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Top Virginia Democrat: Fairfax Must Resign; Trump on Border Wall: I Will Get It Built; Warren: "Get Ready, Because Change is Coming". Aired 8-9a ET

Aired February 10, 2019 - 08:00   ET



[08:00:22] JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): Virginia in crisis. Two top Democrats admit past racist acts, and a third is accused of sexual assault.

JUSTIN FAIRFAX (D), VIRGINIA LIEUTENANT GENERAL: We will have our say, and I am confident.

KING: Plus, Elizabeth Warren makes it official.

ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is our moment to dream big, fight hard and win.

KING: And the acting attorney general gets a grilling.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Who are you? Where did you come from? And how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice?

KING: As Democrats flex their new power.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's called presidential harassment, and it really does hurt our country.

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


KING: 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.

The political crisis in Virginia deepens, an ugly mix of racism and alleged sexual assault. The governor who admits appearing in blackface says he will not resign. And as the lieutenant governor denies two sexual assault allegations, an impeachment effort looms.


DEL. CHARNIELE HERRING (D), VIRGINIA, DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS CHAIR: There are very serious allegations, and while the lieutenant governor has due process, the question is whether he can serve while that process is happening. And I think that remaining in office is not good. It's not good for the commonwealth, and he needs to step down, step aside.


KING: Plus, testing time at the Trump White House. Democrats begin aggressive oversight of the president's team and his policies, and the president must decide this week whether to compromise on the border wall or trigger another government shutdown.


TRUMP: This is a moral issue. The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security and financial well-being of all America. In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall. But the proper wall never got built. I will get it built.


KING: And Elizabeth Warren joins the crowded 2020 Democratic field. Progressives love her attacks on powerful banks and corporations, but her liberal views and claims about Native American ancestry raise electability questions.


WARREN: This won't be easy. Now, there are a lot of people out there with money and power and armies of lobbyists and lawyers. People who are prepared to spend more money than you and I could ever dream of to stop us from making any of these solutions a reality. I say to them, get ready because change is coming faster than you think.


KING: We begin again with the political and leadership crisis in Virginia. Yes, we began here a week ago, too. But it's far more troubling and complicated now.

Ralph Northam is defiant, ending a week of seclusion to tell "The Washington Post" he will not heed state and national calls to resign, and that he plans to finish his term dedicating the next years he says to racial reconciliation.

Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, defiant, too. He denies sexual assault allegations by two women. One says Fairfax raped her in college. The other says at the Democratic Convention in 2004.

Fairfax insists he is innocent and wants an investigation. A Democratic legislature says articles of impeachment will be filed Monday, and both women say they are willing to testify if there are impeachment proceedings.

The next Democrat up would be the attorney general, but like the governor, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring now admits he also appeared in blackface in the 1980s. Herring is among those who quickly demanded the governor resign but he says in his case, he hopes to rebuild trust.

This a crisis that plunges the commonwealth into chaos and one that tests the commitment of national Democrats to the red lines they drew when Northam's racist act was revealed and that they've drawn in other big #metoo moments.

CNN's Kaylee joins us now from Richmond.

Kaylee, what do we expect when lawmakers return to the capitol tomorrow?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, when a second accuser came out against Justin Fairfax late Friday, we found ourselves asking, would he be showing up for work on Monday? Would he be able to survive the weekend?

Calls for his resignation swiftly followed from nearly every Democrat in Richmond and in Washington that you can name.

And yet despite the lack of support from his own party, Fairfax shows no sign of resigning. He's now admitting to sexual encounters with both of his accusers but he says believed those interactions to be consensual. He is pleading for due process now, calling for an investigation, asking that the FBI get involved, but people are already questioning the legitimacy of the FBI's jurisdiction in this matter.

[08:05:07] Now, the question for Monday will be, will Virginia Democratic member of the House of Delegates introduce those articles of impeachment that he's threatened if Fairfax hadn't resigned by Monday?

You know, we are very far from any impeachment proceedings beginning here, but if they do, both women who have accused Fairfax say they are willing to testify. One of the women's attorney saying they have corroborating witnesses to support them as well.

What we do know, John, is that on Monday, all three of Virginia's top lawmakers embattled in their own controversies are re-entrenching themselves. They'll be showing up for work. And this crisis of politics and leadership in Virginia will continue.

KING: Will continue. We'll see any developments in the week ahead.

Kaylee Hartung, appreciate it live, from Richmond, Virginia, this morning.

With us in the studio to share their reporting and their insights, Molly Ball from "TIME," Jesse Holland with "The Associated Press", Michael Shear at "The New York Times" and Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post."

So, where are we today? It's an incredible -- last weekend, we thought Justin Fairfax would be the governor of Virginia by now. And now we see that Ralph Northam says I'm not going anywhere and Justin Fairfax by most accounts is in more trouble than the governor in terms of survivability.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Yes, that seem to be about right. And all three of these officials are staying put at this point, as you said, Fairfax seems to have the most heat on him at the moment in part because Governor Northam sort of went underground after all of this came out. Made his statement and has given the one interview to "The Washington Post." but has tried as much as possible to stay out of sight.

There's a theory of damage control in these scandals that says if you just weather the storm and disappear for a while, you can come out the other end, several weeks or months later, and people will have cooled down. And the question for -- I think for all three of these officials related to how they've handled it, related to how the public sees these accusations and how serious they are, how substantiated they are and, of course, there's particularities in all three cases.

The question is going to be, how has the public processed these? Have they cooled down after a period of time? And that may be harder for the lieutenant governor if there's this proceeding against him.

KING: And that's what makes this interesting in the sense that Governor Northam is trying to stay in seclusion for a week. Everyone thought a week ago everyone was saying let's get the lieutenant governor into the governor's office. Now, two credible allegations of sexual assault, the possibility of impeachment. In an odd way, I don't know if that's the right word, I can't find the right word on this story, but Justin Fairfax's troubles have strengthened Northam's position.

JESSE HOLLAND, RACE & ETHNICITY WRITER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: The weird thing is that Fairfax is the only person who is accused of committing a crime. Now, what the governor and the attorney general did, immoral, maybe, but you can't take them to court over it. Fairfax is actually, possibly facing criminal charges. Because he's committed -- he's accused of committing crimes.

So, it's going to be hard for him to move forward until this either is resolved or something else happens for him because I don't see the governor being dragged in front of a court anywhere at any time for what he did. But Fairfax might be sitting in front of a judge one day having to answer under oath about the things he's accused of.

KING: And to that point, the legislator's -- you know, rape, you can be impeached for that.


KING: So, they think they have grounds. They don't think stupid, idiotic reprehensible racism -- while stupid, idiotic, reprehensible -- but they don't think you can impeach somebody for that. So, here's box we're in.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, and, look, you know, one of the features of government like Virginia is that the legislature is not in session full time. It's not like Congress where they are here year round, right? Virginia has either 45 or 60-day sessions. Those can be extended.

The governor or the legislature can be called back in for special sessions but, you know, one of the things these -- all three of these men may be trying to do is run out the clock. Once the legislators leave town, they go back to where they're from. It becomes probably easier to sort of kind of bear down and entrench and survive this.

Now, that's probably, for all the reasons just stated, harder for Justin Fairfax than it is for the other two who, if they can get through the next, say, month, are probably feel like they've got a better chance of surviving.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And you have to imagine, too, that Governor Northam as he tries to hunker down and weather the storm are looking at the poll numbers in "The Washington Post" this morning that says Virginia voters are split on whether he should stay or go.

You got 47 percent stay, 47 percent go. And I thought the numbers from African-American residents in Virginia were really fascinating where 58 percent of them said the governor should stay and only 39 percent said he should go.

KING: Right. No politician has ever been happier to see a 47 number in a poll. You put the numbers up. The state is split on should the governor stay or go. You make a key point, six in 10 African- Americans say the governor should stay.

[08:10:01] And so, now, again, with the focus more on Fairfax and possibility of impeachment, the governor thinks he can stay and run out the clock.

Now, a lot of Democrats say, can he be effective? He says he wants to spend the next three years on racial reconciliation.

BALL: Well, that's the point. The flip side of the Virginia government structure that Mike was describing is that they are right in the middle of this very short and hectic legislative session that they only have once a year. So, it's really sapped -- this is a governor perceived as popular, he was perceived as doing a good job. He was perceived as effective in a bipartisan manner with the legislature that's controlled by the Republicans.

And this is completely sapped all of that. His approval rating has plummeted. And there's -- and how do you lead in this position when you're afraid to go out in public, when you can't really talk to your constituents, much less broker deals with the legislature on -- you know, they are considering this big budget. Northam had a lot of priorities in this budget.

It's very much harder for him to execute on his agenda when in this position.

KING: Right. Here's what he told "The Washington Post." You're right, he's seclusion for a week. He finally grants an interview yesterday to "The Washington Post." He says: There are ongoing inequities to access things like health

care, education, health care, mortgages, capital, entrepreneurship. And this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so, we're ready to learn from our mistakes.

Can he lead on that agenda? It's the capital of Confederacy. Virginia, like all of America, but Virginia maybe in some ways more magnified the racial history of the state, because it was the capital.

But can he lead on these issues? Will the state accept, OK, I'm -- I speak to you as a sinner, let's make progress?

HOLLAND: Well, that's one of the things that's going to be interesting to see. One thing with Northam, he is in his one and only term as Virginia governor. He can't run again. So, there's nowhere for him to go after this.

So, if he left the governorship, he wouldn't have no position. No one is going to give him a chance at anything else. So, this is his one shot to rehabilitate himself.

So, I think that's one of the reasons he doesn't want to leave. He doesn't want his legacy to be as the governor who was caught in blackface. He wants to take this time to try to rehabilitate himself so he can possibly have a political future because right now if he left, he wouldn't.

KING: And the national party is in a box, in some ways a box of his own drawing here in the sense they got right out when Northam's blackface moment was revealed and said you have to go. Now he wants to stay. They can't pull that back. And in the middle of the #metoo moment.

And the lieutenant governor himself says he wants a forum -- is impeachment the likely forum?

SHEAR: I mean, look, it's the only sort of like actual process that could lead to a venue for some of these things being discussed other than a criminal proceeding which is sort of out of the political process.

Look, you know, people wouldn't say -- the national Democrats who called immediately for Northam to resign were not -- they wouldn't say it, but they were very much mindful of the fact they had a -- what they thought was a very, you know, popular, smart African-American lieutenant governor who could step into the role and sort of help solve their problem.

Now that that doesn't seem to be the case, as you say, they are in a real box because they don't -- they are caught between what they think they should do from a political perspective and the long-term implications of doing that thing because they could, in theory, hand the state, which had been trending Democratic, back to Republicans for a long time. KING: It's a fascinating situation. And we'll watch. The next move

will be when the legislature comes in tomorrow. We'll keep an eye on throughout the week.

Up next for us -- deja vu here in Washington. A Friday deadline, a possible government shutdown. The border wall the big issue.


[08:17:31] KING: The latest government shutdown deadline is Friday. But we should have a good sense in the next 24 hours of one key piece. Can congressional negotiators craft a compromise that can pass both the Democratic House and Republican Senate. Be skeptical until you see it on paper but negotiators are voicing confidence they're close to an agreement on new spending plans that include, one, adding billions to border security.

Now, the amount allowed for a wall or barrier is likely to be $2 billion, maybe less. Far short of the nearly $6 billion demanded by the president. House and Senate Republican leaders are telling the president in private and in public they are in no mood for another shutdown.


REP. CHUCK FLEISCHMANN (R-TN), MEMBER, BIPARTISAN BORDER CONFERENCE COMMITTEE: This is not going to be a deal that everybody gets what they want. But I think we're going to see wall funding, new wall border funding and other things that are very important to keep the American people safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your probability of a second shutdown, sir?

FLEISCHMANN: I honestly think next to nil.


KING: Republican leaders think, emphasis on think, the president is getting the message.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I can't say what the president will and will not do, but in my conversations with the president, I know he wants to find a legislative solution. He wants us to work on this.


KING: Eliana Johnson of "Politico" joins the conversation.

And that is the big question this week. If they can get this on paper, will the president accept a deal that has about $2 billion in wall funding, which is not that different than the plan he rejected which triggered the government shutdown. ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: The situation

has changed for the president in that Republican lawmakers largely backed him when he shut down the government. Now, the president is cornered with Republican lawmakers unwilling to back another shutdown, and also unwilling to back a national emergency declaration.

And that really leaves the president with two unpalatable options. The first is accepting whatever legislative solution lawmakers can come up with. But we know that it will not contain the $5.7 billion in border wall funding the president was demanding or some sort of executive action that falls short of a national emergency declaration.

Mick Mulvaney sort of teased that in an appearance on Sean Hannity's show this weekend, where he said, we're contemplating a legal executive action that has a lesser threat of being legally challenged.

KING: And so, here's what the president tweeted yesterday, and this is -- we always try to translate tweets. So, what he's trying to say here.

Democrats don't seem to want border security. They're fighting border agent recommendations. If you believe news reports, they're not offering much for the wall.

[08:20:01] They look to be making this a campaign issue. The wall will get built one way or the other.

You could read that and say he doesn't like the amount of money in it. Therefore, he's going to veto the bill or they are looking to make this a campaign issue that he's preparing to say, OK, I'm going to take what I got, it's not enough, but fine, I'm going to take this, we're going to start building the parts of the wall we can and here we go 2020.

BALL: Right, and he said that previously. He said, well, if they don't give me the wall, that's actually great because then I can go to the American people and they'll support me against, you know, the Democrats who have been blocking this thing that I want. We don't know obviously because it's impossible to read anybody's mind but especially this president.

And that what really has the negotiators on tenterhooks is they don't know whether he'll accept what they come up with. It's never been -- the hardest part has never been the negotiation between the members of Congress. They could have made this deal six months ago before we first shutdown. There would have been a point -- there were Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress could reach agreement on some kind of compromise that combined border security with other stuff.

But if the president doesn't accept that, it's a problem. It divides Republicans very, very badly and it's not clear whether it can get through either House in that case. If the president says, OK, we got more than I would have gotten before but less than I originally asked for and that's the nature of compromise and nobody gets everything they want, if he does that, then I think they're good to go. KING: If he does that, it will be the first time in two years. There

are some issues for the Democrats as well here. Listen to the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. A bunch of Democrats went down to the border.

Steny Hoyer is saying, and as Speaker Pelosi has said, let the negotiators work, and we're inclined to accept their final product. But remember, Nancy Pelosi at one point said not a dollar for the president's wall. Steny Hoyer now says he's open to supporting about $2 billion.


REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: I don't think anybody expected there wouldn't be a compromise of some type, and, obviously, one side has been asking for additional barrier money.


HOYER: So when you have a conference like this, one ought not to be surprised that part of the deal encompasses that facet of one party's demands.


KING: If the Republicans are there, it's not an issue. They'll have the votes in the House regardless.

But will Speaker Pelosi, Leader Hoyer, will they face some liberal blowback if they give the president $2 billion?

KIM: They'll certainly face some in their new caucus, because we've seen in the border negotiations the group of progressives, including the prominent Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez send around a letter to their fellow colleagues saying we -- no money for the kind of barriers that this is being discussed. So -- but that's the nature of compromise. You look at these deals that pass Congress. You'll always have people peel off from the right and from the left.

I'll point out, though, what the president is saying, the Dems are making this into a campaign issue, he himself is going to El Paso tomorrow in an event organized by his campaign, and he'll make a case for the wall there.

KING: The president doesn't like the politics of this, right?


SHEAR: I mean, look, and, you know, the event is, in fact, a campaign rally. He'll continue to do that. He loves this issue. The people -- Donald Trump and the people around him think that immigration is a fabulous issue for them.

There's not a whole lot of proof to that. It didn't necessarily help him all that much in the midterm elections, but I think -- you know, the question is, the responsibility deepens. People's sense of who is responsible deepens. That was clearly blamed President Trump.

But the question is, even if he signs it, even if there were to be a compromise and he were to sign it, there's nothing to say that his right wing doesn't attack him and that he could still try to do something after the funding to some sort of declaration of something that would give him more ability --

KING: And we may see the details of the compromise by the time the president speaks at that rally. So, it will be interesting to see how he reacts to it. That maybe our first word on what we think he's going to do.

Up next for us, the 20 Democrats. Elizabeth is in and the numbers could entice Joe Biden to soon follow. And this week's politicians say the darnedest things is fresh from the campaign trail. Cory Booker gets a language lesson.



SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Swiss radio? I do not speak Swiss. I cannot even say Swiss cheese in Swiss. Ask me the question again.




[08:28:44] WARREN: The man in the White House is not the cause of what is broken. He is just the latest and most extreme symptom of what's gone wrong in America, a product of a rigged system that props up the rich and powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else.



KING: Senator Elizabeth Warren there making her official entry into the 2020 race. That was yesterday in Lawrence, Massachusetts, signing the progressive themes that make her a liberal favorite.

Let's take a quick look now. Warner now joining what is a growing and a historically diverse Democratic field. We could get another new entry just today.

So, where does she rate among Democratic and Democratic leaning voters? Pretty good. Favorable rating of 52. Unfavorable of 11 percent.

One of the questions about Elizabeth Warren is, who has been a national figure for a while, is her electability, these numbers not so great. She begins the campaign with a net unfavorable rating. A lot of Americans still want to get to know more. But 32 percent favorable, 35 percent unfavorable. We'll see how that plays out.

Now, among Democrats, though, you'd have to put her in the top tier. We asked who you are likely or very likely to support. This is Democrats and Democratic leaning voters.

As you can see, she's right up there in the top tier, the vice president on top, but right with Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker a little bit behind. So in pretty good standing as she starts the Democratic race.


The question is, what are Democrats looking for? Not who, but what. And on the what issue, Warren does have some issues. A good chance to beat Trump -- that's the number one priority for Democratic voters. The right experience, willing to work with the GOP.

If you are Joe Biden, you think this is you. If you're Elizabeth Warren especially on the question of, can I beat Trump -- you need to deal with the nagging questions about her native Native-American ancestry, her claims to it.

Just this week, a new card filed with the Texas bar. She listed herself as an American-Indian. Elizabeth Warren trying again this past week to put that controversy behind her.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I am sorry that I extended confusion about tribal citizenship and tribal sovereignty and for harm caused. I am also sorry for not being more mindful of this, decades ago.

Nothing about my background ever had anything to do with any job I got in any place. It's been fully documented.


KING: On the issues, she's a good fit with the Democratic base. The question is if priority one is beating Trump, does she need to do more to put this one behind her?

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": You know, it's very interesting talking to -- especially rank and file Democratic voters about this issue because, yes, their highest priority is beating Trump but they have no idea what that means, right? Especially in the wake of 2016 which I think left so many Democrats, you know, demoralized but also confused. The question is what does beat Trump, you know?

Does it take a fighter who punches back at him? Does it take someone who fights on his level? Does it take someone with an optimistic vision? Does it take a policy vision that contrasts? Does it take a policy vision that's more in the middle?

And so you hear yes, almost every Democratic voter you'll talk to will say that's priority number one; much more important than a particular policy position and so on. But they're really not sure what that looks like so to some Democratic voters, Elizabeth Warren does look like what it will take to beat Trump because she's experienced and they like that she's a woman and that she is articulating a very precise policy vision.

And others are convinced that because of some of her baggage or because of other issues that's a significant negative for her.

KING: And she has the Trump campaign's attention. She has the President's attention. He goes after her a lot. He went after her again on Twitter yesterday.

The Trump campaign issued a statement yesterday. They haven't done that for other candidates getting in trying to raise money off Elizabeth Warren.

Here's from the campaign manager. "Elizabeth Warren has already been exposed as a fraud by the Native Americans she impersonated. The American people reject her dishonest campaign and socialist ideas like the Green New Deal." The socialist part, you saw the President's State of the Union address -- that's where he's going in 2020 no matter who the Democrats nominate.

But why does the President take such an interest in her over the others?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: I think the President would love to run against Elizabeth Warren which is why he's paying her so much attention. We simply haven't seen him afford any of the other nominees or potential nominees as much attention on Twitter which has raised her profile.

But I think Molly is exactly right. The Democrats are confused as to who is the candidate who could beat Trump? And that will be a subject of enormous debate in the Democratic primary.

But we do have one data point which is that Donald Trump rose to the presidency through Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio. And Democrats, if they're going to win, have to nominate a candidate who can compete with him in those states.

And I think the question will be could somebody like Elizabeth Warren make a credible play across the Midwest?

KING: She believes she can on populism and economics, on jobs. She would say the President was a fraud. He promised you all these things and he hasn't delivered.

What the President seems to think -- a lot of Republicans think that if you have Medicare for all, the Green New Deal which they introduced the resolution this week which is an aspirational document. But the Republicans say read it.

If they implement that agenda your energy taxes are going up, your costs are going up. The government is going to be, you know, refitting buildings and it's going to cost a fortune, it's going to impact your lives.

The President didn't get into the specifics but here's 2020 from the State of the Union. It wasn't as much a governing speech Tuesday night as it was a campaign speech.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence and not government coercion, domination and control. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.


KING: Democrats would say that's way overboard but to Eliana's point, if you are the President of the United States and you're looking at your electoral map that got you here, they think that might work.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE "WASHINGTON POST": And Republicans that I've talked to are -- have really been looking at the policy positions that the Democratic candidates have espoused such as Medicare for all and the Green New Deal because what they say is while kind of on the 30,000-foot level these ideas do poll very well among the public.

[08:34:57] But once the public knows the details of the impacts of a government-run health care system, it could eliminate your private insurance that you would like; or the details of the Green New Deal, that is where it plummets in their popularity.

And that's what they're looking for right now. So the President is kind of taking the 30,000-foot messaging on that respect and the Republicans will be really drilling down in the details once we see more of these policies.

KING: And Democrats would argue that fighting the last campaign or the last 20 campaigns, if you will, and that they can make the case. They point to 2018 in the suburbs. But House elections are different than presidential elections.

We'll see if they can make this case as this field is already historically diverse -- the Democratic field. We expect to get another entry today. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has an event in her state. You don't schedule a big event if you're not getting into the race. They have decided not do it.

Here's what one of her political consultants says. "Her style, I think, may set her apart," said Jeff Blodger, a long time Democratic strategist in Minnesota who advises Klobuchar. "I would put her in the happy warrior category as someone who tries to be positive and optimistic. In many ways, she's kind of the anti-Trump."

Where does she fit. She's more centrist than Elizabeth Warren. She believes midwestern roots help a lot, especially in neighboring Iowa to start. MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": And you

know, look, part of the quote that you put up there talked about style, right? And we've talked a lot about the policy questions and whether or not the presidential campaign will be engaged on questions of socialism or Medicare for all, et cetera.

But what President Trump showed, especially in the primary, actually last time around is that part of the way he operates in politics is to try to destroy the personality of the candidate. All the nicknames. Low-energy Jeb and all of that.

And so, you know, part of what the Democrats are trying to find in addition to the policy question is what kind of candidate, what kind of person can kind of go up against Donald Trump.

JOHNSON: Temperamentally.

SHEAR: Temperamentally -- right. You know, do you need that happy optimistic person? Do you need somebody who is a Teflon candidate that, you know, all of Donald Trump's barbs will sort of roll off and they don't have to respond to them?

And the temperamental question is, I mean you know, we've seen -- we have -- in this field, we're going to have every different stripe of that. You're going to have the Bernie Sanders, you're going to have the -- you know, which is the sort of curmudgeonly -- you're going to have people that attack back. You're going to have people that try to ignore it.

And trying to figure out which one of those works is going to be the real test for the Democrats.

KING: That's why it's so fascinating. The canvas is still blank as we start --

SHEAR: It is.

KING: Up next, the D.C. power shift takes hold. The acting attorney general gets a grilling from House Democrats.



TRUMP: If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.


KING: House Democrats rolled their eyes at that State of the Union poke from the President. And the days that followed, they raised the curtain on Washington's new power play.

The acting attorney general is just one top administration official hauled before House committees now led by majority Democrats.


REP. JEROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Now, in your capacity as acting attorney general, have you ever been asked to approve any request or action to be taken by the special counsel?

MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Chairman -- I see that your five minutes is up and so I am -- I am here voluntarily. We have agreed to five-minute rounds.


KING: As you can see right there, the judiciary committee hearing with the acting AG Matt Whitaker was contentious -- a sure sign of things to come.

Tuesday alone in the week ahead there will be eight oversight hearings in the House. The topics including family separations at the U.S.- Mexico border, climate change and the President's lease of a government building for his D.C. hotel just a few blocks from the White House. Democrats say this is overdue oversight.

But on the substance, Whitaker challenged Democratic assertions that he's just a Trump loyalist named to the job to thwart the special counsel investigation.


WHITAKER: I have not talked to the President of the United States about the special counsel's investigation. I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel's investigation. I have not denied any funds to the special counsel's investigation.


WHITAKER: We're continuing to follow the special counsel regulations as it relates to the report. And we haven't received the report.


KING: The Democrats thought he was prickly -- at times he was. His demeanor with the Democrats was very different than his demeanor when Republicans asked him questions.

But on the substance, Matthew Whitaker gave the Democrats zip, right. And seemed to make clear, and I haven't seen any public evidence to the contrary, that he hasn't gotten in Robert Mueller's way, that he hasn't tried to shut it down.

KIM: And this is something that Democrats are actually going to repeat, I am sure, once the new attorney general is actually confirmed later this week and faces a lot of the same questions that Matthew Whitaker faced at the oversight hearing on Friday.

But this -- I mean as you imagine this just launches a whole new season of oversight hearings on so many issues. And you outlined the hearings that we're having on Tuesday. In March we're going to be hearing from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on the census question which is going to be a very heated topic. And Kirstjen Nielsen in front of the House Homeland Security Committee.

And so it's just going to be -- I mean Democrats have been -- have had this pent-up kind of push to want to conduct oversight that they say have gone so ignored under the first two years of the Trump presidency.

But at the same time, Republicans are really banking on the fact that they will overreach, that they will conduct what they see as political theater, that they say that we saw on Friday.

JOHNSON: One thing that I think was overlooked in this hearing is that this was sort of a template for how these things are going to go moving forward and the Democrats threatened to subpoena Whitaker but they didn't actually do it. And I think for the White House, that was a victory in terms of how these things are going to play out moving forward.

The other thing that I think didn't get all that much attention was that Whitaker didn't cede much ground to Democrats. He didn't give them much information. So I think while his demeanor got a lot of attention and perhaps that was a victory for Democrats in that it's not great to be rude to the people who are going after you. In terms of substance, I think this went well for the White House.

[08:45:05] BALL: Yes, I mean, I don't know. I think that it is a window into what's coming in terms of all the oversight the White House is going to get. And there is going to be a lot of substance to a lot of that.

The answers that the Democrats got from Whitaker on the Mueller investigation weren't what they wanted in the sense that he didn't admit that he did anything. But they were what they wanted in that he said he's left the special counsel alone, and that is going to be, you know, that's what the Democrats were hoping for, right?

They were hoping that there hasn't been any meddling. That the special counsel has been allowed to continue his work. And then there's so many other areas, so many other topics that they're going to be doing these hearings on.

And the question -- just like in this one -- is going to be, are they mostly trying to put on a show? Are they mostly trying to extract, you know, good television sparring with people, raising their own profiles, potentially seen as grandstanding? Or is there actually information that they're going to get out of a lot of these witnesses? And you have to think that in some cases there is.

KING: Right. And we'll start to also test the cooperation between the committees and the White House, to your point that they don't use subpoenas if they get the documents.

Interesting week ahead on that front.

Up next, our reporters share from their notebooks, including the Bernie factor. When will the Vermont Independent make up his mind about 2020?


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

Molly Ball.

BALL: Well, there's one other Democratic candidate besides Joe Biden who we talked about who really has the power to reshape the field with his potential candidacy. And that's Bernie Sanders.

He's got double-digit support in most of the early polling at this point which shows you that, you know, this candidate who took everybody by surprise in 2016 has really held on to a large part of his following.

But the question is really, how much? And we've seen so many of the other candidates who have gotten in so far who have adopted his positions on a lot of issues. So many candidates running to the left embracing free college, embracing Medicare for all, embracing these themes of economic inequality. Particularly Elizabeth Warren, likely appealing to a lot of voters who are into those issues, you know.

And Bernie Sanders is a paradox this way because he's always claimed to be more about the ideas and the issues than about him or about any kind of personality. And yet he has to make a decision about does this platform need me in the race? Do I need to be the one to speak for these issues when all these other people are also speaking for these issues?

So he's really looking at whether a lane remains for him in such a crowded field and we're hearing that an announcement could be imminent.

KING: Imminent. Come on, Bernie, let us know.


JOHNSON: I'm looking out to the President's second summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-Un which the White House announced this week. The President said in the State of the Union would be at the end of this month -- the 27th and 28th in Hanoi, Vietnam.

And my question is whether this will simply be a repeat of last year's summit in Singapore which was basically just a media spectacle. We got to the meeting of the first two leaders. There was a lot of anticipation of simply watching these guys shake hands.

That won't be as exciting the second time around. And I think there will be much more focus on whether there's a policy deliverable. Will we see a commitment from North Korea to make real changes? We haven't seen that over the past year. I think there will be a lot more pressure on President Trump to extract something from the North Koreans -- from the North Koreans because he is sitting down with them for a second time.

We haven't heard anything from the White House indicating that's the case. But I think the pressure is on this time.

KING: Pressure is huge, I would argue.


SHEAR: So 65 days or so from now is tax day. The Democrats plan to spend a lot of that time pushing to get Donald Trump's tax returns finally. They held a hearing last week to talk about Section 6103 of the Tax Code which gives the House Ways and Means Chairman the ability to get tax information from any tax filer.

Democrats think they have the edge both politically and legally on this, but there are mine fields. Legally, the White House is preparing a huge, fierce response legally to challenge the effort in court. And politically, this is one of those areas that has the possibility to really be cast as exactly what Donald Trump says it is, which is a presidential harassment. It could backfire if that's the view that people get of this.

Still the liberal base, the Democratic base really wants this to happen. And so if it succeeds, if the Democrats succeed this could finally be the year that we find out what Donald Trump has been trying to hide all this time.

KING: Not going to hold my breath but we'll see. We'll see.

Seung Min.

KIM: Sell, Senate Republicans will start their effort in earnest this week to try to confirm more of Donald Trump's nominees a lot more quickly. The Senate Rules Committee will take up a rules change package that will significantly cut debate time for a lot of these nominees.

And it's something that the President focused on in his State of the Union. Remember he complained about the 300 nominees that have been -- that have been backlogged in the Senate.

And Senate Republicans could actually even go nuclear to change these rules on their own without Democratic help. It's something that Republicans have been frustrated for quite some time.

KING: Quite some time. We'll see how that one plays out.

I'll close with this. That the Saudi foreign minister is on a network Sunday show today speaks volumes. The PR offensive comes as the regime's deep-pocketed sway here in Washington is in question.

For years the Saudis have used their riches to buy influence and its leaders brag now that the President of the United States takes their side despite the evidence in the murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But there are growing signs of trouble for the kingdom. The top Democrat in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee issued angry weekend statements accusing the Trump State Department of violating the law by refusing to share more information about the Khashoggi murder.

[08:55:05] And as they and other lawmakers demand that information, Saudi Arabia's role in Yemen's humanitarian crisis is also under bipartisan scrutiny in Congress.

Add in the mysterious Jeff Bezos suggestion that the Saudis are somehow propping up the "National Enquirer" and the expansion of the House Intelligence Committee investigation to look beyond Russia to other alleged foreign efforts to influence the Trump administration.

Quote, "They are used to buying their way out of trouble." A very influential Republican Senator said in a weekend exchange about the Saudis, but the Senator went on to say, quote, "This feels like a tipping point."

We'll keep our eye on that.

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

Don't go anywhere. Up next "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JAKE TAPPER". Jake sits down with the House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney and with the Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg.

Stay with us. Have a great Sunday.