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Pence Announces Plan To Establish Space Force By 2020; Death Toll Update In Puerto Rico; Mixed Results For Progressives In Democratic Primaries. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 9, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


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[12:30:01] JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's on par with the air, land, sea and cyber space domains in terms of it being contested. And it's now a domain in which we must be equally prepared as all of those other domains.

We're in complete alignment with the President's concern about protecting our assets in space.

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JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Complete alignment, but he say he goes on there sat on the final answer sheet. We're still putting that together, again, about how to do it whether you have new department or not.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: A billion dollars over five years is the initial ask. The actual policy and bureaucratic questions about how to organize this, I think are very important in the long-term.

But in the short-term, i.e. midterm elections, I have to say having done two Trump rallies in the last week, in Wilbury and then in Ohio and Columbus area. People in the crowds love the space force.

I'm sorry to dumb this down. As a political tool, this is a good political tool for the President. It reminds people in that audience in the same way that President Obama would always harken back to the 1960s music and the play lists to be sort of aspirational and civil rights era and stuff.

When President Trump says space force, people in the crowd and most of those crowds that I have been love it. It reminds some of the optimism of man on the moon and trying to beat Russia and all this kind of stuff. It's that kind of nostalgia that I think as a political tool he's harnessing space force.

OLIVER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: Yes, as a practical matter, I like the question about what missions it will have, whether there's going to be a change in the mission from the space command into this new space force thing.

There is the matter of a 1967 treaty that says space is to be kept free and open. It's not supposed to be an area where we fight. Obviously over the years, that's changed, this is a practical matter. But the missions -- it'd be fascinating to see, get a read on just how they see this changing. When you hear Mike Pence saying we have to be dominant in space. That certainly suggests something much more aggressive, in what we've seen up to this point.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: That treaty prohibits weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons, but not all weapons. And there was a couple resolutions bounced around at the U.N. just a few years ago that the U.S. objected to, which would have banned all weapons.

Look, the Russians and Chinese both have space forces of their own. They're organized differently, but they are advancing their space capabilities. And their ability to defend themselves by knocking other satellites out of the sky. So there is a need for this, it's just a matter of how you organize it, train it, equip it, and resource it.

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I was thinking back to that moment in June where the President made this announcement, and it was a little unexpected. And people in the room were sort of watching him, and he turned to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And said, "General, you got this?" And he said, "got it."

And it just what this moment that I think was emblematic of how the President sort of functions. So often he says things or makes announcements that are unexpected. And then the people around him actually do have to take those words that their value and try to execute whatever it is he wants executed and actually figure out, does he actually want this, and is he actually committed to this?

And I think for all of the sort of fodder this has created for the late-night shows, there are real questions about what will this actually do now that the vice president is out there talking about in a serious way. What will this look like and what will it do.

KING: Sometimes it disruptive way, are not helpful but perhaps in this, if it's a challenge that needs to be addressed and he needs to ask Congress for the money to do it, that means you have a process that a platform to which to have the conversation.

Let's address it. What is the challenge? Who is the threat or the enemy, if you will and how to do it? So perhaps good will come of disruption. We shall see.

[12:33:30] Up next for us, an update you don't want to see on the death toll in Puerto Rico. The government now trying to get its act together 11 months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

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KING: Topping our political radar today, Moscow angrily pushing back against the United States' punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the U.K., a Kremlin spokesman calling the decision to slap more sanctions on Russia, "Categorically unacceptable and illegal."

The U.S. state department announced that move yesterday, saying Russia broke international warfare laws when they allegedly hit a retired Russian operative and his daughter with a nerve agent back in march. Russian officials insist they did not do it.

The Iowa state fair officially under way. And that means two things. One you can satisfy your cravings for deep fried butter on a stick, and more. And two, the mic is hot at the political soapbox, where presidential hopeful can and do speak directly to potential caucus scores. The lineup includes Montana Governor Steve Bullock, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro and Maryland Congressman John Delaney.

Today, government officials in Puerto Rico acknowledging a new estimate, get this that more than 1400 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria last year, that number more than 20 times higher than the official death toll, which up until now had been 64. The new assessment comes in a draft report being sent to Congress seeking additional hurricane recovery money.

Let's bring in CNN's Leyla Santiago who's been on top of the story for quite sometime. This is a stunning change in the numbers. Leyla, walk us through it.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, OK, let's go ahead and establish that despite these new numbers, the death toll remains at 64. The official death toll. So what is this new number that you brought up, this 1400?

Well, that is a number that is found here in this report that went to Congress last night from the government of Puerto Rico, asking for more money in its recovery efforts. And the 1400 is the increase, the excess in deaths that statistics show in the month of Hurricane Maria compared to previous years.

[12:40:05] So the government of Puerto Rico is acknowledging, yes, we saw an increase in these deaths, but now they're saying, whoa, wait a minute, we're not saying that they're necessarily tied to Hurricane Maria. We've commissioned a report, that report coming out of George Washington University. And the government saying until that report comes or until that report comes out that they have no plans to change the official Hurricane Maria death toll.

So today, John, despite the acknowledgment of an increase in excess deaths, that death toll still stands at 64. So why is that so important? That's important because any expert in this field will tell you if you don't understand who dies, when, where, and how, there's no possible way of potentially preventing that in the future.

And the timeliness of this is so important because we are now in hurricane season. We're about to hit the one-year mark for Hurricane Maria. And they still have not gotten to the bottom of the death toll. John?

KING: Excellent and important context. Leyla Santiago. And that's the reason we'll keep asking these questions and scrubbing the answers. Leyla, appreciate it very much.

We'll be right back.

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[12:45:28] KING: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is now on the front lines of the Democratic Parties identity debate. Some say crisis and she's learning quickly what tells in Queens doesn't necessarily sell elsewhere. The 28-year-old Democratic congressional candidate vaulted into the spotlight by beating a top member of the House Democratic leadership in the primary in New York.

She's now in demand as surrogate across the country by candidates who share her view that Medicare for all and higher minimum wage should be central to the Democratic agenda. Her record so far is mixed.

Of the seven candidates for example, she backed in primaries this Tuesday, just two came out on top. But she says while wins are nice, they're not the only way to keep score.

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ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I feel really good about it because I think what we need to realize is that -- I mean, I come from things as an organizer. I put my organizer hat on.

So, there are some races that we go in because they're winnable. There are some races we go in because it's really important to build power and to really kind of sway the issues. So I feel very confident.

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KING: And she does have a point. If you take the longer term perspective in Michigan, the Democratic establishment candidate for governor made a point of noting during the primary this was not an extreme left or extreme right state.

But now the primary is over, listen here, she says she can see the energy on the left, and she wants it to join her effort.

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GRETCHEN WHITMER (D), MICHIGAN GOVERNOR NOMINEE: There is a place for you as we move forward. I appreciate your spirit and your energy. I appreciate your ideas and what you have meant to this party. Let's work together and get this done. And of course to the thousands of people who were their supporters, this is a big tent. Join us.

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KING: The question is, is that just something somebody wrote down? If you're the establishment candidate. Or do you see, if you're Gretchen Whitmore and you just won the primary in Michigan and you think that centrist approach is the right approach but then you see that you got probably a stiffer challenge than you thought from the left, how do you marry the two?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: I mean don't ask Hillary Clinton and stronger together, because that didn't work. And I think, progressives don't like to be pandered to. They actually need to be seen that they're making an impact on your platform.

And they're going to know if you're just saying things and then putting forth a more centrist vision. And that's why some of these candidates that might be centrist might find themselves being pulled to the left, because they want that energy that is coming out of the far left of the party right now. And that's the robbed right now.

LEE: And Ocasio-Cortez's win obviously was a very, very big moment for the party. It was a surprise to a lot of people, but I think it's worth keeping in mind that when you look at the Democratic primaries that have happened so far, you've actually seen more outsiders, newcomers, and women win more than far left candidates really coming from the left.

And Ocasio-Cortez obviously is sort of becoming the spokesperson for the Democratic Party and for sort of left views in the party, but she's doing that in a big part because she's a woman, because she's a newcomer to politics.

KING: And to that point, the Brookings institution tracks these things. Here's a stat I want to show you. They track, establishment candidates, moderate candidates, progressive candidates, in the Democratic primaries for House and Senate, so far this year, progressives, 24 percent.

You see there on the left of your screen, losses, 71 percent, if you round. That's not great, but the question is, Ocasio-Cortez seems to have a longer term view, that she's, I've been organizer. Yes, we're going to lose some, but we're going to develop.

The guy who just lose in Michigan for example would have been the first Muslim governor, he'll be back. He run race, he learn, he'll be back. Which is right? Or are they both in some ways right?

TALEV: OK, so in a midterm year, which is like basically everything we've talked about today, right? All pinned on what happens in November. In the midterm year, the win column actually does matter. It's the only thing that matters.

And coming close is fine, but it doesn't count, right? And so, I think the other lesson of 2016 going back to Jackie's point, is that if you are very progressive or more liberal than the center, you still have to remember that your choice on a general election ballot is the person who's closer to you or the person on the other side of the aisle.

In the end, you've got a Republican versus a Democrat. Those are the two choices. So, I think that's what's going to be tested in the fall. That's what every conversation we're going to have between now and then is going to look like. KING: And Democrats insist that sure they have tough primaries, but they've not seen evidence yet that there's bad blood after, that the anti-Trump sentiment is so strong that they come together.

[12:50:02] We'll see what happens in November. We'll see if they lose some races by a point or two and we think that's the reason why. But one thing you do see is because Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is getting a national attention, in addition of Bernie Sanders, some of the older faces who where out there.

But because there is this big national spotlight, Republicans including their friend Rush Limbaugh, trying to take advantage of it, trying to tell in a year that is blowing the Democrats waves right now, trying to tell voters, be careful.

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RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: To many in the Democratic Party, she's the future. She is the face, she is the star. She has the answers. She's already supporting Medicare for all, $32 trillion over ten years.

Now she wants free tuition. She wants free this, free food stamps, everything. It isn't possible, folks. It simply isn't possible to tax people and businesses and the country enough to get the kind of money to pay for this.

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KING: Now, Rush's point is you can't sell that in Middle America. That's what he's trying to say. That's why we have elections. I actually like it when candidates are clear and explicit about what they want because then voters know what they're voting for.

KNOX: Just for perspective, we have a President who's accused Democrats of not just turning a blind eye to by supporting the MS-13 gang. So it's not like now that she's won this primary, oh, now Republicans are going to toughen the rhetoric.

That just not what's happening here. I'm really interesting to seeing more of a breakdown, what kind of districts are asking her to come campaign, what kind of districts is she winning, what kind of districts is she not winning in? Because I think the establishment is doing well in a lot swing districts.

She won in a very safely Democratic district. We did see a little bit bad blood after that. But it would be interesting to look more analytically. And like OK, so she's coming in, where is this message making a difference? I don't think it's making a difference in Republican messaging.

What was this going to be, was this going to be patty cake until November, no.

KING: Right. They have a name now to attach to their criticism about liberal spending. Race your taxes and so on. TALEV: But the name was already Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters or Bernie, now it's another name.

KUCINICH: Mad libs.

KING: I like that, mad libs. All right. >

Up next, a new hope.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could Hope come back to the White House in some capacity? Hope Hicks? Do you believe? I've seen a report about that.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh really? Well, I don't know. But I love Hope. She's great. I hope that -- I've been hearing little tings like that. I'll bet you Hope misses it.

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[12:57:06] KING: Welcome back. This news just in to CNN. First lady Melania Trump's parents have been sworn in as U.S. citizens. Viktor and Amalija Knavs took their oath of citizenship today in New York. According to their attorney before today, the first lady's parents were legal permanent residents of the United States.

Their attorney telling CNN it went well and they're very grateful and appreciative of this wonderful day for their family.

Moving on now to other news involving the White House, people are saying, as the President likes to say, that Hope Hicks might be mulling a return to the west-wing. Hicks left her job as White House communications director for more than five months ago.

Because of constant place at the President's side, she is central to some of the questions Special Counsel Robert Mueller is trying to answer. For month, the word from friends was that she was eager for a new chapter, but then Hope Hicks spotted boarding air force one last weekend, joining the President as he traveled to Ohio, for political rally.

Since then, buzz she might return to the White House or a Trump 2020 campaign roll. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders quoted in Politico today, calling Hicks smart, talented, and saying it would be a win across the board if she's involved in any capacity. Hope Hicks coming back or Hope Hicks just visiting friends?

TALEV: Well, too soon to say. I think if you were kind of took a poll of the White House Press Corps and everyone said, what do you think, what feels right, the 2020, the reelect campaign seems like the more likely role.

After all, what is most important about Hope Hicks is her personal relationship with the President, sort of a calming or familial effect she has as an adviser. And that's really different than being policy advisor. I think when she took a more formalized policy role at the White House. It wasn't her favorite time in the White House. It wasn't her best time at the White House to be settled about it.

But one of the big questions everyone has had is, are she and the President still talking? What's the relationship like now that she's left? And it became obvious to those of us on the trip this weekend, even for the brief exposure we had to her, that she was still quite comfortable in Trump land. And he was quite comfortable with her.

KING: She was central to the Air Force One meeting, phone call between the President and son Don Jr. that resulted in the initial statement that was misleading. You could go stronger than that about the Trump Tower meeting with Russians.

She was the one during the campaign who denied the President any knowledge of Karen McDougal. That is now part of an investigation into Michael Cohen and all that. In the middle of all that, you come back to the White House?

KNOX: Don't forget absolutely no contacts whatsoever between any Russians and the campaign.

KING: Right.

KNOX: I think you might. Because we referred to her as communications director that woefully understates how central she was to the first year of the Trump White House. I mean, she's one of the people, yes, she would speak with more authority than a lot of other people, including people whose job it was to speak for the President.

But woefully understate the truth, why not.

KING: Whether you agree or disagree, with us. She should come back assuming to go back Sarah Sanders is dead right that in articles which she gets the President. She does get the President.

All right. We'll keep an eye on that one as well. Thanks for joining us today on "INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. Don't go anywhere.

More breaking news with Wolf, who starts right now.