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Women's Marches Held Across Country This Weekend; Mueller Team Issues Rare Statement Disputing Report on Trump; Trump Offers Immigrant Protections for $5.7B in Wall Funding; Trump Term Hits Halfway Mark Amid Government Shutdown. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired January 20, 2019 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:20] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King.

To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thank you for sharing your Sunday.

Democrats reject as far too little a new immigration proposal the president calls a reasonable compromise. So, the government shutdown hits the one-month mark as the president holds firm in his demand for a border wall and hopes if it doesn't bring a deal, his new proposal might at least help shift the shutdown blame.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Both sides in Washington must simply come together, listen to each other, put down their armor, build trust, reach across the aisle and find solutions. It is time to reclaim our future from the extreme voices who fear compromise and demand open borders.


KING: Plus, unprecedented followed by unfathomable. The special counsel issues a statement challenging a big "BuzzFeed" report about the Russia investigation, and the president, for once, anyway, has kind words for the man he routinely savages.


TRUMP: It was a total phony story. And I appreciate the special counsel coming out with a statement last night. I think it was very appropriate that they did so. I very much appreciate that.


KING: And women march nationwide to show their opposition to the president. This as we are reminded the Democratic field for 2020 will break a record, perhaps as many as five women in the running.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to run for president of the United States, because as a young mom, I will fight for your children as hard as I would fight for my own.

All of us love our children, and all of us want our children to have that chance to have a piece of this beautiful country, and look out into the future and see their own future. It's about the future.


KING: With us this Sunday to share their reporting and their insights: Eliana Johnson of "Politico", Michael Shear of the "New York Times," CNN's Phil Mattingly, and Seung Min Kim of the "Washington Post."

We begin with the president's new plan to open the government. Democrats call it a joke, a nonstarter. Immigration hard-liners and the president's own Republican Party mock it as amnesty, a betrayal. From that, pan on the left and the far right, we can be certain the president's package, as is, is not the elixir to end the now month- long partial government shutdown.

But will it shake up the stalemate in a meaningful way? The Republican Senate promises to take up the White House plan in the week ahead, just as the Democratic House considers a very different border security package. Democrats entered that competition confident they still hold the policy and the political high ground.

And a big part of the president's goal Saturday was to soften his tone in hope of shifting or at least spreading the blame.


TRUMP: By incorporating the priorities of rank and file Democrats in our plan, we hope they will offer their enthusiastic support, and I think many will. This is a common sense compromise both parties should embrace.


KING: Now, most of the proposals you see there are familiar, $5.7 billion for new border walls or barriers, plus new funding for humanitarian assistance, drug detection technology and more border agents and immigration judges. What's new is the president is now offering a three-year protection against deportation for 700,000 so- called Dreamers and for another 300,000 immigrants whose temporary status is set to expire.

So, the president in a traditional Washington, president gives a little. It would be time for the Democrats to come to the table and give a little. That's in a traditional Washington.

We do not live in a traditional Washington on this two-year anniversary of the Trump inauguration. That's reinforced for us.

Will this move the ball?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At least in the near term, no. Democrats have already rejected it at the leadership level and I haven't heard rank and file splitting in any way, at least up to this point.

Look, I think there's a flaw in the thinking that, oh, there's now a new policy on the table and, therefore, Democrats will have to meet them in the middle or present their own policy, because for Democrats, this is about the government is shut down. Their base line from the very beginning has been, reopen the government, we're happy to have conversations. The idea they'd move off that line would be probably even more significant than what the president put out last night. That's been their base line.

And the reason why is it's not short game. It's long game. They are thinking, we don't want to give him anything on this issue because if we do, next time there's a funding bill, next time there's a debt limit, next time there's anything, he's going to go back to this strategy because he got something out of it.

Now, to your point, if there's a very distinct possibility this draws Democrats in, maybe starts to shift the blame a little bit more and Democratic, on the rank and file, starts to feel the pressure and it jars something loose. But on its face, it's not a policy for policy trade, and it's not a policy for policy negotiation.

[08:05:01] It's a base line of if you're not willing to reopen the government first, Democrats aren't willing at all to talk about the policy.

KING: So, the Democrats say, no, nonstarter. Most of it is repackaged. Most of it is stuff you took away as Chuck Schumer put it. Now you're trying to give it back.

What about on the Republican side? Is this the president's deal, take it or leave it, or, knowing how much turmoil, quicksand I call it the immigration issue causes among Republicans, is he willing to do more, even though the initial reaction from the hard right on this was, whoo?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, look, as Phil said, the base line for Democrats is reopen the government. And I think the problem is, and the president has said, the base line for the president is he wants the funding for his wall. And he said repeatedly, Nancy said she'd only give me $1. Nancy said she'd only give me $1.

And so, the president is unwilling to reopen the government in order to start negotiations because Nancy Pelosi has said she won't fund this wall.

And there is frustration among rank and file Democrats that Pelosi said this because they feel that she has boxed herself in from negotiating at all with the president over wall funding in particular. And it does seem that if the president is unwilling to budge from that position and Pelosi is unwilling to budge from her position over giving any wall funding, we're at an impasse.

KING: So we're at an impasse. But what was striking yesterday is some of the president's language was harsh about the drugs coming across. I'll never yield the borders to the radical left. But some of it was an effort to soften his tone a little bit. You mentioned, Nancy Pelosi says I'll give him a dollar. The president won't back off from the $5.7 billion.

But listen to his tone here about the wall. This is not the sea to shining sea wall.


TRUMP: The plan includes $5.7 billion for a strategic deployment of physical barriers or a wall. This is not a 2,000-mile concrete structure from sea to sea. These are steel barriers in high priority locations.


KING: A lot of Democrats have voted for barriers in high priority locations. The president was trying to sound more reasonable.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And the administration has -- and the president himself has been trying to walk the whole concrete wall idea back for some time now because we have heard the phrase steel slats for a while. A new talking point I heard a lot from Republican senators this week is that previous presidents got walls or fences. Why can't this president get new fencing? He's only asking for 230 miles.

But I thought another interesting story line yesterday was the re- emergence of Mitch McConnell, because we've seen for four weeks now, he's been on the sidelines. He wanted Trump and the Democratic leaders to figure this out which is a very unusual position for the majority leader. But sources told me yesterday after McConnell saw the disinvite from the State of the Union by Nancy Pelosi this week, that was the turning point for him.

He was irritated that about -- what happened. He felt Nancy Pelosi would no longer negotiate in good faith and that's when he got on the phone with the president and intervened and cooked up this plan together. Now, we don't expect this bill to get 60 votes in the Senate but it is interesting to see how and what compelled him to interject himself back into this conversation.

KING: He saw the conversation go from the fifth grade level to the third grade level. I'm not joking. The sad part is, I'm not joking. The sad part is I'm not joking.

You want to jump in?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, look, I think, you know, part of the problem here is the lack of any sort of trust on the -- there's a lot of water under this bridge on this issue in particular. And, you know, when presidents make these shifts in tone that you showed, often people understand that that means something. And the problem with this president is, given the fact that people

have seen him be in one place one minute and literally a half hour later be in a completely different place, in part because the administration doesn't speak with one voice on this. You have Steven miller in one place and Jared Kushner in another place and the president kind of in the middle and pulled back and forth between the two.

And so, you know, that makes any sort of -- is this going to be the start of a serious negotiation? Well, this is all in public. This isn't sort of privately them actually working things out. There's just so much mistrust.

KING: To that point, that's why Mitch McConnell said, Mr. President issue let's do this but you have to go out publicly. If you want Republicans to vote for something a lot of our base calls amnesty, even if it's temporary status. Some conservatives call it amnesty. You go first, Mr. President, so we know this has your seal of approval in a public way.

The question is, does it move anything or do we get a House-Senate you mentioned, some Democrats -- we get a House Senate divide because House Democrats and Senate Democrats -- House and Senate members, period, don't often think alike.

Senator Manchin, Republican of West Virginia, just re-elected. So, he's nothing to worry about, but I'm hopeful the president's statement will allow us to immediately reopen the government. Put west Virginians back to work and start negotiating long-term immigration reform. I look forward to working with my GOP and Democratic colleagues to make this happen so that we can end this shameful shutdown.

[08:10:02] That from a more conservative Democrat.

But if you're Chuck Schumer, you can't get 60 votes, if you're Chuck Schumer, you're doing the math -- and you're on the phone with Joe Manchin saying, you didn't exactly mean that, did you?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, the vice president, the White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Jared Kushner, they did a briefing yesterday and two things emerged from that briefing. The first is, it's very clear that the White House is trying to drive a wedge between Democratic leadership -- first, it was between Schumer and Pelosi. They realized that's going to happen.

But now, they're trying to drive a wedge between Democratic leadership and rank and file Democrats. And what they told reporters was the ideas the president proposed, which was, you know, three-year stay for DACA recipients and for temporary protected status recipients, those ideas came from rank and file Democrats, and we're reaching out to make a compromise with them.

The second was, the White House sees this not just as a way to end the shutdown but a jumping off point potentially for comprehensive immigration reform. So, it doesn't look like many rank and file Democrats are departing from their leadership on this, but that's certainly the White House's --

KING: I want to come back to the comprehensive immigration reform in the next segment because that scares a lot of Republicans.

But let's stay -- will this break the logjam with the Democrats? "The Washington Post" editorial, not usually a fan of the president, says, make a deal. Save the Dreamers.

Saying essentially, those representing the Dreamers, pro-immigration groups say, no way, Mr. President, we're not going to take any deal for your wall for temporary status, but would the president accept a permanent status? Will he accept a path to citizenship? If that's what they want, they want negotiations over something like that.

To the point as the Democratic rank and file break, here's Congressman Jim Himes, a Democrat.


REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: It is a nonstarter but let's step away because I think there's some good news to be gleaned from this.

S.E. CUPP, CNN HOST: Oh, good.

HIMES: There's a negotiation going on. And remember, I'm not usually in the habit of praising the president. But remember, we've come a long way from a 30-foot beautiful solid wall from sea to shining sea that the Mexicans would pay for.

CUPP: Right.

HIMES: That's, obviously, an absurd starting point, and we're not there.


KING: But is -- my question, is it a starting point or is it the president laying out a plan that's more of a public relations gesture to try to shift some of the blame and responsibility but not the starting point of negotiations. Which is it?

MATTINGLY: I think it's the starting point of something, and that's because we're 24 hours ago we're at the place of nothing. So anything, I guess, is better than that.

Look, what Congressman Himes said is not really on message for where Democrats are right now. And I think that's, more than anything else, going to be the issue that the Democratic leader has to deal with over the course of the next couple of days, is Democrats on the rank and file level, while they've stuck with leadership, are very frustrated.

Remember, Democrats want government to work. Democrats are hearing from constituents. Democrats who represent places in Maryland and Virginia and federal workers around the country understand that on Friday, they missed their second paycheck and that's a real problem. If they're seen as being intransigent, they're seen as being the ones that won't come across the table not putting a new proposal forward, that's going to be an issue.

Again, that's not where Democratic leadership is right now. It will be interesting if they can keep their members here. But I do think on the policy side of things, these policies aren't the types of policies that Democrats want to get behind. Temporary status was an issue before the courts intervened before a six-month deadline was put into place. Maybe that's something to forestall deportations.

They're not there anymore. So, on TPS, on DACA, on temporary status, mix in the asylum changes, which are very opposed by Democrats, that would be in this proposal. The policy itself is not there. The big question is, does this jar something loose?

KING: And this real-time update on the question, will it jar something loose, the president this Sunday tweeting as he often does, Nancy Pelosi and some of the Democrats turned down by offer yesterday before I even got to speak. They don't see crime and drugs. They only see 2020, which they are not going to win. Best economy. They should do the right thing for the country and allow people to go back to work.

That from the president, again, a nonstarter out of the box, but let's see in the week ahead. Senate will debate, the House will debate. The president is tweeting.

Up next for us, we'll continue the conversation. Immigration hard- liners are hardly the only Republicans mad at the president. We're at the halfway mark of his term and there are big internal Republican fissures on Russia, Syria and more. And as we go to break, as Phil just noted, the voices of a shutdown in a week that could bring a second payless pay date.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have nothing, and I need to know, when is he going to open things back up, because I'm about to be evicted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm about to lose my car. My car is two months behind. I'm about to lose my Medicaid, my car insurance. I'm about to lose my driver's license.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's messing with their life, the small people, the poor people. You know, the people that struggle every day, work paycheck to pay check to pay their bills.



[08:18:31] KING: Being a partial government shutdown at the halfway mark of the president's term seems a fitting reminder of the constant chaos and disruption that is the Trump presidency. This is hardly just another partisan Washington drama. Federal workers in all 50 states, as you can see, are impacted.

And there's a 50-state domino effect on the economy. Red states might matter more to a president ramping up for re-election, and the headlines in many of those, not so great. Sampling there from Texas, Wisconsin, Arizona and North Carolina.

There is no doubt the shutdown is hurting the president's already weak political standing, even among core supporters. Look here, you see noteworthy declining from last month among white men and white women with college degrees, among suburban men and among evangelicals. Meaning, even some voters who support his wall aren't fans of shutting down the government if you can't get the votes for it.

On the other hand, immigration hard-liners warn the president better not back up on this or give up to much. We're in this shutdown, remember, because at the last minute, the president flipped and sided with the hard-liners. His new proposal suggests he might now be willing to disappoint them.

One, conservative provocateur, Ann Coulter, tweeted this after the president's new offer yesterday. Trump proposes amnesty. We voted for Trump and got Jeb.

Here's my big question. You touched on this in the earlier segment. We're in the shutdown because the president listened to the Ann Coulter, he listened to the Mark Meadows, he listened to the Fox News chatter and he blinked at the last minute and said, I'm not signing a deal without new border wall funding.

The proposal yesterday challenges the very people he sided with to start the shutdown.

[08:20:05] Has he decided he's willing to pick this fight and sustain this fight with some people call it small, but it is a very vocal piece of his base?

JOHNSON: I think this is a very risky gambit for Trump. He has a lot more to lose than gain, because he's fighting for something that really people outside his core constituency don't care all that much about. And so, if he -- any concession that he makes, he's going to disappoint the people who have been supporting him throughout this shutdown.

KING: Right. So, I mean, they yesterday at this briefing, you mentioned it, Jared Kushner says and the president himself says, not specific, just maybe -- you know, let's get the government reopened and do this temporary deal and then have conversations about comprehensive immigration reform. That's heresy to the president's anti-immigration base because that means legal status or maybe citizenship for the Dreamers. That means legal status or maybe citizenship for the other estimated 11 million. It may mean a new guest worker program.

You're literally writing a book on this. Is this -- we talk about if only Nixon can go to China, can only Trump do immigration reform? Will he do that heading into reelection?

SHEAR: Well, no, I think the answer is he won't. But also --

MATTINGLY: Read the spoiler (ph) of your book, man.


SHEAR: Read the book to find out. But, look, part of the problem is that we talk about his conservative base on immigration. It's not one monolithic group of people.

Yes, there are people for whom the wall is the most important thing. They showed up at his rallies. He liked the input he got and the applause and hooting and hollering.

But the wall isn't the only thing and there are lots of immigration hard-liners. And he's got a lot of them in his administration and more on talk radio and Fox News who care less about a wall and more about cuts to legal immigration because they think there should be fewer immigrants overall. They want, you know, changes in laws to asylum laws and other things that they think will keep immigrants from pouring into the country in their words.

And so when he -- when people think that he is going to sell out all of those other pieces for a wall, that creates a real instability in his base. And that's going to cause him political problems.

KING: An instability in his base. He's a president who doesn't like to be reminded of this, lost the popular vote. He won the presidency with a remarkable Electoral College victory. He lost the popular vote.

He always had issues with -- you know, he's the leader of the Republican Party but we saw last week, disagreements on Syria. Mr. President, please don't withdraw so quickly. Disagreements on Russia. Not enough to stop the administration's effort but Republicans splitting 11 of them in the Senate, I believe it was, on this Russia sanctions question.

The president now, fissures in the party on Syria, fissures in the party on Russia, fissures in the party on alliances in NATO. Is he now going to bring it home and have fissures in the party and he's going to talk comprehensive immigration reform? Really?

KIM: And that's why I'm going to be really watching how many of the 53 Senate Republicans actually do support this plan? I mean, on the call that Republican senators had yesterday, according to a source who was briefed on it told me there wasn't a lot of dissention. Everyone seemed to be on board with the plan.

But remember when the president's immigration plan was put forward last year during the last kind of big immigration debate on the floor, only 36 Republican senators voted for it because several of them do fundamentally believe we should lower the number of immigrants in the country or people who broke the law, even if they were children, should not be granted any sort of status for it. So right now, the party seems unified but I'll be interested to see that final vote on the floor.

KING: If it's not going to get to the finish line, if you're doubtful it's going to get to the finish line if he signed into law, a lot of conservative Republicans up for 2020 who could face a primary challenge don't want to vote for what some of the base considers to be amnesty. Even though they support it, even though some of them are willing to go beyond it, they want to make sure they only go beyond it if it becomes law. Now, if they're going to vote for it, then have it used against them in the primary.

Let me ask the flip side here. Here's an ad airing in Iowa, also in Maine, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia. Can Democrats make this case?


AD NARRATOR: It's the longest government shutdown in history. Food safety inspections stopped nationwide. Pilots have warned our air security is now at risk. And across Iowa, countless farmers cut off from the vital programs they rely on.

Tell Joni Ernst, put Iowa over party and demand an end to the shutdown.


KING: We talked about the immigration tensions within the Republican Party. This is, sorry, to the 800,000 federal workers, this is about 2020. Maybe it shouldn't be, but this is partly at least about 2020, and you see that.

Is there any evidence to prove the Democrats in that super PAC are increasing heat back home on Republicans?

MATTINGLY: I think to some degree they are. The question is not whether or not Corey Gardner in Colorado or Susan Collins in Maine are feeling pressure. It's whether or not the majority of Republican conference is feeling a lot of pressure.

And the short answer is, no. One, the pool of people this could actually affect is very, very small. If you look at the number of Republicans, and there are a large number of Republicans up in 2020, the vast majority aren't in purple states. They aren't in blue states. They're in solid red states and cutting across against the president would be far more detrimental to their election than responding to this ad.

[08:25:04] And so, I think that's one element of this. And I think it underscores a broader point as to why we're in this place. The incentives have not been aligned. The traditional way of folks facing re-election, folks hearing it from back home that need to come to the table and come to a solution, it does not exist in this regard like you would think it would.

And I think the cracks that everybody has expected over the course of the last 30 days, regardless of Democratic caucus or Republican conference, simply haven't shown up because the politics aren't aligned in that regard and the policies, to your point about immigration, to your point about hard-liners care more about interior enforcement, things of that nature than they do about the wall haven't lined up to create any type of incentive.

KING: And the president, again, the second time this morning, good morning, Mr. President, it's -- he understands. He understands the sensitivity here and he understands the differing definitions of amnesty within his own base. Some people think if you give any legal status to anyone that crossed the border illegally, that's amnesty. The president saying, no.

There's a new tweet just moments ago: Amnesty is not a part of my offer. It's a three-year extension of DACA. Amnesty will only be used on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else. Likewise, there will be no push to remove 11 million people who are here illegally, but careful.

And then you see, the goes on there he's making his point.

But there's the sensitivity, no, amnesty is not a part of my offer. Many of his people in his own base think it is. If you give any status, any protection to someone who came into the country illegally, they define that as amnesty.

This is part of the problem. There's no one definition within the party. We'll continue the conversation. The president, obviously, understands the politics, not just with the Democrats but within his own base.

Up next, the Women's March, year three. Smaller crowds, but, yes, a celebration of big 2018 wins and of record-setting 2020 Democratic presidential field.


[08:30:55] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: A look here -- images from the third annual Women's March which took place in cities across the country yesterday. The crowd, certainly not as large as the first two and the march not without controversy, including allegations two national organizers have a history of anti-Semitism.

But most marchers focused on big gains for women in the 2018 elections and spoke of the need to keep momentum building toward 2020. Already we have a little history there.

Let's take a little peek at the history. Relatively rare to have serious contenders, female contenders for president. Margaret Chase Smith back in 1964. You see through the history here. Hillary Clinton, of course, the nominee in 2016.

In many cases, the candidates who announce for president, the female candidates, don't even make it to the first primary. But this is a bit of the history here. Hillary Clinton again, not only the nominee, first she had to go through the Democratic primaries.

Look how important the women's vote was to her against Bernie Sanders. These lighter states, the states where Hillary Clinton carried the women's vote in the Democratic primary -- a big part of her base and some ways a lesson for the Democrats looking to follow her footsteps. And this year, we could have history. We will have history. We'll have at least three and we could have as many as five women running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Some already campaigning. Some teasing us a little bit. But we could have five or maybe four women running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

What's interesting, despite the big push by women in 2018, the big success by women in 2016, the early 2020 polls, it's mostly men. Kamala Harris ties with John Kerry here at 4 percent. Joe Biden, the former vice president in the pack in the early polls. Early polls tend to change in presidential contests. Kamala Harris getting ready perhaps to enter the race. Among them also Kirsten Gillibrand who says, yes sure, I know these numbers. But the she thinks women will power her or perhaps one of these other women to victory.


SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: The truth is, if we changed who is at the decision-making table, we would change everything.

President Trump has inspired so much hate, so much division, it's destroying common decency. It's corrupting the soul of this country. Together we can defeat that hate. Together we can bring this country back together again.


KING: It's fascinating to watch these early days. That's Gillibrand out in Iowa. She went to Iowa -- hello, Iowa caucuses -- to be in the women's march. She's very confrontational and very direct with Trump.

Elizabeth Warren who has sparred with Trump in the pre-candidacy days trying to step back from that and do more biography and populism in the early stages. It's just fun to watch because we really don't know which approach is the approach that's going to light a fire among Democratic voters.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. I think what we had seen for some time among the Democratic candidates was that they weren't willing to engage with Trump directly because we see what happens when you get into a punching match with the President. He punches back much harder.

I mean you saw that with Elizabeth Warren in particular. So it will be interesting to see how the President reacts to Kirsten Gillibrand who -- he has made some, some would say inappropriate comments about her in the past, but whether that tactic is going to really stand out in a Democratic primary where some of the voters do want people to punch back and be a fighter.

But at the same time, in the 2018 midterms, Democrats were so successful because they had focused on a message -- health care and the economy.

KING: Five women candidates, possibly; likely four anyway. The question -- I think Amy Klobuchar is the biggest question in that group right there whether she gets in. Kamala Harris is not officially in yet. Tulsi Gabbard is in. Senator Warren's in. Kirsten Gillibrand is in.

Part of the issue here is early on the women, just like the men have to say sorry and try to fix some things.

Here's Kirsten Gillibrand trying to explain when she was in the House, she's from upstate New York, she had an "A" rating from the NRA. Here's how she explains it.

GILLIBRAND: I only really looked at guns through the lens of hunting. My mother still shoots the Thanksgiving turkey. But when I became senator, I recognized I had a lot to learn about my state and all the 20 million people I was going to represent.


KING: People of all -- President Trump is all the proof you need that candidates and people evolve. You know, you can get elected president or you can win a nomination or you can win some key primaries or caucuses as someone who changed your position.

[08:35:06] That's a colorful way to do it. "My mother still shoots the Thanksgiving turkey."

It's interesting to watch some of these candidates right out of the box have to say sorry or explain why they changed their mind about some things.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, It underscores the Democratic primary that they're walking themselves into right now. But look, if only there was historical precedent that somebody who vacillated on core positions become the President of the United States.

I think none of them like to, to Seung Min's point about what strategy in terms of how you deal with the President is going to work. I think where is the Democratic base on where you were six years ago, eight years, ten years ago versus what you're saying and what you're doing now is another one of those things that I'm really interested to find out.

I think people are making a lot of assumptions about what would work or where the Democratic base is or how much is split between resistance versus what we saw in the midterms or health care was the key issue. And also the inability for some candidates to be able to do both or to appeal to all of the above.

And those are the questions I think we're going to start getting the answers to over the course of the next couple of weeks as polling starts to come out after these initial visits but the answers to those will dictate who becomes the Democratic candidate, not right now.

KING: And the best candidates can change that dynamic. For Bill Clinton it was you're pro-business. You're from Arkansas. We're a liberal party, not a centrist party. Bill Clinton said I can win. I can win.

Barack Obama was, you know, you're young, you're appealing but you're African-American. Is there any way? He said, yes, I can win. He proved it by winning. So the question is can the candidates convince the Democrats -- can the best candidate convince?

For Kamala Harris, who we expect to get into the race relatively soon, Harris was not a progressive prosecutor -- one "New York Times" headline. Bloomberg says Kamala Harris' early no on wall may give her an edge in 2020.

So to your point, each of these candidates has pluses. They can sell to the base. Some of them have some things that need some explaining.

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I also think you're seeing another dynamic which is the President -- who is the President focusing on?

KING: Right.

JOHNSON: You saw an early focus from Trump on Elizabeth Warren, talking about her questionable Native American heritage. And there are many people who think the President is focusing on the people who he would like to run again. The people who he thinks he could beat rather than, you know, and I think there's some truth to that because he is -- he is a counterpuncher.

But also he's trying to choose his opponent, and he does best when he's got somebody to parlay against. And so I wonder how much attention Democrats will be paying to that. And looking at the people that the President is not talking about.

KING: And to that point, we watch him. And we also -- if you wanted a break between 2018 and 2020, our apologies. Number one, you have a crowded Democratic field. So they're out of the gates early. They're trying to establish themselves.

And we have the Martin Luther King holiday tomorrow and w know the Vice President and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York will speak here in Washington. Gillibrand is back home in her state New York. Elizabeth Warren will be home in Boston. Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders are in South Carolina.

These are just some of the events we know of. Some other presidential prospects will be out there speaking as well. The starting gate has lifted.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. But you know, here's one thing. Keep in mind, we are so early. And if you look back in the history of presidential politics not much that happens this early on is really what ends up shaping who is going to be the nominee.

And you have a situation now where President Trump sucks out all the oxygen of every day. Every day there's ten stories that we could cover and we can only cover half of them. And so it's possible that there will be a little bit more, you know,

time for these candidates to kind of go to Iowa, go to New Hampshire, go to South Carolina, kind of test out their message. And not much of what happens now is going to be the determinative factor. It's going to happen later.

KING: My only disagreement is so small. It's that the best candidates -- just to quote, Richard Ben Cramer -- is to have what it takes. They get the gut from those early travels. They get a gut -- oh the base is moving. The base wants to stay. Their gut is shaped by the early -- and that teaches them what they do later. We will see how this plays out.

Up next, why the President, get this, is thanking the special counsel.


KING: This weekend will be remembered as that time two things that we never imagined could happen happened. The office of special counsel Robert Mueller late Friday issued an unprecedented statement disputing a media report about its investigation. And the President then had kind words about a man he routinely savages as the leader of a corrupt witch hunt.

The statement came after BuzzFeed reported the special counsel had witnesses and documents to back up Michael Cohen's claim that the President told him to lie to Congress about Russia business dealings.

Mueller's spokesman said quote, "BuzzFeed's description of the specific statements to the special counsel's office and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office regarding Michael Cohen's congressional testimony are not accurate."


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a total phony story. And I appreciate the special counsel coming out with a statement last night. I think it was very appropriate that they did so. I very much appreciate that.

I think that the BuzzFeed piece was a disgrace to our country. It was a disgrace to journalism. And I think also that the coverage by the mainstream media was disgraceful.

Two wows.

SHEAR: The never-ending battle between who he hates more -- the special counsel or the media. Apparently the media today, but --

KING: But an unprecedented statement from the special counsel's office which says something in that story is wrong. BuzzFeed is standing by the story.

And the President is right. The media did pick up that story and ran big with it, including Fox News. In fact he criticizes the mainstream -- whatever he wants to say -- on Friday. The President's got a point. The question is BuzzFeed standing by it. But for the special counsel, that's a big deal. They never issue specific statements about media reports.

KIM: I think definitely, the spokesman for the special counsel's team Peter Carr has become some sort of entity for his constant "no comments" on the various stories that we've seen about the Mueller investigation.

[08:44:52] I also want to -- I also kind of want to point out that there's going to be a lot more desire for the public to hear from Michael Cohen in the coming weeks. Obviously, he's testifying before the House in early February.

And just in some conversations with the Intel Committee Chairman Richard Burr, he's not ruling out subpoenaing him before his committee either. So it will be interesting to watch to see if that actually comes in the coming days.

KING: And I also thing because of stories like this and not just because of this one that's controversial, the American people -- people in Congress saying they want to know what the special counsel knows.

Here's the President's choice for attorney general saying you might not get all of it.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: My objective and goal is to get as much as I can of the information to Congress and the public. And, you know, these are departmental regulations, and I'm going to be talking to Rod Rosenstein and Bob Mueller.

I don't know what, at the end of the day, what will be releasable.


KING: This one's going to be an interesting debate.

JOHNSON: Well recall -- it will be, but recall that, I think Barr's comments make more sense when you know that this is a counterintelligence investigation. And I do think that Barr is referring to those aspects when he said we don't know what Mueller is going to have in that report. And it's likely that I think those parts are going to be what's blocked. Nonetheless there's going to be extraordinary scrutiny of any parts of that report that are blacked out.

KING: And Democrats say if they don't like what they get, they subpoena it. Bring Mueller up and make him testify. We'll see if that one works out.

All right. Fascinating week behind us and interesting week ahead as this shutdown debate continues.

Coming up our reporters share a page from their notebooks, including another impact of the shutdown -- some stalled picks for the cabinet.


KING: Let's head one last time around the INSIDE POLITICS table and ask our great reporters to share a little something from their notebooks to help get you out ahead of the political news just around the corner.


JOHNSON: The shutdown is having an internal cost to the Trump administration. There are, of course, the 800,000 federal workers who aren't getting paid and contractors and economic costs that we've heard about.

But the internal costs are the President has a lot of vacant cabinet positions. He's got acting cabinet secretaries in there now. Bill Barr, the attorney general, his confirmation hearing was scheduled before this shutdown took place and we saw hearings on that this week.

But the interior -- he's got an acting Interior Secretary, an acting Defense Secretary. And since the shutdown happened, we've had essentially no movement when it comes to filling those positions.

And that's, I think, an interesting note that's been very little talked about since this shutdown began. It will be interesting to see if and when this ends if we see pick-up on filling some of those positions.

KING: Or if months from now we're talking about the price to pay for having them.


SHEAR: So the word that President Trump and Kim Jong-Un might have another meeting at the end of next month, possibly in Vietnam, made me want to look back at foreign travel that this president has done. The President took ten trips in the first two years overseas -- ten overseas trips in the first two years of his presidency. That's exactly what President Obama took in his first year alone.

So President Trump is well behind the pace of his predecessor. We know, that's not a surprise since we know that this president doesn't particularly like foreign travel. He doesn't like the formality of those trips. He's had a lot of tense interactions especially with allies overseas.

And he started -- and he's canceled a lot of trips. He canceled a regular trip to Asia that presidents normally take, sending Mike Pence instead. He canceled stops in Ireland and Colombia last year and, of course, already this year canceled a trip to Davos that he was supposed to take.

So I think it wouldn't be a surprise if what we find is that this president is sort of a homebody for the next two years of this term. Although you can imagine if things get bad enough with Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats and the Mueller report comes out and things get really tough that you could imagine that he might think leaving the country and getting out of Dodge is something that he wants to do more.

KING: He'll want to go hang out with his friends in NATO.


SHEAR: Maybe.

MATTINGLY: So a lot of attention has been paid to the Democratic chairman in the House and the pain that they can create for President Trump. But quietly this week, the House Financial Services Committee chair Maxine Waters, no fan of the President, and top Republican on the panel, Patrick McHenry introduced a bill together.

Now, it wasn't a sweeping proposal. It was something to tighten up the notoriously gray area of rules on insider trading. But to underscore something that I've been hearing over the course of the last couple of weeks. Patrick McHenry and Maxine Waters who are ideologically on complete opposite ends of the spectrum, both can be pretty fiery when pushed into the corner -- we will probably see that on the committee -- but actually have a pretty good working relationship and a lot of respect for another.

Both respect one another's intellect and kind of political know-how. Not a ton on the policy side of things is going to get done this year. I think everybody agrees on that, in fact, the government's still shutdown.

But keep an eye on these two because on small board policy items, things that maybe get through on a bipartisan basis, they might be the ones to do it. They will also probably get in some pretty fun scraps to watch on the committee.

But while everybody is focused on the partisanship or even on that committee itself, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joining the committee, look at the top two. There might be some bipartisan ship and if nothing else, the two at least respect one another which given the current state of affairs is well, better than nothing.

KING: Respect -- God forbid. Welcome back to Washington.

Seung Min.

KIM: One of the little noticed but pretty interesting part of Bill Barr's confirmation hearing this week is how forcefully the attorney general nominee talked about gun policy. He called guns the epidemic of our time and he really said more states need to pass these so- called red flag laws which allow guns to be seized temporarily from people that are deemed a threat.

And I thought it was interesting how forcefully he spoke. He said, you know, while the Second Amendment is the Second Amendment, that doesn't dissuade reasonable gun regulation. And while there was a lot of focus on the Russia part of that hearing and the Mueller reports you could see where gun issues could be an area of potential bipartisan cooperation should he be confirmed as attorney general.

Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, she's probably not going to vote for him at the end of the day because of the Mueller stuff, but she seemed pretty pleased with his answers when it comes to guns.

KING: That will be fun to watch heading into the President's re- election cycle.

I'm going to close with the intersection of politics and sports. The next championship team due for a White House visit isn't worried about fast food maybe being on the menu. The Boston Red Sox trying to balance respect and tradition with some bad blood about Trump, especially over his treatment of Puerto Rico.

The Red Sox manager Alex Cora is from Puerto Rico and makes no secret he thinks the President was too slow to help after Hurricane Maria and is still doing nowhere near enough.

[08:55:02] Cora at first said he respects the tradition and would find a respectful way to make clear his views about hardship back home. But he told reporters covering the team this past he's torn and could change his mind.

A team official tells CNN, right now just a few to maybe a handful of Sox players are likely to skip but that official acknowledges that number could rise if the team's very popular manager decides to boycott. One out would be if the shutdown continues.

The Sox are scheduled two weeks from Monday. Team management going on the record this weekend saying it would be inappropriate to celebrate while so many people are going without a paycheck.

Keep an eye on that. Pitchers and catchers -- get ready to report.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday morning. Hope you can catch us weekdays as well. We're here at noon Eastern.

Up next, stay with us. President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani and the Democratic presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand among Jake Tapper's guests on "STATE OF THE UNION".

Stay with us and please, have a great Sunday.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Speaking out. In a rare statement, special counsel Robert Mueller's office disputes an allegation.