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INSIDE POLITICS

Iowa Poll: Trump Remains Strong Among Iowa Republicans; Sen. Doug Jones (D) Alabama Is Interviewed About Possible Rematch with Roy Moore; Gillibrand: Staffers Claim Didn't Amount To "Sexual Harassment"; Beto O'Rourke Still Teasing 2020 Announcement. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 11, 2019 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: So if you look at for President Trump job approval rating, 81 percent still very high and pretty much the same since it was when he was last polled in December. His actual favorability ratings in the state, up to 82 percent that's a five point increase for December.

So this is obviously a positive number for the President. Look over to whether or not people want to vote for President Trump in the state you'd mind. This is a state the President won by more than nine points and stunning everybody back in 2016. Sixty-seven percent of Iowans poll here say they would -- Republicans say they would definitely vote for Trump. Eighteen percent saying they would consider somebody else, nine percent saying they would definitely vote for somebody else.

So again, positive numbers on the top line but still a little bit of various concerns. And the interesting elements of the whole poll, though, is what respondents actually want to hear from the President as he enters the 2020 campaign? Let's take a look at that. How should President Trump campaign for his re-election? Ninety percent say focus on his accomplishments. Only four percent, say attack his opponents. That might seem to differ from where the President is, but listen to this. He's done it before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The economy is very, very strong. If you look at the stock market over the last few months, it's doing great and certainly since my election it's up getting close to 50 percent. It's going very well.

The border, we're doing a great job. We're apprehending record numbers of people, 75,000 over the last short period of time. That's a lot of work and with the wall we wouldn't have to do it.

I inherited a mess. In many ways I had. The Middle East, I inherited a mess and it's straightening out a lot. We're doing very well there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONATAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It's straightening out a lot, Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's what he said.

MARTIN: It's bringing out a lot. Look, I think the biggest risk politically what he just said is placing so many chips on the stock market. That's a volatile -- a volatile, you know, play -- a volatile place I should say. And it's a volatile play by daring play by the President to do that.

Look, the fact is that we've seen dips in the market during his presidency and he does not react well. Why say that in March of 2019 when and the period between now and the election? Who knows what's going to happen in the market let alone the broader economy. Yes.

ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well I have a prediction for you. I mean, this president looks for external metrics by which to gauge his success.

MARTIN: I've notice that.

JOHNSON: And so, look, if the stock market dips, he'll switch to another metric and point to that. He'll look at unemployment.

MARTIN: Yes. And apologize, yes.

JOHNSON: Yes, he'll look at unemployment or he'll look at women's jobs, or African-American unemployment, or Hispanic employment.

MARTIN: Right, so some metric, yes.

JOHNSON: I think it's a hill he'll manage to climb and surmount.

MATTINGLY: Yes, when you're in a tent you are the bull market and the market continuos to look good overall and doesn't seem like a recession is coming at least in the near term, maybe a little bit closer to election time and that's something you certainly focus on. But I was struck by that 40 percent in the poll wanted him to face 2020 caucus challenger.

MARTIN: Yes.

MATTINGLY: But if you look at potential poll numbers of potential Trump challengers. Pull those up real quick. So I think this is really interesting.

The favorability, unfavorability you can look at them there. But unsure, John Kasich 45 percent, Howard Schultz 61 percent, Larry Hogan 84 percent, Bill Weld 81 percent.

They talked about the economy or the metrics. They talked about maybe the Mueller report and a lot of these guys says they kind of weigh whether or not they're going to consider a challenge or waiting for some external thing to occur to open something up.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I thought that was the fascinating part about the Iowa poll significant amount of moderates in particular of the split between moderates and conservatives. More moderates are interested in a challenger coming up against Trump in the Republican primary.

But the chances of success for a primary challenger are very little, very small given the overall enthusiasm the President has from his base and I think some key, or the primary states in particular.

But if there is a challenger, it could be potentially damaging in the general election.

MARTIN: Yes.

RAJU: History does not bode well for president to face primary challenges. We'll see if that happens. We'll see if any of these people are encourage by those results.

MARTIN: Every moderate president who faced a real primary challenge lost in the fall, you know, going back to 76. So that is in fact that the challenge that he faces, not being beat but being wounded by a primary challenger and Manu is right. It's the moderate win of the party that doesn't like his conduct, doesn't like some other policies. The problem Weld or for Hogan, or whoever does, the challenge is there are a lot of their would-be voters are now called Democrats.

A lot of kind of independents or even the softer Republicans have now basically become de facto Democrats because they cannot buy Trump and Trumpism. And so that's part of a challenge is that the Democratic coalition got bigger. It absorbs on the folks that may have votes for Bush for example, you know, 15 years.

MATTINGLY: And Rachael, the Republican Party is doing in their power to close the door on any type of primary challenge acknowledging what J. Martin slaying out in terms of the history back in 1976. What triggers around? What opens the door to somebody in your mind?

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean clearly everybody is watching the Mueller report right now, right? We don't know when that is coming out. Everybody says soon.

[12:35:04] And even when it is finalize we're not sure where we're going to actually see those documents. So, I think that's the big x factor here. You know, what is Robert Mueller say about the President.

But there's another thing here and that is that the RNC is 100 percent behind the President right now and whereas, you know, last time there was a lot of skepticism about Trump.

MATTINGLY: Yes.

JOHNSON: He's sort of get late start. The campaign was everywhere. The campaign is already talking about, you know, where they're going to focus, the Midwest Florida. They're talking about volunteers and raising money and there's talk right now about campaign rallies and some of these really states. So he has sort of that infrastructure not to mention the base and the support of the base, that's going to make it harder for anyone to slip further.

MARTIN: But he barely won last time and any slippage, I think, is problematic for him. If you look at 2004 and 2012, the last year re- election of becoming president they had unified parties, right?

I mean, in 2004-2012, they were not sitting governors of the in party who were openly more in primary challengers, let alone saying that they're not going to support his re-election, right. That just didn't happen and I think that does speak to the sort of that larger challenge he has which is some of the folks in the party who are more moderate. He's in a right who can't abide in. Who, you know, that doesn't beat him in the primary, but if you don't get those folks back for the general, there is no path for him back to the presidency.

MATTINGLY: Yes, now it's a great point, but Rachael also makes a good point. He has an infrastructure.

MARTIN: Yes.

MATTINGLY: He did not have any infrastructure for the broad part of 2016.

MARTIN: Correct.

MATTINGLY: So they certainly have a different of a much bigger head start.

MARTIN: He's an incumbent, yes.

MATTINGLY: That's what incumbent brings you.

All right, up next, could Mayor De Blasio become President De Blasio? Some of his closest aides not exactly hot on that idea.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:41:11] MATTINGLY: Topping our political radar, the President today saying what everyone thought was a slip of a tongue was actually his way of saving time. Social media did what social media does and obsessed over the President referring to Apple CEO Tim Cook as this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You've really put a big investment in our country. We appreciate it very much, Tim Apple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Tim Apple, there you go. The President today provided an explanation, it was in fact all about government efficiency saying, "Long after formally introducing Tim Cook of Apple, I quickly referred to him as Tim plus Apple, as Tim/Apple, as an easy way to save time and words. Already then, we can all sleep well tonight.

Bill De Blasio for President. Anyone? The New York mayor is among those toying with the idea but one report says even some of his closest allies are actually against it. Politico says a former De Blasio aide laughed out loud and called the whole notion of a run, "insane" (INAUDIBLE). Politico quotes De Blasio with saying, lots of friends and allies also told him he was crazy to run for mayor but he won.

And Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama, he is apparently not loosing not much sleep over a potential rematch with Roy Moore next year. Now Moore, said on Friday he is seriously considering another run despite the sexual misconduct accusations that derailed his campaign in the 2017 special election. Senator John says, Republicans reaction to Moore's resurfacing is a joke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA: What's really kind of comical to me is watch the reaction of the Republicans who all supported him a couple years ago and now they're talking about he's a flawed candidate, and yada, yada, yada, so I just think it's kind of a comical to watch these days, but we'll be ready for whoever the nominee is next spring.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Up next, the senator on the front line to the Me Too Movement is accused of mishandling allegation in her own office.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:47:11] MATTINGLY: Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand facing scrutiny for the way she handled a sexual harassment complaint involving two people in her office. Politico wrote the story this morning and says the woman making the allegation resigned in protest last summer.

CNN's Athena Jones, spoke with an aide to the senator this morning and CNN -- and Athena, I think, everybody is trying to figure out what these all means? What can you tell us about what's happening right now?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi Phil, well this is certainly not a good headline for Senator Gillibrand who has made a name for herself as a champion of the Me Too Movement on Capitol Hill. She spent years fighting to prevent sexual assault and harassment in the military, on college campuses, changed how it's handling on Capitol Hill, so she's coming under scrutiny now because of the handling of this case.

We're talking about a staff or the Politico did not, this accuser Politico did not name. CNN has not been able to identify her yet. We have are trying to reach out to the staffer who was accused, the former staffer, Abbas Malik, who was accused of making sexually harassing remarks last summer.

Now, Gillibrand's office says that they handled this just as she has called for these situations to be handled. Let me read to you a statement from the senator herself. She said, "These are challenges that affect all of our nation's workplaces, including mine, and the question is whether or not they're taken seriously. As I have long said when allegations are made in the workplace, we must believe women so that serious investigations can actually take place, we can learn the facts and there can be appropriate accountability. That's exactly what happened at every step of this case last year. I told her that we loved her at the time and the same is true today." Of course, this staffer was not satisfied with that.

But as this aide pointed out to me, look, what Senator Gillibrand and her office say, they can't avoid this sort of thing happening in any office place just the fact that she has a campaign in the Me Too Movement does not mean that she won't have people accused of harassment on her staff. They argue that they handled this case as it should have been handled and extensive investigation. They interviewed several employees, seven of them. They launched investigation as soon as they were told about this accusation. They did not find evidence of sexual harassment in this case. Phil.

MATTINGLY: Athena Jones in New York, very important story. And Rachael I think a very explosive story but she's given the senator's role and a lot of these things. What's your read on kind of happens next with this?

BADE: I think her statement was interesting because she says in there, you know, this process was handled correctly, we looked into this and we moved on, basically. But here's the problem. That staffer stayed on her -- in her office since this incident occurred for months and then when Politico started asking questions about it, she dismissed that staffer. So that raises questions about did she actually handle this the correct way?

And for Gillibrand, this is an issue that she wanted to, you know, if she runs for president, this is going to be front and center. She talks about this often ever since she came to the Senate, for military sexual harassment when Brett Kavanaugh was getting confirmed. She was one of the most vocal critics saying, believe the women.

[12:50:05] And so if that's her public position, you know, privately clearly she's got an issue here.

RAJU: And this such a centerpiece not just of the presidential campaign but also in her Senate career.

BADE: Right.

RAJU: The one issue that she has tried to be on the fourth run off and this is also going to remind folks about the role she played with Al Franken as the fourth run.

BADE: Yes.

RAJU: Calling for Al Franken's resignation the hurt a lot of Democrats. A lot of Democratic donors are not happy about that. So clearly people are all going to say, we'll look what happened? How did you handle this in your office?

This statement today by her is not going to be enough. She doesn't have to answer questions about this at least today and in the coming days and weeks and we'll see others respond. One person is not responding, Al Franken and we reached out his office this morning, no comment.

MATTINGLY: Enough of Al Franken, yes, there will be more to this. Keep an eye on it for sure.

All right, up next, are Democrats tired of waiting for Beto?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:55:28] MATTINGLY: A big question for Beto O'Rourke this morning, how long is too long to wait? The progressive phenom still teasing a big announcement about his 2020 plans, but are would-be voters losing interest in the former Texas Congressman? Too early new polls, if you believe them suggest O'Rourke's deliberating might be wearing just a bit thin on voters.

Our new CNN Iowa survey shows some down 12 percent points since December as the first or second choice of likely caucus goers. And a brand new Monmouth University poll out this hour finds a six percentage drop in net favorability.

So look, if he jumps another race, our media is going to be insane and I assume that's going to bump all those numbers up. But you talk to everybody in the Democratic Party. Are there real concerns his waiting is hurting him in any way?

MARTIN: Yes, yes, there's no question that putting this thing off has sort of tarnished his launch. The question is how much does that tarnish actually stick to his candidacy? Is that to your point going to be a sort of momentary issue that will be raise once he -- he enjoy the, you know, first week of coverage or this is going to be approved to be a long range problem for him.

Look, I think, what help Beto is that he's not dependent on big donors. He's not the sort of sign up big donors and land them early because that's not how he raises his money. And there's still going to be enough staffers for him to hire. But you kind of do wonder if he would have come out of the gate stronger in January if he had seized that post-election Big Mo and gone into the first of the year as a candidate. This is where he could be right now both in terms of the early polling and in terms of raising money.

MATTINGLY: And it also open the door to, you know, unnamed Democratic Strategist x kind of throwing in nuclear missile in his way. And just one in Politico saying, "It's a bit much. The question is, does he have a secret sauce that no one knows about, that no reporter, no operative, no strategist understands? Or is this just "The Beto Show"? And if this is just "The Beto Show," there's a breaking point between strategy and narcissism."

JOHNSON: Well look at what happened yesterday at the Club For Growth, conservative group anti-tax group put out -- announced it was putting out a two minute attack out on him and he hasn't even announced attacking him in Iowa.

So right now you've got attacks out on him and basically silence from Beto and I think that might be OK if you're Joe Biden and you've got 29 percent of the field right now, but Beto quite that have stature in the party and I think he is behaving as if he has a bit more statute than he have. That may not matter if he announces and all goes smoothly but if he announces in there are some sort of freshman hiccups, I think that irritation that's being expressed right now to people like J. Mart (ph), people may not abide that already.

MATTINGLY: So I want to play that ad real quick and then get to you Rachael. Play the ad from the Club for Growth which was you take note as evidence. That's subtle. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Beto O'Rourke's image crafters say he's Barack Obama but white. Useful in discretions or threads in a lifelong pattern revealing an indelible sense of entitlement? With a charmed life like his, you can never really lose. That's why Beto's running for president, because he can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BADE: Yes, I mean, and not declaring he's letting these more predominant voices, these Republicans define him right now. But, look, you also have to ask yourself if he were to declare in January with everybody else sort of coming out and declaring for president at the same time, would, you know, that launch be sucked, you know, under the radar? He would be competing for headlines with everybody else. So you have to sort of wonder, maybe he is waiting strategically for that moment and building his anticipation as all part of that plan.

MATTINGLY: Yes we have 30 seconds left. You had on the key piece. You are involved in a key new trust him about today, questioning the one issue that I think is probably more prominent and that is no major policy accomplishment. Is that the bigger issue that he faces at this point?

MARTIN: Well Obama didn't have a sort of big policy gain under his belt in 07-08, and obviously it didn't hurt him. Yes, I think, that plays into this larger issue of a younger callow sort of man in search of some office which is going to be thrown wrap against him.

And, yes, I think putting this thing off sort of appearing a bit hamlet-like and then finally getting in after so many questions as were dragging him out, I think it does hand his critics ammunition about what you saw in that ad, which is the sort of entitled privileged life where you have your opportunity to kind of do that and drag this thing out. And I think he has creative fighter for his rivals in doing that. But if he has good launch and if he gets out there and people swoon for his message come April, all will be forgotten.

MATTINGLY: Looks like he's getting in, I think. We'll see.