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The Evolution of Sen. Lindsey Graham on Trump; Weld Predicts "Trumpism" Will Disappear; Trump Again Tries to Pressure GM on Ohio Plant Closure; Rep. Omar Clarifies Her View on Foreign Policy with Israel. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 18, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Praising John McCain but not one pushback saying, Mr. President, please stop.

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: And he looks like, it Trump gets his way, that legacy will be diminished. Like when you're putting out tweets like this calling him (inaudible) class of dark stain on the -- that's very personal. That's not just saying, oh I don't like the way he voted on this. That's saying, this is someone who I don't think should be celebrated.

And right now, this is President Trump's party, you had a little pushback in there. But when we had the video of Bush, all I can think is, Bush lost that fight on immigration. And now you have a totally different tone because that is where the Republican Party wants to be.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: It's such a good point. I mean, the Republican Party is no longer the party of McCain and Bush and the old Lindsey Graham. It is the party of Donald Trump and the new Lindsey Graham.

They want to take a tough line on immigration, and, you know, for all of the talks, and there continues to be chatter, about weakness in Trump support among Republicans. I mean, (INAUDIBLE) in there, he has a hold on the vast majority of Republican voters. It's why the small crowd of people mostly in, you know, Washington and New York who are desperately trying to find somebody to primary him in the 2020 election are having such a difficult time. This is Trump's party.

KING: And it was interesting, I was watching this weekend on Michael Smerconish's program, Bill Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, former U.S. attorney who says he's going to run, says he understands how steep, he thinks he can get going on this. His argument is to this point that the old Republican Party is a lot better than Trump's Republican Party, and he wants to make the case.


BILL WELD (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: Well, you know, the Trump party, if I may, Trumpism is the natural heir of the know- nothing party of the 19th century which, like the Trumpism was founded on anti-immigrant fervor. They hated, in that case, Catholics, the Catholics coming in from Germany and Italy. They had violent rallies just like Trumpism. They believed in conspiracy theories just like Trumpism.

And that party just disappeared into the mist. And I think the same thing is going to happen with Trumpism.


KING: Is there anybody who thinks -- whether that's right or not in the long run? He's not going to disappear in 2020.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, in the short term, it's not. And I looked at the national emergency vote and -- obviously, I covered it very closely. And actually, it flips it on Ted and looks at the inverse of it. Look at the 22 Republicans who are up for re-election in 2020 in the Senate seats. I believe all but Susan Collins voted with the president on that, and that is a -- even including people Cory Gardner in Colorado is considered very endangered, Joni Ernst as well, obviously Thom Tillis with a pretty noteworthy flip from yes to no on that.

And I also think that one, it's instructive of where they see their votes and where they see the kind of power inside the party. But I also think Senator Graham is actually really reflective of the entire calculation of the party right now. Senator Graham, it's not just political with him, although it's a very, very big piece of this.

It's also a calculation of, if I want to get anything done if I want my views to be -- to reach the White House, then I need to do this with the president. And Senator Graham has done and that's how he got involved and got things to move forward on healthcare, you know, that (INAUDIBLE) in the end, Syria troop labels, all of these things that Graham has made the same calculation that many in the Republican Party has, which is talk about Speaker Paul Ryan, talk about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell which is I will talk publicly well of the president because this is the way that I can ensure that I still have a line of communication open to try and get my policies to move forward.

How history will judge that I think is an open question but that's the calculation.

KING: And to the history point, let's just show the history in the sense that you're right, a lot of Republicans have just decided we'll fight about the party after Trump. In the meantime, let's just bite our tongue and get what we can be done. But in the case of Lindsey Graham, some of those -- a lot of Republicans have made conversions not many as big as this one.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Stay in the race just not being a jackass. You don't have to run for president and be the world's biggest jackass.

He's a race-baiting xenophobic religious bigot. I think he's a cook. I think he's crazy and I think he's unfit for office. And I'm a Republican and he's not.

What concerns me about the American press is this endless, endless attempt to label the guy as some kind of cook, not fit to be president. He did win, by the way.

I like the president. I want to help him. I hope he's successful. He's been a friend to me and he says some things I don't agree with. So if you don't like me working with President Trump to make the world a better place, I don't give a (INAUDIBLE).


KING: That was the same guy really. Believe it or not, that was the same guy.

All right, we'll keep an eye on that one.

Coming up for us, Senator Bernie Sanders weighs in on being an older white man in a campaign where some Democratic voters think they want the opposite.


[12:38:57] KING: Topping our political radar today, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff taking issue with the Wall Street Journal report that the Pentagon is working on plans to keep up to 1,000 troops in Syria to continue to working with Kurdish fighters. General Joseph Dunford says the story is, quote, factually incorrect that the military is carrying out the president's order to draw down U.S. forces. He did, however, acknowledged talks with Turkey on a security arrangement along the Turkish border with Syria.

First Lady Melania Trump today adding another dimension to her signature Be Best initiative for America's children. For the first time since the program is launched, she's convening the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs. That group founded by the George W. Bush Foundation to bring various youth agencies together to try to make -- to try to improve programs.

And an acknowledgment by Senator Bernie Sanders that he needs refine a key part of his platform to make another serious run for the Democratic presidential nomination. He tells NPR he needs to do a better job this time around explaining what Democratic socialism means as Republicans ramped up their attacks on that term. He also weighed in on whether an older white man is what Democrats really want right now.


[12:40:02] SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: All of us agree that we want more diversity in our politics. I campaigned very hard for women candidates, for African-American candidates, for Latino candidates. But when I hear people, Democrats, independents talking, what they say mostly is that we desperately must have a candidate who can defeat Donald Trump.


KING: Up next, will the president's big battle with General Motors save jobs in the heart of Trump country?


KING: President Trump keeping the pressure on General Motors today, tweeting again about a factory that just shut down on Ohio and urging the company to reopen it, even suggesting he closed a factory in Mexico or China. Bring jobs home is the end of the latest tweet which follows several over the weekend complaining about the plant closing. It's personal for the president because he told the Lordstown workers not to move or sell their homes, that he would save their jobs.

[12:45:01] And that the plan that's in Ohio just adds to his interest, the state again crucial to the president's campaign map and he's heading to Ohio this week to visit an army tank plant. Picking fights with specific companies over specific factories. That scene is unpresidential market meddling to some. But a top adviser says the president wants those jobs back in a hurry and cannot accept GM's plan to revisit the issue months from now.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: In the president's mind, it's March, you're scheduling the meeting for October. And in the meantime, jobs may keep seeping out of the country. When you tell a businessman I'm a politician, we're going to meet several months from now, he's just saying can we accelerate and have the meeting sometimes faster.


KING: CNN's Christine Romans break down the president's GM fascination. And what he gets right and wrong about the plant closure.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: John, this Lordstown plant is a political loss for the president. You know, he vowed to auto workers that his policies would keep their jobs in America, specifically in Ohio. And even giving them this financial advice at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio back in 2017.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those jobs have left Ohio, they're all coming back. They're all coming back. They're coming back. Don't move. Don't sell your house.


ROMANS: Those jobs coming back, he said, but the bully pulpit of the presidency and the Twitter megaphone did not trump the realities of global business. The gas-powered sedan made there, the Chevy Cruze wasn't a huge seller in the U.S. Gas-powered sedans are less popular right now than trucks and SUVs. And tracks and SUVs have higher margins.

The future as GM sees it is an expensive transformation into electric vehicles and autonomous cars and trucks. Closing plants like Lordstown free up investment for that future. Now when she announced the restructuring, GM's CEO Mary Barra called it, in business speak, right-sizing capacity for the realities of the marketplace.

But the president demands GM make a different vehicle in Lordstown or sell the facility. And facing a political promise unkept, the president casting around for blame, even criticizing the local union president, telling him to get his act together and produce.

Now, these tactics may seem familiar. Think Ford, think Carrier, that's the air conditioner and furnace maker. The president leaned hard on them to keep their facilities from expanding to Mexico.

Now GM issued a statement. GM said, the ultimate future of the unallocated plants, that's Lordstown and three others will be resolved between GM and the UAW. The focus right now for GM is reassigning workers from the idle plants to other facilities.


KING: Christine Romans, thanks for the breakdown there. Again, this is a trademark, Trump. A lot of people say a president should not be picking on specific companies, telling them to do specific things. This president says, sorry, this is why I got elected.

And to a lot those workers out there, this is one of the reasons he got elected. That he speaks to workers in those blue-collar states in a way other politicians -- at least they felt in the last campaign that he was talking to them about their issues when they get ignored by other candidates (INAUDIBLE) of their head.

MATTINGLY: And it's effective to a point. I remember shortly after he was elected, he had a really in Cincinnati right after he did the Carrier deal that was supposed to keep a bunch of jobs in Indiana. There were enormous holes in what the administration announced which seemed that the reality of that in the month's sense where the number of jobs they said that'd be kept there weren't actually going to be there. But the people I talked to in the ground in Cincinnati were thrilled that he was doing something, that he was using the bull pit -- bully pulpit to yell, scream, bang the desk, and try and change things.

And I think that probably more than whether or not there's going to be actual tangible effects of what happens in Lordstown is what the president is going for here. Ohio is a very important state. These are who he considers his people, and he's making clear to them at least rhetorically that he's there to work for them. I think the problem is, is how long does that last when there's no actual tangible results at the end.

PACE: Well, part of the reason that other politicians haven't spoken this way to these voters is because they know that those are promises that they can't keep. That as president you have a lot of tools and (INAUDIBLE) are not running GM. You are not in control of the global economy. And so there are going to be business decisions that some of these companies are going to make.

And we've seen this over the last several years, the last couple of decades, really, especially with manufacturing and the auto industry that we are just no longer going to be in a place where you have all these manufacturing plans in the United States. And so you've seen other presidents, other politicians talking about things like retraining and moving into different industries. That is not as clean an argument as some of the things that Trump is saying. It may actually be more realistic and that's a challenge for Trump as he gets into his re-election.

KING: And don't move, don't sell your house is a lot more understandable to a voter than we're going to get you in a training program. We're going to find you a new job that you worry about.

To that point, the president did raise hopes and raise expectations, and that's one of the reasons other politicians are afraid to do such. Listen to the local auto workers union president out there says, yes, when the president came through here in 2016, a lot of people thought, great, he's with us. But look around, it might be a tougher case in 2020 he says.


[12:50:01] DAVID GREEN, UNITED AUTO WORKERS 1112 PRESIDENT: And some folks I know have switched gears, right, and, you know, when he came here and said all these great things that, you know, they were on board with that. And the fact that we've seen our Kmart distribution center in Warren close, a hospital closed out here, all these brick and mortar businesses are closing, and unallocated status at Lordstown which will affect really thousands of jobs and the supplier base around it, people are starting to wake up.


KING: Again, that's the contrast. If you look at the national unemployment numbers, they're fantastic. If you're a president running for re-election, unemployment is at four percent or below. That's fantastic.

But there are pockets in the country where whether it's globalization and automation, whether it's the internet rule, he talks about (INAUDIBLE) order of the internet, a lot of retail places closed down. The president -- those are genies the president can't put back on the bottle.

MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And to Phil -- Phil touched on this but like it's whether people blame him for those things. He's trying to project that he's still fighting for people but the results are different. And it's -- in areas all around the country, coal plants, he says he's going to bring back coal and more coal plants closed in the first two years of his administration than Obama's first four years.

But he's still projecting that he's on the side of coal workers, he's on the side of these workers at the GM plant. And I think whether or not people sort of wake up as the union president says, or not is a key test for 2020 and his re-election prospects.

KING: It's fascinating to watch.

Up next for us, Representative Ilhan Omar talking Israel again. But, is she mending fences this time?


[12:56:03] KING: Freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is going old school for a change as she tries to reset her image. She's a social media star but also start a ton of criticism with tweets widely condemned as anti-Semitic tropes. So this weekend she decides to take a more traditional route to explaining her views in a place that allows more than a 140 of 280 characters at a time.

In a Washington Post op-ed essay, she voices support for Israel but also makes the case that the Palestinian cause deserves more attention. U.S. support for Israel has a long history, she writes. Without a state, though, the Palestinian people, she says, live in a state of permanent refugeehood and displacement. This, too, is a refugee crisis and they, too, deserve freedom and dignity.

Now don't take the op-ed as meaning she is giving up on Twitter entirely. This Sunday at the president, I'm sorry at real Donald Trump, I'm for real. You can't Muslim-ban us from Congress.

So continuing her fight with the president there, which as a Democratic politician makes perfect sense. But the idea that she thought or someone around her convinced, I don't know the answer to that, write this op-ed. If you read the op-ed, there are things there you can disagree with if you want, we got a policy debate about, but it's a very reasonable well-thought-out approach to foreign policy in which she says, for example, if you're going to hold Iran to a tough standard, why don't you do that for Egypt, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates? Look around the world for that.

If you're going to talk about human rights, why don't you support Honduras and Guatemala? Saudi Arabia, she says we cannot continue to turn a blind eye. It's a thoughtful piece by someone who has faced a storm of criticism.

PACE: But when you read that piece it's not completely out of line with where other Democrats have been on some of these issues. And certainly, I think we all know by now that Twitter is not a great forum for a really in-depth policy of discussion. But, you know, we talked about this previously, this -- the reason that Omar got into trouble is not necessarily because of her policy views on this really fraught issue. It's because of the language, the rhetoric of the tropes that she was using.

Doing one op-ed in the Washington Post does not mean that she's not going to continue on that track. And that's where she really got into a lot of trouble.

KING: But it does show that she wanted to spell it out, and maybe, give me a second chance.

RASCOE: Yes, she wanted to give a full picture of herself. Obviously right now she has stirred a lot of attention and not necessarily in a good way. So this was a way to put out, this is what I believe like I've been characterized in a lot of ways, but this is kind of the full picture of what I'm trying to accomplish. But, of course, there have been issues about the tropes, et cetera.

KING: We'll see where it goes. And she also, Congresswoman Omar central to Jeanine Pirro disappearing from Fox News this weekend. And Fox won't say exactly what the deal is. But Judge Jeanine last weekend said some things that are frankly just racist about Congresswoman Omar. She disappeared for the weekend. We'll see what happens as that goes forward.

Now the president tweeting at the weekend, bring back at Judge Jeanine Pirro. The radical left Democrats working closely with their beloved partner, the fake news media using every trick to silence. He goes on to say, stop working so hard, this is about Fox News, on being politically correct which will only bring you down and continue to fight for our country.

Criticizing a Muslim congresswoman, questioning her patriotism, criticizing her hijab, that's not being politically right. That's being racist.

VISER: Right. And I mean, President Trump at war with Fox News is also another interesting sort of storyline out of that, you know. But, yes, I think, you know, it gets to where we're talking about earlier about what President Trump cares about and what he decides to weigh in on with the New Zealand crisis like -- this is another example of him defending those racist comments.

KING: It is remarkable.

Before we go today, I just want to put on the record, the House Judiciary Committee now conferring to CNN that panel, again, the Democrats control the House now will hold a hearing on the rise of white nationalism in the near future. No date set.

Thanks for joining us today on the INSIDE POLITICS. Don't go anywhere. It's a busy news day if you haven't noticed. Brianna Keilar starts right now.

Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now. After a 24-hour tweet (INAUDIBLE), two of the people closest to President Trump inside the West Wing --