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New Poll: Good News For Trump 2020 and Potential Challengers; First Lady's Rep Fires Back After Condescending Attacks; Sen. Alexander Retirement; Federal Judge in Texas Strikes Down Affordable Care Act; Prison Reform Bill Set For Key Test In Senate. Aired 12:30- 1p ET

Aired December 17, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Two thirds say yes, we'll definitely vote for President Trump in 2020. Three of 10, a little bit of a warning sign but that's still pretty strong number say no.

Here's worth interesting. Iowans cherish their caucuses. They want the candidates to come every four years. Sixty three percent, remember, the most didn't say they're going to vote for President Trump, but, 63 percent say they welcome Trump challengers. They want a debate. They want others other to come into state and challenge him.

Only 26 percent said they would discourage from challengers. So, Iowa Republicans like the President, but they want to kick the tires. They want to have their caucuses be vibrant not just the Democrats in 2020. That question gets asked not only in Iowa, but of the President's sometimes critics here in Washington.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It's always interesting when we have primaries because a lot of times it allows different viewpoints to surface. It can help influence public policy down the road. And it's healthy for our Democracy. And so, it's up to those individuals to decide whether or not they are going to oppose the President. They would probably have an uphill climb since he is the President and he is in office now.


KING: Probably have an uphill climb. This is a significant under statement, shall we say the senator for Maine is being polite there.

But it is interesting. You have a lot of experience from Iowa. I'll start with you. We love him, but kick the tires. Let's say five or six Republicans bother in challenging. That's a what? Defend our caucuses more than be critical to President?

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think that's an entirely Iowa response. They like caucuses. They like competition. I think also if other people do express interest, Iowans are -- I have to say active, you know, so the act of violence are always going to want to see all their options.

I mean, even in since the very last days of, you know, coming into '16 caucuses, people would tell you their top five. You know, they don't like to -- they always be nailed down too early. And I think other thing I would note though is that, it's while Trump won the state in '16 and continues to have a lot of support there. He didn't win the caucuses last go around. Ted Cruz did.

So, there's certainly probably is also a pocket of people who might -- legitimately be interested in other.

KING: And to the point, Senator Collins was begging politely, favorability among Iowa Republicans. President Trump, 77 percent, the Ohio Governor John Kasich, 31, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse 24, Jeff Flake leaving the Senate from Arizona 16 percent. So, if you are a challenger, Dan, the hill is pretty steep.

DAN BATZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Oh, it's enormously steep. I mean, you know, the idea that somebody is going to actually defeat President Trump in a Republican primary is in all at this point far over the horizon. The more important question is, how much damage would a challenge do to him for the general election? And the history of that would be worrisome for the President. And the people who have been challenged in primaries have often gone on to lose in the general election even if they have done fine in the primary.

KING: Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, two examples there, that last two one-term presidents that we've had.

I want to look at this Democratic numbers. Now, we have this new partisanship with des Moines registrar, a lot of you saying it's very early. It's good for baseline. We're not saying, you know, ahoy, 2020 here we are as we close out 2018.

But, if you're the Vice President, look at this 32 percent in Iowa among Democrats, Bernie Sanders at 19. Beto O'Rourke, who just lost the Texas race in Senate, both in the 3rd place, both in Iowa and on to national poll, if you look at these numbers and you're the Vice President, on the one hand, you say great. On the other hand, Dan Pfeiffer who long work for Barack Obama twitted out, "That Obama was third at this point". So, it's Beto O'Rourke saying I'm the next Obama?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I think you're absolutely right. Obviously, it's our poll but for any poll right now, it is important to get the baseline. So, you see how the movement goes especially in the place like Iowa as you mentioned where they like to wait until the last minute. We went back and looked at generally in the fall, four years ago, about where the GOP field was. Guess who was number one?

KING: Jeb, I think.

BASH: Mike Huckabee.

KING: Oh Mike Huckabee, OK.

BASH: And trailing by double-digits in number two, number two spot, Paul Ryan. So, that's just going to gives you a sense of how things change extremely quickly. When there's a wide open field like there is on the Democratic side. The same thing on the Republican side four years ago.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: And just how wild the field is going to be, it remained to be seen. And I think some of these numbers will help some of these lawmakers and potential candidates decide over the holidays whether or not it makes sense for them to run, because they're looking at their number.

If they had 2 percent or 3 percent, maybe they decide this is not for me. If they see themselves as viable in the top five, maybe they decide to pull the lever. So, these numbers are probably going to be very important for some of those officials who are thinking about running in 2020.

KING: An interesting point, the number is clearly changed if you go back for four years, 8, 16, 20 years, you look at the polling and somebody else wins. But if you are trying to build staff or raise money, sometimes if you're an asterisk that becomes an issue. Keep an eye of that.

[12:34:39] Next for us, a long time Republican senator announces he is retiring.


KING: Topping our political radar today, the US military stepping up at their campaign against Al-Shabaab bomb fighter in Somalia. It's a 62 militants and the Al-Qaeda affiliate were killed in a pair of air strikes over the weekend. In the air, you see highlighted on the map.

US Africa command says no civilians were hurt and if the attacks were done in coordination with Somalia's government with the goal of denying the militant safe haven.

Just moments ago, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee announcing he will not run again in 2020. That early announcement marks the end of an era. Alexander will have served a combined 25 plus years as state governor and senator. The Republican Chairs to Senate Influential Health and Education Committee that has been a close ally of the majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

This first on CNN, the much awaited space force almost here. Three US officials telling CNN, the President plans to officially establish a new military space command this week. The officials tell CNN, the Pentagon are working on a draft proposal that would put the space command under the Air Force.

[12:40:06] This launch comes as Vice President Mike Pence plans two high profile business to the Pentagon and the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. First Lady Melania Trump's spokeswoman jumping to her defense amidst some negative press including a recent poll showing a sharp drop in the first lady's popularity. In an op-ed on, Stephanie Grisham also takes aim at our CNN contributor, Kate Andersen Brower, who wrote a piece on Friday criticizing Mrs. Trump saying she doesn't understand what it means to be First Lady. Grisham, says Brower has never ever met Mrs. Trump and she insists she has her facts wrong.


STEPHANIE GRISHAM, SPOKESWOMAN FOR FIRST LADY MELANIA TRUMP: These days, the consistent negative coverage that Mrs. Trump gets is just -- it's not fair and I know I'm going to be attack for saying it's not fair, that I'm whining, but were defending ourselves. I can't tell you guys how many inquiries I get that have nothing to do with the substance of her work.


KING: Interesting push back there but I want to talk about Lamar Alexander, number one in generational change, number two, an ideological change in the Republican Party. We just saw Marsha Blackburn elected to the Tennessee Senate seat, Bob Corker retiring, now Lamar Alexander stepping aside. If I know this was coming, I wear my (inaudible) shirt in from the 1996 Lamar Presidential campaign.

We're making light of it, but he has been a significant figure in state politics and as a key ally, a deal maker for Mitch McConnell in the Senate. What does it tell us?

BATZ: Well, you mentioned that it's the end of an era and it really is not just for the Republican Party nationally, but particularly in Tennessee. Lamar Alexander comes out of that group that was kind of spawned by Howard Baker. And it was a particularly successful group of politicians that Tennessee kept sending up to Washington.

These were people who came to do real work. They came to compromise when necessary. They were not overly ideological. They were conservative on the Republican side but in a constructively way.

And as you have seen now, this latest announcement, Bob Corker leaving Bill Haslam term limited as governor, a new generation. And you could see it coming for the last three or four years in Tennessee but this really does put the end point on it or in Lamar's terms the exclamation point.

BASH: Well-played, Dan.

KING: Well-played, the exclamation point. To your point, you can disagree with the politics and decisions sometimes you make -- you use the term real work. That's if you viewed their job as to do something, do something as opposed to just say no and do nothing.

Next, a Federal Judge in Texas delivers a win to Republicans on Obamacare. But might it actually backfire.


[12:46:48] KING: The President is overjoyed. But many of his fellow Republicans deal a new Obamacare court ruling is more of a headache than a victory.

On Friday, a judge in Texas ruled the individual mandate in Obamacare is unconstitutional. Therefore the judge says the Landmark Health Care Law cannot stand.

Here's the President's take on Twitter. "We have a chance working with the Democrats deliver great healthcare. A confirming Supreme Court decision will lead to great healthcare results for Americans." As the President's tweet implies, the ruling is going to be appealed and could make its way all the way to Supreme Court. So, nothing changes immediately.

But it was Republicans who filed this lawsuit and the court win comes just after giant Democratic 2018 gains it House races where healthcare was a driving issue.


DAVID AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO OBAMA: At the polls, this was really very much on the ballot in November. Healthcare was the number one issue for voters. Those issue -- those voters voted overwhelmingly for Democrats. This is a nightmare for the Republican Party.


KING: Now, some Republicans will see that as spin from an Obama guy, David Axelrod. But a lot of Republicans feel this way in the sense that we just had an election. We just got crushed on this, why do we have to deal with it again given the last two years of history which include -- where they were not able to pass anything.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's the key. It's not even that things could get worse for people. It's that Republicans had absolutely no shot at a solution that's different, that is workable. They just don't. That's why it collapsed.

It collapsed because they couldn't come together on a way to fix the real problems with Obamacare even Democrats have met our problems because it's complicated and they were and are very divided on it.

KING: The aforementioned Lamar Alexander try to work on some of those things. It couldn't get conservative support on some of them.

BATZ: Yes. I think that having -- we need to step back a little bit on this because it's going to be a long time before this would end up in the laps of the Congress. And it's got to go through the appeals process. It may or may not make it to the Supreme Court. If it does, it will be in a couple of years.

So, at this point everything is, you know, as it was, but this grenade got rolled out in the middle of it and for good reasons the Republicans are worried about. I mean, so many of them spent much of the fall defending themselves on the preexisting conditions issue.

Now, if they have to come back on this, they would have to try to make good or make a deal with the Democrats and that's not going to be easy as Dana said.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes. The Democrats are actually moving to the left when it comes to the healthcare. You have more people talking about things like Medicare for all and the single payer plan. So, the idea of having some kind of grand bargaining with Trump and the Republicans is just sort of a fantasy idea right now because, you know, Republicans don't want to deal with healthcare.

They spent much to 2017 trying to deal with healthcare to no avail and the Democrats ran on healthcare and they won on healthcare. So, they're trying to push as far as they can to have a more progressive healthcare system.

So, it doesn't appear that there is any middle ground that the Republican and the Democrats can reach on this. And the fact that court's here are weighing in is actually making it more difficult for Republicans in the House. And had Washington Journal Editorial Board today say that this is probably a problem for Republicans even though it may appear to be at first glance to be a win for them.

KING: But the Journal Editorial Board essentially saying they're worried now that Republicans will rushed to get some sort of a deal and to go too far agreeing with the Democrats. And it says, it part Democrats claim to be alarmed by the ruling. But in fact they're related.

[12:50:02] They want to use it as further -- to further pound Republicans for denying health insurance for pre-existing conditions if the law is overturned. And that's the issue now. You're right, Democrats are moving to the left. So they'd have their own internal issue if they try to deal this issue now.

Republicans we just saw in last two years, they have their problems. So, we are going to have what, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018 and now 2020 with Obamacare front and center?

LUCEY: I mean, it certainly could be that way. I mean, this is a huge issue in the midterms and a lot of the provisions in the Affordable Care Act have grown more popular overtime. And all kinds of pieces that are sort of vague into the system now, but it's the pre-existing conditions being the biggest one but you also have, you know, be all the same parent insurance when you're in 26. All kinds of, you know, things they're guaranteed, the health plans.

So, there are pieces of this now that have grown more popular with the public. And so, that's why you've seen Republicans trying to, you know, sort of strike a balance, we want to replace but we still want to have these things in it. And that becomes difficult.

KING: Timing, timing. That's the timing of the court case, Republicans are on this for a long time, the timing that has to. A long awaited Criminal Justice Reform Bill. When we come back on the cost of moving forward but, the President's own party some of it anyway trying to stand in the way.


[12:55:47] KING: A giant test for (ph) tonight for Prison Reform Bill backed by President Trump but, opposed by many conservatives. The measure would rewrite many federal sentencing guidelines and won the President's support after fierce lobbying by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The big changes includes reducing some mandatory minimum sentences as well as some sentencing disparities, think to try to fits the measure also provides funding the program to help inmates rather in prison to try to keep them from coming back again.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, taking a lead ruling in finding or at least trying to amend a White House proposal, he says, a soft on crime. The Arkansas Republican pushing three amendments said would "limit the damage."

And in an op-ed essay today, Cotton says if his colleagues with respect to my conservative friends and colleagues, they have jumped on the bandwagon too soon. A number of serious felonies including violent crimes are still eligible for early release in the version of the bill the Senate will vote on.

In short, the First Step Act flunks their basic test to protect public safety. It's today, interesting that the president came around on this one, but (Fed) you do have this internal Republican divide, a lot of conservative saying, we pass this. We're going to get criticized for being soft on crime.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes. It's a one of a few areas where there is bipartisanship whether it's an actual piece of legislation moving through Congress. And this is something that President Trump got behind in part because of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has pushed this and by at most accounts has been pretty effective in talking about Democrats and Republicans.

This is the rule that people thought that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner would have here in Washington sort of being able to bridge the divide between Republicans and Democrats they haven't been able to do it on guard many issues.

This is one issue where and they only have they been able to get Democrats on board, but they've been able to get the President on board as well. So, that's in part the reason this is moving forward and even though you have some people like Senator Tom Cotton trying to derail this, it does appear that it seems like it's on the glide path to getting to the president's desk very soon.

BASH: And when you compromise, you anger your base on both sides. It's by nature what compromise this. It's so rare these days, back when we were walk in the hallways, it was a little bit less rare. But, it's so rare these days, you forget how it works.

But also I think it is important to take a step back and say this is a good thing. It just in terms of not -- I'm not making a judgment on the policy, but just in terms of the process. That there are people on both sides of the aisle who disagree on a lot of things and get together and do what they are supposed to do, legislative.

KING: Our CNN Van Jones, among those down on the same page as President Donald Trump. That's the sentence she will make very often Van Jones on the same page with President Trump because, of this bipartisan like conversations.

Listen here; this is Rush Limbaugh, always, almost always a defender of the president saying I don't have issues with this bill, Mr. President, but giving that you're leaving other things off the table, does it dilute the brand.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, AMERICA'S ANCHORMAN, DOCTOR OF DEMOCRACY: Donald Trump ran for office, building a wall and stopping it. It's the reason he was elected. There a lot of people are getting nervous and wondering why the President isn't moving on this.

Especially, the administration seems to be getting behind the Prison Reform Bill which may in and of it self be OK, but it's not why he got elected. And it's not going to get him reelected. I mean, people are not going to race to the polls in 2020. Yes. We're going to keep company, she would get our prison (inaudible), that's its immigration and illegal immigration showing up the border.


KING: Is that to that is put just a nervous base or is it a legitimate question, is the President probably lose his way?

LUCEY: I mean, if you heard the president talking about the wall of late, he certainly hasn't forgotten about as the key promise to his base. But it does create an interesting sort of split screen in this the final weeks of the year which is, you know, start leaning toward potential shut down, on one issue, and yet is on the brink of potentially a very big bipartisan achievements on the other side, you know.

KING: They will watch his play out the key votes is tonight, procedure vote in the Senate. If they passes in the Senate, first you get over the filibuster, and if it passes in the Senate, has to go back to the House. But speaker there, Paul Ryan, speaker for a week or two, says it would have taken his scope it is possible. So this should pass everybody on the week. We'll keep an eye of it.

Thanks for joining us inside POLITICS, today. Stay with us throughout the week. Shut down week, we'll keep track of it. Brianna Keilar starts, right now. Have a good day.