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STATE OF THE UNION

Four Boys Rescued From Thai Cave Now At Hospital; Interview With Arizona Senator Jeff Flake; Interview With Alabama Senator Doug Jones. Aired 12n-1p ET

Aired July 8, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:22]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Dramatic rescue. Divers bring four trapped boys to safety and are now regrouping before resuming their mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speed is very, very important.

BASH: With oxygen running out, rain on the way, it could be now or never.

Plus, Trump's big week. A high-stakes trip to Europe --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to tell NATO, you've got to start paying your bills --

BASH: -- and a Supreme Court reveal.

TRUMP: I think you'll be very impressed.

BASH: Republican senator Jeff Flake and Democratic senator, Doug Jones, will be here live in moments.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Hello, I'm Dana Bash in for Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is grateful, but still anxious.

At this hour, we are awaiting the next phase of the rescue mission at that flooded cave in Thailand. Four boys are out of the cave and in the hospital. Eight others are still inside, along with their coach.

A Thai official says divers' oxygen tank needs to be refilled, and they also need to make sure all conditions inside the cave are stable before the next phase of evacuations.

CNN's David McKenzie has been on the scene for a while now. Certainly during this dramatic rescue so far. David, what's happening at this hour?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dana, what's happening at this hour is that the officials and the specialist divers are prepping, getting ready for another dramatic day that we expect to come ahead. But it was an extraordinary day, and an incredible rescue.

Getting these four boys out in two batches, it seems, through those difficult-to-reach cabins, in those squeezing, no-visibility, waterlogged caves, and getting those boys out. With full face masks, through there and out, in two batches, as I said. They were rushed from there to the hospital.

Unclear what their state is at this point. But they did it quicker than they expected. Ninety people -- 50 of them foreigners, 40 of them, according to the Thai officials, local Thais, led by, it seems, the British divers, according to source, the specialists. Those divers will be resting now, getting all the equipment ready for this very challenging rescue as they hunker down.

It's raining now, Dana, and it could be raining for quite some time. That's a major factor and risk for these boys going forward -- Dana.

BASH: No question. David McKenzie, thank you so much for that report.

And the four boys who came out of the cava arrived at a hospital near there, just a few hours ago. That's where CNN's Matt Rivers is.

And Matt, have officials given you any update on the condition of the four boys who are there?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, Dana. As of now, we are still awaiting word from officials to see exactly what the condition will be of these boys.

We did watch four ambulances drive past. We know those four boys, one boy each, was in those ambulances coming here. And we know the hospital was prepared.

Doctors and nurses have had plenty of time to prepare for this possibility. And I say possibility, Dana, and not eventuality, because we shouldn't understate how miraculous this was. About 15 hours ago, I was standing outside of the cave entrance, and we were talking during live shots about the fact that this might not happen.

How dangerous this potential rescue attempt was. And so the fact we have four boys now safely inside this hospital is just unbelievable. Yes, there are nine boys and their coach that remain, but at this point, it is absolutely incredible that there are four boys safe in this hospital at this point.

BASH: Extraordinary indeed. Matt Rivers, thank you so much.

And a Thai official says today's rescues took less time than in the rehearsal drills, however, it is incredibly complicated and dangerous. Just how so? Let's go straight to CNN's Tom Foreman with a closer look at exactly how the four boys were brought to safety -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana, they were a little ahead of schedule in what they managed to do here. The two boys came out about 10 minutes apart. Two hours later, two more came out.

But this was only accomplished because of what happened before that, which was massive pumping of water out of this cave, enough so that portions of the cave became walkable. On top of that, there were still areas that were still under water, and that's where these divers have been doing exactly what experts have been counseling for days.

They put the boys in these full face masks, as we were talking about, and then as they entered the submerged portions of the cave, as we understand it, what happened is one diver would go in front, carrying the air supply for that boy, pulling the boy along behind him, and the other diver would come behind.

[12:05:15]

That's how they went from that many people in the cave to this many people being out, which is a big improvement, Dana.

BASH: No question. And you have that graphic up there.

Do you have any sense -- I know it's hard to get a sense of what the conditions are inside. But in terms of the length and how far these rescuers had to travel and then of course these four boys had to travel back to get out.

FOREMAN: Yes, the maps are all over the place. They're kind of a mess. But by some accounts, as much as a kilometer or a quarter of this cave remains completely submerged.

That's equal to 11 football fields.

BASH: Wow.

FOREMAN: That these kids who have never been in a scuba mask, would have had to go under and get out and it worked.

So here's the question. If that worked, why did they stop? Well, you mentioned it earlier.

They simply used up all their oxygen doing this. They have to recharge. That could take from 9 to 20 hours, according to officials, and yes, they 3are racing the clock.

This is all the water they have been pumping out, the stuff that's already fallen. They have had a little lull. And you saw a minute ago as the rain was returning, that's the forecast.

They have to work fast, even in this incredibly dangerous work, if they want this to be fully successful -- Dana.

BASH: Such important context and explanation of what's going on down there. Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

And with us now for more is an experienced diver who has taken part in other rescue missions, Rick Murcar, is the president of the National Association of Cave Diving, and he knows some of the divers who are actually in that part of the Thailand operation. Thank you so much for joining me.

Let's just start with what Tom was talking about, 11 football fields. That's about the size of the area that we know is submerged. So these young boys have to be -- never mind that the rescuers have to get to them, but then to return, these young boys have to be wearing scuba masks and be taught instantly how to use those in order to get out and survive.

RICK MURCAR, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR CAVE DIVING: Yes. So -- I mean, this is a daunting task. Let's put our prayers to the family, the rescuers. When you're talking 11 football fields, you have to appreciate that in a good cave-diving environment, where the water is gin clear, a cave diver with experience might move at 50 feet per minute.

So there's sort of the time frame that it's going to take them just to traverse that distance of the water-filled portion.

BASH: And so you have done -- excuse me -- international rescues in low visibility before. What are some of the greatest challenges, aside from the fact that you can't see?

MURCAR: Well, we rely on our eyesight. So that is obviously a major concern.

In this particular situation, training the kids. It's their first dive. And, you know, if they have them walk on the bottom, fine.

We're not going to worry about the finessing of cave-diving. Our focus is to get them out. Not being able to see mean that that guideline which is one of the golden rules in cave-diving, we have a continuous guideline from the exit up to the point of penetration, which is the chamber to where the soccer team is.

So they have to keep contact with that. Now you have three divers.

You have the young scout -- or not scout, sorry, soccer team member. You have the two divers assisting them. That's a challenge in itself.

They have to maintain positive contact with them. Just as reassuring. When you get to the restrictions, how they are going to navigate that restriction and get through it.

Continue communication, continue constant connection with that guideline. It is certainly a challenge.

BASH: Have you ever seen anything even remotely close to this challenge?

MURCAR: I have not personally, no. Nothing that I've been involved in. I have done a few rescues where conditions have been silted out.

A cave is an unforgiving environment. When you cannot see, you lose that sense. And that means Braille.

The goal line becomes that much more critical. So hats off to these British divers, and they're probably best in the world, the British group, because they do dive a lot of sumps and that's exactly what this cave is.

BASH: And you know some of them. Have you heard from them?

MURCAR: I have not heard from them. I do know Rick Stanton, one of the key individuals, and Rick is very equipped for doing this kind of thing. Richard Harris -- I do know of a few of them having -- in the community, very small community, maybe five percent of the diving community in the world are cave divers. And at this level of diving, you can narrow that down to perhaps another three percent.

BASH: It's really remarkable.

What is your sense in watching what they're doing now, which is trying to restore the oxygen to get the other eight individuals, mostly kids, obviously, and one coach, out? Do you get the sense that because this was successful that they'll do the same process going forward?

[12:10:01]

MURCAR: Well, success -- we've got four out now. No reason not to try it again.

You know, kids are resilient. I'll give them that.

These kids appear to be in good shape, good physical condition. They have to build a bond up with these divers in a very short period of time.

MURCAR: The chamber that they're in is losing this oxygen supply. To resupply it with any other breathable gas is a challenge. The logistics are phenomenal here.

Everything we do in the cave is not about -- sorry, is not about entering the cave. Everything we do in cave-diving is about being prepared to exit the cave safely. Well, in this case, I mean, that -- I think that speaks volumes for the quality of the divers that we have seen on this.

It speaks a lot for these kids, what they're undergoing and their experience, their various threshold levels that they have. So the preparation of getting these kids prepared, get them breathing on scuba, that is not an instinctual thing. We have to train to do that.

So you're building that trust up. Getting used to breathing on it. The temperature of the water, you know, what are we looking at, 20 degrees Celsius, might be common.

That's good.

BASH: Yes. MURCAR: These kids aren't going to have wet suits on. So all these things are going to be coming into play. We have to do something.

Right now the dive team has to rest, because they have to replenish and go forth. So bring them out in groups.

Each time they make a trip, I suspect it's going to get a little quicker, as they learn and become more familiar with the cave system.

BASH: Well, yes. Let's certainly hope so.

And it is important to remind everybody, these children are children, and they have been in there for two weeks. But barely -- probably no food at this point. And now they have to be instant scuba divers in order to get out and survive.

Thank you for walking us through what this actually entails. Appreciate it.

MURCAR: Thank you.

BASH: And we will keep you updated on the cave rescue effort.

There is also important news ahead, like President Trump heading to Europe this week for the NATO summit. And between trade wars and his criticism of U.S. allies, it is sure to be tense.

Senator Jeff Flake just returned from a trip to reassure American allies, and he joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:15:53]

BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash.

As President Trump prepares for the NATO summit and a high-stakes one- on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin, there's overnight news on his other big foreign policy challenge, talks with North Korea.

Republican senator Jeff Flake is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and joins us now. Senator, I want to start with North Korea.

Officials there are saying that the U.S. betrayed the spirit of last month's summit between the president and Kim Jong-un, accused the administration of pushing a gangster-like demand for denuclearization. But Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, says that didn't happen.

The talks were substantive, and the nations are working together to -- on denuclearization. What do you make of the mixed messages?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Well, my guess is that Mike Pompeo is demanding what he should demand. If North Korea has said that they would denuclearize, that's what we should demand. Now many of us have been skeptical all along that North Korea will follow through. But this seems to be par for the course in terms of North Korea's position.

BASH: Let's talk about NATO. You just returned from a series of meetings in Europe with leaders of several NATO allies.

President Trump says the U.S. is getting ripped off, and those countries need to increase their defense spending. You went over there to try to reassure allies despite the president's comments. But has the president given you any assurances that the U.S. does remain committed to NATO?

FLAKE: Well, I know that these countries are concerned about the rhetoric coming from the White House. They know how important this NATO alliance is.

Particularly if you're in, say, Latvia, which we were, and we spoke to the president and the prime minister and defense ministers and others. They're very concerned about what they hear.

Latvia is at two percent. They're spending what they need to.

I'm glad that the president is raising this issue with the NATO countries. Many of them are not pulling their full weight. But the president makes it sound as if they're supposed to contribute two percent to us somehow for their defense.

What the commitment is, is to spend two percent of their GDP on defense, which will make them a more valuable part of NATO. And about eight of the 29 are doing it.

Some of the countries are coming closer. Many are making great strides. But they are concerned about the rhetoric.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Do they have a right to be concerned?

FLAKE: Yes, they do. The rhetoric --

BASH: So when you're in a meeting with them, and you are clearly somebody who is critical of the president, but you're representing the U.S. and they say they're concerned, what do you say?

FLAKE: Well, we assure them that in terms of Congress, we passed legislation frequently, talking about our commitment to NATO. We are certainly committed in the Congress, and we talk about how, you know, statements are made.

Sometimes they're walked back. But for the president to say that NATO is as bad as NAFTA, in many ways is -- it's OK, because we think NAFTA is good as well. But when our NATO allies hear something like that, you can imagine how they feel.

Particularly those who are right on the front lines. You have countries, as well -- we visited Finland as well as Sweden. They're not members of NATO, but they are enhanced partners, and so we work and coordinate with them and do exercises with them.

It's important for them, as well. And Finland, for example, is spending two percent of their GDP on defense, although they're not even a NATO member. But they know exactly what the threat is, being right next to Russia.

BASH: Speaking of Russia, I want to talk about what the president has said about Vladimir Putin, in light of the fact that he has an upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin.

Listen to the president this past week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Will President Trump be prepared, you know -- President Putin is KGB and this and that.

You know what, Putin is fine. He's fine.

[12:20:00]

We're all fine. We're people.

Will I be prepared? Totally prepared. I've been preparing for this stuff my whole life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: So the president praises Putin. He reluctantly calls out Russia meddling in America's election.

Now he's going to have a one-on-one meeting with the president without anybody around. Appropriate?

FLAKE: Well, many of us are concerned, I certainly am, about the president's ongoing rhetoric that really demeans or ridicules our allies and praises our adversaries.

And so this is part of kind of a continuum. And yes, it does concern me.

I'm glad that the president is talking to Vladimir Putin. I'm glad that he's talking to North Korea, as well. But I am concerned and I know there is concern across Europe about what might be promised.

There was a promise made with regard to exercises in -- with South Korea that may not have been fully vetted or noticed with South Korea. I know that countries in Europe are concerned about promises that might be made by the administration without consultation with our NATO allies.

BASH: For example? What's the biggest concern?

FLAKE: Well, that -- suspension of exercises, for example. Or a commitment to remove troops from certain countries. Those kind of things would concern and do concern our NATO allies significantly.

BASH: If you were advising the president -- if he came to you and said, Jeff Flake, tell me what you think I should say to Vladimir Putin, what would you say?

FLAKE: Well, one, that annexation of Crimea will not stand. We cannot accept that.

Two, their involvement in southern -- or I'm sorry, eastern Ukraine is not going to be -- not going to be accepted. And the sanctions will continue until the behavior stops.

And that we know that Russia, despite Putin's saying otherwise, Russia interfered with our elections. So those things, to start with, to say, hey, let's stipulate these items, and then go forward. I think that's what the president ought to do.

BASH: And the other thing that you were talking to allies about was -- was and is the trade war, which is in full effect. As of 12:01 a.m. Friday morning, the Chinese responded with tariffs of their own. The opening salvo in a full-fledged trade war, for sure.

But let me ask you this. What is wrong with America showing some backbone after years and years and years of leaders saying that China is raking America over the coals in terms of a deficit, in terms of intellectual property?

FLAKE: I don't think there's much concern in Utah about showing toughness with China. In fact, they believe that we need to.

We were in Finland, as I mentioned. Nokia was from Finland. Nokia is just about completely gone, largely because of suspected Chinese theft of intellectual property.

They know full well that China is the real threat.

BASH: So isn't the president's -- approach the right thing, given what you're just saying?

FLAKE: No. Just the opposite. In fact, we need to stick with our NATO -- I'm sorry, our European allies, those in the E.U., to challenge China.

We can do that through the WTO. When we take cases to the WTO, we win about 90 percent of them. But if we split with our friends and our allies, then we'll not be able to confront the real problem here, and that is China in terms of trade.

So that's what -- nobody in Europe can understand why in the world the president would pick fights with his allies here with those who need to be with us when we confront China.

BASH: Senator Jeff Flake, thank you so much for joining me. Appreciate it.

FLAKE: Thank you. BASH: And still ahead, the Supreme Court. President Trump is planning to announce his pick tomorrow to fill a crucial high court vacancy, and I'll speak with the Democratic senator who may just turn out to be a surprise swing vote.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:28:47]

BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

The president famous for saying "you're fired" is building drama for a you're hired moment. Monday's big Supreme Court nominee revealed but with just a single vote to spare in the U.S. Senate, the real drama may be whether he has the votes.

It's an especially tough spot for Democratic senators in states Trump won, now caught between their constituents and their Democratic base. Among them, Democratic senator representing Alabama, a state Trump won by 28 points.

Joining me now is Democratic senator, Doug Jones, of Alabama. Thank you so much for coming on, Senator.

Let's start with the president's impending announcement to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. The president said he has narrowed the field down to four. And will announce tomorrow night.

Now, the question for you, sir, is as you represent an incredibly red state, Donald Trump won 62 percent of the vote in Alabama. Do you feel a responsibility to give your constituents what they voted for?

SEN. DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA: Well, I feel a responsibility to my constituents, but I also feel a responsibility to the constitution. You know, the constitution gives the Senate a shared responsibility with the president to confirm nominees.

[12:30:05]

And our founders, you know, put that in there for a reason, because the judges have life tenure and so that shared responsibility is important, and I take that very seriously. So we're going to give -- whoever the nominee is going to be, we're going to give them a very, very good, hard and fair look to determine what I believe to be the best interest of my constituents but also the country.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: So to be clear, you are open to voting yes for whomever the President nominates.

JONES: Oh, I'm open to voting yes, I'm open to voting no. I mean, we don't know who this nominee is going to be yet. I don't think my role is a rubber stamp for the President, but it's also not an automatic knee-jerk no, either.

My job is to exercise that independent voice. And I want to look for a judge that has the intellect and the capacity to do the right thing, to follow the rule of law, to adhere to precedents and move the country forward. And I think that that's the best role.

BASH: Just to put some context around this, Neil Gorsuch, the President's first nominee for the Supreme Court, got three Democratic votes. You weren't in the Senate then.

JONES: Yes.

BASH: But you come from a more Republican state than those Democratic senators do. It's hard to imagine you voting no. Fair?

JONES: Well, I -- no, I don't think that that's fair one way or another, Dana. I think that I've got to look at this nominee. I'm going to make an independent judgment. That's my job.

I come from a place with a former senator in Howell Heflin, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. He understood the role of the Senate as with that shared responsibility.

And I'm going to look -- I'm going to make an independent judgment and a view. I don't think anyone should expect me to simply vote yes for this nominee just simply because my state may be more conservative than others.

I want to make an independent look at this because I think, you know, even the people of Alabama like to make sure they have judges that adhere to the rule of law.

BASH: And at the same time, just the fact that you're open to voting yes sets you apart from the vast majority of your Democratic colleagues in the Senate. Listen to how some of them have described the implication of this decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: He's looking for a nominee who will criminalize abortion and try to punish women.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), MASSACHUSETTS: And all of the advances over the years are now increasingly in danger.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: We're looking at a destruction of the constitution of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Destruction of the constitution. Do you agree that that's what's going on here?

JONES: Look, I think that this is a very important nominee, for sure, and I am concerned about this nomination. I'm concerned about the direction that the court will take, and I don't want to see things change radically.

And I think there are some legitimate concerns. That's what I'm going to look at. That doesn't mean I'm going to vote yes. It doesn't mean I'm going to vote no. I think it's premature to say automatically -- I'm not going to say

automatically that I'm going to vote against any nominee that Donald Trump put out there. That's just not my role. But I'm not going to automatically vote for them, either.

I want to take a good, long look. We're -- we've got a long way to go with whoever this nominee is going to be.

BASH: Is it appropriate for your Democratic colleagues to be doing just that, saying no before the nominee is out there?

JONES: Well, I would -- you know, Dana, I would prefer that they don't do that. I would prefer that Republicans don't say they're going to automatically vote for someone.

The problem that we've got in this country right now is that we have such a partisan divide. And particularly, on Supreme Court nominees. It has become so political.

I was watching this morning. They're already running T.V. ads in favor of a nominee that's not been selected. This has become a political issue as opposed to an independent judiciary, and that's not a good thing.

BASH: And it's become political, and on the politics, it's a question of fairness for a lot of your fellow Democrats.

Your leader, Chuck Schumer, says there shouldn't be a vote this year in 2019 because Republicans refused to confirm Merrick Garland during an election. And that was a presidential election year, this is a midterm election year. But is that the right strategy?

JONES: I don't think that that strategy is going to work, regardless. Whether it's the right or the wrong strategy. I think that the -- you know, Senator McConnell is going to proceed with this nomination. As he proceeds, there is very little that Democrats can do procedurally.

But it's also going to depend on the nominee. If this nominee requires a greater deep dive into their background, it's going to take some time. So I think it's going to really depend on the nominee as -- and the investigations that's going to have to go on by both the majority and minority in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And then for individual senators to meet. I want to make sure I get a chance to meet with this nominee before I pass judgment on them.

BASH: Now, beyond the Supreme Court, there have been so many flash points as the Democrats struggle against the President on a number of policy issues. One is a number of your colleagues have called to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, ICE.

[12:35:04] And some of them who are saying that this should go away are potential 2020 presidential contenders -- Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand. Are you with them?

JONES: I'm not in favor of abolishing ICE. We have got to have government operations that will enforce our immigration laws, even though the immigration laws need an overhaul.

The problem with ICE right now is not the boots on the ground and the folks that are doing the enforcement. It's the orders that are coming down to those folks on the ground. That's where we have the real problem.

That's where we have the real issues with the administration, are the orders. Ripping families apart, doing those things internally to take people away that are contributing to society, DACA, the whole nine yards.

I don't think you throw the baby out with the bathwater right now. I think you just have to go forward and try to change the orders coming down.

BASH: You know, whether it's this call to abolish ICE or, you know, the immediate, you know, call to vote against whomever is on the Supreme Court and a number of other issues, the energy in your party, obviously, is on the left.

You were the first Democrat elected to Alabama in over 20 years. So my question for you is, do you worry that your party is moving too far to the left when you look in the context of the country?

JONES: You know, I don't really -- I don't think so. I think there are a lot of loud voices on the left. But at the same time, you look at my election and you look at Ralph Northam's election in Virginia, when you look at Conor Lamb's election.

Those are not voices from the left. Those are voices of moderation. Those are voices of bipartisanship. Those are the voices that, I think, carry the day, at the end of the day.

But, you know, look, there is an energy out there to rally folks against this administration and some of the abhorrent things that are being done with immigration and other issues. We don't want to stifle those voices. Those are very significant voices.

And I think, at the end of the day, you're going to see more and more people that are going to look to gather the heartland because that's where the real middle of the country is. That's where the future of the country, I believe, is going to be decided.

BASH: Senator Doug Jones, thank you so much for joining me. Appreciate it.

JONES: My pleasure, Dana. Thank you.

And as Democratic women take center stage in the midterms, President Trump goes out of his way to mock the #MeToo movement. Was that a crucial mistake, or was it crafty politics? Our panel weighs in, after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [12:41:47] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's say I'm debating Pocahontas, right? I promise you I'll do this. I will take -- you know those little kits they sell on television for $2? Learn your heritage!

We will take that little kit and say -- but we have to do it gently. Because we're in the #MeToo generation, so we have to be very gentle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Welcome back. And we're back with our panel.

Let me start with you, Ken Blackwell. What do you think about what the President is doing?

I will tell you, as you answer that, that I talked to a source who is familiar with the President's thinking who said, you know what, he's crazy like a fox. He is -- what he's trying to do is very strategic. He's trying to somehow take the wind out of the sails of the #MeToo movement because -- that is among other things, but that is a major energizer for the left right now.

KEN BLACKWELL, SENIOR FELLOW, THE AMERICAN CIVIL RIGHTS UNION: Yes. Look, I think the President understands that if you play identity politics, that's a -- less of a winning proposition for him. So essentially, what he's going to do is attack those movements that perpetuate the vision and perpetuate this notion of identity politics.

You know, I think what he understands is that there is a large block of women that are, in fact, increasingly more pro-Trump because of the success of his policies. And that economic growth, job creation, people coming back into the workforce, income uplift, those things really do matter, not the politics of subtraction and division.

So I think that's what he's -- that's what he is going after.

BASH: And, Adrienne Elrod, you were the director of strategic communications for Hillary Clinton. You have seen this movie many, many times before.

ADRIENNE ELROD, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I have.

BASH: Any lessons learned from dealing with this, where this kind of rhetoric was successful against Democrats in 2016?

ELROD: Well, I don't think it was successful at all because -- I mean, not to beat a dead horse here, but Hillary Clinton still did receive 3 more -- million more votes than President Trump. Ultimately, that ended up being not enough electoral votes.

But to go back on something that you just said, he's actually losing a lot of support among women. Only three in 10 women in this country currently approve of Donald Trump's job performance. That's a significant drop from where he was on Election Day.

Four thousand women have contacted Emily's List this cycle with their desire to run for office versus 1,000 in 2016. So women are fired up. They're ready to take their country back. They don't approve of this.

We have also saw -- seen a lot of seats flip from red to blue since Trump was elected. So I think women are fired up, and that we are going to see this play out in the midterms.

BASH: As a Republican woman?

LINDA CHAVEZ, PRESIDENT, BECOMING AMERICAN INSTITUTE: Well, I'll tell you, I think, actually, he's in a dangerous spot here. Because Adrienne is right, there is lower support for Donald Trump among women.

And there are a lot of suburban Republican women out there who are not happy with all of his policies. You know, they look at these children at the border being held in cages, separated from their parents, and then the total incompetence of the administration not able to reunite them. This turns them off.

And the whole question of the personal behavior of Donald Trump, the way he talks, his demeaning characterization of women, the way he insults everyone. This turns a lot of well-educated White women, whom he needs if he's going to be re-elected, off.

[12:45:11] BASH: True, but a lot of them also voted for him and all of those characteristics were out in full force in 2016. Do you think it's different now that he's president?

JEFF WEAVER, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR BERNIE SANDERS: I thought -- I do think it's different for a couple reasons. One, the separation of families, I think, was a bridge too far. Even for Donald Trump.

I think there was a backlash in the, quote/ unquote, heartland of America. I think people seeing families literally ripped apart by government agents was just too much and which caused them to reverse, at least on paper, their policy.

Now, there have been -- you know, some of the macroeconomic numbers are good. There are new jobs. In fact, a lot of people have three or four of them. The truth of the matter is, is that American working class and middle-class people are working longer hours for lower wages. They're running on the treadmill faster and faster and falling further and further behind.

So you can look at all the macro numbers you want, but if you talk to real people in real life, things are tough out there.

BASH: Did you work for Bernie Sanders?

WEAVER: I did.

BASH: You sound so much like him.

BLACKWELL: He has a point.

(LAUGHTER) BLACKWELL: No, that is an interesting point because I'm in West Virginia with coal miners. I'm out there with real people. And in fact, they actually see their quality of life situations improving substantially, I mean, compared to where they were four years ago, eight years ago, 12 years ago.

I would just tell you, one of the things, I think, is going to be a big test -- particularly if the President picks Amy Barrett, that's going to be a real test as to where this country is.

Will they support a mother who is intelligent, who, in fact, you know, has -- all of those family value things that we cherish in this country?

BASH: So this is --

ELROD: Does she want to overturn Roe v. Wade?

BASH: So this is -- Amy Coney Barrett is on the short list, maybe the short, short list for the Supreme Court. And the question is whether or not he's going to put a conservative woman back on the court. There are three women, all of them appointed by Democrats.

CHAVEZ: Well, he might hope that he could score some brownie points with that. She probably would have the toughest confirmation process, given her exchange with Senator Feinstein -- which, by the way, I think Senator Feinstein was in the wrong in that instance. And I --

BASH: This is about the fact that she's Catholic. The question about it.

CHAVEZ: Yes, she's a Catholic and her religious views are very important.

But, you know, I don't think -- I think there is a problem, Ken, that the Republican base -- a lot of the people like myself who support his policies on certain issues are still so appalled at what we consider the undermining of democratic values -- his sympathy with autocrats, the way in which he behaves, the total chaos in this administration.

I mean, I have served in previous administrations, including Ronald Reagan's, and you never saw this kind of incompetence that you're seeing out of this administration. And I think that has a lot of people scared.

BASH: And back to the Supreme Court because you brought it up. I have talked to Republicans who are in touch with the President who say it will be hard for Democrats to vote against a woman. True or false?

ELROD: False. I think it depends on -- look, ultimately, Democrats want to see Roe v. Wade protected. We know the three finalists -- we'll find out tomorrow night who that person is. All three of those people oppose Roe v. Wade.

So that's where the real issue is. It is -- irregardless of gender for Democrats, we want to make sure that we protect Roe v. Wade in every chance that we can.

BASH: Jeff Weaver, final thought?

WEAVER: Yes. Look, in terms of the competence of this administration, those of us who have a more progressive outlook, the one bright spot in this administration is they have been largely incompetent in getting anything passed in the Congress other than the tax bill.

And that's why the court is so important because this is a place where a subsequent Democratic president can't undo what he's done with this court.

ELROD: Right. Right.

BASH: No question. There's nothing more --

BLACKWELL: $2 trillion flowing back into this country, they were parked offshore, because, in fact, the regulatory environment has changed.

BASH: OK.

BLACKWELL: And the taxes were cut.

WEAVER: And a cheap tax --

BASH: We --

BLACKWELL: And jobs have gone up.

WEAVER: They avoided their taxes in Trump.

BLACKWELL: That's the winning combination.

BASH: We love having these policy discussions. Let's keep it going.

(LAUGHTER)

BASH: As I like to say, let's keep it going on Twitter and in the green room.

BLACKWELL: All right.

BASH: Thanks, everybody, for coming in. And for you, a pop quiz. He's no fan of the President's politics, but Trump is a huge fan of this pop star. So who is Donald Trump's musical obsession? Stay tuned, and we'll tell you.

[12:49:26] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: The President just can't get him off his mind. Elton John.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELTON JOHN, SINGER: Rocket Man BASH (voice-over): Sir Elton John inspired one of President Trump's

most famous monikers.

TRUMP: Rocket Man should have been handled a long time ago.

(APPLAUSE)

BASH (voice-over): And this week, the State Department denied a report that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hand-delivered an Elton John C.D. to North Korea. That might have been far-fetched, but, really, President Trump is a huge Elton John fan.

TRUMP: Well, I think Elton John is great.

BASH (voice-over): The singer isn't just a Trump tool for diplomacy. Elton John was even part of a Trumpian rift this week at a political rally in Montana.

TRUMP: I have broken more Elton John records. I don't have a musical instrument. I don't have a guitar or an organ. This is the only musical, the mouth. And hopefully, the brain is attached to the mouth.

BASH (voice-over): A theme that's come up before.

TRUMP: Well, they said it was like if Elton John came and we broke that record.

Elton John. I'm no longer competing with politicians. I'm competing with musical talent.

JOHN: Tiny dancer

BASH (voice-over): During his 2016 presidential campaign, Elton John hits, "Tiny Dancer" and "Rocket Man" were song list staples at Trump rallies. The President even touted some performance advice he says he got from the Brit.

[12:55:00] TRUMP: Elton John is a good friend of mine. And he said to me, you know, when you finish with a great song, get off the stage.

BASH (voice-over): His love for the pop star precedes his political career. In 2013, Trump posted this photo, pegging Elton John as his piano teacher. But when it comes to politics, the liberal activist doesn't feel the love.

JOHN: I cannot wait for Hillary Clinton to be president of the United States.

BASH (voice-over): Now, as President Trump prepares for a trip to Great Britain, the music legend offers this prediction about the royal legend who knighted Sir Elton John.

JOHN: The odds of you dancing with the Queen at Windsor Castle are very, very low.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Thanks for watching. More on the Thai rescue operation, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)