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Pelosi Could Claim 40 New House Seats for Democrats; O'Rourke Changes Tune on Possible White House Run; Trump: Search for AG is Going Well But Whitaker is Tremendous; Trump Denies Tear Gas Used on Child Migrants. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired November 27, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She knows what she's doing, she's done this before. And she's damn effective at what she's trying to do right now.

And when you separate the fact from tomorrow's votes pretty much a sure thing and then she'll have another four, five, six weeks to work. Take a look at what's happen the last five or six days, two or three of the people who signed the letter opposing her have dropped off or gotten squishy. People have tried to start negotiating. People are looking around right now with the other rebels and saying is that person talking to her, is that person trying to negotiate.

I'm not saying it's not a done deal. It's not a done deal yet but she's done this before, it's not her first rodeo. Money should be when you talk to Democrats on Nancy Pelosi.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And I want to put up on the screen. This is not so much about the names. This will be confusing. These are the 30 people who right now have not pledged to vote. Thirty House Democrats who've not pledged to vote for Nancy Pelosi.

We have them in three groups. Freshmen, newly elected members who ran saying we need to change the party. Some specifically saying Pelosi has to go. Others just saying we need change in the party.

There are some party rebels who've been around sometimes for a few years, sometimes longer who just don't like Nancy Pelosi for whatever reason. It's some of its ambition, some of its ideology. And then there's what called the problem solvers caucus. They want some new rules in the House to make it easier to bring legislation up and the like.

So there is what you're watching. Just -- I'm going to put myself in Nancy Pelosi's shoes tomorrow when you walk into this meeting. Your beef was that I was the problem. We won 40 seats.


KING: We won 40 seats. Nobody -- if we went back six months and said what's the ceiling for Democrats? Forty, 42 is as high as anyone gave you. So they got where -- they got about as far as anyone thought they could get, what's the argument against Nancy Pelosi? BASH: There are few things. That's the first argument.

KING: Yes.

BASH: Like really? We won 40 seats and you're blaming me?

KING: Because they -- Republicans said they would run all these ads about Nancy Pelosi and all these Democrats would lose.

BASH: Bingo.

KING: Hello?

BASH: Exactly. I mean, that's primary number one argument that she should, would, and is making. And -- then there's the gender argument. And I have -- I wonder if you guys sense this as well.

I sensed a little bit of backlash and it (INAUDIBLE) tails off of the argument that you just made which is, why are we saying that she needs to go. When if you're not hearing that about some of the male leaders in the Senate side who did lose seats, and why are you saying this when you have an overwhelming historic number of women. You're taking away the first House -- female House speaker, the only House speaker who is a woman who wants to do it again?

And then the last argument is the whole notion that you just made is, she has proven that she's been effective and people are starting to realize who else do they want to be the person to go toe to toe, head to head with the president of the United States. They can't think of anybody who could be more effective.

KING: And strong women unnerve the president too. It's a fact.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And that's a big part of the problem. The big gearing -- glaring obvious thing here is no one is running against her. There is nobody who stepped up to actually run against her. And I think -- I believe the stages of the wire has some good advice which I think sort of underscores a lot of what's happening here if you come at the king, you best not miss.

So I think she's a really powerful figure in Washington. As you point out, she knows how to count her votes, she knows how to wrangle those votes. And it does not seem like there's anyone else in the caucus who feels that they right now at least could have that kind of pull (INAUDIBLE) quite about it.

KING: If you're an opponent, you have to go into this meeting tomorrow knowing it's going to be a Nancy love fest. Knowing she's probably going to have claimed 40 by then if these other two races gets called. And so your strategy is to what, keep 20, 25 people at least undecided? Let's at least have leverage?

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: Well, they're back into a corner because they don't have a challenger and last week was a good week for Pelosi because Marcia Fudge who was the leading contender to be that challenger dropped out and endorsed her. You people like Brian Higgins who were on that letter who flipped. You had President Obama showering praise on Pelosi. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez said she's with her because there's no more progressive opposition.

I think for someone like here the fact that she's a woman and -- you know, I think that weighs in as well. But one thing to watch for in the caucus meeting tomorrow is whether some of these freshmen who campaigned abstractly on generational change vote no on Pelosi in caucus because there's no question as you point out Phil that she's going to have the majority to be the nominee.

And then on the floor, on January 3rd, say, it's her or Republican. I'm not going to hand it over to Kevin McCarthy. I think some of them are (INAUDIBLE).

KING: (INAUDIBLE) say, I voted against her, but that when -- that's an excellent point. We'll keep an eye on that (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: Well done on the wire reference. We want some more of Pelosi (INAUDIBLE). I didn't want that to go unnoticed.

KING: And close this conversation on a more somber note as we go to break. The U.S. Military says three American service members killed in an improvised explosive attack in Afghanistan, making this the deadliest day for U.S. forces in ground combat in Afghanistan since December of 2015. Today's attack left three other service members wounded along with the U.S. contractor.

Twelve Americans have died in Afghanistan this year including Sergeant Leandro Jasso of Leavenworth, Washington. You see there the 25-year- old army ranger killed over the weekend. A long-time friend telling Stars and Stripes Sergeant Jasso was doing what he loved and always wanted to do to go and save people.


[12:39:30] KING: Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke of Texas now rethinking what he said about not running for president in 2020. You remember Beto O'Rourke lost his Senate bid to Republican Ted Cruz in Texas. He said repeatedly then he would stay out of the 2020 White House race.

Well, he's been just asked about it again and here's what he said.


REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D), TEXAS: Obviously, you know, really interested in the direction this country takes. I want to be as effective as I can and making sure that it goes in a positive direction.

[12:40:01] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's fair to say that that's a different answer than the one you gave during the campaign when you ruled out running for president all together.

O'ROURKE: Yes. Yes, it is. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Well, what's with the yes? What's with the yes, it is? He seems a little anguished.

BASH: He told me in a town hall that we did with him before the election that he was going to go home to El Paso. I guess what he meant was on his way to Iowa.

LERER: I mean, look, join the club. There's 17,000, 20,000 Democrats running for president in years. Someone who's -- in early polling pretty high up like he -- why wouldn't you? Why would you rule it out?

KING: Hope he can raise a boatload of dimes.

KAPUR: One of the lessons of the last couple of decades in presidential politics is do not wait. The country likes fresh faces. It does not value political experience.

Trump, Obama, and Bush became presidents. Clinton, Romney, McCain, Kerry, Gore did not. That is an important lesson. I think that -- I suspect Beto is taking on anything President Obama showering praise on him saying that he was authentic and that, you know, he wasn't poll tested. Things like that probably weigh on Beto.

KING: Young guns. Wait, that's been taken. (INAUDIBLE) documentary title for the Democrat primaries of 2020. We'll see where we go.

Up next, new Republican complaints about a game of hurry up and wait. As Trump nemesis, the former FBI Director James Comey, some carefully chosen words here of the current acting attorney general.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To what extent do you think can he derail the special investigation?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I think it's a worry, but to my mind not a serious worry. He may not be the sharpest knife in our drawer, but he can see his future and knows that if he acted in an extra legal way, he would go down in history for the wrong reasons. And I'm sure he doesn't want that.


[12:45:48] KING: Welcome back.

Matthew Whitaker about to hit the three-week mark as acting attorney general. And it's not just Democrats worried about how long he will be on the job. This, directed to the president from one of the Senate senior Republicans, Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Quote, how long does it take for you to make up your mind for who you want to be attorney general? That from Chuck Grassley. The president though seems in no rush. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How's the attorney general search going?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going well. It's going well. In the meantime we have somebody that's a very good man, Matt Whitaker. But we're looking at some people and I and a lot of other people by the way have tremendous confidence in the meantime of Matt Whitaker. He's a tremendous person.


KING: It doesn't take a rocket scientist. The president is not in a hurry. He's not at all in a hurray here. Even though that's interesting, Chuck Grassley -- Matthew Whitaker is from Iowa. That's his senior senator saying, get out.

MATTINGLY: There's some back story there between the two of them I've been told. I think there's a couple of things here. One, when he talked to senators on the Hill, they're not necessarily itching to have a confirmation fight right now and they're recognizing it wouldn't happen probably until the next Congress anyway. But there is a recognition that having a Senate-confirmed appointee is far more powerful and carries a lot more weight than having somebody who's not.

I think there are also some concerns about how Matt Whitaker got to the job and some of Matt Whitaker's resume is whether or not that is enough for somebody that's a top law enforcement official. And, to be honest, when you talk to senators and some members of the Republican House too, they all had people they want to have the position that they've sent over to the White House and said this guy would be great, this guy would represent our interests the best. Let's start moving at it.

And the fact that my understanding is they haven't gotten barely any response from the White House as to whether those candidates are in play or whether or not they might be a possible pick has been frustrating to people who believe they should be listened to (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: And they're not so far-fetched conspiracy theory by most Democrats is that the president is not in a rush to have a formal nominee who presumably would not be Whitaker is because he wants Whitaker there because he is now in-charge of the Mueller investigation.

KING: And thinks he's loyal.

BASH: Full stop. And thinks he's loyal.

KING: Because the president has made no question about what he believes an attorney general supposed to do. Job one in the president's view which is why he didn't like Jeff Sessions is the attorney general is supposed to protect the president. That's not what the constitution says, it's not the job description is but that's what the president thinks. LERER: Right. And look, this was not like a surprise, Sessions stepping down. This was something that was clearly planned out far in advance that this was going to happen after the midterms.

MATTINGLY: Glitter blaring neon signs I think.

LERER: Right.

MATTINGLY: He will no longer be an attorney general.

LERER: So, I mean, you have to -- this -- you have to either this is just disorganization at the White House which is always a clear possibility, or it's strategic. I mean, those seem like the only two options here because it seems somewhat inconceivable that the president would still be deciding when he knew this was coming for so many months. Everyone knew this was coming for many months.

KING: And most presidents are ready. Most presidents when they wait to fire somebody or force them out until they have somebody. Not this president.

LERER: Generally the standard.

KAPUR: And he of course has reason to believe that Whitaker is loyal because Whitaker has been very vocal in his criticism of the Mueller investigation. He's even suggested strangling of resources that you don't actually have to shut it down in some very crafty creative way, you know, to think about shutting it down. If you want to do it kind of undercover of darkness.

But I also do think and this is not getting enough attention if Whitaker does stay in that position, his positions on the Affordable Care Act as it relates to legality and the court is going to come into play. He has argued that it should be struck down, that it's unconstitutional. He has said new deal era jurisprudence that established the federal government's ability to regulate interstate commerce is wrong and that basically it would involve going back to the Lochner era where things like child labor and minimum wage and federal laws were unconstitutional.

These are huge things. And as AG he has -- he oversees the whole set of general who argues before the Supreme Court.

KING: We will watch it play out. Chuck Grassley wants him to go, we'll see how long the president wants him to stay.

And just a reminder, we're waiting for a press briefing, I'll say those words again, waiting for a press briefing to begin at the White House. It's a very rare event.

Up next, we'll go over the very lengthy list of things Sarah Sanders is probably preparing for right now.


[12:54:20] KING: Quick update on one of the outstanding House races we talked about a bit earlier. New Mexico has now officially certified the results in the race for its second congressional district. CNN can now say Democrat Xochitl Torres Small has defeated her Republican opponent Yvette Herrell.

This win means Democrats as of now have a net gain of 39 seats in the House. There's still one race remains undecided, that's California's 21st district and the Democrat has pulled ahead there. So Democrats could get to 40. We'll keep an eye on that.

Any moment now, we'll take you to the White House for what has become an incredibly rare event. Sarah Huckabee Sanders giving a White House press briefing. Her boss, the president spent the last few days giving reporters plenty to ask about. Including this recap of what he says happened at the U.S.-Mexico border over the weekend.


[12:55:04] TRUMP: We had tremendous violence. Three border patrol people yesterday were very badly hurt through getting hit with rocks and stones.


KING: Very badly hurt the president says. The agency in charge of the border, Customs of Border Protection says, that's overstating it. It says the agents at the border were wearing tactical helmets, shields, and bulletproof vests. Quote, four agents were hit with rocks but we're wearing protective gear and did not suffer serious injuries.

Consider that one of many questions we expect for Sarah Sanders to say, number one, give her credit, this has become an increasingly rare event, this is part of her job to go out and take questions from reporters but for the American people. That's the part they get lost (INAUDIBLE) people don't like Washington. But the president has, shall we say, given her a long list to prepare for.

BASH: I wouldn't even know where to start if I was sitting in that briefing room because there are so many questions. That's one. The other is the president said in a quick gaggle yesterday before he got on the helicopter that the kids weren't tear-gassed at the border.

KING: Let's listen to that action. Let's listen to that. This is the president yesterday asked this question.



TRUMP: We didn't. We don't use that.

First of all, the tear gas is a very minor form of the tear gas itself. It's very safe. The ones that were suffering to a certain extent were the people that we're putting it out there. But it's very safe. But you really say why is a parent running up into an area where they know that tear gas is forming and it's going to be formed and they're running up with a child?


KING: That's from the president. I just want to share a little bit of reporting from our own Leyla Santiago who's on the scene.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She said she was holding her child like pretty much like her child had fainted from the gas.


KING: You see children here. And I'm going to defend the Customs of Border Patrol people if they thought they needed to use tear gas, they use tear gas. It is unfortunate that there are other people there. Obviously you're aiming at the people who are charging you. Other people are there.

But for the president to say a, it didn't happened, and b, it's a very mild form of tear gas. The agency says there's one -- they have one kind of tear gas.

BASH: What does even mean?

KING: Yes, let's -- well, it means he's trying to talk his way out of something is what it means.

LERER: So he -- I mean, look, if the election is any indication, he could be successful. I was at a Ted Cruz rally in Texas two days before the election and the -- a lot of the voters there were telling we all know the caravan is here, it's not -- they're not 800 miles from the border, they're here, they're in Texas already which we know was like not true at all. But it was part of what the president was pushing.

So, you know, I think he feels fairly confident that he can make up his own facts. And that's why a briefing is important.

KAPUR: And some of it is a trend as well where the president wants to -- you know, he talks about himself as being the top president, he want to be the person who cracks down on immigration and does what previous presidents didn't. But that does have some harsh consequences. And when this comes up, he doesn't always like to own them.

And the family separation policy is another example of that. He's been saying in recent days that it's the same thing that the previous two administrations did which is not true. When people cross the border under President Obama or President Bush and it was a mother who seemed non-threatening, had a young kid, they didn't necessarily require that the mother goes to be incarcerated which requires separating the kid. They had family detention centers. They had what's now called catch and release where, you know, you give them a court date to show up. They had work rounds on this. President Trump wants to be the tough president on this but it involves some difficult, harsh, unpleasant things.

KING: And he's the president, he's the president in a time government agencies just issued a report about climate change that is should knock your head back. Maybe you don't believe it, well, read it and find a way to rebut it. But if you're the president of the United States and your own agency just issues a report that says, five-alarm fire or 10-alarm fire or 20-alarm fire for the United States and the world, you would think you'd express some urgency about it. But.



TRUMP: I've seen it, I've read some of it and it's fine.


TRUMP: Yes, I don't believe it. No, no. I don't believe it.


KING: No, I don't believe it.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Look, you're almost speechless. It's irresponsible, right? As the leader of the free world, as the leader of the country, when these people inside your government, they're putting out a report like this, it's irresponsible. You can make economic arguments against why cap and trade isn't something that would be effective for the policy, why you don't believe the Paris climate agreement should exist because of the economic impact it could have on U.S. corporations.

But making arguments against the science, making arguments against the report, I would argue this, at least try and make the argument, right? If you think you have an argument, if you think you have grounds, if you think the science is wrong, if you think your own agencies are incorrect, make the argument.

KING: That's right.

LERER: So you're also undermining your own government in a way and undermining our institutions.

KING: How about, really read it not just take a look at it? How about really reading it?

Thanks for joining us on the INSIDE POLITICS. Good luck, Sarah Sanders. The White House briefing set to begin in any moment. Brianna Keilar will bring you that. She starts right now.

Have a great day.