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Battle over Trump's Nominee; Ads Launched Against Kavanaugh; All Rescued in Thai Cave; Trump on Putin as Friend or Foe. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired July 10, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:22] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off.

As we speak, the president's Supreme Court pick is on Capitol Hill for his first chance to win over senators who will decide his confirmation.

Plus, today is the day for children under five years old who are separated from their parents at the U.S. border to be reunited. The Trump administration says they'll meet that deadline, but only for some families.

And as he left the White House this morning for a nearly week-long trip overseas, President Trump said his meeting with Vladimir Putin may be the easiest one. And his Elton John obsession confirmed. The president did try to give Kim Jong-un a CD of "Rocket Man."


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have it for him. They didn't give it. But it will be given at a certain period. I actually do --

REPORTER: What were you trying (INAUDIBLE) by sending him a "Rocket Man" CD?

TRUMP: I actually do have a little gift for him, but you'll find out what that gift is when I give it.


BASH: We begin this hour with the nominee. President Trump unveiling his pick to the Supreme Court last night, Brett Kavanaugh.

Now, today, Kavanaugh begins his mission on The Hill to woo senators and make it through the confirmation process. Two sources close to the process tell CNN that Kavanaugh was at the top of the president's list from the start, even before Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement. They say Kennedy and President Trump sat down for a private chat, and the president walked away convinced, though, that Kavanaugh was the top choice.

Now, the moment last night the president uttered his name, there was a full-court opposition beginning. Here's minority leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer, on CBS this morning.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: President Trump, with the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh, has fulfilled or is fulfilling two of his campaign promises. First, to undo women's reproductive freedom. Second, to undo ACA. And so I will oppose him with everything I've got.


BASH: That didn't go over so well with Senator Schumer's Republican counterpart, the majority leader.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Some of our Democratic colleagues seem to me, madam president, to be a little confused. A little confused. They seem to be confusing the nature of a political office with the nature of a judicial office. This would explain why some of our colleagues sound eager to try and turn judicial confirmations into something like political elections.


BASH: As for the handful of key senators whose votes will make or break the nomination, we're hearing a lot of them say they're going to keep an open mind.

CNN's Phil Mattingly joins me now live from The Hill.

And, Phil, you've been talking to senators and their aides. What have you been hearing? Anything that has been surprising, or is it kind of standard partisan fare?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a little more of the latter. I think that's kind of a reflection of a couple of things, maybe equal parts, how this process, and from a partisan side of things, has devolved over the course of the last couple of years. Obviously the very, very real and significant stakes that are currently at play here. But also how everybody telegraphed where they were going to be for the most part.

Senator Schumer made no secret of where he was going to stand on this. Senator Mitch McConnell, who was very deeply involved, as you know well, Dana, behind the scenes throughout this process. We knew where he was going to be as well.

The key, as you noted, is really those kind of senators that are in the middle. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski on the Republican side, on the Democratic side several red-state Democrats, Trump won states by double digits who are up for re-election. And as you noted, those senators, as we expected, keeping their powder dry.

And I think what that really underscores, Dana, is that we're in for a lengthy process. Obviously the full-on blitz started frankly even before Brett Kavanaugh was nominated. You're going to have millions of dollars in outside money trying to influence those senators, trying to pressure those senators. You're going to have grassroots on both sides really try to come to bear -- bring to bear their pressure on those senators as well.

But this is going to be a lengthy process. One where we probably won't know where the votes actually are, at least in total, until shortly before the floor vote. Now, how long does that mean? Until probably about two and a half months or so, 10 weeks, 11 weeks. Think about a hearing in the early part of September, confirmation vote middle to late September. That's where we're really going to start finding things out.

I think, Dana, the interesting element of all of this is, there is a lot to go through here. And while you might say those senators that are keeping their powder dry aren't committing to anything, well, frankly, they shouldn't. There are more than 300 decisions that Judge Kavanaugh wrote. There's obviously a lengthy paper trail from his time in the Bush administration that Democrats are extremely interested in and Republicans will have to go through as well. There's a lot of work to be done here, no question about it. But there's also going to be a lot of pressure and a lot of fireworks over the course of the next couple of weeks as everybody kind of pushes toward that final vote, Dana.

[12:05:13] BASH: No question, a lengthy paper trail, one that the Senate majority leader, as you well know, was a bit concerned about. We'll talk about that and more.

Thank you so much for that reporting, Phil.

Here at the table to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, Lisa Lerer with "The Associated Press," Michael Warren with "The Weekly Standard," and "Politico's" Rachael Bade.

I don't know about you all. I'm sure you had the same experience. It was -- it was like -- it was like something went off. The minute Kavanaugh walked out, it was -- my phone almost was smoking it was so active. E-mail after e-mail after e-mail after e-mail. I said the system almost couldn't keep up.

Everybody was ready for this. The, you know, groups on both sides are very well armed, obviously. But one thing that is different this time around, it seems to me, than in the past is that the energy has been, and the money has been, on the Republican side, convincing, for example, in a case like this, red state Democrats to vote yes.

Now there's more money being raised and energy being put on to the progressive side to convince those red-state Democrat who are key, three or four, probably three, to vote no. Let's listen to one example.


JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: And if confirmed to the D.C. circuit, I would follow Roe v. Wade faithfully and fully. That would be binding precedent in the court. It's been decided by the Supreme Court.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Yes, but what is your opinion? You're not on the bench yet. You've talked about these issues in the past to other people, I'm sure.

KAVANAUGH: The Supreme Court has held repeatedly, senator, and I don't think it would be --


KAVANAUGH: Appropriate for me to give a personal view on that case.

SCHUMER: You're not going to answer the question.


BASH: OK, that was a Q&A that he had when he was being confirmed for the circuit court about Roe v. Wade. We are going to talk about that. But now let's watch that ad.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Donald Trump just nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Here's what we already know about him. Trump said he'd only pick judges who reversed Roe v. Wade and outlaw abortion. And Trump made it clear his nominee would vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Call your senators and tell them to oppose Trump's extreme nominee. Stop Brett Kavanaugh.


BASH: It's a tough one because the energy in the Democratic Party is on the left. And that even applies to Democrats who are running in states where the president won by ten digit -- ten percentage points or more.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I think this all really goes back to Merrick Garland. I think that really changed the game for Democrats. It really made Supreme Court nominations more real. I think a lot of Democrat, for many, many years, sort of felt like it was very pro-forma, Democrats get one, Republicans get one. And then when their Democrat didn't get their guy, I think it became a different kind of issue for them. And now, even though these red-state Democrats might be a bit of a lost cause, and even if they were to hold on to them, there are enough Republicans that Brett Kavanaugh could get confirmed, it is a get out the vote mechanism for the fall. It is an important test of their ability to mobilize their base. So I think for some Democratic groups, this is a little bit of a dry run for what they need to do in the weeks and the months approaching November this year.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Right. I mean what we know is that historically the court, and Supreme Court nominations, have been more mobilizing for forces on the right, particularly social conservatives. Democrats now think with this nomination, given what's at stake, right, the court will tilt right for a generation. And, of course, you know, the -- what could be -- the impact that could have on Roe -- on Roe, they see an opportunity to really mobilize their voters, particularly female voters who have been a huge force in the Democratic Party.

BASH: Wow, that was great, you just teed up the next soundbite I wanted to play.

LERER: Well, I'm here to help.

BASH: Well played, Lisa.

We played the soundbite of Kavanaugh talking about his position on abortion back in 2006. But now the question is whether or not and how much his position or the uncertainty of his position will play into the Republican swing votes. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins. Our Manu Raju caught up with Susan Collins about this, this morning.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Well, I'm sure that that's a case that we will discuss. His opinion in that case contrasts with that of Judge Henderson, who went way beyond where Judge Kavanaugh went. But obviously that's one of the cases that I'm sure I will be discussing with him.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I think that there is a process. That process needs to be fair. It needs to be open. We all -- every member of the United States Senate has an equal obligation to thoroughly vet this nominee.


[12:10:05] BASH: That was Senator Murkowski there, the other potential swing vote, who has been historically focused on this issue. She describes herself as pro-choice.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Yes, and Kavanaugh's comments that you folks played just a few minutes ago that -- saying that he wouldn't throw out and would respect Roe v. Wade basically give both of these Republicans plausible deniability to say, look, he said this publicly. I'm going to back him because he says he's going to continue to support abortion rights for women.

But Schumer, Chuck Schumer, their Democratic leader in the Senate, he's already warning that just because, you know, Kavanaugh said this in the past doesn't mean -- and you should take him at his word now because the reality is that a judge can look at a court case and say, oh, you know, the reality is a little different here than it was from a previous court case and can say, oh, I respect that precedent, but I'm going to rule a little difficultly because of x, y, or z different factor. And so Schumer has said that's a trap, do not follow that.

I also think that it's interesting that Kavanaugh, last night in his first remarks to the nation, really showed that he was trying to reach out to women who were concerned.

BASH: Yes.

BADE: He talked about his wife, his daughter, his mom being, you know -- Judge Kavanaugh will always be my mother, who was a judge and used to practice her legal arguments at the dinner table.

BASH: Right.

BADE: And I think that -- we'll see if that actually works with Congress.

BASH: You talked about the realities. The other reality is that since the Bork nomination where he actually answered questions and it went south, the nominees, since then, Republican and Democrat, have learned a lesson not to answer questions. In "The New York Times," in an editorial this morning, reminded everybody of that saying, what Americans can't know about Judge Kavanaugh, pretty much anything else, ever since the bitter battle of President Ronald Reagan's failed nomination of Robert Bork in 1987 the confirmation process has developed into a second-rate Samuel Becket play starring an earnest, legal scholar who sits for days at a microphone and labors to sound thoughtful while he says almost nothing.

It is true, it's an art, but we -- people say, let's just see what he says in the confirmation hearings. Not much.

MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": No, but, you know, I've been watching social conservatives and how they've sort of been reacting to this pick. And it's interesting, there's a bit of disappointment. Of course there's a general feeling that, of course, it's from this list the Federalist Society developed and so Kavanaugh will be good. But I think there was a lot of hope that Amy Coney Barrett, who's been -- who's been much more forward leaning on her views on abortion, would have been a better pick for those.

And I think that tracks with what's likely to happen if and when Kavanaugh is on the court and this issue comes before the Supreme Court. I think you're more likely to see restrictions on abortion, something that narrows it down to, say, late-term abortions, (INAUDIBLE) abortions, more so than a full overturning of Roe v. Wade. And you can look at this in one -- in one way, whether it's Kavanaugh sort of having this record that's not as -- that's not as easy to parse on his position, but also the very strong likelihood that John Roberts, the chief justice, will be doing what he's been doing over the past ten years, which is sort of moderating, taking his role as chief justice as a sort of caretaker of the institution fairly or unfairly. Conservatives don't like this about John Roberts. But looking at this and saying, politically, a complete overturning of Roe v. Wade may not be best for the court as an institution.

BASH: Yes. And he kind of has made that clear.


BASH: He's made that clear in his co confirmation hearings.

OK, everybody stand by because you're all going to want to see this. I can't get enough of it. Because we're going to turn to a story that is captivating the world, and has been for two weeks. All 12 boys and their soccer coach are now safe after being trapped inside a cave in Thailand for more than two weeks. Divers finished the final stages of that dangerous rescue mission earlier today.

CNN's Matt Rivers is outside the hospital where the boys are recovering.

Matt, what can you tell us about their condition? And also just about what it's like to be there to hear those cheers and to cover this very, very good news story?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's not often that we get to cover unabashedly good news, especially in situations like this. And yet I can report that at least from what we know so far, this is fantastic. You had 12 boys extracted from that cave along with their coach, making it 13. Even the divers, the navy SEALs here from Thailand, that spent the last week inside that cave with them, they also made it out safely. No one is left in that cave. And everyone that needs treatment is getting it here behind me at that hospital, Dana.

As for your question about conditions, that's what we don't really know yet. Boys nine, 10, 11, and 12, who were taken out of the cave today, along with that coach, they are being treated inside that hospital. They're going through a battery of tests, making sure they're not dehydrated. Making sure they're getting the right amount of nutrition. They're taking blood tests. And then they're going to -- then their conditions will be released. That's what we're waiting on here.

Hopefully it mirrors the conditions of the first eight boys that were rescued. We got updates on their status earlier today. And, generally speaking, they're doing pretty well. They came in with some complications, five of them had lower body temperatures, two of them had lung infections, but they responded immediately to treatment. They actually are asking for fried chicken and chocolate. They want to watch the World Cup. And hopefully that is what the kind of news that we're going to get tomorrow about this latest round of rescues.

[12:15:20] But here in Thailand, this country has been riveted by this, as has the rest of the world. And we are so happy to report that everyone has made it out of that cave and the reunification of families will be going on at this hospital behind me over the coming days.


BASH: It is a story of survival and rescue for the ages. It really is.

Matt Rivers, thank you so much.

And, up next, President Trump is on his way to the NATO summit and then Helsinki for a meeting with Vladimir Putin. Does Trump consider Putin a friend or a foe? He won't say yet.


BASH: Welcome back.

The president, this morning, before jetting off to Europe, tried to set some expectations for a very big week.

[12:20:07] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I have NATO. I have the U.K., which is in somewhat turmoil. And I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all.


BASH: Well, check that out. You can see the president's schedule is packed with highly consequential meetings, each with potential pitfalls. The west would like to see Trump warm to European leaders that he's clashed with since assuming office and then draw firm lines when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But this answer from the president likely sent a chill through diplomatic circles this morning.


REPORTER: Mr. President, would you say Vladimir Putin is a friend or a foe?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really can't say right now. As far as I'm concerned, a competitor. He's a competitor. I think that getting along with Russia, getting along with China, getting along with others is a good thing.


BASH: Who wants to start that? Jump ball.

WARREN: Well, I think this is a reflection of the foreign policy view that Trump has, you know, talked about for his whole political career. It's -- it is not -- there's no moral element to it. It's all sort of transactional. And I think he views himself as somebody who can figure out whether President Putin can be a friend or a foe and whether or not he can do anything in the negotiating room to figure that out, suss that out. Actually not that difficult from say George -- the way George W. Bush looked into President Putin's eyes and saw his soul.

BASH: Yes.

WARREN: But I think -- I think it sort of ignores what a lot of people in his own party, and even his own administration have said about a lot of what Vladimir Putin has done over the last certainly decade at, you know, at the very least the annexation of Crimea, which the president's been sort of unwilling to say whether or not they would stick by the U.S. policy of saying, that was not a good thing and we're against that. BASH: Right. I mean and, you know, you can, if you are a transactional

president, you can make an argument, I guess, that -- which, you know, is hard to make, but you can try to make it, that Crimea's over there. But this is also -- since president -- since President Bush said he looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes and saw his soul, Russia has meddled in America's elections.

WARREN: Right.

BASH: I mean how is that not a foe?

LERER: And I also think, you know, it's important to point out that this is already -- his flirtation or whatever we want to call it with Putin has already had an extremely corrosive effect on these relationships with these allies, right? The premise of NATO is deterrence, which is the idea that, you know, if someone attacks one of the NATO countries, they will act, without necessarily someone having to test that. But now, if you don't have that implicit promise that NATO will respond in force, which, you know, the president has undermined, deterrence doesn't work.

BASH: Lisa, did you look at my notes because, once again, you are teeing --

LERER: We're in mind meld. We're mind melding here.

BASH: You're teeing up exactly what I wanted to play, which is comments from the E.U. president to Donald Trump, a very specific message to Donald Trump on this very issue. Listen.


DONALD TUSK, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT: Dear President Trump, America does not have and will not have a better ally than Europe. Today, Europeans spent on defense many times more than Russia and as much as China. The America, appreciate your allies. After all, you don't have that many.

Dear, Mr. President, please remember about this tomorrow when we meet at the NATO summit. But, above all, when you meet President Putin in Helsinki. It is always worth knowing who is your strategic friend and who is your strategic problem.


BASH: I mean, wow. There's no diplo speak there. You know exactly what he's saying.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, I think Europeans are kind of fed up with this at this point. And it's really reaching kind of a breaking point. The president is not just -- it would be one thing if it were just Vladimir Putin, he was just saying nice things about him, but he's simultaneously exposing cracks in NATO. He's alienating allies. He is criticizing world leaders in Europe when they are at their weakest. Theresa May, at this moment, in her tenure, when she risks a no- confidence vote. The same thing with Angela Merkel in the last week when her coalition was on the verge of fraying.

The president is exploiting these rifts in European allies. And he doesn't -- he has also questioned whether or not it is worth the United States making good on its Article V commitment of defending Europe if one of its members is attacked. He's questioned that. And I think that's a big deal.

WARREN: It is.

LERER: And I --

BASH: Stand by. We're going to go up to Capitol Hill. The Judiciary chairman, Chuck Grassley, is meeting right now with Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I'm just going to make a short statement. I'm not going to take any questions. And, obviously, our nominee will not take any questions.

[12:25:06] But I -- I've just had a pleasant conversation with Judge Kavanaugh. He and I have not interacted a lot in our lifetimes. So meeting (INAUDIBLE) with him again is very important.

He's a respected jurist in the court he sits on. Outstanding opinions that I think are going to be gone through by every lawyer (ph), at least on our committee. We're going to have a thorough process. Hopefully (INAUDIBLE). We get it done quickly.

You know, but it's going to be thorough. And it's going to be done right. And try to do what we can to accommodate everybody's interests. In the end, I think his record speaks for itself. It is the most outstanding thing that affords this person a chance for confirmation in the United States Senate to be on the vacancy of the Supreme Court.

But, we thank you all very much. And (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: A little hard to hear all the -- over all the clicking sounds there, but that is Chuck Grassley. He's the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He will be running the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. And the gist of what he said was, there's going to be a thorough process. Obviously he didn't say, OK, I'm in, but he sort of alluded to that, saying that he has a good record that speaks for itself. He's a respected jurist and so on and so forth.

I just -- you know, this is -- this is -- this is about as standard and as conventional as we see of any process in the Trump administration. This happens in every administration, Democrat or Republican. You do the nominee. The next day they go up to The Hill and they do the meet and greets and say words without really saying much before the cameras.

WARREN: Well, I think this is because this is the -- sort of the biggest part of Trump's administration and what he's doing that he's farmed out to another group of folks, that being the Federalist Society. And this is sort of the result, the fruit of a really earnest effort by a lot of serious -- it started about 40 years -- BASH: That's right.

WARREN: Young lawyers who were concerned about the way that the legal profession was going too liberal. They've now created a community of lawyers who have focused, better than I think anybody else in the conservative movement, on actually getting their people into the federal bench. And this is the result of that.

It really has -- it all proceeds President Trump and Trump is really, I think, given that up and said, help me decide this. And I don't think he cares that much about it as long as it pleases the people who voted for him, which it does.

BASH: Yes, and that's so true. This is -- this is a very labor- intensive, long game plan among conservative lawyers and conservative groups.


BASH: I mean, decades, a generation plus. And it's bearing fruit right now. That's no small thing.

LERER: And also, I think it's worth noting, that Kavanaugh is a guy who gets this process. I mean this is someone who had a first career as a political operative.

BASH: That's right.

LERER: And I thought that really came through during his speech, right? He understands he needs to get up there. He clearly has decided he was going to sprinkle his remarks with a lot of references to his support for the women in his life because he understands the dynamics, the political dynamics as well as anyone.

I think the biggest risk to him might be the president, might be President Trump, coming out and saying something that he then has to go clean up on Capitol Hill.

BASH: All right, everybody stand by.

Coming up, dozens -- oh, excuse me. Before we go to break, I just was being told that our Manu Raju was told by Joe Donnelly, one of those red state Democrats who voted for Neil Gorsuch, is up in the air now. He told Manu Raju that he fully intends to evaluate Judge Brett Kavanaugh's record and would keep an open mind, but also said the question about pre-existing conditions and whether those can still be covered by the ACA is, according to Donnelly, a central part of this nomination. That's just in. We are getting information really by the second as our team is up on Capitol Hill talking to these key, key senators who will determine whether Brett Kavanaugh actually is confirmed.

And now we will go to break. But before, I want to tell you, on the other side, we're going to talk about dozens of immigrant children taken from their parents. They are supposed to be reunited by day's end. Will that happen? We'll tell you after the break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)