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No End In Sight As Partial Government Shutdown Hits Day 9; Trump Blames Democrats For Deaths of Children At Border; Not Much Christmas Cheer at the White House; How Trump's Presidency Changed Washington; Which Dem Can Beat Trump in 2020. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired December 30, 2018 - 08:00   ET



[08:00:19] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): A shutdown showdown. Both sides dig in, ahead of 2019.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whatever it takes, I'm going to have a wall.

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MARYLAND: It's tough to deal with a president who on an hourly basis changes his mind.

HENDERSON: Plus, President Trump's surprise trip to Iraq with this message for the troops.

TRUMP: America shouldn't be doing the fighting for every nation on earth.

HENDERSON: And tis the season, for possible presidential runs.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW YORK: During the holidays, family, friends and advisers decide.

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


HENDERSON: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson, in for John King. To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thank you for sharing your Sunday.

We are now nine days into the partial government shutdown and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no signs of substantial negotiations, no signs that either side will back down in the fight for funding for a border wall. Yesterday, the president tweeting that he's in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come over and make a deal.

Because of the shutdown, the White House says the president will skip his New Year's Eve party at Mar-a-Lago to stay in Washington, but he still doesn't sound like a man ready to compromise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: How long do you think the shutdown will last, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Whatever it takes. I mean, we're going to have a wall. We're going to have safety. We need safety for our country. We need a wall.

So, when you say, how long is it going to take? When are they going to say that we need border security? When are the Democrats going to say?

Don't forget, the Democrats all agreed you need a wall until I wanted it. Once I wanted it, they didn't agree.


HENDERSON: As for the Democrats, their leadership left town for the holidays. They say they're willing to pay for border security but won't vote for any money to build a wall.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: What he has done is shut down the government and tried to stick the American taxpayer with a $5 billion ransom note to build a medieval border wall. It's like a fifth century solution to a 21st century problem, and it's not going anywhere.

We're willing to take a look at enhancing border security through technology, through satellites, through drones, through enhanced fencing, through a variety of things that the experts have said will actually enhance border security.


HENDERSON: Caught in the middle, 800,000 federal workers who have been furloughed or working without pay. This is the third longest shutdown since 1980. If it isn't resolved soon, they'll miss their next paycheck.

The Office of Personnel Management provided them with advice on how to hold off creditors while waiting for their next paycheck. One idea, offer your landlord your services as a handyman in exchange for rent reduction, another rather tone-deaf suggestion, contact your personal attorney because, of course, everyone has a personal attorney. OPM later said that the information was posted inadvertently.

With us this Sunday to share their reporting and their insights, we got Josh Dawsey from "The Washington Post", Catherine Lucey from "The Associated Press", CNN's Phil Mattingly and Rachael Bade from "Politico".

Welcome to everyone. Happy New Year.

Phil, I'm going to start with you on this. You have been on Capitol Hill. It's been a ghost town, as I've seen you reporting. There's no signs of any movement at this point.

How do you see this ending? Look into your crystal ball.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very lonely. Rachel and I will start interviewing one another.


MATTINGLY: There's literally nobody else up there.

How do you see this ending? The interesting I hear is kind of the way to thread this needle is not a secret. There's a way to give border security funding that both sides can semantically say -- achieves their goals. Democrats can say it's no wall. Republicans can say it's wall-ish, it has fence, things they're looking for.

But somebody is going to have to budge for it to actually happen. The president has maintained his position and, frankly, he's maintained the belief, according to people close to him, this is a winning issue for him politically, this is the time to have this fight. He has basically telegraphed that this fight was coming for months now. Now he's in it. How does he get out of it, without having to blink?

I think that's when things stand right now, when you talk to lawmakers and aides on Capitol Hill from home, via text message, they acknowledge at this moment, it's going to take time and it's probably going to take -- we're more in the weeks category than we are days at this point.

HENDERSON: And we heard from the president on Friday on Twitter, of course.

[08:05:00] And this is what he tweeted: We will be forced to close the southern border entirely if the obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the wall and also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our country is saddled with. Hard to believe there was a Congress and president who would approve.

Catherine, the president isn't out there front and center in front of the cameras, giving a press conference or anything like that. He is on Twitter. Some aides say that's great he's not on Twitter, and giving interviews, others say why isn't he taking advantage of this vacuum here?

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes, there's different opinions on the best way to use his time, because as well said, Congress has not been around. The president has not gone on his traditional trip to Florida over the holidays. He has been here but mostly with the exception of his trip to Iraq on Christmas, mostly, he has just been tweeting from the White House. And that has been a mix of threats, of complaints.

But there is a feeling among some people that he could have, perhaps, used this time more effectively. Maybe he could have -- in holding meetings, or holding public events or showing that he's working. That has not been a choice. Of course, the flip side of that is that he gets in front of cameras,

does he go off script and say other things? So, I think there is sort of legitimately a push/pull there among his advisers on the best way to do this.

HENDERSON: And we heard this warning, Josh, from somebody who's going to give his ex-adviser, John Kelly, giving a pretty lengthy, what look like an exit interview in "The L.A. Times". And this is what he had to say. Of course, he is the outgoing chief of staff.

This is what he had to say about the wall: To be honest, it's not a wall. The president still says wall. Often times, frankly, he'll say barrier or fencing. Now, he has tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it.

What do you make of Kelly's comments?

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, it's a clearly remarkable interview. Comments on the wall had been a frequent point of contention between John Kelly and the president. Kelly was obviously at DHS, Department of Homeland Security, cabinet secretary before he became chief of staff, has often criticized the president on the wall. He said earlier this year on an interview on Fox, he said that the president was uninformed on the wall and his views have evolved, that led to the president shouted at him so loudly that people would hear it outside the Oval Office.

This is something where John Kelly has tried to convince the president there are different mechanisms that can be used at the border besides the wall that would be more effective and the president ferociously pushed back said, no, I promised a wall and my supporters want a wall.

What he also said in this interview thought that was somewhat interesting in "The L.A. Times", he said, I should be judged essentially on what I stop from happening.


DAWSEY: And that's what you hear from advisers around the president, former chief of staff frequently made that argument. Essentially, look at all the things you didn't see. And then you say, what are those? What did he want to do that we didn't see? They can never quite delineate what those are.

John Kelly leaves Wednesday, chief of staff. And there seems to be some effort here to shape his legacy a little bit and buttress the many criticism that he was an ineffectual chief of staff that didn't bring the management that was needed.

HENDERSON: And we heard a lot over the last days from the incoming chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Here is what he had to say about a possible compromise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICK MULVANEY, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF: If you're at $5 billion and I'm at $1.3 and we're talking about money, maybe there say place in between where we can compromise. You can get a little bit of what you want, we can get a little bit of what we want. It strikes us as unusual that the Democrats did not provide a counter offer to our last discussion. They simply left town.

Again, the president is here. The president canceled his plans. Where is Chuck Schumer? Where is Nancy Pelosi? They're not even talking right now.


HENDERSON: Rachel, what does compromise look like at this point?

BADE: Well, I mean, Mulvaney and the White House trying to get the Democrats to come up from this $1.3 billion from border security fencing, whatever you want to call it, the wall. But here's the issue, when it comes to shutdowns, the party that makes the demand usually loses. They don't get anything.

When Democrats shut the government down last year to get a fix for DACA and to bring certainty for Dreamers, whose legal status was suddenly in jeopardy, they got nothing for it. And Democrats right now, they don't feel like they have to give anything to the White House. And so, they are digging in and they're just going to keep doing this.

And as soon as Pelosi takes over on January 3rd, she'll put a bill on the floor to reopen the government, and she'll do it over and over again to make a statement to put that pressure on McConnell to actually whisper to the president, we've got to find a way out of this. I think the president knows privately that his leverage is decreasing. I think that's why you're seeing him lash out on Twitter. It's tough for him.

HENDERSON: And Pelosi sort of digging at him in this interview she gave to "USA Today". Here's what she had to say, mocking Trump's wall.

First of all, the fact that he says we're going to build a wall with cement and Mexico is going to pay for it, while he has already backed off the cement, he's down to a beaded curtain or something, I'm not sure where he is.

[08:10:02] And then you have the president shooting back at Nancy Pelosi, having this to say.


TRUMP: We have a problem with the Democrats because Nancy Pelosi is calling the shots, not Chuck. And Chuck wants to have this done. I really believe that. He wants to have this done.

But she's calling the shots. She's calling them, because she wants the votes and probably if they do something, she's not going to get the votes. She's not going to be speaker of the House and that would be not so good for her.


MATTINGLY: Yes. So to tell you how worried the Pelosi team is whether or not they have the votes for her to become speaker when I was wandering through the capital Friday night, people were moving Pelosi's office into the speaker's office. They're not worried about the votes. They're pretty confident the speaker-designate is going to become the speaker on January 3rd.

Look, this has been something that's been pitched by a lot of Republicans, that Schumer wants to make a deal, Pelosi doesn't have a political will. There's been no daylight between them publicly in their position. They believe they hold the cards, they believe they hold the leverage. And they're going to start making legislative moves when Nancy Pelosi becomes speaker of the House, when they have what they think is going to be increased leverage, try to jam McConnell, try to jam the president on that.

She does not have a problem with votes for her speakership. She doesn't have a problem with her base. Chuck Schumer doesn't have a problem with his base. They feel politically they're in good place. And they feel like their respective, their respective caucuses and their rank and file, while most of them don't want to be in a shutdown right now, are behind them in this strategy because they feel they're in a good place.


DAWSEY: What the president said there is interesting, trying to peel Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer apart. I've been told by several White House advisers that that's something that he is going to try to do and will fixate on, trying to convince him that there should not be a line in dealing with him, maybe work with one on one thing, one on the other. I think we're going to see that time and time again. I don't know that he will be effective in that.

HENDERSON: Yes, they were pretty united.

DAWSEY: You're going to see that for months to come, a month out, trying to crow ate distance between Pelosi and Schumer and see if they can force a wedge there.

HENDERSON: And, of course, Trump knows Chuck Schumer, going back to his days in New York. We'll have to end it there.

Next, a second migrant child dies in U.S. custody and President Trump blames the Democrats.

But, first, a look back at 2018 midterms and a big victory in the House where women led the way.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Women led the way to victory with at least 30 new women coming to the Congress. Is that not exciting?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tonight, with this win comes opportunity. Tonight, we celebrate an historic moment, a moment we should all be proud of.

REP.-ELECT ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: We should never be scared. There is never any fight that is too big for us to pick. We proved that this year. We proved that this year.



[08:16:00] HENDERSON: President Trump says Democrats are to blame after a second migrant child died while being held by Customs and Border Patrol. The president tweeting on Saturday: Any deaths of children or others at the border are strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make a long trip thinking they can enter our country illegally. They can't. If we had a wall, they wouldn't even try.

Democrats went ballistic over the president's tweets.


REP. GERRY CONNOLY (D), VIRGINIA: The first reaction to the news of the death of a child in our custody ought to be empathy for the family and, frankly, enormous distress that that happened at all. And instead our president, who apparently lacks any capacity for human empathy, decides to use the death of two children as a political tool. I think it's really yet another new low in a president filled with new lows.


HENDERSON: The latest migrant child to die in U.S. custody is 8-year- old Felipe Gomez Alonzo. Tests later showed that he had influenza B. His death on Christmas Eve came only seven weeks after a seven-year- old Guatemalan girl died of dehydration.

The Department of Homeland Security now says all children in custody will get a more hands-on medical assessment. DHS also asked the Coast Guard's medical team for assistance.

The head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the agency needs help from Congress to prevent more deaths.


KEVIN MCALEENAN, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION COMMISSIONER: Our stations are not built for that group that's crossing today. They were built 30, 40 years ago for single adult males and we need a different approach. We need help from Congress. We need to budget for medical care, mental health care, children in our facilities. It's an extraordinary rare occurrence. It's been more than a decade since we've had a child pass away anywhere in a CBP process. So, this is just devastating for us.


HENDERSON: Catherine, we saw this blame game break out with Trump's tweets and Democrats responding doesn't necessarily, obviously, address the issue at hand, but certainly both sides seem to be engaged in this blame game.

LUCEY: Yes. Obviously it is pretty stunning. The president's first comments on these deaths, facing a lot of criticisms. It is to deflect blame, to blame Democrats. It speaks, in some ways, to his fixation and focus on immigration and the wall, that everything is coming back to that. That's where he is, that's where he keeps returning to, argument he keeps coming back to.

But it is interesting because we've seen in the past that at other points in time, images of children and issues around children and children suffering or children's deaths have moved him. And so, in this case, that's certainly not happening. I think we'll see what unfolds in the coming weeks, if the White House faces more pressure, if they have to make more policy changes, if they have to do more on this.

HENDERSON: And speaking of the blame game, in this John Kelly interview, he said in this interview that it was Sessions that instituted the zero tolerance child separation policy. Here's what he had to say, what happens with Jeff Sessions, he was the one that instituted zero tolerance process on the border that resulted in both people being detained and family separation, he said. He surprised us.

So again, pointing fingers elsewhere.

DAWSEY: Remember the day that Kirstjen Nielsen went to the podium and said there was no separation policy, and it was not the administration policy? This is again the dissidence though in some ways between the president and the government that he runs. The government that he runs is at the border doing the investigations, saying this is a tragedy, trying to figure out how to fix it, and the president saying it's the fault of the Democrats who do not control the government right now that someone died in the custody of the United States government.

It's somewhat inexplicable, how you can get to a point where you blame another political party for a child's death that's in your government's custody.

[08:20:01] I guess you could say if they were tougher on the border, supported him in his wall, people wouldn't even come, that's the argument he makes. It's a pretty far-flung accusation tonight. Blame another political party for a child's death that's in your government's custody. If they were tougher on the border, supported him in his wall, people wouldn't even come, that's the argument he makes. It's a pretty far-flung accusation tonight.

You know, that said, at the border the president wants to make this a food fight. Even the death of a child, the blame game started immediately. I mean, there was no empathy there for the family. There was no words of I'm so sorry that this kid died in our custody. We're trying to fix it. Democrats are strictly to blame for the death of a child.

HENDERSON: And there's certainly a huge uptick, at least recently, in terms of border crossings and apprehensions. You can see there on your screen, going back to John Kelly and now under Kirstjen Nielsen. What do you make, Phil, of the way that the White House, this administration, has approached immigration more broadly?

MATTINGLY: Via the president's gut and not necessarily with a coherent or cohesive plan. There are people in the White House, and John Kelly would certainly fall under hardliners on immigration. I think that was something that Democrats made a mistake early on when he came in, thinking that he was going to be somebody who would help them on this case. That wasn't the case at all.

And people like Steven Miller as well who have an encyclopedic knowledge of immigration laws in ways that they feel like they can stem the tide of crossing the border, in ways that they feel like policy-wise that they can put together something that basically can address what the president wants to do. The difficulty is, if you do them ad hoc, or in a vacuum or a one-off, it creates major, major problems.

I think the most interesting element to me, from a policy perspective, was what you heard from the CBP chief.


MATTINGLY: There is a problem at CBP, at ICE, with the ability to deal with family units coming in at a very large scale. They're simply not built for that. So, there is a policy response to this that the administration and Congress should work on and that people are asking for.


MATTINGLY: And that's the response to this. And that doesn't necessarily connect what's happening on the ground, with the officials on the ground say they need doesn't connect with the broader goals that the administration has had.

HENDERSON: Yes, and this is what Kirstjen Nielsen had to say about this: Our system has been pushed to a breaking point by those who seek open border, smugglers, traffickers and their own parents put these minors at risk in embarking on a dangerous and arduous journey north, those in Congress who continues to refuse to take action to address the loopholes the caused a flood of humanity to travel north and place children at risk. I once again to call on you to do your job.

BADE: I think Democrats, they've said over and over again, we are fine with border security. We are willing to vote for a bill that would increase the number of drones, increase the number of border patrol agents. Just when it comes to the president's wall, it's become such a political hot potato that they're not even going to touch it.

It's interesting, too, politics is very much in play in their side as well, because if you look back to 2006, they voted for the Secure Fence Act.


BADE: And this is similar legislation, steel slats, whatever you want to call it. Trump calls it the wall. They want nothing to do with it.

Immigration has divided the parties like the Grand Canyon, right? Next year what we're going to see is Democrats highlighting policies they believe are -- show a heartless administration, whether it was family separation, stopping asylum, ending DACA for Dreamers and now, again, trying to blame Democrats for this death at the border wall.

HENDERSON: Right, we're already seeing Beto O'Rourke, who some think will run for president on 2020. He tweeted out a video on Friday and part of it, he said the southern border already has over 600 miles of wall or fence since 2007, the undocumented immigrant population has grown more, visa overstays and unauthorized border crossings, we need realistic immigration reform not symbolic division.

You're going to see activity or at least rhetoric I think in the Senate and the House over this among Democrats.

MATTINGLY: No question about it. A number of investigations into immigration related issues. They want, it's no secret they're going to do a lot of investigations, period. But they've already talk about -- they've sent letters talking about saving documents and any documentation related to the deaths of these two children. They're going to look into the family separation policy.

I think the bigger question right now, and Rachel hit on a key point here. The politics on both sides, if there's any opening or space whatsoever that would do things to try to assuage or address what's happening on the border, because the two polls and the two issues are so polarized right now that there's really no space, no oxygen for somebody to say, hey, maybe on a smaller scale, can we do this, this and this that would help these things in a near term and keep talking about the bigger issues? And I don't see any space for this right now.

LUCEY: As 2020 gets closer.


HENDERSON: Hard to imagine the Gang of Eight coming together over something like this, at this time.

Next, working through the holidays, Trump's mindset heading into 2019.

[20:25:03] And as we go to break, the president made quite a stir on the world stage in 2018, chastising allies and embracing two of America's biggest adversaries. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I would actually say it worked out for both of us, far better than anybody could have expected. I think far better.

We've been tremendously successful. It's my honor. And we will have a terrific relationship. I have no doubt.

My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.




TRUMP: Everybody hated Comey, they thought he did a horrible job. The Democrats hated him. Literally the day before I fired him, they said he should have been fired. As soon as I fired him, they said why did you fire him? That was a terrible thing to do.

It's a disgrace what's happening in our country but other than that, I wish everybody a very merry Christmas.


HENDERSON: That was President Trump on Christmas Day.

The former FBI director wasn't the only target of Trump's holiday ire. A lot of his tweets were targeted at Congress.

I am all alone, poor me, the president tweeted on Monday, waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed border security.


Nearly a week later, the president is still waiting. The government is still closed and the president is still alone and still venting on Twitter, lobbing attacks at all his regular targets.

A midweek trip to Iraq brought a rare break to the President's Twitter complains. The President had to silent to preserve secrecy in security but even in the middle of a war zone, the President playing defense in justifying a snap decision to leave Syria against the advice of his soon-to-be former Pentagon chief.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One year ago, I gave our generals six more months in Syria. I said go ahead and get them. It turns out it was really a year and a half ago. I said go get them. We need six months. Go get them. Then they said give us another six months. I said go get them. Then they said go -- can we have one more like period of six months? I said nope. Nope. I said I gave you lot of six months and now we're doing it a different way.

We're not the suckers of the world. We're no longer the suckers, folks. And people aren't looking at us as suckers.


HENDERSON: I imagine, Josh -- that "we're not the suckers of the world" wasn't in the script in his talking points that his staff prepared for him. And there, in talking about the Syria decision, basically saying folks offered me advice, military leaders offered me guidance and he refused.

I mean that's what he's publicly saying, this is still a president that keeps his own counsel and believes his gut.

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, the President has a point there. I mean he repeatedly asked of military advisers around him for a plan to pull out of Syria. He last April at a rally said out loud on stage we're leaving Syria. And essentially he was slow walked, he was slow walked, he was slow walked.

I mean a lot of the folks in the White House when don't like what he wants to do on something, they try to postpone or delay or convince him to change a little bit.

Here when the President gets tired of being postponed or delayed, sometimes he just says it. So here what we have was a president who, I think what he said there was pretty accurate into his thinking, you know. He said the generals -- privately he calls them the fellows. He says I gave these fellows all these months to give me a plan. They didn't give one.


DAWSEY: Now they're going to have a plan.


DAWSEY: And it led to Mattis resigning. It led to lots of turmoil in the military. But the President seems more convinced than ever that on military issues he's right, that the American people want the troops to be pulled out, that they need to be pulled out.

On economic issues he's right to attack Fed chair Jerome Powell to go after something that the Federal Reserve previously has not been touched by the presidency. It was seen kind of as not a political institution.


DAWSEY: The President goes after it. I mean he's been his own adviser, his own counsel. And two years then, he seems more and more comfortable in his own head of doing the job without listening to others.

And that's what you're seeing on the military decisions, economic policy decisions. It's a president who is doing it his way.

HENDERSON: And we saw this a lot when he was over in Iraq. Here is what he had to say there about borders.


TRUMP: I don't know if you folks are aware of what's happening. We want to have strong borders in the United States. The Democrats don't want to let us have strong borders only for one reason. You know why? Because I want it.

And that's what you're fighting for. You know, when you think about it, you're fighting for borders in other countries. And they don't want to fight, the Democrats, for the border of our country. Doesn't make a lot of sense.


HENDERSON: Critics, Catherine, said he should have kept politics out of his speech there to the troops but At the same time, was anybody surprised that this is where he went?

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: It's hard to believe that anyone was surprised because one of the things we've seen two years in with President Trump is that politics is injected into basically every moment. There aren't really a lot of times where he sort of puts on an official presidential hat and does something in a big, neutral way. That's just not his style.


LUCEY: If something is on his mind he's going to keep talking about it, as he did. And not just this event where he used it to bash Democrats but it was just setup in some ways like his rallies. There was, you know, music that's often played at his political rallies. He did a lot of, you know, his usual material.

So that is the way he's going to treat a lot of events. And you remember during the campaign, for example, when there was the mass shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, the President was traveling, doing a series of events, including rallies.

There was a lot of talk should he cancel the rally that night. And he chose not to. He chose to continue to go on to do a rally and previous presidents might have taken that moment and paused and he argued that his supporters were there and they wanted him to do it and he was going to keep doing it. And I think that's what we're going to keep seeing.


HENDERSON: Yes. He argued as a candidate that he would change Washington. Many candidates argue that they're going to change. But there's an article here in the Associated Press that argues he really has.

This is from Jonathan Lemire. "In Trump's Washington, facts are less relevant. Insults and highly personal attacks are increasingly employed by members of both parties. The White House press briefing is all but gone."

[08:35:01] Again, these are the ways in which he has changed Washington. Phil -- you've covered this town for years. What do you make of the way he has been able to shake this town up?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, I think that we've talked about this from the first week. The presidency has bent towards him --


MATTINGLY: It hasn't been the other way around. And anybody who predicted over the first 18 to 24 months that he would eventually kind of be confined and change and shift his approach was dead wrong.

And I think what you just associated yourself with what Josh and Catherine just said, everything that they're laying out right now are things that he talked about that he wanted to do on the campaign, are things that have made clear that the advisers that were capable of slow walking him or capable of using the bureaucratic process to try and stop what he wanted are either fading away or no longer have a voice inside the White House.

It's almost this kind of bizarre split screen. We have the President in the White House who's doing his own thing, his own way, in ways we've never seen before, and the way that he believes are successful which to some degree, at least, on the economic side, you could back that up.

And then you have people on Capitol Hill, Republicans who claim not to see his tweets, have no idea what he's doing --


MATTINGLY: -- and kind of doing their own things legislatively on taxes and things of that nature. And then you have things at the agencies where you have kind of (INAUDIBLE) conservative bureaucrats who are doing the types of things Republicans on Capitol Hill are thrilled about and that's all in combination with the President, who is doing his own thing. And I think now more than ever is exerting his own kind of unilateral power. And you're seeing the result of this at this moment.

HENDERSON: And one of the things people have argued is that all of this sort of rough and tumble of the Trump presidency might change. I pulled this old sort of graphic up here -- not much has changed. December 2017, probably vote for Trump, about 36 percent. December 2018, about 38 percent. It hasn't really changed.

And people also say will 2019 be different? We've been saying that for many, many months now. RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Two thoughts. One on

the past, one on the future in regard to how he sees Washington, to see how he's totally neutered GOP leaders on the Hill has been totally fascinating. It used to be that if you were the Speaker of the House, the Senate Majority Leader, you made the decisions with the President --


BADE: -- in collaboration with the President. He has run all over them such that they are afraid to do anything without the President's blessing. And even when they get the President's blessing, they're worried he's going to change his mind. We're seeing that right now with the spending --


BADE: They're afraid to make a decision. Even though they wanted to avert a shutdown and make a deal with Democrats, they're afraid to do it. In terms of going forward, the big difference here is obviously Democrats have taken over the House and they are going to hold him accountable for anything he says.

You know, a lot of people criticize the President and say he, you know, he is loose with the facts and tries to spin things a little too much, obviously. But the Democrats on the Hill, they're going to have hearing after hearing. They're going to be doing very dogged oversight on everything from Russia to obstruction to how, you know, foreign leaders have, you know, stayed at the Trump Hotels --

HENDERSON: Yes. His finances --

BADE: Exactly. And it's going to be a totally different world for him. It will be a thing to see how he reacts because he's already so combative.


BADE: He's going to be even more combative --


HENDERSON: Yes. If you can imagine that.

LUCEY: The other thing to looking at the future in the coming year is what happens with the economy? If the economy really does slow down --


LUCEY: -- that could affect those numbers.


LUCEY: -- and the President is well aware of that. That's part of the reason he's so concerned. HENDERSON: Up next, who is the best Democrat to take on President Trump? It's still early, but voters already have some pretty strong opinions.

And as we go to break, the story of the year -- Trump's take on all things Russia probe-related.


TRUMP: I have this witch hunt constantly going on. It's a disgrace. It's frankly a real disgrace. It's an attack on our country in a true sense.

Mr. Mueller is highly conflicted. In fact, Comey is like his best friend. I could go into conflict after conflict. But sadly, Mr. Mueller is conflicted.

I haven't spoken to Mike in a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he still your lawyer?

TRUMP: No, he's not my lawyer, not anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your personal lawyer?

TRUMP: But I always liked Michael. And he's a good person.

He's a weak person. And by being weak, unlike other people that you watch, he's a weak person. What he's trying to do is get a reduced sentence.


HENDERSON: We're just 400 days away from the first contest of the next presidential election, the Iowa caucuses set for February 3rd, 2020. And there's an interesting new poll out on which candidates excite voters the most. The answer, someone entirely new, 59 percent of Democrats and Independents say they're excited by a candidate that they haven't heard of yet.

Number two on the excitement meter perhaps ironically, former vice president Joe Biden, who obviously isn't somebody entirely new. Take a broader look at the numbers and you can draw some other conclusions, too. 36 percent say they would be excited about another Bernie Sanders candidacy but even more say they don't want him to run at all. The same goes for Elizabeth Warren.

As for potential candidates Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, three in ten Democrats and Independents haven't even heard of them, which means for many voters they are someone entirely new and have a lot of room to grow.

One of the things we see, Rachael, is that this isn't good news, right, if you're Elizabeth Warren, if you're Bernie Sanders. This idea that they want somebody new -- seems like maybe they would like Joe Biden but this is kind of mixed at this point at least. BADE: Yes. I think that -- I think Democrats in general around the

country are sort of sick of seeing the same people stick around over and over again. I mean there was a lot of frustration with Hillary Clinton. People were not energized.

And right now Democrats have a fired-up base and they want to use it to take out Trump in 2020. They have to make this decision. Do they want to stick with the energy of the base, which is obviously very much on the progressive side, or do they want to find someone who is sort of in the middle who can appeal to those Independent voters that perhaps Trump won before?

And so, you know, it's interesting. You look at these polls. You see Joe Biden out there and Bernie Sanders, totally opposite types of Democrats, right.


BADE: And I think it's interesting that, you know, Bernie Sanders, while he has totally changed the party and very much energized the base and helped them in the midterm elections, you know, there were just as many people who said he shouldn't run. And that's because, you know, how does somebody who said he's a socialist win the presidency? So the Democrats have some choices.

HENDERSON: And in some ways maybe they're thinking a little bit more practically.

Catherine -- you covered the Iowa caucuses and AP has a story out from Iowa. And here's what one Democratic activist had to say. "The innocence in us wants to fall in love, said Niki Neems, an Iowa city Democratic activist who pledged herself to Obama before he even announced his candidacy. But whoever we all think stands the best chance then let's get out there and start door knocking. So for me it's ok to just fall in like."

[08:45:02] LUCEY: Yes. What is the old saying? Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line?


LUCEY: Iowa voters -- particularly Iowa Democrats take a lot of pride in -- that they put Barack Obama on the path to the presidency. That that really was this, you know, emotional connection for them.

But yes, what the AP has seen in Iowa so far is a decent amount of pragmatism. I mean they know, as Rachael said, that there is energy, there is enthusiasm and they want to take Trump out.

And so they're not committing too early. They want to see their options and they want someone who can actually go the distance. And so they seem more prepared although I think it's hard to tell. There's always the chance that someone catches fire and it does become a love match. But for right now they're trying to sort of bide their time. HENDERSON: And so we saw Kamala Harris has an op-ed in the "New York

Times" where she talks about supporting Medicare for all and why she supports it.

What's her angle? Is she trying to sort of humanize herself? Put more of a personal story out there. She talks about her mother's death, for instance, in this op-ed.

MATTINGLY: You know, look, I think -- you talk about Bernie Sanders' effect on the party and the fact that Medicare for all is almost considered a standard-bearing position for anybody who wants to get in right now. And what Kamala Harris did in this op-ed is put a very personal face on her support for that and she was one of the original co-sponsors and a very early co-sponsor of Medicare for all in the senate.

And now she's telling this story to maybe sort of differentiate. To say I'm not just in on this because Bernie Sanders made it popular and everybody wants it.


MATTINGLY: I have a very personal reason for caring about this. And I think we've all covered campaigns. And you see, those are the stories that resonate with voters not just I support this because it's the right thing to do or I support this because polls say it. It's I support this because President Obama did it on health care with his mother as well. And so maybe there's a little bit of that as well.

What's interesting, not just about this specifically but with Kamala Harris or Cory Booker, that a number of the senators that are considering, they've all put out pretty in-depth policy proposals under the (INAUDIBLE) in the last six months in preparation for this. All very progressive policy proposals and what effect those have, if any, or could this become a love fest or popularity contest?


MATTINGLY: It's going to be really interesting to watch and then how they try and sell and talk about those proposals.

HENDERSON: Yes. And I think one of the things that Trump proved in some ways that it's often about sort of personality and charisma and not necessarily policy.

DAWSEY: Well yes. I mean this time in the cycle in 2014, 2015 the headlines work and people crack into Jeb Bush's --


DAWSEY: Anyone being able to take on Chris Christie. I mean two years is a lifetime away in politics. And I think for Democrats (INAUDIBLE) over Democrats, I mean who knows who the nominee will be at this point and what the base will want.

Obviously also, what does 2019 bring? HENDERSON: Yes. Long way to go.

DAWSEY: With the Mueller report --


DAWSEY: -- were likely to come in what oversight is done? What are the President's policy proposals? Is there any sort of bipartisan deal on infrastructure, anything else? I mean it's a long way to now.


DAWSEY: And I think you're seeing a lot of people jump out of the gate right now and you're seeing the President start gauging who would be a tough contender but --


HENDERSON: We've got a lot --

DAWSEY: -- we may have a different conversation --

MATTINGLY: Now, we need answers now -- Josh. Now.


Up next internal drama in the House Democratic Caucus. The knives may be out for firebrand freshman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.


HENDERSON: Each Sunday we ask our reporters to share a story or scoop they're working on so you can get out ahead of tomorrow's headlines today. This Sunday, a special INSIDE POLITICS forecast where reporters give us a glimpse of the biggest story they're watching for the new year.

Josh -- we'll start with you.

DAWSEY: Thanks -- Nia. On the economic front, much of the President's cabinet advisers are focused on China. This president has had an economic boom in the first two years, pretty low unemployment. The stock market has risen for the most part.

But some of that has changed recently. The stock market has been pretty volatile and some indicators for 2019 are not looking as good. And a lot of whether that can turn around or not, or whether that can stay positive for the President hinges on China. At least in the eyes of many in the White House.

So I think for the trade agenda, which for the President is obviously one of his biggest priorities, we're going to be closely watching whether any sort of deal can be struck. I mean this is a President who watches the stock market every day, who is obsessed with his economic metrics because he sees them as posing an existential threat to his presidency if they go down. And for the market, a lot would be buttressed with a deal with China.

HENDERSON: And not only that, can he get the renegotiated NAFTA through Congress?

DAWSEY: Correct.

HENDERSON: A lot to look for.


LUCEY: Yes. I mean one of the things we're looking for in the first part of this year is will there be a second summit between President Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong-un? You remember it was about six months ago when they famously shook hands in Singapore and got huge attention but that meeting yielded a vaguely-worded commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and there's since limited progress on that so far.

So the real question is, you know, could a second sit-down, you know, sort of push that process forward? I think whatever we see out of a potential meeting, one thing you can be sure of is that the President is going to treat this with sort of similar fanfare.

The first time around, you remember there was a lot of on again, off again, a lot of drama, a lot of showmanship. He is already been trying to sort of build excitement and suspense. He tweeted on Christmas Eve about meeting with his advisers and, you know, looking forward to sitting down again.

HENDERSON: It could be another big deal. We'll see.


MATTINGLY: So I'm going to be fascinated this next year to watch the relationship between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker to be Nancy Pelosi. Now they're two veteran legislators. They've led their conference and caucus for more than a decade. They're pragmatic when they need to be. They have an innate sense for their members and ability to count votes.

And that's about where the comparisons or them being alike one another ends. In fact, after the election, there was talk between the two of them. And os they did agree that infrastructure is a place that maybe they could go but someone familiar with the call told me after that they didn't really have anything to talk about.

They're not friendly. They don't hang out. The only time they're in the same room together is because there's a big deadline or because there's someone being honored.

Now, they did work together as appropriators back in the day. But keep in mind, these are going to be the two people who have to strike deals to keep the government open or reopen, extend the debt limit. All these types of big things that are coming forward.

There's not going to be a ton of policy -- HENDERSON: Right.

MATTINGLY: -- that gets done in the next two years but those crucial deadlines are going to come down to those two leaders, their relationship, and how it grows or doesn't grow.


HENDERSON: And we'll -- yes, and we'll see this start --

MATTINGLY: Right away.

HENDERSON: Yes, right away.


BADE: So House Democrats have publicly set their target on Donald Trump for 2019. But behind the scenes there's a lot of internal division that is really threatening to undercut the caucus (ph) who are against the White House next year.

[08:54:59] Case in point, one of my colleagues reported just a few days ago that progressive superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is talking about primarying Hakeem Jeffries, who is a fellow New York Democrat and is seen as sort of the heir apparent for Pelosi. He would be the first black speaker in American history.

But AOC thinks he's not progressive enough apparently and has been sort of doing this whisper campaign that has a lot of House Democrats really concerned. I was talking to a few right before they left for the holidays and didn't know whether they should approach her and try to get her to back down.


BADE: They thought maybe that would have the reverse effect. And again, this speaks to this identity crisis we're seeing in the Democratic Party. How far left should they go to rally the base? Is that too far? Is that going to turn off independent voters? And this is something the party has to grapple with as they look toward 2020.

HENDERSON: Yes. What does this new guard of Democrats look like in the House and what it means for 2020?

BADE: Right.

HENDERSON: I'll close with this. With the death of John McCain and the retirement of Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, the caucus of GOP senators willing to speak out publicly against President Trump got a lot smaller. In the last Congress McCain famously broke with Trump on health care and foreign policy, Flake often expressed his concern over Trump's tone and Corker derisively dubbed Trump's White House an adult daycare center.

So what about the incoming Congress? Will it have a caucus of the concerned? One name that keeps coming up among Republicans is Utah's new senator, Mitt Romney, who was one of Trump's harshest critics in 2016. Of course, he also considered joining Trump's administration and during his senate bid said he was more hawkish than Trump on immigration. Yet during his senate bid He also criticized the administration's policy on family separations.

Who will Mitt Romney, former governor and failed presidential candidate be in the senate? And if he takes up even a small part of the McCain-Flake-Corker mantle, will he have much company? That's one of the questions floating around Washington, particularly among establishment GOPers as the new Congress is set to be sworn in.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday morning.

Hope you can catch us weekdays as well at noon Eastern.

"STATE OF THE UNION" is next with Dana Bash interviewing counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway. Stay with us.