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Trump Hits Obama For Response To Fallen Soldiers; McCain Blasts 'Half-Baked Spurious Nationalism'; Ivanka and Jared Invite Dems To Dinner. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 12:30   ET



[12:31:09] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump is now drawing one of America's highest profile gold star parents, the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly in a debate about how presidents deal with the families of the fallen. It is a debate President Trump decided to stoke when asked yesterday about a military option that left soldiers dead.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have written them personal letters. They have been sent or they're going out tonight, but they were during the weekend. I will at some point during the period of time call the parents and the families because I have done that traditionally. And for me that's by far the toughest. So, the traditional way if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls.


KING: That last part, just not true. And the president was called on it.


TRUMP: I don't know if he did. No, no, no. I was told that he didn't often. And a lot of presidents don't.


KING: Aides to former President Obama and George W. Bush reacted with outrage. Also adding his voice this General Martin Dempsey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he tweeted quote, Potus 43 and 44, that would be George W. Bush and Barack Obama and first ladies, cared deeply, worked tirelessly for the serving and the fallen and their families. Not politics, sacred trust.

Today, in a radio interview, President Trump shifted again, and invoked the name of his chief of staff, John Kelly, a former marine general whose son was killed in Afghanistan.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) TRUMP: Now, as far as other representers, I don't know. I mean you could ask General Kelly. Did he get a call from Obama? You could ask other people. I don't know what Obama's policy was. I write letters. And I also call during the last nine months. Something happened to a soldier, I called virtually everybody. I've gone to Dover. I've seen what takes place at Dover. It's an incredible scene and very, very sad. One of the saddest things you'll ever see. But I really speak for myself. I'm not speaking for other people. I don't know what Bush did and I don't know what Obama did.


KING: Couple of quick points. If you don't know what Bush did and you don't know what Obama did, why did yesterday you speak as if you knew what Bush did and knew what Obama did, number one. Number two, John Kelly is a hero. His son, the fallen, is a hero. John Kelly did attend, our Jeff Zeleny tells us that 2011 White House Gold Star families breakfast organized by the Obama's, General Kelly sitting at Michelle Obama's table.

I wish maybe we were paying tribute to the -- I wish we didn't have to talk about this at all. If we were talking about it, we should be paying tribute to four heroes who died on a military operation, maybe explaining what that was about. So we get details from the Pentagon on what it is about the details of it. Why are we here? Why can't the president just talk about what he does, how he handles these things? Why does he have to draw some comparison factually incorrect comparison to his predecessors?

MICHAEL BENDER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Why does he have to talk about how he handles it at all? I'm not even sure what point is, who cares more about fallen soldiers and their families. You know, for all the promise that Trump came in to office with the, you know, he painted himself as this transformational figure that is very dynamism would shake-up Washington.

This is as Achilles heel here. Every -- you know, and we saw that yesterday during his news conference. Almost every question resulted in an answer that was about the president and not about the issue at hand. And now, he has created this controversy that's not going to help tax reforms, it's not going to help the budgets, and it's not going to help elect more Republicans.

And now, he's doing something that with John Kelly's son that John Kelly himself wasn't willing to do. It has been reported a little bit that John Kelly gave a speech four days after his son died in Afghanistan, four days after he died in 2010 gave speech of -- a veteran's day speech about the call of duty, the sacrifices that families make without once mentioning his own son.

[12:35:08] John Kelly this hasn't been reported that much, but it was out of the White House for couple of days, a couple weeks ago because he has a annual golf outing to raise money in his son's name. And he's not talking about it. But yet the president feels the need to do it and it creates another mess for his aides, for his White House have to clean up. KIMBERLY ATKINS, BOSTON HERALD: And it wasn't even the question he was asked. He was asked why hadn't he address commented the fact that this ambush took place that was altered in the lost of four American green berets. But he automatically, he's been self toward (ph) there. And in the course of it felt the need to praise himself somehow. I think that's the impulse we see with him a lot. And it doesn't matter so much necessarily when he is talking about tax reform or something else when he is talking, about, oh, I do military deaths better than previous presidents. I mean there is no good place to go from there.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I order everyone to read the speech that Mike is reconciling in terms of General Kelly. It's kind of a -- it's very powerful. And given of the stuff that we all cover and watch and listen to in a daily basis perhaps it would ground you in some reality about the realities of the world on some levels.

Like this is a very solemn issue. And I think there's a reason why past presidents particularly the last two because they have been wartime presidents, don't talk about it a lot. And you don't hear about what they were doing. And that's by design. You don't necessarily know when they're going to Walter Reed or when they're going to Dover or what they've done with parents. That's by design.

They don't want the media attention because they recognize that that's not what it's about. It's not about media attention. The president was right when he said this is the toughest thing that I have to do when I'm at office. That's what President Trump said yesterday. He said every president whose been in a similar position has repeated, what they don't do is go out and talk about how and why and their methods and who did it before them.

It is a solemn obligation to the person that sends these individuals into combat, sends these individuals into their eventual deaths. And I think what's unsettling about it, and I think we were just kind of jarring yesterday is you're not used to hearing about it. This is something that every president at wartime president deals with. And they deal with it in their own way.

You've heard many stories with President George W. Bush would sit there and families would just yell at him. Yell and he would sit there and he would listen. You never heard about it from him. You never heard about it from his staff. You heard about it from the families afterwards. Similar type of stories about President Obama, it's just -- it's unclear I think to a lot of people why this was something that needed to come up yesterday.

ELIANA JOHNSON, POLITICO: You know, to get back to your question about what are the president's motivations. I think they're sort of a misunderstanding in Washington or, you know, in many years -- other country, I do think that many things that we reporters think about substance, tax reform, health care that some of those things are distractions to the president. And many things that we think of a distractions are substance to the president as voters.

And a lot of ways I think the NFL controversy or the Gold Star family controversy or this. These are substantive issues for Trump and for his base. And I think the president has a good, better, best way of thinking about a lot of things where everything in his mind is comparative. And I think his executive order speak to this. Any way he can stick it to his predecessor despite their protestation of friendship during the transition. He likes to do it. And it's something that many members of his base sort of rejoice in seeing him do it in a certain way.

KING: I would hope that patriotic Trump voters would draw a line at families of the fallen because when you graph your predecessors in how they handle families of the fallen especially if you do it in a way that's not factual.

JOHNSON: You know, I do think there's a feeling among some Trump voters that Obama was lacked patriotism in certain ways. And Trump has an instinct so say, I'm more -- Trump's nationalism is about display the patriotism, I think the NFL issue spoke to them as well.

KING: Let's -- I'm sorry we have -- as I said, I'm sorry we have to talk about this in a political context. As always we go to break. Let's show you four American heroes. I don't know if they're Democrats. I don't if they're Republicans. I don't know who their families voted for. I don't care. Four American heroes. That's what we should focusing on, man who volunteer for duty, died in a very dangerous mission. We wish the best of them and their families of course at this difficult time.

[12:39:10] When we come back, President Trump calls it America First. John McCain calls it something very different.


KING: Welcome back. A little bit of a history lesson last night from Senator John McCain. His audience was in Philadelphia. But this was intended for the president. And for those who back, is America First approach to world affairs.


SEN. JOHN MACCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The fear of the world we have organized and led the three quarters of a century to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the last best hope of earth for the sake of some half baked spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the as shape of history. We live in a land made of ideals. Not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home and their champion abroad.


KING: It's no secret the senator and the president, don't like each other. But this is beyond personal. Their feud part of a giant debate of the Republican Party over foreign policy and how hard the establishment should push back against President Trump and his ideas that no long ago, they will do this heresy within the GOP. Today in the radio, the president suggests, he'll have a response.


[12:45:09] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You heard what he said yesterday, Senator McCain.

TRUMP: Yes. Well, I hear it. And people have to be careful because at some point I fight back.


TRUMP: You know, I'm being very nice. I'm being very, very nice. But at some point I fight back. And it won't be pretty.


KING: It won't be pretty. But the president is a counter puncher, one punch. And we talked about this in other segment on the show and for a year plus now. He does fight back. But let's set aside the personal for a minute.

Senator McCain has brain cancer. Senator McCain is not certain how long he's going to be on the national stage. It is very clear that whether it's vote against Obamacare is called by bipartisanship or the speech last night. He is trying to lay down some markers and make some points as he goes through, let's hope, there are many more days whether you're for or against Senator McCain, but that's his mind set. It only have -- may only have a few opportunities, I'm going to try to make the most of them.

This is a debate within the Republican Party. This is not just John McCain versus Donald Trump. This is about free trade. This is about the Paris climate accord. This is about the NATO alliance. This is about, you know, withdrawing Senator McCain views as a Trump policy that withdraws from the world. And it's a big debate when you stress on Capitol Hill.

MATTINGLY: Yes. I think what was most interesting with a lot of elements are very interesting last night. And I think to your point, I think this is the most important one as you're watching a senator right now who's every move is being defined by thinking about what he wants to be remembered for. Again, given what he's going through right now.

The foreign policy debate on Capitol Hill does not include in terms of rank and file, most Republicans with the perspective that current resides in the White House. And I think that's what makes everything so fast. That's what makes what Senator Bob Corker has said. And I will tell you that Senator Bob Corker told one of my colleagues on Capitol Hill last night that the speech was great and he loved it. And he was very happy to see it. That is not the feeling on idea logically how foreign policy should be viewed in the White House and with the most powerful people in the White House.

And there is this dispute which I know early on is written about wonderfully for weeks and months now that I don't know how it gets resolved. And what I find kind of most challenging as we try and cover it is who matters and who makes policy when you have an executive branch that is so dimetrically opposed to the things that Congress is focused on and wants to do. And right now, it seems like people are lager heads on a seemingly regular basis. And meanwhile, there are enormous challenges throughout the world and does how does resolve itself, does it resolve itself, I think is an open question.

KING: And it's debate not only between the president and the Republican establishment in Congress. Its debate times (ph) within the president's cabinet.

JOHNSON: I was just going to say, you know, I think the foreign policy perspective or the foreign policy stance of the Trump White House is murky right now. We heard the president say when he gave his remarks on the new approach to Afghanistan that he had one view on the campaign trail which was that the U.S. should pull out completely from Afghanistan. And then he said pretty candidly that the world looks different from behind the desk in the Oval Office.

And he said that a few times now. He said it to donors in New York City that what generals tell you and what they'll show you will scare the hell out of you. I think he told donors and so. It's not totally clear to me whether Trump has been broad around to the view of internationalists like John McCain that America's role is kind of the policeman of the world or the leader of the post-World War II international order is right. And that we do assume a special burden in the world as the leading globe power.

I'm not sure if Trump is fully come around to that or if you've got one foot in one camp in another in the other. And I think that remains to be seen. And the confrontations with North Korea and Iran will sort of fill out the rest of his world view. He's called it principled realism, his view. But it's unclear to me exactly what that means.

KING: But as much as the president, what McCain worries about is the voices out there that were not -- previously assigned to the fringe or there were big voices. What McCain thinks is that Donald Trump gives them rights, and gives them more providence in the party or conservative conversations.

JOHNSON: I mean that started with Rand Paul, I'll have to say. You know --

KING: -- too. But you're not saying so I think you're wrong when you thought half baked serious nationalism. But you could say, did we disagree over something. That's a little tougher than that.

ATKINS: Yes. That's not a very thinly just to finish veil --


ATKINS: -- attack that you could have received. But I think you do have an issue with this. I think that it is unclear exactly what Trump believes. And what he will do in terms of foreign policy and a lot of ways. And you see a lot of ways at him sort of giving himself and out like for Iran for example. He can say, well, I decertify it knowing that it's going to go to the Congress. The Congress that's very weary is now pulling of this agreement or imposing sanctions in a way that's going to alienate our allies. He sort of has giving himself space here to speak that nationalism while knowing that Congress at the end of the day is going to protect him from going too far.

[12:49:54] BENDER: What other things McCain is doing there is also in that kind of language speaking Trump's language here, right. But so, Trump obviously will hear that and understand what exactly what McCain is saying. And to Trump's point about that he could fight back. I mean Trump likes to tease, sort of like to the next commercial break all the time on what he's going to do next. I think we all kind of know what he's capable of when it comes to this back and forth fights.

But these comments from McCain also do not unlike Corker in the World War III comments that they provide the same sort of dynamics for the members in the Senate, right. I mean reports are going to be coming up and asking Senates, Senate Republicans what they think about Trump's comments, about the fallen soldiers. They're also going to be coming up and saying, well, what do you think like McCain that these are half baked ideas?

KING: On the subject instating (ph) to the next commercial. That's my job now. How the president start held the dinner last night. She invited some Democrats. The topic, tax reform. Does it matter?


KING: One advantage of having a daughter and son in law with real roles at the White House is they can work on reluctant lawmakers after hours at their own home. Really?

Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner did that again last night hosting another bipartisan dinner at their home here in Washington. On the guest list, three Senate Democrats. White House is hoping they can be swayed on the president's tax plan because they're in tough reelection fights next year. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Good luck getting those votes. But it's a good effort to try as they come up there. It's not the first bipartisan dinner. We know the real issue for Republicans in the short term is -- are Republican votes. They have to get the budget passed. They're not going to get democratic votes there. Is this helpful? Is it a distraction? Is it what?

MATTINGLY: I don't think it hurts. I think -- and speaking to all three of the lawmakers too which I spoke to this morning, they certainly don't mind it. They appreciate it. They like the outreach. They like the ability to converse. They think that they're actually on friendly ground and having a conversation. And it brings bipartisan senators together. And that's never a bad thing.

Is it going to clinch anything or is it going to help them out? I don't think there's any evidence of that. Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, and Claire McCaskill have all in one way or the other kind of nuked the nine page framework on tax reform that has already come out. So I think ideologically they're not in line with what's going to happen. But I don't -- I certainly don't think it hurts. It might not help on tax reform but maybe one day this relationship as they blossom could turn in to something just probably not on tax reform.

[12:54:57] BENDER: I think it is more helpful that Kushner and Ivanka efforts before bring in CEOs, right. At least they're creating relationships here with people that are going to matter whether or not they can get there is another question. But, you know, I think with the CEO's that was a really one-sided leverage. I mean the CEOs in those meetings. They got all the leverage in that meeting and ended up burning Trump. Here, they're sort of -- it's a more traditional approach and, you know, I think they've had almost a half dozen of these meetings so far. It's better than nothing.

KING: Is there any evidence that if Ivanka went her father and said, if you'll do this, this, in the tax bill, I can get those democrats for you that he would do that?


KING: No. I got to --

JOHNSON: I have to say for her power to sway her father on major issues is a little bit over rated. But you never know.

KING: We haven't seen it if otherwise. There's one child care piece of the tax reform that's important to her. She's working with Senator Rubio who's at the dinner on that.

We'll keep an eye on. It's also fun to watch. Thanks for joining us tonight INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you back here at the same time tomorrow. President Trump is going to hold a news conference with the visiting Greek prime minister next hour. Wolf Blitzer will bring you that and more. He's up after a quick break. Have a good day.


[13:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Thanks very much for joining us.

Round two, moments from now President Trump holding --