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Haley to Leave U.N.; Haley's Reason for Leaving; Replacement for Haley. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 9, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:20] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Big, breaking news today, Justice Brett Kavanaugh took his seat on the Supreme Court. He says it's time to put the bitter confirmation battle behind us. But the president vows to keep the Kavanaugh divide central in the midterm election fight. The vote now just four weeks from today. New CNN polling releasing this hour give Democrats a clear path to retaking the House and, if they do, becoming a giant roadblock to the Trump agenda.

Plus, a huge departure. Nikki Haley is resigning from her job as ambassador to the United Nations. The one-time Trump critic is now among the president's most vocal and passionate defenders. The timing of this announcement is odd and it caught even most Trump insiders by surprise.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to thank the ambassador. I just want to thank Nikki.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: A lot of people are going to want to say there's a lot of reason why I'm leaving. The truth is, I want to make sure that -- that this administration, the president, has the strongest person to fight.


KING: And we begin right there with the surprise departure, the highest ranking woman in the Trump administration is resigning. Nikki Haley, as you just heard, stepping down as ambassador to the United Nations effective at the end of the year. Once a fierce Trump critic, the former South Carolina governor became a passionate Trump defender on the world stage and often used her high profile to nudge him. To be tougher on Russia is just one example.

The timing is odd. Big, two-year departures are traditionally announced just after the midterm elections, not four weeks before. The president is among those caught off guard. One source telling CNN, he said Haley gave him a bit of a heads up last week, but he decided, after accepting the resignation this morning, to stage a big Oval Office send off.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She's done an incredible job. She's a fantastic person, very importantly, but she also is somebody that gets it. She has been at the United Nations from the beginning with us -- right from the beginning -- and worked with us on the campaign. It's been really a long time, very intense. And she told me probably six months ago, she said, you know, maybe at the end of the year, at the end of a two-year period, but the end of the year, I want to take a little time off. I want to take a little break.


KING: Very kind, public words from the president there. But there is some private grumbling within the administration.

CNN's Abby Phillip joins us live from the White House.

Abby, take us inside the big drama, the big surprise.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John, it's all about the timing here at the White House with some folks asking why if Haley was planning on leaving for a while and planned to depart at the end of the year, she decided to announce it today, the day after President Trump just won a major bruising fight over his Supreme Court justice and at a time when there are a lot of questions about the party's standing with women voters. Some White House aides suggesting that Nikki Haley's timing invites those kinds of comparisons, invites people asking why she decided to do it today.

But, instead, what we have also heard is that President Trump, not that the decision has been made, decided to do it in the Oval Office. He wanted the optics of the two of them seated side by side praising one another. And, notably, Nikki Haley killing a major rumor that had been swirling around her about 2020. She said very clearly that she would be campaigning for President Trump in 2020. And that announcement is good for both of them politically.

We have also heard a little bit more about the parlor game that is emerging here in Washington about who would replace her. President Trump said that a lot of people want this job, in part because Nikki Haley has made it more glamorous. He also said a decision would be coming in probably two or three weeks. But a source also tells us that President Trump is working from a list of potential replacements and that he'll be working through that over the next coming weeks.


KING: Abby Phillip with the breaking news live at the White House.

Abby, thank you.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Olivier Knox with Sirius XM, CNN's Manu Raju, and Lisa Lerer with "The New York Times." Let's break this down. Again, the timing is what jumps out. After the

midterm elections there will be six, eight, 10, 12, maybe dozens more Trump administration officials who leave, for every understandable reasons. These jobs are a beast. They drain you. Most of these people can make a lot more money in the private sector. But this one, the highest ranking woman in the administration, somebody who is known, not thrilled, when Mike Pompeo got the job, when Rex Tillerson left, over her.

She does have two kids. One in college. One about to go to college. She could make a lot more money. Those two things can be true at the same time, right? You're not happy, a little grumbling internally, and also, just time to go?


KING: Right.

LERER: I mean this was executed as perfectly as Nikki Haley could want. She got her big moment. She got lavish praise from Trump. I mean is there higher praise from this president than glamorous? I'm not sure that there is, actually.

[12:05:11] So this is exactly, if you are Nikki Haley, you're someone that's been talked about as a potential presidential candidate, maybe not in 2020, as Abby pointed out, but maybe down the line, or certainly someone that could have a very bright, political future, either in South Carolina or nationally, this is the kind of sendoff that you want. And by doing it early, she wasn't -- she separated herself from the herd.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the way did this is strange because you heard even President Trump note that this is much better to do it in person than on paper.

KING: Right.

COLLINS: This is a president who typically fires people either through intermediaries or via tweet. This rarely happens. I can't think of one person who is really high-ranking that has been fired -- or that has stepped down in this way with an Oval Office presentation and all that.

We do know that Nikki Haley had lost clout with President Trump recently. A lot of that had to do with Pompeo coming in as secretary of state. Because when Tillerson was there and they weren't getting along, Nikki Haley was his go to. He also wasn't getting along with McMaster at that time. Now he's got Bolton and Pompeo to rely on. So that's pretty interesting, that aspect.

But the timing is key here. President Trump says she told him six months ago that she was going to be leaving, but we're told so many people were caught off guard and that she told him last week, hey, I'm ready to leave at the end of the year. But we're told Chief of Staff John Kelly was not aware of that last week. Bolton was not aware of it. Pompeo were not aware of it. So it's really interesting.

And a lot of senior people in the West Wing weren't aware of it either. So it's interesting that either, a, President Trump, who cannot keep a secret, was able to keep this pretty small, just letting like Jared and Ivanka and that company know, and then how did that not get out in the days since then?

KING: But, again, smart for her. You were talking about this, Olivier, before we went on the air, smart for her. She's very ambitious. She wants to be president some day. She's caught the bug is what a good friend of hers told me this morning as this was playing out. She's not going to challenge President Trump. But so -- but she's going to leave now. Getting a big announcement before the election allows someone who has kept her Republican establishment credentials, but also built Trump credentials, everybody happy, and she gets out ahead of the election instead of --

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: And I think that dual nature, sort of keeping a foot in -- I won't call her a moderate, even though other outlets are dong that. She's not a moderate.

KING: She's a conservative hawk.

KNOX: But she kept -- she kept a foot in sort of what I would call traditional norms of foreign policy and then was a vocal Trump supporter. And that combination was really important. She was central to their North Korea policy. She supported their Iran policy. You know, full throated support for that.

Let's look at the timing, though. After the election it could look like an act of disloyalty.

KING: Right.

KNOX: During the Kavanaugh fight, my goodness, can you imagine this conversation if she had left in the middle of the Kavanaugh fight? So, in some ways, this is not a bad time for her to do this.

The other thing I'll add is, as we start wondering who a successor might be --

KING: For her. What about for him? Not a bad time for her. He can't say she's being disloyal. He can't say, I just got shellac in the election and now she's running away instead of standing by me. But the morning after the Kavanaugh fight, that one -- Kavanaugh's -- you know, Kavanaugh finally takes a seat on the bench. The president wants to continue the fight. But you do have a gender gap in the polls. You do have a lot of Democrats thinking, here's an administration that doesn't get us. The highest profile woman, some of them have pretty good relationships with Democrats, even if they disagreed with her, said they could talk to her and that she was open-mind, she would listen to them. That's a little weird.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, it raises the question about whether there's any connection there. There's no evidence that there is at this point. And we'll see in the days ahead when she speaks more about this.

It also complicates the timing of finding a replacement, too. We're obviously very close to the midterms. There's not much time in a lame duck session of Congress, immediately after the midterms, for a replacement to be named. What happens if that margin in the Senate becomes narrower? What happens in the seemingly unlike event, but possible, that the Senate flips, getting a replacement then is always more challenging with a Democratic controlled Senate. All those questions raised. Why not, if she did have these feelings six months earlier -- do it two months earlier, find those replacements now.

KNOX: On the other hand, the election might deepen the bench of people available to do this job, right? I was just e-mailing with someone on Capitol Hill who said they'd be surprised if he announced in the next two or three weeks. They're going to wait -- they think that they're going to wait until after the midterms. Who knows, maybe we'll get -- end up with, you know, U.N. Ambassador Joe Manchin.

KING: Yes, two weeks is his stand by. When something comes up, he always says, we'll get to it in two weeks.

COLLINS: Yes, right.

KING: Now, she did tweet over the weekend, Deana Powell, who used to work in the national security staff of this White House, is a veteran of the George W. Bush White House, was in South Carolina with Nikki Haley and a lot of people are saying, ah-hah, Deana Powell is a friend. She probably gave her a head's up. She's probably trying to lay the groundwork to get Deana Powell that job.

Forgive me, is there any chance in you know what that Donald Trump would name to this high profile job somebody he views as a globalist, somebody who's very close to Gary Cohn, who, without a doubt, cooperated with the Bob Woodward book? I just don't see that having a chance.

LERER: It's a little hard to see. We know the president is someone who values loyalty and -- but, I mean, I think it does speak to -- there are people who believe that the president should put a woman in this position. She was the most high profile women in the administration. As you point out, you have this historic gender gap. He has a major problem with independent women.

I think it also tells us something else political, which is that this idea that some Republican will challenge President Trump in 2020. We knew it was a fantasy. This is confirmation that it's a total fantasy because if she can't do it, it's hard to see how a Jeff Flake or somebody else, you know, successfully mounts that kind of a challenge.

[12:10:17] KING: Right, on that -- on that point, let's just listen to Nikki Haley on that point because this came up. She brought it up. Before reporters could ask her the question, she decided, I'm going to go there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Oh, there's no personal reasons. I think that it's just very important for government officials to understand when it's time to step aside. And I have given everything I've got these last eight years and I do think that sometimes it's good to rotate in other people who can put that same energy and power into it.

For all of you that are going to ask about 2020, no, I am not running for 2020. I can promise you what I'll be doing is campaigning for this one.


KING: Not running in 2020. Assume -- that assumes President Trump is running in 2020. And everybody assumes that at the moment. The president's pretty clear about that. There is the Mueller investigation and other things out there. But -- but that doesn't mean she's not ambitious.

She meets privately with Republican operatives and strategists all the time. She was in Texas, I think it was about two months ago, meeting with a group of billionaires, giving them a private briefing on world affairs, essentially saying, remember me. You'll like me down the road sometime. So not running in 2020, but --

RAJU: Yes, but she didn't say not running in 2024. And so --

LERER: Right.

RAJU: I mean and she's still young. She still has plenty of time. We'll see what her next job is and if it's a clear job that's trying to pave the way for the future.

But, you know, as Lisa said, there is really no -- not much room to challenge the president in a primary. He may have these challengers. But a 2020 primary challenge, enormously difficult for that to succeed. I'm sure she sees that as well.

KING: It's time to get out.

We'll take a quick break. We'll continue on this story.

Up next, the president says the outgoing ambassador's departure will be felt by nearly everyone.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She knows everybody on a very first name basis and they like her. Except for maybe a couple, which is normal. They can't all like you.



[12:16:07] KING: Welcome back. The giant surprise today, Nikki Haley resigning as the United Nations

ambassador. The president joked early in his administration that Haley could easily be replaced. The reality, though, could be far different. Listen to Haley last hour in the Oval Office tick off what she sees as a list of foreign policy milestones.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Look at what has happened in two years with the United States on foreign policy. Now, the United States is respected. Countries may not like what we do, but they respect what we do. They know that if we say we're going do something, we follow it through.


KING: Ambassador Haley was a steady voice in an administration often characterized by chaos and turmoil. And one of the president's biggest messengers on the world stage.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: That the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded.

The Russian regime, whose hands are all covered in the blood of Syrian children, cannot be ashamed by pictures of its victims. We've tried that before.

The Iranian regime is now on notice. The world will be watching what you do.

The president's decision reflects the will of the American people. There is no need to describe it further.

If war comes, make no mistake, the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed.


KING: Again, Olivier you made the point earlier, on some issues she was the hawkish voice of the Republican establishment, essentially pushing, nudging or pulling this president to their position from places in the campaign. But when it came to North Korea, when it came to moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, when it came to pulling the United States from the human rights counsel at the U.N., she had the America first piece of it, too.

KNOX: Yes, absolutely. It was a marriage of, again, these sort of -- the establishment norms, hawkish for sure, you could argue neocon even if you want, a marriage of those with the America first message. It's interesting that we watched her give these speeches. You know, obviously, some of the more important work she did was in rallying at the U.N. Security Council behind some of this administration's policies. I'm thinking in particular three rounds of sanctions on North Korea. But the critical part of what the administration refers to as its maximum pressure campaign. So they're all -- yes, she can point to a number of successes, but this is also a very traditional U.N. ambassador role, right, scolding other countries, speaking out loudly and forcefully, that kind of stuff.

KING: And sharp elbows during some internal administration things. One, she wasn't afraid to go on the Sunday shows and say, I think all women should be heard. That would be hard to see many other people in the Trump administration getting away with that, meaning, you know, meaning, including people accusing the president of sexual misconduct.

COLLINS: Right. And we can't forget that one appearance on the Sunday show, which is like one of the biggest parts of her career, which is when she went on a Sunday show in April and she said that soon President Trump is going to be announcing new sanctions on Russia. President Trump was watching from the White House and lost it when he saw that, because, according to him, he had not made up a final decision on that and she had no authority to go and announce those sanctions on air. And then, of course, the ended up not imposing those sanctions when she said that and that led to Larry Kudlow, the president's economic adviser, later saying she got momentarily confused. And that's when she had that incredible moment, stunning moment where she said, with all due respect, I don't get confused.

So there certainly have been some distance between her and President Trump at times, even though a lot of what she says on North Korea and Iran has been what President Trump wants.

KING: Right.

LERER: But the fact that she could say that and be one of these voice of opposition and publically, you know, disagree with the president and members of the administration and then still this super splashy, warm sendoff that we -- as you pointed out earlier, we haven't really seen before, really speaks to her savviness as a politician, as an inside operator and also, you know, the public face that she was presenting, right, as a woman of color. That was something that the administration needs.

KING: And her coming to understand the president and what he likes.

LERER: Right.

KING: He likes someone who's good on television. He likes someone who's forceful. Central casting, the president often said.

LERER: Right.

KING: She did the job. She did the job, I think, as the president imagined, she became a star there and he likes that. As long as your star is beneath his star, he likes that.

[12:20:07] This is a little bit from her resignation letter to the president just into us. To give you some time to select a replacement and to give the Senate time to consider your selection, I am prepared to continue to serve until January, 2019. At that point, I will once again become a private citizen. I expect to continue to speak out from time to time on important public policy matters, but I surely will not be a candidate for any office in 2020.

Again, she knows the president. Again, she knows the president, including that in the letter is going to get him -- make him more a part of this. And to that point, remember, let's go back in time. In the 2016 primaries, she was the governor of South Carolina. A very important, early destination on the Republican primary schedule. She was for Marco Rubio. She thought some of the things candidate Donald Trump was saying, especially on immigration, were out of bounds.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.


KING: That also as governor, remember, you had the church shooting. She spoke out after the shooting there as well. And she was among those, who as governor, helped settle the confederate flag debate, which had divided her state's politics for years.

The question now is, what does she want?

RAJU: I don't think we know that. I mean I think that from what I've heard and what others have as well that one reason for at least stepping down now has to be some financial considerations. You mentioned that earlier. She has kids around the college age and that's something that she has to consider going forward. What does that mean for her own political future. And she has managed to preserve some of that brand, you know, as Olivier was saying, by making it nice with Trump, but also being close to the Republican establishment. So that can presumably help her in the future.

But I think her next steps will be important in determining exactly what voice she wants to have, how does she make money, but also stay prominent and does that impact her if she works on Wall Street per say, you know? We don't really know. We'll have to see what she has -- what she's going to do next.

KING: And also -- also interesting, her state's senior senator, Lindsey Graham, is up in 2020. And he has been worried. You've watched him go from John McCain anti-Trump or at least Trump skeptic in the Republican Party to Velcroing himself to the president of the United States most recently during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, but on other issues as well, her making clear, I don't think she wants to be in the Senate anyway. I think she's seen that part of Washington.

The governors -- most governors don't like what they see in the United States Senate. But making clear there, I'm not interested in that either. Her ambitions, if you talk to anybody who understands her and sees how, again, even as U.N. ambassador she's been quietly working the Republican donor community, the Republican business community. Her aspirations are at the office she was in today, being the actual (ph) president.

RAJU: And just to put a button on that point, I mean Lindsey Graham has tried to make absolutely clear that he is running for re-election in 2020. I talked to one of his aides this morning in the aftermath of this. They're trying to tamp down any speculation that this is all part of an effort to get him into the cabinet somehow, an AG position if Sessions were to step down, all that they're saying, he is not interested in that whatsoever. He is running for re-election. So we'll see if that changes.

COLLINS: One question to also consider is also who else would leave. I know we're going to expect a lot of people after the midterms elections, but what does this do for Defense Secretary James Mattis because he and Haley actually got along on a lot of things and does this change his position because the people that were there before, McMaster, Haley, Mattis, now Mattis is the only one left. So what does it do for him? Because he's already kind of been on the outs with President Trump. So does this change him? Does it speed up his departure? Those are some things that we'll be looking for.

LERER: But she really --

KING: Add John Kelly to that list as well.

I'm sorry.

LERER: No, she really has left herself in a good position no matter how this administration shakes out, how Trump is seen at the end of, you know, his time in office.

KING: Right.

LERER: She can kind of play it either way because she's been so good, as you've pointed out, about bridging that divide. And she's also really staying away from a lot of the scandals that other people in this administration have been caught up in. So she is -- she leaves in a pretty good position for however -- we don't know. We're in a really unpredictable time in our politics and we don't know how this is all going to turn out. But you sort of look at where she is and say, well, she could play it a lot of different ways.

KING: Right.

LERER: And if you have those aspirations, that's the position you want to be in.

KING: I think that -- I think that's an excellent point in the sense that who knows what the Republican Party is going to look like in two years, in four years.

LERER: Right.

KING: There's volatility in both parties right now, but she was able to keep her neocon conservative credentials, embrace Trumpism to a degree. Now she gets out and can watch this from afar and pick her moment to come back in.

We'll keep an eye on this one, including who the president picks to succeed Ambassador Haley.

Up next, though, Brett Kavanaugh, day one on his new job today.


[12:29:27] KING: Welcome back.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh is at the office today after a promise to turn the page and leave his bitter confirmation battle behind.


JUSTICE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT: My focus now is to be the best justice I can be. I take this office with gratitude, and no bitterness. My goal is to be a great justice for all Americans, and for all of America.


[12:29:53] KING: The president, though, clearly not ready to turn the page. He has a different plan, keep the fight going. The midterms elections now just four weeks away and Republicans think the Kavanaugh fight gives an energy boost to the GOP base. So the president used that ceremonial swearing in, with the other Supreme Court justices sitting right there in the room, to stoke the divide.