker Says Senators Agree with Him; List of Priorities for DACA Deal; Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 9, 2017 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:31] DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks for sharing your Columbus Day with us. I'm Dana Bash. John King has the day off.

One of the most powerful Republicans in the Senate is taking his private feelings about the president public, warning that the Trump foreign policy could set the U.S. on a path to, quote, World War III. It could have an impact on the president's agenda here at home, as well as abroad.


REP. SAN DUFFY (R), WISCONSIN: I don't think that airing dirty laundry publicly is a good strategy. You know, going after a senator who's vote you're going to need on tax reform is not the best strategy.


BASH: Plus, less than a month after playing nice with the Democrats on DACA, the White House wants the wall to be part of the deal. Is this the end of the Chuck and Nancy show?


REP. ADRIANO ESPAILLAT (D), NEW YORK: They're alarmed that this is what he brings forward as a negotiation proposal. Obviously, this is very aggressive. The wall is a nonstarter.


BASH: And the administration playing defense as one NFL player calls Vice President Pence's walkout over players kneeling a publicity stunt.


ERIC REID, SAFETY, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: So this looks like a PR stunt to me. He knew our team has had the most players protest.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: To call that a political stunt is truly outrageous, egregious and offensive.


BASH: And we begin with a question, did President Trump pick a fight with the wrong guy this time? Just last week I'm told that Mr. Trump's aides begged him not to go after Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker after Corker publicly criticized him. On Sunday morning, however, the president either saw something on TV or read something that set him off on Twitter.

He said, in part, Senator Bob Corker begged me to endorse him for re- election in Tennessee. I said no and he dropped out. Said he could not win without my endorsement.

Senator Corker, who announced recently that he won't seek re-election and therefore is politically unshackled, wasted no time in jabbing back, tweeting that the White House has become a, quote, adult day care center and somebody had missed their shift.

And the Tennessee senator didn't stop there. Corker got on the phone with "The New York Times" and unleashed on the president, saying he is treating his office like a reality show and that his reckless threats could set the nation on a path to World War III.

Oh, and Corker's office also tells us that the president has his facts mixed up. They say that the president was the one who called Corker asking him to reconsider his retirement, assuring the senator that he'd endorse him.

Let's get more perspective from Capitol Hill right now. Phil Mattingly joins us.

And, Phil, you've been working your sources on kind of the fallout from this among Corker's colleagues on Capitol Hill. What are you hearing?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I think when you talk to Republican advisers, republican aides, they acknowledge that a lot of what Senator Corker said is shared by many in their conference. There's a lot of frustration right now, a lot of concern right now on Capitol Hill.

Now, I will note, that they aren't necessarily thrilled that that's being aired publicly and on the record. And there's a reason for that. The reason you see Republicans, Dana, and you know this as well as anybody, really kind of hold their fire here, is there's a recognition that this is a Republican house, a Republican Senate and there's somebody sitting in the Oval Office that will sign their legislative priorities.

On the agency level, there are rule makings and rule makings being discarded with that go further ideologically inline with conservative principles than any of them maybe ever thought possible, certainly over the course of the last decade. So there are reasons to stay in line with this White House. Most notably, the fact that they're working on tax reform right now and they want to move this through.

But, Dana, what you heard from Senator Corker, and he said that he was speaking for a lot of his colleagues, or said he was reflecting what a lot of his colleagues said, is something that's very real, that's going on behind the scenes right now, concern about the president, concern that he continually undercuts them, concern about what's going on outside, the political allies that he has that are attacking sitting senators, that are raising money against sitting senators, whether or not they actually want Republicans to succeed.

I have one senior GOP aide last night e-mail this. There are a lot of conspiracy theories in our conference right now. None of them may be reality. But the fact that they are out there has a serious effect on our guys.

And, Dana, you want to put it just on tax reform right now. Obviously that's the big legislative issue here. There's concern that if the president continually undercuts them, they will fail again legislatively. That will have huge ramifications going forward. So there's just a lot of distrust right now. Distrust that Senator Corker really laid out fully and in bear in that "New York Times" interview.

[12:05:04] BASH: He sure did. Phil Mattingly, thank you for that reporting.

And here with me to share their reporting and insights, CNN's Manu Raju, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," "Bloomberg's" Toluse Olorunnipa, and Margaret Talev, also of "Bloomberg."

I'm going to start with you, Jonathan Martin. You were the person who was on the other end of the phone with Bob Corker. Tell us everything that you couldn't fit in a paper.

JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": How much time do we have?

So, Senator Corker, we spoke for about 25 minutes, calling from Tennessee on his cell phone. And it's important to note that this was not just some sort of whim or he happened to pick up his cell phone as he was pulling into the Harris (ph) (INAUDIBLE) as he was hopping for the week.

He called with two of his staffers on the line. One of them taping our phone call. And he very much knew what he was doing. And as he pointed out to me, he's been basically, this my words, not his, but staging a kind of slow rolling public intervention now for a period of months. And every time that he's spoken up, whether it was after Charlottesville, where he got a lot of (INAUDIBLE), including out of the president, whether it was last week when he said that Tillerson, Mattis and Kelly were basically standing in the breach against chaos, or whether it was yesterday with me, he knows what he's doing. This is a premeditated plan.

And what he is trying to do is basically I think stiffen the spine of some of his colleagues who feel the same way but aren't as eager to go on the record. But, secondly, he's trying to send a message of support to Kelly, the chief of staff, Jim Mattis and Rex Tillerson that they've got allies in the congressional branch of the government and that there are folks there pulling for them and basically hoping to keep the president under control. I mean it's extraordinary, but that's what he thinks. And I think that's why he's doing this.

I think the most striking thing that he said to me that wasn't in the story was, he said, almost mocking those who kind of rationalize Trump saying, oh, well, he had a good day yesterday, OK. I mean basically using the voice of those who sort of like treat this president like he's an adolescent in some ways, who has good days and bad days with his behavior. It's extraordinary. Not only that he was sort of talk in those terms, but that he would do so publicly, and also creating this enormous pressure on his colleagues who, as he pointed out to me, they all say this behind closed doors.

BASH: Yes. So let me read that quote.


BASH: That you're just talking about that you got from Senator Corker.

Mr. Corker said his concerns about Mr. Trump were shared by nearly every Senate Republican. Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we're dealing with here, he said, adding that, of course they understand the volatility that we're dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road. Him meaning the president.

Manu, you spend every day on Capitol Hill. You spend a lot of time talking to not just Senator Corker but other Republicans. He does have -- we have to be careful because a lot of things that we do here are off the record, but he does have a point.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He does and the thing that's -- well, Corker has been trying to do is keep the president in the middle of the road as Jonathan pointed out in his piece. The other senators have tried to do something very similar.

Lindsey Graham is out playing golf with President Trump today. Graham has been a sharp critic also of the president.

This is something that a number of members have tried to do. This is why they have meetings with the president. That's why some don't believe that the strategy of going out and publicly criticizing Trump is necessarily going to be effective because it's going to create this Twitter war with him or they'll get under a lot of heat from a lot of Trump supporters. So, instead, they try to -- they may privately voice concerns, but they also private try to work behind the scenes to try to work with the president in a way to bring him back towards where they believe is a middle course.

What was also striking about the Corker interview is that after his comments on -- in Charlottesville, he went out and he said that the president had not just shown any competency or stability yet to do the job effectively. When I talked to him afterwards that -- and he got in a spat with the White House, he said that his thoughts there were -- he had thought very carefully about what he said.

MARTIN: He wrote it down. Yes. RAJU: He wrote it down. He went on a long walk that morning and he said what he said because he wanted to deliver that message. This is exactly what he wanted to do here because of the concerns largely about Tillerson and some of these other voices in the administration.

MARTIN: Audience of one is the phrase that he used with me yesterday. He said all of these comments that he makes, he said, are aimed at an audience of one.

BASH: And the fact that he obviously understands what we have all come to understand, that it's good to be listened to more acutely by this president if he does it through "The New York Times" --

MARTIN: The media.

BASH: Through the media --

MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG": If it's through the media.

BASH: Rather than pick up the phone and calling him.

TALEV: Through Twitter and through the media are the two --

BASH: Yes.


BASH: Which is really remarkable but very accurate.

TALEV: A new way to communicate directly with the president (ph).

MARTIN: But that's a plus though (ph).

BASH: Yes. No.

TALEV: But I would say -- I would say there's another audience, too, when you consider the timing of all of this. It's October 9th now and sometime between now and the end of the week the president is going the come out and go public with his approach to how to deal with the Iran deal that he dislikes so much. And all the thinking has been around the idea of desertification, although precisely how he'll do it, precisely what the message will be, precisely how the coordination with The Hill happens will be important.

[12:10:19] And part of what's been on Senator Corker's mind, and everyone's mind who has a stake in Iran policy, is how the White House's message is heard and absorbed by European partners, by cosignatories on that deal, by the Iranian themselves, by the entire world. We've seen the president's actions so far on the Paris, you know, on the global climate deal. We've seen the way the president has sent mixed signals initially on NATO and commitment to that.

The White House's handling of this Iran deal, not just in terms of what they do, but in terms of how they do it --

BASH: Yes. TALEV: Is so crucial. And for the secretary of state, for the defense secretary --

BASH: No question.

TALEV: You have to look at messaging for the Congress that needs to figure out what to do if they have 60 days to act or not act. All of this is very much on their mind as well.

BASH: Absolutely. And Corker is working behind the scenes in an aggressive way --

TALEV: He's a key player.

BASH: With the secretary of state to try to thread that needle, which is sort of an important reminder that he is not just an important voice in the Republican Senate, he's the foreign relations chairman.

TALEV: That's right.

MARTIN: Right.

BASH: Warning though "The New York Times" that the president of the United States, who is in his same party, could start World War III.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, "BLOOMBERG": Yes, it's a remarkable moment just to step back and look at a Republican foreign relations chairman talking about the president in such stark terms in the media, publicly, obviously, trying to get to the president through the, you know, the media that the president watches so closely.

But he is voicing the concerns that you hear from Republicans behind the scenes, especially when you see the president tweeting about North Korea, saying diplomacy is not going to work. There's only one thing that's going to work. There are a lot of people who are afraid when they hear that. And Senator Corker knows the foreign relations committee and he knows his members very well and he knows that there are a lot of people who are worried that the president is tweeting things that are setting the global stage aflame without any strategy.

BASH: And -- yes. There's certainly that perspective and that angle. But then there's also -- we have a list of the Republican senators, again people in his own party who are down Pennsylvania Avenue, who the president has publicly criticized. That's just maybe some of them, but there are a lot of them, OK. A fifth of the Republican Senate. A fifth of the Republican Senate.

Now, here's some perspective. That is true, but as I was reminded by the administration official this morning, most of those senators, and even those who are not a public target of the president, they didn't want him in the White House in the first place.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes. Yes. Yes.

BASH: So a lot of them are kind of gritting their teeth and bearing it because the voters decided.

MARTIN: Yes, I mean, that's the bigger picture here, right, is that this party is as divided now as it was during the campaign last year. And those divisions are not healing. In fact, in some ways they're getting worse, right?

Steve Bannon is going around the country looking for any 2018 Senate seat and trying to figure out a way to intervene. And there are people in the party who still can't come to terms with the fact that Trump is the president and that he is the leader of their party. And he hasn't taken on that role himself necessarily because he's not acting like he's the head of the party.

RAJU: And he has not determined how to actually get legislation through Congress. The way is not to publicly shame these senators.

MARTIN: Right.

BASH: Right.

RAJU: Senators tend to dig in when that happens.

MARTIN: Right.

RAJU: The way is to work behind the scenes with them and hopefully get someone on board.

MARTIN: Right.

BASH: Real quick, before we go to break, is it your -- the question has been every time there's a public spat with somebody senior on Capitol Hill, is this going to be the dam breaking? Is this going to be the time when all these other Republicans say publicly what they say privately? What's your sense?

RAJU: I don't think so because I think that this party has come to the realization right now, they have to get tax reform done.

TALEV: Tax reform is the dam breaking.

RAJU: And if you don't get tax reform done, then all hell will break loose.

BASH: Yes.

MARTIN: And the voters are still with Trump far more than they are with the congressional GOP.

BASH: Yes.

MARTIN: I mean, look, it's a blame Trump last approach, right? They're going to get to the Democrats, the media, The Hill, the White House staff. The last person that the voters are going to blame is Trump himself.

BASH: We have a lot more to talk about with regard to the intra- Republican fighting and what that means for the next election of 2018.

But up next, the Trump administration raises the bar on any potential deal to protect DACA recipients, and top Democrats are surprised, they say, because they thought they had a deal.


[12:18:418] BASH: Nearly ten months into the Trump administration, there's still no deal on replacing Obamacare, no deal yet on tax reform and any potential deal on so-called dreamers now looks a lot harder than it did just 24 hours ago.

Late Sunday, the White House released a list of priorities it wants in exchange for any agreement to protect young, undocumented immigrants, hundreds of thousands of whom could face deportation. As you see, the lengthy list there, but on it includes a funding, excuse me, mandatory funding for the border wall. A non-starter for most Democrats.

Senate and House Democratic leaders, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, who thought they hatched the makings of an immigration deal over Chinese food and ice cream with the president last month say new demands are just way out of bounds and they put out a joint statement in which they say, in part, we told the president at our meeting that we are open to reasonable border security measures alongside the Dream Act, but this list goes far beyond what is reasonable. This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise. The list includes the wall, which was explicitly ruled out of negotiations.

And we're back with our panel.

[12:20:01] Certainly, the -- that big talk about having a deal and not including the border wall, which of course the president campaigned on, you know, all across the country, seemed to have been something that the president really did -- that really did say was OK and he was OK with, because he didn't just say it privately. He said it publicly. Listen to the president the day after he met in that dinner with the Democratic leaders.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The wall will come later. We're right now renovating large sections of wall, massive sections, making it brand-new. We're doing a lot of renovations. We're building four different samples of the wall to see which one we're going to choose. And the wall is going to be built. It will be funded a little bit later.


BASH: OK, so the question is, this new list of priorities, whether or not it is just posturing or for the conservative base or whether it is real. What do you think the answer is?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, the president wrote "The Art of the Deal." This is his strategy of putting out your most, you know, strong offer, putting everything you want into it and then sort of working backwards from it. And you -- we also heard this rumor about how the president will -- it will depend on the last person he spoke to, the last person in the room. So when he finished speaking to Chuck and Nancy, he said there's not going to be a wall. I guess he had Steven Miller and some of his aides in the room before putting out this pretty extensive list of pretty hardline immigration reforms and now he's saying that this is what he needs in order to, you know, protect the DACA program.

It's clear that this is a starting bid. Democrats say it's a nonstarter. But you have 750,000 dreamers, young people, who, for most of the country, based on polling, or, you know, most of the country does not want these people to be deported. So they're going to have to come up with something that's not going to look like what the president and the White House put out last night.

BASH: And, Margaret, I'm told that the White House staff is really divided on this. At the end of the day, though, the president does want to make a deal. So is this just, you think, just to make those Steven Millers of the staff sort of feel better that they're at least sending the right signals to the conservative base before the deal is cut?

TALEV: There are clear divisions on this that are lasting divisions. And the president himself is a little bit divided on, you know, precisely what to do.

BASH: Yes.

TALEV: And I think -- you know, I was there that day where he was headed out with his cap and made that comment. And he did very explicitly, make no mistake about it, say basically, I'm not walking away from the wall, but it does not have to be part of this deal. That's what he said. And everything that he's put forward through the messaging of the last 24 hours, 48 hours, has changed all of that.

So, you know, I think this is a real mixed message, a mixed signal. And the question for everyone here now is, has he changed his mind again or is this doing some leg work with the base so that when he does sign off on a deal, he can say that he fought the good fight.

BASH: And let's just remind people where this sits with the American public, this idea of allowing so-called dreamers to have legal status at least. Eighty-two percent want what's known as DACA, which was the Obama executive order to continue. Sixty-three percent oppose building an entire southern border wall. Fifty-five percent oppose changes to federal law and reduced legal immigration.

But this top number is really the key here.


BASH: It's a huge -- it's really the -- many in the conservative base who don't want it.


BASH: But in an off year election, the conservative base matters. OLORUNNIPA: Right.

MARTIN: Well, and Trump cares about optics above all. And he knew that he was going to get bad coverage if he had come out against DACA, which is why he sort of did the punt to The Hill in the first place.

But I -- this is one of the classic stories that really demonstrates the pearls of covering President Trump in this era in Washington because, you know, is this some kind of grand strategy where as you get at he's starting by being a sort of hawk and he's going to bargain to some kind of compromise, or are we giving him too much credit for some kind of a grand strategy and it really is just him making it up as he goes? It's not always clear.

I'll tell you what Senator Corker said to me yesterday. He said that this idea of good cop/bad cop, it didn't exist guys. He said, it's just President Trump popping off basically.

RAJU: And as for the perils of immigration reform, it's particularly among Republicans.

BASH: Yes.


RAJU: There's a reason why --

MARTIN: The scarlet A for amnesty, man. They're worried about it. They're worried.

RAJU: Absolutely. And there's a reason why when the 2013 immigration bill passed the Senate, they did not bring it up in the House.


RAJU: The Republican controlled House.

MARTIN: They could have passed this.

RAJU: They could have passed it because it would cause this revolt within the Republican conference.


RAJU: I think it's going to be incredibly difficult to get a Dream Act passed, to get DACA passed or anything done on this issue because you're going to need bipartisan support in the Senate to get something done. They cannot do it with -- on a party line vote. And then if they get bipartisan support, it's got to go back to the House, and that's where it's going to cause a real revolt.

[12:25:01] MARTIN: And Dems are going to have to pass it in the House basically, right?

RAJU: Yes.

BASH: You -- yes.

MARTIN: So you get 50, 60 Republicans --

BASH: Well, that's why you need -- that's why you need presidential support and you need presidential leadership to bring the base along.

RAJU: Right.


BASH: Because you do need to do it in a bipartisan way.

Stand by, everybody.

Coming up, players kneel down and the vice president heads for the exit. We'll talk about his decision to leave and what that trip cost you the taxpayer.


BASH: President Trump says he's proud of Vice President Pence for walking out of an NFL game when a few players kneeled for the national anthem. The morning, the president tweeted, the trip by at VP Pence was long planned. He is receiving great praise for leaving game after the players showed such disrespect for country.

[12:29:56] Pence says he was standing in solidarity with the president at Sunday's Colts/49ers game. Afterwards he tweeted, I left today's Colts game because at POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag, or our national anthem.