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Cornyn on Trump Tweet; Trump Confuses GOP Efforts; White House Supports Funding Resolution; Graham Says Trump's Not Racist; Kelly Says Trump Changed Attitude. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired January 18, 2018 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:00:22] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.
Steve Bannon gets more time. The House Intelligence Committee gives the president's former chief strategist a few more days to prepare for his Russia meddling questions.
Plus, Thursday Trump is back and in full force. Last week he blew up a bipartisan immigration plan. Today, the president undermining Republican congressional leaders at the worst possible moment, just 36 hours now to a possible government shutdown. The Trump attack on his party's -- own party's spending plan follows tweets clashing with his own chief of staff. Constant chaos, Republicans say, make it almost impossible to govern.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You can't blame President Trump for a broken congressional system, but we do need a better partner down at the White House.
I feel very comfortable and confident that we're going to rise to the occasion because we'll all look like idiots. Not just the president has a problem, we all have a problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And we begin the hour with a countdown and new chaos caused by President Trump. Morning tweets attacking his own chief of staff, and then, remarkably, attacking the temporary spending plan crafted by his own party's congressional leader. You see the clock right there on the screen, inside 36 hours now until the government runs out of money. Seven hours or so until the House votes on a stopgap measure crafted by Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican. A measure that includes an attempted olive branch to Democrats, funding for a popular children's health care program. Bad idea, the president says, or tweets. CHIP, the president tweeted this morning, should be part of a long-term solution, not a 30-day or short-term extension.
Mark the speaker down, trust me, as furious. But, don't expect him to say that with the cameras rolling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I am sure where he stands. He fully supports passing this legislation. I just talked to him about an hour and a half ago after my CSI speech -- CSIS speech. So --
RYAN: Again, I didn't see what he wrote, but I've spoken with the president. He fully supports passing what we're bringing to the floor today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Compare the speaker's diplomacy to this. The Senate's number two Republican, John Cornyn's reaction when he was asked to respond to the president's latest tweet. This from Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Well, I'm not sure what the president means.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A lot of that going around today.
Let's go straight to CNN's Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill.
Phil, you were in the room with the speaker. After giving him a little Big 10 poke, you asked him how effective President Trump has been as a partner. What'd he tell you?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look -- look, I think you kind of nailed it on the head, the speaker's very diplomatic about this. Right now I think it was more confusion than anything else when it came to the tweet this morning. I had several Republican aides text me and say, hey, have you heard anything from the White House that explains what he actually meant by this tweet? They weren't sure if it meant the duration of the CHIP program, if it meant the duration of the short-term funding bill. It was mostly just confusion.
Now, the speaker explained this away by saying, look, I spoke to him on the phone. This is essentially a repeat of what's becoming a regular thing. This happened last week on the FISA vote, you mentioned. The speaker gets on the phone with the president. And shortly after the tweet, they have a discussion about things. After that the speaker comes out publically and says, hey, everything's good. He understands where we are. He's completely supportive of our position.
I think the biggest issue right now is -- and this is what I asked the speaker about -- this is a very close vote in the House. Republicans are going to have to carry the weight on this. They need the votes on their own and they have a lot of members who are very uneasy about this process. The president weighing in like this on this issue isn't helpful. Then you look over in the Senate and everything that's going on right
there, the fact that this was a deliberate strategy by Senate Republicans to try and draw Democrats in or make it a very painful vote if they voted no. The president calling that into question. It's just -- it's not helpful when you talk to aides. Will it sink the process entirely? No. But it certainly throws a wrench in things on a very difficult day, John.
KING: Phil, test one is the House tonight and if the CR passes it changes everything. But the Senate has to make preparations. The majority leader has to make preparations in case we get to the point of a shutdown. What's the plan?
MATTINGLY: Yes, that's exactly right. I've got multiple aides telling me that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his leadership team are essentially planning that if Democrats filibustered a spending bill, if the House passes it, gets it over to the Senate and Democrats don't provide the votes to get them to the 60 vote threshold that they actually need, the majority leader plans on keeping the Senate in session throughout the weekend. And as he does that, he's going to plan a series of incredibly difficult political votes mostly targeting those 10 Democrats that come from states that President Trump won, in many cases very handily, that are up for reelection in 2018.
Basically it serves as kind of dual purposes here. It's a threat to Democrats who right now, John, I think you know this as well as I do, are very much so heading in that direction of keeping the majority leader from the vote he needs to get 60. So it's a threat, but it's also -- it kind of underscores the frustration here.
There are pieces of this short term bill that Democrats actually like, that Democrats very much support. And the fact that this is coming to this at this time is very frustrating to Republican leaders. So that's where we are. It's a standoff. It's people digging into their own sides. And right now there's no real clear resolution forward which just 30 some odd hours left, John.
[12:05:10] KING: We'll keep in touch, Phil Mattingly on The Hill, at least through Friday midnight. Maybe through the weekend.
Phil, thanks for that reporting.
And with us here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," "Bloomberg's" Sahil Kapur, and CNN's Maeve Reston.
It's the dysfunction that I guess should not be a surprise to us anymore. One year in, we're about to get to one year of the Trump presidency. But, this morning, hours before this critical vote, when the speaker's not sure he has enough votes to keep the government open, and anyone out there who's a Republican who thinks, oh, the Democrats will get all the blame, that's just crazy. You have a Republican president, a Republican Senate, a Republican House. Republicans will get some of the blame, if not most of the blame, if the government shuts down. The president tweets out, it's a bad deal essentially. Why? ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's tweet first, ask questions later, apparently, at this White House. And I'm telling you, that tweet surprised everyone. And it doesn't really -- frankly, it doesn't make any sense because it -- the CHIP funding that's in the deal that they put forward isn't a short-term funding. It's a relatively long period of time, six years. And so it's just a misinformed tweet and it's unhelpful because the president is not driving the process forward, he's kind of holding it back. Everything is spinning out of control. And that hurts Republicans rather than helps them.
JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": But he's keeping it --
KING: To that point -- to that point, I just want to bring this in, this is the president's deputy secretary now. The president of the United States tweeted this morning this was a bad idea. Now his deputy press secretary has to say, the president supports the continuing resolution introduced in the House. Congress needs to do its job and provide funding. I'm not going to read the rest of it. I'm not even going to read the rest of it. But this is the clean-up --
PHILLIP: And it does not mention CHIP notably.
KING: Right, this is the clean -- but this is the cleanup they have to do when the president does this and then they try to change the subject and they want us to say, you know, this is going to punish the military. We'll get to that in a minute.
But just, why?
MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: He just likes to sort of lurch from one crisis to another. You know, he can't help himself with that. It's like the weekly drama that we're going to have over the next, you know, the next 48 hours, sort of inserting himself into the middle of it.
MARTIN: Right. (INAUDIBLE)
RESTON: I mean he gets a kick out of that, clearly.
MARTIN: But that's why --
KING: He gets a kick out of forcing the speaker of the House to call him once a week and say, Mr. President, you're for that, you're against that, don't you know that?
RESTON: Clean it up.
SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": Clean-up on isle Trump at the worst, and this whole thing is happening at the worst possible moment because the House is on the cusp of maybe having the votes to pass this CR. If not, we're 36 hours from a government shutdown. The Senate is in a more difficult place. They need 60 votes. A number of Democrats who have carried this over the finish line in late December, like Mark Warner, like Tim Kaine, the Virginia senator, Angus King in Maine, the independent who caucuses with Democrats, are now leaning no or are opposed to this bill. Without their support, even if it does get through the House, it may not get through the Senate and it blows up the Republicans' entire strategy to blame the Democrats for blocking an extension of CHIP.
KING: And if you're a Republican who doesn't like -- and, look, no American should like the way they do this. They haven't passed a budget by the normal rules since Bill Clinton was president of the United States. Nobody should like this and they all should be embarrassed, Democrat and Republican, for the way they do their business.
But, the Republicans run everything right now. If you're a conservative and you don't want to vote for this, now you can go to the speaker or the majority leader in the Senate and say, why are you making us vote on something the president doesn't like? It's an out.
MARTIN: Right. He's given cover to the hard right crowd in the House especially.
You asked why he does this. It's a pretty obvious answer. Either he saw it on "Fox and Friends" or somebody talked to him about it. Those are typically the two ways that he reacts in the morning.
But I think we're looking at this through a very conventional prism. He doesn't think in terms of what's the best move for the party or for keeping the government open. He wants to stay in the mix and be the focal point. Maeve alluded to this. Winning to him is being talked about.
MARTIN: That is success. Being in the mix, being the person who's driving in the coverage. The coverage is everything. And, guess what, the coverage is now about Trump. So, therefore, he is happy. It's that simple.
KING: Right. And to that point, some -- people often ask the question in Washington, will the real Donald Trump please stand up? Because he says a week ago on Tuesday, I want an act of love. I'll take comprehensive immigration reform. Two days later he goes -- lurches to the hard right and says I don't want that.
MARTIN: Right. He's not for anything.
KING: I think we asked the wrong question.
KING: That is the real Donald Trump. He changes his mind as he pleases.
MARTIN: Right. KING: And yesterday has no meaning to today and so forth. So the president goes over to the Pentagon. He knows this is all playing out. He knows Republican leadership is again mad at him. He knows everyone is pointing fingers at the White House saying, why are you pulling the rug out from under us? And he says this isn't about me, this would be about those horrible Democrats if the government runs out of money.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If the country shuts down, which could very well be, the budget should be handled a lot differently than it's been handled over a last long period of time, many years. But if for any reason it shuts down, the worst thing is what happens to our military.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: To be clear, the president has a point about the military can't do any long-term planning because there's a big debate about whether to raise the so-called sequester budget caps. Sorry, American, that's how Washington speaks. But they can't do any long-term planning because the Republicans want to raise the spending caps and give the military more money. But if there's a government shutdown Friday at midnight, troops get paid. There's not a dramatic date --
[12:10:08] KING: There's not a day to say big impact on the military, it's they are frustrated because for a couple of years now they can't do any long-range planning.
PHILLIP: Yes, but this is the frequent hobby horse of whoever's in power --
PHILLIP: When they're trying to avoid a government shutdown. It's reminds people, oh, well, the military is not going to get paid. So I think that's pretty by the book.
The problem is, there is all of this other stuff that is being negotiated, and it's also not even clear the Republicans have enough votes on their side. I mean it would be one thing if Democrats were really just the ones holding it up, but they're not, really. They're still having an issue of getting all the Republicans on board. And when you control all three, you know, branches -- you know, all -- both chambers and the executive branch, it's hard to make that case.
KING: It is hard to make that case.
Here's a Democrat, Brian Schatz, tweeting this out this morning. And, again, everyone goes into their partisan corner on days like this and debates like this. But, quick timeline, last year POTUS actually says, quote, we need a good shutdown. Then DACA is revoked. Then CHIP expires. Then no deal on budget. Republicans set multiple fires that they cannot put out. We are willing to work with them, but it's impossible when they act this crazy.
That's actually a thought you get if you look at your incoming from both Democrats and Republicans, that it is really hard -- we're going to get to immigration in a minute, we're on the spending debate right now -- it is really hard to move controversial things forward with a closely divided government when the president of the United States changes his mind from day to day, if not minute to minute.
KAPUR: That sentiment by Senator Schatz captures how a lot of Democrats feel and that -- which is why I think we're probably closer to a government shutdown than at any point since 2013. We've had dozens, maybe hundreds of false alarms since then. They always get this done.
But I think Democrats have been pushed to the breaking point on this. They're facing a lot of pressure from their base on DACA. They backed down the last several times and had to explain it. It gets harder and harder every time to explain it. And the fact that the president used --
MARTIN: That language, yes.
KAPUR: That kind of language last week has inflamed the debate in a way that makes it even tougher for Democrats. So how do they defend this now? It seems like a lot of Democrats who routinely vote for stop-gap funding measures, if they're needed, are now uncomfortable with it. That's a huge problem.
RESTON: And their -- yes, and, I mean they're also -- I mean the part itself is being driven more and to the left. You know, you've got all these candidates positioning for 2020 as we saw this week with Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. And it's just, you know, there's no -- the gap keeps getting wider and wider between the two sides and it makes it more and more impossible to do anything, which is what voters hate so much about Washington.
KING: Right, which is why Donald Trump is president. Donald Trump is president because they wanted something different in Washington. They wanted Washington to work. He said they were all stupid and he would figure out how to make this work.
KING: An interesting question for me is, as this goes forward, does he now get a lot of --
MARTIN: That's a great point.
KING: As the Washington (INAUDIBLE). He's the president. Does it end up on him? Does the outsider become the insider as we go through this chapter again?
Everybody hold the thought.
If you think this drama is being only watched here in the United States, take a listen to Marco Rubio here. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: On the one hand we're talking about the threat of North Korea, and yet on the other hand -- and the world watches these broadcasts -- we're talking about shutting down the U.S. government. So when you're abroad watching all this and a moment like this, you start to think -- or -- and maybe even miscalculate about the true state of affairs in the United States. And we really can't be projecting an image of chaos.
[12:17:21] KING: Welcome back.
This last hour right here of CNN, listen here, the senator at the center of the president's vile immigration outburst. Lindsey Graham says the chaos around the big immigration fight, no, not all the president's fault. But, Senator Graham goes on to say, you don't have to look too far from the president to find out who to blame.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There's people in his ear in the White House who are outliers. There are people around the president who --
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Am I right that you're talking about (INAUDIBLE).
GRAHAM: Who have an irrational view of immigration. They always have. And if you follow that lead, we'll never get anywhere.
BASH: Is John Kelly one of the people around the president that is irrational when it comes to immigration?
GRAHAM: I don't think Senate -- John Kelly's irrational. I think he's ever closed a deal before politically.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Senator Graham also says the president needs to be a better partner if Washington has any hope of pushing past the confusion the president himself has created in actually getting a DACA deal done. A deal to protect the so-called dreamers.
Last night, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, well, a little less charitable, saying, until and unless the president makes up his mind, bubkes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm looking for something that President Trump supports. And he's not yet indicated what measure he's willing to sign. As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN: The deadpans are remarkable for McConnell. What the president is willing to sign. He's the president of the United States.
KING: What is the president for?
MARTIN: And the Senate majority leader, of his own party, is clearly just confounded by him. And, frankly, making no attempt to even feign his shock about where he finds himself here in 2018. It's a -- it's an extraordinary moment.
KING: Right. We are two -- two days away from one year in office, and the leader of the Republicans in the Senate says, you know, it's hard to govern when you have no idea what the president stands for. That's what he's saying.
KAPUR: He's right.
PHILLIP: Yes. And -- yes.
KAPUR: That was a moment of candor from Leader McConnell.
KAPUR: He has said -- he had said multiple times that if this -- a group of senators can come up with a deal that the president can support, he will put it on the floor. The key there is something the president can support.
Where is he on this? Does he want a DACA deal? Does he not? He is -- he was not in the same place last Tuesday as he was the rest of the week. We don't know -- there's all this talk about these four pillars of things that he wants, border security, an end to the diversity visa lottery and family-based immigration, what he calls chain migration. Within that, we need specific proposals. Nobody really knows where he is right now and nobody believes that he's going to be in the same place tomorrow as he is today. That credibility problem is enormously problematic on an issue as explosive that this. Republicans need to feel that they're going to be protected.
KING: And so the debate in recent days has been, is the president a racist or why does he default to prejudicial language? Why does he use language others would call race-baiting.
[12:20:06] Listen here as the Republicans -- forget the Democrats for a minute, that's not disrespectfully, the Republicans run things. They're trying to get a deal done here. -- as the Republicans try to figure out what to do, one of the question is, who is the president? Where does he stand? How long do I have until he changes his mind again. Listen to Dana Bash, last hour, asking Lindsey Graham the big question out of that Oval Office outburst, is he a racist?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you think that he is a racist?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Absolutely not. And let me tell you why. You could be dark as charcoal and lily white, it doesn't matter as long as you're nice to him. You could be the pope and criticism him, it doesn't matter, he'll go after the pope. You could be Putin and say nice things and he'll like you.
Here's what I found. He's a street fighter. It's not the color of your skin that matters, it's not the content of your character, it's whether or not you show him respect and like him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: He's trying to calm him a street fighter there, but that is a very -- I don't know what to call it, but that's not a good portrait of a president who, if you -- it doesn't matter who -- you can be Vladimir Putin, you can be evil, as long as you say nice things about him, he's OK with you.
MARTIN: Flattery will get you everywhere with this president.
PHILLIP: It also doesn't explain why the president characterized -- why he made this dichotomy between the Norways of the world and the continent of Africa and Haiti and the TPS countries. It doesn't explain that at all.
But, I mean, I will say, it is fascinating to watch this Graham/Trump relationship evolve over time. I mean people were asking a couple weeks ago, what is it about Lindsey Graham that he's gone from Trump's biggest critic to his best friend on the golf course all the time? And now here we are again.
RESTON: But it's about this.
PHILLIP: But it's about this.
RESTON: It's about --
PHILLIP: It's because Lindsey Graham believed --
KING: Right, he challenged the president. He challenged the president.
PHILLIP: He just explained the rationale, which is that if you are nice to Trump --
PHILLIP: He will do things for you. He tried being nice to Trump. But in the meeting in the Oval Office last Friday, Trump did not follow through on that.
KING: And so as we try to solve an incredibly complicated issue that has taken both political parties into the quicksand for more than a decade here in Washington, which is immigration. Everybody says -- almost everybody says they want to protect the so-called dreamers.
The president's chief of staff goes up and has a meeting with congressional Democratic Hispanics, trying to break the ice. There's tension between the two. There's been suspicion between the two. He has a meeting in which he says some things, including that the president may have been uninformed during the campaign a little bit, that he has morphed on his positions, evolved a little bit. That's in the private meeting. Then the chief of staff goes on Fox News to explain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: He's very definitely changed his attitude towards the DACA issue and even the wall. He has evolved in the way he's looked at things. Campaign to governing are two different things, and this president is very, very flexible in terms of what is within the realm of the possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Again, that is the president's chief of staff, a retired general, brought over from Homeland Security, to put the White House trains back on the tracks. That's what he just said right there, right, that's John Kelly.
This morning, the president gets up and who does he pick a fight with? John Kelly. Tweeting out, the wall is the wall. It's never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it. Parts will be (INAUDIBLE) see-through and I never intended it to be built in areas where there's natural protection. The president's tweet goes on and on.
But, again, he wakes up in the morning. He sees that John Kelly's on television saying somehow that he's waffley (ph) or flexible and he picks a fight with his chief of staff.
RESTON: Which is -- I mean it just shows that he -- as we've seen over and over again, that he has absolutely no discipline. I mean why do you want to take on that fight right now with all of the other things --
KING: Yes, and he has evolved, for the record.
RESTON: He has evolved.
KING: During the campaign he said he would deport the dreamers. Now he says he wants to let them stay.
RESTON: He has evolved --
KING: Early in the campaign he said big, beautiful wall, left the impression it was going to be coast to coast. Now he says (INAUDIBLE).
RESTON: But it -- but it's the way that Donald Trump's mind works. I mean the wall is whatever it ends up looking like. All he wants is a deal.
KING: It's a metaphor for tough (ph).
RESTON: He's a transactional guy.
RESTON: And, you know, the wall could end up being see-through in some parts. I mean you talk to anybody whose talked to him about that and they ask him questions, how high, you know, what is it made of, and he says, you know, he doesn't care, he just wants a deal and he wants a wall. So whatever that wall ends up looking like is what the wall will be.
Well, look, I --
KING: It's hard to govern when you're fighting with your own team constantly.
MARTIN: Maybe a (INAUDIBLE) wall.
Yes, I think it's -- again, two things drive him. Perceptions of him and whether or not he is perceived as somebody who is tough and being taken seriously or being laughed and mocked at. And I think he saw Kelly on TV and saw stories today in the papers and so he responded to that.
And, again, the coverage and the perception of him, nothing else mattered. The fact that Kelly is his chief of staff and the fact that he's embarrassing his chief of staff and the fact that this is a sort of dicey moment is beside the point. He cares about number one and he does not want to be embarrassed. And he will lash out.
As Graham said, it could be the pope of Rome, it could be his chief of staff. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter.
KAPUR: He doesn't like it when his staffers get a lot of attention.
KAPUR: He especially doesn't like it when people --
MARTIN: Contradicting him too.
KAPUR: Close to him contradict him and lead to negative perceptions of him and any kind of negative coverage of him. That really sets him off.
[12:25:03] RESTON: It was also a really blunt assessment. I mean to say that the president was uninformed and that he basically tutored him.
RESTON: I mean that wasn't exactly a compliment.
MARTIN: He's evolved. He's flexible. I mean --
KING: Well --
KAPUR: One historical point, if I could just add. If there is a government shutdown tomorrow at midnight, it will be the first time in about half a century in the modern budgeting era that a party that controls the House, the Senate and the White House shut down its own government. It would be a historic first.
MARTIN: When was the last time? When was the last time?
KAPUR: Well, there is no last time because prior to the '70s, spending lapses didn't' lead to shutdowns the way we have them now.
MARTIN: Never happened. Unprecedented.
KING: Unprecedented, but I don't think they're going to be -- blame the Democrats alone anyway if it happens.
Up next, back to the campaigner in chief. President Trump dives into the next big special election, a House race in a deep red part of western Pennsylvania. Democrats think they might be able to turn it blue. The Republican candidate says, huh-uh.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SACCONE (R), HOUSE CANDIDATE: You're in Trump country, brother. It's -- this is -- this is -- you know, Trump won this area by 20 points, and I think maybe today he may be even more popular than he was when he was elected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[12:30:12] KING: President Trump leaves the White House in a few minutes.