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GOP Divide on President Trump; Trump Begins Asia Trip This Week. Aired 8-9a ET
Aired October 29, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:16] JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): The special counsel files the first criminal charges in the Russia election meddling investigation.
Plus, crunch time for tax cuts. The president's last hope for a big first-year legislative win.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Tax reform will help reignite the American dream. This budget that the house just passed brings us closer to making that dream a reality.
KING: And Steve Bannon calls it a season of war. Senator Jeff Flake, a moment of conscience.
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals.
KING: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.
KING: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King.
To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thank you for sharing your Sunday.
It's off to Asia this week for President Trump, an important trip as China's President Xi showcases his grip on power. The North Korea missile and nuclear crisis is a major White House focus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Make no mistake: any attack on the United States or our allies will be defeated. Any use of nuclear weapons by the North will be met with a massive military response, effective and overwhelming.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Plus, a week of enormous consequence for the president and his Republican party. There is some momentum for the GOP tax cut promise. But secret weekend meetings to debate the details underscore the high stakes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: Tax reform will help reignite the American Dream. It will help bring us back to a place of confidence, freedom, happiness, a stronger, healthier economy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We begin a busy hour, though, with blockbuster news that has Washington on edge. CNN has told the special counsel Robert Mueller has secured his first criminal charges in the Russia election meddling investigation. The indictments were issued by a grand jury Friday and are under seal. We have no details confirmed yet.
But with the likelihood of someone being taken into custody as early as tomorrow, contrast the terse "no comment" from the Trump White House now to the scorn the president has routinely heaped on this investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.
The entire thing has been a witch hunt.
The Russia story is a total fabrication.
There was no collusion between us and Russia.
There has been absolutely no collusion. It's been stated that they have no collusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights this Sunday, Julie Pace of "The Associated Press", Karen Demirjian of "The Washington Post," Perry Baker of "FiveThirtyEight", and Jennifer Jacobs of "Bloomberg".
Perry Bacon, I'm sorry, Perry. I'll wake up eventually.
The president and his allies spent this past week trying to undermine the credibility of the Russian election meddling investigation, complaining about the costs, the length, and wondering whether the resources would be better spent, yes, investigating Hillary Clinton. Well, forget all of those efforts of distraction and confusion. The first moment of truth is at hand. CNN is told the first charges are now in the books, likely to be made public Monday, that's tomorrow.
The details for now are under seal, including whether these are charges against one person or more. A couple of things we do. The special counsel is investigating the Russian meddling, whether there was any coordination with the Trump campaign, and whether the president was trying to obstruct or restrict the investigation when he fired the former FBI Director James Comey. Comey also is investigating several close presidential associates, including the former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and former Trump national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
So, we meet at an awkward moment. We know there is a giant moment of truth coming to Washington, D.C., but we don't know the details. Anticipation.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And the question of how giant it is, really, because there's so many people that Mueller is looking at. He's casting a very broad net in this investigation. So, is it going to be a major player or is it going to be a minor player that's going to potentially open up questions about more.
So, it is a moment of trying to figure out, basically, at what stage Mueller is at his game, because if it's somebody who's really very close to the president, that means he's done quite a lot. If it's somebody who's maybe a more minor player in this whole saga, then that just suggests that there's a lot more potentially to come.
KING: More to come.
JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Typically, these investigations, you start low and then you move high. I think it's also important to know that Mueller actually inherited other investigations that were already ongoing. Paul Manafort, for example, has been under investigation for quite some time for things that are unrelated to Russian collusion with the presidential campaign. So, that's a possible avenue to look at.
One thing I think is certain, no matter what happens tomorrow, is that this undermines the message that the White House has been trying to push, which is essentially that the Mueller investigation is turning up nothing and is close to ending. That is simply factually inaccurate.
KING: And, by the way, it was really interesting in the sense that we don't know whether this is just coincidence or if they got any kin of a heads up, but we do know, the way it works, if Bob Mueller is going to bring charges, he has to tell Rod Rosenstein, the number two at the Justice Department, who oversees the investigation.
[08:05:06] It was interesting because all week, but especially late in the week, to your point, the White House started throwing up everything. This is about Hillary Clinton. Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying the only thing that has been proven is that Hillary Clinton colluded with the Russians. Well, that's a taxpayer-funded lie. That has not been proven. No such thing has been proven.
But there was a lot of dust thrown up to confuse people and distract people. And a conspiracy theorist would say, he must have had a heads up.
PERRY BACON, SENIOR WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: You know, you could think that. I don't get a sense they did. I think they just threw up some uranium, the dossier news I think fit into what they wanted to talk about anyway. So, I think that was part of some stories that have come up now.
I think tomorrow, it will be interesting to see like, what's the reaction? You know, we're going to do a lot of story about the indictment. We don't know who's going to be indicted on what. But like Sarah Sanders, I assume, cannot say the investigation is ending tomorrow after an indictment comes out. So, I'll be curious to see what the tweets are like. If they back off.
And the other thing is, I think Corker is being interviewed today. What do the members say? There's always the idea lurking out there that maybe Trump will fire Mueller. We don't know that will happen or not, but I'll be curious if the members sort of at this point say, you cannot, cannot do this, or we will do something else, you know?
JENNIFER JACOBS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: I don't have any inside intel on this, but I think the White House is pretty confident that whatever does come out with these indictments is not going to prove that there was any collusion between the president and Russia.
KING: That's what -- that has been their story all along. And Ty Cobb, one of the president's attorney, is telling "The New York Times" on Thursday, the president has no concerns in terms of any impact as to what happens to them, meaning people who work in the White House, close aides to him, on his campaign or on the White House. And, again, you start this presumed innocent.
But we also note, to Julie's point, the special counsel inherited other investigations. You generally start with the lowest-hanging fruit, if you will. But still, it will be a different moment. This has been a congressional committees investigating. The Mueller investigation is underway for six months, everybody with giant question marks.
Now at least we get the first building block of what has he been doing for six months. And to point about, should you shut this down? Should you fire him? Why is this going on so long? Is it money being well spent?
PACE: Well, look, Mueller has actually been, this is amazing in Washington, he actually has been quite tight lipped about what's going on. There are very few leaks that seemed to be originating from the Mueller camp, which is what makes I think the anticipation about this so fascinating, because it's actual action from the Mueller campaign.
I've said all along, this investigation is going to hang over the Trump White House for months or potentially years. This is not something -- you've lived through a couple of these before. This is not something that gets wrapped up quickly. No matter what the White House wants or what Republicans want.
And you think -- you would imagine, the White House would be better served by trying to refocus on other agenda items, try to pull attention in a different direction and let this play out rather than continue to try to mix it up with Mueller and the congressional investigators. KING: Right. And to that point, you've had the president's lawyers
saying as recently as this past week and the president said this in an interview recently, that he has not been asked for an interview or a conversation. And a special counsel can interview a president if you get that high up under several different circumstances. It can be a formal interview, it can be under oath, and just be a conversation, but that that hasn't happened yet.
I cannot imagine someone with a history of being as thorough as Bob Mueller, knowing he has talked to the former White House chief of staff, the former press secretary, he wants to talk to other people in the universe about all of the those conversations about firing James Comey, I cannot imagine him closing the books on this whatever the final chapter says without having a conversation with the president. So, we are a long way from finished.
DEMIRJIAN: He may be very close to done, but at this point, once there's an actually an indictment that we have the details of, people are going to start drawing conclusions. And this is --
KING: Here in Washington?
DEMIRJIAN: No, but exactly. I mean, look, it's happening as most of the congressional probes are breaking down along party lines, as certainly Republicans are driving these new lines of inquiry against Clinton, but Democrats are threatening to go alone, even though they have no power.
So, I mean, people are going to be using this as a justification or an explanation for not only the probes that they're running, but the campaign they're about to start competing in because 2018 is now -- we're in that season now where people are very much looking at that actively. Primaries start a few months from now. And there's pressure on those congressional investigators to actually put something out before those primaries start. So, they're going to be defining themselves against the backdrop of the Mueller probe now, in ways that they consider to be politically advantageous.
KING: A fascinating question for me is how does the conservative media handle this in the sense that there's been an echo chamber there and you saw this in the past week. The president actually tweeting after watching "Fox & Friends," one morning during the week.
Clinton campaign and DNC paid for research that lead to the anti-Trump fake news dossier. The victim here is the president, @foxnews. That from the president of the United States.
Now, again, the Clinton campaign, stupidly, foolishly, non- transparently, would not acknowledge for months that they picked up research initially started by a conservative fund-raiser who runs the "Washington Free Beacon". They started it looking into Trump's business dealings, and then didn't get into the Russia stuff, the dossier stuff. Then the Democrats pick it up, including the Clinton campaign, this dossier, the now-infamous dossier. The fact that the Clinton campaign didn't disclose that they paid for
it is foolish. It's foolish. But it proves nothing, except that may be that they were thorough in their opposition research.
[08:10:02] But that the president is stirring this up trying to take the conservative media, and turn their attention, pay no attention to Bob Mueller, pay no attention to me, look at Hillary Clinton.
BACON: I'll be curious to see tomorrow night if on FOX, are they covering Hillary Clinton like they were last week? It was Hillary Clinton like if she was president, or if they downplay the indictment. Those are the two options.
I think real coverage of the indictment is probably not going to happen. But is it more of a defense of Trump, or is it more of a Hillary is even worse. I think those are the two options.
JACOBS: The news definitely has shifted more towards Hillary Clinton and what did she know and how much did she know and when. So, that has been, you know, I'm sure, very satisfying for the president.
But the conservative media also has been focusing on what the FBI knew, you know, and it has come out that the FBI asked the writer of this dossier to continue with his research into it, just a few weeks before the election and, you know, paying him to do so. You know, which was, you know, Democrats are upset about that revelation that, you know, the top law enforcement agency was paying to have more research done like this.
But it is a win for the president, in that it shifts a little bit of the attention off of him and Russia and the Democrats lose a little bit of the moral high ground on this dossier front.
KING: Right, certainly has this past week. And we'll see now as we go through the next couple of days which is consequential here in Washington. We'll keep track of it, we promise.
Up next, though, the president made three big policy promises for his first year in office. This week, it's a big test of whether he can salvage one.
But, first, politicians say the darndest thing. When the president meets the press corps kids, which has been decked out for Halloween.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Ii cannot believe the media produced such beautiful kids. How the media did this, I don't know.
Oh, you're going to grow up to be like your parents? Don't answer. That can only get me in trouble, that question.
Who likes this?
You have no weight problems, that's the good news, right? Good. So you take out whatever you need. So, how does the press treat you? I'll bet you get treated better by
the press than anybody in the world, right, huh? I think so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[08:16:43] KING: This is a defining week for a president and the Republican Party desperate to prove they can keep one of their big 2017 promises. Remember, Obamacare repeal won't happen this year. The president never even bothered to submit the giant infrastructure program he promised in year one.
So, tax reform is the GOP's last best hope. But after months of talking and debating, on Wednesday, the House leadership is set to unveil the actual details, legislation that is being drafted in secrecy this weekend, because the policy choices are so difficult and the political stakes, so high.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: That means more jobs, fairer taxes, bigger paychecks for Americans. Too long the American people have been living under a broken system where they see too little of their own hard-earned dollars.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: As they misrepresent what they are doing to the middle class, what they are doing is looting them, looting your homes. Just, it's just a rip-off of the middle class.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: An introduction there to the political arguments set to intensify. We just talked in the last block about what a sequential week it is going to be in terms of the investigation. This is a giant week for the Republican Party. And you could argue for the Democrats, as well, who's trying to block this or trying to change this, anyway.
But they have promised this forever. And if you came into the year thinking a new Republican president, a larger Senate majority, House Republican majority, they're going to do all these big things. Now, they're down to the possibility of one.
Will they figure it out or will we have Obamacare deja vu?
PACE: Well, I think it's going to be really difficult. Tax reform hasn't been done in decades because it's really hard. And even though Republicans generally agree on the idea of one politically needing to do this and two, from a policy perspective, believing that the tax code does need to be reformed, when you start getting into these details, you've seen these intraparty squabbles really break out into the open, because you have members, particularly on the house side, who represent just vastly different districts.
I mean, this issue of state and local taxes in particular has become a real touchstone in this debate, because you have lawmakers who are in places like New York, California, Virginia, states that tend to lean Democrat, because you have Republican House members there, who are facing the prospect of having to go back to their constituents and say, maybe I voted for a package that will raise your taxes, in some cases up to $10,000 a year. That's a really politically difficult situation for them to be in.
KING: That's a fun one. Let's look at some of those questions. Here are the big questions we don't know. Will there be a higher bracket for millionaires? Will you keep your state and local tax deduction that you get now? There are some that want to reduce the 401(k) benefits. Again, you need to bring money into Washington to help pay for some of these tax cuts.
Expanded child tax credit, a huge issue pressed by the president's daughter, Ivanka, and the impact on the deficit, a lot of fiscal conservatives saying, yes, I want to cut taxes, but we need to bring in some pay-fors as they call them, or cut some spending somewhere.
To your point about state and local taxes, there was one big compromise. Kevin Brady, who's the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee said yesterday to "Bloomberg", your organization, at the urging of lawmakers, we are restoring an itemized property tax deduction to help taxpayers with local tax burdens. So, not the full state and local tax deduction, but at least a big piece of it, your property taxes.
But that's why this gets so complicated. You can break out your calculators at home. Some of this may be important to you, some of it may not. But each piece of this puzzle is tens of millions or billions of dollars and it messes with the math.
JACOBS: That's right, and a lot of this work has been done in secret, but some details are starting leak out. We did find out yesterday that that property tax deduction is going to stay in, but the mortgage tax deduction does not sound like it's going to be in there. It does sounds like the state and local tax deduction will still be repealed, at least in the House bill.
The 401(k), it does sound like they're going to make some changes to that, probably a higher overall contribution limit, which could drive people to Roth IRAs and things like that. So, House Ways and Means Republicans do meet today. So, I think more details will leak out this afternoon.
KING: More details will leak out this afternoon. So, let's -- the president, you mentioned the 401(k) thing, this could be a test. During the Obamacare debate, remember, there were times when the president said things about specific policy proposals, sometimes they helped, the speaker and majority leader would tell you more often they hurt as they were going through negotiations.
The president made clear this week he does not want those changes to the 401(k) program. But the chairman of the committee, Mr. Brady says, well, I'm still thinking about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: 401(k)s, to me, are very important. And they're important because that's one of the great benefits to the middle class.
REPORTER: Kevin Brady, who is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said this morning it could be on the table.
TRUMP: Well, maybe it is and maybe we'll use it as negotiating.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A -- right, you're laughing, because you remember the past nine months. And remember, the House speaker came to the president early on in the Obamacare repeal and replace. He said, I have a bill, nobody likes it, I think I might be able to sneak it through by a vote or two, but we just can't just tweeted it. And the president immediately said, great, the House has a probably, negotiating season is open, and kaboom!
So, the president's role in this is enormous in the sense that if they are going to thread this needle, they need him to sell the idea of tax reform to the Republican base, because there are going to be things that people don't like. But they don't want him doing the details like that.
BACON: They seem the to want him to cheer on the bill and be very involved in it but not talk about the details of the bill. That's going to be hard for him to do. I would argue that would be hard for a lot of presidents to do, particularly this president. It's going to be hard for him to do that, because he is -- he does get more engaged in the -- the process of getting this bill passed than with health care, which he is sort of in and out of.
I think he's very committed here. I do think it's going to be hard for him to like -- as issue gets closer, a lot of people in New York's taxes, New York where he grew up, a lot of their taxes are going to go up. And I'll be surprise if he doesn't at some point say, is that a mean thing to say for a word he might use in the past.
Also, this week, we should note --
KING: Mean better be taken off the table.
BACON: They had a vote for this budget process to start things off and they lost 20 votes in the initial votes. They only can lose 23. So, this is not a -- they're already divided. We don't have to guess. We already know there's a big divide in the party on this already.
KING: And so, there's a policy divide. And again, we saw some of this very similar to this during Obamacare, more conservative members, more moderate members. Some of it is regional where you live, what industry is in your state, and the big issue in your state that might be affected by this, that's part of it.
So, listen to Lindsey Graham here who says, yes, that's all true, we have some policy disagreements, but if the Republican Party doesn't understand the political imperative here, good-bye.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I think all of us realize that if we fail on taxes, that's the end of the Republican Party's governing majority. I can't imagine how he could be successful with Nancy Pelosi running the House. They'd try to impeach him pretty quick. So it's important that we pass tax reform in a meaningful way. If we don't, that's probably the end of the Republican Party as we know it.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KING: Does that argument sell with lawmakers who might have quibbles with the details that this is a political imperative and you might be a retired lawmaker if you don't pass this?
DEMIRJIAN: Well, sure, except for a lot of lawmakers who are voluntarily retiring at this point anyway, because they don't like the environment. So, I don't know how much of a hard threat that is.
And also, I don't know about how much of a threat that is to the base that actually has to -- the voters who have to vote for these people in office. Does the idea of preserving the Republican Party, is that really what's going to be making people get off of the coach and go vote? Or what's going to make them tick? And -- as opposed to what might actually hit them where they live and what their bottom line might be in all of these debates?
I think we've seen from the fissures within the Republican Party that when it comes to tax reform, it's not necessarily a party-first sort of attitude and philosophy. And you can't start to sell the tax reform is an emotional issue, because it's such a technical sort of a thing without actually getting into details, just to get back to the earlier point, which means Trump, if he's going to sell this, if he's going to do what he does best, frankly, which is campaign on it, he has to find issues that hit people where they live.
And, I mean, tax reform -- taxes in general, like the one place where the government can actually direct what they want to incentivize for behavior, right? It's the most direct line and he's got to sell that direct line. He can't do that if he's got to keep his hands free on the details and just talk about the health of the GOP.
KING: Well, another big week starting up there.
Up next, the remarkable things that the Republicans say about the Republican president. Yet the question on which there is zero doubt, who leads the GOP?
[08:29:04] KING: Welcome back.
It is no secret Republicans are deeply divided over their president -- some of its policy on issues like trade and America's place in the world or refusing to acknowledge Russia's attack on our elections. A lot of it, though, is personal, or character-based. Memories of that "Access Hollywood" tape, an aversion to slashing attack tweets, or a belief that constantly undermining trust in vital institutions or habitually saying things that are not true are character traits beneath the presidency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FLAKE: Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as "telling it like it is" when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth-telling, the -- just the name-calling, the debasement of our nation will be what he'll be remembered most for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Remarkably strong criticism there this past week from two respected conservatives. But the virtual silence that followed spoke volumes.
The conservative "Weekly Standard" put it this way. "Everyone's talking about the civil war in the Republican Party; it seems more like a surrender to us. The great bulk of elected Republicans have surrendered to the forces of Donald J. Trump and they didn't even put up much of a fight."
True statement, right? I mean wherever you stand on this, wherever you stand on this. If you're a Democrat, you find it interesting theater. If you're a Republican, you probably have chosen your camp by now.
But it is a pretty true statement that you did have remarkably blunt, forceful statements by Senator Flake this past week, Senator Corker again this past week. But most of the other Republicans were like, I don't want to talk about this, we should keep this in the family, keep this private. This is Donald Trump's Republican Party -- period.
JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Absolutely it is. Flake got up there and part of his speech was essentially a call to arms for his fellow Republicans and no one stood up and followed him. It was pretty amazing.
You do hear from -- as echoed by the "Weekly Standard" -- you do hear from people who view themselves as traditional conservatives, from this traditional mold of the Republican Party, this frustration that people like Flake and like Corker are choosing to walk away as opposed to stay in and fight even if it means that they would lose their election.
The reality is, most of those people who are saying that don't have -- don't have to actually make that decision. They have the luxury of not being on the ballot right now.
But you see it over and over again. People are saying that there's a fight for the soul of the Republican Party, but that fight is not particularly active right now. Trump runs this party.
JENNIFER JACOBS, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: -- have told me that there are members -- Republican members of congress who very much agree with Corker and Flake. They're just letting them be the spokespeople right now and they're just saying it privately.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Which is why it's not really -- the call to arms isn't working. The true profile in courage would be to say, I'm running anyway. You can run whoever you want against me in a primary. If I lose, I'll even endorse the Democrat.
But nobody is going to do that, because this is Washington and that's not how it works. It's self-preservation in a way first, and only at the point at which you decided, that is not the primary objective, can you actually speak out this publicly and this bluntly.
Except for sometimes in cases like -- basically, the Republican women, like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski had actually had the guts to buck that trend in the past. But on specific policy issues, usually not just a blanket statement like we saw from people like Corker and Flake this week.
KING: And if you look, Perry when you track this, the Steve Breitbart camp is celebrating. They see this in their home page especially, "Flake Out" as you know, he's not running. He gave a speech very critical of the President.
But he's saying, establishment Republicans fall like dominos. Luther Strange, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, gone. I just want to put -- this is the reason that a lot of them are reluctant privately. It is stunning in working in our business the things that Republicans say about the Republican president knock your head back. Some of the things they say.
But they say it privately. They say it privately. And this is why. They fear going home.
Look at these numbers from the NBC/"Wall Street Journal". Whose party is this? Among Republican voters, if you are a Republican, are you a supporter of Trump -- 58 percent. Are you a supporter more broadly of the GOP -- 38 percent.
So to your point about survival, self-preservation, you do not have people who say things privately willing to say them publicly because they're worried about going home.
PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: I generally agree with everybody else here. But I would say two things. First of all, not a lot of people defended Trump. Imagine if some Democratic senator attacked Obama like this, I think you know, a lot -- 40 members say Obama is smart. He is thoughtful. And I think you saw people agree with who didn't jump to the President's defense.
The second thing would be -- you mentioned this earlier a bit too, it's Trump's party in terms of politics. But if you look at the policy, infrastructure, trade -- a lot of the issues if you look at what the Congress is voting most day -- that's the Mitch McConnell/Paul Ryan agenda.
Donald Trump has basically given up a lot of his sort of populist ideas to take a policy that Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz would have done, too. So I'm not sure this is Trump's party yet in terms of like actual governing.
KING: It is a great point. And you had at the beginning, a lot of the people around McConnell and Ryan saying, there are a lot of things about this president we don't like. There's a lot of things we don't trust. We don't think he's a true conservative but we're going to pass stuff and he's going to sign it and that's going to be ok.
That was the --
BACON: They're not passing anything so far. But they're not pushing much, either.
PACE: The whole argument that you heard from Republicans during the transition and the early months of the administration was, look, of course we don't want this guy to be president. He wasn't our preferred choice, but he will sign our agenda.
We will pass an Obamacare repeal and he will sign it. We will pass tax reform and he will sign it. At the end of the year, if they are heading into a midterm and Donald Trump is president and they haven't been able to get him any legislation to sign, that's when I think this potentially gets really interesting.
KING: One of the great pieces of theater this past week -- and this president gives us a lot of them -- some of them you like and some you don't.
But let's listen to the President here. He knew what Senator Flake had said, knew what Senator Corker had said. Pay no attention, all is great.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have great unity. I called it a lovefest. It was almost a lovefest. Maybe it was a lovefest. But we -- standing ovations, there is great unity.
I mean, if you look at the Democrats with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, that's a mess. There's great unity in the Republican Party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: He's right, the Democrats are equally divided if not more so divided, it's different ways. But the Democrats are fractured into pieces too. [08:35:02] It's just fascinating to see this play out. You don't normally see this play out when you have a president.
Number one, when you have a president, he runs the party.
But number two, to your point about people speaking out, usually when you have a president, people mute it. Remember George W. Bush on policy issues Medicare -- you know, Medicare part D. Conservatives were horrified but most of them kept quiet.
DEMIRJIAN: The thing is though what he's saying may not be true right now, but it may be true in another year and two months because -- I mean people that are his strongest critics keep leaving the actual party that's actually in Washington D.C. there will be more unity in the party that's actually behind him that's leftover.
And the President is pretty good at, you know, spinning these moments in a way to kind of be like, not me, not me. I mean this is like a reliable axiom of D.C. which is that you can always find something more screwed up in Congress.
You can. I mean --
KING: You're right.
DEMIRJIAN: -- because they're so dysfunctional, right?
DEMIRJIAN: #sad -- exclamation point.
But the President can always point a finger that way. And I mean even -- I don't know how close the people are watching the Twitter feed this weekend but I found one of these tweets really hilarious because, you know, everybody is saying you're so undignified, you're so unpresidential, he's making these speeches.
And he's like well, it's not very presidential. I just have to say I didn't like Michael Moore's movie. I know it's terrible. He's just kind of spinning this to be a weird affable thing that might really work quite well with the people out there --
KING: Yes. Certainly with these people. Sure.
JACOBS: One thing we know about the President, he always cares what people think. If people are criticizing him, it does bother him and polls do bother him. And I'm sure he's aware his approval rating right now is about 36, 37 percent. At this same point --
DEMIRJIAN: Congress is worse.
JACOBS: -- in Obama's -- when Obama was about 280 days in, he was what -- at like 52 percent. Jimmy Carter was 54 percent. JFK was 77 percent. George W. Bush was 86 percent. And Trump is aware of this. BACON: Jeff Flake, John McCain, Bob Corker -- now you have three
senators. The Republicans have majority in the Senate or not. You have 52 but really, you have 49 and three in some ways.
So this is a big one. Even if these guys are gone by 2019, they really matter this next year and a half.
KING: And a big test. You'll have the 2018 midterms. We'll see if someone challenges the President within the primaries in 2020.
In the short-term, you have an election in Virginia coming up just next week. And this is a direct mailer from the Democrats. You see it's hard to see in the bright light. You see the Republican candidate, I'm sorry, Ed Gillespie and the President of the United States linked together here.
For those of us who've known Ed Gillespie a long time, more of a traditional establishment Republican. But listen here, in this campaign, he needs Trump voters to come out, so Ed Gillespie, more of an economic fiscal conservative has become a culture warrior.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ralph Northam will take our statues down. Ed Gillespie will preserve them.
ED GILLESPIE (R), VIRGINIA: I'm for keeping them up. And he's for taking them down. And that's a big difference in November.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: There's the Trump effect, right there.
PACE: Absolutely. Especially in a state like Virginia. We're talking about a state that has gone Democrat in the last couple of presidential elections, as well. So to see the Republican having to say, I can only win this if I can rally the Trump base and risk turning off the moderates who could swing back and forth is really fascinating.
KING: That's interesting to watch and we'll do more of this next week. The ads that are run in the rural conservative areas versus the ads running in the northern Virginia suburbs -- a little bit of a play going on there. We'll keep in touch.
Up next, the big Asia trip for the President and a big question about North Korea.
[08:38:11] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: North Korea best not make any more threats. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.
We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now we know, North Korea will be a major focus when the President heads to Asia later this week.
Let's take a look first at the trip. Five countries over 12 days, economic issues to talk about, trade, national security issues, some allies, some countries where relations aren't so great as the President talks. But we do know, an up close look at the North Korea crisis and what will the President be thinking about?
Well, go back through the history of just this administration -- all of these North Korean missile launches. The President will be talking to the leaders in South Korea, in Japan, in China. One interesting thing to note -- look at all of this -- April, May and June, March, March, May, and July, August, September.
Here's an interesting footnote. We now are in the longest period of time in the Donald Trump presidency where there has not been a North Korean missile launch. The previous record was about a month. We're at six weeks and counting now since the last launch.
Is the private diplomacy working? Is Kim Jong-Un waiting for the President to be in the neighborhood? We don't know the answer to that question. We do know that the administration sent the Defense Secretary to Asia in advance of the President's trip at the demilitarized zone, from the South looking into the North. This from Jim Mattis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MATTIS, UNITED STATES DEFENSE SECRETARY: North Korean provocations continue to threaten regional and world peace, and despite the unanimous condemnation by the United Nations Security Council, they still proceed. Our goal is not war but rather the complete verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I was hesitant to even talk about this. But I am fascinated by the fact that we are in the longest stretch of the Trump presidency without a North Korean missile launch.
And it comes at a time where we know the Secretary of State says there are some conversations with the North. The President has mocked him for that on Twitter, saying diplomacy is not going to work.
Now it's the most secretive regime on earth. We can't see inside that secret diplomacy, but is it significant that heading into this period, we are now six weeks and counting since the last launch?
PACE: It's at least notable. For the last couple of months, there's been this gap between the rhetoric that we've heard publicly from Donald Trump about North Korea and the rhetoric that you hear privately from administration officials, particularly at the Pentagon and the State Department.
Every time the President says something that indicates that he wants to move toward military action or sees that as the only option on the table, you immediately get this pushback privately from folks in those departments who say, really, we're focused on diplomacy.
There are back-channel communications that have been happening between North Korea and the U.S., which is notable. There is a lot of discussion happening between the U.S. and China.
So whether this holds is deeply uncertain, because we know North Korea is a really uncertain regime, but I think it is worth noting that you have had one month without a missile strike.
DEMIRJIAN: I think you have to make sure that you take into account that there were other things happening in China as well during this six-week period. They had a major political conference in which they were -- you know, it's a once every decade, I believe that that happens.
So it makes sense that North Korea might have actually taken a step back at that moment to see what the lay of the land was going to be heading into it. And now that we have Trump heading to Asia, it's potentially more incentive to wait and see or to maybe do something that's going to mark the moment. And we're not sure which way they're going to go because it's such a secretive regime.
KING: And you mentioned the developments this China. I mean the United States is probably the most underreported story because it's the most significant story, probably --
KING: -- in world affairs is the emergence, the reemergence or the acceleration of President Xi's grip on power. Laid out the new leadership team, no heir apparent in there, clearly, a dominant political presence.
[08:45:04] And listen to the President of the United States here, who has asked for President Xi's help repeatedly on North Korea.
Remember Donald Trump, as a candidate, promised to label China a currency manipulator. We thought he was going to be tough on Chinese trade. He has not done those things. Listen to the President here and how he describes President Xi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He's a powerful man. I happen to think he's a very good person. Now, with that being said, he represents China, I represent the U.S.A. So you know, there's going to always be conflict.
But we have a very good relationship. People say we have the best relationship of any president/president, because he's called president also. Now, some people might call him the king of China, but he's called president. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: It's just fascinating -- how this relationship is not what we thought we were going to get.
JACOBS: He has been so critical and his administration has been so critical of China and yet you can see how much he really respects Xi Jinping as a person and admires the fact that he's almost a king.
But on this Asia trip, on the first -- on the leg to China, there are all sorts of tensions right now. He has criticized the trade deficit between the U.S. and China. He has -- he has said that China should be acting more forcefully on North Korea. He ok'd this investigation into the theft of intellectual property. There are, you know, there are pending possible penalties for importing aluminum foil from China because they're underpricing.
There's various tensions that he's going to need to address privately with Xi over there. But they also have all of these deals that they're planning on brokering while they're over there. So expect a big show of, you know, unity between him and Xi over billions of dollars in investment in the United States.
KING: It is the most complicated, and many would argue, I think rightly so, the most consequential relationship in the world.
Our reporters share from their notebooks next, including a look ahead to the first Obamacare open enrollment without who -- President Obama.
[08:46:57] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: Let's head one last time around the INSIDE POLITICS table, ask our great reporters to share a little something from their notebooks, help you get ahead of the political news just around the corner.
PACE: It's going to be a big week on Capitol Hill for tech giants -- Facebook, Twitter and Google. Representatives from these companies are going to be appearing before lawmakers and they're going to be grilled on two fronts that are related.
One -- how Russia tried to use these platforms to influence the presidential election; and two -- the questions about the overall lack of transparency that these platforms have for their advertising for some of their users.
You've seen Facebook and Twitter try to get ahead of these hearings by announcing some new steps -- Facebook in particular related to being more transparent about who's behind advertising.
It's a way to try to get ahead of some of this grilling, but most importantly for these tech companies, to try to stave off what has really been a growing climate here of discussion around Congress stepping in to regulate these industries in a more aggressive way.
KING: Can't wait. These companies don't talk in public much -- looking forward to it.
DEMIRJIAN: I'm also looking at the meeting on Capitol Hill which is actually happening tomorrow. Secretary Tillerson and Defense Secretary Mattis are heading to Capitol Hill to talk about an AUMF.
Now, this is an interesting juncture, because we've been talking about Niger and the ambush that happened there for a while now, for several days. And Congress has not been pleased with how quickly they were read into what happened. There were concerns about the Pentagon changing its counterterrorism strategy to expand the rules of engagement.
That may kick some lawmakers into higher gear in terms of trying to regulate what the administration is trying to do in its military engagement. So this is going to be a really interesting and imp touchstone moment to basically take the temperature if this Congress is really ready at this point in ways they haven't been for the last few years to say, no, these are the rules of how you're going to be operating and alerting us when it comes the engagement in places.
KING: Long overdue for Congress to do its job in this area. Perry.
BACON: So Wednesday, the start of something new -- Obamacare enrollment without Obama. So we're going to see for the first time how Trump handles these six weeks of Obamacare enrolment. Do they try to encourage people? Do they not encourage people, or something in between there?
And secondly, we'll see states like California and New York, states that are very liberal, how will they handle this? Will they ramp up Obamacare enrollment on their own to make up the fact that the feds don't do it? Or how will they handle this and can the numbers reach what they did last year if the feds are not as involved?
KING: The issue that will not -- will not go away. Jennifer.
JACOBS: Federal Reserve chair -- it's not necessarily the sexiest of issues -- typically a rather dry financial news story. Trump stoked the sense of drama this past week by tweeting a video saying he's going to announce the fed chair next week.
A White House official told me he realizes how consequential this is; that this is one of the most important decisions of his first year.
Janet Yellen, of course, is the current Federal Reserve chairwoman. She was the first woman appointed to that job because this is really important to have -- to have women in the financial world, to have her there, breaking the grass ceiling.
It doesn't look like he's leaning toward her, which would break three decades of tradition. Usually presidents will keep the fed chair that they inherit when they become president. But it does not look like he's leaning towards Yellen. KING: You're right. It doesn't get much attention, but it is huge,
as the President might say. We'll get that this week.
I'll close with this. The Republican tax cut effort ever already juicing the economy with a multi-million dollar lobbying frenzy here in Washington. Now, there are several key battlegrounds as the proposal begins in the House Ways and Means Committee and then makes its way to votes in the full House and then if it passes, on to the Senate.
But one particular fight is especially fierce over the next 72 hours -- the debate over whether to include a new millionaire's tax in the initial proposal. A host of conservative groups and business groups call it bad policy, but it has great political appeal as a buffer to Democratic arguments that Republicans talk about the middle class but are really only out to help the rich.
[08:55:00] Those who oppose the new tax are lobbying furiously over this weekend and as the drafting continues over the next few days knowing that if the official bill due out Wednesday includes that millionaire's tax, finding the votes to strip it out once this debate goes from behind closed doors into the public will become near impossible.
That's it for INSIDE POLITICS.
Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday. Remember we're here weekdays too at noon Eastern.
More on the Russia investigations and the President's new opioid initiative next when Senator Angus King and Governor Chris Christie join "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JAKE TAPPER".
Have a great Sunday.