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Trump's Right for National Emergency; Trump on Wall Payment; Trump Heads to Border; McConnell and Republicans Huddle to Find Way Out. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 10, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:0019] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump on his way to the U.S.-Mexico border. He says he's open to a compromise to end the government shutdown, but today is about making clear it would have to include his wall.

Democrats repeat, the wall to them is a nonstarter. And on this day 20, they blame the president for the increasing stress on furloughed federal workers.

One way out, some believe the only way out, is for the president to declare a national emergency to take wall money from the Pentagon, maybe other federal agencies. He says that might happen soon, but it's clear his immediate goal is to try to get the Democrats to blink.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I find China, frankly, in many ways, to be far more honorable than crying Chuck and Nancy. I really do. I think that China is actually much easier to deal with than the opposition party.


KING: And we begin there with the president headed to the border this hour as both he and the Democrats look much more interested in making points, not deals.

Talks to end the government shutdown have evaporated. That with the president's negotiating table bye-bye, closing the door on the latest attempt to break the border wall impasse. Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls it a Situation Room temper tantrum that, in her view, shows the president unwilling to make a deal. The president stopped on the White House lawn today to suggest Democrats are the unreasonable ones.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The buck stops with everybody. They could solve this problem in literally 15 minutes. We could be back. We could have border security. They could stop this problem in 15 minutes if they wanted to. I really believe now that they don't want to. I really believe that. I really believe that they don't care about crime.


KING: The president's afternoon trip to the border today another publicity gambit hoping, hoping he can change minds about the border wall. His chat with reporters before jetting off reinforced the cold shutdown reality. Pelosi won't give him a wall. The president won't abandon it. Which means a last resort assertion of presidential powers looks more and more like the only way out of the now 20 day old standoff -- shutdown standoff, excuse me.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have the absolutely right to declare a national emergency. The lawyers have so advised me. I'm not prepared to do that yet, but if I have to I will. I have no doubt about it, I will.

If we don't make a deal, I mean, I would say 100 percent, but I don't want to say 100 percent because maybe something else comes up. But if we don't make a deal, it would say it would be very surprising to me that I would not declare a national emergency and just fund it through the various mechanisms.


KING: That's the president.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House now.

The president saying maybe, maybe, maybe. We understand the White House Counsel's Office is doing the paperwork, the research to get him to that point.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're getting ready for the president to take that maybe to a yes, that he's going to declare a national emergency, though right now that's still uncertain. But the White House legal team is preparing the legal justification for the president to do so since it's been widely assumed that if he does declare a national emergency on the border, that it will certainly face a court battle.

Now, that legal strategy that they are -- and that legal justification that they are prepping right now includes a legal defense because they do assume that that is something it could come down to. And that legal defense includes something you've seen and noticed over recent days is not only the president, but several of his aides and spokesmen have been coming out and calling this a crisis on the border. They want to use that to justify if the president does declare it a national emergency. And according to what our reporting shows, the more that they say that this is a crisis, the more times the legal team will be able to point to those times in their legal defense strategy.

Now, they're also looking for other ways here, John, including that the White House has held every single meeting they've had with congressional leaders over this shutdown, including that pretty brief one yesterday that only lasted about 15 minutes in the White House Situation Room. They want that to really convey what they believe, that this is a crisis on the border, something that Democrats have essentially said that they are making up.

Now, the president didn't commit to declaring this a national emergency, but our sources inside the White House say that is increasingly seeming like the only option, because it doesn't seem that these negotiations are going to pan out between the White House and Democrats. And if that wasn't obvious enough, it was when the president compared the House speaker to negotiating with the leader of China earlier today.

So, John, that's what they're waiting on right now, for the president to be prepared to do that. But we are told right now we don't expect him to do so at the border today.

KING: Not today at least.

Kaitlan Collins live at the White House. Appreciate that.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace with the "Associated Press," Paul Kane with "The Washington Post," Perry Bacon of FiveThirtyEight, and Margaret Talev with "Bloomberg."

[12:05:06] I'm struck just by the reporting there. They say the more they say crisis, the more justification they have for declaring a crisis. If I keep saying "Powerball," do I win the Powerball? Well, let's -- let's -- sorry.


KING: Sorry.

But they're preparing the paperwork, which is what they're supposed to do when your boss tells you this is a distinct possibility. Most Republican members of Congress, even those who support the president on the wall, don't want this to happen because it's an usurpation of congressional authority, the president saying essentially I'm going around you.

But is it -- is it, given what happened yesterday, given what we've heard from the president today and the Democratic leaders today, and we'll get to them in a minute, is it the only visible off-ramp at the moment?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": It certainly looks like it is if the president's condition here is if we can't make a deal then I will do this. Then there's no indication that there's a deal in the works at this point.

I think the question is, if he does go forward with a national emergency, what does that actually do to funding the government? Does -- does the Democratic Party, do Republicans go -- push him to say, if you do this, then you have to at least sign a funding bill. I don't think we've heard that from the president yet, if he would -- if he would make sure that the government does open if he goes forward with an emergency.

KING: It's a -- it is a missing piece. And one of the things we did -- the president, whether you like him or don't like him, one of the remarkable things about him is he's fully transparent. He stops with reporters today on the White House lawn. He makes his case. And today is about making points, not about making deals. He's going to the border. Again, we'll hear from the Democrats in a minute. Nobody is in the mood to make a deal today. They're trying to create -- reinforcing their political standing.

Listen to the president here. We know there are some Republicans meeting with Chuck Schumer -- I mean with Mitch McConnell right now, their leader, saying, wait a minute, we're getting a little nervous about this. We know the president went up to see those Republicans yesterday. And it is fair, the president is right, to say the Republicans are not running, yet, but they are a little nervous. The president says, no, they're not.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Republicans are extremely united. They all want to see something happen, but they're extremely united. And I don't think I've ever seen unity like this in the Republican Party.

We have tremendous unity in the Republican Party. It's really a beautiful thing to see. I don't think there will be any breakaway because they know we need border security and we have to have it.


KING: He did, correct me if I'm wrong, he did buy himself more time yesterday.


KING: He went up to The Hill and said, look, I need you to stay with me. We're going to work this out. Trust me. How long will that last?

KANE: Oh, you know, it depends on who you ask. If you go to the Susan Collins/Lisa Murkowski sort of wing of that Republican caucus, they're very -- Murkowski keeps saying, urgency, urgency because tomorrow -- Friday is payday and a whole several hundred thousand federal employees aren't going to get paid.

But there are other senators, other Republicans, that are kind of dug in right now and they're willing to let this go for a couple of weeks, I think, possibly up to State of the Union, which is January 29th, and sort of play it out, see where this goes.

KING: That's a risky gamble. Another thing we heard from the president -- again, he's on his way to

Texas. He's on his way to a place where there is some wall. And he wants to build more wall. And why is the president so sensitive about who's going to pay for it?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When during the campaign, I would say Mexico is going to pay for it, obviously I never said this and I never meant they're going to write out a check. I said they're going to pay for it. They are. They are paying for it with the incredible deal we made called the United States Mexico and Canada, USMCA deal. Mexico is paying for the wall indirectly. And when I said Mexico will pay for the wall in front of thousands and thousands of people, obviously they're not going to write a check.


KING: It's not how trade deals work, but I'm not going to get into that right now.

Mexico's not paying for the wall. If it goes through, taxpayers are going to pay for the wall --


KING: Either from the Pentagon budget or they compromise and they cut a deal.

But the president brought that up. The president brought that up. What -- why is he so sensitive about the who's going to pay for it part?

BACON: He's made a campaign promise and he's clearly aware that it's be -- that it's going to be broken. And that's why this shutdown is a bailout (ph). And he's being criticized for that and we're in the media saying that too. So he's like sort of openly almost discussing. He sounds like someone who's guilty of messing up something and saying, well, that's not really what I meant to say. Even though I covered him in the campaign, I never heard him say, we'll have a wall paid for through Congress. You know, the (INAUDIBLE) he gave was not very clear. What people heard was, we will build the wall, Mexico will pay for it in some direct way, and you can tell he's nervous about that.

KING: I don't think anybody believed that part to begin with.

PACE: Right.

BACON: I didn't believe (INAUDIBLE).

KING: I think the whole -- that was the whole point about, you know, look, I'm going to be really tough on border security and this is my way of communicating that.

BACON: Right.

KING: But you see what's under his skin by when he comes out and what he brings up in his sessions with reporters. It's like his therapy.

TALEV: You can see this kind of steady redefining of what the terms would need to be. And, at the same time, a feeling that even if all those terms slid, it had to be a concrete wall, but it could actually be a steel fence. Mexico has to pay for it, but actually they already have paid for it. That even if all of those new conditions were met, the redefining conditions, that he still may pull the trigger on this emergency.

[12:10:16] And I think for the Republicans, the problem is not necessarily whether he declares the emergency, it's if it's sustained by the courts. If he tries and the courts say no, then he gave it the old college try, he can show the base he did everything he can, that the system's stacked against him, whatever. But if he tries and he wins, then he has redefined the balance of power in Washington, created a massive political crisis, created a situation where if the next president is a Democrat and the Republicans are in charge of any chamber of commerce, it doesn't matter what they want to do, depending on how the court rules, you know, none of this is new. This has all been debated for the last few days, everything from health care to climate change or whatever.

But so it -- it is a -- it is a -- it's like it will be a short-term solution with profound long-term consequences.

KING: Right. It's not the way it was supposed to work.

TALEV: Right.

KING: You're supposed -- a president proposes, Congress disposes, and you take votes. You take votes. Somebody wins. Somebody loses. And, in the normal world that we used to live in, you cut a deal. If you're at an impasse, you cut some sort of a deal.

You're right, the next president, Democratic or Republican, or Donald Trump in the -- more in his term, I didn't get my way, it's an emergency. I didn't get my way, it's an emergency. That's dangerous.

Here's the point. He says he's going to get to that point at some point. His lawyer is with him today. The secretary of the Army is with him today. They are the people who would be most affected if he decided to declare a national emergency, take the money from the Pentagon.

The president says he's not there yet. What he's trying to do first is to get the Democrats to blink. The question is, will this work?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no reason why we can't come to a deal. But you have another side that doesn't care about border security. The Democrats, which I've been saying all along, they don't give a damn about crime. They don't care about crime. They don't care about gang members coming in and stabbing people and cutting people up.

They've been taken over by a group that's so far left, I really don't think they care about crime.


KING: Most Democrats care about crime. All Democrats care about crime. We can have debates about how to deal with crime.

But, to this point, the president's trying to make a political argument. He's trying to get other Democrats, maybe less liberal Democrats, to blink and put pressure on their leadership. It reminds me a little bit of when the Tea Party first came to power in Washington. The Democrats kept saying, oh, my God, why are these people doing this? Why won't they compromise? Well, they're doing exactly -- the Tea Party guys did exactly what they said they would do in the campaign, say no every time Obama said yes. These -- the Democrats in the House, who are -- especially the newly elected ones -- ran saying, we will say no every time Trump says yes, and that's what they're doing.

KANE: Absolutely. You know, this was -- this was a midterm election. It was about putting a check on Donald Trump. The issue now is for the Democratic class, they've got about 63 newcomers, some of them are from districts that Trump still won, maybe only by four or five points, but they're in swing districts and they're trying to measure that balance between we said we would put a check on Trump versus, oh, my gosh, we want government to function and our voters back home want some functionality.

So there are a good two dozen of them that are going to have to work this out. Some of those from the more liberal districts, like, you know, the Bronx, Queens, they don't have to worry about this. They're here to fight.

PACE: The reality is the politics on a shutdown are not static. We were going to -- about to hit tomorrow the first pay period that people are going to miss.

KING: Right.

PACE: If it becomes two pay periods, three pay periods, which party is most successful in making the argument about why we're in this shutdown? And Democrats feel pretty strongly they have a pretty good case to make, hey, you are missing your paychecks because the president is asking for a border wall. That doesn't add up. They feel good about that -- that political argument.

KING: And, again, the key point is, can they sustain it as we go. And as of now, there's no end in sight. We'll see if the visit to the border today changes anteing as part of that.

Up next, we go live to the communities impacted by the president's push for a border wall.

And as we go to break, there's an -- the AFL-CIO holding an event right now, right now, calling for the government to re-open, do its job.


RICHARD TRUMKA, PRESIDENT, AFL-CIO: End this lockout, open the government, do you job so we can do our job.



[12:18:28] KING: The president arrives in Texas in a little bit in the middle, of course, of the big Washington debate over the border wall. The president says that wall will solve what he calls a national security crisis, and a humanitarian crisis. Do people who live on that border, do they feel they need that wall?

Our Ed Lavandera is in Mission, Texas.

Ed, you've been down there talking to ranchers, other members of the communities. How do they feel about the president's demand?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, it's not that everybody down here along these border regions, especially here in the Rio Grande Valley, is against the idea of a wall. There are some people who support it. But by and large, most people that you speak with, John, here say that they do not believe that the amount of money that it takes to build up and fortify these border structures, fences, walls, whatever it is you want to call them, is really worth the money.

Just to kind of give you a sense of where we're at here, John, you see, that's the Rio Grande you see there in the distance behind me, Mexico over there on your left.

We're standing on a levee just inside of this river and people might be surprised to hear that there's already a number of projects that are in the works, about eight or so, up and down the U.S. southern border where border fencing is either being newly built or replaced. This is money that was already earmarked, already in the system, paying for some of these projects.

Here in Mission, Texas, there is one of those proposals already in the works. And the fence and the border wall would go along this stretch of the levee, which means everybody to the left side of this would actually be in this -- what they describe as a no man's land, sitting there between the south of a wall and the river. Many people cut off.

We spoke with one man who owns about 65 acres of land just over here, a little bit north of where we are. His name is Fred Cavazos. And he says that that wall is supposed to be start -- along here is supposed to be starting -- being built in February, and he feels like he's running out of time to stop it.

[12:20:15] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAVANDERA: So you're running out of time?

FRED CAVAZOS, FAMILY OWNS 64 ACRES IN MISSION, TEXAS: Yes. What can you do? You can't fight the government. We'll try. We'll try to stop them and stall a little bit, but we can't -- we can't stop the government. They'll do what they want to do.


LAVANDERA: So, John, a lot of frustration, tension. Many people worried about the continued efforts by the Trump administration to continue building and pushing for more border wall, hundreds more miles of these structures to be built in these areas. And here in Texas is really where it becomes complicated because there's so much private land along the U.S. southern border that a lot of this will be tied up in the courts for months and years to come.


KING: Complications in Washington, complications right there where the rubber meets the road.

Ed Lavandera, appreciate the reporting from Texas. We'll see if the president can change any minds while he's there today.

Coming up, we've reached that point in the government shutdown where the most important thing is, this is Washington, of course, making sure everybody knows it's the other side's fault.


[12:26:02] KING: Welcome back.

Apologies to the utter mess in Washington. Today's debate isn't really about ending the government shutdown, it's about assigning blame. The president had the stage first blaming the Democrats, he called crying Chuck and Nancy. That would be the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, who say the blame, no, rests with the president and the Republican leadership.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: Take an oath to the Constitution or an oath to Donald Trump? Of course the president doesn't believe in governance, so he doesn't care if governance doesn't take place. He doesn't appreciate the role of public policy in the lives of the American people.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Leader McConnell, quote, the guy who gets us out of shutdowns, is aiding and a abetting the blockade against reopening the government over a policy he doesn't fully support.


KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly is live on Capitol Hill.

Phil, a lot of finger pointing, a lot of blame game. Is there -- do you see a path here either to a compromise or one side blinking? PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, if

you have an idea to bridge the current unbridgeable divide, I know probably about 535 some odd members who work in the building that I'm currently in who would love to hear from you.

The short answer is, no. It's wild that we are now 20 days into this. Nobody seems to have moved an inch and nobody seems to be willing to move an inch right now. The baselines are the same as they were when Paul Kane, on your panel right now, and I were standing out here late at night three hours before the government actually shut down. And I don't see anyone here who thinks that's going to change anytime soon.

Now, there are talks that are going on right now amongst a group of Senate Republicans. Senate Republicans, some of whom have expressed frustration with the president's strategy, two of whom, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, confronted the president about that in the closed door meeting at the Senate Republican Conference lunch yesterday. But the odds of that deal actually coming together seem very, very slim.

Now, I would note, the lawmakers that are in the room having these talks are serious lawmakers who are trying to put something together. The baseline right now, and what we're told is a skeleton proposal, is some temporary protection for DACA recipients in exchange for billions of dollars for the wall. But the reality is, right now that's just a group of Republicans that are meeting. They just met a short while ago with Vice President Mike Pence. The White House seems to be at least somewhat amenable to listening to the discussions.

But guess who's not in the room? Democrats. And every Democrat I've talked to, every senior Democratic aide I've talked to over the course of the last 12 hours or so is basically saying there's no chance this turns into anything at all. They have all participated in these immigration debates with this administration. There is no trust whatsoever, particularly on the issue of DACA. And so while there are talks going on with a small group, the best way probably to look at those talks, at least at the moment, is there are a group of lawmakers that are frustrated. Frankly, they're bored. They want to try and figure out some way and so they're going to meet.

Will it turn into anything? Nobody really thinks so. And if that doesn't turn into anything, and leadership level clearly isn't going to turn into anything any time soon, the messaging wars, I think that's probably about the extent of what you're going to see in the coming days.

KING: OK. We'll keep at that. And as Julie noted a bit earlier, tomorrow nearly a million federal workers don't get their paycheck. And then two weeks from tomorrow, they don't get their second paycheck. And we'll see if that changes the dynamic.

But to Phil's point, I'm not questioning the intentions of these lawmakers. It's largely the group we have seen before. We're going to find the solution to repeal and replace Obamacare. We're going to find the solution to the problems that come along. They meet. They're well- intentioned. Is there any -- a, is there any evidence they can have an impact here? And, b, isn't the fact that we're seeing this same group meet, doesn't it miss the point? Nancy Pelosi is now speaker of the House. We live in a different world.

KANE: Mike Pence sat in a lunch with Senate Republicans on I think it was December 19th as they discussed that CR to keep the government open, the funding -- stopgap funding resolution to February 8th. Senate Republicans looked at each other, he didn't object. They went and voted for it unanimously. The next day --

KING: The president pulled the rug out from under them.

KANE: So anything Mike Pence is doing right now up there comes with a credibility factor of just about zero.

[12:30:03] KING: That's -- that's -- I mean if you think about that, the president's point man on Capitol Hill, nobody trusts.