Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Talks Tax Reform in Pennsylvania; Trump Urged to Focus on Tax Reform; Republicans Eager to Move on from Feud; Trump's Billionaire Friend Comments; Trump Rages Against Fake News; Ryan Pushes Regulatory Fix; Bannon Backs Challengers; Fires in California; Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 11, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:28] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump hits the road to sell tax reform. Will he talk dollars on cents or will he escalate fights with key members of his own party?


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think he's alienated anyone. I think that Congress has alienated themselves by not actually getting the job done that the people of this country elected them to do.


KING: Plus, friends or foe? Breitbart's Steven Bannon says he's trying to help the president, but will targeting incumbent Republicans make it even harder to get things done?


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: It's a free country. People can do what they want to do. I think the best thing for the Republican Party is to stay unified and focused on our shared agenda.


KING: And why? Why did it take five days for President Obama and Hillary Clinton to condemn Harvey Weinstein's reprehensible conduct?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If she gives the money back, does that make it better for you?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: No. First of all, she doesn't need to mollify me. She needs to not be a hypocrite about women's empowerment.


KING: A busy hour ahead.

Republicans face some giant tests in the coming days as they try to finally pass something big, tax cuts. They need the president's help and they are really, really worried that his focus might be elsewhere. Yes, the president headed to Pennsylvania this evening to hold an airport rally pushing his big plans to overhaul the tax code. But will he stick to the script or do the president's tweets in recent days and hours suggest he might want to talk about other things?

Today his targets included, among other things, the NFL, what the president likes to call the fake news media and the stock market. Plus, he's still fighting with his own cabinet and his own party. The House speaker, Paul Ryan, could only laugh today when asked about the running feud between the president and Republican Senator Bob Corker. The speaker's advice, figure it out, gentlemen.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I think, just talk it out among yourselves. I think my advice is for these two gentlemen to sit down and just talk through their issues. I think that's the best way to get things done.


KING: Maybe a beer summit.

Here to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia Malika Henderson, Michael Warren of "The Weekly Standard," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, and Karoun Demirjian of "The Washington Post."

Should I tell anybody you just snuck in on deadline here?


KING: Filing a story she made of reporters working on deadline.

We're laughing about this, but the president is going on the road tonight. The Senate has to pass a budget next week if you're going to have a vehicle to pass tax reform. The Republicans know they need the president's help, but they are petrified that he is going to make it worse, that he's going to escalate his fight with Bob Corker, that he's going to go after Mitch McConnell in this speech tonight. He's going up to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We're going to have rally Trump. He's mysteriously tweeting last night about his chief of staff, John Kelly, and he's staying on the job. What is going on inside the White House?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A lot is going on inside his head, that's clear. But one of the things that is not front and center, it seems at least, is this tax proposal. And this is what worries people in the White House. Even before this fight with Bob Corker, even before this secretary of state ongoing feud, tax reform, tax cut was going to be very difficult. What it does to the deficit, et cetera. You know, just the -- you know, the inability of Congress to do anything. It was always going to be hard. Now it is much, much harder. And there is some officials I talked to say that they're concerned about a lack of focus from this president on the bill.

He said something yesterday in the Oval Office with Henry Kissinger when he was having a meeting. He said, look, we'll make some adjustments in the tax plan, make it stronger. We don't know if that means change the rates or what. But that is also what worries people.

Sarah Sanders walked that back from the podium saying, no, no, we're leaving the plan as it is for now. But that is the question here, is the president's head in the game on what all Republicans know they need to pass. If they do not get an accomplishment on this, there are Republican House members, senators, going home without doing anything in this congressional cycle. And that's a problem.

KING: Anything. Anything. Their big -- their big promises in Congress were repeal and replace Obamacare and pass tax reform. The president added to that repeal and replace Obamacare, tax reform and infrastructure. Infrastructure, Obamacare repeal, gone for 2017. So Republicans, the clock winding down on 2017, going into 2018. But they're increasingly nervous about the president and his focus. Why?

HENDERSON: Because they've seen this movie before over and over again with big ticket items, with the health care debate, him not seeming to be focused on health care. And the sort of logic around that was that the president didn't really know sort of the details of health care policy.

But in many ways the expectation around tax reform and cuts was that he would be more engaged and much more disciplined because he's a business guy, you know, and he -- he -- you would think would know more about tax policy and be able to frame it. And I think we'll see what he does in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

[12:05:12] And one of the problems I think they've always had with tax reform, is it a populist message that people believe, right?

KING: Right.

HENDERSON: Or is it really about get -- you know, kind of a corporate giveaway as Democrats say. So we'll see what kind of messaging he has tonight beyond what we've heard him say, which is, this is the biggest tax cut in American history.

MICHAEL WARREN, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think Republicans on Capitol Hill have said, and they will tell you, that they believed that health -- that, excuse me, that tax reform would be easier for the president to sell on The Hill than health care. Not easy, but easier.

The problem is, the distraction, right? What did we get already this week? We're getting supposedly a new health care executive action of some kind that he's going to submit. We got legislative principles on immigration. The question about this DACA deal is now thrown up in the air. We've got a decision on the Iran situation, which is going to be kicked to Congress on the Iran deal. That's all coming as well.

The question of focus, I think, is one that's real and has to be, not just concerning people in the White House, but concerning members on The Hill.

KING: Right.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I was just going to add that I don't know that it's universal of -- that members on The Hill actually thought this would be easier. And one of the people who actually is warning that it would be a heck of a lot harder to do tax reform than health care was Bob Corker.


DEMIRJIAN: So high ironic that now we're in this situation that we're in.

But, yes, this is a question of, you know, that it's -- he responds to a lot of things impulsively and does not think about what the consequences are for everything else in the -- in the agenda in the room and this week even, you know, (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Just remember Obamacare. They had 52-48. That's what they got in the United States Senate, Republicans, 52-48. You lose more than two, you're done. Bob Corker is a big question mark on the budget. Again, they need the budget vehicle to do tax reform. They can't pass a budget. They can't pass tax reform. He's a question mark on the budget. Rand Paul is a question mark on the budget. John McCain is a question mark on the budget. These names sound pretty familiar. The Obamacare debate, don't they?


KING: And then you have the other pieces moving. You mentioned several of them. The Iran deal. These budget issues. Also the Canadian prime minister here today. And there are a lot of establishment Republicans worried that the president's going to blow up NAFTA. The efforts to renegotiate NAFTA.

Are these dots, are they separate, like the president seems to treat them, everything is separate, or do collectively, if the Republican establishment is mad at the president, does it cost him a key vote when he needs it?

ZELENY: I think on substance it could. I don't think that Bob Corker or any other senator would vote against something just because the president is sort of picking fights with them because they want a win on the substance and to do the right thing. But it makes it much easier to defy a president in a close vote here.

And I think everything is related. Everything you just said, NAFTA, et cetera, is related. Look at all those red state Republicans. I spent several days last week in the Midwest in a red state, Nebraska, my home state. A lot of farmers there and others, as it becomes harvest time, they are keeping their eye on NAFTA. A lot of farm unions, others, the chamber of commerce. This fight we don't talk about as much in Washington because it's not as sexy, but what's happening now between the chamber of commerce and some other farm groups and business groups and the president, it is a fascinating discussion. He is doing something that a lot of his supporters out there don't want him to. We'll see how that plays.

KING: You had the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Mexico City yesterday making sure that Mexico and the United -- and the chamber on the same page in arguing to the Trump White House. That's a pretty fascinating development.

DEMIRJIAN: That is pretty fascinating.

KING: You want to jump in?

DEMIRJIAN: I was just going to say, you know, even if you can file these issues off thing by thing and not have them relate to each other, keep in mind, what Congress is being asked to tackle, none of it is actually very narrow. You know, we talk about these things all the time, that any one issue becomes a very massive issue. And when you're talking about tax reform, that's huge.

And a lot of the times what members of Congress have to do is they're basically sitting on a bubble. There's individual things that they despise about these bills, but they decide if they're going to take one for the team or not, the team is now the president and that decision is a lot less clear if you don't think that there's any -- necessarily anything that you will get out of staying on the president's team when you don't really want to.

KING: So what do we make of this? We know the president's hot at his secretary of state. We know the president -- we're told the president's mad about other things not getting done in Washington.

His very good friend, somebody the president speaks to several times a week, Tom Barrack, who speaks to reporters a fair amount, doesn't speak to reporters on the record a lot, is quoted on the record by name in "The Washington Post" saying this about the president. He thinks he has to be loyal to his base. I keep on saying, but who is your base? You don't have a natural base. Your base is how -- now is the world and America. So you have all these constituencies. Show them who you really are. In my opinion, he's better than this.

For a very close friend of the president, perhaps his closest personal friend of the president, to go on the record essentially kicking the president, saying, you're a better person than this, I took that as a public intervention of sorts from Tom Barrett because he knows how to get the president's attention, generate a media conversation.

HENDERSON: Yes, you go to the newspaper saying -- we've seen this before from people from people who the president might not listen to and can publically feud with. Mitch McConnell going to "The New York Times," Bob Corker going to "The New York Times" recently to all of this -- part of this intervention to get the president to be a different person, to care less about his base and care more, as Barrack said there, about the world.

[12:10:15] The key is, you imagine that he's had these private conversations all along with the president and other people have too, but the president feels most comfortable playing to his base. I mean It's sort of an echo chamber. He watches Fox News. He sort of gets the talking points from the base and sort of has an ongoing conversation with them. And that's what you see on his Twitter account, I think, most definitely.

But I think, you know, he's tweeted about the stock market. He's tweeting about the fake news. He's tweeting about the NFL. It's sort of a broken record. But it would for the base. And it's also, I think, in some ways, he's looking to 2020 and in some ways this is kind of a re-election strategy. He knows (INAUDIBLE) --

KING: Works with the re-election. He was elected on disruption.


KING: And as long as he keeps the environment disrupted, he believes that benefits him. I'm not sure that works in the governing department --


KING: But that's certainly his mind-set, that if you -- that he's the disruption guy. Keep the disruption.

To the point about the tweets today, I don't know what to make of these, but he's mad at NBC News. He says they hyped a story about Rex Tillerson. He says with all the fake news coming out of NBC and the networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their license?

Now, if citizen Donald Trump said that, you'd just, oh, whatever, roll your eyes. He's the president of the United States. This is the president of the United States saying, in a country with a First Amendment and a free press, maybe he's just joking, maybe he's just trying to gin up his base against the news media, but it is not insignificant when the president of the United States raises the prospect of yanking a media organization's license.

WARREN: I mean I'll believe it when the FCC does it.

KING: Right. I'm not saying it will ever happen. I'm not saying it will ever happen.


WARREN: But --

KING: These are things when -- you know, when -- if a past president has said this, we would be up in arms about it.

WARREN: Yes, I think that's right. But also the norms have now shifted, as angry as (INAUDIBLE).

KING: There's an understatement.

WARREN: Yes, exactly.

I think to go -- going back -- thinking about what the president's agenda looks like going into the next several months and into next year, we also have to think about how his political calculations might reorient. We talked about the base and what the base think.

This is a -- a Republican base that despises their own party and their own party's establishment. And I think this is something that President Trump realizes sort of at a visceral level.

KING: Right.

WARREN: And he understands that. So let's, you know, think about what exactly the president could be doing if suddenly his political calculation seems to be, maybe it's more beneficial for me, as the president, to run against not just the swamp in particular but against my own party going into if it --


KING: Right.

WARREN: Particularly if 2018 is looking like a bad year for Republicans.

HENDERSON: Yes, which is a --

KING: And when -- and --

HENDERSON: Yes, which --

KING: And how aggressive does he get? Does he do that -- does he save that or does he do it in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, tonight --


KING: Which would complicate tax reform and everything else.

One other quick note. The House speaker today was asked about a couple days ago we thought it was possible there would be a bipartisan piece of legislation to outlaw these so-called bump stops, the device you fit on a semiautomatic rifle that turns it into essentially an automatic rifle. You don't have to hold the trigger down for rapid fire.

There was -- it's a bipartisan legislation that's been introduced. You have Republican leaders saying we have to do something about this. But this was significant this morning. The House speaker was asked about this last week. He sounded somewhat open to legislation. Listen to the tone here. Clearly, he wants the Trump administration to do this with executive actions. No bill on the floor.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We are still trying to assess why the ATF let this go through in the first place. So what happened on the regulatory side to allow this to occur in the first place. And that is something that we're both trying to assess.

And, yes, it makes sense that this is a regulation that probably shouldn't have happened in the first place. And we want to understand why is it that they got -- let this go through in the first place. So we think the regulatory fix is the smartest, quickest fix. And I'd, frankly, like to know how it happened in the first place.


KING: Smartest, quickest fix. And it seems pretty clear to me there, he does not want to make other House Republicans take a vote on a gun control measure.

ZELENY: Which is interesting because the NRA has come out in some respects in saying that they would support this narrow instance there. But, look, any -- anytime you open a gun debate on Capitol Hill, it becomes much more than that. It becomes a full-on, full-blown gun debate. So he clearly wants to avoid that because of a lot of his members there.

We'll see if the Trump administration sort of takes him up on that. For all the things the president has been talking and tweeting about, he's not been talking much about this.

HENDERSON: Yes, and some red state Democrats probably breathing a bit of a sigh of relief too. They don't necessarily want to vote on this either. If you're Joe Manchin in West Virginia or Heidi Heitkamp, you probably don't want to necessarily take a vote on gun control either.

KING: Right. The NRA position is a slippery slope.


KING: Even if you pass this narrow, then I think probably 99 percent of Americans would support this narrow thing, you shouldn't be able to slap something on a semiautomatic rifle and allow what happened in Vegas. But that's a telling remark from the speaker there. We'll watch how this one plays out.

Sit tight. Up next, Steve Bannon declares war on the Republican establishment. Do he and Breitbart really have the power that some Republicans worry about?


[12:18:49] KING: Here's a question being asked a lot in Washington these days, who's afraid of the big bad Steve Bannon? Judging from some of these headlines -- take a peak, that -- this is just this week -- a lot of Republicans here in Washington.

One thing is for sure, Bannon has big plans for the 2018 midterm elections. He says he's recruiting primary challengers against six of the seven Republican senators running for re-election. Now, none of those senators are known exactly as squishy moderate Republicans, but they're all part of what team Bannon likes to not so affectionately call "the swamp."

Here's the big question, though, is Bannon's clout among Republican voters being vastly overstated? And that is the question as we go forward. There's no question Republicans are mad about this. They're nervous about this. They would like the president to step up publicly and tell his friend to shut it down. But is this, I want a lot of attention, I'm going to get one or two primary challengers, I have a moment of fame, or is this a real threat?

WARREN: It is real but --

HENDERSON: I think it's both of those.

WARREN: Yes, I agree. It's real and -- but the bigger reason why it's real is because of the money behind it. This is the mercer (ph) money, which has been funding Breitbart, it's been funding other operations sorts of on the right and the far right of the Republican Party. And that's what makes it real.

I think the -- Alabama is not the test case that -- necessarily that we may think it is.

[12:20:04] KING: Right.

WARREN: Roy Moore was a guy who had a whole pedigree in Alabama politics. Bannon really didn't get involved till the runoff. I think he probably had a big impact in that runoff, but these are other states where I just don't think you can translate that Alabama model into these other states necessarily. May work in some of them. Maybe it will work in all of them. But we just don't know enough about their poll.


ZELENY: I was talking to some Republicans again in Wyoming and Nebraska, two senators who were on that list, and they're like, what is he talking about?


ZELENY: I mean the reality there is that John Barrasso and Deb Fischer, respectively, in Wyoming and Nebraska, aren't sufficiently, you know, safe among Republicans there. It certainly was a shock to a lot of people on the ground, which is often how these things are. There's a Washington reality and an on the ground reality, which is why it's very important to talk to voters, talk to party officials.

But that doesn't mean people aren't nervous about this because the unknown power of Steve Bannon is sort of a -- an uncertainty. And Mitch McConnell is radioactive.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: So you certainly -- he could also be gaming the refs early on here, getting the John Barrasso and Deb Fischer and others to think about, gosh, how close do I want to get to Mitch McConnell here. So it's something to keep an eye on without question, but it's important to keep, I think, the entire, you know, scenario in mind. Mitch McConnell has won many more of these than the outside (INAUDIBLE).

HENDERSON: Yes. DEMIRJIAN: Yes. Because we've seen it (INAUDIBLE).

KING: But to your point -- to your point, if we go back to 2010, a lot of people on the ground in these states didn't understand the Tea Party was coming either.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: And Bannon says he's going to be better than that. Not just have candidates who win primaries and shock people, but who can actually go on to win in a general election. That was the Tea Party's problem is they knocked some people off in primaries but they just weren't good enough candidates to win those states to get to the finish line.

Listen to Bannon. He says he's going to get it right this time.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: We're spending a ton of time with the grassroots organizations to make sure that these candidates are fully vetted. You're going to see people announced this week that are going to have experience in government. You're going to see some outsiders that are authentic. And these people are real. It's not like 2010. 2010 was the beginning of the Tea Party when things were first getting going. You're going to see real candidates. And, by the way, they're going to take on incumbents in every state and they're going to take on the Democrats after that.


KING: The proof is in the pudding, but that's a pretty broad threat.


DEMIRJIAN: That is a pretty broad threat. And it's scary enough having gone through one of those rounds for the GOP. I'm sure that they're going to -- what it will end up invariably doing is focusing resources on directions where they would have had, you know, other priorities to spend it on. Their financial resources are not limitless. And when you have a threat like that that's from a very real and very used to be quite in the center of the GOP, in the White House person, it's not something that you can kind of take lightly. And so it will mean that they will rush to stanch the bleeding, whether or not there's bleeding in those places that Bannon's targeted.

KING: You also have some other conservative voices who stir up trouble from now and now again seeing all the attention Bannon's getting, writing a new letter today calling for Mitch McConnell to step down. That's not going to happen either.

The question is though, with these other groups just stirring up all the trouble, does it help the party, does it focus the party, or does it divide the party heading into a midterm election year? We'll be talking about this for months, trust me.

When we come back though, after days of silence, two key Democrats finally speak out against the -- about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Republicans want to know, I think everybody wants to know, what took so long.


[12:27:24] KING: One official calls it the worst disasters -- one of the worst disasters California has ever seen. Authorities there now racing to save lives -- look at those pictures -- as they battle fast- moving wildfires devastating northern parts of the state. Those fires have killed at least 17 people, including 11 in Sonoma County, where entire subdivisions now piles of ash and rubble.

Across the region, more than 20,000 people have been told to evacuate. And right now there's great concern for those who might be cut off from help.


MAYOR JILL TECHEL, NAPA, CALIFORNIA: We want to get the message out. People are looking for people. There's still some areas in the county, the unincorporated part of Napa County, where they haven't been able to get up the roads to be sure that there are not people that were trapped. So that weighs heavy on us.


KING: Meteorologist Chad Myers joins us from the CNN Weather Center.

Chad, how many fires still burning and will the weather help the firefighting today?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, technically 35 fires. But thousands -- thousands of hot spots really. This scattered around so quickly with wind gusts on the mountain tops of 79 miles per hour on Sunday night. From Sunday into Monday, there was a point where there were so many fires burning so quickly, it was consuming one football field of land every three seconds. So think about that.

Now, there were a lot of fires added up to do that. But we went from roughly nothing on fire to now 120,000 acres. That's about 190 square miles.

Here's the area of critical concern today, North Bay, the exact place that it's been burning. The winds are going to be 25 to 30 miles per hour today. Now that's not 70. I get that. But there is still enough wind at 25 to move those embers away and to rekindle those parts of the fire that never technically went out.

I'm going to drill down here. This is the first time I've done this today. I want you to see, John, what we're talking about here. Every spot is a hot spot. But I'm going to drill down to Sonoma and also into Napa County.

So we talk about Santa Rosa. Why? Because it burned in the city. But it burned in Napa, as well. So let's get over here to Napa. Here's the town of Napa that everyone will know. If you go in there,

there's a beautiful downtown. But it's the wildland areas that they say they can't even get to yet just on the east and west side of Napa, especially on the east side there near the springs.

But now back up here towards Santa Rosa and Kenwood. It burned right through that town, especially the north side, and then Santa Rosa. It's the wildland. It was the wildland urban interface, where the trees got too close to the city or vise a versa. This -- you should see towns here, you should see houses there. Here, Fountain Grove, you should see cities here. There are no houses left. They are completely gone. That's the areas that have been consumed by the fire, John.

[12:30:06] KING: Chad Myers keeping us posted. That's a sober assessment. Keep in touch. Thank you very much, Chad.

MYERS: We'll do.

KING: Back to politics now. Politics of a different sort.