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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Warns NATO Allies; Supreme Court Candidates; Immigration Ranks Top Issue for Voters. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 3, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

The president moving quickly through his Supreme Court interviews, and the Senate's top Republican predicts the new justice will be on the bench by October 1st.

Plus, immigration rises as a midterm election issue, as liberal anger nudges Democrats into more confrontations with the president.

And the new world disorder. The Trump trade war escalates. New letters lecturing NATO allies on defense spending and Germany's chancellor keeps her job but only after a big retreat on immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I watched him interact with Angela Merkel on a number of occasions and certainly treats her with respect.

REPORTER: All the time? Really?

SANDERS: Look --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's where we begin the hour. Again, call it the new world disorder. Key U.S. allies already on edge because of trade tensions are now getting lectured from President Trump because he wants them to spend more on their militaries. Among those on the end of -- the receiving end of a tough letter from the president, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who just had to make a major policy retreat on migration and refugees to keep her grip on power.

The president relishes his conflict with Merkel. He has repeatedly called her soft on migration issues. And "The New York Times" obtained the new Trump letter complaining the chancellor is hurting, in the president's view, the NATO alliance. Quote, as we discussed during your visit in April, there is growing frustration in the United States that some allies have not stepped up as promised. Continued German underspending on defense undermines the security of the alliance and provides validation for other allies that also do not plan to meet their military spending commitments because others see you as a role model.

Canada and Norway also among the NATO allies getting similar letters from the president. CNN also has learned the defense secretary, James Mattis, fired off a similar missive to the U.K.'s defense chief. All of this just before a NATO summit next week in Brussels and then a Trump/Putin summit. And the Russian president, we know, likes nothing more than to see the western alliance divided, fighting publicly.

Let's bring in CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

Jeff, America first seems to have become America fighting with just about everybody.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, it certainly does. And these are allies we're talking about.

The reality here is, what is going on is a continuation of what the president has done before every summit he has held with world leaders, before every global meeting. And it's essentially chapter two of this fight that he had just a month or so ago at the G-7 meeting in Canada. But a week from today, the president will be flying, as we speak, during the daytime hours, he'll be going to Brussels for a NATO meeting. And he is starting the conversation, if you will, with a fight by calling out each leader individually for not paying enough, contributing enough of their GDP to defense issues.

Now, this isn't a new argument. Other presidents have done this repeatedly. Barack Obama did. George W. Bush did as well, but in a very different way. And if it was only this, that would be one thing, John. But this is really a part of all of the fighting that this president is doing with our allies. He is, you know, simply wanting to poke them in the eye. And in Angela Merkel's case, when she's down. She is, you know, having a very complex time keeping her own government afloat here. So this is something that President Trump certainly not throwing her a lifeline. Anything but that.

So next week's meeting in Brussels will be talking much about this, John. So a bit of a preview for what's to come. We know what is on President Trump's mind. We do not know how Angela Merkel will respond.

John.

KING: Tensions. Tensions everywhere you look throughout the issues portfolio.

Jeff Zeleny live at the White House. Appreciate the reporting.

With me is studio to share their reporting and their insights, Rachael Bade of "Politico," Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," CNN's military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, and CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

Admiral, I want to start with you because you have experience on these issues and at these meetings. To Jeff's point, Angela Merkel's in trouble. Barack Obama, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton would try to throw a friend a lifeline at that moment, or certainly not pour salt in the wounds. This president seems to relish these fights with people who, on paper, historically, are friends.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, it's really difficult to understand because we need Germany. I mean they host 30,000 some troop there in their country alone in Europe and it provides -- Germany's a great logistical, medical hub for us. We couldn't have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 17 years without the support that we get there.

Secondly, it makes little sense to me, if you want Germany to ante up more of their defense spending, why you would pick on Merkel. It's already an unpopular thing to do in Germany. Trump is exceedingly unpopular there. So I'm not sure how he thinks he's actually going to get the goal of getting them to spend more money by picking on Merkel and making it harder for her to go to the legislature and get that money.

KING: Which raises the question we ask a lot, does the president want the goal, does he want the policy progress, or does he just want the fight? We'll come back to this on trade in a few minutes.

[12:05:02] But on this issue, let's just put it up, the president has a point about this. The NATO allies have committed to spend more. As Jeff Zeleny noted, this goes back several presidencies. President Trump -- under Obama, it started to go up. Look, that's the percentage of the GDP of these countries spent on the military. The United States is 3.57. You see these other countries, all well below 2 percent. Their commitment to NATO is 2 percent. And the president's trying to get them there.

The issue is, do you do it quietly, do you do it privately, or, when he is, as the admiral notes, so unpopular in Europe, if you do it publicly, don't you make it harder for Merkel, Macron, May, and others to go to their legislatures, their parliaments and say, need the money?

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Two things on this. The first one is that when a lot of the NATO allies came together in 2014 to sort of recommit to this 2 percent, they agreed that they would have ten years, right, to actually get to that 2 percent budget. We're not at ten years yet. So a lot of these allies have been increasing their commitment over time, but you can't just all of a sudden put, you know, billions of dollars when, you know, just change up your finances like that.

The other thing is tone, and that's what you're asking about. President Obama also had concerns about how much, you know, allies were putting toward defense for the NATO alliance, but he did it in a way that was sort of -- well, way more diplomatic, we could say, and without obviously antagonizing people. And that's perhaps not going to help this situation.

KING: Perhaps not going to help the situation. That's one way to put it. And, again, if you think of -- the timing always matters in these things. The letters were sent last month. You know they're going to leak out at some point.

The president's about to go to Brussels for the NATO summit. He did. Let's even go back in time, just to remind people, if you weren't there at the very first NATO summit, the president raised these issues publicly, standing right next to his fellow leaders and lecturing them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations. But 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they're supposed to be paying for their defense. This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Again, on the substance, he has a point. To Rachael's point, they've agreed to a process to get there. But that's not the way this president plays.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes.

KING: He wants the conversation to be about him, number one, and he wants to be the bludgeon here.

MARTIN: Well, and he's got this more decades' long world view that is largely immune to facts on the ground or changing facts that the U.S. is being played for a sucker. We're being taken advantage of, whether it's on defense spending, our commitments of U.S. troops abroad, or whether it's on trade deals. This is sort of his -- his -- if there's a Trump doctrine, right, that's it, that somehow that we're being taken advantage of. So we shouldn't be surprised when he keeps perpetuating this -- this notion in office. And he doesn't want to hear about, well, mitigating facts, like the fact that they had a ten- year window to do this. So, you know, this is Trump.

And I kind of feel if we keep waiting for him to sort of change or to sort of show some kind of growth, it's just not going to happen.

KING: Well, in part, the ten-year window thing, think about how he processes a lot of things. He doesn't want the text to say essentially NATO allies are making progress toward a commitment made during Barack Obama's presidency. He wants this to be about Trump pushed NATO to do what he wants.

MARTIN: Right. Exactly.

KIRBY: And he could do that, John. I mean 2017 was the first year since 2014 that all NATO nations have increased their spending. Have they reached 2 percent? No, of course not. But they've all moved the trajectory in the right direction. And Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary-general, will tell you, Trump should take credit for that because it was in part the emphasis that he put on it.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean he certainly has a point. A lot of them aren't even close to that 2 percent. And maybe they're progressing a little bit, but certainly not at the speed that you would if you're going to get to 2 percent at the end of those ten years. So the president does have a point about that, but it is a lot about the way he handles it. And it all goes back to his personal relationships with these leaders. And he acts much different towards Merkel because he knows that her and Obama had a very good relationship. He doesn't like that and it does change the way that he approaches her and the way he speaks to her and the way he just views her as a leader on that.

KING: And the how and the when matter. Traditionally -- and, again, this president is different. He's signaled that in the campaign. We should not be surprised by it. But, traditionally, you work this out in the club. In the quiet, private meetings, you work the private relationships quietly and you try to make your progress.

And the when, he's going to leave Brussels and go see Vladimir Putin, who likes what, more than anything, the western alliance at odds publicly fighting. Your colleague, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, put it this way in "The Times," Mr. Trump's criticism raised the prospect of another confrontation involving the president and American allies after a blow-up by Mr. Trump at the Group of Seven gathering last month in Quebec and increased concerns that far from projecting solidarity in the face of threats from Russia, the meeting will highlight divisions within the alliance, such a result could play into the hands of President Vladimir Putin.

Fair, isn't it?

KIRBY: Absolutely. Nothing Putin would like more than for the NATO summit to be a failure or for it to be just rid within dissent and discord over something like defense spending. They -- what he doesn't want is for the NATO summit, for the allied leaders to actually talk about issues that matter on the continent, like Ukraine, like Russian election meddling. Those are the things that he doesn't want.

[12:10:12] KING: Forgive me for interrupting, but another issue that increasingly matters, this migration issue. And Merkel -- we can show you some headlines from some German newspapers, union finds a way out of crisis, union looks into the abys. Another one said, stuck between unity and mutiny.

This is an issue where President Trump, from the beginning, and he has done this in the United States saying you need to be tougher on immigration. He has warned these European leaders, you keep letting the Syrian refugees and other refugees in, you're going to have a problem. We could have a chicken and egg conversation if you want, but he is right about that. It's increasingly a rising issue in these European democracies, no?

KIRBY: It -- absolutely it is. I mean this is the worst migration crisis that we've since World War II. And it has -- it has definitely caused a lot of problems in domestic politics in Europe. But -- but what strikes me is he's done -- he, Trump, has done little

to nothing to try to end the civil war, which is causing the migration crisis in the first place. He's done -- there's no diplomatic effort to get to an end to that civil war or to deal with Assad's grip on power. It's all been about just ISIS.

KING: All right, a quick break.

When we come back, from major confrontations overseas, to a major issue for the president at home. A group of front runners emerges in the president's very fast paced hunt to fill a Supreme Court vacancy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:15:24] KING: Welcome back.

White House staffers making an aggressive push during a self-imposed deadline. President Trump reviewing the top candidates to replace the retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. The president tweeting this, this morning, I interviewed four very impressive people yesterday. On Monday, I will be announcing my decision for justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Those four judges include Amy Coney Barrett from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Brett Kavanaugh from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Raymond Kethledge and Amul Thapar both from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The president plans two or three more interviews, as early as today. And those trying to nudge the president one way or another, guess what, they understand the urgency of getting on the phone, working the staff, because, by all accounts, this Monday deadline is very, very real.

"Bloomberg's" Sahil Kapur joins our panel.

Four yesterday. The other two likely today if not -- or tomorrow to get these done. Three, maybe. The president doesn't have to do this by Monday, but he is determined to do so. What are the highlights? What do we know about the process?

COLLINS: He doesn't have to do it by then. And that's why I asked Sarah Sanders yesterday, why does this process feel so rushed by the White House? Because by the time he nominates -- announces his nomination on Monday, it will only have been less than two weeks since Anthony Kennedy announced he was going to retire. Something the White House wasn't expecting beforehand, before Anthony Kennedy came to the White House.

So they're going through this process. He interviewed those four candidates at the White House yesterday morning. Two or three more, he says, going on for the rest of this week.

But, still, this is very -- happening very, very quickly. And this is going to be a pivotal decision for them.

Now, we do know that the president has been saying privately he wants someone who graduated from Harvard or Yale, but that he's not constricted by that. He's not only going to pick someone by that. It's just the president speaking. He does want someone with a very good pedigree. But also he's increasing intrigued by this idea of picking a conservative woman and being the president who puts a conservative woman on the Supreme Court. So we could see that play out as he's meeting with these people.

But, really, what it comes down to with the president is if he feels that kind of chemistry when he sits down with them one on one.

KING: And so he has a list that he built in conjunction with the Federalist Society and other conservative allies 25 names. The president says, I'm going to stick with that list. So at least we know the main universe. And he says he's down from that list to five or six.

You mentioned we do pick up from White House officials, the president's intrigued by the idea, should I put a conservative woman on the court? Might that help me with Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski? Might that help in the public relations campaign?

So one of those is Judge Amy Barrett, who the president interviewed yesterday. An impressive conservative record. But if Trump's sort of weighing between equals and evens, does this help or hurt?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE AMY CONEY BARRETT, U.S. COURT OF APPEALS, 7TH CIRCUIT: What would we have in a Trump court? Who knows? I think we know for sure -- I could say with confidence, I don't know who Hillary Clinton would appoint, but I can say with confidence, the profile or the kind of constitutional approach she would want. Trump, I'm not so sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's an honest answer. It's an honest answer. This was -- that was just before the election. Donald Trump was a Democrat turned independent turned Republican. He did say, by that point in the campaign, he had come up with this list and he had said he would pick from it. But it's a pretty honest answer to say, who knows. We go through this every day on just about every issue. Now, does the president take that as a slight or does he take that as honesty?

MARTIN: It's kind of interesting to hear a federal judge doing punditry on camera there.

KING: Yes. Right.

MARTIN: That's a good find there.

Look, I think Trump, to Kaitlan's point, is probably more taken with whoever kind of moves him in the moment and who he feels like looks the part. If we know anything about the president, he's so taken with optics and appearances and the perception that is so critical in his mind to politics and public relations. So I think that's going to trump all. I would note, she doesn't have an ivy league degree. She went to

Rhodes College. An undergrad in Memphis. I don't think the president's big on liberal arts schools like that. That could be a strike against her, I think, because he is very focused on having those elite credentials.

KING: She has also defended the idea of overturning precedent, which might run her afoul of Susan Collins.

BADE: Yes, and despite not having the Ivy League degree, you know, she's a woman. Obviously she's a conservative. And he might pick her because she's shown that she really is a fighter when it comes to her beliefs. I mean she's pro-life. She's from Notre Dame. She's a Catholic. And she has been clear about how religion plays in her decisions, which I think a lot of conservatives would really like. Schumer is petrified of (INAUDIBLE) --

MARTIN: But I'm not sure that -- that that helps Murkowski and Collins though. I mean if the idea is that that's going to help with Collins and Murkowski, I think it would have the opposite effect, that --

SAHIL KAPUR, "BLOOMBERG": Yes.

MARTIN: She's outspoken and --

KING: Right.

MARTIN: It's somebody who is, you know, making her uncomfortableness (ph) with abortion rights, which is central to her character.

(CROSS TALK)

[12:20:05] KAPUR: With Lisa Murkowski the key is making sure there's no paper trail of possibility to precedents like Roe.

MARTIN: Like Roe, yes.

KAPUR: (INAUDIBLE) like they've never faced before. They say they're pro-choice. They don't want Roe overturned. It's easy to look at a nominee. Supreme Court nominees do this over the last several decades. It's bipartisan. They sit up there and they say -- they say, this is a precedent of the court, I respect it. That means nothing.

KING: Right.

KAPUR: Supreme Court justices get on the court, they overturn precedents all the time. They've done it more than two or three times in the country's history. They have the right to do it. That question is going to get asked.

BADE: And three Democrats in the Senate have voted for her before for lower judicial positions.

MARTIN: Right.

BADE: And so the president, the White House will definitely use that. COLLINS: Who are up for re-election.

KING: Right.

BADE: Exactly. Who - they will absolutely use that to try to --

COLLINS: Collins and Murkowski are not up for re-election also, to keep that in mind.

KING: Right. And so --

KAPUR: And (INAUDIBLE) remember, the president has really pleased the conservative base on this issue. He's got 21 circuit court nominees in, which is a record for this point in the presidency. He's going to get likely two Supreme Court justices. There are many legal conservatives in the 2016 election who doubted, kind of like Amy Barrett did, you know, the kind of judges Trump would pick, whether he would make good on this promise. He has gone above and beyond as far as (INAUDIBLE).

KING: He has gone above and beyond, working off this list. Another person on the list --

MARTIN: Don McGahn has, yes.

KING: Another person on the list is Brett Kavanaugh. I first came across that name when he worked for Ken Starr during the -- when I was covering the White House in the Clinton years.

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE) that, John.

KING: Brett Kavanaugh then came in and worked for the Bush administration.

On some other day. Bring a beer.

And worked for the Bush administration. Now he's a federal judge. He's highly regarded as a rising star. Does this hurt him? This -- does this hurt him? Donald Trump dislikes all things Bush. And there he is getting sworn in next to George W. Bush, and Laura Bush, and the big hug from Karl Rove.

MARTIN: Yes.

KING: Again, is that enough to get the president to say again, all things being roughly equal, to say, hmm?

KAPUR: If someone with the same profile -- two people with the same profile and one is splashed on the cover of "The Washington Post" cozy with Bush and Karl Rove and the other one isn't, yes, I'm going to go with the other one.

BADE: Wasn't Kavanaugh also the same person that folks were talking about who also privately criticized and said something really nasty about Hillary Clinton in private.

COLLINS: He called her an expletive.

KING: Yes.

BADE: Right. I would think the president would actually like that, right?

MARTIN: Which could help him. Yes.

COLLINS: Yes. Someone said they were digging that up in opposition research. And I think that would give him a mark up with the president.

MARTIN: Help the (INAUDIBLE).

KING: That would help him.

MARTIN: I think the establishment wing of the party would love Kavanaugh. I mean I -- I heard that name floated about a month ago when I was talking to one person close to McConnell who said, you know, our ideal would be that we get Kennedy to step down this summer and you could get Kavanaugh appointed. And this is who the establishment wing would love to get on there.

COLLINS: And also to note, Kavanaugh was one of those people who was added to the list when the White House updated it, added five new names in November. That list they seemingly published out of nowhere. He was a clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy. I'm sure that was a conversation with the White House --

KING: Right, it was definitely -- it was definitely part of the Kennedy keep thinking about retirement. See all these people we like. We're going to do the right thing.

MARTIN: Exactly. Yes.

COLLINS: Yes. Exactly.

KING: All right, we'll continue the conversation.

Up next, though, a new poll says the top issue in the coming midterm elections is immigration. That's a new thing. Is it good for the president and his party?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:27:03] KING: Welcome back.

Today, two big numbers that deserve your attention. The first, 27. That's the percentage of Americans in the latest Quinnipiac survey who say immigration is the issue that matters most to them heading into the midterm elections. The president's morning immigration tweets are evidence that he views this issue, immigration, as a big bull horn for the Republican base. Some shifts in the so-called generic congressional ballot -- we'll get to the numbers in a minute -- suggest the immigration focus might possibly backfire. The other big number to watch right now, well, we can't share it with

you because it's a giant question mark. The administration will no longer tell us, tell you, how many children separated from their parents at the southern border are still in government custody.

Listen here to sometimes presidential phone-a-friend Anthony Scaramucci say, Mr. President, you can't spin this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I don't think that there are evil people inside the administration, though, that want to split families from each other. I think what they really were trying to do is come up with a policy that would strengthen the border. I think this one over their skis, so to speak. And it's time to bring things back together. And so --

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": I mean they admitted that it was a deterrent. They admitted that they were trying to use it as a deterrent, which, you know, I think that you would agree is a mean- spirited -- I know you don't want to say evil, but a mean-spirited place to start.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's come back to that 27. Anthony Scaramucci there saying the administration didn't get family separations right. And all the data suggests that's right.

But 27 percent -- let's show the numbers. What's the top issue in the midterm elections? Twenty-seven percent say immigration, 23 percent, the economy, 22 percent, health care, 13 percent say gun policy. You don't see taxes there. Only 9 percent say that, even though that's what House Republicans wanted to be the top issue. The economy flows into that, so you can connect some of that there.

But that's a new leader in terms of the top issue. And a lot of Republicans have been asking the question, in the middle of this family separation controversy, what is the data going to show when we see our first wave of national polls? Twenty-seven percent. A new number out just this hour.

Is it separating kids at the border, is that a human rights violation? Sixty percent of Americans say, yes, it is, 36 percent say no. Among Democrats, 95 percent say it is

MARTIN: Wow.

KING: Among independents, 60 say it is. Only 21 percent of Republicans say it is.

MARTIN: Oh, my gosh.

KING: But so you have the partisan split, which is on everything, every question. But in the rearview mirror, if immigration were the top issue in the election environment right now, you would say advantage Republicans. But in the windshield, is that fair, or do Democrats finally, because of the family separation issue, maybe have an advantage?

KAPUR: It really depends on two things at this point. So the poll, you know, you cited also found that by a 58 to 39 percent margin, voters disapprove of President Trump's immigration policy. That's the largest margin I've seen and that's bad news for his party. Having said that, Republican voters are more energized by the issue of immigration than Democrats are. So it all depends on what the electorate looks like.

MARTIN: Yes, where you are.

KAPUR: It's that kind of thing. If young voters and Hispanic voters who are signaling low interest in the midterm elections right now, if they get motivated to show up, then advantage Democrats.

[12:30:00] MARTIN: I think it depends on what race you're talking about. I just think -- I mean all of these numbers are fascinating. We're so polarized now along party lines and along the views of Trump. But I just think when you're talking about it in terms of the midterms, you have to