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Roy Moore Refuses to Concede; Ryan Jokes about a Thankless Job; Trump Transition Lawyer Accuses Mueller of Improperly Obtaining Emails; GOP Leaders Win Over Two Holdouts: Rubio & Corker. 8-9a ET

Aired December 17, 2017 - 08:00   ET



[08:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): Time to vote. Republicans say they have a deal to pass a giant tax cut.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It will be the greatest Christmas present that a lot of people have ever received. It will be something special.

KING: Plus, the president claims he's getting a raw deal in the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: Well, it's a shame what's happened with the FBI. How they've done that is really, really disgraceful and you have a number of angry people that are seeing it.

KING: And Alabama elects a Democratic senator and sets off talk of anti-Trump 2018 wave.

DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA SENATOR-ELECT: Tonight is a night of rejoicing, because as Dr. King said, the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

KING: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.


KING: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King, and to our viewers in the United States and around the world, thank you for sharing your Sunday.

Forget the normal pre-Christmas lull. It is a very big week ahead, the finish line was in sight now for the president's new priority number one.

After months of trying and failing to repeal Obamacare, a big tax plan cut set for final votes this week.


REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), CHAIR, WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: We deserve, Americans deserve, a new tax code of a new era for American prosperity. That's exactly what the tax cuts and jobs act does. We listened, our lawmakers listened to their constituents, families and businesses, and this tax reform reflects the priorities of the American people.


KING: Plus, two Sunday interview appearances today for Senator-elect Doug Jones, that Democrat stunning win this past week in Alabama, as Republicans worry both their House and Senate majorities are at risk in next year's midterm elections.


JONES: Alabama has been at a crossroads. We have been at crossroads in the past. And unfortunately we have usually taken the wrong fork. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, you took the right road!


KING: And President Trump's lawyers are meeting this week with special counsel Robert Mueller. The Russia meddling investigation now reaches deep into the West Wing, even the Oval Office himself.

One reason? The president keeps trying to suggest it's all a witch hunt.


TRUMP: There is absolutely no collusion. That has been proven. When you look at the committees, whether it's the Senate or the House, everybody walk -- my worst enemies walk out and say, there is no collusion, but we'll continue to look. They're spending millions and millions of dollars. There is absolutely no collusion.


KING: With us this Sunday to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Sara Murray, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times", Sahil Kapur of "Bloomberg", and "Politico's" Eliana Johnson.

We begin the hour with a dramatic and deliberate effort by President Trump and his allies to question the integrity of special counsel Robert Mueller who leads the Russian meddling investigation.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The fix is in against Donald Trump from the beginning and they were pro-Hillary. We understand people have political views, but they're expressing their views with such animus, venom towards the now president of the United States. They can't possibly be seen as objective, or transparent or evenhanded or fair.


KING: Note that banner on Fox News: a coup in America. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway's complaint is about anti-Trump text

messages by FBI agents, one of whom was assigned to the Russia investigation. What the president, Kellyanne Conway, and other Trump allies keep skipping, however, is the fact that the special counsel fired the agent the day he found out about the text.

And then there's this, new attack. In a letter to Congress, lawyers for the president's transition team, this is the letter right here, they alleged that special counsel Mueller unlawfully gained access to e-mail sent and received by those helping the president-elect between election day and the inauguration.

Now, that's an ominous charge, unlawful conduct by the prosecutor. But consider the context. If the president's transition team or his current legal team really thought they had a case, Mueller was violating the law, they would make it in court before a judge, not in a letter to Congress that carries zero legal weight.

Responding to the letter overnight, the spokesman for Mueller said this. When we have obtained e-mails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner's consent or appropriate criminal process.

Now, the timing here is fascinating. The president's legal team meets with Mueller and his top deputies this week with two indictments and two plea deals in hand, including the cooperation of former security adviser Michael Flynn, it is beyond clear the investigation is intensifying, not winding down as team Trump had hoped.

Let's start with this legal back and forth between the president's transition team, Kellyanne Conway on television, a deliberate, public effort to try to undermine Bob Mueller, to say he's acting unlawfully, he's cutting corners, his team is biased.

And then the response from Mueller's office last night, which strikes me as a little bit men versus boys in the sense they come after him with a letter -- forgive me.

[08:05:05] This is a stunt. It means nothing. Sent by the president's transition team to Congress. Doesn't ask for anything, it's not a legal document, they're not going to court, making a case against Mueller.

So, his statement, they don't usually say much, the special counsel's office, twice he uses the word criminal -- criminal investigation, criminal pursuit of evidence. That's a big deal.

ELIANA JOHNSON, REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes. I mean, the assumption that because Mueller's team has these e-mails, they were obtained illegally, I think is a faulty assumption. And there's many ways that his team could have obtained the e-mails, most of them legally, and I think it certainly seems to me that they are releasing this in order to attract attention.

And the larger largest project, really, is to turn the Mueller investigation into the Starr investigation, which some people took seriously, but by the time that the findings were released, they were considered -- it was considered a political and politicized process that was dismissed by half the country.

KING: It's a great point you make, as Democrats howled about how Republicans, some Republicans, were smearing Robert Mueller, they did this themselves, back in the '90s, they smeared Ken Starr, it's an excellent point to make there.

But from the president's standpoint, Kellyanne Conway is not out saying that by accident. The president himself alluded a bit to this earlier in the week. It sets up an interesting conversation. At the very moment his lawyers are going to sit down with the special counsel, the special counsel is going to raise his hand and say, cut it out.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think this meeting is important because it's going to set the mood for the president over the next few weeks, but also, remember, over the week of his sort of Christmas break when he's not going to be surrounded necessarily by all of his people, where he's a little less reined in, he has a lot more time to gobble up cable news, he has a lot more time to tweet.

So, that sort of sets his move and he's going to be a little bit more unchained. But I also think this could set into motion how they do on a continued shaping or try to shape the public perception of Bob Mueller. We see the president out there insisting that there is no collusion and everybody has already agreed to that. That is his attempt to shape the public opinion of this.

Now, nobody has concluded that. The special counsel's investigation hasn't concluded that. The House and Senate has not, but I think you're beginning to see he and his team try to figure out how they can try to win this war based on public perception rather than doing something, you know, more dramatic that might imperil the presidency like trying to fire Mueller.

JONATHAN MARTIN, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I was struck by the growing divide between the president's legal team and his political advisers. You know, the president's lawyers and John Dowd certainly, Ty Cobb, have really praised Mueller in the past and talked about how they're cooperating fully, this was a professional operation. That was kind of their M.O. for months and months and months.

And now, after the Flynn indictment, John, as you point out this is widening, not winding down, you see a pivot among his political advisers there with Kellyanne Conway on TV really going after Mueller. And I kind of wonder how that plays out in terms with the president and his legal team. If the president feels like he's under fire here, does he make changes on his legal team and take a different tact.

KING: It's a key point. After the big meeting this week, the president is going to get briefed by his legal team, does he change course? Does he understand? Michael Flynn is cooperating. Papadopoulos cuts a plea deal. The Manafort-Gates trials are scheduled for the middle of next year and all the talk with their lawyers that there may be more to come, superseding indictments there.

Jared Kushner's attorney is looking for a public relations professional to go out there and publicly make their case for them and he's telling people who might be interested in that job, this is going to go well into next year. This isn't going anywhere.

SAHIL KAPUR, BLOOMBERG NEWS: It's not. This is a PR move. And it's a PR move as the investigation is ramping up. Even if this document has no legal weight, as we suspect it might not, there is a campaign by the White House and by the president's allies and the conservative media to discredit this campaign, and it's not working overall with the public. By a wide margin, Americans approve of this probe. 63 percent, according to a recently associated press release, 81 percent of Republicans think this investigation is politically motivated, and we are seeing that show up in how Republican lawmakers on the hill behave and how they approach this. The Rosenstein hearing before the judiciary committee, Republican after Republican was taking swing after swing of him, pointing out these text messages. It matters. This is the stuff that makes its way into the living rooms of Trump voters and many Republicans.

KING: It does, especially if you watch Fox News, whether it's Judge Jeanine or Jesse Watters or Sean Hannity, other programs, they are making the case that this is a biased investigation against the president. The coup headline banner on the Jesse Waters show.

You make a good point about the Republican base. Republican after Republican tried to get him to say Mueller has overstepped his bounds, Mueller is outside over the realm of these things, he shouldn't be looking at financial transactions, what are the Manafort-Gates indictments about, they're not about the campaign. What is he doing?

This man -- this is the deputy attorney general, a man with years of law enforcement, viewed credibly by people in both parties, appointed by President Trump. He says, yes, he supervises Robert Mueller and --


[08:10:02] ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: There are a lot of media stories speculating about what the special counsel may or may not be doing. I know what he's doing. I'm appropriately exercising my oversight responsibilities. So, I can assure you that the special counsel is conducting himself consistently with our understanding about the scope of his investigation.


KING: I mean, that is a 2x4 of a Trump appointee to the critics of this investigation, saying he has to check in with me before he does anything, that's how the law works, and I'm good.

MURRAY: You know, one of the interesting things about sort of how this investigation has played out and how the team has tried to shape public opinion, is that we have seen so little of this in public. So much of this has happened behind closed doors, so it has been sort of cable news appearances where the president and his team have tried to shake public opinion.

It's so different than when we look back at previous scandals and we look back, for instance, at Watergate, and this is one of the risks the president faces if this investigation does stretch into 2018, if he loses control of one or more chambers, that these things that are happening behind closed doors, the opportunity to hit the president with a 2x4, that could come more and more, more of this could spill out into the public and that's one of things that I don't think necessarily that the president and his team fully appreciate.

Yes, this is an investigation that has hung over his White House, but it's largely been conducted behind closed doors.

MARTIN: And the president is going to be emboldened to move on Mueller, the more you hear these Republicans on Hill talking down Mueller, talking down the FBI, suggesting that there is some kind of bias.

If the president keeps hearing more and more of that, I think it's going to be easier for him to say, why am I even keeping this guy around if it's not going to be --

MURRAY: They have my back.

MARTIN: Yes, exactly.

KING: Well, Democrats picked up rumors this past week that the president was about to fire Bob Mueller. Again, he was going to do it right before Christmas. The president's lawyer says that's not happening.

I think the Democrats are talking about that to make sure in most other public conversations they can say, Mr. President, you can't do that. But to your point, one of the fascinating things for me here, when the White House suddenly gets more aggressive, is based on how we've watched them act during the campaign and during the 11 months in office, is they know a lot of things we don't know. They're getting briefed by some of the attorneys involved.


KING: They know what the special counsel is asking for, they know the avenues the inquiry. Again, as a mentioned, Jared Kushner's legal team is gearing and beefing up. So, they know that at the White House. This was interesting, I thought, from James Comey and all these attacks on bob Mueller, the fired former FBI director, who was central to the question of whether the president was trying to obstruct justice, trying to obstruct the investigation, tweeted this out: the citizen's safety lies in the prosecutor who serves the law and not passion or purposes, quoting Robert H. Jackson, a former attorney general and Supreme Court justice in the Nuremberg prosecutor.

One of the interesting subplots of all this is from the sidelines now, James Comey has taken it as his responsibility seems like, almost like he thinks of it as an obligation to poke the president every now and then.

KAPUR: Very often, an obscure subtweets. He doesn't take a direct shot at him, but he quotes something that makes an illusion.

Look, I think this is shaping up to be a 2018 campaign issue. I think Democrats are increasingly going to argue if the Republicans stay in control, they're not going to let this investigation kind of move to its logical conclusion and, you know, where justice is dealt and you have Republicans who I think are at least talking about the idea of a message where they point out that, you know, keep us in power or Democrats are going to try to impeach President Trump.

KING: Well, I think if Mueller has proven anything, he's a seasoned, thick-skinned prosecutor who is not going to let these attacks hit him. The question is whether in Congress or the White House, there is some effort to rein him in or fire him. But good luck with that if they try.

Everybody, sit tight.

Next, Republicans believe they're about to finally deliver on a big promise: tax cuts.

First, though, politicians say the darndest thing. Listen here, "Saturday Night Live's" take on a first family Christmas discussion.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right. You can finally say that again because the war on Christmas is over. It will soon be replaced by a war with North Korea, with the cozy fire in the fireplace, it is burning all natural, all-American coal, which is coming back in a big, big way.

I've had an amazing -- absolutely amazing first year in office. A lot of people have been saying it was the greatest year in the history of America and maybe the entire planet Earth.



[08:18:11] KING: Welcome back.

President Trump hits the 11-month mark this week. And while it has proven more than a little dangerous this year to say deals are sealed, Republicans do appear to be on the verge of finally delivering a huge, first legislative win.


TRUMP: It will be the largest tax cut in the history of our country, and I will say the Republican senators and congressmen and women have been incredible. So, I think we will get there. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, the House and the Senate both plan votes this week. Health issues are part of the Senate drama. Republicans can only afford to lose two votes, and it's not clear the ailing senators John McCain and Thad Cochran will be able to return to work.

But Tennessee's Bob Corker switched from a no to a yes on Friday, a big sign to the leadership, with the vice president on hand to break a tie if necessary, believes it can get the planned tax cut plan through.

Any doubt about that? Any doubt?

KAPUR: No, not really.

Even if McCain and Cochran aren't there, they still have 50 votes, and with Pence to break the tie, it's likely there.

The Corker flip is a huge thing. He didn't even get anything for that flip. Senator Rubio bargained at the end, held out, got an extension of the child tax credit, Susan Collins got her medical expense deduction, preservation, Ron Johnson got his pass-through tax cut. So, there were a lot of deals cut at the last minute, and they seem to have unanimous support right now.

We're still waiting on Susan Collins' official position, but she seems pretty much there.

KING: Unless, we continue the conversation. Let's just show people if they haven't been following the debate what happens in this tax bill. Again, the House and Senate have reached a compromised plan. They'll vote this week, that lowers individual rates, two times standard deduction, drops the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, increases the child tax credit. That was the thing Rubio held out for, caps state and local tax deduction. Fewer Americans would pay the estate tax and notably, it eliminates the Obamacare individual mandate.

Now, the Republicans think, their number one thing seems to be, we got something big done. Number two, the argument then is that they hope it will -- helps them in 2018. They hope economic growth will pick, that their own base will say they did something, that their donors will say, OK, we'll open our wallets now.

[08:20:03] They, at least, got something done.

Are they right?

JOHNSON: I mean, I think they genuinely hope this has a stimulative effect on the economy. And Larry Kudlow, the Reagan-era economist who was pitching this bill hard to senators and twisting arms on the Hill, he was not happy with the way that -- he advised the Trump campaign, I should say, but he was not happy with the way that the individual side of this bill turned out. Very happy with the enormous reduction in the corporate tax rate and essentially said, look, to the Democrats, you tried your way for eight years, let us try our way. You know, no guarantee this necessarily gives a boost to the economy, but the proof will be in the pudding, and we'll see. And if it doesn't, you know, come back to us and tell us we were wrong.

KING: And as many said throughout the year, from all Republicans in Washington, Republican president, Republican House, Republican Senate, if you can't even cut taxes, then why do you have a Republican Party?

MARTIN: Right.

KING: That's been sort of the --


MARTIN: That's what they're here for, yes, exactly.

Look, I think it's good to get their donors, to get them off their back, to give them something literally and figuratively. I think it's good for the kind of base of the party that wants something to get done in Washington.

Count me as very skeptical that this can impact their prospects in the midterms, it's not because the bill is unpopular, but because you got a president who's mired below 40 percent right now with a blazing stock market, rising economic growth, plunging unemployment numbers, if he can't find his way to talk (INAUDIBLE) now, I'm just not convinced that this will change anything next year. A big chunk of this country is appalled that he is president of the United States. Appalled.

KING: Yes, right.

MARTIN: A tax cut bill is not going to change their view. A swing voter in a high-income district who thinks he's unfit to be president is not going to suddenly change her mind next year because he got a tax cut. It's not going to happen.

MURRAY: But it is a kind of stunning contradiction, because if you look back historically, how the economy is doing is so important to how people vote. It's so important to people's perceptions of the president. And this is the kind of thing that, you know, I'm sure, Kellyanne Conway is sitting there, you know, feeling more positive than we are right now because --

MARTIN: Both (ph) Ed Gillespie.

MURRAY: -- because she seems -- right, but this contradiction that the president can't seem to overcome, it's why we see him constantly tweeting about the stock market, constantly tweeting about the jobs numbers, because he feels like people should like him more because the economy is doing better.

But John is right, that there is just this sense with this president that he cannot break through to the swing voters, that he needs to do something more than just cut taxes before they're willing to believe that he is an accomplished, effective executive. (CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: That being said, in terms of his rhetoric, he's done -- or his actions, he's done very little to expand beyond the base of the party even if the bill is an attempt to do that.

KING: Right, and this bill --


KING: -- at least on that surface, that bill will not help there because no Democrat is going to vote for it.

KAPUR: Right.

KING: The only thing it is --


KING: You have 10 Trump state Democrats, Democrat incumbents in states the president won on the ballot next year, none of them felt compelled to vote for these tax cuts.

MARTIN: In '01, how many Democrats they got for that bill? A lot.


MARTIN: Dianne Feinstein voted for that bill, by the way, in '01. You know, you have zero Democrats now, not Joe Manchin, not Heidi Heitkamp, zero.

KAPUR: And we've seen how well that played out when Democrats tried to pass a major piece of legislation on a partisan vote, they thought it would become more popular once it pass, and people thought the benefits did not happen.

I think the big question between now and 2018 is going to be what people feel as a result of this bill. They're not going to file their 2018 taxes until April of 2019 after the midterms. The only thing they're going to feel is somewhere between $15 to $23 per week --

KING: Right.

KAPUR: -- and their withholding. Is that going to enough? President Obama passed the stimulus plan in 2009, a $800 tax cut for 95 percent of working married couples. They didn't feel it. Only 12 percent of them thought they got a tax cut, a much higher percentage of thought they got a tax hike.

KING: It's a great point because everyone will get a tax cut. For some people, it will be modest. For some people who are going check to check, you know, $100 or $200 makes a big difference. Let's not -- let's not minimize that.

However, this is not, if you go back in time, corporations get a good tax cut here, middle class Americans get some tax cuts here. I think the question is, do it create jobs in your community, is the factory hiring, do you feel better writ-large about the economic conditions around you? That will be a key test because this tax bill does not meet this promise from candidate Trump.


TRUMP: The largest reductions are for the middle class who have been forgotten.


The middle class with family of two children will get basically, approximately a 35 percent tax cut.


KING: The middle class is getting nowhere near a 35 percent tax cut. So, candidates all the time, all candidates say things in a campaign that doesn't turn out to be true. President Trump is not unique in that regard. Candidates make promises and the final product is not like it.

But the question is, can he convince people, A, this is the best deal I could get, and B, you know, just trust me, you're going to see this wave of economic growth?

JOHNSON: The biggest weakness, I think, of this -- one of the biggest weaknesses has been -- there has been zero sales pitch for any legislation from this White House not on the health care bill, not on the tax bill.

[08:25:03] And there's been very little sales pitch from Congress. There was a bit more from Paul Ryan on this tax bill, but there was no sales pitch from Mitch McConnell on the health care bill that then failed by one vote and very little on the tax bill, either.

KING: I do think, unlike 2010, Republicans will run on this tax bill in 2010. Democrats mostly ran from Obamacare in 2010. We'll see how that one plays out.

Up next, we'll learn more today about how Senator-elect Doug Jones views the issues. That Democrat stunning Alabama win already resetting expectations for the 2018 midterms.



[08:30:14] JUDGE ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: We are indeed in the struggle to preserve our republic, our civilization and our religion and to set free a suffering humanity. And the battle rages on. This has been a very close race, and we are awaiting certification by the secretary of state.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JOHN KING, CNN HOST: As you can see in here right there, Roy Moore still won't concede Alabama senate race but just about every other Republican facing reality. Democrat Doug Jones will join the Senate in early 2018.

Let's take a look. His win has proved to many, that new year could bring a giant anti-Trump Republican wave. Ruby red Alabama just elected a Democratic senator, first time in 25 years.

Why? In part, African-American turnout in urban areas. Look at the margins up here -- Madison County where Huntsville is. Let's move down here, Birmingham -- this is the biggest county, Jefferson County. Wow -- 68 percent to 30 percent, African-Americans especially came out and voted in droves.

But that's not all. Look just next to Birmingham here in Shelby County. Yes, Roy Moore won this suburban county, but that is not the margin the Republican needs in the close-in suburbs. Roy Moore needs to do better than that.

And the reason people think 2018 wave for the Democrats is it's not just Alabama. Let's go back to the Virginia governor's race. Yes, here close-in, the Democratic base -- look at these margins, turned out hugely in the government's race.

But then let's start move over here. Loudoun County used to be Republican. Look how Democratic it is. The margin here, nowhere near where a Republican needs.

It's not just around D.C. Go down to the Richmond suburbs, drop down here. Again, the Republican wins but just barely. That's a dead heat in a suburban area that used to be reliably Republican.

So Democrats look at this map in New Jersey, in Virginia, in Alabama. Listen to Nancy Pelosi here. She thinks she may go from Democratic leader back to Speaker.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: As you saw in Alabama, you saw in Virginia before that, suburban Republicans are in trouble, very serious trouble. If Republicans think they have a problem now, wait until they raise taxes on millions, millions of middle class families and hand a tax break to corporations to ship jobs overseas.


KING: I mean when you cumulatively look at the three races it's easy for Republicans to say New Jersey is blue. It's almost easy, a rationalization for Republicans to say Virginia is trending more and more blue, therefore so what.

A Democrat just won Alabama. If you look at the suburban slump and it's not -- it wasn't just Roy Moore. It wasn't just Roy Moore. The White House can say it's just Roy Moore. He's a bad candidate. He had all the flaws and the allegations against him.

There is an anti-Trump animus among traditionally Republican voters in the suburbs which means the House and Senate are in play.

ELIANA JOHNSON, POLITICO: I mean it's an interesting -- the parallel to 2010 is impossible to ignore where in 2009 you had Republicans win unlikely races for governor, in New Jersey as well, and win a very unlikely senate seat in Massachusetts when Scott Brown won.

And we're seeing the same thing here, where Democrats picked up two gubernatorial seats. And they picked off Republicans and where they won a very unlikely senate seat in Alabama.

I think the parallel is also between President Obama and President Trump where their wins are not helping their party down ballot.

JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": And what so worries the GOP, to Eliana's point, is that President Obama's numbers were better than President Trump's are now. I mean -- look, he was obviously not in a good place in late '09 early '10, but he was personally more popular than this president.

I think that if you look at the 2018 map, 24 seats for Democrats to take back the House. I think most folks would say that that's certainly feasible right now.

And looking at the senate map, you know, a one-seat majority for the Republicans? I think that that's certainly in danger now, too.

And the reason it's in danger is because you've got twin pillars -- fired-up Democratic base, younger voters, non white voters; coupled with people who are kind of leaning center, center-right who are college educated, who live in cities and suburbs who do not think that this president is fit for office.

KING: And so one of the great conversations -- hold it -- is you have Leader McConnell who is furious at Steve Bannon -- the President's former top strategist now back at Breitbart News who pushed Roy Moore against their favorite candidate. Roy Moore won the Republican primary run off against Luther Strange.

And so some people say, ok, you just got spanked in Alabama. Learn your lesson. Get out of the way. Try to have more establishment candidates to go in statewide.

Steve Bannon says, no way, this is just a down payment on the revolution of the senate leadership fund which is close to Mitch McConnell. Here you go here -- this is your state on, picture of the state after the 2014 election -- all red. This is your state on Bannon -- Alabama switched, switches over.

[08:35:00] SAHIL KAPUR, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: A bit misleading there.

KING: It's a bit misleading, but it shows -- you know, if you have a bad product --


KING: -- if the voters reject your product, you change it. But the Republican Party is not -- they don't have a consensus. This is going to continue, and that's one of their -- again one of the reasons Democrats are optimistic is because they think they've got candidates coming out of the woodwork to run, and Republicans are going to have these factional fights throughout the year.

KAPUR: I don't understand that. He's been fighting this battle since 2010. He's lost a number of Senate seats because Republicans have nominated atrocious candidates like Christine O'Donnell, Todd Akin was another.

Roy Moore is just another example of that and this comes after McConnell cleaned up in 2014 when he took the majority, snuffed out all these candidates and now he's beginning to lose the battle again.

I think the key thing here is the African-American electorate in Alabama -- 29 percent of the electorate. That's larger than the share of the population in the state. It's extraordinary. If Democrats can pull off that kind of turnout among non-white voters, then the electorate can look like as much of a dream electorate in 2018 for them as 2010 for --

MARTIN: Trump solves their midterm challenge -- midterm year is all about the base.

KING: And you have Democratic intensity, Republican confusion and dissonance, the base support is down -- to which comes in the role of the President.

There's a "Washington Post" story that says the President is going to be out there campaigning everywhere. You have to get invited to campaign, number one. We'll see what happens. And this got to Obama -- first midterm for any president is usually a bad one. George W. Bush is the exception because it was right after 9/11. But the first one is usually bad. Obama lost 63 House seats in his first midterm.

Here's what Peggy Noonan writes about the President because it's the President who, like it or not, is the leader of the party. "Mr. Trump's political malpractice has been to fail, since his election, to increase his popularity and thus his power.

He has failed to do so primarily due to his self-indulgence, his tendency to heat things up when he should cool them down, his tendency always to make the situation a little worse, not a little better. Trumpism led by a competent or talented Trump would have been powerful and pertinent to the movement.

Wow. Ouch.

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean look, this is a president who ran his campaign as candidate based on his gut instinct. And his gut instinct is usually to double down. It is usually to turn up the heat. And that is still how he operates in the White House. That is not going to change. Does that present challenges for 2018? Sure. Are there going to be candidates who don't want to campaign with him? Sure. And what's he going to say when he does go out and --

KING: Well, that's the issue.

MURRAY: -- campaign alongside people? We heard over and over again from the White House the President is going to be out there selling health care. The President's going to be out there selling tax reform.

He has to have a pitch that is going to help candidates down ballot and he has to know what he's going to say.

MARTIN: Now who is going to invite him? Who's going to invite him?


KING: If you're a safe, conservative, southern House member, sure. And the Republican Party will need the money. They'll need the fundraising money. But if you're running in a competitive --

MARTIN: That Luther Strange rally that he did in Huntsville, Alabama in September -- I can't tell you how many folks that has scared off in the party. He's not going to come to your state or your district and make it about you and your campaign.

MURRAY: Exactly.

MARTIN: He's going to make it about him and whatever grievance he has at the moment, ok. Whether that's NFL players and the flag or whether that's Robert Mueller's investigation. He's not going to make it about this is a great guy who's delivering for, you know, Illinois 7. That isn't going to happen.

And his candidates know that. And that's going to kill him. As one operative said to me, this guy can't even do a Boy Scout event right. Which is actually true -- he came to the Boy Scout event and got some controversy. So why you would risk bringing him into your state for your campaign?

KING: All right. We continue the conversation.

Up next, Speaker Paul Ryan on the verge of a giant win; so why is there talk he might head for the exits?



REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Every morning I wake up in my office and I scroll Twitter to see which tweets that I will have to pretend that I did not see later on.

Every afternoon former Speaker John Boehner calls me up, not to give advice, just to laugh. Actually, it was John Boehner who was the one who tried to convince me to take this job as speaker. He even got Cardinal Dolan to call me to encourage me to take this job. God may forgive you, Cardinal, but I will not.


KING: Now, it's no secret Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump are very different in just about every way imaginable. There were tensions during last year's campaign, during the presidential transition and repeatedly during the failed Obamacare repeal efforts this year.

And yet, reports surfaced in recent days -- when those reports surfaced in recent days that Speaker Ryan might be looking to pack it in some time after Republicans pass tax cuts, the President, we are told, quickly picked up the phone to check in. And the White House says the Speaker made clear -- just wild rumors. Is it? Just wild rumors.


KING: Is Paul Ryan thinking about packing it in?

MARTIN: I don't think it's wild rumors at all. I think -- you wouldn't find a lot of folks on the Hill to say he's going to be around beyond 2020 and some would say he's not going to be around after next year's election. And that he might --

KING: But why would he stay -- forgive me for interrupting -- why he would stay that long? If you think there's this wave coming, if you think --

MARTIN: That's what I'm saying.

KING: -- you're going to have to hand the gavel back to Nancy Pelosi do you want to be speaker when that happens?

MARTIN: Well, he's got to file for reelection because you can't not run for reelection while you're urging the other folks in your caucus to run for election themselves. How do you say, you know run if you want, guys. You've got to run again but I'm not going to. You can't do that.

So he has to run for reelection. But I think it's very much possible that he runs for reelection and then steps down if they get waxed next year.

JOHNSON: I agree with that. I think if Republicans hold the majority in the House, he's likely to stick around.

KING: The way I heard this -- forgive me -- but the way I heard this was he was -- he's frustrated. I think everybody in Washington, especially those who have to deal with him on a daily basis. That's what I call Trumpxhaustion (ph) after a very trying year and that he's frustrated. He's not getting home to see his young children enough. He's not getting home to his wife as much. He has a brother in private equity who say, you know, Paul you can make a lot of money if you would leave this job.

My question is, is he just venting at the end of what has been clearly a frustrating year and getting a victory on tax cuts, getting home for the holidays will clear this up and he comes fully back in? Or is this bigger than that?

KAPUR: I think it is bigger than that. I think as we saw he's joked about how miserable this job is. It's not fun in many, many ways and I think he's not -- Speaker Ryan is not the kind of person who wants that position for the sake of power. He had to be dragged into it kicking and screaming.

There are two things that Paul Ryan cares about that makes Paul Ryan tick. One is tax cuts. He's about to achieve that.

[08:45:03] The second is entitlement and welfare cuts. He's already talked about next year they're going to try to move to that. He's talked about how, you know, the current welfare system traps people into lives of dependency.

KING: Are you going to get a welfare reform bill through a Senate with only 51 Republicans?

KAPUR: Absolutely not.

KING: Yes.

KAPUR: But he's going to try.

MARTIN: He'll keep banging his head on the wall.

JOHNSON: If Republicans hold the majority --

KAPUR: I think he cares enough about it to try.

JOHNSON: -- I don't see what factors change for him.

KING: Here's interesting. This might convince him to stay. Breitbart News -- the word of these rumors came out that Paul Ryan is thinking about packing it in. The original story after the 2018 election; they say, why wait? It's the headline of Breitbart. Maybe that's a motivation to stay when you're getting kicked.

MARTIN: He said he doesn't read Breitbart.

KING: He has people do that for him.

MURRAY: Yes. A lot of people pretend to read a lot of -- pretend not to read a lot of things in Washington these days.

KING: Yes. MURRAY: But it is a difficult position. I mean when you say the past year -- I mean Paul Ryan hasn't been dealing with President Trump for the past year; he's been dealing with President Trump throughout the campaign. And now with him governing in office and trying to be governing partners, it is interesting to me that Trump picked up the phone and gave him a call.

It's a good indication that the President is learning a little bit more about the personality, even about wooing in Washington. Not sure that's enough to Paul Ryan --

KING: And some things in life, and we know if you're Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, you have learned that you cannot control the President. You can't moderate the President. You can't get the President to change his behavior no matter how many times you ask him.

You know, also it's hard to change this. Look at this Monmouth University poll of the generic ballot. Speaker Paul Ryan and right now the Democrats have a 15-point lead when voters are asked, are you going to voted Democrat or Republican in Congress?


KING: If it sticks to 15 points, Paul Ryan is no longer speaker. If it's above 10 or 12 -- the Republican majority is at risk. And if it's 15, see you.

MARTIN: He's not going to --


KAPUR: There's no way. I cannot imagine him kind of putting out there saying --

MARTIN: Minority leader --

KAPUR: -- I want to be a minority leader after this.

JOHNSON: Yes. He'll be gone.

KING: You think he makes the election?

KAPUR: I do.


MARTIN: He actually files and runs for election next year, but by the way, just the fact that he's talking about welfare reform and entitlement reform next year, shows how far we are from President Trump's actual campaign rhetoric where he pledged he wouldn't go after entitlements in this country. And in fact was going to govern as a populist. He turned his agenda pretty much over to Congress.

KAPUR: Promised not to cut social security and Medicare, promised not to cut Medicaid. The Medicaid promise he backed off pretty quickly. Clearly Speaker Ryan is trying to work on him on the other things. Let's see --

KING: Well, maybe that's a reason to stay, if you can get the President to more come your way, at least on policy not in say, Twitter-land and those kinds of things.

All right -- everybody sit tight --

MARTIN: So far he has, yes.

KING: -- our reporters share from their notebooks up next, including looks inside the President's thinking on North Korea and his broader national security strategy.


KING: Let's head one last time around the INSIDE POLITICS table and ask our great reporters to share a little something from their notebooks to help get you ahead the big political news just around the corner.

Sara Murray.

MURRAY: Well John -- obviously the President is going to be jetting off soon for his Christmas vacation but he still has this vexing foreign policy problem looming over him and that is what to do about North Korea. There are people close to the President who believes he's going to have to make a decision on this soon.

But keep an eye on who is advising him and in particular this relationship with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They've obviously have been sending very conflicting signals over the last few days about how to approach North Korea, but the President likes a little bit of unpredictability.

And I'm told by at least some that privately they have reached a temporary detente. Now, it's Trump. So temporary could be a keyword there.

KING: Detente -- detente with a dysfunction, yes temporary.


MARTIN: We spoke about the midterm climate a bit earlier, but I just want to focus on how just big this wave could be. I was talking to Democrats this week, and it's remarkable to sort of get a glimpse at their bullishness.

I talked to one former party leader who has both led and also run campaigns, run for office himself. He said that he thinks they could get 40 seats in the House. Keep in mind Democrats need just 24 for the majority. You got serious people in the party talking about 40 seats now.

It's a long way until next year's election, but you've got folks who are typically sober looking at a heck of a year next year in the House. KING: It would be a pretty big wave.


KAPUR: John -- there are going to be winners and losers in this tax bill, but I want to run through some of the constituencies that dodged a bullet at the last minute and had some provisions removed from the bill: a tax on grad school tuition waivers -- gone; an attempt to repeal the student loan interest deduction -- gone; the medical expense reduction -- preserved.

The Johnson bill tried to be repealed in the House bill that would have allowed churches and other tax-free non-profits to support or oppose political candidates. That was defeated. A tax break for unborn children that reproductive rights advocates feared would threaten legal abortion -- defeated at the last minute.

We're going to hear a lot about this bill but these constituents can rest easy.

KING: Their lobbyists either worked or didn't work in the end. The winners will be celebrating and probably raising their fees. Eliana?

JOHNSON: The President announces his national security strategy in a speech tomorrow, and I'll be watching whether this document merely collects dust or whether it actually serves to guide the administration's foreign policy which up until now really seems to have been guided by the way the President wakes up feeling, or really by his instincts rather than by some overarching, you know, theory or larger principle.

KING: All right. We'll watch the President's big speech tomorrow -- the North Korea factor that Sara mentioned factors into that as well.

I'll close with this. As we wait to see if the ailing Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran makes the tax cut vote, there already are some quiet contingency conversations under way in the event Cochran cannot return to work or if he decides to step down early in the new year.

And while all this is in its infancy, it's clear such a vacancy would trigger yet another flash point in the Republican Party civil war.

Tea Party Republican Chris McDaniel who lost to Cochran in a heated 2014 primary thinks he should be appointed if there's a vacancy. But Republican establishment led by the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants no part of that.

[08:54:57] The establishment favorite at the moment, the former Mississippi governor and veteran Washington lobbyist Haley Barbour. Worth remembering, if such a vacancy occurs, both the Mississippi senate seats would be on the ballot next year and feature attractions, you might say, in the GOP factional war.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS.

Again, thank you for sharing your Sunday morning. Hope you can join us weekdays as well. We're here at noon Eastern.

How will Alabama's new Democratic senator deal with President Trump and how much will his win change that 2018 map? Doug Jones joins "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JAKE TAPPER" next.

Have a great day.



[09:00:06] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will he pull the trigger? A prominent Democratic Congresswoman says rumors are swirling on Capitol Hill about the Russia investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe that the President --