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Trump to Washington Post: There's Been "Deception" and "Lies"; Trump Focuses on Immigration with Days Left in Campaign; Top Races to Watch on Election Night; Campaign Blitz for Potential 2020 Candidates. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired October 21, 2018 - 08:00   ET



[08:00:10] JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): Two weeks out and a busy president rallies his base.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This will be an election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law-and-order and common sense.

KING: Plus, one way to make friends for 2020 is to help big in 2018.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: November is coming.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: There is so much at stake.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: The power of the people is always greater than the people in power.

KING: And testing time for U.S.-Saudi relations, allegations of a brutal murder.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We made clear to them that we take this matter very seriously.

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


KING: 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.

President Trump says Saudi Arabia has lied and deceived about the last the death of Jamal Khashoggi. But as key members of Congress say the Saudi explanations don't add up and insist there must be a strong response, the president defends the crown prince and the U.S.-Saudi relationship.


TRUMP: It's a big first step, it's only a first step but it's a big first step. They've been a great ally in the Middle East. We need them as a counterbalance to Iran.

And so, it's not the simplest solution, it's not the simplest situation to be in. But I think we're -- I think we're doing very well. I think we've come a long way in a short period of time and it'll get solved. It'll get solved, OK?


KING: Plus, two weeks to Election Day and the president focusing on key Senate races and on rallying the Trump base.


TRUMP: They will try to plunge our country into a nightmare of gridlock, poverty and chaos, you know that. As we speak, the Democrat Party is openly inviting millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our borders, and overwhelm our nation.


KING: And is there really a big blue wave coming? We'll look at the races that offer the biggest clues to the midterm climate.


REP. DAVID BRAT (R), VIRGINIA: A vote from my opponent will be a vote for the Nancy Pelosi liberal agenda. On health care, she's in favor of Obamacare, prices up 150 percent and $5,000 deductibles, and she and Nancy Pelosi want to go beyond that.

ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D), VIRGINIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I question again whether congressman rat knows which Democrat in fact he's running against, because I am not the Democrat who supported single- payer in the primary, I am not Nancy Pelosi and I am not President Barack Obama.


KING: With us this Sunday to share their reporting and their insights: Julie Hirschfield Davis of "The New York Times", Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times", "Bloomberg's" Sahil Kapur, and CNN's Kaitlin Collins.

We begin the hour with a horrific murder, the shifting explanations from the Saudi royal family and the confusing response of President Trump. Saudi Arabia now admits it killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an argument turned fist fight turned accidental death is what the Saudis say. But they insist all carried out impulsively by those on the scene in Istanbul, not they say at the orders of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudis say 18 now under arrest to general and intelligence officials known to be key lieutenants of the crown prince, MBS, as he is known were dismissed. The investigation continues, and get this -- the Saudis say the crown prince himself will lead an overhaul of Saudi intelligence services. Utter bullshit was the reaction of Khashoggi's editor at "The

Washington Post". Key members of Congress used more polite language but most come to the same conclusion, what the Saudis are saying doesn't add up and they say there needs to be both an independent investigation and severe punishment by the United States.

So, what does the president think? Well, it seems to depend on exactly when you asked. Over the weekend, he accepted the Saudi explanation as credible, a good first step he said and he made clear he does not think ending arms sales to Saudi to the kingdom should be part of any sanctions package.

Yet, he also said this just yesterday last night to "The Washington Post". Quote: Obviously, there's been deception and there's been lies. Nobody has told me the crown prince is responsible. Nobody has told me he's not responsible.

I would love if he wasn't responsible. He's a strong person. He has very good control. He's seen as a good person who can keep things under check, I mean that in a positive way.

Somebody help me translate the president. There's been lies and there's been deception by a regime that is run by the crown prince, but he's a good person and a strong person and he should stay. Huh?

JULIE HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: What -- I mean I think this is the contradiction we hear from the president a lot. He admires leaders who he feels have a strong reign on their country, who have strong control over their people.

That -- it has included in the past Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

[08:05:00] That has included Vladimir Putin. He's praised all of them for being strong leaders. What do they all have in common? They brutalized their people.

He is clearly trying to make a distinction here and hoping that the distinction can stick between what is what happened to this journalist and what MBS may have done himself, and I think, you know, he's really hoping that he can keep that alive. But what that also does is make a very strong statement to the rest of the world into this country that it is not intolerable for him to imagine that a person would -- that a leader would sanction and indeed carry out the capturing of journalists, the brutal interrogation of a journalist and ultimately the killing of a journalist.

And so, the fact that he is actually acknowledging that there are lies and deception here really does mean that if they reach the logical conclusion that, you know -- and U.S. intelligence agencies have this information that you know they do believe that the Saudi regime was behind this event, he clearly is not buying that.

KING: But what he's saying is, yes, the human rights thing, he doesn't care about. He's shown that many, many times.

So, you can kidnap torture and kill a journalist but anybody, any human being. We focus I think too much on the fact that it's a journalist, it's a human being. You can kidnap, torture and kill the human being and then you can lie to the United States about it, lie to the United States about it, including to his people, including to the White House, and you're a good person?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And you're still going to get your arms deal and just yesterday, yes, now, he's saying lies and deception hours ago, maybe not even. He said he found their explanation for what happened that this guy who was 59 walked into a consulate and got into a fistfight with more than two dozen men and somehow it was his fault that he was killed. He said it was credible yesterday.

So, it really comes down to this arms deal. He's not letting anything get in the way of that. He's made that pretty clear, even talking about what the potential consequences could be, he's made clear he doesn't think the arms deal should be it all included.

But these aren't mutually exclusive. You can't -- you don't have to cancel the arms deal and not be able to condemn Saudi Arabia for what they did. So far, President Trump has not done that. He has not he said it's bad stuff, it's serious stuff, we want to get to the bottom of it.

He has not that one critical word of any of them of the crown prince, who he seems to be standing by saying he's a great leader. Pretty much everyone else think there's no way that he didn't know about this murder.

KING: And it's about the arms sale, but it's also about the viability of the crown prince. The United States does have influence here. He's, what, 33 years old. If he stays in power, he's essentially the de facto king.

If he stays in power, we're looking -- we're talking about 20, 30, potentially 45-year reign in Saudi Arabia. And here's this moment where the U.S. intelligence services believe that he orchestrated this. He directed this. He's responsible for this, and the president of the United States says he's a good person.

Members of Congress disagree. This is Lindsey Graham: To say that I'm skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement.

Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee, the claim that Khashoggi was killed while brawling with 15 men dispatched from Saudi Arabia is not at all credible. If he was fighting with those sent to capture or kill him, it was for his life. The kingdom must be held to account. If the administration doesn't leave, Congress must.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: And this is the key point, John, it's the totality of what the president says that counts and where the message gets sent, not what he said from one individual day to the next because there will be some shifting there will be some contradictions. And this reminds me in many ways of the way President Trump dealt with Vladimir Putin in his denials, you know, of Russia's meddling in the United States election, which is to echo the denials maybe an occasional splash of skepticism maybe offer up a bit of a conspiracy theory there. It was, you know, the 400-pound person in the basement here, it's rogue killers and do you want to get to the bottom of it, you know?

But the totality of the message, what comes through if President Trump is offering quite a bit of skepticism about the United States intelligence of evidence that keeps piling up and some sympathies or some level of credulity to the Saudi narrative.

KING: To that point, to that point, I want you to listen to Rush Limbaugh here, because now the idea being spread by supporters of the president's -- well, this is a bad guy. Who cares?


RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK RADIO HOST: I'm whispering anything when I talk about this. I'm shouting it from the rooftops. But this in a nutshell is an attempt to damage Donald Trump's foreign policy by making him cave and renounce a close relationship with Saudi Arabia.

It is also about militant Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood of which Jamal Khashoggi was a practicing active member. He went to school with Osama bin Laden. They were buddies.


KING: Don't have time to fact check that incomplete, but it's not true. But accept the argument, accept the argument that Jamal Khashoggi is a bad guy. OK, if the Saudis have grounds to arrest him, arrest him. If they have grounds to interrogate him, interrogate him.

But Rush Limbaugh now saying if you have a political critic, you can take him into custody, interrogate him, torture him, cut him up in light of the world. No one's saying you have to end the relationship with Saudi Arabia. The question is, how do you hold them accountable for this?

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, but that's just a political a bit for President Trump there.

[08:10:01] KING: It's a great standard to say.

MARTIN: Look, I'm not surprised that the president does not really care about any kind of punitive action on MBS. I think it reflects everything we're talking about here, the Russia president. This is just how he operates.

What I'm curious about is what Congress does, as in so many of these examples. That we talk about is what are they actually going to do? They have the power of the purse, right? They have a huge impact on foreign policy funding in this country, on foreign aid, on approving military spending, what will they do? Will they act? There's a bipartisan chorus that is condemning the Saudis conduct, what are they going to do in the lame-duck if anything when they come back from the election to address this issue? Because they can force the issue here and for to force the president to act. The question is, will they actually do that?

KING: Will they have the spine? We've had other issues where -- they did push him on Russia too.

MARTIN: They did.

KING: They did push him on Russia to a degree, we'll see if they do here. This is another interesting wrinkle of this: the Saudi portfolio is --

MARTIN: By the way, he signed the sanctions against Russia, remember that?

KING: Yes, he did against his --


COLLINS: He said so.

KING: The other interesting wrinkle here is that the Saudi portfolio belonged to Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law. This is what he said to "The Washington Post" -- Trump defended Kushner as doing a very good job but acknowledged that he and the crown prince both in their 30s are relatively young for the amount of power they wield. They are two young guys, Jared doesn't know him well or anything, they're just two young people.

COLLINS: Who gave Jared that power, I wonder? It was the president and citing their age is insane to me because these are two people who are in immensely powerful positions.

MBS, whatever, the president is not in control of him. He can condemn him. He can say what he wants. We have a lot more leverage with the Saudis than the president is acting like. We could easily have someone else be in charge if there was like a strong chorus.

Jared Kushner is someone the president put in this role as senior advisor. He's the one who decided to make the Middle East this thing. He's the one who forged that close relationship with this authoritarian leader who is chillingly authoritarian and reckless. He's the one who forged that closer relationship and hosted him, rolled out the red carpet when he came to Washington. He's the one who convinced President Trump to make Saudi Arabia his first trip as president.

So, Jared Kushner has a lot of influence, a lot of power. Just because now things have gone really poorly doesn't mean he gets to step back and not face any criticism for this. He wants to be on the front line for this until something goes really badly and then he steps back and we haven't heard him say anything publicly, which isn't that unusual. He doesn't typically speak publicly, but even in the administration, he's really stepped backwards. He's tried to help shape their responses, but other than that he hat really hasn't had a role. He went to New York for his brother's wedding and wasn't even at the White House last week during a lot of this going on.

KING: That happened a lot --


KING: Jared and Ivanka, they just disappeared.

KAPUR: And Kushner publicly listed Saudi Arabia, you know, when talking earlier this year when a speech -- when he's talking about Middle Eastern countries that have been reformers.

One other wrinkle, John, that I want to mention. This week, 11 Senate Democrats wrote a letter to the president asking him to disclose any and all financial ties between his personal business interests and Saudi Arabia. Two of the Democrats on that letter, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker.

KING: 2020 creeps into this. I would like to keep the politics out of this. It's just -- to me, it's just -- you lied, you deceived but you're a good person. Got it.

Next, three rallies and this -- this week and many more to come, the Trump road show a big part of the midterm campaign close.


TRUMP: Vote for Martha McSally, it'll be one of the best votes you've ever cast. It will be -- it will be the second greatest vote you ever cast. The first greatest vote was for me!






[08:18:22] TRUMP: The Democrat Party has become an angry ruthless unhinged mob determined to get power by any means necessary. So, Democrats produced mobs, Republicans produced jobs. That's become hashtag. That's called hashtag.


KING: That's called hashtag, the president says. That's Elko, Nevada, yesterday. The last of three rallies in recent days aimed at driving up Republican turnout in key Senate races. Nevada yesterday, Arizona before that, the president started in Montana.

If the Republicans can flip Montana, hold Arizona and Nevada, there is no way the Democrats can take control of the Senate, and in fact, it could help Republicans actually build -- let's talk of a blue wave, Republicans actually could add, we have Republicans favored to hold the Senate right now , they could actually add to their majority.

The president has decided in this midterm election year that is all about him, to make it all about him, very busy on the road, these are as rallies just since Labor Day, you see three, six, nine, 12, 13 states just since Labor Day, including Montana twice. Most of these have big Senate races. Texas, Wisconsin and North Carolina in the week ahead, the White House says the president will be out several days a week all the way through the election.

It is a referendum on him, so in the closing message the Democrats want to talk about health care. The president's overwhelming emphasis, immigration.


TRUMP: Crazy Democrats refused to support any form of border security legislation to fix our absolutely horrible, old-fashioned, loophole- ridden immigration laws. As we speak, the Democrat Party is openly inviting millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our borders and overwhelm our nation.

[08:20:09] The Democrats don't care that a flood of illegal immigration will bankrupt our country.


KING: Again, breaks the fact-check machine. Are the Democrats openly inviting, at one point, he suggested they were perhaps paying for the migrants to come forward. But the idea being the president is trying to gin up Republican turnout and reach some independent voters, right, with a message that your safety's at risk.

KAPUR: He's returning to his roots. This was the issue that catapulted him in June 2015 in that speech. It was the issue of immigration. He hit those notes.

He is speaking to this primal anxiety among older white voters about the country changing, is becoming culturally liberals, is becoming younger. Conservatives, social conservatives believe they've lost the culture war, and there's a demographic change happening in this country that makes a lot of older people nervous, and that brought many of them out to the polls.

Whether it'll work in the midterm elections remains to be seen. There's a danger that he can also wake up Hispanic voters in states like Arizona and Nevada.

Democrats are doing everything they can to get this voting bloc out. They're about a quarter of the electorate in 2014 and made up just about percent -- or I'm sorry quarter of the eligible electorate made up to 7 percent of the actual electorate. If this block turns out, then President Trump's effort here could backfire. KING: Now, he has every right, as is any president, to say we should have a secure border. He's been president for almost two years. You can say why isn't it secure, he kind of could had a deal with Democrats for his wall funding last year.

But the president doesn't just say he doesn't want illegal immigrants, he attacks the people coming most of them are fleeing violence or poverty trying to feed their families or get to a safer life, that's not how the president sees it.


TRUMP: Some of these people are hard criminals, hardened criminals, not good people. These are some bad people coming through there. These aren't babies. These aren't little angels coming into our country.

REPORTER: Mr. President, what evidence do you have that these are hardened criminals?

TRUMP: Oh, please, please, don't be a baby, OK? Take a look, OK? Just take a look.


MARTIN: Yes, I mean, it's a striking departure from the modern history of the presidency. You just don't see American presidents talking like this about immigration, so in that sense, it's remarkable.

Secondly, I would say you know Democrats have played into this by veering to the left on the immigration issue. If -- you're talking about issues like abolishing ICE, which has given him an issue, and giving him that's an issue frankly. They don't talk about as much in the general election, but certainly in the primary is talking about that issue sort of I think gave the opposition a weapon that you're seeing them use here in the general election.

KING: And there are Republicans even critics to the president say to degree, it's working, that they do see rising Republican intensity.

MARTIN: Yes. I mean, look, it is an issue that gets their base fired up and that's what they had to do this election because Democrats were the ones who are more enthusiastic. This is an issue that does stir the Republican base, I'm not sure if it's going to be enough but it places like Arizona and Nevada where the president was over the weekend, this is the issue for older white voters. This discomfort with the changing nature of the country and their states and the so- called Californization -- you hear that phrase a lot you cal in Nevada and Arizona, we can't become like California and they know what that means.

DAVIS: And the president was always I think going to come back to this. This is always going to be -- you know, this is his political sort of touchstone and I think he has always felt like it was a very good political issue for Republicans in general. He said that earlier this year before he really started going on at rallies.

But in addition to having played into it by this talk of abolishing ICE, I think what the other thing that we're seeing play out right now is that Democrats really don't want to touch this issue. We don't hear a lot of pushback from Democratic leadership, even from Democratic candidates on this rhetoric about caravan because they as you said before want to pivot to health care, they want to pivot to economic issues, friendlier terrain for them and things that they legitimately think that people care more about.

And that may be correct, but they're also seeing poll numbers that are instructing that view that tell them that this is an issue that scares people if they can get them focused on potential crime, economic hardship, all these other things that are associated with immigration that voters are actually and it's not just who are Republicans, independents and some non college-educated whites who are more in the middle, they are susceptible to this argument.

And so, Democrats have also been holding back on making the counter argument.

KING: And another play from the president, it's a related play, is early voting is underway in many states, 37 states in all, plus the District of Columbia have it in -- I think we're past the halfway mark of states that's underway in those places.

The president tweeting last night on his way home from the trip: All levels of government and law enforcement are watching carefully for voter fraud, including during early voting. Cheat at your own peril. Violators will be subject to maximum penalties both civil and criminal.

Should we not be encouraging voting, not trying to discourage voting? And if somebody's an ineligible voter, let the local officials catch them and turn them away.

[08:25:02] COLLINS: I like how he's now concerned about election security, now that this caravan is heading to the United States. But that's essentially what he's worried about, and I think we could see him use this after the midterm elections if there is a pretty big Democratic takeover, it's still an open question. He will say that this is part of that and this is part of why that happened and that is why the president is using this.

I think he's genuinely frustrated by the caravan. When he sees these images playing out across his television, he's genuinely frustrated by this. But he realized that this is a political tool. He is sending a message that if you elect Democrats, you were going to have hardened criminals in our country. That's why he's using those phrases.

Of course, he doesn't know if these people are hardened criminals or not, but that messaging is working for his base. So, we'll see that effect and if he continues to bring it up after the midterms.

KAPUR: And there isn't evidence that links immigration to crime. Let's just get that out of the way, right? First generation immigrants commit crimes at fewer rates in native-born American.

KING: Yes. Facts don't matter when it comes to the president's closing message, Sahil. You must be new here.

Up next, Democrats are hoping for a giant blue wave, but Republicans say the climate is getting a bit better for them of late. We'll go to the map and a few races in places that will offer us some smart clues come election night.


[08:30:49] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: All 435 House districts on the map and how CNN rates them today. We fill it in with live election results and get the answer in 16 days.

Here is the question. Is there a big blue anti-Trump wave about to hit or are Republicans right when they claim some late momentum and even hold out the possibility they will keep control of the House? It's complicated but some races and regions on election night will tell us more than others.

Let's go to the map. If you look right here, Democrats need 23 -- a net gain of 23 to pick up the House. They think here in the northeast -- New England plus New York state -- they think they can pick up as many as ten seats, maybe as few as five. If they're on the low-end in the early results maybe Republicans can pull it off. If the Democrats get off to a big early lead, that would help them.

And then you move down the map right here. You come here, just in Pennsylvania -- just in Pennsylvania Democrats think they could pick up as many as six or seven House seats. If the Republicans can hold it to three or four in the state of Pennsylvania, which has redrawn lines, that will tell you early clues on election night who is winning Pennsylvania.

Then you come down here to Virginia. If you look at Virginia, Democrats are favored in this Republican-held district now just over the river in the D.C. suburbs. Democrats think they'll pick that one up. They think it's a no brainer.

Here's another big test. Is it a moderate blue wave? Is it a big blue wave? Dave Brat is your incumbent Republican; Abigail Spanberger, his opponent. This district has some suburbs in it, then stretches out into rural areas. It is a tough fight.

If Democrats can win seats like this, they're on their way to the House majority. If Republicans can hold seats like this, we may be counting all the way to the West Coast.

This race is very close. Listen to Dave Brat this week at a campaign event, called this an unforced error, speaking to felons -- incarcerated felons who have drug problems -- drug problems. Dave Brat saying, you know what? You should empathize with me. They're running negative TV ads against me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DAVE BRAT (R), NEW JERSEY: I've got $5 million worth of negative ads going at me. How do you think I'm feeling? Nothing is easy.

ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D), VIRGINIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDDIATE: The idea that someone in a position of elected office, someone in a position of power would sit before people facing incredible challenges like substance use disorders and their own recovery, and compare it to an election experience is just kind of beyond the pale for me.


KING: Hard to argue, that is beyond the pale. And you mentioned -- we were talking about this earlier -- the Congressman sort of caught himself and later on said I'm not trying to say their problems are the same. But it just -- it is sort of an unforced error and out of touch in a race -- the reason we focus on the race, not just because of the hard-to-explain remarks but because that is one of the eight or ten districts that could really give us clues come election night. Is there a ripple, is there a wave, is there a tsunami?

JONATHAN MARTIN, "NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. And he couldn't afford that error in a really competitive race. And if he does lose, that's going to be one of those things that probably put the nail in the coffin.

I think that's a great example, John, of a bellwether district. I think the Comstock (INAUDIBLE) that you mentioned earlier was just in northern Virginia, much more with Democrat tilting (ph) seat, that's a different animal than the Brat district.

And here is why. It reflects other seats around the country but because of gerrymandering, includes some suburbs that historically are very GOP-leaning. We have three (ph) more Democratic in the Trump era but it also has about half a dozen rural counties as well.

In that combination we see in House seats around the country where there are these places that have big Democratic energy in the suburbs but the seats stretch into the countryside that are still much more red. And I think that's the key for Democrats.

Can they overwhelm on turnout in the suburban precincts to offset their losses in the countryside? And I think if we see that kind of seat flip on election night, and then you see the seat in Kentucky flip as well -- very similar.

KING: Right.

MARTIN: Amy McGrath running against Andy Barr, based in Lexington -- big liberal college town but with about half-dozen counties around it. If we see those two seats flip -- Dave Brat, Andy Barr -- I think we'll know what's going to happen Election Day.

SAHIL KAPUR, BLOOMBERG NEWS: And whether -- and whether rural voters turn out in big numbers.

MARTIN: Right.

KAPUR: If they get overwhelmed by suburban turnout.

MARTIN: Right.

KAPUR: Now Democrats don't need a seat like Dave Brat necessarily to take House majority. There's a path through these much more suburban upscale affluent districts like Comstock's, Peter Roskam in Illinois --

[08:35:00] MARTIN: It's a much more narrow path though. Yes.

KAPUR: It's true. But to your point exactly, if they can win that either because suburban turnout overwhelms rural turnout or they just run up -- you know, they run up the course significantly there, the path becomes very, very difficult for Republicans to retain.

And Dave Brat -- that's not a seat that should have been in play. That was Eric Cantor's old seat. That was a safe Republican seat. When he won the primary, the assumption was ok, he's the, you know, the congressman-elect.

MARTIN: Just real fast -- there are so many seats like this that were drawn in 2011 to be safe GOP seats because they based them in these suburbs that historically were very Republican.

KING: But the President is toxic.

MARTIN: Correct.

KAPUR: It's all about college-educated women. That's the reason for this.

MARTIN: Exactly. Right.

KING: So let's flip to the Senate. I want to show you. This is -- first Senator Heidi Heitkamp -- tough state. North Dakota -- she's a Democrat. Trump won the state by 20-plus points.

She thought she could fight this one out. But then her campaign, unforced error, runs an ad in a newspaper, identifying survivors of sexual assault without their permission, naming some women who say they're not survivors at all, that this is just a galactic (ph) mistake. In a debate this week, a Democrat who is already in trouble has to apologize.


SENATOR HEIDI HEITKAMP (D), NORTH DAKOT: The last thing I would ever want to do is cause trauma for any victim of violence. My parents taught me that if I made a mistake, my obligation was to take responsibility and then to try and make things right.


KING: That's one vulnerable Trump state Democrat.

Another is Joe Donnelly in Indiana. Again if the Democrats are going to have any dream of taking back the Senate Heitkamp has to win. She's losing. Joe Donnelly has to win -- that's a more competitive race.

But this tells you something -- that Joe Donnelly is nervous.


SENATOR JOE DONNELLY (D), INDIANA: For the most part I'm an easy- going guy but not when Mike Braun keeps lying about my record. I split with my own party to support funding for Trump's wall. The liberal left wants to chop defense spending. No way.


KING: Split with my party on the border wall, the liberal left. That's the Democratic candidate for Senate in Indiana. It tells you something about, you know, the split election.

We talked about the House climate favors the Democrats --

MARTIN: Right.

KING: -- but the Senate climate seems to be trending late for the Republicans, right?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD-DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES"; Right. And I mean we were talking earlier about how Democrats feel rightly vulnerable on these issues in immigration and the border wall. That was one of the issues he chose to sort of pick out and say I'm not like the other Democrats. I'm, you know, I'm for this state and I'm your senator. But there's no question that he is feeling the pressure.

And the Heitkamp race -- I mean you could argue -- you probably, you know, could look at the numbers and see that Heidi Heitkamp was in a lot of world of hurt before this unforced error, I mean. And I think, you know, if she loses, which looks likely, this will clearly be pointed to as a big reason why.

But the fact is that the structural advantages for Republicans on a lot of these places are just really hard to overcome. And when you have the President this involved in intensifying Republican sort of energy and trying to get them out, it does put people like Joe Donnelly in a pretty precarious position.

So if they're able to hold on to seats like that, that's great for the Democrats. But if they're not that's the ball game for --



COLLINS: And I do think she was genuine in her apology but that is like -- it was a mistake you cannot make.

KING: Right.

COLLINS: And even one of the women who was featured in it and obviously did not want to be, did an interview with CNN this week. She said she was going to vote for her, now she's not voting for her. Even though she'd apologized. She said she accepted it. But she was like I'm not voting here.

And I think a lot of people feel that way. That was a really, really bad mistake ad.


MARTIN: You can see a scenario where, you know, Democrats now lose a seat or two in the Senate.

KING: Yes. There are some Republicans who think they could -- yes, they could gain two or three even. Two or three -- we'll watch. That's going to be the fascinating night.

Stay with us. Election night we'll have some clues on the House in the East Coast but stay up with us all night. Brew some coffee.

MARTIN: Alaska.

KING: Up next -- Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, all on the road this weekend. Yes, the final days of 2018 are very much a 2020 preview.


KING: Campaigns are kind of like old-school TV programming. As one season winds down, there's usually a sudden plot to it, like say, word of a surprise DNA test, plus a tease or two or ten about what next season will bring.


SENATOR CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: We are the party of we, not the party of me. We're the party of social caring, the party of Medicare. We're the party of Medicaid.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Instead of having a tax bill that is all about lifting up the top 1 percent, let's give that money to the working people of America.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody, nobody should have to work two jobs to make a living in the United States of America.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: We are going to stop the pharmaceutical industry from ripping us off. We are going to stop the drug companies and the insurance companies from ripping us off.


KING: Yes, just this weekend a half dozen 2020 Democratic prospects out on the campaign trail. Some fresher faces, some more familiar. A perpetual (ph) campaign but this is pretty striking and I guess predictable. You have a high energy in your party right now. It's getting to know you time.

MARTING: Yes. And, look, they're trying to gather chits for their own future campaign. I campaign for you and, you know, put you (INAUDIBLE) in the fall of 2018 and this kind of helps them in the long term.

I was with Bernie Sanders on Friday night Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is sort of the beating heart of the Bernie base in a college town in Michigan. And he obviously had his enthusiasts there.

Let's just it this way. He was more focused on his stump speech than he was the ticket in Michigan in 2018.

KING: But it's an interesting debate about Bernie because you saw the political headline this week with -- from old Bernie people saying don't run again. It's better to just --

MARTIN: Yes. Great story.

KING: -- story about will he have some sort of a meeting with Warren and others to try to figure this out beforehand?

And we did a poll -- this is among Democrats. Bernie Sanders says he's an Independent, right. so just among Democrats who identify themselves as liberals -- Biden, Harris, Warren, Sanders. Sanders tied with Beto O'Rourke among Democrats who call themselves (ph).

Now again a lot of these primaries are open. Independents can come in and the like. But there's some tension within the ranks, if you will.


MARTIN: Well, if you add to that to a recent Iowa survey, which I know that the Bernie folks believe was too moderate, but showing that Biden was well ahead of the rest of the field. And again, these early surveys -- yes, it's a test of name ID, I get that.

But Bernie Sanders has name ID. He ran across the country two years ago for president of the United States. And the fact that he is not at the top of these surveys does tell you that 2020 would be a very different campaign for him.


KING: And you look at the Democratic primaries this year. And again -- Ted Cruz looked at the Republican primaries in 2014 and thought that's why he should run for president in 2016. So sometimes these things don't carry over.

But if you look at the primaries this year -- younger, female, diverse.

MARTIN: Correct. Not all white guys. KING: Not all white guys like Bernie -- no offense gentlemen -- Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden. But Joe Biden was out yesterday, and he had a little back and forth, sharing Nevada -- one in Vegas, one in Elko. Joe Biden, President Trump -- boom.


BIDEN: He's about (ph) to be shredded. Going to be shredded by a president who is all about himself. It's all about Donald. It's not about anything else.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sleepy Joe Biden -- We call him 1 Percent Joe because he ran at least twice -- I think thee times. They say twice I think he ran three times. And he never had more than 1 percent.


KING: The President often falls into the same trap of some of these 2020 Democrats. He wants to talk about 2020 more than he wants to talk about the election in two weeks.

COLLINS: And that's so true. But privately he is much more concerned about who is going to run against him -- not just privately because clearly he's going after Joe Biden publicly.

But privately he is asking aides and allies constantly, who do you think is going to be running against me? And they're like please focus on the midterms. We're trying to save our butts here and he's really increasingly focused on 2020.

KAPUR: It's Biden's 20-point lead in the CNN poll -- this is really about name recognition. I mean the Democratic Party, as you mentioned is becoming a party of minorities, millennials, and women. I think that's the way to look at it for the next nominee.

[08:45:03] Sanders -- 13 percent next in the poll. There's a good argument to be made that he's going to play some sort of a kingmaker role because his issue-set is the same issue-set that he's been talking about for 30 years and the Democratic Party is moving in his direction.


KAPUR: He may not be the nominee because there's a lot of bitterness in the Democratic Party.


KING: There may be --

MARTIN: He already won the war -- Sahil.


KING: Another Sanders rival, if you will, for the progressive wing is Elizabeth Warren. She's actually up for reelection this year. She had a debate this week but she already is making clear she wants to run in 2020, including this DNA test, which she says proves she has at least part Native American heritage. Here is her debate.


SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The whole notion of confidence in government has really gone to a low point. And so for me what I've done is I've just tried to put it all out there. I've put out ten years of taxes. I've put out my hiring records, all the papers that anybody could find. I put out my family story. Shoot -- I even took a DNA test. It is there. I am an open book.


KING: Some people think that open book hurt herself.

HIRSCHFELD-DAVIS: Right. I think some people wish that that particular chapter in this book had either not been written or come later after the midterm election.

Listen, I think this is an indication that Donald Trump is actually setting the script for a lot of these 2020 hopefuls that they are responding to him. And she's been who he's focused on. He has called her Pocahontas so she takes a DNA test to prove that, you know, she's not faking it when it comes to her American-Indian ancestry.

You know, I think that because the President is so focused on 2020, it's not that big of a surprise to see Democrats also coalescing around this debate. And Elizabeth Warren is, you know -- out there for it.

KING: Never start too soon? I don't know about that. We've got a pretty good election this year. Let's get through this year first.

MARTIN: There we go. Hear, hear.

KING: Up next, our reporters share a page from their notebooks including how the record turnover at the White House could grow even more.


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

Julie Davis.

HIRSCHFELD-DAVIS: Well, the Congress is not the only entity here that's under a transition. The White House is actually looking at potentially a pretty active period of turnover following the midterm congressional elections and the White House is really bracing for what that's going to mean. We've already seen the White House counsel Don McGahn has left. There's a new counsel in the White House. Of course, they're looking for a new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. That process is going on.

But even beyond that, and getting the new U.S.-U.N. Ambassador confirmed there are a bunch of other people in the West Wing who have been eyeing the exits, waiting for the midterms to be over, waiting perhaps for the end of the year.

And there's a whole another crop of people for this White House, which has already experience a pretty large degree of turnover, who made like a two-year commitment at the very beginning about and they are also waiting to, you know, go out the door.

So I think we're going to see a big turnover and that could have a big influence in how we see this White House operate under a new congress.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) extends even to the staff.

MARTING: John -- for good reason, we're fixated on the House and Senate races here in Washington. And obviously that's going to have a huge impact on the future of the country and President Trump's first term.

But I'm also fascinated by governor's races in this country, especially in this cycle. And here is why. Because the folks that win it this year are going to be in office after the next census. Meaning that most governors are going to have a role in the redrawing of the lines across the country, which will shape House politics for the next decade.

I was in Michigan over the weekend and the Democrats there have a good shot at winning the governor's race. And that, combined with a ballot measure to create a nonpartisan reapportionment commission could be a huge deal. Keep in mind 2010 the GOP had a very big year and that helped them solidify those lines for the next decade. If the same thing happens this year for Democrats, I think 2018 could be hugely important.

KING: Hugely important. And the Midwest a big, hopeful sign for the Democrats -- they think they can pull them off. We'll see if they do.


KAPUR: John -- Senator McConnell, the Republican leader, made some comments to us a few days ago about how the rising deficit emphasizes the need to cut Social Security and Medicare for the long haul.

As you can imagine Democrats picked up on that to paint the Republicans two and a half weeks up from the election as the party that wants to rip a hole in the safety net.

But this does set up a long-term dichotomy because McConnell did say that it's unlikely that a unified government can go after Social Security and Medicare. He's not saying they're going to do it. But Democrats want to go in the exact opposite direction. They want to expand social security. They want to expand Medicare to all and they want to raise taxes to cover it. So this is shaping up to be a significant battle between two ideologies in the long haul.

KING: And you'll have a president with a third view. If Democrats take the House you'll have three different opinions.


COLLINS: Well, following on what Julie said about White House turnover. I don't think there's any doubt in anyone's mind that at some point Sarah Sanders is going to leave. She's been there for quite a while. It would be pretty normal for her to leave around this time. People speculated she might leave after the midterms but there hasn't been any speculation about who is going to replace her.

It doesn't seem to be at the top of anyone's mind of who could be the next press secretary. I think the question is now, does it really matter because there are basically zero press briefings now. I think we've had two since Labor Day and the President has been on this media blitz where he's talking almost every single day.

"New York Times", Associated Press, Fox Business -- He's all over the place all the time. And so it raises the question and there really hasn't been that much of an uproar over the lack of press briefings because you do hear from the President so much.

So it raises the question of will people even really care when the press secretary does leave.

[08:55:02] KING: Right. He's doing the job himself at the moment. We'll see if that can continue.

I'll close with this.

A big setback this past week for a new group that was hoping to make 2018, still hoping to make 2018 a down payment on building a new third-party movement.

Unite America's best state-wide hope this year was Alaska when Independent governor Bill Walker suspended his campaign the other day and endorsed the Democrat. That came just days after Walker's running mate bowed out for making inappropriate comments to a woman.

There is profound dissatisfaction with both major political parties but Unite America now the latest third-party effort to learn how difficult it is for reasons ranging from bad luck to strict ballot access laws to lay the building blocks for sustained success.

That's it for us for INSIDE POLITICS.

Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday. Hope you catch us weekdays as well, here at noon eastern.

Stay tuned. Don't go anywhere. Up next, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Bob Corker and Senator Ben Sasse join Jake Tapper on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION".

Thanks for joining us. Have a great Sunday.