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INSIDE POLITICS

Arizona Senator John McCain Buried Today; President Trump Lashed Out At The Mueller Probe And The Justice Department. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired September 2, 2018 - 08:00   ET

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


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN: Sadie lady, I love you. Thank you so much for sharing your morning with us. We always appreciate it. We hope you make good memories today.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN: INSIDE POLITICS starts now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[08:00:17] ANNOUNCER: The final fall sprint to Election Day. With just nine weeks left, a big primary win for progressives in Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't believe we should have to shrink from the things we believe in in order to win.

ANNOUNCER: Plus, the President slams the Mueller probe and issues a new threat.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our justice department and our FBI have to start doing their job. At some point I will get in there if I have to.

ANNOUNCER: And the nation bids farewell to an American icon. The bipartisan tribute to Senator John McCain.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The world is smaller for his departure and we will remember him as he was, unwavering, undammed, unequalled.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We never doubted the other man's sincerity or patriotism or that when all was said and done we were on the same team.

ANNOUNCER: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Phil Mattingly. John King is off today. To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thanks for sharing your Sunday.

Two powerful absences cast a shadow over Washington today. John McCain this afternoon heads to his final resting place, the hallowed green lawn in Annapolis. A day ago three former presidents, hundreds of former colleagues and top U.S. officials and millions more watching paused to remember an irreplaceable American.

At Washington national cathedral the keepers of American power all sang or hummed along to "America the beautiful," a salute to McCain who, maybe more than anyone, more than self, his country loved. Two eulogies by two former presidents spoke to McCain's and America's aspiration for something higher, a moral clarity carried in the naval aviator's old scars.

President George W. Bush said McCain should be judged by whom he abhorred and those whose causes he carried.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: John detested the abuse of power. He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots. There was something that made him stand up for the little guy, forever tempted to forget who we are, to grow weary of our cause, John's voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder. We are better than this. America is better than this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: And President Barack Obama asked the country to move past its petty divides and embrace something greater.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult. It is a politics that pretends to be brave and tough but in fact is born in fear. John called on us to be bigger than that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Both presidents preaching uncontroversial values uniquely American ideals, unquestionably embodied by McCain. And yet the moment made all the more uncommon by the glaring absence of the current president, the subtext of the service it is the talk of Washington. The gut punch grief felt by Meghan McCain is common to every American family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGHAN MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN'S DAUGHTER: When my father got sick and I asked him what he wanted me to do with this eulogy, he said, show them how tough you are. That is what love meant to John McCain. My father is gone and my sorrow is immense, but I know his life and I know it was great because it was good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: With us this Sunday to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace of the "Associated Press," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Jonathan Martin with "The New York Times," and "the Washington Post's" Seung Min Kim.

Now guys, I have been kind of an internal debate, I think we all have been an internal debate what this week has actually meant, right. These are statements and ideas that aren't necessarily rare to what America is. But I will read what senator McCain in his final letter said or -- and spoken by Rick Davis' former campaign manager.

We are citizens of the world's greatest republic, a nation of ideals not blood and soil. We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all course of the world. We weaken it when we hide behind walls rather than tear them down.

Big question, what was this week actually about?

[08:05:01] JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, I think what was so striking about this week is to your point, so many of the things that were said by John McCain in his final letter, by the former president at the final service yesterday were very standard American values. We weren't talking about something that was unique for American leaders to be discussing. But in this moment it was seen as a rebuke to the current president. That's extraordinary that things so bed rocked in this country are seen as out of sync with the current president and it's because he has taken such a different approach. He does not cast America as this great nation. He casts America as a nation that is cheated by Canada, that has been cheated by Asian countries and Mexico has to wall itself off from other nations. He has been very successful politically in doing that. But it is really counter to what we are used to hearing from our leaders. And this was a reminder of those more traditional values, this wake.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And when senator McCain asked the people to speak at his eulogy, he planned every minute of this and set the tone for that in his own message and in Meghan McCain's message. And I am told the president and others speaking were also told not to hold back. This was the theme, this is what he wanted them to share.

And you are right, it was a message that was heard in a different time, it would have been potentially the same words, but it is different in this moment. And the fact that the president was not there, the fact that a couple of his top advisers, actually several of his top advisers were there, certainly was interesting. But I think after we move beyond this week you have to wonder if anything changes at all.

The possibility, I think, there will be one senator who wants to be the next John McCain. That is a great position to be in because you can have policy positions. You know, a lot of press coverage, frankly. So I think --.

(CROSSTALK)

ZELENY: No question. I mean, that is something that may change. You saw a lot of hungry senators in there wanting to fill that void. But in terms of changing our politics, don't count on it.

MATTINGLY: Yes. I want to get to that last point in a second. But first I want to play some sound from Meghan McCain, very poignant speech but also one that was not even remotely subtle. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness, the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who live lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served. America does not boast because she has no need to. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: And it was the applause as much as the words that I think I was taken aback by there.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You just don't hear applause at most funerals mid speech period and you don't hear applause mid speech in a funeral in the national cathedral which I mean is a place majestic but also sort of very old church and very proper and outright. And that was something else to hear that.

I think to be totally blunt, I think our politics marches ahead. Jeff is right, I think there will be opportunities for folks to step up and try to fill that McCain role. I think those opportunities will be whetted, by the way, by the election in two months. I mean, that, to me, is the pinpoint here is what happens on Election Day and is there a rebuke of the Republican Party and of Trump-ism? And if there is, then I think you will see more of folks who what Jeff talking about and realized that there's an opportunity here to sort of set ourselves apart and perhaps not just an opportunity but an imperative, too, how bad the Election Day actually is.

MATTINGLY: Yes.

Seung, you and I traipsed through the halls of Congress and stand on the floors unendingly. We put together something, you know, senators that either publicly or even maybe privately talk about, how the younger group of senators of both parties, that the institution is broken. That they want to fix it. Haven't quite figured out how yet. I will pull some of those up and take a look. Michael Bennett or Chris Coons, Joni Ernst, Doug Jones, James Langford to some degree, Tim Scott, Todd Young on some issues. What's your sense of this next generation if there's any chance they will be successful?

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think there's clearly a hunger for more bipartisanship in the mold of John McCain but yet those efforts haven't come to fruition just yet. I mean, we have seen so many instances this year where this gang of 40 or the gang of 25 has gathered --

ZELENY: Talking six. KIM: Yes, talking six. And gathered in Susan Collins' office who has

been regarded or that office has kind of been regarded as the Switzerland of the Senate. But yet what have they done to result from it? And I think that is just the polarization of our politics has really stepped down into the Senate. And there is - there will be no figure like John McCain for some time.

I thought it was appropriate when Mitch McConnell said he would put together a gang and to figure out how to properly remember the senator because John McCain was involved in basically any gang in the Senate whether it was trying to pass immigration reform in 2013 or, you know, trying to stave off a filibuster at times back in 2017 when it ultimately failed. But I think that there will be -- there will be a struggle to kind of replace that bipartisanship of gravitas the senator brought. And I think we certainly, you know, felt that presence missing from the Senate halls in the last, you know, eight or nine months.

[08:10:22] MARTIN: And let's see, by the way, we are all fast speaking of primaries, Tom Carper, the long incumbent senator from Delaware has a primary this week. He is somebody who I think always tried to be what more of a moderate Democrat. Let's see how close his opponent gets because that is the kind of chilling impact that were certainly we have seen the last eight years in the GOP. If that kind of thing starts happening with Democrats now, I think that is going to make it harder for Democrats like Chris Coons who had his colleague in Delaware to be bipartisan and sort of, you know, defy their own party.

MATTINGLY: Yes. It's not a straight line. There are so many different dynamics in play into whether or not this will actually occur. I will miss being called a little jerk.

PACE: And a little brat.

MATTINGLY: And a little brat.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTINGLY: All right. As we go to break, one more image that I really want to show you. You are looking right now at 87-year-old congressman Sam Johnson. Now the Texas Republican was a fellow prisoner of war and one of McCain's in Vietnam. Now Johnson is usually confined to a scooter or wheelchair. But in one of the week's many signs of bipartisanship, Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Joe Crowley here helping him to the casket to say farewell to senator McCain.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:15:27] MATTINGLY: Stop me if you have heard this one before, with his administration facing growing legal pressure, President Trump is lashing out at the Mueller probe and the justice department.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Our justice department and our FBI have to start doing their job and doing it right and doing it now because people are angry. People are angry. I wanted to stay out, but at some point, if it doesn't straighten out properly, I want them to do their job. I will get involved, and I'll get in there if I have to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Now, the President says people are angry. But a new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll suggests otherwise. Take look at this, 63 percent of Americans approve of special counsel Mueller's handling of the investigation. A near mirror image of President Trump's 60 percent disapproval rate, just 36 percent of Americans approve of his performance as president.

Now, these numbers suggest somewhat of a shift. There once was an agreed upon narrative that the president's attacks on the investigation were having an effect, perhaps that's not so subtle anymore. Even more significantly, there is zero indication that any of those attacks have deterred Robert Mueller from opening new avenues of his investigation.

Just on Friday a Washington lobbyist pleaded guilty to funneling foreign money into President Trump's campaign and agreed to cooperate with investigators moving forward. And in a new court filing, former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos publicly contradicted testimony by attorney general Jeff Sessions. But Papadopoulos says at a March 2016, meeting, you can see that pictured here from a Trump campaign Instagram post, both Sessions and then candidate Trump signal support from a proposed meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin during the campaign.

It says, while some in the room rebuffed George's offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr. Sessions who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it. George's giddiness over Mr. Trump's recognition was prominent during the days that followed.

All right. We will get to George Papadopoulos in a second. A lot to go into there. I don't know if we have enough time.

But first of all, I kind of want to go 30,000 foot level. And that is what we are seeing from the President right now on twitter, including yesterday throughout the course of the week, this is a reflection to what he is reading in the news or is this just the lingering frustration of what this investigation means for this administration?

ZELENY: I mean, that's a great question. We don't know exactly what he is reacting to. Usually it's something he sees on FOX.

But I think if we take stock of where we are right now at the beginning of September, summer is over. This investigation is still very much on. That likely means almost certainly means that the investigation is going to continue through the midterm elections, so it's going to be something that the President is going to use or try and use. He likes to find an opponent. But the reality here is we still don't know what Bob Mueller has

found, what his team has found. They are probably going to put this on hold, releasing any findings until after the midterms. Rudy Giuliani was out this week said we are going to release our own report.

Half or probably a third of the country is interested or will believe, you know, what the evidence say. But the reality is the real report from Bob Mueller will come after the midterms and what party controls Congress at that point? That is the central question to all of this.

So after the summer, I kind of thought more of this would have been resolved by now. It's not. It means Bob Mueller is still going after something. The plea deal on Friday I think is more significant than we think. We have never heard of this guy, but the reality is if they were looking into money from that point, what else are they looking into from that same period?

MATTINGLY: On that front real quick, because Rudy Giuliani actually talks about this. But to your point, this is the first time the justice department publicly charged a person for helping a foreigner secretly funnel money into the trump inauguration which is something that a lot of people have been looking into. Rudy Giuliani was asked about that. Take a listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: Turned out to be this irrelevant indictment where I think Mueller turned into the private prosecutor. I mean, what does this have to do with President Trump? Not a single thing. Has nothing do with collusion. Some guy who donated to the inauguration. My goodness, there are 500,000 people who donated to President Trump every time they get a speeding ticket. And special prosecutor is going to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PACE: I think Rudy Giuliani answered his own point there, which is what does this have to do with President Trump? It was the Trump inauguration. So there's the link right there.

Look. Bob Mueller, yes, is going after things that when you are talking about such high level questions like obstruction and collusion with Russians, can look small, but actually I think it's just being methodical, you know. He is deep in a complicated investigation and he is pulling out bit players. He is charging them when they lie to him. He is charging them for things like fare violations that often don't get prosecuted.

But all indications are that he is moving towards something bigger. That doesn't necessarily mean an indictment of the president or someone in his inner circle. But as he tries to answer those larger questions about obstruction or collusion, he is simply letting nothing slide. And I think part of that is trying to send a message to people who come in to sit before the grand jury, to come and interview with his prosecutors, that if you don't come in and you don't tell us the truth or you have something in your background, we are going to go after you. That's the type of aggressive investigation this is regardless of what Rudy Giuliani and others say.

[08:20:42] MARTIN: Yes. And he is also trying to get folks to talk and he is using the various levers at his disposal to make folks talk, including offering them some measure of plea deals in some cases that's worked. Others said that's not worked, at least not yet with Paul Manafort, of course the president said he didn't break, which is extraordinary in its own right. I think we will see if that continues given the fact that Manafort has a second trial coming up here.

But no, I totally agree with Julie. I think we are very much in the dark as to what he actually is doing and what he actually has. Most of the information that we know has come from the Trump side of this, not the Mueller side of this.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Seung, I want to ask you something -- first of all, I want to read something -- the President sat down with "Bloomberg News" and gave an interview. And he was asked about complying with the subpoena, if he chooses not to testify, that's clearly a legal fight that I think everybody thinks is coming.

And he said, Trump said in the interview I'll see what happens when it comes to a subpoena. I view it differently. I view it as an illegal investigation because quote "great scholars have said there never should have been a special counsel," the president told Bloomberg.

So you have great scholars, which the president is not specifying who that is. Let's also pull up federal judges and their views of whether or not the investigation is legal. So if you take a look at these four federal judges from presidents from both parties, all of whom have ruled that the special counsel is, in fact, legal. So, despite what maybe is being heard on cable news -- but I want to ask you to the broader point here. Is this the fight that's coming right now? The fight over a subpoena, squashing a subpoena or something like that?

KIM: I think his lawyers have already made it clear weeks ago that if there is a subpoena issued by Mueller, this is a fight that will go all the way to the Supreme Court. And I think that's why we have seen these interview negotiations between Mueller's team and Trump team kind of ebb and flow and kind of almost essentially stop at this point.

And the subpoena issue is so important, too, in the fact it may go all the way to the Supreme Court. Because again, we will talk about this later, but we do have a Supreme Court confirmation fight going on. And one of the big contentious points about Bret Kavanaugh's record is his views on executive power. He gives a lot of latitude to the executive branch in this. He discusses his views in detail in legal articles than in public forums, but that is definitely a point Democrats will bring up when there is a potentially live fight that he will face as soon as he has sworn into this Supreme Court, how will you handle that issue?

Now Kavanaugh is not going to answer that but is definitely an issue that is looming over this confirmation and the subpoena fight.

MATTINGLY: It is a good tease to a couple minutes from now.

One more before I let you go and this to the George Papadopoulos finding. There was a lot of questions whether Jeff Sessions was honest in his testimony during his confirmation hearing. What do we think is the significance of that Friday evening holiday weekend?

(LAUGHTER)

KIM: Well, George Papadopoulos has been one of these strange characters in all of this because he was not a major player in the Trump campaign, but he actually was on this foreign policy advisory team announced by Trump. He was in meeting with the President. I would think that there are two significant things here. One, it does contradict Jeff Session's testimony. And there's been a lot of questions about what sessions has said in part because there have been holes picked in other things that he said. So I do think that he probably going to have to answer for this. And the second piece of this, though, is President Trump is already furious at Jeff Sessions. And I think anything that fuels that is noteworthy. I'm surprised we haven't seen any tweets from the President about that so far.

ZELENY: It is one more reason to say that. But the President also said in the Bloomberg interview that Jeff Sessions was safe until November. After that he wouldn't say.

MARTIN: Yes. I think it's widely understood that Sessions is on the way out after midterms.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTINGLY: All right. Coming up, bad news for the GOP. We are unveiling new CNN House race ratings with some unwelcome numbers for the President and his party.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:28:49] MATTINGLY: Welcome back.

The blitz is on, nine weeks until the November midterms. And this morning, new signs of a potential looming Republican reckoning. CNN is moving 11 congressional seats away from Republicans and toward Democrats. And three seats are moving towards the GOP. Now of the 30 seats CNN considers tossups, 28 are held by Republicans. And 12 of those Republicans are running in districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016. So at least in the House, for the most endangered GOP candidates, the President's presence probably hurts more than it helps.

Now his post labor day travel schedule mostly keeps the President out of purple territory. By design in Republican strongholds like Texas or in red states where blue states senate Democrats are on the ballot.

But the President, he's keenly aware. An Election Day wave would imperil not just an agenda but things like impeachment on the table. His message to voters this week, I'm not on the ballot but 2018 is about my presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You aren't just voting for a candidate, you are voting for which party controls Congress. Somebody has a cold, we no longer have the majority. We need Republicans in Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[08:30:03] MATTINGLY: Look, first of all, he's not wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He's right about that.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Yes, absolutely.

MATTINGLY: He's absolutely right about his agenda. He's absolutely right about his poll here.

But I want to pull up -- we noted already the ABC News Washington Post poll where you talk about where the President's approval is. Take a look at his approval among GOP voters. This has been the stalwart kind of lynchpin to everything they've been doing. And over the course of the last month and a half, two months, at least according to this poll, it is down nine points.

Now, it's one poll. It's not indicative of everything, but is that a -- like is there a bigger problem here?

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. Oh, yes. Look, if he's below 80 percent with this party, that's a huge issue.

MATTINGLY: Yes.

MARTIN: I had a really smart Republican operative tell me a challenge that we have, the party has, is that every time there's one of these episodes whether it's Helsinki, whether it's the reminder of Stormy Daniels, where that cohort of sort of swing Republicans -- folks who kind of like the policies but cringe at some of the behavior -- every time their noses are rubbed in the face of what they don't like about this president, they see a 10 to 15 percent drop, in his own views -- the views of the President.

And what that does, Phil -- is that directly impacts the House candidates who are on the ballot because so much of these House races is about the views of the President and the views of the two parties. And any time those sort of soft Republicans as they're called in the jargon of politics are reminded about what they don't like about this president, it sort of turns them off. It sort of makes them walk away from the party. And that's a lot of crucial votes, too.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUR5EA CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well and when you combine the drop in Republicans and those numbers on Independents, those are terrible numbers with Independents.

MARTIN: Yes.

PACE: If you look at some of these swing districts where Republicans are going to need to hold their seats in places like Virginia and Pennsylvania. There's a really competitive race in Minnesota that hasn't been competitive in a long time in that district. If you don't have those Independents --

MARTIN: Right.

PACE: -- you're already in a really difficult position.

MATTINGLY: Right.

PACE: If you're dropping to about 80 percent with Republicans it's almost impossible.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They're almost on the verge of now acknowledging at the White House that the House is going to be impossible to hold. So much more discussion is on the Senate.

I'm hearing from more people saying, well, what if Democrats control the House? What if impeachment happens? Maybe that is better for the President in 2020. So that conversation is very much alive and well. And they may be right about that.

It happened in the Clinton impeachment -- of course, the situation is totally different. It's a different era, different time. But the idea of holding the House seems to be escaping.

And we saw where the President is traveling. Yes, he's going to red states. But even inside red states, they have to pick very specifically where he can go because he fires up the base for these House districts in other big cities.

So it's a complicated mine field out there for the President. But the idea of the House -- it's tough.

MATTINGLY: So you make an interesting point, the President announcing this week on Twitter that he's going to Texas for Ted Cruz, looking for the biggest stadium he can find, Kyle Field, that's my vote. That's awesome --

MARTIN: 105,000.

MATTINGLY: -- 105,000; let's do it. Let's go.

MARTIN: That's Houston area market though -- Phil. That's the challenge.

MATTINGLY: So this is the point, right. This is the heart of Houston.

(CROSSTALK) MATTINGLY: You have Republicans in those markets --

MARTIN: Right.

MATTINGLY: -- who are endangered right now and probably haven't run a tough race for most of their careers who are saying, don't do this, please. Don't do this. I mean, is that right?

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. And it's just the constant struggles that you're seeing and the different dynamics between the House and the Senate races that we're seeing because we talk about how bleak the picture looks for House Republicans.

Senate Republicans are in a better position right now. And I think to Jeff's point, when I was traveling with the President to Columbus, Ohio a few weeks ago or maybe it was last week. I don't remember.

MATTINGLY: Best city and best state in the union.

KIM: According to you the best city in the country. He took a little bit of a different tone. And he was bullish on the Senate, which I think is a fair assessment, but he did acknowledge that the House is probably tougher.

And I think that was such an interesting point that it was such a contrast to his constant red wave rhetoric that we hear from him. And the fact -- and you do see that little bit of political reality seeping in.

But in the Senate, Republicans still feel very good. They especially feel good about North Dakota, Florida, Indiana and Missouri.

MARTIN: Right.

KIM: Those are the states that the Democrats are the most concerned about. So we'll end -- as we know with the Senate, it can accomplish more of Trump's agenda just because of their role in the confirmation process.

MARTIN: Just real fast --

MATTINGLY: Yes.

MARTIN: -- these cycles tend to go together, the House and the Senate, right.

Well, here we are on Labor Day and it does seem like at least right now it's possible that the House and Senate fortunes could diverge. And if you look at that map that you showed there on the screen, what's so striking to me about that is that the two coasts in this country -- not a single state was filled in as somewhere where the President is going to campaign.

And why is that? Because a lot of the action on the two coasts is House races whereas the Senate races are, by and large, in the interior of the country.

MATTINGLY: This is an interesting point. There are two separate maps, right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTINGLY: And basically the operative they're looking at is two separate types of races.

MARTIN: That changes.

MATTINGLY: And then in the middle you have Florida.

MARTIN: Right.

[08:34:59] MATTINGLY: Where it's like the exact, you know -- and I'm talking about the governor's race specifically. J. Martin -- you wrote about this, about where traditionally in the governor's race you have people kind of tack back towards the center after the primaries.

MARTIN: Right.

MATTINGLY: You have on one case Ron DeSantis. Take a look at this ad from the primary, which is pretty clear about what it means.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CASEY DESANTIS, WIFE OF RON DESANTIS: Ron loves playing with the kids.

RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE: Build the wall.

C. DESANTIS: He reads stories.

R. DESANTIS: Then Mr. Trump said, "You're fired". I love that part.

C. DESANTIS: He's teaching Madison to talk.

R. DESANTIS: Make America great again.

C. DESANTIS: People say Ron is all Trump but he is so much more.

R. DESANTIS: Big league. So good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: I mean the panhandle is thrilled.

PACE: Subtle.

MATTINGLY: That was a little bit tongue-in-cheek. He's --

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Poking fun at themselves but that's Florida, not Wyoming, or Oklahoma, right? MATTINGLY: Right.

MARTIN: This swingiest of swing states where, you know, every election is basically decided by a point or less or at least lots of them are. And I think it's a real risk to sort of do that in the primary.

Look, I would expect him to try to tack back towards a more Florida- centric, center-right positioning in the general election. I think we're going to hear a lot more about Navy JAG officer Ron DeSantis than we are MAGA Ron DeSantis.

ZELENY: You know that --

MATTINGLY: So to follow up on that, Andrew Gillum isn't exactly tacking towards the center either. He's a progressive candidate.

PACE: Because that's where Democrats --

MARTIN: That's where he does the genre well.

PACE: -- I mean that's where Democratic energy is and I do think that he recognizes that for him to win in a state like Florida he's going to have to ramp up that turnout. But I think, to J. Martin's point like messaging wise, I think you are going to see a bit of an evolution.

MARTIN: It's going to be more about algae than Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Algae, by the way, for the folks there at home in Florida know this, is a huge issue in Florida right now.

MATTINGLY: Huge issue. Huge issue.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTINGLY: You can be the algae. No, it's actually really important.

MARTIN: It's a huge story in Florida right now.

ZELENY: Serious, seriously important.

MATTINGLY: And the question is then where does the President go in Florida? I mean he'll go to Florida --

MARTIN: Yes.

MATTINGLY: -- but where does he go? Does he go to Orlando, other places so --

ZELENY: He heads to Pensacola.

MARTIN: Panama City, baby.

MATTINGLY: You're in on that one. See you there.

(CROSSTALK) MATTINGLY: One more important thing to not after Tuesday's primary, another sign that this really is the year of the woman. Six senate races will be all-female contests -- in Nebraska, New York, Washington State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Arizona. And there could be one more depending on the results of this week's Massachusetts primary. That's a record -- leading the previous high of three back in 2012.

[08:37:24] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTINGLY: This weekend marks the end of Washington's long, hot and very eventful summer. Now, you can look and see some of the big stories. All of this has happened since July 9th. Now, why does that matter? That's the day President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. It looks small in print because there's so many of them.

All the other news has largely overshadowed Brett Kavanaugh. But if he's confirmed, he might actually be President Trump's longest lasting legacy. Kavanaugh could cement conservative dominance on the high court into the 2040s.

His confirmation hearing starts Tuesday. And you can expect to hear lots of questions about abortion and whether he would vote to overturn Roe versus Wade -- questions he probably won't answer. But Kavanaugh could be the swing vote on a more immediate issue. Does Robert Mueller have the power to subpoena President Trump in the Russia probe? Democrats say they're concerned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: One of the things that's unique about his views are his -- is his position on presidential supremacy. And he is way up there. He believes that a president cannot even be investigated, if you will, let alone convicted while he's in office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: SMK -- I just want to turn this over to you. You've been covering every in and out of this. I think we know the top line issues here.

But I want to pull up the recent CNN poll that has Kavanaugh's -- whether he should be confirmed. It's at 37 percent, one of the lowest of all time, yet it doesn't feel like there's much chance he won't be confirmed. What's your sense of the Democrats' strategy here?

KIM: I think what we're expecting now, unless there's a major error at his confirmation hearing and we don't anticipate that happening. He's been preparing assiduously for the confirmation hearings next week.

He's on a pretty (ph) glide track to be confirmed here. I mean Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who are the two swing Republican votes that we've been watching for some time, they haven't publicly indicated that they are actually waffling here; that they are struggling to get to a yes on this vote.

And we have at least three red state Democrats who have made it very clear that they are open to supporting him -- Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly and Joe Manchin who were that three that supported Neil Gorsuch last year.

So I think while we'll be watching and dissecting every minute of this confirmation hearings this coming week, ultimately again, unless there's a major error right in front of the bright lights of the camera, it's not going to matter as much.

And I think the Democrats will be examining was our strategy effective to make it kind of processy and focus on documents? Or should we have focused on the larger issues at stake such as abortion rights, voting rights, civil rights? And that's something that you'll see Democrats have examined for some time.

MATTINGLY: One thing -- I want to play sound from Dan Pfeiffer, he's a pod emeritus, if you will. We dealt with him a lot at the White House, former senior advisor to President Obama, about those red state Democrats and their votes. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN PFEIFFER, FORMER AIDE TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: It's infuriating that at least some Democrats are at least still abiding by this old politics idea that was probably never even true but that somehow voting for some small handful of the President's nominees for anything will help you win election.

[08:44:59] The danger of voting for the Kavanaugh nomination is you're going to get no points from the right and you're going to deflate the enthusiasm of your base.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Yes -- Jeff Zeleny.

ZELENY: That's Barack Obama's former aide Dan Pfeiffer, does not sound the same Dan Pfeiffer who worked for Evan Bayh, another Indiana Democrat.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTINGLY: Come on.

ZELENY: If you are working for Heidi Heitkamp or Joe Manchin or Joe Donnelly or whoever, you know, if you've already voted for Neil Gorsuch, I think you know which way this is going to go here. So I think, you know, love Dan on the west coast, that's San Francisco Dan calling in the line. I mean I think other Democrats here have a slightly different view of that.

MATTINGLY: Real quick -- J. Martin.

MARTIN: And he'd deny the Republicans an issue. You know, maybe you don't help yourself and start (ph) proactively with voters, but you deny the Republicans an issue at least. I think there is that, you can say.

MATTINGLY: That's the tension right now. That's the tension between the base and more of the reality and the kind of Schumer keeping an eye on --

MARTIN: But is the biggest mystery of the entire Kavanaugh nomination really going to be of Doug Jones as an aye or a nay?

MATTINGLY: It could be, right.

PACE: It could be.

MATTINGLY: That's who they (INAUDIBLE) --

Hey, don't knock that. That's basically what we're going to spend the next three weeks trying to figure out.

MARTIN: What if those go down, right?

MATTINGLY: Feel free to make an appearance in the halls of Congress.

All right. Next, the President dares Congress to stop him from junking NAFTA and pokes a little fun at our friends to the north.

[08:46:15] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTINGLY: Each Sunday our reporters share a tidbit from their notebooks to give you a sneak peek of the stories that will be making headlines in the week ahead.

Julie Pace -- what have you got?

PACE: Well, if there is one thing that vulnerable Republican lawmakers really could have done without over the last couple of days is President Trump's move to block a pay raise for federal workers. Now, there are federal workers all across the country but they're concentrated particularly heavily in Virginia which just happens to have a couple of really competitive House races.

So you saw some of these Republican lawmakers coming out and pushing back on the President's move. Ultimately Congress can still give these federal workers a raise and Trump is already talking about reconsidering this.

But Democrats I talked to right after this move said that the mere fact that Trump was willing to come out there and to block this raise is going to cause all kinds of problems for people like Barbara Comstock who is already one of the most vulnerable Republicans. They think this was just a gift for Democrats.

MATTINGLY: How many seconds before Barbara Comstock called the White House switch board?

Jeff Zeleny -- what have you got? ZELENY: We know that filling John McCain's shoes is impossible. But filling his seat could happen as early as this week. Now, this is one of the biggest decisions that is going to be on the lap of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. But it's complicated by his own politics; he's on the ballot as well this fall.

And the reality here is that the politics of Arizona have changed so much. Once upon a time, this would have been appointing someone in the McCain-like tradition. Now, that is likely not acceptable to so many Republicans on the ground there. The urgency of this is because of the Supreme Court vote coming up.

So one Arizona Republican I talked to this weekend said if Ducey picks anyone who is not 100 percent loyal to this President, this White House, it's a problem for the governor.

You could see yesterday Governor Ducey had a lot of conversations with a lot of people during the funeral service. One conversation I saw was with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Who knows what they were talking about? But look for that decision this week probably someone not in the McCain mold.

MATTINGLY: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also having quite a few conversations on that one as well.

J. Martin.

MARTIN: Well even though tomorrow is Labor Day, the primary season rolls on. And in Boston on Tuesday there is a really interesting House primary. Mike Capuano -- a 20-year veteran of the House, somebody who has a seat with a golden lineage. This is a seat that the Kennedys had, Tip O'Neill once this seat as well. He's facing a real primary challenge from Ayanna Pressley who's Boston City councilor.

This is the first real race Capuano has had in two decades in Congress. He's never had a primary like this before. I was talking to one Boston Democrat yesterday who said Capuano should be ok.

But Joe Crowley lost I think -- you know, a lot of incumbents religion (ph) when it comes to making sure back home was taken care of. But this race is expected to be a real race on Tuesday. So even though we are now moving towards the general keep your eyes peeled Tuesday in the Bay State.

MATTINGLY: No question about it. SMK -- what reporting of yours can I steal?

KIM: Well, it's September. So you know, what that means. It's not only college football season but it's also shutdown season in Congress.

And it's been interesting to watch. There's actually been strangely a little bit of bipartisanship on the spending bills that have to pass before the end of the fiscal year, September 30. We have seen how the senate has worked together this past, you know, basically nine of the 12 spending bills that have to go before September 30.

But there is always the trouble ahead with, first of all, having to reconcile these bills with the House. The House has a lot more controversial policy provisions. We call them riders that they have to deal with the Senate. But also the x factor of President Trump himself.

We have the President saying he wants the money for the border wall. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan believe they've figured out a plan to punt that border wall funding side until after the elections. But will President Trump go along? It's yet to be seen.

MATTINGLY: Tuesday or Thursday thrill (ph).

KIM: Yes.

MATTINGLY: We'll see at the end of September.

All right. When it comes to NAFTA Republican senators have no intention of letting Trump do it his on way. That's what senators and aides tell me this weekend. This, as the President has opened a new front of attacks Saturday, warning by tweet Congress should, quote, "not interfere with these negotiations or I will simply terminate NAFTA entirely".

Now Republicans here make a key point in response to that. Bullying trade negotiators and acknowledged this fraught strategy is quite a different than bullying someone like, say, Senator Pat Toomey.

Now, can the President notify Congress of his intent to reach a new agreement on a revise NAFTA even if Canada hasn't signed on yet as he did on Friday? Yes. Can he unilaterally terminate NAFTA without congressional approval? Technically, yes.

Can he count on Republicans to do what they have done best the last 19 months and just grumble and accept whatever he decides to do? No. The deadline here that really matters: September 30 when the administration must post the new pact. Canada must be a party, Republicans tell me. If they don't or if they aren't, the President will officially be at war with his own party.

[08:35:04] As one senator told me Friday night, quote, "This is a red line issue. It is too damn important to too many of our states."

And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again -- thank you very much for spending part of your Labor Day weekend with us. Hope you can catch us weekdays as well, at noon Eastern.

Up next -- this is something you don't want to miss. STATE OF THE UNION -- a joint interview with Senator Lindsey Graham and former Senator Joe Lieberman to reflect on John McCain's life and legacy.

Stay with us.

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