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Trump Holds Rally after Mueller Investigation Ends; Questions about Health Care Working Group; Trump Trying to Focus on Health Care. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 29, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:18] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Phil Mattingly. John King is off today.

President Trump laying out his 2020 message at last night's rally was a mix of his greatest hits, immigration, the economy, but no Russia. Who am I kidding? Yes, he definitely, definitely talked about Russia repeatedly.

Plus, the president's putting together, at least he says, a working group of senators to come up with a new Republican health care plan. But apparently nobody's told those senators yet. At least not yet.

And, as a crucial 2020 fundraising deadline approaches this weekend, Democrats are appealing to supporters to donate just a little bit more, which begs the question, could these Trump attacks actually help?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I knocked her out of the race, I guess.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got plenty more to knock out.

TRUMP: We got plenty more to knock out, you're right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you looking forward to a debate like this with the president, with Donald Trump?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This very debate.

WARREN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes, you bet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At least he's not calling you pencil neck.


MATTINGLY: All right. Well, we begin this hour in the post-Mueller America, or at least -- at the very least President Trump's post- Mueller America. The president traveling to Michigan last night for his first rally since Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded his investigation and handed his report to the attorney general. It's the country's first uninterrupted look at the president who believes he no longer has the cloud of the Russia investigation hanging over his head.

"The Drudge Report" summing up the president's triumphant mood in two words, "Trump roars." I think the White House probably likes that one.

Here's a taste from Grand Rapids last night.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And after three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead.

Total exoneration. Complete vindication.

The Democrats have to now decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

Robert Mueller was a god to the Democrats. And they don't like him so much right now.


MATTINGLY: As I was saying, he talked about Russia last night.

All right, here with me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, Julie Hirschfeld Davis with "The New York Times," Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post," and Molly Ball with "Time."

Now, guys, there's a -- obviously a lot to get into pretty much with any President Trump rally, but I wanted to start with kind of the framing of the re-election campaign. And it was quite literally a campaign rally.

And I want to play some sound and then follow it up with a poll. Take a listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The economy is roaring. We'll always protect patients with pre-existing conditions. Always.

The rush to the border. Another two caravans now are pouring up.

Help us fix our broken trade deals. China! China!

Get the damn plants open.

We passed massive tax cuts.

The Russian hoax is finally dead.

The collusion delusion is over! (END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: So I want to pull up a poll of voters just after the 2018 midterm elections and what they said after they voted were their priorities.

Take a look at this poll and listen -- keep in mind what the president just said. Talked about the economy, check. Health care, check. Immigration, check. Trade policy, check. Taxes, check. Russia investigation, check. I mean he's in full re-election mode, am I right, at this one?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And certainly this campaign rally -- and I think really the end of the Mueller investigation for a lot of White House aides and campaign aides feels like the real start of 2020 for Trump. He's cleared the decks on Mueller, in his view, and can move on to really framing the argument of his re-election around the economy and around people persecuting him. I mean that was the key bit of this 2020 strategy that they couldn't really put into place while the investigation was ongoing. And so now this is about the president being constantly attacked by Democrats who are only trying to destroy him, only trying to bring him down. And now, ,finally with this out of the way, he can make that argument to the public.

He's also put health care back on the table now to the chagrin to some people on The Hill, but he's put health care back on the table because he understands this is a potential weakness for him. Repeal and replace did not happen, and so in order to move forward, they have to at least make the claim that they're working on this issue and that it's something that is to be determined to be finished in a second term, potentially.

MATTINGLY: So we're going to get to health care in the next bloc. We have a lot to talk about on that one. But it actually raised kind of the issue. I've been talking to a lot of conservative folks on the health care side of things trying to figure out kind of what the rationale was to dive back into this -- what was a very damaging debate back in 2017 for the party.

[12:05:04] And the idea that keeps coming back to me is, look, for the base, this was nine years of campaigning. This was exactly what they wanted. And to some degree, for the base, putting -- pinning himself against Democrats on the Mueller investigation, trying to attack him, seems to be effective. Is the base enough is I think something, Julie, we're going to be asking ourselves for the better part of the next 18, 19 months.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, for the last two years for President Trump, it certainly has been. I mean we did not see him try to pivot the way that most presidents do when they first come into office and have a more inclusive message that maybe reached out beyond the base that brought him to the White House or that propelled him to the front of the Republican primary and allowed him to win. We didn't see that in the run-up to the midterm congressional elections. And it's interesting now, he has this kind of bifurcated message,

right? He is talking about things like the economy, which Republican leaders in Congress were begging him last year to talk more about in the run-up to the congressional elections. He's talking about healthcare. He's trying to suggest that there, you know, some big sort of solution that's going to be forthcoming from the party because he knows -- he looks at the polls, his advisers look at the polls and they know that that's something that people really want to see.

But he also is pivoting back to this idea of being this embattled underdog persecuted person, a victim, someone who's being unfairly targeted, and that was his message really in 2016, right, that he was -- nobody got him, that he was misunderstood. They were all just attacking him and he was the only guy who was going to tell people the truth. That was going to be a really hard case for him to make as president of the United States when you're the incumbent president. But now that the Mueller investigation has ended in the way that it has, he's really trying to reclaim that as well and kind of do this in two different ways.



KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, he's like the vindicated victim at this point.

DAVIS: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: And it's -- you know, gives him more fuel to be able to revive that and also say he was always right, he always told you so, even when it seemed like he was down.

BALL: Although it's hard to claim you're being vindicated at the same time that you're claiming you've been exonerated, right?


BALL: I mean if there ever was a witch hunt, he's saying that it's over now. And so if it was effective, and I don't know if it was, but if it was effective for him to rile up supporters by claiming he was being persecuted, that -- that is gone as a talking point.

But when we talk about Trump's base, I think we need to be clear because I think of Trump's base as the about 20 percent of the electorate that loves him no matter what, right? The -- the shot a person on Fifth Avenue group. He doesn't actually need to do anything for them because they're going to vote for him no matter what. That's the definition of your political base. But those are the kinds of voters who respond to the victimization. Those are the kinds of voters who feel that any attack on Trump is an attack on them, and so the victimization argument potentially riles them up, makes them more likely to vote.

The other source of his support, the crucial source of his electoral support that he can't get re-elected without is the soft supporters, and those are mostly traditional Republicans. And so it's them that I think he's talking to when he talks about health care and when he talks about tax cuts, because they're the ones who might not have loved Trump as a human being, but who voted for him for policy reasons. And so when he's talking about either of the promises he claimed to have kept or the things he hasn't done but is promising still to do, I think he's -- he -- this is why there is that bifurcation in the message because there's sort of two different audiences.


DAVIS: But I also think that there's a fascinating sort of thing that he's trying to do here that it -- there's -- it's sort of across purposes, right, because I think if he's smart, he wants to start o reach out to those people who might actually take a second look now and say, oh, maybe this Russia stuff really wasn't anything and maybe we spent the last two years kind of obsessed with something that -- where there was no there there and maybe would be willing to give him a second look. People who have turned away from him because they were turned off by the first two years and, you know, maybe vote for a Democrat or didn't vote for a Republican as a result in 2018, but they're turned off by the kind of rhetoric that we heard last night, you know, mocking asylum seekers, saying ridiculous B.S., the really kind of red meat stuff that his base loves. And so if he wants to try to get those people, he's going to have a hard time doing that with the kind of performance that we saw from him, which is clearly where he's comfortable campaigning.

BALL: Well, and I think --

DEMIRJIAN: He's got to pick his targets, though, with the nicknames and the name calling in a way because in a way Democrats are doing him a favor, right? The fact that they have not -- even though Mueller is done, Democrats on The Hill have not let this go. They are saying there's still stuff to see here, there's still a coming fight about, you know, that the -- seeing the full report, the evidence and whether or not there was actually collusion, even if it didn't rise to a crime.

In that way it's almost like a present to Trump to be able to keep talking about it and to keep punching on that one. That's probably someplace where he can get away with his sharp tongue language.

But in that case, it's because he can argue, well, I'm not the one that keeps -- still doing this. So I'm not the one who's, you know, dragging this out. It's different when you talk about immigrants. It's different when you talk about people who are genuinely sympathetic, where there is -- there is feeling on both sides of the aisle that, you know, the children who are getting stuck at the border, the people who are coming from -- you know, fleeing hardship or getting a raw deal. And so he kind of can play both tones but he just has to choose where he's going to strike and where he's not going to strike. And that he hasn't quite finessed.

[12:10:01] MATTINGLY: Yes, well, it's a good point. And I think that both of your points, where he was last night, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is considered -- generally Kent County is a Republican stronghold. Mitt Romney won it by 25,000 votes. President trump, only about 10,000 votes. The type of Republicans you were talking about, that the duel pronged message is necessary. Not the red meat message, the, I did stuff on health care, I did stuff on social conservative policy. So it will be interesting to see how that all plays out going forward. I think we're probably going to be talking about this again and again and again.

All right, before we go to break, some dramatic pictures coming in to CNN. Protesters in London have blocked off streets around the houses of parliament. This comes after lawmakers in the U.K. rejected yet other key Brexit vote. The vote was a major loss for British Prime Minister Theresa May. Today, March 29th, was supposed to be the day that the U.K. left the European Union. We'll keep an eye on that.

And up next, President Trump may be making some big health care policy promises, but that doesn't necessarily mean Congress, specifically Republicans, agree with it.


[12:15:03] MATTINGLY: Amid Democrats' demands to see the full Mueller report this week, President Trump has been trying to turn the page a little bit, making a new push to ditch Obamacare and promising to make the GOP the party of health care. That's a direct quote.

But, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell says, for the moment, he's more interested in taking on Democrats than being the president's point man, telling "Politico," quote, I look forward to seeing what the president is proposing and what he can work out with the speaker. I am focusing on stopping the Democrats' Medicare for none scheme. That's a very good quote if you know Mitch McConnell. Props to Burgess Everett over at "Politico" for getting that.

All right, speaking of what the president is proposing, you may have heard him say yesterday that he's put together a group of four or five senators to come up with an Obamacare replacement. The trouble is, no one seems to be able to find who those senators actually are.

Jeremy Diamond joins me right now.

And, Jeremy, you've been doing some behind-the-scenes digging to try and figure out what this working group is and what did you come up with?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Phil, as you know, you know, the president and his administration are now supporting the full invalidation of this law, but they do not have this viable Obamacare replacement ready to go yet, and that's where the president comes in yesterday suggesting that four or five senators are working on this very replacement. He name checked a few of those. He name checked Bill Cassidy, Rick Scott and Senator John Barrasso.

We spoke -- my colleague, Lauren Fox, and I spoke with those three offices. None of them mentioned the existence of a working group. One Senate Republican aide who I spoke with said it seemed like the president was just listing off names of Republican senators who he has spoken with on health care, because those three senators have indeed been having conversations about health care, about drug pricing amongst themselves and with the president, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are running point here on coming up with an Obamacare replacement.

And as you mentioned earlier, senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, he is trying to keep his caucus as far away from this as possible. And so that's where we stand right now with neither the White House nor Republican leaders necessarily working at the moment on a viable Obamacare replacement while this case is still working its way through the courts. We will see if ultimately that judge's ruling striking down the health care law in its entirety is upheld.


MATTINGLY: Jeremy Diamond over at the White House. Thanks, man. Keep digging on that.

Look, I mean so much of this week has reminded me of 2017 and covering the health care. I know you were standing in the hallways with me. You were up there every day. We were all covering health care to some degree. And this was one of the issues Republicans would have where the president would come out and say x is happening, and then we'd all go -- us Hill reporters would go talk to Republican senators or Republican House members and say, oh, can you explain what x means? And they had no idea what he was talking about.

And I think -- look, we laugh about it and, you know, legislative affairs is often complicated between any White House and Congress, but this stuff matters on something that's this complex and this complicated and, frankly, matters to this many people. And I think that's why you see Leader McConnell say what he said to "Politico," which, again, a man of very few words. That comment spoke a lot of words.

But, I guess, Julie, where do -- where do things go from here at this point?

DAVIS: I mean you almost have to pity the senators who he name checked because who -- nobody in the Republican Party wants this job right now. I mean they tried painstakingly to come up with an alternative plan that would be appealing to people that could pass their -- even their own -- with their own member support, and they couldn't get there repeatedly. And a lot of it was because of the president and the fact that they couldn't nail down exactly what he would go for and what he wouldn't.

This is politically very difficult. You need the cover of the sitting president if you're going to tackle something this complicated and this politically risky. And they know -- not only do they not know if they have it from this president, they know that they probably won't have it.

And the interesting thing, when we were covering this in 2017 was, he was a new president. He could credibly make the case that, hey, I just got here. I really need you, Congress, who have been working on this and promising this for years to do something. But that -- that's gotten a little bit stale by now. He's been in office for two years. He's gone back at this issue affirmatively now. And it feels like he's setting himself up to sort of make that argument again and sort of throw it in their laps, and they're saying -- and you saw Mitch McConnell saying, like, hey, no, this is all on you, you know?

PHILLIP: And the interesting thing is this week the president made a comment that I perked my ears up. He said, I understand health care now more than anyone. I think he was referring to the last time they did this when one of the critiques from Republican lawmakers working on this was that the president didn't seem to have a grasp of how health care even worked in this country, let alone how to fix what they believed was wrong with the Affordable Care Act. And now the White House has basically thrown uncertainty into the water here, and they're saying we're not even going to be the ones to come up with something. The president is saying, I'm just going to name three random Republican senators and they're going to be the ones to do it.

But what this is really about, Phil, is actually politics. It really has almost nothing to do with health care because the white House is saying they don't even think this is going to get to the Supreme Court until the summer of 2020, meaning that they're going to have like a full 18 months to say whatever they want to say about health care and do potentially nothing but still just have this talking point for the upcoming election that they think is advantageous to the president. There is no plan to replace Obamacare at the moment. There is no legislative strategy. They're just kind of going with the flow here, trying to just make up communication strategy out of this court case that they believe can help the president.

[12:20:30] MATTINGLY: Right, and I think -- real quick, an important point was -- is taking the other side of that, which is where Senate Republicans are and which was what Leader McConnell was talking about.

You put up a poll right now -- the Kaiser Family Foundation poll, among Democrats who are split. Forty-four percent want to improve the ACA, Obamacare, and 46 percent want to pass national Medicare for all. That's the thing -- that's the riff, to some degree, to the extent it exists, that Republicans would love to dive in on, just focus on that throughout the election. They don't want it on their backs, I don't think, at least not -- nobody I've talked to, to actually have to produce something. When you produce something, it gives somebody a target.

BALL: Right. Well, and none of those Democrats want to repeal or make less --


BALL: Health care available to the government. There's agreement on that among Democrats and among a lot of independents.

Look, spoiler, nothing is going to pass Congress on health care. Democrats control the House. The probable for Republicans is that they probably could pass health

care through the Senate at this point. They probably do have the votes because they have more senators than they did last time and because John McCain's not there. The senators who are there are more likely to be in favor of it. And that's a political problem for them. That chart you put up earlier showing 80 percent of voters care about health care, the number one issue, guess who won the midterms on that issue? It was Democrats because they told voters, not without evidence, that the Republicans are trying to take health care away from people. And, you know, you meet a lot of voters out there who actually think Republicans already have taken their health care away, even though they haven't managed to pass that health care legislation or to repeal Obamacare.

So, you know, the Republicans could back off of this. I think what Mitch McConnell would like would be for Republicans to back off of this issue or maybe try to actually improve Obamacare in some way, not to keep trying to attack it in all of these ways, in the courts, in the Congress, administratively through the executive branch. I guess to their credit, they do actually keep trying to do what they said they were going to do, which is to damage Obamacare in every way they possibly can and try to bring the thing down, but that's not something that works for them politically.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And the courts have been problematic just this week. A number of court rulings about what they're trying to do administratively. Also, thanks for telling my bosses my job is essentially useless, that this is not going to pass Congress.

BALL: You're welcome.

MATTINGLY: What am I supposed to do for the next 18 months?

All right, up next, the 2020 Democrats have a fast-approaching deadline. We'll tell you who's racing against the clock, next.


[12:27:40] MATTINGLY: The 2020 presidential election is still 585 days away, but, get this, this weekend may already be kind of make or break time for some of the Democratic candidates. Sunday is the deadline for the 16 Democrats running to report their quarterly fundraising totals. And the numbers they put up will be a critical early indicator of who's cashing in and who's barely scraping by, which explains the sudden mad dash for cash.

Now, again, we don't have the actual numbers yet, but we do have some sense at least of where the early -- I guess you could call them big dogs or behemoths are. Obviously Beto O'Rourke sending tongues wagging to some degree with $1.6 million in the first 24 hours. Bernie Sanders, $5.9 million. His campaign continues to say he's got tens of thousands of donors, individual donors. Kamala Harris, $1.5 million in 24 hours. Down a little bit from that, first 48 hours, Amy Klobuchar, senator from Minnesota, $1 million, John Hickenlooper, $1 million. And, obviously, there's a lot of other players here. Why this matters particularly at this early nearly 600 day away is duel pronged. First and foremost, every candidate knows this is about momentum, this is about showing viability, this is about showing whether or not -- it's not just about poll numbers, but whether the grassroots actually cares and wants to give you money.

The other question of that, obviously, is it has a direct correlation to who's actually going to be on the stage for debates. That's how the DNC has set it up this year. And that might explain why, if you scroll through all of these text messages, or any of you who are on a fundraising list might see increasingly panicked e-mails from people, including maybe from Julian Castro's mother saying, I'm humbly asking for $1 to help my incredible son, Julian, qualify for the Democratic presidential debates. Those have been ramping up to some degree over the last 72 hours. There's a reason why. Candidates and their campaigns understand why this matters so much. But, to make the point that it is still early, take a look at this, still, about 10 candidates we're actually waiting to hear from. They won't need to file because they haven't actually declared. See the dots here, it's like when you're texting and then a -- haven't finished yet? Still waiting to decide.

So, obviously, it's early. Candidates don't have to report if they haven't declared yet. But for those who have, they need to post big numbers, early. And what makes that a little bit more complicated? Well, the Democratic position on where they want that money to come from.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't take corporate PAC money. I don't take PAC money of any kind.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I take not a dime from a single PAC or lobbyist.

CORY BOOKER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will not take corporate PAC money.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not taking corporate PAC money in this campaign.

[12:30:01] MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Since we're not taking corporate PAC money.

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I won't be accepting a dime of PAC money.