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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Facing Criticism Over Lack Of War Zone Visits; A Parting Shot From The Outgoing GOP Chairman Of The House Judiciary Committee, Subpoenas For Former Fbi Director James Comey And Former AG, Loretta Lynch; The Revolt Against Nancy Pelosi Seems To Be Losing Steam With Yet Another Democrat From The Anti-Pelosi Camp Now Planning To Support Her Bid For House Speaker. Aired: 12:30-1:00p ET

Aired November 22, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will see you back when you are in the United States or maybe I will even see you over there. You never know what's going to happen.

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NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, ANCHOR, CNN: CNN military analyst retired Rear Admiral John Kirby joins us now, and I just want to go straight to you on this. This is a president who often talks about how much he has done for the military, how much he has done for veterans. So why hasn't he visited the troops in a war zone at this point?

JOHN KIRBY, RETIRED REAR ADMIRAL: It's difficult to know the answer to that. Some people are saying it's because he is concerned about security threats, some people say it's because he is not all that a fan of the missions we're doing over there. He's argued to get out of Iraq. He's argued to get out of Afghanistan and he doesn't want to be physically tangibly associated with those missions.

Regardless, he's the Commander-in-Chief. And whether you like the missions or not that you inherited, they are yours now to command and to lead and you have an obligation to show the troops that you care about what they're doing over there.

HENDERSON: And there are security concerns as you talked about and this is what Secretary Mattis has said about possible visits. "The President is the Commander-in-Chief and he decides where he needs to go. There are times I don't want him in certain locations to be frank with you, for security and the troops' security, so don't worry about that. There is places that I have been very straight forward. I don't want him to go at certain times." So that's one - that's obviously an assessment there of the security situation, but one question is, he could also possibly visit the troops on the southern border. This is his mission in a lot of ways. Something that he feels is important there to guard against the invasion that he calls coming up on the southern border. He could go there, Margaret.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: This is like apples and oranges. It's a completely different discussion, right? I mean, one is do you go to a place where there is a war and talk to the people who have been supporting the US mission. The other is, do you go to a venue that is like sort of ground zero for your domestic political argument and your base, a place where you are in a controversial fashion utilizing the US military? So I think that kind of a visit is just all about something completely different in any case in any context.

HENDRESON: And if you look at the troops that are deployed and oftentimes, Americans don't necessarily think about these troops in the way we should. The southern border, 5,900 there. Afghanistan, 14,000. Africa, 7, 200. Iraq 5,200. Syria 2,000. And we know that the President also has talked about the troops on the southern border being able to use lethal force at this point because you've got the Pentagon essentially saying nothing has changed with his mission.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes, the President has really sought to use the southern border and the military that has sent down to make this security argument on the border which is an argument he continues to make as a key pitch to his base, to his voters that US security and immigration is a real threat.

And you saw him really escalate the argument during the midterms. He's tapered off a little bit since then. He has moved on to other topics, Mueller and other things, but that's something we really saw him talk a lot about and we're going to continue to see him talk about it, it's going to be a big argument for him going to 2020 as well.

TALEV: And rhetorically, we are seeing him test the message of likening immigrants to the terrorists, which is a big departure from standard US policy. And I think again, this is an issue where the President is testing a message to test the institutions to see what the response will be.

LUCEY: It also speaks to criticism the President has faced over politicizing the military, the question he faced during the campaign, during the midterm campaigns was that he was using these troops.

HENDERSON: And this was General Dunford on that very thing. Troops and politics.

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JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We do have a very strong nonpartisan, apolitical ethos in the US military and I view one of my more important responsibilities as the Chairman as being the steward of that ethos. And I'm very proud of our men and women over the past couple of years during a very contentious political period in our history that the institution has remained apolitical and nonpartisan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: Kirby, we did see the President today give what was essentially a political speech to troops.

KIRBY: It was completely inappropriate. I mean, all he needed to say was, "Thanks to you and your families. I support your mission and I am going to continue to support it going forward." Very simple. That's all he really needed to say, but he found a way to inject judicial court decisions, things he doesn't like on immigration and trade deals he finds unfair. Not a good place to put the troops.

They are not an extension of the MAGA crowd. They are not an arm of the Republican Party as Chairman Dunford said very clearly, it's an apolitical institution that defends and supports the Constitution and that's where it should have stayed.

HENDERSON: In some way, the call today for some people might be an argument for why the President maybe shouldn't.

KIRBY: I think it very much is. Look, there was a part of me was happy he didn't go to Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day.

[12:35:01]

KIRBY: It seems like he just can't be around us without politicizing the event. And then as an extension of it, and so there's also a little part of me that kind of doesn't want to see him go to the war zones. Yes, it's an obligation, but I worry that it will end up being like today's call. He will just end up politicizing it - them and the mission and that's again completely inappropriate.

HENDERSON: We will keep an eye on that. Next, a parting shot from the outgoing GOP Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, subpoenas for former FBI Director James Comey and former AG, Loretta Lynch.

[12:40:00]

HENDERSON: Topping our political radar today, former FBI director James Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch got Thanksgiving Eve subpoenas. House Republicans are requesting private depositions for their investigation into FBI actions during the 2016 presidential campaign. Comey tweeted that he is happy to answer questions, but will fight a closed door appearance because quote, "I have seen enough of their selective leaking and distortion. Let's have a hearing and invite everyone to see."

President Trump said his Thanksgiving holiday in Mar-a-Lago is a working vacation. He told reporters he would be spending some time talking to potential candidates for Cabinet positions. He didn't say who might be leaving the Cabinet or who would be visiting for interviews, but that quote, "Everyone who leaves the Trump administration has come out really well."

The revolt against Nancy Pelosi seems to be losing steam with yet another Democrat from the anti-Pelosi camp now planning to support her bid for House Speaker. A New York Congressman, Brian Higgins, one of 16 Democrats who signed a letter opposing Pelosi says he has changed his mind, here is why.

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BRIAN HIGGINS, US CONGRESSMAN, NEW YORK, DEMOCRAT: There will be a new speaker sooner rather than later, but the reality is you can't oppose somebody without an alternative candidate. There is no alternative candidate. If you want to run for speaker, stand up and announce your candidacy and advance the argument as to why people should support you. There is nobody to do that right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: Ron, I'm going to go to you. The subpoenas for Comey and Lynch at this point, is this something that we are actually going to see them coming before Congress? Closed door? What's your sense of this and why is it happening at this point?

RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Yes, I've got to think they are going to fight it and try to run out the clock on the Republicans. We will see if they can. Look, I think this is very revealing and it goes along with the tweet from Chuck Grassley yesterday, reproaching John Roberts for criticizing President Trump and Lindsey Graham's promises to investigate these same issues if he becomes Chair of the Judiciary Committee next year.

It is again a sign that despite this election, Republicans in Congress are doubling down on locking arms around President Trump even though, Nia, as we talked about in this election, 90% of the voters said they disapproved of Trump voted Democratic. That was the highest share of presidential disapprovers who would have voted for the other party in 1982 - since 1982, but yet all of these signals are that Republicans are going to be in same mode going forward just as Trump is in the same mode going forward.

HENDERSON: And Jeff, if you're President Trump, this idea of bringing Comey, as well as Lynch before Congress probably sounds like a pretty good idea.

JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: No doubt about it. I mean, we certainly know the President's view of James Comey. We've learned this week that he tried to get his own Justice Department to investigate the actions of James Comey. We also know that the firing of James Comey is front and center in any type of obstruction inquiry that the special counsel's office is looking at.

So the President would like nothing more than that. But as Ron said, time is running out, the clock is running out here. Republicans and House members have just a few more pebbles of sand in the hour glass or whatever metaphor you want to use before they relinquish control to Democrats and we know that the House of Representatives hardly is working all 31 days of December here.

So I do think the idea of this ever happening behind closed doors is likely not to happen, but that doesn't mean the Senate will not pick up the baton where they left off in the new year here, but the White House would love to see that. We'll see if it ever happens, but I think that they would fight it and again, this could end up in court.

HENDERSON: Yes, we'll see where this goes. A quick programming note for our viewers. Once you are done enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, especially macaroni and cheese, make sure to watch Tiger Woods in Phil Nicholson's big 18-hole showdown tomorrow afternoon. The only places to see it, "Bleacher Report Live" at pay per view at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be right back.

[12:45:00]

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DAVID AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Do you think if you were on the ballot in 2020 that you would defeat President Trump?

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HENDERSON: Former President Barack Obama having some fun there with CNN's David Axelrod. His interview this week reflects the mood among Democrats. They have a lot to be thankful for coming off of a blue waive that resulted in retaking control of the House, but 2020 poses tough choices and a very crowded field.

The former President also shared what he thinks would be key to his party winning back the White House.

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BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I often times am looking for first and foremost is that you seem to mean it. Being able to sustain that and maintain that in the heat of battle. When the spotlight is on and there is significant risks and you taking that position may lead you to lose this race that you have invested so much in. That's the test I want to see somebody pass.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: And Ron, you've got a great column out on cnn.com and here's in part what you write in that column. "Trump faced pointed erosion in approval of his job performance from a wide range of critical groups in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The exit polls show that in those three states, Trump not only faced surging opposition from college educated white women but also suffered notable attrition among the blue collared white women who were critical to his success there last time." What does that mean for 2020?

[12:50:03]

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, if you look at 2018, Democrats saw a lot of opportunities emerge in the sunbelt in Arizona which they won the Senate seat, in Georgia where they were more competitive and obviously, Texas where they are more competitive, but it's pretty clear I think from the results that the straightest path, the shortest road back to the White House for Democrats after 2018 looks like the three rust belt states that President Trump dislodged from the blue wall in 2016 Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. In all three of them, Democrats not only elected a governor and a senator, but if you look at this exit poll data which we were able to analyze with the help of Edison Research, you see significant erosion for Trump among these key groups. Not only does he have the highest disapproval in those three states

among college white women, that he has in any of the battle ground states, but you also see between 46% and 48% of the blue collared, the non-college white women said they disapprove of his performance and those women were critical for being elected. Now, he will be - he may be tougher when he is on the ballot and can frame the choice, but you would have to say that these results are kind of a red light on the dashboard for Republicans realizing that those states were the critical ones in making him President.

HENDERSON: And it's very much going to be a crowded field in 2020 on the Democrats side, here is Tom Steyer with an ad he might run in 2020. We'll see.

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TOM STEYER, AMERICAN PHILANTHROPIST: I grew up believing the point of our country was to be free. The promise that everyone could make a good life for themselves, but overtime, I saw big corporations buy our democracy. We need to turn this around. We need to redefine what it means to be free in the 21st Century. to make sure we all have the same chance to earn our fair share of America's prosperity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: Catherine, the billionaire against a billionaire in 2020.

LUCEY: Yes, it looks like someplace possible with the new American politics. Tom Steyer is an interesting proposition here. I think you have to take him somewhat seriously given the amount of resources he could put towards it. I wouldn't exactly call him a fire brand. A lot of people thinks you want someone with some fight, a feisty person to take on the President who has such a feisty personality. And he is certainly not that.

I mean other people who are openly considering Michael Bloomberg has said he is looking to make the decision by early next year. He invested heavily in the midterms with Democrats, I think around $110 million he put into races.

But then you also have a lot of younger Democrats in the Senate and elsewhere looking -- you have Cory Booker has been spending a lot of time in Iowa and Kamala Harris. And I think a big story out of the midterms, Ron spoke about the upper Midwest but one of the issues of the midterms I think is that depending on sort of what wing of the Democratic Party or what pitch you have is kind of a choose your own adventure. You can pull any argument out of this. The young progressive, look at these races, you think we needed like a more boring guy in these races. So I think --

HENDERSON: A lot of folk out there. We'll be right back.

[12:55:00]

HENDERSON: In California, local businesses are hosting Thanksgiving for those affected by the Campfire. They are providing meals and comfort as the area gets ready for heavy rains and also mudslides. CNN's Nick Watt is live from Chico. Nick, tell us what's happening there right now.

NICK WATT, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, it's not a particularly happy thanksgiving here, but these guys are doing their best to make it so. We are in the parking lot outside the college here in Chico where we have Guy Fieri, Jose Andres there, they and an army of chef and volunteers are making Thanksgiving dinner for 15,000 people. This turkey has been smoking for hours now. Fourteen thousand, nearly 14,000 homes were destroyed by this fire so there is a lot of hurt, there's a lot of pain here this Thanksgiving, a lot of people will not be in their homes for Thanksgiving.

So they are serving these meals at three places around this area and also delivering some meals to shelters to try to bring a little bit of Thanksgiving cheer. Now, the fire itself is now about 90% contained. The flames are no longer an issue. It's rain - heavy rains last night, more rains scheduled for tonight into Friday, maybe even into Saturday morning and high winds. The winds could knock down trees already damaged the rains could cause mudslides, debris flows and that could get in the way of the ongoing hunt for human remains. Eighty three people already confirmed dead. Now this morning, some places had evacuation orders lifted about an hour ago. People going in to see if there's anything left of their homes, but that town of Paradise where 27,000 people used to live, that is still off limits as searchers still comb through the mud and the ash, looking for the remains of people. Now, still more than 500 people apparently unaccounted for. They will not all be dead, but the death toll right now stands at 83 and the fear is, that that could still rise. Nia.

HENDERSON: Nick Watt, thank you for that report and thanks for joining us on "Inside Politics." Brianna Keilar starts right now.

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