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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Meets with Brazilian President at the White House; Trump: Was Never a Fan of John McCain; CNN Poll: 7 in 10 Say Economy is in Good Shape; Democrats: Our Economy Isn't Working for Everyone; KC Star Editorial to Pompeo: Please Don't Run. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 19, 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] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to the White House.

JAIR BOLSONARO, BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT: (INAUDIBLE) by basketball and for his talent in football.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Trump, Brazil is operating the access --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we're looking at it very strongly. We're very inclined to do that. The relationship that we have right now with Brazil has never been better. I think there was a lot of hostility with other presidents. There is zero hostility with me, and we were going -- we're going to look at that very, very strongly in terms of whether it's NATO or it's something having to do with the alliance.

But we have a great alliance with Brazil, better than we've ever had before.

(Foreign Language)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, Brazil is working to offer the United States access to a rocket launch site in Brazil. Americans will be able to go to Brazil with other visas. What would you like President Bolsonaro to get to Brazil -- to take to Brazil as a result of this visit?

TRUMP: Well, we have -- we're working on different military sites and military options. We're working on visas and going in a much easier fashion. All of that is good. And we have many things that Brazil would like, and I think we're working on those things.

One of the big elements of the relationship is trade. Brazil makes great products and we make great products, and our trade has been never as good as it should be in the past. And in some cases, it should be far, far more, so I think our trade with Brazil will go substantially up in both directions and we look forward to that. And that's one of the things Brazil would like to see.

(Foreign language)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, (INAUDIBLE) about Venezuela? What do you want to see happen in Venezuela?

TRUMP: Well, we don't want to say exactly, I know exactly what I want to happen in Venezuela, but we're going to be talking about different things. All options are on the table and it's a shame what's happening in Venezuela, the death and the destruction and the hunger. Hard to believe one of the wealthiest countries is now one of the poorest and most impoverished countries. So we'll be talking about that in great length.

(Foreign Language)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, were you involved in military action in Venezuela? And also, are you offering Brazil -- are you supporting Brazil in that course to join the OECD?

TRUMP: I am supporting their efforts to join, and we are just going to -- so I think I can speak for both countries, all options are on the table. Every option is on the table with respect to Venezuela.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you involved in any sort of military options?

TRUMP: We haven't even discussed it. We're going to discuss it today.

(Foreign Language)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, why are you attacking (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: I'm very unhappy that he didn't repeal and replace ObamaCare as you know. He campaigned on repealing and replacing ObamaCare for years and then he got to a vote and he said thumbs down. And our country would have saved a trillion dollars and we would have had great healthcare.

So we campaigned, he told us hours before that he was going to repeal and replace, and then for some reason -- I think I understand the reason -- he ended up going thumbs up.

[12:35:01] And frankly, had we even know that I think we would have gotten the vote because we could have gotten somebody else. So I think that's disgraceful.

Plus, there are other things. I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be. Thank you very much, everybody! Thank you! Thank you very much. Thank you.

KING: The president of the United States ending a conversation with the Brazilian president and reporters in the Oval Office with a statement that will, again, open some eyes here in the United States. A war hero, the late senator, Republican presidential nominee in 2008, John McCain. The president of the United States now again criticizing John McCain for his vote against on ObamaCare repeal and replace plan, taking some of the content of that vote out of context and then saying I was never been a fan of John McCain, I will never be a fan of John McCain. And others discussed with the Brazilian president, trade, military to military relationships, what to do about Venezuela. Both countries have an interest in that.

But yet again, after several weekend tweets attacking Senator McCain, the president there could have said, you know what, I'm done. I've said everything I want to see on this subject. Instead, again.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, he's not one to not hold a grudge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

KUCINICH: And just because Senator McCain has passed away, it's clear he's going to hold onto this grievance, no matter how inappropriate it is and just kind of random --

KING: Is it his reflex and who he is, or does he see some strategic value? He ran against the Republican establishment to become the nominee. He often now, as he gets closer to the re-election campaign, you could say we're early in, seems again to be the, you know, the I'm alone or I'm against them, they're fighting me, but he's a Vietnam POW, a war hero. Yes, a somewhat -- he was a maverick, McCain called himself Republican, didn't give the president the vote he wanted. But what is -- is there a strategic purpose or is it just impulse Trump?

PAUL KANE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think it's impulse Trump because there's no doubt that Trump has won that part of the battle. When you look at primary campaigns, if Donald Trump endorses you, you win the Republican nomination. It's not that hard.

It's just -- it's like some sort of Shakespearean hold. Like McCain's death just still rattling around in Trump's brain. And he just can't get over the fact that McCain still just has this hold on him.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think we also have to pay attention to what else he said about McCain this weekend. He was tweeting about the Steele dossier which he blames McCain for handing over to the FBI.

KING: Again, another case -- forgive me for interrupting.

PHILLIP: Yes.

KING: Where the president's facts and context just don't hold up.

PHILLIP: Exactly.

However, in the president's mind, the Steele dossier is the crux of this Russia investigation witch hunt. And so for the president, all of these things about John McCain are part of the reason why he can't let John McCain go. He can't let the healthcare vote go. He can't let McCain go without blaming him for being a part of why the Russia investigation, in his mind, came into existence, and even going back beyond that. I mean, I think this whole Vietnam War thing, the fact that McCain was a celebrated veteran, a prisoner of war, a war hero is something that bothers the president. Because, as we all know, President Trump did not go to Vietnam. He was -- he got deferrals on multiple occasions. Any time you talk about John McCain in one breath when you say that, you talk about President Trump in the other breath saying that about him as well.

And I think all of these, it really grates on his nerves and he does not want to let McCain be celebrated when people denigrate him. So, he has no care, really, obviously, for the McCain family. It's been less than seven months since John McCain was buried. The president does not care about this.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: But I think overturning these conventions matter, right? It's not just don't speak ill of the dead. This is about civilian politics, this is about how the parties work together, this is about really the strength of Democratic institutions which just really does depend on Democrat and Republicans being able, theoretically, though we don't see it much, to make deals with each other, right, and to find a compromise.

And behavior like this, this is why when people talk about the demise of Democratic institutions, there are fears of that demise in the U.S. It's little things like this that maybe just seem like he's flouting politeness and just being rude. But, I think these things do have an impact on how our democracy runs in a way.

KING: And beyond that, how democracy plays out in the sense that a lot of Republicans would tell you that's the reason they got their butts kicked in the suburbs because so many moderate Republicans just said, no, I can't take this anymore and they voted for Democrats in 2018. To that point, the president's personal conduct sometimes hurts him with voters. His team is hoping though, some new numbers about the economy help him a lot.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:44:13] KING: You saw moments ago one of those moments that make a lot of voters cringe, turn them off to President Trump because of his personal style. In the Oval Office again, criticizing the late Senator John McCain. There are numbers though that shows some improvement for the president as we head into the 2020 re-election cycle.

Let's take a look at the latest CNN poll here. The president's approval rating at 43 percent. That's not great, 43 percent is not where you want to be as a politician but for this president, that is moving up some. A majority of Americans is 51 percent disapprove of the president. That number has been higher than that if you go back in time.

So let's play it out back in time. From the inauguration of the president to now, relatively static. In March 2017 just after coming into office, 45 percent, now up to 43 percent now. Some diffs (ph) but look at that. Essentially static along the 40 give or take a little bit throughout his presidency.

Here's what gets interesting.

[12:45:01] In the new poll, we also see a big high number for optimism, people who feel good about the economy, 71 percent feel good. How does that connect to the president? Look back here, in January of 2018, 72 percent said that they felt good.

Economy going up. Look where the president was. He was going down, there was not -- because of his toxic personal numbers, his -- he could not get his approval rating up with the economy that usually carries the president. Here's the difference. The president is going up with the economy.

That is a trajectory that team Trump hopes carries over as we get closer and closer and then into the 2020 election year. That as people feel better about the economy, if that keeps up, maybe they'll drag the president up with them. That's how traditional politicians normally go. The president constantly making the case the economy is great and getting better.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We have a country that's the envy of the world from an economic standpoint and from many other standpoints. There's never been -- rarely, certainly, there's rarely been a time like this economically. The world is talking.

When presidents and prime ministers and others come to see me, they all say congratulations on this great economy that you've built. And they try and do the same thing and it doesn't work out so well, but that's OK. But they're trying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is just one poll, it never invest in just one poll. But you do see this if you look at other data as well. The president's approval rating, it's sluggish, it's still underwater. But just that trajectory where the economy and the president going up at the same time hasn't happened for him. And that's been the frustration for his aides politically that why aren't we getting more credit for this?

If you're Democrats looking in 2020, you want to remember those numbers.

PHILLIP: Yes. It's a real concern for Democrats because that is what is supposed to happen that if there is a good economy, the president ought to be doing better as a result of that. But it's also the frustration of the president's aides because they say that he's sometimes can't get out of his own way. That when his approval rating goes down, it's usually because of a crisis of his own making. For example, the government shutdown earlier this year.

And so every couple of months, we are likely to get the president kind of doing something that causes his approval rating to tank. And so I think for his aides, it's frustrating because you never know when that moment is going to strike. And 2020 is a long time from now, but all it takes is a really bad moment to happen just before the next election and they're in trouble.

KING: As you jump in, I just want to put this on the screen because this is my fascination heading into 2020. The president has bad numbers, we're talking about suburbs during the break, we saw what happened in 2018. But the economy is getting better. Then you look at the electoral map, the Electoral College will still be here.

Look at these states that were key to him in 2016 and how they are right now.

Unemployment in Pennsylvania then and now, down. Wisconsin then and now, down. Michigan then and now, down. Florida then and now, down. Iowa then and now down. Ohio then and now down.

Again, you know, the Democrats to say, oh the president is at 43 percent, we can beat him. If you go state by state and you look at the economy, if the president can sort of get out from behind the personal cloud and talk about the economy, he's got a prayer.

KUCINICH: Several of those states, though, you mentioned 2018, lost a lot of Republicans and the economy was still pretty good.

KING: So that's the great (INAUDIBLE)

KUCINICH: The president's own message --

KANE: Governors of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, all Democrats.

KUCINICH: The president's own message can hurt him more and can override the fact of the economy. The economy is not foolproof if he's -- what he's pushing is divisive.

KING: It's a great point. That's the tension. And two things can be true at the same time. The president can say, look at national unemployment, look generally, barring a few bad days for weeks the stock market. Things are up, he's got a good national message to sell. Democrats say, there are places in America were no.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I see an economy right now where a lot of people are struggling, a lot of folks are working two and three jobs because they're not paid a living wage.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's working great for giant financial institutions and for payday lenders. It's just not working great for people who are living paycheck to paycheck.

JOE BIDEN (D), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So many folks in places like Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin went (INAUDIBLE) by a changing world economy and left behind by the draconian policies of this administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: You don't think Vice President Joe Biden mentioned those states by accident, do you? It's an interest -- this is the tension, the tug-of-war if you will, the struggle of 2020. Who is right? Who's right? And where on the map?

You can go to places where -- in Iowa, the unemployment rate is 2.4 percent. Wow! Yet, you should find a lot of people who say, it's hard, their legs are tired from working two jobs since -- in all of this.

KANE: This has been the message that Democrats have been trying for three elections now to really break through, and only in 2018 did it do that. And in part, because they found really unique candidates who had their own really fascinating biographies.

They won two seats in Iowa. They now control three of the four House seats in Iowa. Something they haven't done in a generation, but in part, it was because they just have really good candidates, and that gets to 2020, who is their candidate.

LERER: And I do think if you want to hear concerns about the president's message on the economy, all you have to do is talk to those Republicans who lost.

LERER: It was --

[12:50:01] KUCINICH: Yes.

LERER: -- this ongoing just infuriation to Republicans during the midterms that the president couldn't focus on the economy. That he would go out there, go to a state, give a rally where the economy was doing better and talk about everything else, talk about the caravan. And there is a fundamental disconnect as we see over and over again, between what some of the president's aides think wins elections which is driving out their base with issues like the wall, like immigration, and what others in the Republican Party think will win elections. And so part of this race, this 2020 race, will be, as you point out, resolving that tension.

KING: The great laboratory is underway.

As we go to break here, happy birthday, happy 40th birthday to C-Span. Here are some familiar faces, to those of us old enough anyway, that viewers saw on day one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS O'NEILL (D), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: -- gentleman from Tennessee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Television will change this institution, Mr. Speaker, just as it has changed the executive branch. But the good will far outweigh the bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:55:14] KING: A quick programming note, if you're with us you like politics, right? Two more candidates now get the chance to bring the argument directly to you into field questions from voters right here on CNN. Dana Bash hosting the former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper for a CNN town hall tomorrow night at 10 p.m. Eastern. And then next week, Senator Cory Booker attends a CNN town hall in South Carolina, another was a key early voting state.

Back to another great political story, there's no place like home, unless, apparently, you're Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This rocket today from the editorial board of the Kansas City Star. It reads, "A Mike Pompeo candidacy? Kansas doesn't need the secretary of state's kind of swagger."

The editors went on and we're very blunt in their criticism, quote, Kansas can send him a message which is this, don't do it. The secretary's full-throated endorsement of President Donald Trump's erratic approach to government would be reason enough for voters to reject the Pompeo candidacy for the U.S. Senate or for governor. Secretary Pompeo has boasted of State Department swagger, but Kansans are less interested in belligerents than hardworking, humble public servants, those more concerned with the public good than personal ambition.

Wow. Ouch. A little context here, the Kansas City Star is based in Missouri, not Kansas. But does cover and have significant audience across the border in Pompeo's home state. Now little more context here, Pompeo is raising eyebrows with a lot of domestic travel in recent days. He insists he is not interested in that Kansas Senate seat on the ballot next year, he says he could return to politics down the road a bit.

Some aides whisper, he sees himself as a future president. For now, though, said he has a job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm going to be there until he tweets me out of office. Which I'm not counting on at least today. It has been an enormous privilege to be a part of the Trump administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Rex Tillerson among those not laughing at the "until he tweets me out of office" reference there. That's just a year ago.

KUCINICH: Yes, exactly.

PHILLIP: Yes. And I think Mike Pompeo, people who know him say that he is navigating this Trump administration with a skill that few people have with dealing with the president and executing his agenda, and it's because he's a shrewd politician. He understands that Trump is the future of the Republican Party and he can't stray too far from that tree. KANE: He's doing this in a sort of backward way. Usually, you run for a seat in the House and then the Senate, and then you try to become secretary of state. Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, they went from the Senate to secretary of state. I don't know of anyone who's ever gone from secretary of state back to the Senate to be a freshman senator.

You know --

KING: I think that's one of the reasons why he's saying no in the sense that he is -- in his head he thinks maybe I'm bigger than that.

KANE: Yes. I think he could be.

LERER: And there will be a point at which we are in a post-Trump political world.

KING: Really?

LERER: I don't know when that's going to be but that will come. There is a two-term limit on this office.

And so I think the savvier players in the Trump administration are the Nikki Haleys who are sort of hedging their bets. They break with the president in some areas, they're with him in other areas, they're kind of covering all the bases for whatever the political future looks like for the Republican Party. Because we just don't know as we all learned the last election, they're not --

KING: It's a great point. Nobody knows when the post-Trump era starts or what it will look like for the Republican Party which is why, listen to the answer here, Mike Pompeo, what will you be doing in five years?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POMPEO: Well, let's see. It's -- as I get older, I get smarter about not answering that question. Boy, it is hard to know what I'll be doing. We'll keep working hard.

I hope I still finding a place to have an impact and a place to serve as well. I don't know. I'd love to get back to Kansas and start a small business again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KUCINICH: I mean --

(INAUDIBLE)

KUCINICH: -- that was a very, very painful answer. But you also can't blame him from not, you know, saying, I'm going to write a book. Or, you know, some of the fate that has befell other former Trump cabinet officials.

But, you know, I think if he does decide to run for Senate and he's successful, being a freshman senator when President Trump is in office isn't necessarily the same. You could actually be elevated quite high.

KING: The majority (INAUDIBLE) to move on if Mike -- if he's not going to run for the seat in 2020, it seems pretty clear that he's not unless something changes dramatically. But surely (INAUDIBLE) as a candidate because even though it's ruby red Kansas in a presidential year, you have to be careful. Democrats have been proven in the past there. But we shall see what Secretary Pompeo does.

Pence, Haley, Pompeo, (INAUDIBLE).

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great day.

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

Underway right now, from wild tweets to white nationalism.