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Macron Tests Friendship With Trump; Trump Touts Progress With North Korea; Pompeo Faces Rebuke; Senators Question VA Nominee; Romney Fails GOP Nomination. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 23, 2018 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Emmanuel Macron's nickname in Europe is "the Trump whisperer," but can the president of France use his state visit this week to save the Iran nuclear deal.

Plus, the president's pick to be secretary of state is poised to lose the key committee vote today. Is Mike Pompeo a bad pick or do we live in the age of politics trumps all.

And more ethics and judgement questions for the EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, yet the White House insists all is fine.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, that's not my question. My question is, keeping Scott Pruitt in place, is that really draining the swamp like the president promised given the headlines that Pruitt has faced and given the optics of all this, which, by the way, downs Tom Price back in the day?

SHORT: There is much this administration has been doing to help drain the swamp, including setting all sorts of new restrictions upon employees and the revolving door between lobbyists that work in this administration. There is more work we can do, Haley (ph). We will accept that. But I think Scott Pruitt's doing a great job and we look forward to keeping him there as EPA administrator.


KING: We begin the hour with the delicate dance of delicacy. A dance likely to dominate Washington this week. In just under an hour, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, is due to land just outside of Washington at Joint Base Andrews. From there he heads to the White House, where priority one is convincing President Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. The French president tells Fox News, there's really no alternative.


EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: Is this agreement perfect and is JCPOA a perfect thing for our relationship with Iran? No. But for nuclear, what do you have as a better option? I don't see it. What is a what if scenario or your plan b? I don't have any plan b for nuclear against Iran.


KING: Now, Macron isn't the only one with a message about the risks of ripping up the deal. Here's the Monday morning view from "The Drudge Report," highlighting a stern warning from Iran itself saying President Trump needs to hold up his end of that bargain. The German chancellor also coming to Washington this week to follow Macron's Iran deal nudges. But the French president has the stage first and a bigger stage because of his personal bond with the president. That Fox interview, just the latest sign Macron studies the Trump playbook. But it's unclear if his personal relationship will get the results he seeks.

With me to share their reporting and their insights this day, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Olivier Knox with Sirius XM, CNN's Manu Raju and Catherine Lucey with the "Associated Press."

What is the president's answer to President Macron when he says, what is your plan b? What is -- what do you have in the alternative?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I don't think he's ready with a plan b, exactly. I don't think he knows exactly what he's going to say. But he does like Macron a lot. He will listen to him. I think he likes him so much because they're both new leaders. They both had similar elections. They were both surprise winners.

So I don't think the president has a good relationship with him. I don't think it's as bromancey as everyone has been saying, but I do think Macron knows how to appeal to Trump, obviously, by that Fox News interview that he did before. He knows what the president is watching. He knows how to appeal to him. And he knows that in person is the best way to make that appeal to the president to stay in the Iran deal.

KING: Will it work? Especially if you look at the president several times in his administration, has decided, despite his very and repeated public comments, he doesn't like this deal, doesn't think it was a good deal, doesn't think it was well negotiated, doesn't think it does anything about Iran's other bad activities in the region. But he's listened to former Secretary Tillerson. He's listened to Secretary Mattis.

With the new team in place, Olivier, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, viewed as more hawkish, is the president going to rip it up this time or will there be another pause?

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: Well, that's -- that's obviously the question of the moment. And with this new team, he's not -- he doesn't have any voice that says, no, no, wait, hold on, let's stay in. At least nothing that we've heard.

The danger with pinning all of this on Macron is that we've had Trump whisperers before, right? Xi Jinping and the president got along really well at their quasi summit at Mar-a-Lago. Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, is always talked about as someone who has mastered the Trump playbook. Both of those people have had major reversals on the policy within the Trump administration. So saying that, you know, Macron is the Trump whisperer, I agree completely with Kaitlan, bromance is cute but it really just -- it overstates the kind of influence that Macron has.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I think that you'll probably hear the president say positive things after their meetings, suggest that perhaps he's open to staying in. But this meeting will fade and then he'll have other meetings, probably with his new secretary of state, who will be confirmed later this week, Mike Pompeo, who has, during his confirmation hearings, made pretty clear that, you know, he didn't commit to staying in this deal. He said they want fixes to this deal but what exactly do those fixes mean? And it really -- he's been a critic of this deal.

He's going to be surrounding himself from those -- those key players, but May is going to become -- is the critical time for him to pull out. If he pulls out from this deal, what does that -- what does that foreshadow about the North Korean nuclear deal, if there is a North Korean deal? How will the North Koreans view that? And those are things that the president's going to have to ultimately (INAUDIBLE).

KING: It --

[12:05:12] CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": I think as well we always have to view this president coming back to again and again how things play with his base, with his voters, and what kind of promises he made on the campaign trail. As much as he likes some of these leaders, as much as he's building relationships, which he absolutely is doing, that really is kind of the touchstone he comes back to.

KING: Right. And to that point, Prime Minister Abe, with whom he has a very close relationship, a very good, personal bond, they golfed again, but the president saying, no, sorry, I'm not giving you relief from tariffs. So there's a great deal of pressure now from the other European leaders who acknowledge Macron has a better relationship with Trump than they do.

Chancellor Merkel will be behind him this week. Her relationship with the president is frosty, to say the least. But she wants to make the case too, there's no alternative, sir, stay in the deal for now.

Listen to Macron talking about why he thinks he and the president get along so well.


EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: We have a very special relationship because both of us are probably the maverick of the systems on both sides. I think President Trump's election was unexpected in your country and probably my election wasn't expected in my country.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Do you ever wonder whether he will serve his full term?

MACRON: I never wonder that.


KING: The last question there, a reflection that both presidents have domestic political issues they're dealing with. They're very different, but both of them are in domestic political trouble.

Macron there raising the bar, though. There's a lot of pressure on him from the other European leaders, use your influence to sway the president. He's not lowering the stakes there.

KNOX: And he's got a lot of asks. That's the other thing, right?

KING: Right.

KNOX: The Iran nuclear deal is, obviously, very important. The Europeans are proposing not changing the deal but adding these other side deals on issues like long-range missiles.

KING: Right.

KNOX: But he's got a lot of other asks. He wants to try to get the E.U. exempted from some of the tariffs the president has threatened. He's going to repeat his appeal for the president not to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. There's a lot going on there. So I don't know where -- he could always walk away with one of these as a win, but there's a lot on his plate.

RAJU: But, again, you know, it also -- it all goes back to, will the president actually follow through on some of the things that he is ultimately suggesting? The last time he went with Macron, he suggested -- floated the possibility they would go back -- get back into the Paris climate deal. We have not seen that actually met with any actions. That's been the ultimate issue for all these foreign leaders and they come away thinking things are going well, but what does the Trump administration ultimately do is the question.

KING: And does Trump have an ask of him? If we're having a -- if we're having a transactional meeting, or is the president just listening here?

KNOX: That's a good question. I think the -- in the briefings we've had at the White House, they haven't suggested any significant ask. But, you know, obviously the regular ask is trade. The second regular ask of European countries is that NATO partners meet a pledge they made in 2014 to commit 2 percent of their GDP to defense articles.

He will probably ask -- he calls Macron -- Macron and the president speak quite a bit.

KING: Right. KNOX: He may sound him out on issues like North Korea. I actually think Manu is right, that one of the arguments that's going to be made is going -- about the Iran deal is going to be, like, hold on, if you tear up this other deal, if you show that the United States won't abide by its fights -- previous engagements, what message are you sending to the North Koreans? What -- are you hurting your ability to get this other deal that you've placed such a premium on.

KING: And to that --

LUCEY: It's also an opportunity for the president to play the statesman in a way that we haven't seen him before.

KING: Right.

LUCEY: The first state visit. He wants to show that he is someone who can build these kinds of relationships, these ties, and we're going to see them really roll out the red carpet here over the next couple of days.

KING: Right. And taking it -- taking great -- to his credit, great advantage of the capital, in the sense they'll go down to Mt. Vernon for the dinner tonight to celebrate the long bonds between the United States and the French, but also to use some of the extra stage outside of Washington available to any president. So we criticize the president quite a bit here. Props to him for that for using Mt. Vernon. It's a beautiful, beautiful place to go.

You mentioned have leverage, the linkage. Now, North Korea and Iran are two very different issues, but you have rogue regimes, if you want to call them that, or wayward regimes in the world. The president tweeting out over the week, clearly North Korea on his mind. The summit could be next month or in June. And the president tweeting out over the weekend, you know, North Korea's agreed to suspend all nuclear tests, close up a major test site, very good news. Message from Kim Jong-un, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and the launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

So the president there promoting. Everyone in the White House is skeptical, including President Trump, who has made clear he wants to see it and believe it and verify it. But it is significant that the North Koreans at least are making these concessions. Is it a bluff to get sanctions relief? Is it a bluff just to get the meeting with President Trump? We will find out.

The president also inaccurately in one of the tweets, though, saying, we haven't given up anything and they have agreed to denuclearization. Good for the world. So great for the world, he said. They have not agreed to that.

COLLINS: Right. And that's the thing that the White House is getting to. The president has long thought he is the one who can solve this problem. His predecessors couldn't. He's always thought, if anyone could get North Korea handled, it would be him.

But even today the White House is having trouble facing these questions of, what is it going to result in? Would they give them -- is it full denuclearization that is going to require? They're going to have to get to that for them to get that economic sanctions relief.

And the White House really couldn't give a full answer on that today. Neither Marc Short, the legislative affairs director, or Sarah Sanders, the press secretary. Marc Short saying we should ask the NSC. Sarah Sanders saying she didn't want to get into the details before those negotiations between President Trump and Kim Jong-un take place.

[12:10:03] But, of course, that's something the administration has to decide before that meeting between the two of them happens. You can't make that decision once you're sitting at the table with the North Korean dictator.

KING: And they could face some of these questions even before that meeting in the sense that the North Koreans and the South Koreans are having a leader-leader meeting today for the first time in more than a decade.

If the South Koreans say, we think they're serious, they want to come to the table, they want to talk, and the South Koreans say, what about some food aid or what about modest sanctions relief, the White House is going to have to answer that question.

KNOX: Yes. And the White House is pretty aware of the last two decades of headlines from North Korea saying, you know, were going to suspend testing.

KING: Right.

KNOX: In the middle of the Bush administration, right, it was worded denuclearization and we're going to suspend testing. Didn't -- it didn't really happen. So they're pretty mindful of that. I think they are skeptical. They don't even agree on what denuclearization means, right, the North Koreas?

COLLINS: Exactly.

KNOX: But it is interesting to watch the -- what the North Koreans are at least putting on the table, including a possible actual peace agreement with the South. That's a pretty notable step.

KING: Right.

KNOX: They haven't said, we'll do this in return for the U.S. withdrawing all of its troops yet. And, in general, in the diplomatic community in D.C. what I'm hearing is generally -- is a lot of support for the idea of these direct talks between Donald Trump and Kim Jong- un.

COLLINS: What we're hearing from the president --

KING: It was Kim Jong-un's father who broke the last deal. This is -- this is a brave, new world in the sense of Kim Jong-un is never -- this leader has never been in this position. So is he going to follow the path of his father and grandfather, especially his father, and, you know, say I want a deal and then cheat, or does he have -- is he real?

RAJU: You know, it's not only the North Koreans. I'd be pretty happy about Trump's latest tweet about saying denuclearization has happened and misstating that because it hasn't happened and perhaps if the president has that belief going in, that's good news for them in these negotiations. I think there's a lot of question about why -- why the president ultimately believed that. Was he trying to mislead the public or was he misinformed about what exactly the North Koreans actually said they would do on Friday when they made that announcement.

KING: Any evidence of any sway?

LUCEY: I think some of what it speaks to is just that the president really does want to do some kind of meeting.

KING: Right.

LUCEY: He's been very clear he's interested. He's been very clear he wants to. And the tweets over the weekend signal that. Like he really -- to Kaitlan's point earlier, he really thinks he is the person who can do something here where others have not.

KING: Well, put the promise to the test. If it's at the leader to leader level or some level below it, I think put the promise to the test. And the president himself saying, I guess it was Friday, that if it's not going well, he'll get up and walk out. So we'll see how this one plays out.

A very big week on the diplomatic stage here. We'll keep an eye on that.

Up next for us, though, Mike Pompeo's moment of truth. The secretary of state nominee may face a historic rebuke later today by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


[12:16:38] KING: Welcome back.

Mike Pompeo likely to make a little history today, not in a way he would like. Barring a last minute change of heart, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon will vote against Pompeo's nomination to be secretary of state, with all of the Democrat and Republicans Rand Paul opposed. Pompeo, who's currently the CIA director, still likely to be confirmed by the full Senate, but he would be the first secretary of state to take office after being rejected in committee. The president making clear he's not happy, tweeting this morning, hard to believe obstructionists may vote against Mike Pompeo for secretary of state.

CNN's Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill counting the votes.

Phil, is this about Pompeo's resume or is this about his boss, the president? PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, look, Democrats have

certainly cited the former's kind of resume, whether it's his posture in which they consider far too hawkish for a diplomatic position, past comments related to LGBT issues or Muslims, just kind of his overall consideration on that front as their rational for voting no. But they also kind of give away a little bit in what they say next, which is they're concern about how close he is to the president, which underscores the fact that the latter idea, the president himself, is really looming large over this nomination. The fact that he is very comfortable with Mike Pompeo. The fact that Mike Pompeo's role in his cabinet will only grow and perhaps not check the president where Democrats say he should.

You know it's interesting, you talk to Republicans and they say, look, go through the guy's resume, whether it was at West Point, whether it was at Harvard, whether it's his time as CIA director, which even Democrats who were opposed to his nomination say they're pretty much -- they applaud that up to this point.

The reality remains that he's on the president's team. He's comfortable with the president. And Democrats are uncomfortable with that fact. If you roll through kind of where past nominees have been, whether it's the unanimous approval of Colin Powell, secretary of state, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry both getting 94 votes in favor, there's a dynamic that has shifted on Capitol Hill right now and Mike Pompeo is certainly on the receiving end of that. If the president nominates somebody, frankly Democrats are likely, at this stage in time, whether because it's political or because of the issues they have with that nominee, they're going to be opposed, John.

KING: And, Phil, is my math right, two Democrats now, Joe Manchin of West Virginia today says he's a yes. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota said that at the end of last week. Two at the moment?

MATTINGLY: Yes, that's exactly right. Joe Manchin coming out today in a tweet. I want to read part of it.

It says, after a meeting with Mike Pompeo discussing his foreign policy perspectives and considering his distinguished time as CIA director and his exemplary career in public service, I will vote to confirm Mike Pompeo. Heidi Heitkamp, on Friday, I'm told, expect at least potentially at least one, potentially two more Democrats will come on board and will give him enough votes to get over the finish line when he gets to the Senate floor. But a rather ignominious distinction, not just getting an unfavorable recommendation from the committee, but also the fewest votes in favor of any secretary of state nominee. The person who held that record -- or currently holds that record before Mike Pompeo, well, that would be Rex Tillerson with 56. Mike Pompeo probably going to end up somewhere around 52, 53 range, John.

KING: Welcome to the politics of the moment.

Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill.

Phil, appreciate that. Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, the two Democrats on the record of yes.

Now they share this. They're both up for reelection this year and they both come from states -- Donald Trump carried West Virginia by, what, 42 points. I think North Dakota was only 30 something. But they get it. They get the dynamics there.

But are -- is that -- is that just it, that the Democratic base is calling these guys up and saying you cannot vote for Mike Pompeo? Because to Phil's point, let's just put this up. Look at this list of secretary of state nominees here. Rex Tillerson, 56-43, but then John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Madeline Albright, Warren Christopher, James Baker, George Schultz, back to Alexander Haig. Things were political in the Reagan administration and in the Bush administration and in the Clinton administration, and in the next Bush administration and even in the Obama administration. But especially for secretary of state, usually it was, OK, the president deserves his team.

[12:20:19] RAJU: Yes.

KING: This is -- this is mostly about Trump, if not all about Trump, isn't it?

RAJU: Yes, it is. And you're a Democratic member who's not from a red state, who's not up for reelection, you're listening very closely to what your base is saying, and they want to resist. They want to fight Trump at all costs. It doesn't matter if there's someone who Mike Pompeo both sides agree is qualified for this position, even if they disagree with his ideological point of view. But very clearly, more -- most of the Senate Democratic caucus is a very progressive caucus, a very liberal caucus, wants to fight Trump tooth and nail. You do have those handful of red state Democrats who view this as an opportunity to break from the natural party, to side with the president, which is why you're seeing Manchin and Heitkamp vote for this nominee, but you'll also probably going to see Joe Donnelly vote for this nominee. You probably are going to see maybe one or two more. So you'll barely scrape by.

And one other point. There are two other nominees that are coming through, Ronny Jackson to be the VA secretary, Gina Haspel to be the CIA director. Some of these members don't want to be voting no every single time, particularly those Democrats from red states. Maybe they'll vote for one or vote against one of them, but not all three of them, as liberal members will do.

KING: Right. And, again, traditionally the argument is, the president deserves his team, even if I disagree with the president's views or with -- just the ideology of the person in place. And so, with Pompeo, that's why it is surprising to see so many no's in the sense that if you do look at him, he was top of his class at Harvard. He was top of his class at West Point. He did serve in the House of Representatives. Most Democrats, as Phil noted, give him pretty high marks, not only for the job he's doing as CIA director, but for his openness to them when they have questions. That he's actually, unlike some people in the government in all administrations, he's actually answering the questions when Congress calls. So there's that. But to the VA question, now, that is a -- that is a -- seems to be a legitimate, bipartisan question of qualifications. Everybody likes Dr. Ronny Jackson. He was President Obama's physician. He's President Trump's physician now. I haven't heard anybody speak an ill word of him. But listen to these senators, two Democrats and two Republicans. Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, doesn't have the experience you think would traditionally be required at the VA. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, he's got a great bedside manner but it doesn't mean he'll be a good leader of the VA. John Boozman of Arkansas, I do have concern about his experience so far as managing people. Patty Murray of Washington, he has some issues with management. He hasn't really overseen a large group.

Two Democrats, two Republicans, what they share are seats on the Veterans Affairs Committee where Ronny Jackson has to make his case later this week.

COLLINS: And Veterans Affairs hits home for a lot of people, for your constituents. You cannot vote for someone and put them in that position if you do not have full confidence in how they are going to run the VA, which, of course, has a lot of problems. So I think it hits home for a lot of people.

So the White House is saying that these Democrats need to get him confirmed, that he has impeccable credentials, which Ronny Jackson does. He is very well liked in the White House obviously by the president. They hold him in very high regard. But that doesn't mean that he has the experience to run an agency of this caliber. So that is the question here now. And the White House says it's just Democrats. But it's not just Democrats. It's a lot of Republicans too who are -- if they have not voiced their opposition to him, they are very skeptical of having him be confirmed for this. So he is going to be grilled in his confirmation hearing.

RAJU: And watch how the veterans service organizations comes out. That's going to be key to determining whether or not he's ultimately confirmed and how he resolves any of their concerns. They've been quiet so far, but if the come out and say they're opposed, expect some Republicans to say no as well.


LUCEY: And it really speaks, I think, to looking ahead. We've just been through a period where the president has seen a lot of turnover, has brought in a lot of new people. If it's this kind of process every single time he needs a confirmation, it really raises questions about whether he can afford to make any -- make more changes.

KING: As the -- that's the Pruitt question, front and center. No time to talk about that one, but that one's front and center. And if Ronny Jackson can't secure the votes, when you have another one. It's hard anyway given the political environment. It's even harder because Republicans don't want to be doing this in an election year, especially on something -- you mentioned the VA. You want to talk about an issue that they -- they have to answer when they go home to some of -- so they don't get asked a lot about the secretary of state when they go home and do town halls. They get asked a lot about the Department of Veterans Affairs and the hospitals.

COLLINS: Exactly.

KING: All right, a quick break. When we come back, just want to let you know, we're awaiting a press conference in Tennessee where a massive manhunt has been underway for the gunman who killed four people at a Waffle House early Sunday morning. Again, police saying a news conference coming up soon. We'll follow that.

But next for us, is this a Republican primary race or a family feud?


[12:28:38] KING: I want to remind you, we're standing by for a news conference in Tennessee. Law enforcement officials saying a few moments from now they will have some information. We don't know what that information is. But we do know there's been a manhunt underway since yesterday for that Waffle House shooter in Tennessee. We'll take you there live as soon as that event happens.

Back to politics now for a moment.

Odds are still pretty good that Mitt Romney will be Utah's next senator, but he's going to have to earn it by proving he can navigate today's turbulent Republican politics. Romney placed second at this week's Utah Republican Convention. Delegates there gave a narrow victory to State Representative Mike Kennedy, who says he is more in step with President Trump, not to mention, Kennedy says, he's a lifetime Utahan.


MIKE KENNEDY (R), UTAH SENATE CANDIDATE: I am your storm ready to be formed (ph) at the foes of liberty who seek to oppress us. Working together we will defeat the Goliaths in Washington and restore our government where it belongs.

MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH SENATE CANDIDATE: Some people I've spoken with today have said this is a David versus Goliath race, but they're wrong. First, none of us is David. David was a anointed of God. And, second, I'm not Goliath. Washington, D.C. is Goliath.


KING: Romney and Kennedy now face off in a primary.

CNN's Maeve Reston was in Salt Lake for the convention over the weekend, joins us now live.

Maeve, fascinating. The Romney people knew this would be rough. Did they know it would be that rough?

[12:30:02] MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I think they did. Mitt Romney had put, you know, 9,000 miles on his truck driving around, trying to show these Utah delegates that he was ready to earn it.