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Asylum Seekers at Border; McConnell Dodges Migrant Question; Trump Talks Guest Farm Workers; Cautious Amid North's Promises; Trump Predicts Midterms. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 30, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Judge will then sit down to write what he expects to be a 200-page opinion here. And we expect that any decision will come before a June 21st merger deadline that is looming between AT&T and Time Warner.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, definitely a quick read.

All right, Jessica, thank you so much.

Thank you so much.

All right, and thank you all also for joining me. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

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

President Trump's team says they are not starry-eyed about the prospect of getting North Korea to give up its nukes. The big summit is still on and South Korea's leader says it's proof to him Mr. Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

Plus, the White House says Dr. Ronny Jackson is still on the job in the West Wing. But after losing his chance to be VA secretary, is he also out as the president's personal physician?

And the president talks trademark tough as a caravan of immigrants arrives at the U.S.-Mexican border. But is he about to anger his base by allowing a big increase in the number of immigrants allowed in to help American farmers?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But we need people to be able to come into our country, do your jobs, help you on the farms, and then they go out, they get to leave, guest workers. We're going to take care of them, guest workers. Don't we agree? We have to have them. We have to have them. We're going to have a lot of things happening, but then they have to

go out. Then they have to go out. But we're going to let them in because you need 'em. You need 'em.


KING: More on the president's curious guest worker comments there in just a moment.

But we begin today with another immigration challenge, a standoff now at the southwestern border. Customers of Border Protection insisting, we're already at full capacity here in the United States and nobody gets special treatment or special protections, even, and especially, anybody claiming to be part of a so-called caravan. A mess is President Trump's term of art for the migrants now after a month of traveling north through Central America and Mexico, often on foot, are now at America's doorstep. So close to the U.S., they can see the lights of businesses across the border from Tijuana, Mexico. They're waiting just outside the San Ysidro Port of Entry, that's south of San Diego, where, on average, 25,000 people cross freely into the United States every day.

But for asylum seekers, crossing is a long, exhausting waiting game with terrible odds. Consider this, just two years ago, only 12 percent of worldwide applicants were successfully granted asylum in the United States. That's just 20,000 people under a very different administration. Even so, these individuals say they'll wait until each and every one of them is allowed in for processing.

CNN's Leyla Santiago gives us an update here from Tijuana.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This group behind me, about 100 migrants from that caravan, many of them Central America, many of them saying they are fleeing violence and poverty with horrific stories of threats on their lives or their children's lives, they are now at the U.S.-Mexico border. This is what they have been going toward when they go north on this journey, an annual march with religious roots that has become controversial given President Trump's tweets early on in their journey.

They are here to seek asylum. Under U.S. federal law, this is the legal way to do it through a port of entry. But this group arrived here and is now -- has now, rather, stayed through the night, through the darkness, through the cold, covering themselves up with blankets, as well as tarps.

And then inside, closer to the door, they are there, a smaller group of about 20 to 30 women asking for the same thing. They were stopped by a U.S. official who said we do not have the capacity at this hour to process asylum claims. And so I watch as together they said, in unity, we wait. They are willing, in this last stretch of their journey, to wait out here in the cold, in the dark with hungry children, to be able to get in that door and seek asylum. What will happen next, how long they'll wait, that is the uncertainty for them. Leyla Santiago, CNN, Tijuana, Mexico.


KING: We'll keep in touch with Leyla as she watches this play out.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of "The New York Times," CNN's Manu Raju, Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal," and Jackie Kucinich with "The Daily Beast."

You see the pictures. Some people will see them and have compassion, say, look at the children, look at the women. At least hear them out. At least hear them out about the problems they have back home and let's see if they should be granted asylum. Others will say, strong border, stand up. The president is in the strong border party. He calls this a mess. He calls it a disgrace. He's thankful, he says, the Mexican government is now helping.

I just want you to listen. We're in the middle of an election year as we watch this play out. This is the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, just a few moments ago on Capitol Hill. Some have tried to ask him his thoughts on this.

[12:05:03] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)


QUESTION: You know about the migrant caravan and --

MCCONNELL: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: The migrant caravan that we're seeing at the southern border, what -- what we have to do there?

MCCONNELL: Yes, I think I'll just stick with this subject today. Thank you.


KING: Why not?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a difficult -- it's a difficult issue. Mitch McConnell, for one, for a long time has been very careful about the immigration issue. While he's voted alongside the hardliners in his party, he knows that espousing this hard line rhetoric is not necessarily helpful, particularly for someone who has guys in Senate races, where there's a significant voting population of Hispanic voters. Look at Nevada, where Dean Heller, one of the most venerable Republican incumbents is up for re-election. Someone who's been much more supportive of a more moderate immigration policy than say the president. So the president wants to fire up his base here very clearly. He think it can help them politically. But not everybody in his party is willing to take such a hard line on this issue, which is why McConnell is doing what he's doing. KING: I just want to point out, as we talk -- I'm sorry to interrupt,

but this is the Nigerian president arriving at the White House. President Trump greeting him outside of the West Wing there. You'll see the handshake. The two leaders will head inside. Now, we should get some comments from the president of Nigeria and the president of the United States in a few moments. We'll continue our conversation until we get there. But you just see the greeting there outside the West Wing.

I'm sorry, Michael.

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": That's OK. I was just going to say that we'll see -- it will be interesting to see what President Trump does with these images. The talk about a caravan is such a resonant image and a vivid one that it paints in the minds. And this is a president who -- who is gifted at these sort of images and politics. And we've seen him moved by images and pictures of children before, particularly in Syria. When these images start being played over and over again on TV, of children at the border who are, you know, waiting outside, staying overnight, it will be interesting to see how he reacts to that or has a similar reaction and right -- and how that impacts his view on military intervention in the Middle East.

KING: Right, because, for now, for now his view is it's an assault on U.S. sovereignty. That these people are deliberately coming up to the United States border thinking they can get across.

But listen to him Saturday night in Michigan. First he called the caravan a mess. He said it was a disgrace. He blamed it on Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi saying it's weak Democratic laws that are allowing people to get into the United States. There's a process for applying for asylum. But the president was out at a political rally. Don't expect everything to connect, shall we say.

And then he does this. He says -- he -- then he says, I'm going to get my wall. I'm going to come back for more money from my wall. And if I don't get it, I'm willing to shut down the government.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need security. We need the wall. We're going to have it all. We come up again on September 28th, and if we don't get border security, we'll have no choice, we'll close down the country, because we need border security.


KING: This is part of the great debate we're going to be talking about, six months to the midterms from tomorrow. The president thinks this is what he should be talking about because this is what helped him in 2016. Mitch McConnell says this is not what you should be talking about. You should be talking about the economy and taxes.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": Well, and in -- back when the Quinnipiac poll took this last time, 30 percent of people supported shutting down the government for immigration. But, you know, American's views on immigration are really nuanced. There was a new Quinnipiac poll that came out and it -- something like 51 percent, 52 percent supported putting the National Guard on the border, and yet over 70 percent support keeping DACA recipients in the country and letting them have a pathway to citizenship.

So it's really -- it's not a simple issue in terms of how Americans feel about it. Certainly that will -- while it may rile up the base, the midterm elections are also complicated. It depends on where you are. It also could turn people away.

KING: And here's what -- I was watching the president Saturday night and this one jumped out at me that made me really curious, so I've done some reporting since. This is the president of the United States, in the middle of a speech in which he calls the caravan a mess, says those migrants must be stopped, says he's willing to shut down the government if he doesn't get his border wall funding, then drops in this, a much more open approach to guest workers.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And for the farmers, OK, it's going to get good. And we're going to let your guest workers come in, because we're going to have strong borders, but we have to have your workers come in. You know, the unemployment picture is so good, it's so strong that we have to let people come in. They're going to be guest workers. They're going to come in, they'll going to work on your farms, we're going to have the H-2B's come in, we're going to have a lot of things happening, but then they have to go out.


KING: So why did that get dropped in the middle of that. In the spending bill they passed -- the big massive spending bill -- they snuck in language that allows the administration -- it was an amendment passed late at night -- it allows the administration to roughly double the amount of guest workers allowed in. This language also existed last year. The administration slow-walked it, allowed only a tiny number of guest workers in, angering the farm community, angering the chamber of commerce. What was the president doing there? Does he know something we don't know? Are they prepared to actually go through -- there's a lot of pressure from the business groups who are saying, please let these workers in, we need them. Has the president already made a decision or is that a trial balloon to see whether there was applause or not?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I mean, I found it a big fascinating because you saw him look down at his paper before he mentioned guest worker, that he wasn't doing a whole lot of that during this speech. This was a very free-wheeling sort of vintage Trump rally speech where he was going from topic to topic and it was a lot of, you know, pretty strong rhetoric. At that point he looked down at his paper and you could almost imagine "guest worker" is written there.

[12:10:12] I do think that the White House really wants to debate immigration going into the midterms. I don't think a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill, particularly Mitch McConnell and his colleagues, want to do that. But this is one way that they could jump start a debate on immigration and try to get in all of these changes to asylum policy and all the other border-specific policies that don't have to do with people coming to work on farms but have to do with, what do you do with people who show up and either claim asylum or who cross the border illegally and are here, and what do you do with them.

And I -- and I think that he is trying to generate a sense that this is not all about animus. This is not all about keeping people out. This is about doing what's right for Americans. I do think that there's been a lot of pushback, for instance, on the tariff policy and he realizes that, you know, the hard line on tariffs, the hard line on immigration is going to hurt farmers and they're starting to really push back on that.

KING: But the Breitbart crowd was furious when that language was put into the spending bill. They thought they had kept it out this time. They were furious when it was put in. it will be interesting to me, is the president willing to pick that fight with his base. Even as he says, give me my wall money, is he willing to be more open and pro- business, if you will?

RAJU: And is he willing to take the hard line that he's warning he was going to take here, shutting down the government, because the Republican leaders in Congress absolutely do not want a big shut-down fight over immigration weeks before the election. They could lose the House majority, possibly the Senate majority. So will the president ultimately relent and how will his base react?

BENDER: As Julie mentioned, this is a -- there's a little bit of this that's a gift to farmers, part of the base that's furious with him over the tariffs. This also allows him to talk about the economy. The economy is doing so well that we need more workers in this. And as Julie mentioned, this is -- a lot of agricultural workers here, we're also talking about fisheries, we're also talking about ski resorts, but we're also talking about people who work at Trump properties.

KUCINICH: I was going to say, what about the Trump properties?

KING: Right.

DAVIS: Right.

KUCINICH: Absolutely. But also I wouldn't rule out the president backtracking, because we've also seen him, if he -- they doesn't like an immigration policy that he's floated, like say DACA, he will absolutely backtrack and go back to his hardline stance.

KING: I took it clearly as he -- I'm going to float this out there moment.


KING: I'm going to say this publicly. We'll see what happens. See how I feel about it. We'll see where we go from there. But it's fascinating to watch.

Up next for us, the president floats a potential cite for his big meeting with Kim Jong-un and asks his Twitter followers to weigh in. What do you think it should be?


[12:16:35] KING: Welcome back.

President Trump today suggesting Korea's demilitarization zone is the best site for his summit meeting with Kim Jong-un. And South Korea's president is pushing something certain to win Mr. Trump's approval, suggesting the American president now deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. Singapore, Mongolia are known to be on the short list for the Trump- Kim summit, but the president suggests the same location just used for the beg meeting between Kim and South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in.

Would peace house/freedom house, on the border of North and South Korea, be a more representative, important and lasting site than a third party country? Just asking, the president tweeted this morning.

Now, of course, the substance matters a lot more than the site. The president's top advisers say they welcome promises from the North to stop testing nukes and to come to the table ready to negotiate giving those nukes up. But the president's team also says they're plenty skeptical.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There's nobody starry-eyed around here. And we've all been called a number of things, naive is not usually one of them. I think the president sees the potential here for an historic agreement. But as he says repeatedly, the potential for no deal at all is also there.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: This administration has its eyes wide open. We know the history. We know the risks. We're not going to take promises. We're not going to take words. We're going to look for actions and deeds.


KING: It is a fascinating moment and you had the president's new team, new secretary of state, new national security adviser, who presumably -- and this meeting's going to take place in three or four weeks, it's not scheduled yet -- will be at his side and they're trying to just reassure people, look, we get it, North Korea has cheated on every other deal it's ever entered into, but we've got to test it, right?

BENDER: Yes, it will be nice to hear them say exactly what -- what they're not starry-eyed about and what --

KING: Right.

BENDER: And kind of what lessons they've learned from past attempts, because what we've heard from the president on here is mostly criticism. He doesn't want to hear what's failed before, advice from people who have done this before, and it's not clear what lessons they're really bringing away from it.

As for the site, it would be amazing to have this meeting at the border. Our reporting has shown, at "The Washington Journal" has shown it's a little bit different. You mentioned Singapore, and also Geneva's in the talks there. It feels like it's closer to Singapore these days, but I guess we have to just watch Trump's Twitter account because that's where all the news on North Korea and these discussions is going to come from, from the president.


DAVIS: It seems like his advisers, from what I understand, are pretty much against having it in the demilitarized zone, just because it would be Trump showing up at Kim Jong-un's doorstep, and it would really be, you know, seen as a gesture in that way. So I think apart from the president himself, there's not a ton of support inside the White House for doing it.

Plus, we just --

KING: And he's fond of saying, he's president, they're not.

DAVIS: Exactly. And if it's -- and if that's where he wants to have it, and if he can get the agreement of the North Koreans, that's where it will be.

You know, there's also the issue of what happened when Kim Jong-un just met a few days ago there with the South Korean president, President Moon, and he basically pulled him over to the North side. That would be an awkward moment, to have an American president standing in North Korea.

But, again, like you -- if that's what he wants to do, that's what he'll do. I mean I think the bar here, though, is pretty high, and that's part of the reason you're hearing John Bolton and Mike Pompeo talk about, you know, not being starry-eyed and not being naive. For them to get somewhere with the North Koreans in these talks, that they would be able to say it's beyond where other American presidents have been able to push this issue, is as good or better than, for instance, the Iran nuclear deal, where they've had to basically get rid of 97 percent of their nuclear program, I mean that's going to be a pretty high bar to clear and I think that's part of why you're hearing this kind of a set-up for it.

[12:20:10] RAJU: Yes. and the question ultimately will be, is this deal going to be different than say the Iran deal the way the president has criticized the Iran deal as giving Iran all the incentives upfront and then hoping that they would take steps to lessen their nuclear program afterwards.

But the administration has not ruled that out as a possibility here with North Korea, saying that there -- Pompeo was asked point blank yesterday whether he would -- the administration would be open to allowing North Korea to -- easing some of the sanctions on North Korea before seeing some of these concrete steps taken. Will they ultimately insist on some of those concrete steps before easing those sanctions? We don't know that yet.

KING: Right. And part of the debate is everyone's looking -- because this is historic, everyone's looking for, what do we base this on? So John Bolton, the president's new national security adviser, talks about what happened in Libya with Muammar Gadhafi was still in power. And they agreed to give up a nuclear program. He's -- I think we're looking at the Libya model, 2003-2004. We're also looking at what North Korea itself has committed to previously, and, most importantly, I think going back over a quarter century of the 1992 joint North- South denuclearization agreement. He goes on to say, they broke that agreement.

Anthony Blinken, who worked in the Obama administration, said, now, wait a minute. Now, remember, Gadhafi's dead. Gadhafi lost power and worst things --

DAVIS: It did not end well.

KING: Yes, and did not end -- did not end well. And Anthony Blinken says, I heard directly from the Chinese that the Libya model did not inspire confidence in Pyongyang. I would be very concerned that the combination of Libya and then Trump tearing up the Iran agreement sends exactly the wrong message to Kim Jong-un and undermines whatever hope exists for negotiations.

That, again, is sort of the crossroads right at the moment, where the president thinks his strong approach, fire and fury, locked and loaded, and now I'm not afraid to walk away from the Iran deal, the president thinks that's what's working. That's what's getting North Korea to the table. Other people look at it and say, if you rip up the Iran deal on May 12th, the deadline fast approaching, is Kim going to sign a piece of paper with you if he thinks that once he does something you don't like, you're going to rip it up?

BENDER: That's -- and we're reported on the talks between Pompeo and Kim Jong-un, that that was basically the message along the lines of a Libya approach. I don't think that -- and I'm hearing reporting that say that Pompeo used those words. But the words he did use was he wants a big bang in this agreement. Some very big and something broad and something -- major changes up front where -- and while -- and, meanwhile, Kim Jong-un is looking for a more phased-in approach. And it will be interesting to see what here gets negotiated ahead of time. And I mean you mentioned Trump seems to have a lot of leverage in this negotiation with the maximum pressure strategy.

RAJU: And, you're right, though, John, that what -- if Trump tears up the Iran deal or walks away from it ahead of this May deadline, what's Kim to say, look, the United States is not going to stand by their commitments, we don't need to agree to any sort of long terms strategy because in a few years a new administration will come up and rip up the North Korea deal.

KUCINICH: Well, I think the problem is you have two leaders that tend to say something and then walk away from it. So there -- it is very hard to trust that when you could say we're going to shut down the nuclear site and then, you know, not end up not doing it, and then what you all were saying about the Iran -- they can point to what Trump does with the Iran deal. So there is that factor as well.

KING: And to your point about people pushing for clarity, about what do they mean about denuclearization, how long would they phase in (ph), are they willing to give up sanctions or economic relief up front? A lot of people even around the president are worried all this talk about a Nobel Peace Prize will get him thinking about a deal, a deal, any deal, as opposed to the specifics of a deal. We'll see how this one plays out.

When we come back, tomorrow, Tuesday, six months from Tuesday, the midterm elections. Is the president a plus or a big minus for his own party?


[12:27:43] KING: If you're counting by Tuesdays, the midterm election, six months from tomorrow. And in a midterm election year, the signal biggest factor by far is the president's approval rating. If it's up, his party does OK. If it's down, his party gets hammered. There's the president right now, just below 40 percent with six months to go.

Let's take a little look at history. His three immediate predecessors. You see President Bush, George W. Bush, President Clinton and President Obama. Where they stood six months out and where they ended up come November. Now let's look at the history. Again, President Obama went down, President Bush went down, President Clinton went down just a little bit. This is 2002 is the outlier because it was the first midterm after 9/11. President Bush still very popular. And as you see, Republicans did quite well, defying history in that election. It is 2010 and 1994 advisers tell President Trump you should study.

So let's just take 2010. President Obama down to 45 percent by November, look what happened, the Democrats lost six Senate seats and 63 seats in the House. President Trump, only at 38 percent now. Can he go up? That's what Republicans would hope. But the history tells you it doesn't happen. Those six months presidents stay pretty static. President Trump, though, if you listen to him on the road in Michigan Saturday night, he is convinced, despite all the advice he's getting, even from his own team, he can defy history.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Historically, when you win the presidency, the person that wins, the party that wins, does poorly in what they call the midterms. And the reason is I guess you take it easy a little bit, right? Something happens. I guess it's 93, 94 percent of the time. This is over a long period of time. I don't know what. You get -- you know what it is? You get complacent. We cannot be complacent. We've got to go out, right? We got to go out -- we got to go out and we got to fight like hell and we got to win the House and we got to win the Senate. And I think we're going to do great in the Senate. And I think we're going to do great in the House because the economy is so good. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is fascinating to watch, and anyone who says, oh, he's wrong, has to remember 2016 when everybody said he wouldn't run, everybody said there's no way he'll win the Republican primaries and everybody said there's no way he'll be president of the United States. Now, so far, 2017 and 2018 have gone back to more historical models. We've seen all these Democratic wins, Democratic intensity. It tends to follow, what's the president's approval rating, then we see what happens to play out.

[12:30:05] But, the president on the road, his own advisers are telling him, sir, you're probably going to lose the House. The Senate is in peril. He says, no way.

DAVIS: Absolutely.