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Lawmakers Kick Off Talks; Trump Slams Intel Chiefs; McConnell Sides with Intel Chiefs. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 30, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Officials present or requiring that the president -- that the translator in question give him his notes, as happened at the G-20 in 2017.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. The mystery continues.

Thanks, Jeremy. It's great to see you.

It's great to see all of you. Thanks for joining me.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Wall or no wall? Congressional negotiators meet this afternoon to begin crafting a big border security package. The president says it's a waste of time if he doesn't get his wall money.

Plus, they are wrong. The president launches a morning tweet storm questioning the judgment and the smarts of his own top intelligence chiefs.

And, the battle of the billionaires, Trump, Bloomberg and now Schultz. Elizabeth Warren, meet Howard from the hood.


HOWARD SCHULTZ, FORMER CEO OF STARBUCKS: I grew up in the projects in Brooklyn, New York.

I came from the projects.

We were completely destitute.


KING: Back to that in a moment.

But we begin the hour with the big meeting this afternoon on Capitol Hill with an agenda that seems like a mission impossible. Finding consensus on the border security issues that just led to that partial government shutdown. A bipartisan group of lawmakers meeting this afternoon for the first time. Their deadline? Only 16 days away.

President Trump setting the tone on Twitter this morning saying, if the committee of Republicans and Democrats now meeting on border security is not discussing or contemplating a wall or physical barrier, they are wasting their time.

That from the president.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi essentially telling the president in response, butt out.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, I think we are -- the conference can reach a good result left to its own devices without any interference from anybody else. I have confident in the appropriators.


PELOSI: He should sign the bill.


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

Phil, this is the beginning. Set the table and what do we expect on this day one, getting to know you?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A real, live, public conference meeting. And I'm very excited about that, which says probably more about me than anything else.

Look, this is how it's supposed to work. Usually one chamber passes a bill. The other chamber passes a bill. They meet in a conference to reconcile. What's different is conference committees have kind of fallen by the wayside in recent years and public conference committees have become even more rare.

Here's what we expect today. A Democratic aide tells me that House Democrats will use, as a base proposal, a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill that they've been working on behind closed doors for the last several weeks. So when that is unveiled, that will be a good tell about where Democrats are and what their baselines are.

What that proposal will not include, a border wall. That's no secret. Democrats have been very clear that that's their position, at least starting out at the current point. What it will include, I'm told, is billions of dollars extra were added for border security. Something they'd been talking about for a number of weeks.

The bigger question right now is where are Republicans? On the Senate side, where they hold the majority, what they're going to put on the table. Obviously the president's proposal from last week that failed in the Senate. There's a bipartisan Senate proposal last year that had about $1.6 billion for fencing. That could be on the table somewhere as well. But what I'm told right now is that Senate Republicans want to see what House Democrats put on the table before they start moving forward.

That said, as the president made clear in his tweet this morning, the baseline and the main point of contention still remains a border wall. Now, appropriators, John, as you know better than anybody, are well- known deal makers. Deal makers that can figure out a way to kind of finagle the language to give fencing or a (INAUDIBLE) wall or anything of those natures. I think the big question right now is two-fold. One, can they accept that? Can anybody accept a compromise language given their baselines? And, two, what Speaker Pelosi was talking about earlier, can the leaders stay out of this. It's not just Democrats who have asked the president to stay out of this negotiation. I've talked to a lot of Republicans who will say the same thing. We'll have to wait and see whether or not that happens and we'll have to wait and see what kind of progress they make today in that first meeting, John.

KING: Phil Mattingly's excited about a public conference committee. I'm with you, Phil. Let's make this -- let's see what we get here.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, Carl Hulse with "The New York Times," Matt Viser with "The Washington Post," and "Politico's" Eliana Johnson.

Let me start with you since you cover the White House.

Speaker Pelosi says the president should stay out of it. Doesn't that morning tweet tell you that he's already not staying out of it?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think he is already reading the tea leaves about where this is heading. I mean the real question about President Trump is, will he allow this conference to go forward. And then at the end of the process, what will he do? I mean he has had a habit recently of allowing lawmakers to do what they do and then at the very last second pulling back his support from something that they think has the votes to pass and creating a lot of chaos in the process.

We don't really know what lesson the president learned from this basically failed shutdown of 35 days. It seems that he -- he internalized some of the criticism from the right. He seemed to brush back Ann Coulter, saying that perhaps she's mad because he didn't return her call. But it's not clear whether he's decided that he can move forward without their endorsement or if he does believe that Ann Coulter is fundamentally correct, which is that if he doesn't get his border wall, he could be risking his re-election in 2020. Only time will tell how he finally comes down on that decision and it could be at the very, very last second.

[12:05:22] KING: And he could go back and forth over the course of the 16 days. We don't know what this is going to look like in the end. There are

some proposals. Some people say let's keep it small. Let's just deal with border security. Keep it there. Don't make it complicated.

The Treasury secretary, apparently listening to Senator Lindsay Graham, says maybe we should add the debt ceiling to this. You know, more quicksand. Let's add quicksand to quicksand and let everybody go in the room and debate that.

But, Carl, you've spent a long time on this issue. You -- when they used to have committees like this. When this is how government actually used to work.


KING: We do know this. The president is not getting a piece of paper that says here is $5.7 billion for you to spend as you wish on your wall.


KING: That's just not going to happen.

HULSE: I think that's true. There won't be a big diagram of the wall in a final conference report.

I think the thing you have to remember is the pain on Capitol Hill was bad in the shutdown. Really bad. No one wants to go through this again. When Mitch McConnell says yesterday, I'll do whatever it takes not to go through that again. And I think the secret that people don't realize is the appropriations process has been the thing that's been working during the Trump administration with Republicans and Democrats, but they've kind of ganged up on the administration in writing these bills.

I think these appropriators can get together and come up with a deal. And they're going to -- but there's going to be something that's fencing or a barrier. You heard Hakeem Jefferies yesterday say, well, we can go with fencing. There's a big semantics game that's going to be played here.

These guys are professionals at coming to a compromise. And they work very closely together all the time. I think they can do it. I think -- but not only does Donald Trump probably need to keep some distance, Nancy Pelosi might want to keep some distance, too, for a while because to the Republicans she's polarized. Yesterday they were raising, well, will she even go along with the conference report? Well, yes, of course, if they come out with some kind of deal that there's an agreement on.

But I agree with both you and Phil, good to have conference committees back. People haven't really even seen how they work.

KING: Yes, America is groaning at us, but -- but, look, these -- these are elected representatives from around the country. One of the reason we have partisan gridlock is we have an evenly divided country. So put them in the room and the -- most of it as transparent as we can see.

Here's one member here. This is Chuck Fleischmann, Republican of Tennessee, who says, you know what, to Carl's point, put us in a room. We can figure this out. And, guess what, we might have to spend a little more.


REP. CHUCK FLEISCHMANN (R), TENNESSEE: I don't think we're miles apart. I think there's a lot of common ground. I think there's a lot of very strong passions in the room.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it still going to cost $5.7 billion?

FLEISCHMANN: Well, ultimately, probably, more than, if we go down that path. Bear this in mind, whether we call it a wall, a barrier, a deterrent, that is only one aspect of the full border security situation.


KING: Which gets you to the question, so it looks like they're going to -- OK, here's several billion dollars, maybe in excess of the $5.7 billion, with some specifics, ports of entry, drug, you know, screening, other new technologies and barriers, fencing, the language worded in a way that everybody can say I win. Is that enough for the president or do we end up having a national emergency or some other executive action to say, never mind, I'm going to find my money over here and build a wall.

ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "POLITICO": Democrats are open to providing money for anything that's not labeled the wall. They're open to providing money for ports of entry and for under things under the broad rubric of border security. The question I think is precisely the one you pose, which is, what will the president sign on to? I think his negotiating position is weakened, his leverage is weakened because Republicans on Capitol Hill don't want another shutdown and they don't support a national emergency. The president, of course --

KING: And many of them don't even support the wall. If enough of them supported the wall, he would have got it in his first two years.

JOHNSON: Well, the -- I think if the -- actually, if the president and the -- and the administration had really pressed that case, he could have gotten the funding he's now requesting, but he didn't. He didn't make it a priority when Republicans had control.

But I do think that his leverage is now weakened because Republicans don't want either of those things. And for that reason I think Republican leverage in these negotiations are weakened because they're not willing to go to an extreme if they -- if Democrats don't give them what they want. They're not willing to shut down the government again and they don't support the president declaring a national emergency, which makes the negotiations a bit trickier on the Republican side. MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I

think Democrat, too, want to do something so they're not branded as the party against any type of border security. So they have a chance here to propose something that is not a wall but that does enhance the border, which I think voters generally are supportive of.

The other thing in the conference committee that's interesting is they're throwing in all of these extra sort of things to negotiate over, partly because so far it's been wall or no wall. So I think the thinking is that if you talk about some other aspects, then maybe you can start to make a deal, whereas before it's been just an intractable position for both sides.

[12:10:07] KING: A little desert in with the broccoli and the peas I guess is one way to put it.

And you raised this point earlier. The question at the end is, who is the president listening to when push comes to shove? When they put a thing on the table, who is he actually listening to?

This is the former speaker, John Boehner, who says a lot of nice things about the president, about his tax cuts, about other things the president has done. But he says the president listens to the wrong people when it comes to issues like this. Boehner saying this, when I was looking for legislative strategy, the last place I looked was talk radio, Boehner said. The second last place I looked was the knucklehead caucus, who don't know how to vote yes on anything. They did the president a total disservice.

By knucklehead he means Freedom Caucus.


KING: You know, Boehner has his way of saying things. But he's essentially saying, stop listening to the Ann Coulters and the Mark Levins and the Mark Meadows and the Jim Jordans. Will the president do that?

PHILLIP: It's really, really not clear, John. I mean the president has an enormous amount of power over the Republican Party. He has a lot of support among Republicans. They follow him where he leads them. When he says we need a border wall, Republicans -- the polling shows that Republicans move in his direction.

But at the same time, he has never really been willing to buck that, you know, 25 percent, 30 percent of the party perhaps represented by the talk radio hosts and others in order to push the Republican Party in a direction that will allow him to govern. It's just not clear to me that he's there yet. I think he has come out of this shutdown really irritated by the coverage of what happened there, not willing to acknowledge defeat, even though he did sort of do that on Friday in his speech in the Rose Garden. He spent the weekend trying to say that he didn't give in when he, in fact, did.

So I think at the end of the day, you know, the president, it could -- it could be kind of like a boomerang. He could come right back to where he was at the beginning of the shutdown and say wall or no deal and then we could be with a shutdown government again in a few days.

KING: Even in the age of Trump, when many rules have changed, if you say for a month I will not reopen the government without my wall money, and then you reopen the government without your wall money, you lost. That's pretty simple.

All right, we'll watch this when the curtain raises today. Sixteen days, the deadline.

Up next, President Trump pushing back against his own intelligence officials.

But first, a little flashback as we wait for this year's State of the Union one year ago today. The president's first official State of the Union.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people. This is really the key. These are the people we were elected to serve.



[12:16:50] KING: President Trump, today, launching a remarkable series of attacks on his own top intelligence officials, chastising them for being soft on Iran, among other things. In a series of morning tweets, he calls them, quote, extremely passive and naive about Iran, saying that the United States needs to be careful and suggesting, get this, perhaps intelligence should go back to school.

The president is responding to yesterday's testimony on Capitol Hill on foreign threats that -- in which his own intelligence chiefs seem to contradict the president on nearly everything, from ISIS, to North Korea and Russia.


DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.

We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities.

We assess that foreign actors will view the 2020 U.S. elections as an opportunity to advance their interests.


KING: The president probably didn't like a lot of that, but more likely this response from his CIA director Gina Haspel, that may have triggered the president's Iran reaction. She's asked here, is Tehran complying within the nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama years?


GINA HASPEL, CIA DIRECTOR: They're making some preparations that would increase their ability to take a step back if they make that decision. So, at the moment, technically they're in compliance.


KING: They are wrong. Maybe intelligence should go to school.

I was joking during the break -- not really joking. It's one thing -- you shouldn't criticize anyone who works for you. It's tough -- (INAUDIBLE) the boss, I mean unless they deserve it. But to publicly lash out at the people who are dealing with life and death issues every single second of every single day is pretty remarkable.

VISER: This is a little different, too. I mean he's done this in the past, criticizing the intelligence agency. But in the most vociferous he was on that was around the Russia investigation. Whether Russia meddled. This is a little different. This is just him not believing what they're saying because what they're saying goes against his world view on Iran and North Korea. And so it's a little bit of a -- of a difference for him to speak out this strongly just because of a policy difference. It should probably be an internal thing, not publically.

KING: Yes, and to the -- and the timing. I mean most of the older stuff was that Clapper and Brennan and Obama-era people who are -- you know, maybe some of the new people who came in -- we're two years in now. We're two years in. Those are Trump. That is a table of Trump appointees.

JOHNSON: So that's true. Some of it was older. But I think this -- the hearing we saw yesterday with Dan Coats and Gina Haspel was a continuation of something we've seen throughout the Trump administration, which is this two-track presidency, where you have the president saying one thing about intelligence assessments and his appointees saying something different. We've heard that on Russia and we've heard that on North Korea where the president has said they've denuclearized. We've made so much progress. Everybody can sleep easier at night. And I think it's what makes often covering the Trump presidency so difficult and understanding it difficult is the president often seems to be at war, you know, with the office that he is in and with his own political appointees. And that really was on display at this hearing yesterday.

[12:20:07] KING: Right. Sometimes the good cop/bad cop approach makes sense, in the sense that you want the president to be optimistic, say, can we cut a deal with China and his intelligence people to be telling, you know, the truth. Sometimes it makes sense. This is parallel universe stuff.

PHILLIP: Yes. And it's a continuation of what Trump often does, which is that he believes that he knows about pretty much everything more than the experts do. In the campaign he said, I know more about -- about war than the generals do. I mean he continued that into his presidency. And that's why it is so difficult for people who work for him to convey to him fact-based information. The president has his core-held -- deeply-held beliefs. That the Iran deal is a failed deal is one of those deeply-held beliefs. And there's no amount of information that you can provide to him that will change his view on that.

His view that the U.S. should pull out of conflicts around the world, that's a core belief. There is nothing that people have told him -- I mean his defense secretary quit over this issue. Nothing that people tell him about these issues that are based on fact and information on the ground is changing his view of it. It's what makes it so difficult to work for President Trump beyond just what is looks like to the outside world and the dual track presidency is a real conflict within the administration for people who are really working in these jobs.

KING: It's a great point because we often say he's not ideological, but he is consistent on protectionism, he is consistent on a more isolationist approach, if you will, including wanting to get U.S. troops home from Syria and from Afghanistan. And it's not just the intelligence chiefs public -- this is the second day in a row. This is the Republican Senate majority leader, for the second day in a row, on the floor of the United States saying -- saying, Mr. President, you are wrong.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Our response to this progress must not be to take our foot off the gas pedal, but rather to keep up those strategies that are clearly working. Our partnership with Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces have stripped ISIS of much territory in those two nations, but we've not yet defeated ISIS. We have not yet defeated al Qaeda in Afghanistan.


KING: His view of Republican foreign policy is 180 degrees, almost, from the president -- the Republican president of the United States, is it not?

HULSE: Yes. And he is -- he's sort of articulating what -- what has been the standard Republican policy. You know, we need to engage. This is more equal to the Bush administration.

This is important, that Mitch McConnell, who has been so closely allied with the president, not willing to cause any trouble, two days in a row has gone out there and not only speaking, he has an amendment to a bill that is going to establish this as the U.S. policy. So if that bill were to make it to the president's desk, it might present him with a problem.

But they -- they just don't buy what Trump is selling on foreign policy. We -- they don't want to pull out of these places. They think we undercut our allies. And, you know, this is a real problem going forward. I think what everybody said is right, what is our foreign policy and who's in charge of it?

I have to say, when I saw that tweet this morning, kind of to your point, I was like, how do you work for this guy, right, when he's going to call you out, in public, as not being smart, when you're a head of an agency that's entire job is to compile this information. And if it happens to conflict with the president, you know, that's too bad. I think it's a tough, tough situation here.

KING: It's a tough place and amen to them for -- again, they have the most difficult job for the government. What they see is not pleasant stuff most of the time. But the boss disagrees.

Up next, stop me if you've heard this before, a billionaire wants to run for president. He says he's the only one who can fix Washington.


[12:28:29] KING: This is presidential deja vu all over again with an independent twist this time. A billionaire flirting with running for president and sucking up a lot of the cable TV oxygen. He says the current president is in way over his head and that both parties are captives of the big money swamp. That was Donald Trump in 2015 when the former Democrat, an independent, decided to run for president as a Republican. And that is Howard Schultz now in 2019 as the longtime Democrat says he is now preparing to run for president as an independent.


WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CO-ANCHOR: So are you no longer a Democrat?

HOWARD SCHULTZ, FORMER STARBUCKS CEO: No, I am not a Democrat. I don't affiliate myself with the Democratic Party, who's so far left, who basically wants the government to take over health care, which we cannot afford, the government to give free college to everybody, and the government to give everyone a job, which basically is $40 trillion on the balance sheet of $21.5 trillion. We can't afford it.


KING: The former Starbucks CEO is giving Democrats fits, both with his talk of running as an independent, and, as you heard there, his sharp criticism of liberal ideas. Add in one more battle of the billionaires twist. The former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, like Schultz, believes the Democrats are drifting too far left. But Bloomberg says the best place to make that argument is in the Democratic presidential primaries. Schultz disagrees.


HOWARD SCHULTZ, FORMER STARBUCKS CEO: Mike Bloomberg is not my proxy. A Democrat is not going to be able to -- all of a sudden, if a Democrat becomes president, all of a sudden the government's going to start working? Nothing's working.

I'm hearing from thousands of American people, thousands saying, finally, someone's voice that I can relate to that represents the fact that I no longer feel as if I'm a Republican or a Democrat.

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: That's what they said about Trump, finally someone's voice I can relate to.