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Sessions Pushes Back Against Trump After "Disgraceful" Insult; Kelly Continues to Misrepresent His Handling of Rob Porter Scandal; Trump Doubles Down on Trade; Trump Stuns Republicans with Gun Proposals. Aired 8-9a ET
Aired March 4, 2018 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:12] JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): The president is angry, isolated. The West Wing in chaos.
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I did something wrong and god punished me, I guess.
KING: Policy turmoil too. A shock to the NRA and Republicans.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like taking the guns early. Take the guns first, go through due process second.
KING: And the president says trade wars are good. Allies and the markets disagree.
TRUMP: When our country can't make aluminum and steel, you almost don't have much of a country.
KING: INSIDE POLTICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.
KING: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thank you for sharing your Sunday.
Washington is rattled by a week of stunning chaos, all of it connected to a president friends describe as isolated and angry. One trusted aide leaves the West Wing. More turnover is coming. And the president's daughter and his son-in-law are at odds with his chief-of- staff.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLY: I miss every one of you every day. I went -- truly, six months, the last thing I wanted to do was walk away from the great honors of my life being the secretary of homeland security, but I did something wrong and god punished me, I guess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: There's chaos in policy too. The president swings wildly from promising the National Rifle Association he has its back, to public statements that shocked the gun lobby and congressional Republicans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: Well, obviously, regardless, of what the president says, we're not going to pass any legislation that denies due process to people.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You don't take the gun and go to court. The president's wrong about that.
SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, look, that's a nonstarter. Let's be clear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And brace for a trade war. The president rattles Republicans, key global allies, financial markets and some on his own staff by vowing to slap new tariffs on foreign aluminum and steel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: No trade war has ever worked. We don't want to make America 1930 again. And the forgotten men and woman of America don't want to be drafted into a trade war. It doesn't work. Trade creates jobs. All the data shows that and trade lowers prices for American families. Trade wars do the opposite.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: With us this Sunday to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal", CNN's Manu Raju, and Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist".
The Trump White House is chaotic now more than ever. But it is not mysterious. This president does not hide what drives his thinking, especially his constant anger.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: China's great and Xi is a great gentleman. He's now president for life. President for life. No, he's great. And, look, he was able to do that, I think it's great. We may want to give that a shot some day. He's the most powerful president in 100 years, you know, person, in 100 years in China.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KING: That was as a fund raiser yesterday. The president of the world's leading democracy praising a dictator who jails his political opponents and who just erased term limits on his power.
President Trump then launched into an attack on the Republican Congress for investigating him, not Hillary Clinton.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: I'll tell you, it's a rigged system, folks. I've been saying it for a long time. It's a rigged system. And we don't have the right people. We have a lot of great people put on certain things we don't have the right people in.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KING: Now, it's no secret why the president is angry and isolated. The headlines about new avenues in the Russia meddling investigation in recent days are eye-popping. The president's business dealings are a focus, so or his son-in-law's. There are reports the special counsel is exploring if the Trump campaign had a heads up the Russians had Democratic e-mails and were about to leak them.
In the middle of this, to no one's surprised, the president launched a fresh attack at Jeff Sessions labeling disgraceful his recusal from all things Russia, the president blames for the special counsel investigation. Grimace and bear it has been the attorney general's response in the fast -- but not this time. In a defiant statement, Jeff Sessions said, quote: As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.
Sessions then had a public dinner with his deputy Rod Rosenstein who overseas the special counsel, and Rosenstein who's often characterized on Fox News as part of deep state plot against the president then added this had on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: You will not always agree with our policy decisions and you definitely won't hear this on cable TV, but I can assure you the department leadership team appointed by President Trump is very strong on ethics and professionalism.
[08:05:07] History will reflect that the Department of Justice operated within integrity on our watch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I want to spend most of our time in this first segment on that, the pushback from the attorney general and the deputy attorney general to the president of the United States. And make no mistake about it, that's what that was.
First, the attorney general, then the public dinner. The president, I'm told, not happy, a picture of that leaked, and then the deputy attorney general.
But what does it say? The White House will say takes joke. What does it say when the president of the United States of America stands up at a fund raiser and some of his big donors start laughing when he says, maybe we should try that, meaning a president for life, after President Xi Jinping, like him or not, the president has called him a gentleman, just erased about the only limits on China's leadership, the term limits on the dictator.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think it would be one thing if these were the first time President Trump has ever expressed this kind of sentiment. But it's not really. He's always expressed his admiration for people like Xi Jinping who had a much more authoritarian control over their societies, and he kind of wishes that he had that ability.
I think the problem with the presidency for Donald Trump has been that it's not as powerful as he thought that it was going to be, that Congress does have a role but the courts do have a role that his own Justice Department, for example, has their guidelines about how they act and what they do that might go against what he wants them to do. He's frustrated by that and that's apparent in what he's saying about Xi Jinping. But it's also apparent that he's not saying anything at all and never has really about the human rights abuses.
I remember when those college basketball players were locked up in China. They -- you know, they were facing a potentially stiff sentence for something that was bad but relatively minor and never once did President Trump say, you know, we don't think that this punishment fits the crime. He doesn't express those sentiments.
KING: Forgive me, is it just old-school and I should forget about it, isn't the job of the president of the United States and the United States government to say, we view this as a step in the wrong direction, we view this as bad for the Chinese people. We need to work with you on trade. We need to work with you on security, we will continue to do so, but this is not the way to go.
Isn't that what the president of the United States is supposed to say?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Typically. These guys at the White House every day were probably at the briefing last week when Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about this directly and she would not criticize Xi Jinping for China -- for taking these steps. This is an issue for the State Department.
So, it's one thing if the president of the United States came out and condemned China's actions and then the president makes some offhand remark at a fund raiser. They haven't condemned what China is doing and a lot of members of the president's own party have condemned them and they do want the United States to stand up what they view is authoritarian behavior. The White House has just not done that.
KING: So, let's bring it back to where we should spend most of our time, which is what I found remarkable, the attorney general who for months has grinned and bear it when the president has called him everything under the sun, idiot, beleaguered, very weak, very disappointed with him, he did a terrible thing, disgraceful, these are all the things the president has called the leading law enforcement officer of the United States government and a man who is incredibly loyal to him at times in a very tough presidential campaign. What did it tell you, Mary Katharine, when you see a attorney general
and a public show of the deputy attorney general and a deputy attorney general in a speech saying history will record us doing our jobs just right.
MARY KATHARINE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, I think that he feels he is doing the right thing. I think he felt he like he was doing the right thing by recusing in the first place. The improbable campaign to make Jeff Sessions sympathetic continues at a pace that's very successful even for people of the left are now like, whoo, geez.
So, I think this unified pushback is maybe overdue and something that he just hit a point where he couldn't handle it anymore. It's, of course, very dignified and done through all the proper channels and a different way than the president does it.
KING: At a dinner last night, the president to his credit was trying to be funny. He gave some self-deprecating humor. He said as part of his speech, my Attorney General Jeff Sessions is here tonight, I offered him a ride over but he recused himself. Laughter, but that's OK.
Good for the president. We should give the president props for making a joke every now and then. But in terms of the week that was, do they get at the White House that the attorney general and deputy attorney general probably have decided we're not going to get shoved around any more?
MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, yes, this is a disconcerting dynamic for people inside the White House, now even after a year, it's been happening pretty consistently, these rebukes of the president have been pretty consistent.
But he goes in ups and downs. It was told that it was sort of out of his mind for a while. Then about a week ago at a medal ceremony, Medal of Valor ceremony, they crossed paths, Trump and Sessions.
[08:10:03] It was awkward exchange and almost reminded the president at that time that he was upset and is where this started to spin-up again. And, you know, what's disconcerting -- I mean, as you make very good points this is the attorney general of the United States but also inside the West Wing, inside the White House, there are a handful of Sessions guys there, right? Stephen Miller, the top policy aide to President Trump, may not be Stephen Miller without Jeff Sessions. You have Rick Dearborn who is on his way out but still over there, a few other guys, who this is just a very uncomfortable personal dynamic for a lot of people in the West Wing aside about what this says about the direction of the country.
KING: We'll see it throughout the hour, the president did seem more angry. If you talk to people he's spoken to in the phone, he's isolated, he's questioning everything. Should I keep this person, should I keep that person? You see the body language. Very tight and wrapped all week.
When you look at the headlines, we could spend an hour just on the headlines about Bob Mueller's investigation in the last week.
What is the internal thinking in the White House when they see president's finances, Jared finances, president finances, trying to connect the dots on the Russia before they released the e-mails. If you're the president of the United States, do you think this is final reaching a crossroads or do you think this is going off in a hundred different directions and it's never going to end?
PHILLIP: Well, that's the point. I think in the White House, they're not sure where this is all going and it's making it harder for them to continue to tell the president that this is all coming to an end. And that's what they've been trying to tell him since, you know, the late fall.
You know, initially, the idea was, oh, by November, by December, by January, by February and now here we are in March and it only seems that the scope of the investigation keeps expanding. Maybe it's expanding away from the president personally, but the bad news around the White House and around top people around the president continues to spiral and I don't think -- it doesn't seem very much like it matters to President Trump whether the bad news is about Jared or about him personally, the idea of the Mueller probe continuing on is what stirs up this anger in him and that's not abating at all.
RAJU: And, John, when is Paul Manafort's trial scheduled for? September. So, we have a long ways to go, at least on that aspect, and presumably, there'll be lot more to come in this investigation.
KING: Maybe. He wishes he had the power of Xi Jinping to just wave it away, but he doesn't.
Up next, we continue the conversation. Chief of Staff John Kelly gets a new lesson in West Wing staff wars, and the president runs both hot and cold on whether his daughter and her husband should stay at the White House.
Politicians say the darnedest things, "SNL", Trump talks about his unique management talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEC BALDWIN AS DONALD TRUMP: I said I was going to run this country like a business. That business is say waffle house at 2:00 a.m. Crazy everywhere, staff walking out in the middle of their shift, managers taking money out of the cash register to pay off the Russian mob.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[08:16:57] KING: So how chaotic and high level is the Trump West Wing staff wars?
Well, consider this, the Chief of Staff John Kelly summoned a group of reporters to his office just before noon Friday, an effort to clear the air, take some blame and try to turn the page. We'll get to the details of what was discussed in a moment but it almost doesn't matter.
This does. Within an hour after the session ended, accounts quoting other West Wing officials that Kelly didn't have his facts straight and that they didn't have their trust.
Quick contest, Kelly called the meeting to try to close the books on how he handled the Rob Porter mess. Remember, he defended and accepted the resignation of a top aide accused of spousal abuse.
But the timing was a tad surreal. This past week dominated by much fresher staff chaos including the resignation of Trump confidant Hope Hicks and constant accounts of tension between Kelly himself and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Abby and Michael, you were both in this session. I just found it remarkable that it was not over for an hour and you started seeing other accounts in just about every news organization that covers the White House, senior officials saying he didn't have his facts straight, we don't trust him, he's still the problem.
Let's start with that. Why did John Kelly call you all in the office? What was the point?
PHILLIP: I mean, I think he wants to a better relationship with the press, let's start with that. I mean, I think, John Kelly as a former military officer he is used to having a less adversarial relationship with the press. And we give him credit for bringing reporters in to have conversation.
But he chose to go on the record about this portion of the event which was surprising to us and it was surprising because it wasn't clear that he had an objective, that he wanted to set out a certain account of it. He reiterated a lot of things that a lot of people in the White House think are not exactly a truthful telling particularly this considered that it took him two hours to fully handle the Porter situation when the public record makes that very clear that that's not what happened and he also was pressed and only after being pressed for quite a while to acknowledge that they messed up, that they screwed up how they handled his departure.
I think that that process was ultimately frustrating to people in the White House, because it took so long for him to get to the point where he was willing to say, we didn't cover ourselves in glory with how we will dealt with this. A lot of people in the White House look at the situation and they say from beginning to end, it was mishandled.
KING: And he also said as part of that, I have absolutely nothing to even consider of resigning over. So, admitting that they didn't handle it perfectly, but not to the point where he should be thinking about whether he's the right person to the job.
BENDER: Yes, that's right.
Like Abby said, he should get a credit for finally acknowledging what we all saw that they did not cover themselves in glory in this situation. He told "The Wall Street Journal" in the middle of this that they had done nothing wrong. He has changed his mind on that a little bit but he's definitely in defense mode here.
Two things, one of is that he did leave, he has left some gaps here on his on the record accounting of what happened, there is no explanation of why the White House broadly didn't know what John Kelly says he decided a day before that Rob Kelly had to resign.
[08:20:03] His accounting is that he accepted Porter's resignation, but yet the next day, the White House press office, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is in front of live cameras saying that there's no effective date this resignation. So, major disconnect there and basically you have to tell two people when you resign, the general counsel to get all the paper work in order and you tell the mouthpiece of the White House so everybody understands what's going on.
PHILLIP: Because by that point, there were photos, right? I mean, by that point, it was very public and they decided to go that route.
BENDER: The other piece of this that Kelly wants credit for is the security clearance. He made major changes in the security clearance process at the White House and he talked about how this is a process that he set up, that he recognized right when he took over was a problem.
What left unsaid it was four months after he started this process that took accusations of domestic abuse, some -- crown the White House was clued in on this a year earlier, it took Kelly four months and his accusations to be made public before he implemented any changes.
KING: Part of the security clearance was the demotion of the level of intelligence that Jared Kushner now has access to, all apart of the chaos this past week. There's no question that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are responsible, maybe not directly but through allies for some of the questioning of John Kelly. John Kelly, of course, saying, I'm staying on the job.
I want to read. This is in "The Washington Post" this week about Jared Kushner. Once the prince of Trump's Washington, Kushner is now tripped of his access to the nation's deepest secrets, isolated and badly weakened inside the administration, under scrutiny for mixing business and government work and facing the possibility of grave legal peril in the Russia probe.
But he's staying, right?
RAJU: As far as we can tell. I mean, he's still a very significant of the Mueller investigation going forward. We don't know exactly where this is going to end up.
But we do know that -- I don't think we can recall any senior White House aide in any previous administration to get this many bad headlines in a row and for them to stay on staff and one reason that he's staying on staff, probably the biggest reason, is he's the president's son-in-law and there's a reason why typically there are nepotism rules in effect that go across the government is because when someone gets baggage and someone has a lot of liability, you can cut them loose and get rid of them because they're a problem for the administration.
Here, the president's relative and he's keeping him on board probably because the fact that he's married to his daughter.
KING: But there were reports this past week, again, at times the president's saying this is unfair to Ivanka and Jared. At another times, he's John Kelly and others, how do I get them to take the hint and leave? The president runs hot and cold on his own family.
Last night, the Gridiron Dinner, the president was making jokes and knows all the staff turnover and turmoil, Hope Hicks leaving, et cetera. He said, I like turnover. I like chaos. It's really good.
Now, the question who keeps asking, who's the next to leave, Steve Miller or Melania? That is terrible but you love me honey. Oh, I won't tell you what she said.
Now, again, self-deprecating humor sometimes is good. Is that funny?
HAM: That's right on the line. Little too close to the truth.
No, I think on the Kelly front the Porter handling was like nearly indefensible. Every mistake that could have been made was made in a different White House, the result would be different for John Kelly but everybody's afraid of who's the chief of staff behind door number three and has better confidence in Kelly than others.
And then there's the other side of this. I think tactically was this a mistake for him to bring this up again, even if it was maybe the right moral thing to do, to take some responsibility for this.
So, on one hand, he looks weak in that situation, on the other hand, who's down and out this week. Hope Hicks is out and Jared Kushner's downgraded on his security clearance. Is it the ascension of John Kelly because it looks more like that? And several victories post the Porter handling, improbably, than we've seen in the past. So, hot and cold once again.
KING: We will make a note for next Sunday to see which way the roller coaster went.
Up next, trade wars. The president promises new tariffs to American steel and aluminum worker and countries around the world promised to retaliate against other American products.
[08:28:30] KING: Welcome back.
It is hardly just staff chaos that has Republicans worried about the direction of the Trump presidency. White House policy is also angering the president's fellow Republicans, not to mention some key global allies. Let's take a look at the president's big announcement this week on
trade. Last week, he said, at the end of the week, he's going to impose 25 percent tariffs on imported steel, 10 percent tariffs on aluminum. President says he'll have the rules for this this week. But this was the announcement last week, these new tariffs.
Inside the White House, here's one thing here, just take a look at the context here. Steel, the United States imports 33 percent of the steel we use in America right now, 90 percent of the aluminum comes in. So, you're talking about the tariff hitting especially on the aluminum side, a big slice of the imports.
Inside the administration, this was a big fight.
In favor of it, the president and his America first trade team, the commerce secretary, the trade representative and trade adviser. They have said, Mr. President, you campaigned on this, do it. They won. They carried the day.
Against this inside the administration, some pretty heavy hitters -- the secretary of defense, the secretary of the treasury, the national security adviser, the president's top economic adviser who was blindsided by this announcement at the White House.
Left to sell it a lot for the president this week, watch here, the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross or you might say, the president's can man.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[08:29:41] WILBUR ROSS, U.S. SECRETARY OF COMMERCE: For beverage cans, there's only about 3 cents worth of steel or aluminum so if that goes up 10 percent you're talking a fraction of a penny. In the can of Campbell Soup there's about 2.6 cents -- 2.6 pennies worth of steel.
So if that goes up by 25 percent, that's about six-tenths of one cent so who the in the world is going to be too bothered by six-tenths of a cent?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Well, it's a complicated issue. It's both policy and political. It's a big controversy. You guys kind of love that, right. Old-school salesmanship? No? No?
MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": It's too far down in the weeds here, right? I mean we saw Trump's announcement was rejected by the markets. They took a turndown after he made that announcement.
And the point there is that it's not the specifics of what the Secretary of Commerce is talking about but the larger picture here. It's the further dismantling of the global compact that's been in place in recent decades and another indication that the U.S. is more interested in dismantling it than helping put that back together. KING: And so it plays out again -- policy and political. If you're
an America first voter you say, "Thank you Mr. President, what took so long? Why are we doing this in the second year? Why didn't we do it in the first year?"
The President says trade wars are good. Again, the markets disagree. Most of his party disagrees. I just want to -- this is proof though, if he follows through on this, and that still remains an if, but if he follows through and this is how different he is in terms of traditional Republican orthodoxy.
The "Weekly Standard": "The hard truth is that protecting domestic industries from foreign competition only encourages those industries to relax which quickly turns into lethargy. Soon enough Americans are stuck with higher prices and lower quality."
The "National Review", again a conservative publication: "The policy will hurt more American businesses and American workers than it will help and it will absolutely imperil export-dependent American industries from farms to factories. It's a bad idea. Conceived and unveiled badly."
MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, "THE FEDERALIST": If only there were some way to have known that he was not an ideological conservative before he became the Republican president. No, I think this is economic illiteracy and then it's also this pattern with the White House which is no one knows actually what the plan is even when it's a gigantic announcement and a gigantic plan. The cohesiveness of this is not there.
But let's talk about something the President actually cares about which is on the tax bill -- the numbers on that have gone up 20 plus points because the reality is on the side of the Republican argument. People are seeing this in their paycheck.
He is in danger of undercutting every single thing that he achieved with that one legislative victory with what is essentially a tax on a bunch of employers on a bunch of American workers on a bunch of American families. But because it has this ring to it and it has this sort of old-school protectionism bumper sticker quality he's going to stick with it.
KING: Right. That's why Republicans are cringing because they are betting in a very difficult midterm election year. They just want to focus on the tax cuts and an improving economy. Now they have a policy difference with the President that they think could hurt the economy.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes. This is really the first significant policy break we have between Republicans in Washington and the White House since the President has come into office. I mean you've seen Republicans recoil at times at things that the President said.
But typically on policy and legislation, he does fall in line with typical Republican orthodoxy even if he says things like take your guns away but then --
HAM: It's a pretty big exception.
RAJU: Yes -- resort back to what the NRA supports at the end of the day. And this a clear break from his party and you have not seen this level of outrage from Republicans pushing back but there's very little they can do other than the fact that as you were saying earlier that this could undercut their message going into an election year where they're trying to make the case that their tax cuts are working but if this tariff plan could undercut what they're trying to sell to the public.
ABBY PHILIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It also says something about the dysfunction in the White House. We were just talking about the President tried to make this announcement before anybody could stop him. He did --
KING: He did make this announcement before anybody could stop him.
PHILIP: He did make it before anybody could stop him. He wanted to surprise his own aides. There was no policy to roll out when the President rolled this out and, in fact, there had been a process going forward that he short-circuited which we've seen him do on smaller issues but this is perhaps by far the biggest one that we've seen him do that on.
The White House does not have the ability to get the President to go through a process on what actually works, what they think is the best policy to go forward. He's going to go with his gut and in fact, he's going to try to undermine them if he thinks that they're trying to stop him.
It's a real problem going forward. It seems very much like the President is at a point where he's not willing to be reined in on some things that he thinks are important for his own political survival.
The result might be a spiraling of tariffs. I mean you saw him already over the weekend tweeting out new policy on potential tariffs across the board on all imports into the United States. I mean that is a huge policy announcement that he just tweeted out.
KING: And he lashed at the European Union yesterday. I want you to listen here to the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is much more polite. The Canadian trade minister was saying look, we're going to protect our workers. If the United States does this, we're going to do it back.
Prime Minister Trudeau a little bit more diplomatic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[08:35:00] JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: I've highlighted that this is not something we wanted to see and we will continue to engage with all levels of the American administration in the coming days so that they understand that this proposal is unacceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAM: So Canadian.
KING: I think -- but the point the Prime Minister is trying to make, and a lot of people in the White House are making, just whispering to us -- there was buzz late in the week that Gary Cohn might resign over this. He felt he got steamrolled and he didn't -- the process -- at least he wasn't treated fairly in the process.
And then there are people saying well, he's going to stay to see maybe the President won't actually follow through. They have to issue the rules. They have to actually put it in writing. They have to put it in (INAUDIBLE).
So maybe the President's just talking again and we're not supposed to believe what the President of the United States says, which is still 13 months in. A little weird for me to say but is that a fact? Are we not sure he's going to actually follow through?
BENDER: We haven't seen any details of it. That part is true. We've heard the public pronouncement. We've heard sort of Peter Navarro and Lighthizer's interpretation of this and Wilbur Ross -- some of their interpretation of it. We haven't seen the actual details and that's what I think where Gary Cohn's saving grace here is.
And I think this does tie back to our last block in the White House chaos. I mean you sort of get to criticize sometimes the White House reporters for focusing too much house intrigue but these things have real policy impacts.
Rob Porter, he was a gatekeeper of the Oval Office. He was a point man setting up some of these trade meetings. He had kept effectively isolated Peter Navarro. With Porter out of the White House for the last month Navarro has worked his way back in, got a promotion from the President and delivered him -- helped deliver him one of his signature campaign promises.
And as for the politics of this, I mean you read off all of the traditional conservative voices. How about the fact that -- you know who's making that argument inside the White House? The registered Democrat -- Gary Cohn is making that argument to the President.
And you know, this is something that the President wants. It's just a fascinating dynamic here with all of his top economic advisers telling him not to do something that -- this is not a Ross or Navarro thing -- this is a President Donald Trump thing.
KING: Well he is the boss. He is the boss and you like this issue -- and it's an important issue -- make a second pot of coffee. Mr. Navarro will be on "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper in just a few minutes. It's a great debate. We'll continue it.
Up next, the President and guns: does anyone know -- does even he know -- what he really wants?
[08:37:17] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like taking the guns early. Take the guns first, go through due process second. It doesn't make sense that I have to wait until I'm 21 to get a handgun but I can get this weapon at 18. I don't know.
If you add concealed carry to this you'll never get it passed.
TRUMP: I'd rather have you come up with a strong, strong bill and really strong on background checks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was President Trump on Wednesday at the White House. Four different pieces of the gun debate, four positions from the President counter to that of the National Rifle Association and most Republicans.
So then explain this -- the very next day, an evening meeting with the NRA. The President tweets that it was great. The top NRA official adds this, "POTUS and VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, supports strong due process and don't want gun control."
BENDER: He must have been doing an impression of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton there in that meeting, right. That certainly couldn't have been the Republican president of the United States saying that.
RAJU: And I think that was just -- I mean that meeting is just so remarkable because the President undercut his party's position on so many key issues, even their general negotiating position going in. The Senate Republicans, for instance are saying we just need to deal with -- deal with fixing the national criminal background check system that the FBI administers to make that sure local agencies report into the background checks system, not expand background checks.
And here's the President saying, why don't we expand background checks as part of it? Also he says we can't do concealed-carry reciprocity which is a big thing that House Republicans are pushing to tie it along with that bill. He said that's not going to pass either.
And then suggesting you take guns away before due process rights all have left Republicans scratching their heads. But at the end of the day, the President's positions on this are as clear as mud -- John. We really don't have a sense on what the President wants.
KING: And so you have an incredibly difficult issue that has polarized and is partisan here in the nation's capital and all around the country for years. If you're going to move anything, even modest improvements to the background system, you need leadership, clarity, consistency from the President of the United States and we don't have it. Is that fair?
BENDER: One of the things he's been consistent on is his willingness to take on the NRA on this issue.
KING: He says it publicly -- he says it publicly all the time --
BENDER: That's right. That's right.
KING: -- including -- let me just sneak this in. This is the President -- this is the President telling a lot of Republicans in the room this is your problem.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can't be petrified. They want to do what's right and they're going to do what's right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: He says he's not petrified. Republicans are petrified. And some of the things he said at the top there are anathema to the NRA, but does he mean it?
BENDER: We'll see. You know, we give him credit -- due credit for putting this on television. We would give him even more credit I think if he would put some of these lunches with the NRA on live television and see what happens in those interactions, you know, because this has a long way to go.
He's sort of taken every single issue -- side of this issue and even before that -- that meeting, Republican leadership aides on the Hill were throwing their hands up on this saying that, you know, we're not putting any stock in what he's saying because it's moving all over the place and his willingness to sort of say anything on this issue.
KING: Is he just unfamiliar with the issue? Can't choose his words right because -- I think there's these restraining orders where a mother, a father, a family member, maybe a mental health professional says, you know, I see a problem here where you can get that approved and just go and take one person's guns in a very limited circumstances with the process.
But even Democrats are saying this is the United States of America. You can't just go and take people's property whether it's a gun or a car or a house or anything else without due process.
[08:44:58] HAM: Right. You know what, maybe the (INAUDIBLE) at this point is to make the left argue for due process on guns and free trade and I'm actually sort of on board for that. But seeing a Republican president, all jokes aside -- seeing a Republican president be pro- tariffs and pro-gun control in the same week is quite something.
And due process is not due process if the taking of your fundamental rights on property come before the process. In the restraining order solution you would have a court process that you had to meet some --
KING: And it will be much more limited.
PHILIP: Can I --
PHILIP: -- just quickly, the President wants to win. He wants to win on this issue like on every other issue. I'm willing to predict he's fall in line with something that he can get passed.
KING: Win at any cost -- ok, I'll leave it there for now.
Our reporters share from their notebooks next, including a presidential road trip for a crucial swing state and a chance perhaps for the President to sell those trade proposals we were talking about.
[08:49:58] KING: Let's head one last time around the INSIDE POLITICS table, ask our great reporters to share a little something from their notebooks, help get you out ahead of the big political news just around the corner. Abbey.
PHILIP: Well, with the departure of Hope Hicks there's some new talk outside of the White House about the new communications director -- who that person might be. But even before Hope's departure there was some talk in the White House about what their strategic communications needs are. And some Trump allies from the outside have been advising them that what they need to do is get ready for the midterms, be able to have a mechanism to push out the good news ahead of 2018, especially on taxes which is something the President wants to tout more on the road.
So the advice has been get -- don't just replace the communications director, get some more strategic manpower so people to think in a forward-looking way. The problem though is that even while they might want to do all of these things, it is hard to get people to want to work in the White House right now.
They are trying to find professional communications people to come into one of the most chaotic places in the world right now and it is very, very difficult.
KING: And a lot of those practiced professionals are already out in those midterm elections.
BENDER: Speaking of the midterms, the White House is talking about sending Trump back into western Pennsylvania this weekend to campaign for Rick Saccone, the Republican candidate in the special election out there.
Now, this will put the President's political chips on the line once again, something he hasn't had that much luck with the last six months. But the more interesting thing, I think, is that this will give the President a chance to road test his new trade policies, his new tariffs.
And while the President believes that this is the right policy, he's absolutely convinced on the politics of this. Remember that he rejected House Speaker Ryan's border adjustment tax because it didn't have the snap, didn't have the bumper sticker appeal that tariffs do. People understand sort of intuitively what it means to slap tariffs on a foreign country and that sounds like winning to this president.
So this will give the President a chance to see if this message has more resonance in the heartland than it does inside the Beltway, and frankly, within his own West Wing.
KING: We'll see him on the road this weekend, it looks like.
RAJU: John -- the house intelligence committee's Russia investigation is sputtering to a conclusion. The Republicans on that committee really don't see a -- really a reason to continue this investigation much longer. They believe they've come to a conclusion that there was no collusion between Trump associates and the Russians.
The Democrats, on the other had, say there have been a number of areas that have not been yet investigated including Trump's financial records, including issuing subpoenas for records involving Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr.'s conversations with his father that he said were off-limits because they were protected by attorney-client privilege. Just some examples that Democrats say needed to be probe.
And this investigation has been marred by leaks and counter-leaks and charges from the Republicans saying that the Democrats have leaked elements of Hope Hicks' testimony saying that she had committed white lies for the President. They say that's the reason why this investigation should be shut down.
Democrats are saying that Devin Nunes himself, the Republican chairman has leaked things like Mark Warner's text in a way to undercut him in the Senate's investigation. And we reported about how Devin Nunes apparently was accused of leaking a witness's testimony to another witness -- something that that witness said was untoward.
It really just shows that this investigation is coming to a very partisan and messy finish and certainly no consensus about what exactly happened in 2016.
KING: It will become high value in the academic world about how not to conduct a credible bipartisan investigation.
HAM: I've got an interesting policy point that came out of the opioid summit at the White House. That's an area of policy where the administration seems to have a more cohesive approach than other areas.
And one of them was the HHS secretary sort of pleading with governors to seek these waivers that they're offering for Medicaid treatment of opioid abuse and substance abuse because there are some archaic rules in Medicaid funding that don't allow you to have, for instance, more than 16 beds at a center which means there are long lines stacking up.
Five governors have sought them and he's asking for more to do that. So it'll be interesting to see who does that in the future.
And on a personal note that is unfortunately somewhat universal at this -- I lost a friend, a childhood friend to opioid addiction, this week. His name was Eli. His father, Terri, is a wonderful man who works in addiction and homelessness in my home state. The two of them traveled to D.C. for one of these meetings of the opioid commission to tell their family story. It was Eli's birthday. He was in recovery.
It underscores how vulnerable people can be even with resources and a loving family. His funeral's today. So to Eli rest in peace and the Al-Aba (ph) family and all my friends back home. Wish I could be there and as we tackle this crisis here maybe we can get some things done.
KING: Amen. Amen. If there's one issue on which they could all maybe set aside the partisanship, do the Lord's work, that would be a good one.
Thank you for sharing that story.
I'll closer with this, touching a bit on what Michael just talked about.
Republicans now have serious jitters heading into the final week of that special congressional election in western Pennsylvania. The former vice president Joe Biden will campaign for the Democrat Conor Lamb. As Michael noted, President Trump plans a weekend visit for the Republican candidate.
Now on paper this should be a safe Republican seat. The Republican should have -- the President won it by 20 points just 15 months ago but it's close to the end and the heavy spending by Republicans and their allies have not moved the numbers much.
[08:55:10] National GOP leaders in recent days have been complaining about their candidate and about the Pennsylvania Republican Party which tells you one thing, they're nervous. A Republican loss would send another giant signal about the 2018 midterm environment.
What GOP leaders worry about most in an already difficult climate they, it could set off another wave of incumbent retirements.
That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday Morning.
"STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper is next. Among his guests today -- the White House trade adviser, Peter Navarro. He'll talk about those new tariffs and the trade war worries that come with them. Must-see TV.
Have a great Sunday.
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