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DACA Hangs in Balance; Trump Contradicts Himself; Trump's Stance on Immigration; White House Cabinet Meeting. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 10, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:13] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

There's a big cabinet meeting this moment at the Trump White House. Infrastructure, the big agenda item. We are waiting to see if things get as colorful. When the media gets to come into the room, we'll see if it's as interesting as it was yesterday.

Plus, the president lashing out again about the Russia investigation, attacking today a Democratic senator who released some important testimony, and the president suggesting Republicans have somehow lost control.

And, what to make of this conservative revolt. Trump backers are aghast after listening to the president say he would be happy to sign an immigration bill that gives legal status, perhaps even citizenship, to the undocumented.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST: I'm going to tell you right now, I'm going to go on record right now, this is the only thing that Donald Trump can do to possibly derail himself.

ANN COULTER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think we can call this the lowest day in the Trump presidency.

MARK LEVIN, "THE MARK LEVIN SHOW": That's no art of the deal, that's complete surrender.


KING: As I just noted, the president meeting with his cabinet this hour. Infrastructure is the official topic at the meeting as team Trump tries to get an early start on its 2018 election year agenda. Now, we should get some access to that meeting momentarily. When the reporters go in and come out, we'll bring you the tape ASAP.

As we wait to hear from the president, the White House lashing out today at a new federal court ruling that says the administration can't go through with its plan to end those Obama-era protections for the so-called dreamers, protecting those dreamers from deportation. As the administration calls the ruling outrageous, congressional negotiators, though, say that new court action only adds to their determination to try to find a legislative compromise to the DACA issue. There is a bipartisan desire to find a solution, as we saw during yesterday's remarkable immigration conversation at the White House.

Yet, the details, the exchanges between the president and key lawmakers in both parties also made clear there are still clear, big bipartisan disagreements, partisan disagreements, excuse me, over whether immigration issues must also be addressed as part of any deal. The president giving mixed signals about his bottom line in the meeting yesterday, but has since made clear he wants some border wall funding in any DACA deal. Conservatives in Congress want other changes, too. And so while no one doubts the desire to protect the dreamers, there's every reason to believe getting a deal on paper and then to the president remains a giant challenge.

With us to share their reporting and their insights today, CNN's Abby Phillip and CNN's Phil Mattingly, Michael Warren of "The Weekly Standard," and "The Washington Post's" Karoun Demirjian.

Let's start there, Phil and Karoun especially from your perspective on The Hill. They want to get it done. But, as we saw in this remarkable exchange yesterday, I hope you were with us this hour yesterday as this played out, the president wants to get it done. Republicans want to get it done. Democrats want to get it done. But the Democrat want, let's do DACA, the dreamers, then we'll talk about everything else later. The president says, no, let's do DACA and at least my border wall. Other Republicans say, no, no, no, Mr. President, let's also do chain migration or the lottery program, some other tough immigration proposals.

Where are we right now?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So you need to split it up into buckets. There is a Senate negotiation going on, a bipartisan Senate negotiation, a negotiation that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer both blessed. That is actually moving in a good direction. There's no question about it. You talk to anybody who's involved with it. One, there's not a ton of leaks from how that's going. That's usually a good indicator that things are actually progressing in a decent manner. But, two, they feel like at some point over the next couple of days they might be able to actually put something out.

The issue is, that's not necessarily going to do the trick. That's not necessarily going to assuage Democratic concerns about the border security aspect of the bill or the family migration aspects, the chain migration, as the president refers to it. And much, much more importantly, there's a Republican conference to consider here. This Republican conference in the Senate. There's Paul Ryan's management issues in the House with how to do this.

An ideal bill, as it's been kind of explained to me by the people who are involved in the Senate negotiation, is a bill that maybe gets 26, 27 Republicans in the Senate, less than half of the Republican conference in the House. How do you get Republican leaders to put something like that on the floor when they're the ones in control of Congress? And I think that's something that everybody knows that they need to do something about this, everybody wants a resolution to this, but that dynamic and whether or not they're willing to actually take that step is still very much an open question.

KING: And to that point you could see the Republican getting nervous yesterday when the president, at one point -- and I think we have it. Let's play it if we have it. Dianne Feinstein, Democratic senator from California, who's up for re-election next year and could face a primary challenge, she directly, and actually smartly, said she wanted to ask the president a question. She wants -- let's just do DACA, Mr. President, since we all agree on that. Let's just do that and then we'll come back later to all this stuff that's more controversial. Let's just listen to the exchange and the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the Republicans saying whoa, whoa, whoa.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: But I'd like to ask a question. What about a clean DACA bill now with a commitment that we go into a comprehensive immigration reform procedure?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that's basically what Dick is saying. We're going to come out with DACA. We're going to do DACA. And then we can start immediately on the phase two, which would be comprehensive --

[12:05:02] FEINSTEIN: Would you be agreeable to that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. -- Mr. President.

TRUMP: Yes, I would like -- I would like to do that.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. President, you need to be clear, though. I think what Senator Feinstein is asking here, when we talk about just DACA, we don't want to be back here two years later. You have to have security, as the secretary would tell you.

TRUMP: But I think that's what she's saying.

MCCARTHY: No, no, I think she's saying something different.


KING: Now, whatever you think of the president, the president was trying to sort of make everybody happy -- make everybody happy yesterday and he sent some mixed signals himself. But Kevin McCarthy got a little nervous there when he thought Dianne Feinstein was about to bait the president to, sure.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right, because what the president says has some weight. And this is the age old question about, you know, immigration, which is that when there's something moving, you want to attach everything else that you want on that general subject to it otherwise you're not going to get a chance again that's actually going to work. This is why it's been, what, a decade at this point since they first started trying to do this. More than a decade. And we're talking about the same basic elements, even though the specs have changed, because you can't hit the sweet spot of the balance, which, frankly, keeps changing as we, you know, move politically through time.

But there -- but that is a very, very difficult balance to strike. So as worried as Democrats are that if they let, you know, things move ahead with the -- which is only pairing DACA with border security that Congress will never return to address issues with, you know, being -- having pathways to citizenship and more immigrant friendly proposals. Republicans are worried that if they let this train leave the station, they're not going to get the border security that they've promised their constituents, whether it's a wall or not. And so striking that balance is paramount for both sides. And you can see exactly how nervous both sides are.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And Kevin McCarthy knows that comprehensive immigration reform, as a step two or as any step in the future, is really hard for Republicans to do and that the idea that you can sort of like push off into the future, either some of this legal immigration changes that they want and the border security is really not possible. And the president keeps talking about comprehensive immigration reform, which really was like gob smacking to a lot of people yesterday because it's so politically toxic for Republicans. And it's partly because I don't think he fully grasps how difficult that issue has been and how toxic to the base it is. And he got a little glimpse of it from some of the folks in the talk radio world who were like, wait a second, this is nowhere near the direction that we need to be going in.

KING: Right, it is interesting, we'll talk more about that in a couple minutes. The president should remember the campaign. He used the issue quite effectively against Marco Rubio and the gang of eight, against Jeb Bush and love. The president talking about love yesterday, an act of love, when he used those words let's say in a different context against Jeb Bush.

But I want to get to that bigger drama in a minute.

But to the idea that this has been -- as you know, this has been quick sand in American politics, particularly for the Republican Party, particularly for speakers of the House, to try to bring immigration issues to the floor.

Can they -- can -- a, do they trust the president? I was so clear yesterday, everyone kept saying, Mr. President, what do you want? Mr. President, what do you want?

MICHAEL WARREN, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, but I think the most important words from the president at that meeting were, I will sign whatever you bring to me. That was giving license, I think, to these negotiators in the House and the Senate on both sides of the aisle to figure this out. And in a weird way, Trump, more than any other president, is, you know, sort of a Nixon -- only Nixon can go to China moment. Only he can sort of give his accent (ph) to something that the establishment and the leadership in the Republican Party can cobble together with Democrats. You know, this new bill that came out from Bob Goodlatte and Martha

McSally, I would not be surprised if the White House didn't, you know, come and endorsing that as sort of a slightly different version from what the Senate has proposed, Senate Republicans.

So that's the most important thing is that Trump wants to get something done. And it would be better for the effort if the president could sort of, you know, put his finger on the scale and help figure out some of these difficult issues. He's just not going to be doing that. And so now it's up to Congress.

KING: Right. And there was a bit of a conspiracy theory yesterday or today because if you heard the exchanging with Senator Feinstein, she asked the president, how about just a clean dreamer, DACA bill, then we'll have these other conversations somewhere else. Then the president said, I would like that. But that was curiously missing from the White House transcript of the event. The president saying, I would like that.

Now, the White House press office is saying, you know, there are professional stenographers that go in there. They do this. It's just --

WARREN: There was some cross-out going on. Maybe give them the benefit of the doubt.

KING: An (INAUDIBLE) mistake or did they -- oh, my gosh, we -- I would like -- no, we don't want that?

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, I think giving them the benefit of the doubt on this might be where we need to go because it is actually a lot of career people who are literally stenographers sitting in a room, listening to an audio recording of it. And it was chaotic. I mean that moment was chaotic. It was -- the meeting actually happening with reporters in the room and there's a lot of back and forth and the president rejecting repeatedly to say, oh, that sounds like a good idea. And then Republicans saying, well, Mr. President, actually, no. So there was a lot going on in that meeting and I think it was hard for people to follow unless you were looking at it.

MATTINGLY: And we should pay our -- pay our respects to the stenographer who no doubt had no idea that was going to be a 55-minute meeting. So if you think the lawmakers were surprised and the press was surprised, think about where the stenographers were when that actually starred to (INAUDIBLE).

[12:10:04] KING: Right. Again, in a few minutes we'll talk about sort of the big -- if you followed the president during the campaign, to hear his tone on comprehensive immigration reform, I'll sign it, I'll take the heat, very different.

But in the specifics of this meeting, why did the president last night have to tweet out, as I made very clear today, our country needs the security of the wall on the southern border, which must be part of any DACA approval. He gave some mixed signals during the meeting and sometimes when the president says border security, he means wall. And I think when he says security, people don't process it that way.

But, again, the mix -- there's some -- the fear from Republicans was that the president's not giving them very clear markers on what he wants and what he doesn't want on an issue that has been so troublesome for them in the past.

MATTINGLY: I think the nuance here is important. And I think what people were latching on to yesterday, as Sarah Sanders in her press briefing was asked repeatedly, does this have to include a wall? And she kind of wandered around it a little bit.

The president wants a wall. But what that wall actually is, is different than what we saw in the campaign. He has started to openly acknowledge -- he's done this for a little while now in private meetings -- that it doesn't have to be a 2,000 mile wall. It's not going to go from one border to the other border all the way through. It's going to have places in -- where it's effective and places where it's not effective.

That's important because the deal here, when it comes to a wall, is basically you agree to appropriate money. The Democrats can say, this is going to fences and some other type of security mechanism. The president says, no, this is going to my wall. And you have a big Twitter fight about it, about the semantics of it, and everybody's happy and everybody gets to walk away and tell their respective bases that things are OK. A wall is something the president needs. What that wall actually is, is a little bit maybe smaller in definition than what we saw on the campaign trail.

PHILLIP: And the media coverage coming out of that meeting, I think, was a little confusing, which is why it took so long for him to respond to it. And I think he saw the media coverage as being Trump backing off of the wall.

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: And that, for his base, is really toxic. So he needed to correct the record on social media to the extent that he could.

KING: All right. And a reminder, these conversations taking place in the context, just nine days away -- nine days away from a potential government shutdown if Congress doesn't reach a deal on funding. Many lawmakers saying you've got to deal with the difficult immigration -- issue like immigration, do it as part of a spending bill that most people feel they have the need to vote for.

When we come back, we're still waiting to hear reporters now in the room with the president and his cabinet. Again, infrastructure's on the agenda, but who knows what they'll talk about.

Up next, did President Trump, as we just discussing, sell out candidate Trump on immigration? Some conservatives say yes.


[12:16:29] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If it weren't for me, you wouldn't even be talking about illegal immigration, Chris.

Politicians ten years ago, 15 years ago, they all wanted a wall. But it never went. It never happened. Because somebody didn't want it. Probably a lobbyist.

You have these -- this clown Marco Rubio.

And you remember the gang of eight. It was terrible.

JEB BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm on the Reagan side of this.

TRUMP: Jed said they come into our country as an act of love. With all of the problems that we have in so many instances, we have wonderful people coming in, but with all (INAUDIBLE) not an act of love. He's weak on immigration.


KING: A reminder there, if you needed one, of the hardline stance we saw from candidate Trump on the subject of illegal immigration. His crowds loved his promise of a border wall and they loved his scornful criticism of his primary rivals as weak on amnesty. How then do we explain this exchange from yesterday as the conversation at the White House expanded from protecting the so-called dreamers to three words that strike fear into conservative hardliners, comprehensive immigration reform.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Right wing radio and TV talk show hosts are going to beat the crap out of us because it's going to be amnesty all over again. You have created an opportunity here, Mr. President, and you need to close the deal.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we do this properly, DACA, you're not so far away from comprehensive immigration reform. And if you want to take it that further step, I'll take the heat. I don't care. I don't care. I'll take all the heat you want to give me. And I'll take the heat off both the Democrats and the Republicans.


KING: Well, the heat came pretty quickly, and it came just from where senator Graham predicted.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW": I'm going to tell you right now, I'm going to go on record right now, this is the only thing that Donald Trump can do to possibly derail himself.

ANN COULTER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think we can call this the lowest day in the Trump presidency. MARK LEVIN, "THE MARK LEVIN SHOW": That's no art of the deal, that's

complete surrender.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: So what was the point of running for president? Amnesty for DACA recipients is the only leverage the White House has. Once the president agrees to let them jump to the head of the line, the head of millions of other people hoping to come here legally, the negotiation is over. At that point, why would Democrats agree to anything?


KING: And you see it there, Tucker at the end, Ann Coulter, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, many others saying whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. You were our guy on this. You were the build the wall, anti- amnesty, little Marco, Jeff's soft.

What happened yesterday? So was that -- was that, as they fear, proof that the president has decided in year two he's going to be the Manhattan Republican who's with George W. Bush, comprehensive immigration reform, path to status, maybe even citizenship, or was that a one-day episode of the reality TV show that sometimes is the Trump White House where, I need Democrats right now, so I'm going to pretend to be nicer and softer? Which was it?

PHILLIP: I think it was one day of the episode of the Trump reality show because, frankly, what happens behind the scenes is going to be different from what we just saw in that room. And there's another element of this that I think is constantly being revised and debated inside the White House, which is, at what point does Trump start dealing with his problem with independents. At what point does he acknowledge his base and try to keep them as happy as he can, but also start dealing with the middle.

And DACA is viewed as part of that. There are a lot of people who argue to the White House that if you get -- if Trump's able to get a deal on DACA, he's going to be able to say that, a, he's a dealmaker, and, b, he's not heartless. B, he's done something that Democrats promised Hispanic Americans that they would do for a long time and were never able to get it done.

[12:20:12] It's just not clear to me whether that argument has yet won over with the president. I think he's still listening to those people that you just played and it worries him that he might lose his base because of that.

KING: But if you're a Republican from the business community, a Republican from a state with a Latino population, a Republican from a state with a farming industry, a Republican with a state where you want to do comprehensive immigration reform, whether you think it's right for your state, whether you think it's just the right thing to do from a humanity perspective, whether it's legal status or citizenship, didn't the president invite yesterday the re-ignition of an issue that has proven to be quick sand for this modern day Republican Party? WARREN: I don't know. I think it's a lot of words. I don't even know

if the president quite sort of understood what he was saying when he was saying comprehensive immigration reform. But we saw throughout that entire meeting --

KING: I want to -- I just want to stop you there for a second. We're a year -- we're about to hit a year from the inauguration. And when anytime -- anybody speaks, the president didn't understand what he was saying by comprehensive immigration reform?

WARREN: Well, he didn't understand what a clean DACA fix was when -- I mean -- I mean this is -- I would say -- I would say this is -- you could see this from this entire meeting yesterday, which is that the president seemed to want to agree, at least when the cameras were there, to just about anything that was presented to him. And Lindsey Graham, comprehensive immigration reform is a goal that Lindsey Graham has had for ten years, as he said. He wants to get something done. I think it probably means something differently to him than it -- than it does to the people sitting around the table.

I just -- I would caution that thinking that the president is, you know, sort of turning into a country club or a chamber of commerce Republican overnight simply because he agreed with something that somebody presented to him in a feel good --

KING: He repeatedly used the words comprehensive immigration. I get your point.

WARREN: Right.

KING: It is hard -- it is dangerous to pour cement around anything this president says.

WARREN: Right.

KING: I get you completely. But he said it repeatedly in this meeting. And we're going to hear from the president more in just about a minute. We'll see if this issue comes up.


DEMIRJIAN: Well, I was just going to say, the conservative media are not the only people that were unleashed after yesterday's meeting in criticizing the president. Yes, you also have members of the Chamber of Commerce, star (ph) Republicans, if you want to say it, or certain states that have a higher immigrant population that will say, wait a second, we want this, too. There's an opening now for people to make more noise than perhaps they would have felt that they had. There's --

KING: In an election year, Republicans are worried about the conservative base turning out. You now want to light this match and have this conversation? OK.

DEMIRJIAN: Well, now it's an open debate within the party and there's more time for it, too, because now you have this court order staying basically the full implementation of the DACA order. So, I mean, you've got a bigger mess than you had 24 hours ago thanks to a whole bunch of things happening, number one of those being everything the president agreed to in part yesterday.

KING: Right.

All right, the president of the United States meeting with his cabinet at the White House. He calls -- he said, welcome back to the studio. Let's listen.

[12:22:50] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To the studio. Nice to have you.

Want to close that door when they're finished, please?

Good morning and welcome to our first cabinet meeting of the new year. 2017 was a year of tremendous achievement. Monumental achievement, actually. I don't think any administration has ever done -- has done what we've done, and what we've accomplished in its first year, which isn't quite finished yet. You never know what's going to happen over the next few days. And the achievements for our country, our people and for our standing in the world have been very monumental.

We confirmed an incredible new Supreme Court Justice, and more circuit court judges in our first year than any administration in the history of our country, and we have many more coming.

We've set a new record on reducing regulation and all forms of stopping growth and stopping jobs that were crippling America's economy. Again, the records that we set, 22 to 1, nobody's ever come close.

And the amount of regulations that we've cut is a record also in our country's history. As reported by many newspapers, in particular the Wall Street Journal did a big story on it.

And before Christmas, we passed the largest tax cut and reform in American history, including ANWR, and including the fact that the individual mandate was terminated, which is a tremendously important thing and a very popular thing, I must tell you. People are supposed to pay for the privilege of not having health care. That was not good. Unfortunately the courts didn't cut it, but we cut it.

So in addition to the largest tax cut and reform in history, we have one of the great oil sites that's now been approved. They've been trying to approve ANWR -- I don't know if people know this, for over 40 years. Ronald Reagan tried to get it approved for exploration and for drilling, and for 40 years they've been trying to get it approved. That was in the bill, an individual mandate in the bill.

Since that tax cut was enacted, more than one million workers have already received a tax cut bonus, something that, frankly, nobody even thought about. We didn't think about it. Nobody thought about it. We just knew a lot of good things were going to happen.

And I must say AT&T was at the first one, and they did it, $1,000 per employee. They have hundreds of thousands of employees. And many companies followed immediately thereafter, and now they're following -- I guess the employees are saying, what about us? And millions of employees in this country are getting $1,000 and more in some cases, tax bonuses because of the tax cuts.

Hard-working American families will receive tremendous tax relief. We lowered our tax rates, nearly doubled the standard deduction and doubled the child tax credit, which Ivanka Trump was pushing very, very hard, I will tell you that, and so was Marco Rubio.

And I will tell you that the Republican Senate, we had no Democrat support, zero. They didn't want tax cuts; they want tax increases. They want to raise your taxes; they don't want to cut your taxes. But the child tax credit has become very important to the American family, and they're very happy about it.

Our historic reductions to the business tax will raise annual household income by an average of $4,000. That's a tremendous number. The amount of money that's going to be brought in, we think it's going to be close to $4 trillion because of our tax reform. Will be a number that this country has never seen pour into our country. That's going to create more jobs and more investment.

The stock market is shattering one record after another. Unemployment is at a 17-year low. And I'm very proud of this.

African-American unemployment reached its lowest level in history. Think of that. And on the campaign trail, remember I said -- and would constantly say, what do you have to lose? Meaning, what do you have to lose if you vote for Trump? And now it was just reported African- American unemployment is at its lowest level in history. I'm very proud of that.

We're also making America safe again. Yesterday, we had a bipartisan meeting with House members and senators on immigration reform, something they've been talking about for many, many years. But we brought them together in this room, and it was a tremendous meeting. Actually it was reported as incredibly good, and my performance -- you know some of them called it a performance. I consider it work.

But got great reviews by everybody other than two networks, who were phenomenal for about two hours. Then after that, they were called by their bosses, saying, oh, wait a minute. And unfortunately, a lot of those anchors sent us letters, saying that was one of the greatest meetings they've ever witnessed. And they were great. For about two hours, they were phenomenal, and then they went a little bit south on us, but not that bad. It was fine. They probably wished they didn't send us those letters of congratulations, but it was good. Sure their ratings were fantastic. They always are. Which is why I think the media will ultimately support Trump in the end. Because they're going to say, if we -- if Trump doesn't win in three years, they're all out of business.

You guys will be out of business, but the boom holders are still going to be there, so that's good.

(LAUGHTER) Those are the people I like.

We agreed to pursue four major areas yesterday of reform: securing our border, including of course the wall -- which has always been included, never changed; ending chain migration; canceling the visa lottery; and addressing the status of the DACA population.

We want to see something happen with DACA, it's been spoken of for years. And children are now adults in many cases. The numbers are very different, very varying. A lot of people say 800,000. Some people said yesterday -- first time I heard 650; I also heard three million. Fact is our country was such a mess, nobody even knows what the numbers are, but we'll know what the numbers are.