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CNN: Trump Plans Active Role In 2020 Democratic Primary; Poll: 85 Percent Of Republicans Approve Of Trump's National Emergency; Gallup: Trump 2018 Job Approval 50 Percent Or Higher In 17 States; Virginia GOP To Hold Public Hearings On Fairfax Allegations. Aired 12:30-1pm ET

Aired February 22, 2019 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:32:42] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: New details today on the inner workings of the Trump reelection campaign, including the President's eagerness to play a disruptive role in the Democratic nominating contest.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Kaitlan Collins include this in their reporting. The President intends to play an active role in the Democratic Primary and has instructed his aides to look for ways he can according to a dozen Republicans involved in his campaign. His team is working to sow divisions among rivals and looking for opportunities to "cause chaos from the left and right in the words of one adviser."

"The President wants to get in to the game," said a top Republican who talks to Trump frequently. "People may knock him in terms of running the government but he gets the campaign and can't wait to get started".

The report also details some friction on team Trump is worth watching in the weeks and months ahead. 2020 Campaign Manager Brad Parscale not a fan of some key Trump 2016 strategist. And so far, Jeff and Kaitlan report not inviting them to the table, what he calls big strategy winnings. It's an interesting well reported, lot of it is interesting and strategic, some of it is just fun.

Forgive me, I like politics.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.

KING: Let's get to the Democrats part. We have seen the President. We could put some of them up. Just put them on the screen. We need to read him about tweeting about, the crazy Bernie, about Amy Klobuchar, about Howard Schultz, about Wacky Tom Steyer, even Jamie Dimon back in the day when we thought he'll -- he might come out of Wall Street.

Now, we know he likes to meddle, what's the strategy to it?

ZELENY: Well there's no surprise that he's watching. I mean, he spends a lot of his executive time now, I'm told, watching these announcement rallies, the town halls and watching the news coverage. But he also wants to play in the primary which is not entirely unusual.

Back in the Obama campaign they were running some television ads about Mitt Romney, trying to define him. But the early nature of this is so interesting that, A , it shows the President loves the campaign, wants to get back in there. And I would assume it's a nice distraction from everything else going on with the Mueller report and other things.

But he wants to play a role in this and he's instructed all of his advisers from the RNC to other outside groups. He wants them to sow division and chaos.

So you will see some attacks from the left perhaps on some candidates. Those will be engineered by Republicans. You'll see some attacks from the red. Those will be engineered also by Republicans.

So trying to mix it up but I'm told he's also asking questions about Amy Klobuchar. He's struck by the fact that she won 47 counties in the state of Minnesota that he won as well, two years earlier. So, he's paying a lot of attention on this.

When you ask a lot of people who you want to run against? They say they're not sure. He goes back and forth. He doesn't know who'll win. Elizabeth Warren though comes up again and again and, of course, he's been calling her Pocahontas for a long time.

[12:35:08] KING: And just a little flashback here. This is the President on Judge Jeannine. He does spend a lot of time with Elizabeth Warren, are you before those have reported. He gave Kamala Harris a lot of credit from her rollout. He also thinks a lot about the guy, some Democrats thinking also like Amy Klobuchar maybe make that Midwest from blue collar appeal the former vice president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not worried. So far I love the competition. I love what I see.

I don't want to pick anyone out. But, you know, a lot of people say Biden's doing OK. But, you know, he was always the one percenter. He was a one percent guy. He ran two or three times. He never got above one percent. And then, Obama came along took him off the trash heap. He's weak.

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: Yes.

TRUMP: So we'll see what happens with him but I think he's leading right now from what I understand.

PIRRO: No way.

TRUMP: But I'll be watching and whoever it is, I think we're going to do just fine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That, you had in your reporting, that is extraordinary, any incumbents, of course you want to know what the competition is.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: But to be out there you have doing all that, that's a little much.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: He's acting like a commentator sometimes on this whole -- on this whole race. On the Biden point, I mean, look, there are people around Trump who get the seriousness of the political position that he is in. He is not in a particularly strong position and in the states that he really stunned the Clinton campaign by winning, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania that is where a Joe Biden could pick up some ground. It's where an Amy Klobuchar could pick up some ground.

ZELENY: Right.

PACE: So, around Trump there is a reality that there are candidates who can really block his path, which will again be fairly narrow because the Republican path is actually narrow in a general election but there are real candidates who can do that.

So, he may take some jobs (inaudible) of it, some of that comes from knowing that the vice -- former vice president would be in somewhat of a position --

KING: And knowing what we have seen in the past that when John Kelly was chief of staff, he didn't like Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie on the ground. So the White House said this came after in 2016 campaign after Corey Lewandowski was fired.

Remember, he was the campaign manager. He was fired, people said, stay away from him. He's toxic, stay away from him. Trump called him all the time.

Because of that, this jumps out new report to me to watch in the days and weeks ahead for potential fireworks. A power struggle between President's re-election campaign and those who helped him in the White House has already emerged.

Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, two central figures in the President's 2016 campaign were not invited to the Tuesday meeting, amid a growing rivalry between Lewandowski and Parscale, according to people familiar with the matter

While Lewandowski and Bossie have the President's ear, we've seen on the White House grounds a week before, they do not have a formal seat at the table. The President we know in the past use it -- when people are not invited to the table he wants to talk to them. He uses this.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS: Trump world versus Lewandowski team should have become this mainstay that we're going to see over and over again. But on the point of the President wanting to meddle in Democratic Primary, I did some reporting recently where I found out that the Trump -- the President's main super PAC, America First, actually invested significant resources into two of the Republicans' opposition group America Rising and asked them to write these books on all the Democratic candidates, Joe Biden being one of them, so that they're well prepared going into the primary and can use this opposition research to sort of meddle and potentially even pick the winner that they want to run against by weakening some of the other ones.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: To that point, somebody we all know here, Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago, former member of Congress. He did this when he was head of the Congressional Campaign Committee. And one of Rahm's slogans is, "Pick your opponent." You pick your opponent.

So, of Jeff's great story there, I think something to watch is they might be help -- they might help Elizabeth Warren, right, because they want to hurt the other people, or whoever they decide. So to me that's going to be interesting. Who were they working to -- your point exactly, get out there.

ZELENY: And that's always the question here, I mean, Bernie Sanders, you would think , oh, he might be easy to run against. But the President is not so sure about that the same with Joe Biden because of Pennsylvania, for example as you said. But I think, watch these dynamics in the tensions or how can they -- the Trump campaign headquarters is going to be in Roseland, Virginia, three miles from the White House overlooking the Potomac. A lot of competing powers centers there between Roseland and the White House.

So, Jared Kushner staying in the White House, he's not campaign manager but he's very, very much in the mix.

KING: It's a fun marker. Write it down, circle the names, highlight it. It's a power structure today. Let's circle back in the two months see how it goes. It's a great reporting, appreciate it, Jeff and Kaitlin as well.

Up next, what voters have to say about the President's national emergency declaration?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:43:53] KING: A closer look now at the fight over the President's national emergency declaration and how the policy battle today is shaped largely by 2020 political calculations. Democrats confident the public is on their side and fighting to overturn the President's decree.

But the President worries about a much smaller slice of the electorate and because of that, he sees this is a fight worth fighting. Let's take a look at the numbers.

On the question, do you support the President's national emergency? No, 6 in 10 Americans disapproved, that's why Democrats are confident they should try to overturn it. They say the public is on their side, fewer than four and 10 Americans are with the President on this.

But these aren't the big numbers the President looks at. This is what he cares about most, 85 percent of Republicans support the President. So he thinks he's on safe policy and safe political ground. He also hopes this number convinces members of Congress not to side with the Democrats when they bring that resolution of disapproval to the floor.

The President hopes this is pressure for Republicans even though they don't like this emergency to stay with him. So how's this fit into the bigger picture if the President gears up for 2020, his overall approval rating.

Remember, we have the government shutdown. People thought the President might tank after that. No, this is a Fox News Poll, this is about the highest point of his presidency. Pretty close to it. Yes, 52 percent disapproved and 46 percent approved in the Fox News poll. Not great, but not to tank many thought it might happen because of the government shutdown.

[12:40:10] Let's look at this over time. The President essentially two years in is about where he was when he began. This is all Fox News polling, is disapproval up from 47 to 52? That's up a little bit, just within the margins really but it's up a little bit. His approval rating was 48 percent when he started, 46 percent now. Down a little tiny bit but essentially within the margin. So the good to economy hasn't lifted the President up. Investigations, immigrations, controversies haven't really push the President down. Looking ahead to the re-election he says, he'll be just fine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Nobody has done the job that we've ever done. I mean, nobody has done the job that we've done on the border. And in a way, what I did by creating such a great economy and if the opposing party got in, this economy would be down the tubes. You know, I hear a lot of people say, oh, well, but maybe it's the previous administration. Let me tell you, the previous administration it was heading south and it was going fast. We would have been down the tubes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He likes that phrase. Let's bring in the host of the Pollsters Podcast, Democrat Margie Omero, Republican Kristin Soltis Anderson. That's the stunning part to me when you look at this. We've gone through two years of constant chaos, turmoil, controversy, a booming economy, the cloud of investigation, immigration fights and the President essentially today is more or less within the margins of where he was when he started.

MARGIE OMERO, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Volatile times, stable numbers.

KING: Why? Just because Americans are locked in, we're in a polarized world and nobody's going to move, nobody who doesn't like him will give him credit? Nobody who likes him will move away no matter what he does?

OMERO: He's never had a honeymoon with Democrats or Independents. And he is not, I mean, we were talking about this before. Yes, he tried to reach out to Independents and Democrats. He hasn't -- he continues to have this base place. He continues to reach out to his base and so these numbers don't move that much. He has a narrow band and even though the numbers are a little bit better than they were perhaps a month ago, they're still within that range. And, you know, he's really being graded on a curve in that he still has majority negative ratings and he's had that basically since day one.

KING: In the fight of today or the next fight which will be the vote on the national emergency declaration, the Democrats happened to overturn it, 85 percent of Republicans are with the President. We know most Republican members of Congress think this is wrong on principle. Whether it's a Democratic President or a Republican President, it's wrong. That's our job. We appropriate the money. The executive branch shouldn't do that.

With that 85 percent convince a lot of Republicans to bite their pride, if you will, and stay with President?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND POLLSTER: So prior to the President deciding that he was going to take this action, Republicans were less favorable. Republican voters were less favorable. There are still majorities, still upward past 60 percent support but not the 85 percent like you now see, now that the President has made this decision.

When it was hypothetical it was easier for Republican senators to talk about the constitutional implications, the opposition to executive over reached, the sort of things that they said when President Obama was in office. But now that Trump has taken this concrete action, Republican voters tend to follow the President. They like him, they trust him, and they think when he takes an action, it's positive.

So this has really put a lot of Republican policy makers in a much more difficult position.

KING: And so, I want to show a map, Gallup, did the President's approval rating by state. And of course we elect President by State. That was the big surprise in 2016 the Electoral College when the President flipped Michigan, flipped Wisconsin, flipped Pennsylvania, traditional Blue States.

If you look the darker the state on that map, it might be hard to understand. The darker the state the higher the President's approval rating, the lighter the State the lower the President's approval rating. If you look here in those three key states, he's at 42 percent approval in those three key states, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin.

That's not a great place to be heading into your re-election. What is that tell you about the different map the President will face this time?

OMERO: It's not even just-- so in those states, right, there are states where they had a lot of Democratic gains in 2018 in some of those States too showing enthusiasm -- the same enthusiasm we're seeing across the country. And on top of that, you have Democrat in head to head international polls over 50 percent against the President.

Democrats were not well-known yet across the country. You see his not, you know, you see other polls that show almost 60 percent say they vote for anybody else. Somebody else that consider not voting for him.

So, the numbers are weak. The numbers are weak in the places that he won, the numbers are weak in potential expansion states changing the map or expanding the map a little beyond some of those three states. So I it shows him in trouble.

KING: It shows him in trouble, but I just -- I remember 2016.

OMERO: Yes.

KING: There weren't many poll showings Donald Trump winning, either, and he did.

ANDERSON: Right. Well -- and we don't elect the president nationally. The polls tended to show Hillary Clinton up by two or three points nationwide and that's what happened in the popular vote, but that's not how we elect presidents. And I think those blue wall numbers that you just saw, do signal some serious weakness.

Now the question is, who will Democrats nominate and will they be able to successfully appeal to those voters who are disenfranchised, who do feel disillusioned rather, with the President's job.

[12:50:04] And the fact to the matter is, as you mentioned, the economy has been doing quite well. In Gallup's polling, you have 69 percent of Americans who expect it next year they'll be better off than they were this year.

So on the one hand, you can look at it glass half full, glass half empty if you're the President. People really like how you're doing on the economy. On the other hand, they like how you're doing on the economy with your job approval still that low in those states, it definitely signals some weakness heading into 2020.

KING: The early chapters will you bring back repeatedly as we go through all of this. Before we go, I just want to show a tweet though from Kristen Soltis Anderson. "Today is my last day in the 18-34 cross tab. I intend to make it count." Happy birthday.

ANDERSON: Thank you very much.

OMERO: Happy birthday.

KING: As you move in to a still young but slightly older voting group.

ANDERSON: Yes, indeed.

OMERO: Yes. Come in, the water is fine.

KING: The water a little higher than that. I set my phone. Before we go to break, a little taste from the 2020 trail. This is Democrat Amy Klobuchar still talking about her big campaign launch, remember, it was in a snowstorm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the Republican senators who will go unnamed with such defining story came up to me and said, "Did you really, after your announcement, did you really raise a million dollars in small donations?" And I'm like, "Yes, I did, but half of it came from Snow Globe manufacturers." And he said, "Really?" And I'm like, "You are such a Republican!"

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:55:33] KING: An important news about the political chaos in this Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia House Republicans announcing today they will hold public hearings into allegations against the Democratic Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax. Two women have accused Fairfax of sexual assault. He denies those allegations.

CNN's Jessica Dean joins us now live with more details. Jessica, how is this going to play out?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, what we're hearing is that House courts and Justice Committee will be the one to hold these meetings. And in these meetings, both of the accusers, Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, will have a chance to testify and to talk and tell their side of the story. They've both been very public saying they want that opportunity to do so. We're also told that Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax will have an opportunity to tell his side of the story in these meetings.

Now, all of this coming after House Democrats rejected a plan to build a panel, to kind of get together some framework to do this in a bipartisan way. So now we're learning that it's simply the House Republicans who will be taking this on. Right now, we have no date as to when this will happen.

The General Assembly is wrapping up on Saturday. And as someone who's been covering this for weeks now, all eyes were kind of on the General Assembly as the body that could move something like this forward, the question was would they do so? And, John, now we have our answer from House Republicans.

KING: We'll watch this from play out. Jessica Dean, I appreciate the live reporting. Let's bring in to the room, good for them. Democrats might complain, "You know, wait a minute, why not a bipartisan process?" Well, they've been trying for weeks to negotiate one.

And both of these women, and we can put their statements up. We have them, Meredith Watson in a "Washington Post" op-ed, Vanessa Tyson through her attorney. Both of these women have said we would like a public hearing. We demand a public hearing. We deserve a public hearing. And they do. And so the fact that the Democrats, because they have a problem with the governor who has admitted to a racist attack, and the attorney general who has admitted to a racist attack, the lieutenant governor in the middle accused of what would be a criminal offense, where does this go now?

HULSE: Well, I think what it doesn't do is go away. I think that there was some hope among Virginia Democrats. The tension was dying down a little bit and that they could survive this, that Northam was sort of, you know, making a tour of the state.

This is going to be a big thing for months to come in Virginia, and I think they still need to figure some kind of way to correct this whole situation. I mean, the state Democratic Party just doesn't look very good here.

PACE: And it's going to revive questions on about what they do with Northam who has most of the Democratic Party leadership calling for him to resign but is certainly not going to do that at this point and it's unclear what lever there is for the Democrats to pull to actually force him out, but it's going to refocus attention on the fact that there may be a process now with Fairfax. But Northam, if he gets his way, it seems like he wants to sit and serve out the rest of his term.

KING: And Fairfax has said that he does not think that this should be done in legislative hearings, he said it should go to law enforcement. But that's it, I don't know what the right word is for that. But that is -- you know, he's a former prosecutor, but you're telling these women -- you're trying to tell them, this is your option. Go to the police and file a complaint as opposed to, get a hearing in a format that you are comfortable with. This should be their choice, not his choice, is the point I'm trying to make.

ZELENY: Exactly. And I also think it is an opening for Republicans, and I would assume the President is going to walk in on that. He's already saying that the wider politics of this are maybe good for a Republican. Virginia has been trending blue, so we should set politics aside for a second because this is a very serious matter. But Democrats have been hypocritical at best on this in Virginia.

PARTI: Right. The fact that this isn't going away just brings up this national discussion on how these issues should be handled when politicians face these accusations. We obviously had that discussion last year with Kavanaugh and how this has played out in Virginia and, you know, the different accusations of hypocrisy going on here, you know, maybe it will lead to a path forward on how this should be handled in the future.

KING: We'll continue to watch it as it plays out again. A Republican-led committee in the Virginia House of delegates saying it will hold hearings in the allegations against Justin Fairfax, give both women a chance to testify, gives the Lieutenant Governor a chance to testify. We don't know the dates of that. We don't know how that will play out. We'll stay on top of that story as well.

We'll see you day to day. Thanks for joining us on "Inside Politic Politics." Have a great weekend. I hope to see you on Sunday.

We'll be live from Iowa this weekend. Among our guest will be the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris. We'll going to catchup with her in some events. Hope to see you then.

Don't go anywhere, a lot of news today. If you haven't notice, Brianna Keilar starts right now.

[13:00:02] Have a great today.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington Headquarters.