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Trump Pushes Republicans On Taxes, Health Care; Tillerson Makes Unannounced Trip To Iraq; EPA Inspector General Investigating Pruitt's Plane Use; Cuban Contemplates Presidential Run In 2020. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 23, 2017 - 12:30   ET



[12:33:47] JOHN KING, HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: It's a big week ahead when President Trump is rallying members of his own party trying to get those Republicans on the same page on tax reform and health care. A Republican source telling CNN the President told House members on a call yesterday, "We are on the verge of doing something very, very historic."

The President also tells the Fox Business Channel he thinks he has the votes for both tax reform and health care.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I do believe we have the votes for health care at the appropriate time, and I think that we're going to have the votes for taxes, and I will say the fact that health care is so difficult, I think makes the taxes easier.


KING: Now, the President's visiting the Capitol tomorrow to pressure Republican senators in person. Many of them, trust me, many of them dispute the President's optimistic health care math. And they want to hear from directly about how he will deal with his friend and former Chief Strategist Bannon who was buying to recruit primary challengers against Republican incumbents.


SEN MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: You know, this element has been out there for a while. They cost these five Senate seats in 2010 and 2012 by nominating people who could win in November. I think most Republicans want to see us win elections because I always remind people that the winners of elections make policy and the losers go home and go onto some other line of work.


KING: I just love McConnell won't even say Steve Bannon, he wouldn't (ph) even say his name, he just said, he tried this before, we try this before and they heard us, and they heard us. [12:35:08] But we say -- but, you know, the President has said publicly that he disagrees with Steve -- he understands Steve Bannon but he disagrees with him targeting specific Republican incumbents.

When the President is behind closed doors in that private meeting tomorrow, of course they want to plot healthcare strategy if they come back to that. They definitely need to talk tax reform. How much of this going to be these Republican senators that want one in the eyeball from the President? Can we be sure you have our back, or if we do something that disappoints you, you're going to run back to Steve Bannon's camp?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, this -- the President tends to do in his close sessions. It tends to be pretty civil. I mean, he tends to tell them what they want to hear. And then he may change his mind publicly later. I mean, he called -- he criticized the Republican health care bill after he went to a Rose Garden ceremony that passed. The House -- the bill passed the House, and, you know, it didn't pass the Senate and wasn't going to become law, he went and praised for them later and talk at least --


RAJU: -- call it heartless. So, who knows what he's going to say later after the fact. I do think you -- what you heard him say last week saying that he doesn't think Steve Bannon should go after certain senators. I think he probably will reaffirm his support for people like Roger Wicker, people like John Barrasso, Deb Fischer who are up and overwhelmingly support his agenda. I don't think him say, maybe he'll say something about Jeff Flake. I doubt he'll say anything nice about Jeff Flake.

So overall, it will be positive. It will be interesting, though, will be to see if he gets any clarity at all about the Moore Alexander- Patty Murray health care deal that they have cut, because yesterday Senator McConnell made it very clear he would only bring this to the floor if the President made it clear that he supports it, which the White House has certainly has not done yet.

RACHAEL BADE, POLITICO: I'm also willing to bet that Republicans press him on how much is he going to back this tax reform bill that we could see as soon as next week, according to Republicans on the hill. You know, privately, there's a lot of concern on the hill that the President, once this tax bill is out, could pull another Chuck and Nancy Chinese dinner and strike a deal with Democrats.

On the phone call last night, my resources say that he talked about how he wanted to get more Democrats to vote for the tax bill, but then tried to quickly reassure them that, I'm a Republican inside-out and backwards, and I think it was the quote.

So I don't think that's going to assure them. I think that a lot of people are worried about him doing a 180 on this.

KING: We talk about the Chuck and Nancy Chinese dinner.


KING: It tells you a lot about the state of Washington today (ph). But to their point, you know, the President tweeted out this morning about the 401(k). There's been some talk Republicans have trying to find, they're going to cut taxes. There's a lot of them are worried about the deficit, trying to find some way to bring in revenue. There have been some saying, you know, he either get rid of our limit about 401(k) deductions.

The President tweets out this morning, "There will be no changes to your 401(k). This has always been a great and popular middle tax break. We'll leave it as it is." Now that's probably fine early, but one of the concerns of Republicans is that will -- to your point, we get back to the Obamacare issue where either they cast a vote, he says it's great or he says it's mean, or they're about to cast a vote and he does something on Twitter that says, the negotiations are still open and they keep it going. How much of that will be behind closed doors tomorrow. Get the President's, let's plot this together and stay together.

MARAGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG: Well, one of the real concerns and lessons of the health care fight has been that the congressional Republicans can think they're on the same page of the President and then feel like the plan got flipped. At the last minute without warning, that nobody knew about it. And the problem about that is that I'm not sure how much can get worked out (INAUDIBLE), how it does now go to sort of distinctive issue of trust. Let's say you get the eye contact in the room you were looking for. What does that actually mean?

And the problem for the President or the test for the President will be whether he gets that sort of leap of faith or that buy-in that he needs. The problem for the Republican incumbents when you add all of these up between now and the end of the year is does it hurt the President worse or does it hurt them worse when things don't get done? Because if it hurts them worse, they do have major problems in terms of the primary challenges that they face, and that is the concern.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, BLOOMBERG: And think about all the different parts of tax reform that have not been ironed out yet. The 401(k) which I guess President has finalized but there's the state and local tax issue, the millionaires tax should rates go up for people who are the top earners. There are a number of different issues that are very thorny and going to be very will be difficult and complex to work out.

One that actually put pen the paper and the President tweeting in the middle of all that does not make it easier, it only makes it harder. And I think a number of Republicans are unsure where the President stands on a number of different components of the tax reform plan. And if they can't iron that out, we only have about 24 or 25 days left.

RAJU: Yes, I mean, they haven't drafted (ph) the bill yet. And when the bill comes out this tax rate that are being killed, people are going to -- there will going to be outcry over that and does the President change his mind then and under cut this bill that they've been carefully crafting. That remains to be seen, too.

KING: If you think it should be easy for Republicans to cut tax, let's go back to the Obamacare debate. Several times we thought we're going to close the finish line, things like this happen (INAUDIBLE) went that's for about to go through again.

[12:40:10] As we going to break, we going to bring you some report with breaking news, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson has just landed to Baghdad earlier today. He made an announced visit as well to Afghanistan.

They're not surprised. They just don't announce them to us because of security concerns. But the Secretary of State visiting Afghanistan and now he's in Iraq discussing of course counter terrorism efforts as well as other issues. We'll keep you up to date on that trip.

Up next here, though, dozens of death threats, millions of dollars for bodyguards. Why so much angst and anger surrounding one of the President's cabinet members?


KING: Welcome back. Let's turn now to an important story first reported right here on CNN. The security detail for the head of the environmental protection agency is growing, and so as the price tag.

The EPA inspector general's office calls the level of security for Scott Pruitt unprecedented. CNN Rene Marsh, broke, destroys and joins us now live. But the EPA administrator, clean air, clean water. Why do they say, Rene, that all this protection is necessary?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, first off the agency refused to comment on this story, but the independent inspector general did tell CNN that Pruitt has received four to five times more death threats than usual. Pruitt, as you know, has been very controversial. He led several lawsuits against the agency before he got there, and since becoming EPA administrator he's been working to roll back those environmental regulations wholesale and it's clearly angered a segment of the population, John.

KING: So take us through. What measures are being put in place to protect the administrator, and if there are such threats, he obviously deserves some security. But how much is all of this going to cost?

MARSH: Right. So he currently gets 24/7 security. We do know that they are in the process of hiring 12 more agents, they're installing new security equipment surrounding his office, special key card access, even an alarm system that is being setup or has been setup to go off in his security team's office if there's any issue.

A source also told CNN that officials have considered a biometric security system that would check fingerprints, palm prints, but it's unclear if that's been installed at this point. As far as cost, salary alone, the security could cost at least $2 million per year. But that doesn't include things like equipment, training and even travel with the secretary. It is worth pointing out. I spoke with Christine Todd Whitman, she served under George W. Bush after 9/11. She said she only had security when she was traveling, but clearly different times here, John.

KING: Different times but we'll keep an eye on very important reporting. Rene Marsh, thank you so much. The headline this morning, the latest, Rene, (INAUDIBLE) new notoriety among government watchdogs and environmental groups under this new President.

Inspector Generals investigating Secretary Pruitt's use of tax fare (ph) money to pay for charter flights. There are also press concerns over whether science or a corporate leaning agenda that driving some of the agencies decisions. In a big Sunday news piece the "New York Times" mock the agency shift in policy and toxic chemicals to the growing influence of a former industry insider who now runs the agency team that regulates them.

[12:45:07] This agency to me reading it over the past eight, nine months more proof than maybe anywhere else in government about how elections have consequences. When you put a Republican President in after a Democratic President, they won, they have every right to change policy. But Administrator Pruitt has drowned a lot of gained a lot of extra attention specially because when he was the Oklahoma Attorney General, he is actually got busted at one point cutting and pasting letters from the oil and gas industry onto official state stationary, so he's gotten extra scrutiny. Just more than an interesting fellow, shall we say.

TALEV: Well, there are some of these other elements like the soundproofing around his office and that sort of thing. I read a report about the cleaning service needing to be let in, you know, manually rather than being able to get in on their own, just making it harder to get information. And when you take all of those together in conjunction with some of these other things and then regulatory changes you see a picture of the agency that certainly looks different than it did with the last administration. But I mean, we're talking about a reports now of dozens and dozens of death threats. And the type of security detail coverage that's just completely unprecedented for us.

KING: Unprecedented, and the question is, will they have the transparency to let us see whether it's being done right? If there are threats against the Secretary, Democrats, Republican, independent, he deserves all the protection he needs without a doubt. The question is did they go overboard and will they be transparent in letting us see all that.

How much do you spending? Why are you spending it? Justify the cost. If they and justify the cost, they get by conjunct to it if there is such a threat. The question is you heard Rene, the agency won't even comment when there were reports about the code of silence, the soundproof booth being set up, why does he need that?

Why does the secretary need that? That -- the challenge should become transparency by the administration. BADE: And that's where congress comes in since they have the power, the first they can certainly be asking the agency questions about this. I've also seen stories saying that they have been flying in EPA agents who work on environmental investigations in to D.C. to actually work on security when they should be looking at environmental issues or problems that are occurring around the country. And this, again, going back to elections, it just speaks to the huge change in the agency right now.

I mean, this is an agency that supposed to be 100% going out to protect the environment out of the green. Advocates have been aligned with the agency and working with the agency, and now we're seeing this total 180 right now. And people are upset.

RAJU: But, you know, this is one of those issues that just really just firmly cuts across party lines. I mean inside, it shows an idealogical divide, I should say, between the two parties. Probably more so than almost any other issue.

It's industry versus the environmentalists. If you have a Republican in charge, it's going to be more of an industry-friendly agency. It was during the Bush years, and then when it became -- when President Obama became President, it was an environmentalist friendly agency.

And this is one that generates an enormous amount of passion. We don't know if that's what's causing these threats to Pruitt, but if it is, it just highlights just much -- how passionate people feel about this issue, and especially made on polar opposite views.

KING: And again, you see in the "New York Times" today, a headline, EPA cancels talks about climate change, they were supposed present. Some EPA scientists were supposed to present at this conference on the Amagansett Bay on their first job, I still live on there against when I work on (INAUDIBLE). They was supposed to present and now the agency saying well, they're there, they'll be there but it's not our conference, we're not presenting. So, you've see the shift there, I mean, Scott Pruitt is again as local attorney generals to split out climate change denial since it's not happening.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes. They're trying to roll back what the last eight years represented when it comes to climate change, when it comes to the EPA which a lot of Republicans and members of Trump's administration believe were overpowering the industry and making it harder to do business, making it harder for the coal miners to survive. So you have on one hand sort of the deregulation.

But then on the other hand, you have the President saying, you know, we should drain the swamp. And that's sort of standing in contrast with the idea that all these industry people are taking government positions and sort of handing out favors and benefits and policies that benefit mostly wealthy corporations. And then you have the EPA administrator flying around in a private jet.

RAJU: John, if you go to a Republican rally, very few things will get more of an applause line attacking the EPA. Republican base quarters hate the EPA, so it's no surprise that they're trying to cut the agency.

KING: Right. They believe there's been growth over regulation and again elections had consequences and some of the stuff maybe necessary and hopefully the reporting like Rene's transparency is the key as you go through these changes.

Up next. You might know Mark Cuban from "shark tank" maybe because he is the owner of the Dallas Networks. Remember he campaigns for Hillary Clinton, Mark Cuban, 20-20 as a Republican? Be right back.


[12:51:58] KING: He play the president in "Sharknado 3." You remember that, right? But as billionaire Mark Cuban ready to make a real run for the White House in 2020?

Cuban spent most of 2016 taunting, teasing candidate Donald Trump both on Twitter and in person, taking up Hillary Clinton's invitation to attend one of the presidential debates. Now he's contemplating a primary challenge to President Trump.


HARVEY LEVIN, FOX NEWS: Are you a Democrat or Republican?

MARK CUBAN, AMERICAN BUSINESSMAN: I'm fiercely independent.

LEVIN: But if you run, you're going to have to run one of the another?

CUBAN: Maybe.

LEVIN: Well if you had to choose, which would you choose?

CUBAN: Probably Republican.

LEVIN: How come?

CUBAN: Because I think there's a place for somebody who is socially a centrist, but I'm very fiscally conservative.


KING: Now, maybe you take Cuban seriously, maybe you don't, but that exchange is actually pretty interesting, because Cuban has spent the last month, spent some of his own money studying valid access laws. He knows how hard it is to not this serious independent both third- party bid for the presidency. And remember, Donald Trump wasn't exactly a lifetime member of the GOP, but his hostile takeover of the party just last year worked out pretty well for him. And President and the Democratic side, too, independent Bernie Sanders came pretty close to winning the Democratic nomination. You might think that experience would persuade Sanders to drop the, I for a D. Click again.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP) SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I), VERMONT: I am independent and I have always run in Vermont as an independent while I caucus with the Democrats in the United States Senate. That's what I've been doing for a long time and that's what I'll continue to do.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: So you'll run in 2018 as an independent?



KING: The voice of the former CNN Paul Steinhauser there asking that questions to senator. Let's get to Mark Cuban. But its just remind -- it reminds me a Donald Trump's experience running against all those experienced Republicans not (INAUDIBLE) in Republican, a pretty new Republican, and he's president of the United States.

Bernie Sanders a little keep out for a lot of dense in the Clinton aircraft carrier in the Democratic primaries. The parties don't matter as much anymore to voters. Your party identification doesn't matter that much anymore to voters, but the infrastructure matters if you're trying to run for the presidency.

TALEV: Yes, that's exactly right. Look, there's a couple things to keep in mind. Number one, President Obama's sort of force personality is what attracted so many folks to his side in 2008, even across party lines, a little harder in 2012. But -- and I think you're right to point out that, you know, Donald Trump, even now, is not exactly wrapping himself in the GOP mantel except for -- when it suits him. The other thing is that it's not even quite a year since the election we're coming right up on that anniversary.

KING: Only seems like 20.

TALEV: It's actually dog (ph) years, right? But I think we are seeing people who were thinking about whether or not to get in seriously start to think about how they would do it, what their strategy would be, who else is playing, what the goal is. And look, if Steve Bannon is looking to change the heart and soul of the Republican Party, why shouldn't Mark Cuban, who's also a reality TV star wouldn't have. If he were serious about this --


TALEV: -- he would be able to go head to head.

RAJU: The mark Cuban thing. I mean Trump is still be loved by the base. He'll be very difficult to beat in a Republican.

KING: Somebody won't do it.

[12:55:06] RAJU: Exactly my point, but my other point was that I think this is going be election season (ph). We're going to see an enormous amount of candidates, Republicans -- it's not going to be like Obama or Bush who didn't have a primary challenger, George W. Bush. And -- but I think that there are also going to be a significant amount of Democrats too running. They're going to have a nasty divisive primary themselves and it's not going to be easy to beat.

TALEV: But the other cynical question is, if you're actually a centrist, which party is more likely to want any people to view?

KING: But essentially they don't use the word centrist if you're trying to win a primary. But won't you rather see a Mark Cuban-Donald Trump debate? Or John Kasich-Donald Trump debate? I'll be honest.

BADE: I -- First of all (INAUDIBLE) I hope he doesn't run mark Cuban because I love shark tank. And I don't want --


TALEV: But if you put John Kasich in one of those really tight batman t-shirts, I'd want --

KING: That's it. That's it to see. I can't go on. So that's it for Inside Politics. This time tomorrow, President Trump at the Rose Garden about a half hour from now with the prime minister of Singapore taking questions from reporters.

Wolf Blitzer will be here to bring you that. He's up after a quick break. Have a great day.