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Trump Campaigns on Fear; Harris in Iowa; Pence on Saudi Claims. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 23, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:32] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Turkey's president says Saudi Arabia is lying and lays out what he said is proof the royal family was in on a calculated plot to murder a dissident journalist.

Plus, welcome to Iowa Kamala Harris. The California Democrat is there making a big 2018 push and hoping to make a lasting impression, like another freshman senator a decade ago.

And two weeks from today, America votes. Fresh evidence the mood leans Democratic but remains very competitive.

And fresh proof the president is willing to lie and race bait in his campaign appeals.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know how the caravan started? Does everybody know what this means? I think the Democrats had something to do with it and now they're saying I think we made a big mistake.

Go to the middle of the caravan, take your cameras and search. You're going to find MS-13, you're going to find middle eastern, you're going to find everything.


KING: Today we are two weeks out from Election Day. The president doubling down on fiction. A non-existent tax plan and evidence-free fears about a migrant caravan, as new numbers from battleground districts do show a remarkably close midterm competition.

Let's take a look, two weeks out, this is how CNN rates it, 206 seats lean likely or solid for the Democrats, 201 seats lean likely or are solid for the Republicans. So a Democratic advantage.

But look at these new numbers. Look at these new numbers. This is just choice for Congress in battleground districts. This is "The Washington Post" polling out just today. Look how close this is. This is not every district now, just key battleground districts, but look at this. A month ago, four points. Now, three points. Statistically, that's insignificant. A slight Democratic edge, but not a huge edge, as we head into the final two weeks of what the Democrats have been hoping all year would be a big, blue wave.

So, still Democrats favored for the House, but still a little hand to hand combat. Democrats favored for the Senate -- I mean Republicans favored to hold the Senate, in part because of this, the Kavanaugh effect.

Now, this is not just Republicans. This new polling found six in 10 Americans across both parties say they are more motivated because of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation battle. For four in 10 Americans say it didn't make that much of a difference. A tiny sliver, 2 percent, say they are less motivated.

Now, when you look at the House, Democrats believe they have an advantage. But let me just switch quickly to show you the Senate, where Republicans do think the Kavanaugh effect will have an impact. Why? Because the key races are more and more in Republican-leaning states. Democrats hoping to hold Montana. The president's been out there twice. He may go back. They're hoping to flip it. They believe the Kavanaugh effect works better in these states out -- especially in the western Senate races that they either need to flip, or in the case of Nevada and Arizona, hold on. That's the stay of play.

On the road, the president talking up immigration, talking about a tax cut plan that, frankly, simply doesn't exist. He says the caravan has gang members, maybe middle eastern terrorists. Today, the vice president of the United States saying of course the president's right.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's inconceivable that there are not people of middle eastern descent in a crowd of more than 7,000 people advancing toward our border. We apprehended more than 10 terrorists or suspected terrorists per day at our southern border from countries that are referred to in the lexicon as other than Mexico. That means from the Middle East region.


KING: With me today to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace with "The Associated Press," Sahil Kapur with "Bloomberg," "Times" Molly Ball, and Politico's Eliana Johnson.

The vice president of the United States there twisting or taking out of context government statistics, just like the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders did yesterday. If you call the Department of Homeland Security or other intelligence agencies and say, do you have evidence there are terrorists, ISIS sympathizers, in this caravan, they either say no or we'll get back to you. What is that?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Oh, well that is -- it's pretty blatant what the president and the vice president are doing here. They are trying to play on fears that Trump's base has of terrorists. They're trying to play on fears that even beyond that, that Trump's base has people of Middle Eastern descent. I mean implicit in what he is saying is that if you are Middle Eastern, you are somehow bad, you are something -- someone to be scared of and that they are -- people from the Middle East are rushing across the border as part of this caravan. It's not a secret I think what their strategy is here. But as you said, it is not based in any fact. It is not based in any statistics that we have. People who are on the ground traveling with the caravan have no evidence to back up what they're doing, but I do think it's very strategic on the part of this president and the vice president. They know that this does resonate with Trump's base, regardless of whether it is factual or not.

[12:05:23] ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "POLITICO": Yes, I mean this is the president turning back to the issues that won him the 2016 election. This is Mexican rapists. This is the Muslim ban. And the president is not a tremendously versatile politicians, but he knows what works for him. And he knows this was tremendously effective in 2016. He's going back to it for the midterms.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": It's a smorgasbord here of distortions and misstatements and falsehoods and lies. And it's become a repository here, all the things that you should be afraid of. He talked about MS-13, he talked about gang members, he talked about middle easterners, he talked about terrorists.

One thing I do want to tackle, he's connecting this whole thing to illegal immigration, which is not really what it is. These are people who, by all indications, want to come here and ask for asylum. They're allowed to do that under the law. That's a very different thing than people who are coming here illegally, which, by the way, the population has been flat, about 11 million for a decade. That has not changed regardless of what the president has been saying.

Asylum seekers, by the way, have gone up. From -- in 2007 there were about 5,000 of them. There are about 92,000 of them in 2016. So that's a real issue there. But most of them don't get approval for the asylum claims. This is a genuine issue about the parameters of legal immigration. But the president's turning it into something that it is not.

KING: Yes, I was going to say, you just had a thoughtful, fact-filled presentation on what could happen, will happen when these people get to the border and apply. Those who try to get into the country legally.

That's not what the president' doing. Instead, the president is saying, they're gang members. There could be Middle Eastern terrorist there, too. Number one and number two, those are both lies, or at least -- there -- is it possible there are a few gang members in there? Yes. Defend our border, right? Just defend our border. You find those people when they apply for applications. And they're days away and the president makes it seem like they're banging on the door.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": Well, look, I mean, it has been said a lot that this is an appeal to the president's base and this is something that works for him. I don't think we know that yet. It is just as possible that this inspires more people to vote against the president than it does to vote for him. The president believes on a deep level that these are the issues that resonate with his voters, but do they resonate with the entire midterm electorate? Do they motivate the Republican base more than others? We don't actually know that yet and we'll find out in a couple weeks.

PACE: But I think it does speak to what the strategy for Republicans kind of has to be at this point.

KING: Right.

PACE: Yes, we have seen post-Kavanaugh a tightening certainly on the Senate side and a bit on the House side, but Republican strategists that I've talked to say the one group they have not seen move is college educated women in the suburbs.

KING: Right.

PACE: That group is gone for Republicans. So if they are going to offset the loss of that group in this midterms, it is going to be by energizing Trump's base. And to Eliana's point, he -- Trump knows the playbook for doing that.

KING: The other choice, he's taking the dark path. What about record low unemployment? What about a booming economy. You could -- you could try to make the case that the president has a positive case to make, but he has not tried to make it. The latest part of this, we just talked about what -- frankly it's race baiting when it comes to the caravan, trying to scare people, is this mythical tax cut. A few days ago the president said Congress was coming back. The middle class was going to get a tax cut even before the November election. Uh-huh. He's changed that story a little bit now in the election, on the campaign trail, saying, it's in process and it's going to come soon.

Listen to Larry Kudlow, the president's economic adviser, saying, we're working on it.


LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Regarding the president's new proposal, 10 percent reduction for middle class families, that's doable. We're just working through it.

Do we want to go further? More tax reform? Let's wait and see. We're working on it. And it may not surface for a while, but that's his goal. That's his policy intent. And I don't see anything wrong with that.


KING: He doesn't see anything wrong with lying to people. I'm sorry, the president flat out lied saying Congress was working on a plan and they were coming back before the election. He gets caught in the lie, he changes his story again and says we're going to get to it eventually.

You spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill. If the current Congress -- the current Congress were in session today, could they pass a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class? Could they pay for it? Could they find the votes?

KAPUR: No. No, no, and no. They could maybe pass it through the House. It's going nowhere in the Senate. They don't have 60 votes in the Senate. They have 51, and Democrats are not going to be on board with this.

But this whole thing is a recognition that the president recognizes that the economy, the good economy, is not going to save his party in the midterm elections. They didn't save the Democrats in 2014. They didn't save the Democrats in 1994. The economy is mostly irrelevant. And it's also a recognition of the fact that the tax law, which was their signature achievement, supposed to be the one thing that they talked about consistently and carried through to the midterm elections, has been a political flop. Republican super PACs are not running ads on it. Less than a fifth of the Paul Ryan super PAC ads, which are the biggest spender, has been about the tax law. They recognize this is not working and they are also turning to the same issues President Trump has turned to.

KING: And so this one -- I don't know whether this makes you laugh, cry or whatever, but this is Anthony Scaramucci, the president's advisers, his former communications director, says, you know, reporters keep calling out the president on misstatements, they call him out on lies. Anthony Scaramucci says he's saying, it worked in 2016, get over it.

[12:10:08] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: When you guys are upset about it and you're listing all the lies and you're trying to explain that you can't get a tax cut done in 10 days, people are almost -- almost happy about the fact that he is a wrecking ball inside of Washington and smashing into the establishment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But shouldn't -- but shouldn't --

SCARAMUCCI: If you want to beat the president, it -- exposing his lies or explaining them to people, that's probably not going to beat the president. There's symbolism here. You can call out the lying, but it's like literally Teflon in a frying pan.


KING: Just -- you listen to that, it is stunning. He does not dispute the president is lying. He actually says on several occasions the president's lying. The president thinks you're stupid. The president thinks people are stupid.

BALL: Well, the president thinks people don't care. And he is correct that plenty -- a lot of -- I would venture that the majority of the electorate in 2016 did not think that then private citizen Donald Trump was a mostly truthful person and many of them voted for him anyway. So I do think it is baked into the character and temperament assessment that people have already made of this president, that he has a very loose relationship with the truth and that he like -- and another thing that he did in 2016 also was promise the moon and the stars without regard for whether it was actually doable. Promise one thing to these people and the opposite thing to these people and then everybody believes that he's on their side because he literally promised contradictory and impossible things.

And he's never had a problem with that. And he has always bet, probably correctly, that the American people are so cynical about politics and politicians that they just believe that everybody lies and all that matters is how it makes you feel.

JOHNSON: Yes, I think --

KING: Or, as he likes to put it, he's president and you're not.

I'm sorry.

JOHNSON: Yes. No, I think Molly's exactly right. And I don't think Anthony Scaramucci is wrong. I think -- I don't think most voters thought Donald Trump was truthful. And when you see focus groups of Trump voters, they think he's dishonest, they think he's unethical, but they do like that he knocks other politicians in the teeth and they, I think, appreciate his attitude, even though, you know, they think he's a relatively disgusting person.

KAPUR: And it helped him in 2016 because his Democratic opponent was also scored as dishonest and untrustworthy widely in the polls.

KING: Right.

KAPUR: This time he doesn't have that clear one to one foil.

KING: Right.

KAPUR: So I do wonder if voters will react differently.

KING: He has the title now. He did not have the title. Hillary Clinton was the Washington insider. Now the president has the title. We shall see.

Up next, Kamala Harris makes her -- takes her midterm message to the Midwest.

But first, new digital ad from the McCain Institute on the importance of voting in the upcoming midterms with a familiar voice.


JOHN MCCAIN (R), FORMER ARIZONA SENATOR: We stand for truth against falsehood, freedom against tyranny, right against injustice, hope against despair.

I believe we must always stand up for it. For if we do not, who will?



[12:16:55] KING: Welcome back.

Iowa among the states with early voting and Senator Kamala Harris is there today urging Democrats to head to the polls. It's a 2018 trip, but also a 2020 test run.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: We know the stakes are high. We know elections matter. Because, you know, hey, don't hate the player, hate the game.

If you're not going to vote for our health care and health care for everybody, we're going to vote you out of office.

Oh, you look at the unemployment numbers. Well, yes, OK, people are working. They're working two and three jobs to pay their bills. The economy ain't working for working people.


KING: CNN's Maeve Reston is in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where Harris has an early voting rally this afternoon.

And, Maeve, I think we've got the senator right behind you there. She's trying to make a big first impression. How's it going?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it's been going really well so far. Obviously she's speaking behind me to a small group of voter that have gathered here to talk to her about early vote and their concerns. She's really gotten kind of a rock star reception last night in Des Moines. You could really feel that electricity among about 500 people who showed up to see her. At the end of that event, they were just like moving towards her in a human crush. So a lot of love for her here in Iowa.

Obviously a lot of the other candidates have been coming through as well. Julian Castro, Cory Booker and there's been a warm response for them as well. But some of the local officials here were telling me that they haven't seen any reception for any of them like that yet.


KING: Maeve Reston out in Cedar Falls. We're going to let you watch the event. Maeve, enjoy. Keep in touch with us.

To bring it in the room now.

One of about 50 potential Democratic candidates for president. This is a time-honored ritual, get out in the cycle before 2020.

It is -- this is an interesting candidate to watch, though, in the sense that you have an African-American freshman senator trying to make a good impression in Iowa, like Barack Obama did a decade ago. She has a seasoned political team. They're trying to -- they're moving up the California primary. They'll start early voting in California in 2020 about when Iowa is voting. Some of these others are still thinking about it. There -- she's more than thinking about it.

BALL: Well, obviously. But -- but, you know, this is the road test, right?

KING: Right.

BALL: Because all of those things that you mentioned, those matter. Those are only on paper.

KING: Right.

BALL: And what the voters want to know is, what's she actually like. And that's going to be the case for all of these candidates. They need to be road tested.

Kamala Harris has a lot of fans in the Democratic base, but very few of them have ever seen her outside the context of a committee hearing. They what to know, what is she like when she's giving a speech? Does she inspire me? Does she have a platform that resonates with me? And so all of those things -- I mean I was thinking back to Anthony Scaramucci's break -- point before the break, right, we're not in the business of beating Trump. That's the Democrats that want to do that. But he's saying, if you want to beat Trump, don't just stand there calling him a liar. And he's probably right about that. And you're going to see these Democratic candidates try different messages to go up against Trump and to convince their voters that they are the best to take on Trump because what's going to matter to that Democratic base more than absolutely anything is, can you win?

[12:20:07] KAPUR: And one of the reasons I think Kamala Harris is someone to watch is that the combination of progressives and minorities have been very formidable I think in Democratic primaries starting with the, you know, the election -- the nomination and the election of Barack Obama a decade ago. But this year they've had major victories with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex in New York, Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts. On the governor level, Stacy Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida. It's a powerful -- it's a powerful force and I think a lot of Democrats are thinking, you've nominated a bunch of white candidates in previous elections. It hasn't worked out so well. Maybe they'll be thinking about it differently.

On an issue level, I think it's going to be very difficult for any Democrat on that stage to claim the mantle of economic populism when Elizabeth Warren is there. This is her bailiwick. She's been writing books about income inequality and the shrinking middle class for decades. I know because I was assigned one of them in college. But Kamala Harris' lane is going to be, I think she can be formidable on social justice issues. That is things like civil rights, criminal justice, the treatment of immigrants. She has a record as a prosecution in California. I think that's going to be studied closely for the strengths, for her accomplishments. And people on the left will talk about, you know, criticism in terms of whether banks, for instance, will let off too easy if the foreclosure crisis. KING: Right. And to the point -- to the can you win point, especially

against Trump, who, if Democrats haven't figured it out, you may not like him, he's formidable, he knows -- he knows what he's doing, whether you agree or disagree with it.

Let's listen just to a little bit. This is Kamala Harris last night essentially testing a theme that you're likely to hear a lot more of.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: This is a moment in time that is requiring each of us, and collectively as a country, to look in a mirror and ask a question. And that question is, who are we? And I believe that part of the answer to that question is, we are better than this. We are better than this.


KING: You know, the incumbent president just last night saying I am a nationalist. Democrats are trying to figure out, how do you counter that? And, again, they're -- I don't say this dismissively, but there are likely to be -- there are 40 or 50 of them thinking about it. Twenty of them may actually end up running in the end. And that's the competition.

PACE: Yes, I think what is going to be challenging for Democrats is that what you heard Harris say there, what you hear Cory Booker and others say actually isn't that different than what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were saying in 2016. Now, was Clinton a perfect messenger? Certainly not. But can they just go back to that message? Do they have to just do sort of an anti-Trump message? I'm not sure that works.

I do think -- and some of this will play out in the course of a primary -- that Democrats are still searching for what their proactive message is, what does the party represent, what do you get if you defeat Trump. That, I think, is going to be a challenge for all of these potential candidates.

KING: And they'll have a -- go ahead.

JOHNSON: Oh, no, I just think that -- that goes back to the point that these candidates can be very qualified on paper, but that message can resonate differently based on the personal qualities of the candidate, which we can often overlook because Hillary Clinton was eminently qualify, Barack Obama may have been unqualified, but those messages resonated very differently.

And Donald Trump is a case in point because he was dismissed, you know, starting when he came down that escalator in Trump Tower, he is the most traditionally unqualified president in the nation's history and yet when he started going out and giving campaign rallies, he got a completely -- a reception that was complexly unexpected by, you know, establish forces from think tankers, to reporters, to academics. And it carried him to the presidency. KING: A combined 194 years of elected experience in that Republican

field Donald Trump beats. So you're exactly right. Just don't think -- don't think the rules apply or don't think what you think today is going to play out tomorrow.

Coming up for us next, President Trump said to be feeling angry with the Saudis, skeptical of the Turks. Where will he land as the investigation of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi continues?


[12:28:28] KING: Welcome back.

President Trump now telling aides he feels betrayed by Saudi Arabia and today he's also hearing new allegations that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was the murder of a brutal premeditated plot in the Saudi consulate.

Turkey's president, a fellow NATO ally, is emphatic today, rejects claims from Saudi Arabia that Khashoggi was killed accidentally. Among the evidence, President Erdogan claims the Saudis disconnected security cameras the day of Khashoggi's appointment at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Turkish president saying any attempt to cover up what really happened is an insult to the conscious of humanity.

Listen today to Vice President Mike Pence. The Saudis say one thing. The Turks say another. The vice president insists the United States wants the truth.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The word from President Erdogan this morning that this brutal murder was premeditated, preplanned days in advance, flies in the face of earlier assertions that had been made by the Saudi regime. And again it underscores the determination of our administration to find out what happened here. The world is watching. The American people want answers. And we'll demand that those answers are forth coming.


KING: That from the vice president seems to me a lot more focused, concentrated, cautious, they say this, they say this, we're going to get to the truth, then the president, who's been all over the place.

[12:29:54] PACE: That seems a little bit more like what you would expect to hear from the administration from an American administration, and it does speak to the fact that there are so many different versions of events here. I mean the Saudis have been changing their versions of events going from sort of, we have -- we know nothing about this to, this was a fist fight over the last couple of weeks.