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White House Under Siege After Woodward Book, Anonymous Op-Ed; Republicans Confident They'll Confirm Kavanaugh. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired September 9, 2018 - 08:00   ET



[08:00:22] JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): A furious president and the damning essay that made him so.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's really an anonymous, gutless coward.

KING: Plus -- a rowdy reception but Brett Kavanaugh says his critics are wrong.

BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: My only loyalty is to the Constitution. I'm an independent judge.

KING: President Obama joins the midterm fray.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: If you thought elections don't matter, I hope these last two years have corrected that impression.

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


KING: And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King.

To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thank you for sharing your Sunday with us.

President Trump calls it treason and there is now a White House manhunt underway for the author of an insider essay that says the commander-in-chief lacks the character and the temperament for high office.


TRUMP: We should find out who it is because why should we live with somebody in the White House who is really subversive in a sense. I mean, if you look at it, it really is subversive. So, we'll take a look at that and we'll take a very good strong look. We'll find it -- eventually, we're going to find the person.


KING: Plus, the Trump paradox: a White House in constant chaos but a key legacy goal advancing. Democrats say Brett Kavanaugh is evading their questions. Some say he's even lying. But the math still favors him winning a key seat on the Supreme Court.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Can a sitting president be required to respond to a subpoena?

KAVANAUGH: So that's a hypothetical question. As a matter of the canons of judicial independence, I can't give you an answer on that hypothetical question.


KING: And all hands on deck for the Democrats. President Obama comes off the sidelines just in time for the critical midterm election stretch.


OBAMA: This is one of those pivotal moments when every one of us as citizens of the United States need to determine just who it is that we are, just what it is that we stand for, and as a fellow citizen, not as an ex-president, but as a fellow citizen, I'm here to deliver a simple message and that is that you need to vote because our democracy depends on it.


KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights this Sunday, CNN's Maeve Reston, Michael Shear of "The New York Times", "Bloomberg's" Toluse Olorunnipa, and Karoun Demirjian of "The Washington Post".

In a slow week, nothing to talk about, we begin with that manhunt for a senior Trump administration official who this past week delivered a message that was somehow both jarring yet unsurprising. Jarring because it is not normal to say the least for a senior official hired by the president of the United States to write an essay calling that same president of the United States amoral, erratic, impulsive, uninformed, and at times a danger to the country he leads. Yet unsurprising somehow, because from the first hours of the Trump presidency, we have heard such things from top White House aides, cabinet officials and Republican lawmakers who do frequent business with this very different president.

The essay came on the heels of a new book, you can buy it starting this week, detailing alarm and chaos and fear at the highest levels of the Trump administration, things like stealing documents from the president's desk, decorated military generals turned now into key Trump lieutenants quoted as calling the White House crazy town and the president an idiot, or someone with a 5th or 6th grade understanding. All this inside 60 days now to a midterm election that is a referendum on the president and his performance, an election that could swing the House back to the Democrats, possibly the Senate, too. The president sees himself as the victim here, not the problem. He already had his team making a list of officials who cooperated with the Bob Woodward book. He has them hunting now for the op-ed writer and wants the Justice Department to help.


REPORTER: Do you think Jeff Sessions should be investigating who the author of that piece was?

TRUMP: I think so, because I think it's national security. I would say Jeff should be investigating who the author of the piece was, because I really believe it's national security.

REPORTER: Is there action that should be taken against "The New York Times" for publishing?

TRUMP: Well, we're going to see. I'm looking at that right now.


KING: I may start with the two gentlemen who covered the White House every day.

There's drama, there's constant drama this is new drama and accelerated drummer because it is not normal. We've heard these things. But to have a senior administration official published this essay is a big deal. Is it just drama and turmoil inside the White House or is there an impact on governance?

[08:05:01] MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean, I think there's both. The -- you know, part of what is interesting about the impact that the author of this -- of this op-ed had is that it appears that it may be doing the opposite of what the author says that they've been trying to do internally. In other words, the author of that op-ed said, look, we've been trying to you know contain the worst impulses of this president and yet by publishing the essay, it appears to be inflaming those impulses, not, you know, not sort of containing them or holding them back.

And, you know, if you're concerned -- if a person in the government like this is concerned about what the president might do at critical moments of either foreign policy or domestic policy, you know, it feels like he is only more enraged and more likely to sort of, you know, act out because he's focused not on governing but focused on, you know, this witch-hunt inside his own government.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: And this is the president who likes to give people nicknames, he likes to engage in one-on-one battles. We've seen people leave the White House and talk negatively about the president, Omarosa, Jim Comey who was fired and raised alarms about what's happening within the White House, and the president has shot back. He's tweeted against them. He's attacked them personally. He's been able to figure out how to manage that situation. But this is an anonymous person who continues to work in the administration and the president and the White House, they have not figured out how to deal with it. They haven't figured out how to undermine this person's credibility. They haven't figured out exactly how to find out the weak spots and give them a nickname of some sorts. So, I think that's part of the reason this president and this White House are so alarmed by what's happening.


KING: You mentioned Omarosa. We're going to hear more from her tomorrow. Apparently, she has yet another tape tomorrow, so add that to the -- call it reality show, call it challenging, call it what you will.

I'm sorry?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I just, you know, I mean I think there's a little thing called free speech. What is he going to do? Like dig through everyone's trash who works at the White House to figure out, you know, how this actually happened.

KING: That seems to be what they're doing, though. I don't know about the digging to the trash part, but his own team is looking at it. He was asking the Justice Department get involved and the attorney general he last week wanted gone set to Siberia, now should investigate who'd wrote this.

RESTON: Right, I mean, I think that that the real point here is that so often the focus of President Trump is not on governing at all anyway. And I don't it's hard to tell how much this is inflaming the situation as opposed to just being the latest drama that he wants to blow up in the process.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, look, it's -- if he's going to the trash or what-have-you, unless this person if the op-ed writer screwed up or the resistance gives up the person because of, you know, pressure from the president, there's not enough time for the president to really figure out who it is and do his housecleaning before the midterm elections. And this is a beautiful, like well-wrapped gift for Democrats who can now sit there and just basically be like, do you really want to trust anonymous people in a White House, where we're not really sure what they're resisting, or if there's this much desire for resistance, then just please vote us into the majority in the House so that we can actually have like a real, you know, check in balance on the president. And in a month in which they were, you know, not on the greatest ground with Kavanaugh and everything else, it's like -- it's almost made to deliver a special present for Democrats.

KING: And we know this president is perhaps overly sensitive to the headlines and to what happens in social media and on cable television. Here's some of the headlines this past week, including from his friend Matt Drudge, saboteur inside the White House, open season on the president, the sleeper cells have awoken, Trump's nightmare, the snakes are everywhere. This is the kind of stuff that affects the president and so, we've had what I will call the not-me movement within the Trump administration where everybody rushing out to say it wasn't me, it wasn't me, it wasn't me, and the president gleefully celebrating the fact that his cabinet secretaries, his top aides were saying it wasn't me, I didn't write it, issuing these statements.

Among them, the vice president who is also disputing a piece in that op-ed that says part of the discussions inside the Trump White House have been at times whether to go to constitutional crisis, whether to invoke the 25th Amendment, remove the president from office.

The vice president says it never happened.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It seems to me to be just an obvious attempt to distract attention from this booming economy and President Trump's record of success.

INTERVIEWER: One of the claims made in the op-ed is that there's been discussion of invoking the 25th Amendment to even remove the president from office. Have you ever been part of a conversation about that?

PENCE: No, never, and why would we be?


KING: We're sitting here 57 days to a midterm election, which is a referendum on the performance of a president always in the first term and the vice president feels the need to go on national television to say, A, I didn't write it, B, I don't agree with it, but C, no, we've never discussed remove whether we should try to remove the president from office.

First for me.

SHEAR: It's not good on one hand because the Democrats can use that. But I -- but I will say that there's also a way the Republicans and president can use this as well, right, because it absolutely has the ability to confirm this whole narrative that he's been describing, which is this deep state resistance that that can help fire up the Republican base and that's been a problem, right?

[08:10:13] Right now, we think the Democrats are more energized heading into the midterms than the Republicans are, and they can potentially use that all of this to try to energize the base. Now, that I think unbalanced probably is still not great for the president, but at least that's an opportunity for him.

KING: He says this is deep state. In this case, if this is a person who's joined the deep state if you believe such a thing exists, he hired this person.

SHEAR: True. KING: In the last 19 months, he hired this person. This is not somebody who's been sitting in the federal bureaucracy for years waiting to oppose a president he doesn't like.

I just want to read just one little bit because we get caught up in the drama of what this senior official -- you may think this is treason, you may think this is great for the country, whatever you think.

This is what this senior official says: The root of the problem is the president's amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he's not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision- making. From the White House through executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander-in-chief's comments and actions most are working insulate their operations from his whims.

That is damning.

DEMIRJIAN: The last part of it, yes. And I mean, it calls the excerpt from the Woodward book of Mattis basically being like, oh sure, we'll totally think about assassinating the Syrian president, click, we're not doing that. Like that those sorts of things are serious and then it gives actually credence to what the president was saying about there's potential national security implications for this.

But just kind of going back to the substance of his amorality and his -- the things that he says and what you were saying about the deep state, look, we know that the moral argument has not really dissuaded that many people who support the president in the first place. This has come up time and time again before he was president.

RESTON: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: It doesn't seem to actually cost him any votes. But then the other question is the deep state argument that you were bringing up. I mean, the deep state seems like it's something that works with Trump's base, like it's a good you know saber to rattle during the primary season. But the rank is like lifelong Republicans who have kind of turned the other way from some of the morality stuff but to support Trump, do they really care that much about the deep state? They kind of are the deep state.

KING: Right, it's in "The New York Times", Woodward works for "The Washington Post", that plays to the president's base, it's the media, it's the deep state, it's my enemies. The question is, among the key voters, the groups, we'll get to the midterms in a bit, what does it do to them? Suburban women, independents, people who will decide do the Democrats get the House back, might they possibly get the Senate back. That's where this conversation matters in the short term. I will come back to this a bit later.

Up next though, the contentious Supreme Court fight. Democrats say Judge Brett Kavanaugh is lying under oath. That's what they say and they say he's evading their questions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I am concerned because there is evidence the Mr. Miranda provided you with materials that was stolen from me and that would contradict your prior testimony.



[08:16:38] KING: Welcome back.

Republican leaders are confident their math is still solid, meaning they have the votes to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Democrats don't dispute the math but vow to keep up the fight even though the critical hearing phase is now over. Always contentious those hearings were even more so because Kavanaugh is a Trump nominee and the Democratic base thinks all things Trump are toxic. And because he is viewed as more conservative than the man he is replacing, Justice Anthony Kennedy was the high court's swing vote, on issues like affirmative action, gay rights and abortion.


KAVANAUGH: Roe v. Wade held, of course, and it's reaffirmed in Planned Parenthood versus Casey, that a woman has a constitutional right to obtain an abortion before viability subject to reasonable regulation by the state up to the point where that regulation constitutes an undue burden on the woman's right to obtain an abortion.


KING: Now, you could read that as Kavanaugh saying he would never vote to reverse Roe because of his promise to follow established precedent. But today's abortion court fights are more focused on significantly narrowing access to abortions and social conservatives see Kavanaugh is more conservative than Kennedy on the questions he outlined there -- viability, reasonable regulation.

There's a lot of drama at these hearings. We'll get to some of that as well. But on the substance, if you were going to stop Brett Kavanaugh, Democrats know they have to get Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska on the Roe question.

And the early indications are we're not done. Early indications are the Democrats did not get across that bar. Fair?

RESTON: I mean, it's just not going to happen. There's -- it felt so much like theatrics this weekend just kind of a road show for 2020 for the Democrats, and I -- you know, I think everyone understands that Democratic activists can very excited about seeing someone like Kamala Harris, you know, drill the nominee, Cory Booker.

But, you know, traveling around in some of those districts in California, the Hillary districts that are -- that are up this in the midterms, there is a real sense of kind of resignation out there among Democratic voters that this is going to happen. He's going to be confirmed and there's really nothing that the Democrats can do about it.

KING: And so, to your point, if there's nothing they can do about it, they at least want the fight.

RESTON: Exactly.

KING: So, let's get to that. Cory Booker, Democratic senator of New Jersey, just announced as the speaker at the Iowa Democratic Party's big ball gala, you can connect the dots, at one point, he called this his Spartacus moment. The fact checkers might disagree, but let's revisit.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I knowingly violated the rules that were put for I understand that that the penalty comes with potential ousting from the Senate. I'm saying I'm not only violating the rules.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: OK. How many times you're going to tell us that?

BOOKER: Sir, I've --

Yesterday, I broke these sham committee confidential rules and I accept full responsibility for what I'm doing.


KING: If you weren't following there, Senator Booker says he broke the rules. He actually didn't break the rules. We'll get to that in a second.

Senator Harris has made just noted also are trying to -- look, she has legitimate questions. I'm not disputing her questions for the nominee, but at the same time, she has ambition.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Have you discussed Mueller or his investigation with anyone at Kasowitz, Benson and Torres, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, President Trump's personal lawyer?

[08:20:00] Be sure about your answer, sir.


KING: Now, the Democrats these moments went viral. These moments were trending. If you look at the emails from the Democratic progressive groups, they love this.

Republicans say, hey, wait a minute, you had no evidence of any improper contact with the Kasowitz law firm. That's innuendo.

Cory Booker, you didn't really break the rules, you just kind of made a show there.

A lot of Republicans are saying, you Democrats constantly say President Trump traffics in innuendo, traffics in fact-free arguments. Is that what they were doing there?

OLORUNNIPA: A little bit. I mean. Democrats -- the Democratic base wants Democrats to show a fight on this issue, even if it's a losing fight. They are worried that there hasn't been enough fight in the Democrats. There hasn't been enough Trumpian action by the Democrats to take on President Trump, and I think that's probably what you saw with Senator Booker saying I'm breaking the rules and I'm showing some civil disobedience here.

He wanted to show the Democratic base that he's willing to, you know, rough it up a little bit and be a little bit like the president who doesn't necessarily abide by the rules or state within -- color within the lines when it doesn't -- it's not seen as something that would help his party.


SHEAR: One is, I remember talking to a Democratic operative who was involved in this fight right at the very beginning, right after Kavanaugh was nominated. And he said, if this is just the sort of normal, you know, show, the normal circus that we all have, we will lose. It will -- it has -- that something has to change. And nothing, I think looking back on it now, I don't think anything has.

Second point is that the Republicans will take it. If the Democrats want to grandstand, this is a Supreme Court nominee who has the potential to shift the ideology of the court for, you know, decade.

KING: Right.

SHEAR: And so, if -- you know, the Republicans think if --

KING: Thirty years from now, we will not be having the Spartacus conversation.

SHEAR: We will not be talking about that or documents or Kamala Harris or anything, because the guy will be on the guy will be on the court and that's what they want.

KING: Just to make that point, the substance again in the Trump presidency, the substance often gets lost in the theater and the drama. This is a man replacing Anthony Kennedy, who was, yes, a Reagan appointee, but a swing vote who voted with the Democrats for the most part of the Democratic appointees.

Abortion, capital punishment, campaign finance, presidential power, gay rights, affirmative action, gerrymandering -- just the issues we know, we know will come before this next court on which Kavanaugh could tilt it to the right. And then there's the unknown, which is always the case with the Supreme Court.

DEMIRJIAN: Right, and I think that's -- the unknown is kind of what Harris is driving at because the question of, you know, indicting a president, the question of what may happen if Congress pursues impeachment proceedings, that opens a whole new host of things. But, yes, I mean, look it's a it's a critical, very pivotal position but it's always kind of been that. That's not really a surprise, right?

And Democrats have been a disadvantage because of the numbers, because of the fact that they can't really put up a fight that is a blocking fight, and so, that's created that -- they're trying to pull out every stop that they can. Kavanaugh has been smart about not being, you know, very bold and trashing Roe v. Wade. And so, Collins and Murkowski have every excuse that they need to stick with him.

And so, we're back in the political arena and that's what you're seeing right now.


KING: We're back in the political arena, and Democrats tried during the hearings, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader quoted in a radio interview AM 970 of New York this morning, calling Kavanaugh the candidate on the president's list. He says the president has this list of 25 or so. He calls him the candidate most willing to allow the president to overreach, meaning on presidential power.

That's what Democrats are also saying, Kavanaugh is going to be in the Supreme Court, what if Bob Mueller seeks a subpoena, what if there are some other Mueller related, or investigations or presidential power questions that come before the Supreme Court, October, November, December or into next year that the Democrats are saying Brett Kavanaugh was not forthcoming. That's not new. That's a practice both Democratic and Republican nominees have perfected.

RESTON: But to the substance of it, I will say that that those kinds of points are not necessarily Schumer but Kamala Harris, Cory Booker. This venue is the best place for them to showcase what they've got to Democratic voters. You think about all the problems that they have running in 2020 with the party moving increasingly to the left, having to go more and more liberal positions on health care and so many other issues, this is where they want to get those clips that are going to show up in the TV commercials.

This is a big, big moment that will be remembered and talked about in 2020.

KING: To prove they have the fight to take it to Trump, whatever the rules or rules be damned in some cases.

RESTON: I mean, being ejected from the Senate would be like the most the best thing that ever happened to Cory Booker, right?

KING: As long as they paid his flight to Iowa.

Up next, President Obama off the sidelines on the campaign trail.


[08:28:48] KING: Welcome back.

President Obama is silent no more and hoping to help in the election stretch that will determine whether Democrats take back the House and win new power to confront President Trump.


OBAMA: This is not normal. These are extraordinary times and they're dangerous times.


KING: Dangerous times, the former president says there, as he stepped back into the fray with that big speech on Friday. He was in California yesterday, stumping for Democrats running in seven of the party's big midterm target races.


OBAMA: The fact is that if we don't step up, things can get worse. The good news is in two months, we have a chance to restore some sanity in our politics.


OBAMA: We have the chance to flip the House of Representatives and make sure the real checks and balances in Washington.


KING: Michelle Obama also joining the effort, which you can see, they're focused on getting voters who often sit out midterm elections, like African-Americans and millennials to show up. After Friday's speech to college students this taping ain't aimed at the young adult audience of now this news.


OBAMA: A lot of times young people are only interested when it's a presidential race. If you're concerned about what we've been seeing out of the White House over the last couple of years, the only check on that behavior is going to be having a congress and other elected officials across the country who stand up for American values and American ideals.


KING: And a big debate about this. We see a big speech. We see campaigning with candidates. We see smart targeting there trying to reach out to younger voters. Democrats say glad to have you back. Where have you been? But we will take your help in the stretch.

Some Republicans are saying glad to have you back, you know; that you're the reason Donald Trump is president and we can have that frame.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I think the Republicans are right about that, to some extent. But I think this is the smartest politics that we have seen from Democrats -- those two speeches over the last week.

Because what you hear out in the country, more than anything, is a sense of apathy; a sense that, you know, Democrats don't have real message -- a unifying message. This is the first time I think we have heard a really coherent unifying message from a former President.

And I think it was something that could kind of give an electric charge to -- not those, you know, far left activists who are going to turn out -- but those millennials that he was speaking to. Younger voters, particularly younger voters of color -- those are the people that did not turn out for Hillary Clinton. And he was very targeted in that message saying you've got to get out there.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Midterm elections, the problem with them is that there isn't -- as he was kind of referring to -- there isn't a face. There isn't like a figure head. There isn't a galvanizing person (INAUDIBLE) with the Democrats. So he's the best option that they have for that, you know, and he's not taking the limelight from anybody else.

KING: Right. He was the galvanizing person in 2014 and his history in midterms is horrible.


KING: The Democratic Party got wiped out in both Obama midterms at the state, local and congressional level. What his hope now is that it's Trump, not Obama. And so the Republicans are saying, you know, Obama is back, great but this is going to be an election about Trump.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. You can't be a resistance galvanizing force against yourself.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I'm skeptical, though. I got to say, I mean, you know, President Obama spent a lot of time on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton and wasn't able to translate his personal appeal for her voters either.

And the other thing is that, you know, there is very little in this Republican Party that unites Republicans across the board -- Trump Republicans and George W. Bush Republicans. Barack Obama is the one thing that does.

I mean, Barack Obama is the one thing that Republicans of all stripes and especially those moderate Republicans who are on the fence, they are not Barack Obama fans. And so, I mean -- if you're one of these sort of middle of the road people that, you know, if President Trump is so anathema to you that you're going to come out you probably were going to come out and vote any way regardless of Barack Obama's presence and I'm just not 100 percent sure that it's smart on politics as Maeve said.

KING: Well, we will see how it plays out. One of the reasons though, if you're Obama and you're thinking I've stayed on the sidelines a long time. Why do I get involved now? Am I going to take the blame? Am I going to take part of the blame if it doesn't work out?

Just look at the example of many of the primaries. But I'll take the most recent one. In my home state of Massachusetts Ayanna Pressley -- we listen to her here -- knocks off a Democratic incumbent, a 20-year Democratic incumbent, Congressman in the primary. How -- by getting younger voters, by getting African-Americans to turn out in the lections they don't normally turn out.

So is Obama coming back on to a playing field where there's already some evidence his coalition wants to play. It's not that he needs to turn them out. He might need to just juice it a little bit. Listen to Miss Pressley.


AYANNA PRESSLEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I knew we would be essentially alone. I knew we would find no favor with the Democratic establishment, both here at home, and in Washington. And I knew we would have to fight.

Change isn't waiting any longer. We have arrived. Change is coming. And the future belongs to all of us.


KING: You are going to hear more about her when she gets here, I can promise you that -- an impressive show there. But is there -- is there that?

If you're the Democrats watching this, you've learned some lessons. If you're the mayor of Boston you supported the incumbent. He just lost. Now you've got to deal with her.

But you do see -- you do see three African-American women, one in Boston, not just Ayanna Pressley. And I grew up there -- that is history.

That means the page is turning. Are you seeing something on the ground in the electorate? Or if you're Obama, you say ok, if I can get it from, you know, here to here, good for me?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Look at what happened in Alabama in December during the special election there. We saw even higher turnout among African-Americans than during the 2016 presidential election. And President Obama is still the Democrat who can bring out the biggest crowds, raise the most money and unite the wings and that include the Bernie Sanders' wing and the more moderate wing. There aren't very many Democrats who can do that on a national stage and President Obama can do that. So I think that's part of the reason Democrats are looking to bring him out more and have him more of as a standard bearer at a time when you have people on the far left and moderates trying to figure out what the Democratic message is.

[08:35:07] KING: And if he can't unite those wings, which have their own, you talk about the Republican civil, tug-of-war all the time -- Democrats have a pretty feisty one of their own -- at least convince them can we talk about this in December? Let's get through -- let's get through the election first then we'll come back to that again.

We'll keep a watch on that.

Up next though new CNN rankings on key Senate races.

And this sign of the times -- the President on the 2018 trail as a 2016 campaign aide is sentenced to jail.



[08:40:06] SENATOR JOE DONNELLY (D), INDIANA: People ask me, "Joe, what do you think of President Trump?" It's simple, when he's for Hoosiers, I'm with him. Like our fight to secure the southern border and to take on the opioid epidemic.

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I'll work with both parties and any president who wants to get things done for the people of West Virginia.


KING: A taste there of how Trump-state Democratic senators are trying to navigate a very difficult re-election climate. Big Senate races are getting most of the President's campaign focus on the road and this last night in a tweet.

"Republicans," the President says, "are doing really well with the Senate midterms -- races that we were not even thinking about," he says, "are now very close or even leading."

That last part is debatable but some new CNN race rankings releasing right now remind us it's a mistake to focus only on the question of whether Democrats would take back the House. The Democrats do have a narrow path to retake Senate control but it's also quite possible, given the competitive nature of this, Republicans could add a seat or two to their majority.

Let's take a look. Here is what we woke up today. If you take the solids, the likelies and the leans we have as of this morning, 49 leading or solid Republican; 44 for the Democrats; you see the 7 tossups there in yellow.

Our new race rankings changed the overall math just a little bit. The Democrats improving 1 -- 49 for the Republicans and 45 for the Democrats, down to six tossups.

Now what are the steps that make this a little bit more favorable to the Democrats? Let's take a look at it. We are moving the Tennessee race -- open race currently held by a Republican from lean Republican to tossup. West Virginia, we have as a tossup -- we're going to move that to lean Democrat. Texas -- this is a great race -- Ted Cruz versus Beto O'Rourke, likely Republican, now moving to lean Republican. The polls there show it quite competitive.

Now these three races moving in the Democrats' direction to the left; two though moving toward the Republicans. North Dakota we're moving from a tossup to lean Republican; it's a Democratic incumbent there. And New Jersey a Democratic incumbent from solid Democratic to likely- Democratic, excuse me. So that on there Republicans have some hope -- they have to have a big turnout to have that happen in New Jersey but the race has trended a bit their way.

So these are the current changes. Let's just go back to the new maps that you can see it here -- a competitive Senate campaign map if you look.

In his travels this past week, the President talked up those Republican Senate hopefuls -- in Montana, in North Dakota. But listen here, he also had a more national message to his supporters much more House-centric.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What you're going to have is you'll have a country that's going to turn in to a third world country because if the opposite party becomes president, every time before it even starts, before you even have found out whether or not he or she is going to do a great job, they will say, we want to impeach him. And you'll impeach him. It's so ridiculous.

But we will worry about that if it ever happens. But if it does happen, it's your fault because you didn't go out to vote.


KING: I get it. I get it. It's not what Republicans want to talk about out on the campaign trail but you can understand, especially in this week and everything that has happened this week.

But let's get into what I'll call the Trump paradox. Another great jobs report; unemployment is below 4 percent. And yet and yet Republicans think, you know, they might lose the House. And it's possible they could lose the Senate. First year midterm, always a referendum on the President, but why?

RESTON: I mean how do you get through that bull horn of distraction to actually talk about those things? You know, traveling around the country, it's interesting because people do bring up that they are seeing, you know, a small increase in their paycheck because of taxes. They are feeling better about the economy. It's such a shift, this took so long to get over that fear from 2008. But, you know, all of the people in his administration and his Republican colleagues who are trying to make that message just can't break through crazy town and everything else to really talk about that and, you know, give him the credit that he wants.

KING: And the President, who blames the media for him not getting enough credit, contributes to just what you are talking about. This is him on Friday. Remember, the President has been out campaigning. His former campaign aide, he called him the coffee boy, George Papadopoulos was sentenced to a couple of weeks in jail.

The President tweets about 14 days for $28 million, $2 million a day, no collusion. A great day for America. He's -- never mind -- conflating some things that we've talked about. Papadopoulos there.

An hour earlier, he had tweeted unprecedented job growth but he continues that way (INAUDIBLE). If the President wants to get credit for the economy he should maybe focus more on the economy.

DEMIRJIAN: I mean, to answer the question of why -- the one word answer is Trump, basically. I mean he undermines himself more than any of the political attacks can actually undermine him. And that's the paradox.

And that's the thing that frustrates the GOP so much, as you were saying, because it doesn't matter how often you explain it to him, right. Focus on the positives. Then he'll send out one tweet and then it will just ricochet back to instinctually what he is thinking about which is the pressure on him. He doesn't deal well with grace under pressure.

[08:45:03] KING: And we understandably do focus more of our attention on the House because it's more in play for the Democrats, because of the threat of impeachment or investigation or at least thwarting any Trump agenda if the Democrats take at least one chamber of Congress.

But the Senate is really interesting. Jake Tapper, in a few minutes is going to talk to Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who in a Twitter exchange with somebody yesterday over the weekend, was saying yes, I do think every now and then about becoming an independent instead. Well 51-49 right now, if a Republican left, we'll see how that plays out.

Listen to this -- priceless. Mick Mulvaney, the President's budget director at a Republican fundraiser says this, according to the "New York Times". "There's a very real possibility we will win a race for Senate in Florida and lose a race in Texas for Senate, ok. I don't think it's likely but it's a possibility. How likeable is a candidate? That still counts."

That is dig for Mick Mulvaney at Ted Cruz -- ouch.

RESTON: Everybody knows Cruz is unlikable, right -- it's just you don't say it out loud.

OLORUNNIPA: The President is actually going to be going down to Texas to campaign for Ted Cruz. He is going to be spending a lot of his precious presidential time in states like Tennessee and Texas. And he's going down to Mississippi this week in another Senate race.

So even though the President is going to spend a lot of time on the campaign trail he is going to be playing a lot of defense even at a time where Republicans should be on offense in the Senate because they have such a favorable map.

SHEAR: And his, you know, you asked why doesn't -- don't the economic numbers break through more? Part of it is because when you see him at these rallies -- when you see President Trump at these rallies, the mentions of the economy improving and the things that sort of are regular political strategist would tell you to focus on, feel dutiful, right. He mentions them at the rallies.

But then it's the red meat -- it's, you know, it's the attacking the "New York Times" or attacking CNN or, you know, going after the Mueller and the investigators. That's where he gets animated and you can see the crowd get animated too. And so it's just -- it's the kind of lack of political discipline that a lot of newcomers have but in particular he does.

KING: And the environment around him as well. As I noted, a new Omarosa tape tomorrow. The President is now backing away from the Stormy Daniels lawsuit, essentially saying go out there and say what you want. They're trying to keep the President from being deposed. But if they free her up to speak, interesting times ahead as we head for the midterms.

RESTON: That's right.

KING: Our reporters share from their notebooks next, including more on whether the White House is ready for what you might say a tsunami that could possibly hit it come November.


KING: Let's head one more time around the INSIDE POLITCS table, ask our great reporters to share a little something from their notebooks, get you out a head of the big political news just around the corner.

Maeve Reston.

RESTON: Well, as we have been talking about, as President Trump has been putting out a lot of optimistic tweets about the midterm elections but there is some real concern among Republican operatives and donors that he is totally delusional about the chances of taking back the House. And is not focused enough on what he needs to do to keep control of the House.

And that is, in part, because there are not a lot of people who are around him willing to tell him the truth. So they are trying to get him moving in the right direction on that.

KING: The President doesn't like tough news -- is that what you're trying to say? RESTON: Yes.

KING: Michael.

SHEAR: Well, presidents often when they get in trouble a at home they often go abroad and they find that is a way to escape their troubles back home. President Trump has that opportunity this fall. He is going to talk about foreign policy at the U.N. General Assembly in New York and then after the elections, however they turn out, he'll go to France, Ireland, and Argentina.

President Trump hasn't been always as successful using the foreign trips as a way of getting away from trouble. Helsinki was an example it didn't go so well for him but at least it's an opportunity to change the subject. And if the Democrats do take over the House he'll want to try to do that.

KING: Different trouble.

SHEAR: Different trouble.

KING: Toluse.

OLORUNNIPA: Remember when the midterms were supposed to be all about the tax cuts from last year? That hasn't really worked out too well for Republicans. Now there's a new line that the President is trying out which is we are going to save Medicare and Social Security. The President is saying Democrats want to kill Social Security and Medicare while we Republicans are not going to do anything to it. If you actually look back at what the legislation that has passed has done, it's actually shortened the life of Medicare and Social Security.

So Democrats are punching back saying Republicans aren't necessarily trying to save Social Security. Their tax cuts are making it harder to fund those programs. And you have Democrats like President Obama saying Medicare for all is actually a program that he endorses.

So you can expect to hear a lot more about those entitlements during the next 60 days before the midterms.

KING: Interesting twist from the President. Paging Speaker Ryan on that one.


DEMIRJIAN: Michael just mentioned Helsinki. Back after the Helsinki summit there is a clamor in Congress for let's do something about sanctioning Russia before we get to midterm elections because of the threat that it poses.

That process -- the GOP basically said the leaders are like hold on, hold on, hold on. We're going to go through a step by step process first. That process began in earnest last week. It's picking up steam this weak. You've had foreign relations look at NATO, looking at Russia's role in Syria. You've had the banking committee actually look at what sanctions might look like if they went forward.

The question is, are they actually going to do anything before the midterm elections come about as people really wanted them to? And not necessarily that clear if they have time or inclination to do so but the process afoot right now and it could give some clues as to what they may do down the line after November once they have all the politics and this tension with the President settled as to this issue which has always been a real live one.

KING: They could make time if they wanted. It's the inclination part, I think. You're being kind.

I'll close with this, circling back to the midterms. They are harder to find these days but there are still some Republicans who believe there is a path to narrowly save the GOP House majority-- race-by-race is their mantra. Make it about the economy and local issues, minimize any attention on the President. But there are rising doubts even in this group and during the stretch now.

[08:55:02] For starters the Trump noise as you may have noted, just hard to block out. Plus despite great national economic news Republicans see trouble with the President's trade wars bubbling up in several competitive Midwest and farm state races.

Republicans also are giving Democrats begrudging credit for a relentless focus on health care in competitive races. Quote, a roaring issue -- that's how one veteran Republican strategist describes health care heading into the final weeks. And still quoting this veteran operative, he says quote, "The GOP has no answers."

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again -- thanks for sharing your Sunday morning. Hope you can catch us week days as well. We are here at noon Eastern.

Up next, don't go anywhere, State of the Union with the Jake Tapper. Jake sits down with two key players today -- Republican Senator Ben Sasse and the White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.

Thanks for joining us. Have a great Sunday.