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INSIDE POLITICS

GOP Sweats Special Election For Open House Seat in PA; Warren Won't Commit to Finishing Senate Term If Re-elected; Warren Dismisses DNA Test; Trump Stumps For GOP Candidate in Pennsylvania. Aired 12:30- 1p ET

Aired March 12, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:03] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: A little math here, a little reminder of Pennsylvania's importance in 2016 as we look ahead to a very important special election tomorrow, an early test of 2018.

Remember Pennsylvania 2016? Yes, the president turned a blue state red by about 44,000 votes. Pretty close. But this was a big part of the president's huge victory, right, winning Pennsylvania. So let's take a look here, let's go down here to Western Pennsylvania.

Let me bring up this congressional district here. Bring it back out a little bit. Come back up to the district. There we go. Just by 20 points in this district, just barely wins the state, wins the 18th district by 70,000-plus votes.

You could make the case, the margin of victory came right here out of Western Pennsylvania. He won by 20 points. This is Trump country.

So what happens tomorrow? The Democrat is now in a dead heat, something favorite in a race that should be solid Trump country. Let's just look here, 90 percent of this district is white. This is the kind of place where Donald Trump ran it up big in 2016. This is a kind of place where the Trump coalition is strong.

It is the kind of place where Republicans like Rick Saccone should win. One of the questions is, the president (INAUDIBLE) steel tariffs, his aluminum tariffs. His efforts to help coal miners. Is that enough in a district and it changed a lot in the last 25 to 30 years.

(INAUDIBLE) steel is about five percent, mining less than two percent. This is a much different district than it was back when steel was king in Western Pennsylvania. So it is a very big race, number one, if the Democrat wins, it cuts the margin a little bit, at least for now, in Congress.

Number two, if a Democrat wins in a district the president carried by more than 20 points 16 months ago, there will be more Republican retirements, there will be more Republican panic. Which is why, in an emergency fire drill, if you will, the president went up to the district, just near the district on Saturday night, turned to the Republican candidate and said, you better win, the world is watching.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love Pennsylvania. I mean, look, how can I not love it, right? I love the state. But I really feel strongly about Rick Saccone.

And I know him. I feel strongly about him. He's an incredible guy.

The world is watching. I hate to put this pressure on you, Rick, they're all watching. Because I won this district like by 22 points. It's a lot, that's why I'm here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's why he's here. The Republican candidate needed the help. Better to go and try. This is so important for the Republicans, because otherwise everyone is saying the Republican is going to lose.

My Monday morning -- inbox this morning, some phone calls and a bunch of e-mails, the Republicans still think they're going to lose. And they think that would send, wow, what a message.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, no question. I mean, the president for winding up there in Saturday, he's in the middle of those, but he was going to be the cause of this loss or will get the credit for pulling him on victory, so presumably, he had to calculate that he had go up there no matter what.

But, make no mistake, even if this is a close race and that the Republican barely pulls this off, major warning signs ahead of November. The map favors Democrats significantly. You know, they have roughly the same number of seats they need to pick up for the House that are in seats -- Republican-held seats in Hillary Clinton districts. And the president's approval rating continues to slide. Historically, of course, the first midterm is never good for an incoming president. This of course, if he loses, would be a major fear.

KING: If Democrats are winning districts that are 94 percent white, the Republicans are in trouble.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: All you need to do is look at the amount of money being spent particular by Republicans in this race. For a district, if I'm not mistaken, that's not going to be there. This is a district that is being redistricted.

So this is a seat that isn't going to be there in the same way it will be. So it's really like a short-term -- they need a short-term win here. It also could cause a recalculation of their strategy.

Right now they're trying to pin Nancy Pelosi to Conor Lamb, the Democrat in the race. If that doesn't work here, we'll see if they try to transfer that assault elsewhere in districts like this.

KING: To that point, let's give you a preview here. A couple of Republican ads are attacking Conor Lamb who is an ex-Marine, he's a moderate, he says he's not for gun control. Said he's not for a lot of things Nancy Pelosi is for. Republicans say don't let him get away with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Conor Lamb. Fresh faced or two-faced. Lamb won't admit he's a Pelosi liberal. Another two-faced Pelosi liberal. He'll say anything to get elected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On ObamaCare and the illegal immigration, Lamb sides with Pelosi and now her liberal friends are spending big on his campaign.

CONOR LAMB (D), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE, PENNSYLVANIA: My opponent wants you to believe the biggest issue in this campaign is Nancy Pelosi. It's all a big lie. I've already said on the front page of the newspaper that I don't support Nancy Pelosi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: This is an early test of a lot of things, including Democrats won a national referendum on Trump, Republicans think we got to make Nancy Pelosi the issue.

[12:35:00] MARGARET TALEV, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: Right. Well -- and one of the lessons of 2016, Democratic enthusiasm, or lack of enthusiasm, was the attacks to the left, how many Democrats wanted like a Bernie Sanders kind of candidate. What you see here is not a Bernie Sanders type of candidate.

So, if the Democrats is able to prevail in this district, yes, it says a lot about decreased enthusiasm in Trump country and says a lot about increased momentum on the Democratic side. But it also says that in a race where you got a pretty conservative Democrat who actually -- they have not very much in common with Nancy Pelosi, then Democrats have a shot.

How does that translate in a general election or as you're ramping up for 2020 and who's going to be the Democratic presidential nominee? Does that mean that an extremely liberal candidate (INAUDIBLE) or does it mean that you can find more centrist candidates than you've got to run for your money?

MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, we should note on some issues, for instance, abortion, Conor Lamb is actually much more in line with the Democratic Party opposing the 20-week abortion ban as he has said. Now, that's just sort of what it likes to be a mainstream Democrat now. And so on that issue, he is much more aligned with Pelosi.

But I will say, I thought it was interesting, John, when you look at the demographics of this district, the breakdown of sort of service economy -- this is as you said, not steel country anymore. That's what actually I'd be more interested in.

Everybody is sort of comparing this, this is an Obama-Trump district, that, you know, sort of the white working class. I think it's more the suburban white working class that is worth watching here because it was a close race in Georgia. Georgia six at the very beginning of last year. This has been a through line in these elections that it's white suburbanites who are the key swing group.

And if they're going -- even if Conor Lamb loses by just a few, that doesn't portend well for a Republican Party that has been built for decades on white suburbanites.

KING: I saw that in the Alabama Senate race, I saw that in Virginia which was turning blue. (INAUDIBLE) with all the suburbs, the Pittsburgh suburbs in the lower part of Allegheny County which is part of the district going to be 40 percent of the district tomorrow night.

And to that point, I was told by somebody last week, look, there going to be four or five more Republican retirements, anyway. And if the Democrats win this race, look for that to double.

RAJU: Yes, I think that's for sure. I also want to make the point and the Pelosi thing. What frustrates a lot of Democrats is that, the fact that she's still a leader gives the Republicans an issue that they ordinarily wouldn't have. So you hear a lot of Pelosi detractors on Capitol Hill saying, why she's staying as leader giving the Republicans something to run against?

WARREN: And effectively, too.

RAJU: That's why this race is significant for her, too. If they do lose, that's one thing the Democrats (INAUDIBLE).

KING: She's staying as leader because she thinks she has a chance to be speaker again. In a word, ambition.

Up next, a denial that not exactly (INAUDIBLE). Elizabeth Warren refuses to promise, absolutely promise she'll serve out six-year Senate term if she's re-elected this year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:42:18] KING: Welcome back.

A simple question with a not so simple answer, if you're thinking about running for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, MEET THE PRESS MODERATOR: If you win re-election this year, are you going to pledge to serve a full six-year term?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: So look, I am not running for president of the United States. I am running for the United States Senate 2018, Massachusetts, whoo hoo.

TODD: I take it as a no, you're not pledging to serve your full a six-year term if you win the election?

WARREN: I already told you, I have no intention of running for president of the United States. I am in this fight to retain my Senate seat in 2018. That's where I'm focused, that's where I'm going to stay focused. I'm not running for president.

TODD: So no pledge though on the six years?

WARREN: I am not running for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So is that a final answer? I am not running for president sure sounds definitive, but not promising to serve the full six years to some suggests Senator Warren trying to leave herself a little wiggle room.

It's not just political reporters who get the to crack the code here, Senator Bernie Sanders and Warren are the favorites of many liberals. And if Warren is not a 2020 candidate, well, that would create a pretty big space for others to enter the fray on the left side. So that was not Shermanesque, right?

WARREN: I mean, that's the surefire way of saying -- of not admitting that you are actually thinking about it. But I do think it is significant. She is, I think, looking at 2018, waiting to see what happens, and it's probably a little less optimistic that it's going to be so easy for a Democrat, even a Democrat like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren who have so much fervor on the left side of their party to take on Donald Trump.

That's I think what all of these folks are watching and waiting for and why they're sort of keeping the anything definitive out of the conversation.

KING: So I e-mailed a bunch of smart folks back in Massachusetts after she had said that, and they're not sure what she means either. But universally they said, it's smart if you're on the ballot in 2018, you don't insult the voters by talking about the next election.

However, she doesn't face at least at this point, no one thinks she has a significant challenge back home so she would have the freedom to be more open-minded. But, just caution there or is she's saying no?

RAJU: I don't know. I mean, she obviously sounds very evasive. I think she needs to come up with a better answer than this. Because it's clear what she had --

KING: Is there a better answer if you're not sure of the answer?

RAJU: Well, maybe she could just be honest with the voters and say, I'm thinking about it but I'm going to for this right now. I don't know, maybe that will be perfectly fine.

KING: To that point, let me interrupt you, let's go back in time, 2006, two people both definitely, absolutely, possibly, thinking about running for president. Different answers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOMINIC CARTER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, RNN NEWS: Six years ago, you pledged that you would serve out your full term in the Senate and you did so. Why can't you make the same pledge this time around?

[12:45:01] HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Because, you know, Dominic, I am focused on what I'm doing. And I don't know what the future holds, and I have no decision ready to be made or even waiting in the wings.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will serve out my full six-year term. You know, Tim, if you get out enough sooner or later you get weary. And you start looking for new ways in seeing things but my thinking has not changed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will not run for president or vice president in 2008?

OBAMA: I will not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KUCINICH: He did.

KING: He did. At least, for all the Clinton critics out there, at least she gave a much more honest answer, I don't have anything for you right now. She didn't say she wasn't running. The guy who ended up being president said no.

KUCINICH: Well, that's the other thing. There's nothing -- even if she had said, absolutely, I am going to serve my six years if I win. We still would be talking about it.

KING: I'm old enough to remember, I went to Arkansas in 1981. Bill Clinton said he would not run for president if re-elected as governor. And then he had (INAUDIBLE) lo and behold, there were people all around the state that popped up at meetings saying, sir, we need you to break that promise. It was a total grassroots explosion.

(INAUDIBLE)

KING: Another question for Senator Warren. She has faced a lot of criticism. The president of the United States uses what many think is a racial slur, calling her Pocahontas. So she's faced a lot of criticism. To back up here claim, she has Native American heritage.

Listen to this exchange with Chuck Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: It's a part of me. And nobody is going to take that part of me away. Not ever.

TODD: What's wrong with knowing?

WARREN: I do know. I know who I am. And never used it for anything, never got any benefit from it anywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: I mean, the Berkshire Eagle, a newspaper in the western part of Massachusetts suggest that she take a DNA test. That's where the question came from.

TALEV: I mean, that's a little undignified, right?

KUCINICH: It just -- it sounds like the birth certificate thing to me. It is just -- it is hearkening back to you need to prove who your family history -- in her words, her family history says she is. I mean, it seems like we're -- I don't know. I agree, it's a little undignified.

WARREN: I don't know I would say -- she said she never used it to sort of gain advantage. S he did say it in a professional setting that she sort of claimed this. And I think the fact that she's not been forthright, just a strictly sort of political, analytical matter, it is a problem for her.

It didn't hurt her ultimately in winning her seat in Massachusetts, but it's one of these things that I think is going to be certainly exploited by her opponents. I would be surprised if some Democrats --

KING: I think everybody is right. It's not necessarily dignified. It's not necessary but -- even if you look at the last several presidential cycles and the kind of things that come into the news, it will be used against her whether it's right or wrong. Or fair or unfair --

RAJU: She's still be asked about it constantly by reporters.

TALEV: But (INAUDIBLE) to attach herself to legislation and such, and that's what she's doing with it.

KING: If she runs, we'll get a test of that.

Up next, why some of the president's allies in Congress are worried about that off-script rally in Pennsylvania.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:52:19] KING: Rally Trump, as he's called, is the subject of some crackling, Monday morning quarterbacking today. The president spoke for more than an hour, Saturday night. His education secretary today says part of what he said sets a bad example for children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Did you ever see the story where it's 1999, I'm on "Meet The Press," a show now headed by sleepy eyes Chuck Todd. He's a sleeping son of a bitch, I'll tell you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Republican strategists who know they can't keep the president off the road wish he would stick to this. The price if Republicans stay home and Democrats take back the House. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They're going to take away your taxes, your tax cuts. They're going to take away your Second Amendment rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Democrats want 2018 to be a national referendum on Trump, which is why smart Republican strategists cringe or scream when the president goes into full Mt. Rushmore mode.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: If we coasted for two and a half years, we did a hell of a job. You know that. We have done more than any first-term administration in the history of our country.

Do you like me? I think so. I like you, too. I love you. Is there any more fun than at a Trump rally?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tom share some reporting on what people think. There was some good in there as a communicator on the Republican agenda. There was a lot of the stuff in there that the president loves, that fellow people members of his party just get apoplectic about.

RAJU: Yes, and this is all was been the risk of Trump. He like big rally, his base loves it, they loves the red meat but then he says something that doesn't quite surprise a lot of folks, it's not that probably the right thing to say. It distracts from their message, it leads to several days of news stories that they don't want to focus on.

It's the risks and reward of putting Trump on the campaign trail. But in this case, he probably had to do it because they need it. This is a base election ultimately, he need to get his base to the polls on Tuesday.

KUCINICH: I think what candidates have to realize is when President Trump comes (INAUDIBLE) for you, it's going to be about President Trump. Luther Strange saw that and now, Saccone saw that.

But when it comes to the Roy Moore race, when Trump was (INAUDIBLE), he did see a bump. Now, in his popularity now, that reduced the closer you got to the election, I think it was like four days or something. But -- so we'll see if that happens here. But that is a risk that I think Republican candidates are just going to have to internalize.

KING: The Republicans are already reluctant. Is this kind of a test case that if Rick Saccone loses, they'll say, should keep the president away? And if Rick Saccone wins, if he ekes it out, will people say, well, maybe we shouldn't bring the president in or is that (INAUDIBLE) district by district, region by region? [12:55:06] TALEV: I mean, I think the president is going to -- if Rick Saccone doesn't win, the president is going to say that he was a (INAUDIBLE) candidate and he did everything he could to help but it wasn't enough. And he's going call the Democrat and say, I hope we can work together on stuff.

We actually already seen this play out once.

RAJU: If they win, he'll take credit for the win.

TALEV: Of course.

WARREN: I mean, I just don't understand the Republicans fretting about this. We all know who Donald Trump is. We know it's all baked into when he appears or even when he doesn't appear. S o the fact that you've got Republican strategists sort of wringing their hands over this, it sort of wake up. It's 2018.

This is the party, this is the leader you have, and you guys got to figure out how to make it work.

KING: They're trying to find a way to make it less terrible. I was in touch with someone very smart this morning who said, we need to make this all local races. And every time he does that, he makes it more national.

We'll how it plays out. Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS.

Stay with us, a very interesting week. See you back here this time tomorrow. Wolf starts after a quick break. Have a good day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington. Thanks very much for joining us.

Breaking news. The porn start suing President Trump now offering to return her hush money to end her silence.