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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Signs National Defense Authorization Act; Trump's Tweet about Gillibrand; Warren Fires Back at Trump; Alabama Senate Race. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 12, 2017 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:20] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. And a busy one it is.

Just moments away from a bill signing at the Trump White House this morning. This after morning tweets in which the president lashed out at women who accuse him of groping and other sexual harassment. The president also lashing out at the Democratic senator who is calling for his resignation. And, listen to this, he said she would, quote, "do anything" for campaign contributions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: That was an ugly, suggestive tweet. We all know what he was trying to say there. And it's beneath the office of the presidency for him to conduct himself that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And it is Election Day in Alabama. Can Republican Roy Moore overcome allegations he pursued teenage girls when he was a 30 something prosecute or will Doug Jones become the first Democrat to win an Alabama Senate seat in 25 years?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: There's been a lot of money in this race because everybody in this state, most of the people in this nation are watching this election. Why? Why is it? Because it's the first senatorial election after the election of President Donald Trump.

DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: We feel so good about what we've done and what we've said to the people of Alabama and to people of the United States. I don't think that Roy Moore is going to win this election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We'll get you live to Alabama in just a few moments.

But first we begin at the Trump White House. We can show you some live pictures. The president due in the Roosevelt Room any minute now to sign the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018. An important spending blueprint. We'll hear from the president live there.

Also interesting to see if he takes questions at this event after a rather eventful morning in which he is raising eyebrows and raising a fence among many of his critics. The president, today, forcefully dismissing sexual misconduct allegations against him, calling them fabricated stories. We'll look at that tweets in a minute. It won't pass all the fact checks.

But as he denied reprehensible behavior in his past, he provided his critics with new evidence about how he thinks about women. Offensive language in a morning tweet attacking Democratic Senator Kirstin Gillibrand. Just yesterday the senator said the president should resign. In firing back, the president tweeted this, lightweight Senator Kirstin Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer, and someone who had come to my office begged for campaign contributions not so long ago and would do anything for them is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill and crooked. Used.

The senator called that tweet, quote, a sexist smear and she quickly fired back on Twitter as well. You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office.

As we wait for the president, with us here to share their reporting and their insights, Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist," "Bloomberg Businessweek's" Joshua Green, CNN's MJ Lee, and CNN's Sara Murray.

Let's go straight to the White House and listen to the president.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello, folks. How are you?

Thank you very much.

Mr. Vice President, Secretary Mattis, General Dunford, senior military leaders and distinguished guests, thank you all for being here.

As we prepare to sign something that is extremely important, the National Defense Authorization Act, we're signing it into law. This historic legislation demonstrates our unwavering commitment to our men and women in uniform. The greatest fighting force in the history of the world. And we're making it a lot better than even that.

Before we begin, I want to address the terrorist attack that took place yesterday in New York City and to praise the first responders, local police, and federal law enforcement for their quick action. They did an incredible job.

There have now been two terrorist attacks in New York City in recent weeks carried out by foreign nationals here on green cards. The first attacker came through the visa lottery and the second through chain migration. We're going to end both of them, the lottery system and chain migration. We're going to end them fast. Congress must get involved immediately and they are involved immediately and I can tell you we have tremendous support. They will be ended. These attacks underscore the dangers we face from around the globe.

The National Defense Authorization Act could not come at a more opportune or important time. This legislation represents a momentous step towards rebuilding our military and securing the future for our children.

[12:05:03] I applaud the work of the members of both parties who came together to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, something that sounds very nice to my ears. I especially want to thank Chairman Thornberry, who is here with us today, for his tireless efforts.

Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MAC THORNBERRY (R), TEXAS: Thank you, Mr. President.

TRUMP: A fantastic job.

In recent years, our military has undergone a series of deep budget cuts that have severely impacted our readiness, shrunk our capabilities and placed substantial burdens on our war fighters. And great war fighters they are. History teaches us that when you weaken your defenses, you invite aggression. The best way to prevent conflict or (INAUDIBLE) of any kind is to be prepared and really be prepared. Only when the good are strong will peace prevail.

Today with the signing of this defense bill, we accelerate the process of fully restoring America's military might.

I also want to thank Senator John McCain for the work he's done on this bill. He has fought very, very hard to make it just the way he wants it and that we all want it.

This legislation will enhance our readiness, expand and modernize our forces and help provide our service members with the tools that they need to fight and to win. We will fight and win, but hopefully with this we won't have to fight because people will not be wanting to fight with us.

It authorizes funding for our continued campaign to obliterate ISIS. As you know, we've won in the -- in Syria. We've won in Iraq. But they spread to other areas and we're getting them as fast as they spread. We've had more success with ISIS in the last eight months than the entire previous administration has had during its entire term.

It approves missile defense capabilities as we continue our campaign to create maximum pressure on the vile dictatorship in North Korea. We're working very diligently on that. Building up forces. We'll see how it all turns out. It's a very bad situation. A situation that should have been handled long ago by other administrations.

It upgrades our ground combat vehicles, allows for the purchase of new joint strike fighter aircraft and paves the way for beautiful new Virginia class submarines, the finest in the world.

Finally, the defense bill authorizes major investments in our military's greatest weapon of all, it's warriors. The NDAA increases the size of the American armed forces for the first time in seven years and it provides our military service members with their largest pay increase in eight years.

Now Congress must finish the job by eliminating the defense sequester and passing a clean appropriations bill. I think it's going to happen. We need our military. It's got to be perfecto.

At this time of grave global threats, I urge Democrats in Congress to drop their shutdown threats and descend clean funding and a clean funding bill to my desk that fully funds our great military. Protecting our country should always be a bipartisan issue, just like today's legislation.

We must work across party lines to give our heroic troops the equipment, resources and support that they have earned 1,000 times over. Together, we will send a clear message to allies and a firm warning to our enemies and adversaries. America is strong, proud, determined and ready. And I might add, when we're complete, and it won't be that long, we will be stronger than ever before. By a lot.

So thank you to all of our friends in Congress and we do appreciate the bipartisan support. And we appreciate your hard work on this historic defense authorization. And thank you, most of all, to our brave warriors for standing watch over our country, our families and our freedom. Brand-new beautiful equipment is on its way. The best you've ever had by far. We make the best in the world and you're going to have it.

[12:10:01] God bless you. God bless our military. And God bless America. Thank you very much. Thank you.

I won't be showing all of this to everybody, believe it or not. It's a lot of pages. That's a lot of pages.

(INAUDIBLE).

QUESTION: Mr. President, what did you mean when you said that Kirstin Gillibrand would do anything for a campaign contribution?

TRUMP: Thank you, everybody.

KING: You see the president of the United States there leaving the Roosevelt Room after signing the National Defense Authorization Act. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry, behind him, as well as the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the vice president.

The president, in his remarks, also making a play for immigration policy in the wake of yesterday's attempted terrorist attack in New York City, but ignoring a question -- I believe that was from CNN's Jim Acosta as he left the room there, asked about, what did he mean this morning by this tweet. The president this morning, on a day when we could be talking about him signing a legislation that does keep one of his campaign promises, to increase military spending, to get new equipment, new supplies and a pay raise to the United States military. Instead, we're asking him about this tweet this morning. Lightweight Senator Kirstin Gillibrand, a total flunkey for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office begging for campaign contributions not so long ago, and then this, and would do anything for them is now in the ring fighting against Trump.

Again, Mary Katherine Ham of "The Federalist," Joshua Green of "Bloomberg Businessweek," CNN's MJ Lee and Sara Murray.

The president of the United States decides what he wants to talk about when he sets the tone of his day with his morning tweets. The senator calls this sexist. It certainly is. It's boorish. You could say it's reprehensible. Why? Why -- she did call for him to resign yesterday. This is the president's counterpunch.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't think that this president feels like there is going to be any kind of actual ramifications for him when he does something like this. And, you know, he has good reason to believe that. He was elected president of the United States when more than a dozen women came out and said, you know, that he sexually harassed and sexually abused them and he won anyway. So I think he sort of feels unleashed to be able to do this kind of thing, at least on Twitter, and then kind of turn around and turn to his sort of legislative agenda for the day.

Now, this sends aides crazy because they have to say no, no, no, no, what he tweets in the morning, that's not the agenda for the day. It's what we're doing throughout the day. But you can't ignore things like that. You can't ignore language like that. And you certainly can't ignore it in the context of everything this president has said and done in the past.

KING: Yes, the president's defenders say, well, you can't read his mind. You don't know what he meant when he said that. But, give me a break, there are some -- there are some words that might be in a gray area. When you're talking about campaign contributions and then you say that, the president gets no pass on that one.

JOSHUA GREEN, "BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK": Right. Well, you don't need to read his mind. You can read his Twitter feed.

KING: Right.

GREEN: Clearly the implication there was he was charging Senator Gillibrand with trading sex for campaign donations. There's no other way to read the tweet, and it's appalling.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: And I don't think it's a coincidence that he has chosen this morning to be the time that he is really lashing out in such a personal way against Senator Gillibrand. I mean it's not just Senator Gillibrand. There are now a number of senators who are calling on him to actually resign because of the sexual misconduct allegations. And we're also seeing members now feeling more free to say there should be a congressional investigation. He is feeling the heat and I think his sort of default mode is to lash out personally against people, often using Twitter. KING: All right, five Democratic senators now have called for the

president to resign because of the sexual harassment allegations lodged against him in the campaign. The White House answer is, asked and answered, the American people vote. It should be left there. But, as you note, in this new environment we have here, we have members of Congress resigning, members of the media under scrutiny, members of corporate America under scrutiny. A lot of these women have come back in the two days doing -- some of them doing national televised interviews. The president, in his tweet this morning, saying, he never knew them, never met them. We can prove in several of the cases that's demonstrably false. He appeared on television with them, was interviewed by them. In many of the cases, you can prove that's demonstrably false.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Kirstin Gillibrand, we'll bring you sound from her in a few minutes, we hope. Had a press conference up there on Capitol Hill. Said the president's smear she thought was sexist. She said she won't be silenced.

A Democratic colleague coming to her aide as well. Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame Senator Gillibrand. Do you know who you're picking a fight with. Good luck with that @realdonaldtrump. Nevertheless she persisted.

Excuse my language in the lunch hour, but this is where we're going here. The president, for whatever reason, deciding to say what he said about the senator and the Democrats see an opening, an opportunity here and the last thing they're going to do is be silenced by this president.

[12:15:01] MARY KATHARINE HAM, "THE FEDERALIST": Well, yes, and I think it will do her tons of favors to get in a back and forth with Donald Trump of this nature. This is a situation where he could have a decently clean political hit by saying, look, you came to me for donations. He also gave her donations. So it goes both ways.

But what it -- this -- perhaps more than the actual content of the tweet, I hate this thing where they pretend that the implication is not there, like with Megyn Kelly when he said blood coming out of her wherever. We all know what you're talking about. We're all adults. We get it. And so I don't like that part of it. If this is the ballgame you want to play, own up to it.

When it comes to the resignation calls, look, I think, how do you adjudicate this when you can't adjudicate it in court, through public opinion and people resign through a combination of shame and political necessity, or at least lack of political hurt. None of those things are at play for Donald Trump right now. The political hurt comes from like sort of on the rest of the Republican Party about which there are sort of challenges. He doesn't really care often.

MURRAY: Right. And it's another opportunity for Democrats to sort of claim this moral high ground, to claim this victory. They're saying, look at how we treated Al Franken versus how you guys are treating Roy Moore. Look at what the president is tweeting versus us calling him out on behavior that is boorish, that is lewd, that is completely beneath the office of the presidency.

But like -- but like you said, that creates more problems for the Republicans who are serving in Congress than it does for the president.

GREEN: Well, and it's also worth pointing out, Senator Gillibrand was the one who provoked the fight on his issue. She was the first senator to come out and call on Al Franken to resign. That started a wave. So this is very much her issue. I don't think it's any accident that she chose to target Donald Trump knowing that she would probably get some kind of response like this. It would really galvanize Democrats.

HAM: Well, and it must be said that with -- in the Franken case there is a Democrat governor in that state who can replace him. So there's a lack of sort of the worst kind of political hurt here. If that situation were different, I think you would have a different response.

LEE: And none of this --

HAM: That's just how politics works. And it's sad.

KING: Right.

LEE: Yes, and that -- I was going to say, none of this is happening in a vacuum. You know, I think, for a little while, there was some skepticism about whether this kind of moment would come to Washington, would come to Capitol Hill. You know, we saw a lot of sort of powerful figures being fired in Hollywood and then in media. But a lot of people were, you know, still hesitant to call out members of Congress by name, but slowly those names have started to come out, leading to resignations of members of Congress. And I think that's why we are seeing this moment. You know, a lot of people sort of raising the question of, if members of Congress are being held accountable, then what about the president of the United States?

KING: Now, what the Democrats are asking for, and they have no venue for this, the Republicans have the majority, is the House Oversight Committee investigation to allow these women who, again, came forward and made their case in 2012. They feel they were not given enough media attention perhaps. There are other things happening in the campaign. In any event. The American people voted as they voted. They want to -- the Democrats want a House Oversight Committee investigation to essentially revisit this question, to give these women a platform. The odds of that are zero or less given the Republican majority. Is there evidence that they'll crack?

LEE: Well, so far we have not seen Republicans getting behind this idea of a congressional investigation. But I am told that at least men, Democratic men, are beginning to sign on to this letter. So, I mean, that could give it some weight as well.

HAM: I think it mostly depends on -- like this would be -- in the future, post 2018, if Democrats took the House.

MURRAY: Right. HAM: And it also must be said that the last time a party went after a sitting president for a combination of sexual misconduct and lying to investigators, it did not go so well for that party. So, we'll see how it turns out this time if they want to go there.

KING: It did not go so well.

And I want to mention, the president always says, he's a counterpuncher. He never throws the first punch. This counterpunch has reprehensible, inexcusable, boorish, sexist language in it. The counterpunch is to this. I now am looking, just in from the number two Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer, calling for an ethics investigation on Nevada Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen. He's accused of sexual harassment against campaign workers.

So to your point earlier, Democrats are trying, where they have these within their family, trying to get out ahead of these things and move the investigations to keep -- I don't know if there's a high ground in the politics of this. It's a messy issue. But they believe that they can show the American people, we're acting quickly, holding our members accountable, and then they point down to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

HAM: I think it's a good political move. And I think it will likely work. And their bet is with -- certainly with suburban and ex-urban, better educated women, Republican voter, traditionally Republican, who maybe didn't go for Trump, that that will happen again in 2018. It's not a bad bet.

LEE: And members are still trying to sort of figure out, what is the bar, what is the point at which leadership should call on certain members of Congress to resign. Why not Farenthold, for example, and why somebody else who has been accused of sexual misconduct, like Trent Franks, although that story was a doozy and I think it was clear to everybody that he had to go. These questions are still out there and I think leadership is still trying to figure out, how do we deal with these (INAUDIBLE).

GREEN: Well, it's not clear there's going to be a uniform standard either.

LEE: Right.

GREEN: I mean we've seen a very different response within the Democratic Party I think than we have in the Republican Party. Certainly some Republicans, Paul Ryan, the House speaker, have been very aggressive in pushing out members like Trent Franks. But, on the other hand, it seems to me that Democrats are moving a little quicker, probably for political reasons, to fix this problem on their side than maybe Republicans are on their own.

[12:20:05] HAM: At the very least, if we could just stop having taxpayers pay for their settlements on both sides --

MURRAY: Wouldn't that be nice (ph).

HAM: That would be great. That would be a victory for everyone.

KING: Well, it would be -- it would be a down payment. It would be a down payment in a conversation that's going to continue.

And to that end, an election -- a big Senate election in Alabama today has some of these questions being litigated too. Can Roy Moore, the Republican, win a Senate seat in a ruby red state despite allegations -- credible allegations that when he was a 30-something year old prosecutor he pursued teenage girls?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

Today, as we speak, voters finally making up their minds in the national election Republicans never wanted. This morning in Alabama, turnout at the polls reported to be fairly steady. The Republican candidate, Roy Moore, sticking to his Election Day superstition, you see him right there, riding horseback to the ballot box.

[12:25:06] When the polls close, we'll have an answer to this question, can a candidate accused of assaulting teen girls when he was a 30 something year old district attorney win a seat in the United States Senate. On the ballot it's Moore versus Democrat Doug Jones. But in the national consciousness, this race, as you all know, viewed as much more.

For those appalled by the accusations, the election pretty much a referendum on human decency. For those who disbelieve the women, it has become a conservative call to arms against the media and meddlesome outsiders. If the Republican wins, his own party will launch an ethics investigation, maybe even try to deny him Senate committee seats. If the Democrat wins, the GOP Senate majority shrinks to 51 and talk about anti-Trump 2018 wave will explode.

The counting starts in eight hours. Let's give you a quick preview on what to look for.

This is the map. Doug Jones versus Roy Moore, Alabama, 2017. Let's go back in time, 2016 presidential election. You don't need me to tell you, Alabama is a ruby red Republican state, 63 percent, just shy of that for President Trump. Go back for 2012, 61 percent for Mitt Romney over then President Barack Obama seeking a second term. This is reliably red country.

So can Doug Jones win? Yes, he can. Let's take a look at the last time that Roy Moore was on the ballot running for the state supreme court. Roy Moore always underperforms. Only 52 percent in a royal red Republican state.

So what happens here? For Doug Jones to win, number one, he has to emulate what the Democrat did in that race against Roy Moore back in 2012, win in Montgomery, win in Selma, win in Tuscaloosa, win big in Birmingham. Not just win, but win big. Young voters, college voters, especially African-Americans. Run up big margins in the cities, big margins where you have an African-American base. Not just percentages, numbers. Doug Jones needs the numbers. Big, Democratic turnout like we saw in Virginia, like we saw in New Jersey a few weeks ago. But even that won't be enough.

What else do you look for? Look in the suburbs. Look outside of Huntsville, up here. Do Republican voters, more moderate voters, do they go away? What do you do here in Shelby County, the Republican suburbs outside of Birmingham? Do moderate Republican voters either stay home or come out and vote for Doug Jones?

That's another thing to look for. It's no secret why the president did a rally in Pensacola, Florida. No, he didn't go to Alabama, but he was talking to suburban Republican voters down here in the Mobile area.

Another very important moment as we count the votes tonight, is there any blue on the map down in this part of the state tonight when we're counting the votes? If that's the case, Doug Jones will be in play.

Here's something else. How many Republicans will write in a candidate? As you can see, Roy Moore just cracked 50 percent back in 2012. A lot of Democrats think Doug Jones can't crack 50 percent, but maybe he can get to 48 percent. So do enough Republicans write in somebody else to bring Roy Moore down and essentially lower the line of victory to 47, 48 percent? That would give Doug Jones a chance.

We'll count the votes starting in eight hours. Here's Roy Moore last night. He knows what voters are thinking about in the final hours. He frames it this way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: One thing I don't like that the media has said, that a lot of people who are Republicans claim they're going to vote for me and just ignore what they believe. I'm going to tell you, if you don't believe in my character, don't vote for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Roy Moore last night.

Let's just go around the table and set the stakes of this race.

Number one, what about for President Trump? He was late to the endorsement, but then he came all in here. If Doug Jones wins this state, in ruby red Alabama, it's not only going to be a rebuke of Roy Moore, is it not also a rebuke of the president of the United States, who went all in, did a robo calls, was on Twitter this morning, did the rally down in Pensacola?

MURRAY: I think it is a rebuke of the president of the United States and it's also another kind of embarrassing political defeat if that does happen. Remember, before he was for Roy Moore, he was for Luther Strange, who lost in this primary. And we know that the president was infuriated for a while about being out there, about backing Luther Strange, and then finding himself on the wrong end of that primary. And so, look, this is ultimately a guy who likes to win. He'll will very irritated if he chose the wrong horse in this. But he'll also be very irritated that we will all be on television talking about it as a rebuke to the president's sort of moral authority, as well as his political power.

KING: The Democrats say they win anyway. That even if they lose the Senate seat, that Roy Moore comes to Washington as a tainted Republican senator and the party has to go through the anguish over, do we even seat him? Do we try to expel him? Do we send it to the Ethics Committee? Do we give him committee assignments? Do we go anywhere near this guy?

GREEN: Well, (INAUDIBLE). Sure. I think Democrats would rather have the seat. But, you know, if Moore were to get elected, the fact that it would highlight the problems that Republicans are having with women and issues of sexual harassment, it would keep Trump in his own issues on the forefront. I don't think it would be bad from a political standpoint, but, you know, any Democrat who says they're fine either way I don't think is telling the truth.

LEE: And I think that this --

[12:29:58] HAM: Well, and, by the way, the fact that it would cause problems for Republicans, that he would cause problems for Republicans here is a feature, not a bug, for Republican voters in Alabama. That's part of the reason to vote for Roy Moore, not something they're doing it in spite of.

KING: I think it's one of the understated reasons why Donald Trump won the presidency.