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White House, Israel Blame Hamas For Deaths On Gaza Border; EPA: Pruitt Wanted Security Before Threat Assessment; NYT: Trump Aides Frustrated By Pence Role Inside GOP Politics. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 15, 2018 - 12:30   ET



[12:31:45] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: More violence today on the border between Israel and Gaza, and more pushback from the Trump administration. Its critics say the President's decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is to blame for the violence. But the White House says responsibility for 60 deaths yesterday were squarely with Hamas which organized the protest and sent Palestinians including women and children to the border.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Make no mistake, Hamas is pleased with the results from yesterday. I asked my colleagues here in the Security Council who among us would accept this type of activity on your border? No one would. No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.


KING: That's the U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaking in an emergency session of the Security Council. That session called by critics of Israel and the Trump administration. The U.N. Human Rights Council added this to the debate. "It seems anyone is liable to be shot dead or injured, women, children, press, first responders, bystanders. And in almost any point up to 700 meters from the fence. The Human Rights Council is extremely worried about what may happen today, an emotional day on all sides, and in the weeks ahead. We urge maximum restraint. Enough is enough."

The contrasting images were remarkable yesterday. They're opening the embassy, a lot of media counts contrasting the pictures along the fence and the border and the deaths with Ivanka Trump unveiling the plaque in her father's name at the embassy, and now the blame game. Again, the blame game is not new, what is being said is not new, it's just being framed on this new event. But Ambassador Haley seemed pretty determine to push back hard today.

CARL HULSE, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well I think the administration knows they have to. I mean, the optics of these are bad, and I suspect they're going to get worse because the Palestinians see what's happening and this can invoke international outrage. You know, people who are throwing rocks getting shot. I think we're going to see an escalation of this and it's probably going to be a difficult issue for the Trump administration going forward here. They're going to have to maintain this defense.

And in some ways they're isolated, you know. Some of our own allies are really critical of Israel on this, so.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: It's a blame game that has gone on as long as a conflict itself. For 70 years it's never really going to be settle I think for a lifetime, was more at fault (ph). What is not debatable, though, is the fact that the Trump administration's moved in embassy in Jerusalem inflames this conflict and makes that prospect for peace in Middle East much work. I think that White House is denying that yesterday.

I don't think it's seriously deniable I think with the straight face given that Jerusalem is one of the three issues that has hung up peace negotiations for a long time along with the issue of settlement of borders and the right of return for refugees. You can't have a third- party come in and then say no word is setting that and now have a backlash.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: It's obviously not Ivanka Trump's fault that this happened any more than it would be true to equate Hamas with all the Palestinian people.

Let's get real for a second. And the administration said that what they wanted to do was get a peace deal, but in their actions, they have chosen not only to put this move on a fast track but to do it in a way where the leverage, the incentive for the Palestinians to reach this master peace deal was basically to give in to a bunch of their demands by taking Saudi Arabia and Egypt and other countries in the region and moving the goal post.

[12:35:15] And so that's a different way to achieve a big-time peace plan than by making everyone feel good and equal.

KING: Well, Iran is a much bigger issue to the players in the neighborhood right now than the Palestinians for better or worse, whatever your personal views on this and, you know, coming this choice at the day I got in Washington. But in the New York Times editorial page today, it lays out this is a debate that will not be settled today and it may not be settled in any of our lifetime, Sahil, though it's been with us for 70 years. But on the other hand, the New York Times editorial board talking about the failure of the Palestinians, and particularly Hamas in Gaza, lead too long by men who are corrupt or vulnerable.

They Palestinians have failed and failed again to make their own best efforts toward peace. Even now Gazans are undermining their own cause by resorting to violence rather than keeping their protest strictly peaceful. You cannot argue with that statement, nor can you argue with this in the same editorial.

For years, Israeli governments have insisted they have no peace partner on the either side, while behaving in a way they perpetuates that reality. The possibility of peace has continued to recede and Israel's democratic character has continued to erode under the pressure of a long-term occupation of millions of Palestinians who lack sovereignty of their own.

Two, things can be true in the same -- forgive me -- mess.

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, look, Bill Clinton would have had a peace agreement I think were it not for Yasser Arafat, and the first thing that he told George W. Bush when he came in office is you can't trust Yasser Arafat. But I think if you listen to the protesters who were interviewed by reporters yesterday waving flags if swastikas on them, they were protesting in order to insight Israeli. They said that they hope Jews burn in hell.

You know, and I do think that some of the news accounts take away from the agency of the actors on one side and they had no choice but to do this, and in Times that they also featured on op-ed by the leader of this protest you say doesn't believe in borders, and no borders means no Israel. And so I think you've got to pay attention to and listen to that, too.

KING: That is an absolute valid point. The question here is, you know, what next? What next? And the administration made its decision about the embassy and it's taking the heat for it. There's no question. There's President decided to stand with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The question is, and this is for the President, for Jared Kushner and everyone else involved. Will they try to get the Palestinians somehow back in the conversation? There's no peace process, just back in a conversation. That's the next challenge.

Up next for us here, big primary staying (ph) in four states none bigger than Pennsylvania where redrawn congressional map gives Democrats new hopes. They're turning things back their way.


[12:41:09] KING: Topping our political radar today, President Trump thanking the country for supporting the first lady as she recovers from a kidney procedure.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to start by saying that Melania is in the hospital doing really well. She's watching us right now. And I want to thank the incredible doctors at Walter Reed Medical Center. They did a fantastic job. So thank you. She sends her love.


KING: And the White House says Mrs. Trump underwent an embolization procedure for a benign kidney condition, but they're not specifying exactly what that kidney condition is.

First in four states of the polls today for more primaries. We're watching elections in Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon and Pennsylvania where for the first time voters are selecting candidates for their newly redrawn congressional districts which should help Democrats. They party hopes to pick up four maybe even five Pennsylvania House seats right now held by Republicans. Democrats need a net gain of 23 to retake the House.

Music lessons. Smokey Robinson on Capitol Hill today taking a stand for his fellow musicians of his ear, now losing out on royalties. The Senate's weighing legislation that would update industry roles on how recording artists and producers compensated. Robinson says it's unfair that so many older musicians whose songs are still played cannot collect royalties because the contracts they signed didn't anticipate things like satellite radio.


SMOKEY ROBINSON, RECORDING ARTIST: We recorded the labels (ph) personally and selling hit "Shop Around" in 1960. "I Second That Emotion" in 1967, and "Tears of a Clown" in 1970. Those happen to be some of the biggest records I've ever been associated with and to not be paid because they were prior to 1972 is ludicrous as far as I'm concerned.


KING: The EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will have more explaining to do when he appears before Senate subcommittee on appropriations tomorrow. It turns out the security detail he told Congress he needed because of death threats was put in place before any threat assessment was done. His first day on the job and at his request. That's according to an internal review. Again, that contradicts what Pruitt told lawmakers just a few weeks ago.


REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R), PENNSYLVANIA: When folks read about trips to Disneyland, professional basketball games, the Rose Bowl, and the additional security detail related to that, that doesn't sit well with a lot of people.

SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: Pruitt, I'm going to find you and put a bullet between your eyes. Don't think I'm joking, I'm planning this. So these are threats the IG has documented. We can provide this to you. The IG has said that threats against to me as administrator are unprecedented.


KING: Taxpayers last year spent some $2 million on Pruitt's security detail and expensive travel. And that's Administrator Pruitt in the hot seat. It's been about his first cost travel, it's been about his security, it's been about cone of silence whatever you want to call it. He installed I think $40,000 at his office.

Now, he is hitting a very senior Republican Senator where this Republican Senator gets, shall we say, involved. Chuck Grassley, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, but more importantly, Iowa's Senior Republican Senator, on a conference call with Agricultural reporters today. This is from our Manu Raju, was asked about EPA waivers for large refineries that allow them to skirt biofuels regulations. Grassley responded he may call on Pruitt to resign over the issue, which, of course, ethanol big in Iowa.

HULSE: Don't mess with corn country. I think that's what the message is there. You can do some of the other things, but if you are -- you know, this has always been an untouchable thing in Iowa, and maybe Mr. Pruitt is now going to learn what a lot of presidential candidates have learned in primaries going into Iowa, is don't mess around with ethanol.

KING: And is there a straw that ultimately breaks Pruitt's back? I mean, there's been so much of this body. He has this support of donors. He has the support of a lot of senators up there. Chuck Grassley maybe mad now. But a lot of call state senators like what they're doing there. And he has (INAUDIBLE) most so far the President.

[12:45:04] KAPUR: Very practically become mistest (ph) for how much lengthiness (ph) the President will tolerate. Early steps carrying to their off (ph), I mean, this has been a rolling story, new drip, drip of allegations that keep coming out. It is the conservative movement, it is donors as you pointed out. It's a strong movement on the right that is keeping on foot because he likes his agenda. They like what he's doing in terms of deregulation, you know, and undoing of President Obama.

TALEV: There's been two things that have been (INAUDIBLE) on the job. One is exactly what you said and the other is the kind of a disappearing cabinet and the President's challenges in replacing them. I think if Gina Haspel is successful in her confirmation, it removes one big obstacle to Pruitt. There's only so many vacancies that can be tolerated at once.

KING: I think the Senate wants to go home. They don't want to deal with this. But we'll see.

Vice President Mike Pence helps push the Republican agenda every day, but is that help? Creating some tension with the boss.


KING: Vice President Pence is nothing if not consistent. When he speaks the President Trump gets praise and more praise and generally even more praise. But the recent headlines are just tension at the top and those headlines certain to make some colorful whispering whispers.

POLITICO puts it this way. "Trump puts Pence in a corner. With the Vice President taking a higher profile on the campaign trail, the President has stepped in to assert his dominance." And in the New York Times, "Pence is trying to control Republican politics. Trump aides aren't happy." Your part of this reporting in POLITICO. How real is this, I guess? How significant is it? There's often tension between the President and the Vice President, but --

JOHNSON: Right, so some of this is normal. But I think some of it's not. And the key takeaway really is that while the tension hasn't bubbled up to the top between Trump and Pence personally, their staffs really are at each other's throats. And Trump staffers are very concerned that Mike Pence is taking on an outside role on the campaign trail and wary of his attempts to hire anti-Trump staffers, and they're starting to push back against this in a way that I do think is unusual and previous White Houses where the roles of the President and the Vice President were more defined.

I think the view is that Trump says are eaten up with so -- the days of Trump staffers are eaten up with so much of this White House drama that it's kind of left a wide opening for Mike Pence to move into roles traditionally occupied by the President.

KING: And occasionally you see accounts that his team is talking about just in case we need to be ready for 2020. The President can't like that, just in case we need to be reading this from the Times story today. "Republican officials now see Mr. Pence as seeking to exercise expansive control over political party ostensibly helmed by Mr. Trump, tending to his own allies and interests even when the President's instincts lean in another direction." It goes on to talk about some of the Nick Ayers, the top Pence's aide being viewed suspiciously by a lot of the Trump people.

TALEV: I don't see Mike Pence challenging President Trump for the 2020 nomination.

[12:50:02] I mean, seriously, but I do think that Mike Pence is really a smart guy in those step and they watched Joe Biden and that's constructive. And the thing is that you don't -- even if -- let's say, they're planning for 2024 and something happens. What are you going to do, not be ready because you didn't want it to look weird, you know? And so there's that.

And there's also the truth, the fact that President Trump was very content to have Mike Pence prosecute a lot of the foreign policy strategy in those early months while he focused on either domestic issues or foreign policy issues that were really domestic issues. But now that the President has turned more toward foreign policy which is normally a second term tactic for the President, kind of wanted back, right? So, I don't know.

I think Pence is in a tough spot, because you see him at these rallies. I was in Indiana the other night where he gave the President an incredible warm-up act. And the crowd was just ready when Trump took the stage. He's doing all that stuff. He is saying all the right stuff. Maybe he has to grit his teeth sometimes, but he does it. And still --

KING: And the instill part is clearly the President sees that Mike Pence is going to deliver the key note at the NRA convention. He says, no, I'm going. You heard the Vice President going to Davos, and he said, no, I'm going.

Now, again --

JOHNSON: And I will add, you know, it was the Vice President's doctor who scuttled the President's pick for V.A. secretary. And somebody on the President's team who then torpedoed the Vice President's choice for National Security Adviser Jon Lerner, who's on Nikki Haley staff. The Vice President clearly sees Nikki Haley as a star, wants her guy on his team. So there is real tension between these two staffs. And I think a lot of weariness on Trump's team about the aspirations of what his staffs are for the future.

TALEV: You know, Corey Lewandowski on the Vice President's team will make everything much right.

KING: Yes. But, well --

JOHNSO: Real peacemaker -- needs the peacemaker, that's --

KING: To that point --

KAPUR: And I think the pushback I heard from people close to Pence which is that, hey, Corey Lewandowski is running. Everything is OK, that everything is, you know, being coordinated with the NRCC and the RSC and the party and that the President has signed on Pence's midterm activities. They are very eager, very, very eager to portray this as everything is cool, there is no tension there and nothing is going wrong.

And Pence has observed the prime directive in terms of staying in Trump's good graces as you occlusively praise him whenever possible. You don't out chime (ph) the President when you do step out of line (INAUDIBLE) a few times immediately snap back in and put out a statement publicly pledging your loyalty to him.

KING: Just because I like history, I just want to show some quick headlines when we go to break. This is from Vanity Fair, "Biden apologizes to Obama for jumping the gay marriage gun." The Atlantic, Bush's Cheney Program. Dick Cheney has become a problem for George W. Bush. The New York Times, "Once close to Clinton, Gore keeps a distance." History folks does repeat itself.

Up next, a democratic senator up for reelection says her constituents want less talk about Trump and Russia and more talk about the soybeans.


[12:56:58] KING: A Senate Democrat driving her party, you might say, by the caller today. With a message she hopes they will listen to this big midterm election session. During remarks at the Senate for American progress conference, Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat of Minnesota said her party needs to stop constantly bemoaning Trump. She said, the party should call him out when it's warranted but said that it can't be all Democrats do. Do they have to present an alternative message because voters she talks to, she insists, have other concerns?


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: How do that tax bill affect them, those are things that that's going to be on their mind, health care premiums, those things. I'm well aware that they're not asking me about Russian bucks, OK, they're asking me about soybean exports.


KING: A potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate there. Welcome to 2020. Well a lot of them with this event we'll get to.

But what is the importance of that where you have a prominent Democrat saying, easy, people. Don't just, you know, Russia, Russia, Russia, or don't count on this coming to us.

HULSE: I think she is doing a couple of things there. One, she's trying to differentiate herself from some people who are seeing her as a more progressive possible candidate for the nomination in a couple year. But I do think she's reflecting another thing, more starting to hear more from Democrats, hey, this can't just be totally about Trump. We have to do some other things.

They're seeing Trump's numbers go up a little bit. They're nervous right now maybe that the environment isn't going to be quite what they thought it was going to be. And I think that's a warning from her but she has some political reasons for doing it.

JOHNSON: I don't disagree with you, Carl, but I don't -- as much as I've heard Democrats say we can't be anti-Trump, I haven't heard anything from them that's not anti-Trump.

KAPUR: When we say that unite them as a party right and they do have, you know, they do have an important conversation to have about what message do they, you know, what message do they highlight going after Trump personally and emphasizing that the Russian investigation and all the stuff. It doesn't move voters.

I think people have made up their minds on this, unless there is a massive event like an indictment or a report by Bob Mueller. I don't think people are going to move on this. But economics, the more economics and more, you know, controversial (ph) issues on the news, the better Democrats do more Trump's staffers (ph) go down and it's (INAUDIBLE) personal.

KING: And another potential and if this is a potential 2020 voice also at the same meeting, Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator of New York, Democrat, who says, we'll do a 2020 later. She's hoping in 2019 there'll be a lot more women in the House and the Senate.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: And the reason we will take back the House and hopefully the Senate is because we have great women candidates all across this country running in record numbers, and there is a powerful wave of women activists who are going to get it done. The next chapter of the women's movement is being written right now.


KING: And the first chapter is the 2020 of this, right? That's just the way it works.

TALEV: That's right. I'm going to give a quick buzz for the Bloomberg candidate tracker which has an entire segment on women candidates is really off and check it out. But, yes -- no, everybody is pre-campaigning right now. Also phase 1, is Democrats want to win. The House in the midterms phase 2 is what do they do if they do and some of this jacking beyond the 2020 stuff is trying to start that conversation about how hard do you hit the impeachment lever and how hard do you attack towards things are actually --

KING: All right, thank you for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. Wolf starts right now.