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INSIDE POLITICS

Pelosi talks Impeachment; Missouri Hit with Tornadoes; Congress Accomplishments in 2019. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 23, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D-CA): Standard but that we will get the conviction and removal in the Senate. And that requires us to educate the American people. At the same time, as I said, this is not the only thing going on in Congress. We just passed some major legislation on retirement.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's true. Nancy Pelosi -- and Nancy Pelosi listed all of that -- a lot of that out this morning right before she took questions.

Congressman, thank you for coming in. Appreciate your time.

SHERMAN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you all. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Fresh fireworks between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Trump. He blames Democrats for Washington gridlock. She says he's the one who won't talk policy and she questions his well-being.

Plus, a new poll releasing right now shows a healthy Joe Biden national lead among the 2020 Democrats, but when you look only in the states that vote early, well, the race gets more interesting.

Also, thinking maybe we can all use a laugh today. How about we share Senator Lisa Murkowski's birthday gift to herself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): Woo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Glad the senator had some fun.

We begin, though, with some serious business. The speaker of the House, just moments ago, telling reporters why she thinks the president is so mad. Speaker Pelosi calling President Trump a master of distraction. She says his West Wing temper tantrum yesterday yet another distraction in her view meant to dare Democrats to cross the line on impeachment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The House Democratic caucus is not on a path to impeachment, and that's where he wants us to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That last sentence is Pelosi's big message this morning, we're not on the path. Her argument, one she made to her top deputies this morning, the president wants impeachment, she believes, so Pelosi is saying, Democrats need to stick with the plan and keep investigating.

But Pelosi's keep calm and carry on message comes even as the speaker argues the president, in her view, has committed crimes worthy of will impeachment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Well, the president's behavior in terms of his obstruction of justice, the things that he is doing, it's very clear, it's in plain sight. It cannot be denied. Ignoring subpoenas, obstruction of justice. Yes, these could be impeachable offenses.

The president is engaged in a cover-up, and that is what my statement is. How we deal with it is a decision that our caucus makes, and our caucus is very much saying whatever we do we need to be ready when we do it. And I do think that impeachment is a very divisive place to go in our country, and what we can get the facts to the American people through our investigation. It may take us to a place that is unavoidable in terms of impeachment, or not. But we're not at that place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Not at that place.

Here with me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace with "The Associated Press," Jonathan Martin with "The New York Times," CNN's Phil Mattingly and Tarini Parti with "The Wall Street Journal."

Phil, I want to start with you. You spend your hours on Capitol Hill.

Yesterday, there was some thoughts after the president's tantrum and Rose Garden event that a lot of those Democrats pushing for impeachment would say, see, see. She seems to be confident this morning she's got them in the right place. Does she really?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think she does. And I think if you base today where the -- perhaps the Democratic caucus was 48 hours ago, where it seemed like there was momentum and perhaps people who had been wary of going towards impeachment were now saying, at least we've got to launch an impeachment inquiry, they feel like, in the leadership level, they've tamped it down. The speaker had a meeting with the top deputies this morning and I'm told inside that meeting she walked through two very big things, and those were court decisions where the court sided with Democrats. And one of the rationales for going for an impeachment inquiry is it gives you a stronger standing in court. You can get more information. Pelosi's point is, we're getting the information. We're winning in court. This is what we need to make the case and to get the types of information you would need to make that case to the American people if you want to pursue impeachment.

Look, there's a long road here and there's clearly differences inside the caucus, but the speaker and her team, at this point in time, feel like they're in a better place, despite the theatrics that everybody saw yesterday.

KING: And the theatrics go both ways. She can say, as she did say, she viewed it as a stunt, she viewed it as a temper tantrum, she viewed it as the president trying to provoke Democrats into impeachment, she viewed it as the president trying to get out of any conversation about infrastructure because he's not serious anymore about that. That's her take.

To have a speaker of the House stand there and question the president's well-being.

JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

KING: Say he needs an intervention.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: That's extraordinary.

MARTIN: It's also buying her space with her own party and her own base. The tougher she talks about Trump, the more progressives online like that. There's a lot of kind of you go, Pelosi, with the gifts of her walking out of the White House with the sunglasses on. The more they are talking about Pelosi questioning Trump's sanity, the less they are talking about, why aren't you pushing impeachment, speaker? So think it buys her some hours or perhaps some days, but eventually she's going to face more of this pressure about, why aren't you coming forward with impeachment.

[12:05:08] And what's been striking to watch, and Phil knows this from being at the Capitol every day, is some of these more reluctant lawmakers who are now coming around. I can recall talking to Emanuel Cleaver, from Kansas City, a House member, a couple months ago who did not want to impeachment Trump. He thought it would be handing Trump a victory because Trump would then be acquitted by the Senate and Trump would say, I'm innocent, I was acquitted. He's coming around now. He told my colleague Nick Fandos (ph) that he now thinks that they're getting closer to impeachment.

So the more those kind of members come around, middle of the country, middle of the road politically, it's going to be harder for Pelosi to fend folks out. KING: And you talk about middle of the road people. This is Pete

Buttigieg, South Bend, Indiana, one of the more moderates running for president.

MARTIN: Yes.

KING: I'll say it again, South Bend, Indiana, a red state, a state carried easily by President Trump. Listen to him this morning on the question of what the president called the "i" word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As a young Democrat I've learned to think cautiously before offering advice to Nancy Pelosi. But what I'll say is that it's very clear that the president deserves impeachment. And the case for impeachment is being built each passing day by the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: She calls them the presidentials. And her -- and her worry is much more, you know, the 200 plus in her conference.

MARTIN: Yes.

KING: How does she keep them in line and keep them satisfied?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes.

KING: As she said again today, diversity of opinion is great. Sticking together, the unity, is our power.

PACE: And, Pelosi, I don't think she necessarily minds what's happening on the campaign trail. You know, her focus, to your point, is these members that flipped districts where Republicans were, held seats, and where Trump won. And we have not seen any of those members come out. They may -- they may say similar things to Pelosi in terms of, you know, concerning evidence, but they have not flipped and moved towards impeachment. I think it's unlikely you will see most of them move in that direction.

So, you know, she's -- she's right now just walking a tight rope. She's trying to give -- to J. Mart's point, she's trying to give some red meat rhetoric to her members to say, look, I'm -- I am taking this seriously. I'm not trying to give the president a pass on this. But she wants to drag this out as long as possible. And if she can avoid eventually getting into an impeachment process, that is by far her preference because she thinks that's the best way, not even necessarily to elect a Democrat president, but to keep her House majority.

TARINI PARTI, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": I think it will still be interesting to see how these 2020 contenders handle the topic of impeachment, because for a long time -- for, you know, the last few weeks, they've been taking more of the wait-and-see approach. They've been talking tough on Trump, kind of similar to Pelosi, but still saying we need to wait.

But now we're seeing people like Beto O'Rourke, who said this week that he was kind of leaning more towards Democrats pushing forward on impeachment. So if more of those 2020 contenders come out in favor of moving forward with the process, I think we could see a bigger national debate on this.

KING: And if they can get some traction in the race, especially those that are struggling.

But if you hear -- to hear Nancy Pelosi, and she said it again today, she says to her members in private, look, let's be methodical about this. And she has some facts on her side in the sense that there was the IRS memo reported first by "The Washington Post" yesterday that says, we have to release the president's tax returns. The law is the law unless the president uses executive privilege we have no choice.

You have the Department of Justice now, at least for now, having an agreement with the House Intelligence Committee after an impasse, turning over some more materials from the Mueller report. The Democrats say that's progress, let's not blow that up.

If two judge's ruling -- and this is the most significant -- two judges ruling in the last couple of days in favor of the House Democrats on subpoenas for the president's financial records. Now, those will be appealed. That appeals process could take weeks if not months. But Pelosi's case is, the Senate is definitely not there.

PACE: Right.

KING: The American people aren't there, 56 percent, 57 percent, depending on which poll you look at, say don't impeach. Let's lay out a lot more facts and let's see how the president responds to court orders before we get on the path.

PACE: Well, Pelosi is basically asking her caucuses, what's your end game here? You're not actually going to remove Trump from office under impeachment proceedings. He's not going to be convicted by the Senate, and you don't have the bulk of the American people pushing you in this direction. So she's saying, use the process to put forward evidence that will be damaging to him in the 2020 campaign.

And she has a pretty decent case to make over the last couple of days, that the process that she is undergoing has a good chance of getting information that Trump is desperate to keep private spilled out into the public space.

MATTINGLY: And there's -- there's another thing too to keep an eye on that will help kind of take some of the air out of the balloon that we saw inflating over the course of the last couple of days. When they come back from the congressional recess the first week of June, they're going to start having floor votes on contempt for the attorney general, likely Don McGahn as well. That was something that was said inside the closed door meeting today.

So there's a series of steps they're taking to show results. And that's effective. And I think one of the most important things is -- and I talked to Democratic aides, what -- where are your numbers right now? And, you know, we all try and do whip counts and there's no like hard whip count here, but they are very clear, the vast majority of their members are not publicly for impeachment right now and are not privately telling them they're there. And as long as that stays the -- that -- where that is, as long as the caucus is there, the speaker will reflect the caucus.

[12:10:00] KING: And her argument that we can't give the president what he wants. I want you to listen to it here because it's hard to believe -- there's a lot turned upside down in Washington and elsewhere in the age of Trump. But listen to Speaker Pelosi. She says the president wants us to impeach him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The White House is just crying out for impeachment. That's why he flipped yesterday, because he -- he was hoping -- because he was -- somehow or other you all have a story that isn't real. I mean you want to believe that there's all this unease in our caucus. That simply isn't the truth. That was what disappointed him because he didn't see it as rush to impeachment coming out of our caucus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I know a lot is flipped on its head these days, but does a president of the United States want to be impeached? Does he think it works for him politically?

MARTIN: He doesn't want to be impeached. He wants to have the politics of being persecuted play out for the next six to nine months because he thinks that that hands him a political cudgel to wield against Democrats, which is to say, I'm trying to do policy, we have this great economy, Democrats are coming after me. He doesn't actually want to be impeached. He just wants the issue. And that's pretty clear to Pelosi.

Look, Democrats in 2018 in the midterms largely ran implicitly on a backlash to Trump's conduct. But the primary of their campaign in the midterms was health care. The president don't want to run his re- election campaign on health care and the ACA and pre-existing conditions and he knows, and his folks know, that that's effectively going to be the above board Democratic message in next year.

KING: Right. And to that point, what Speaker Pelosi tells her colleagues is, if it's all about Trump, look what happened in the last election, the presidential election, he won. When it's not all about Trump, when it's about his behaviors and issues like health care --

MARTIN: Substantively, yes.

KING: Then you -- then the Democrats -- that's in her view they'll do well. We shall see.

Up next, a break from politics to get you to the devastating scene many woke up to after a horrible tornado hit Missouri's capital city.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:26] KING: Back to politics in a few moments, but now to today's breaking, severe weather news.

Dozens of tornadoes. And the storms are happening still right now. Look at this in Jefferson City, Missouri, trees, light poles snapped, cars flipped over. This tornado touched down overnight but about 30 separate tornadoes were reported just in the past few hours. Most of them in Missouri and Oklahoma. This man's family knew it was come and thankfully knew exactly what to do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRET POWELL JR., SURVIVED TORNADO NEAR JEFFERSON CITY, MISSOURI: We were standing outside kind of just gazing (ph) because inside the basement it's hard to know what was going on. And the sirens were going off. We listened to the -- listened to the wind and it got to a point where I knew it would hit. It just gets different. And we -- we kind of all huddled down into the shelter there and flipped some couches over and made sure everybody was safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The White House says President Trump is closely monitoring the situation in those tornado-hit area. The damage and emergency response efforts as well. A White House spokesman says they're in constant contact with state and local officials.

CNN's Ryan Young is right there on the ground in Jefferson City.

Ryan, tell us about the damage and are these tornadoes passed or still at risk?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far we've seen like extensive damage all over the area. Those emergency crews are still in the area doing an overall assessment. In fact, if you look back this direction, there are already cleanup crews who are moving to move large parts of the debris. But, John, you really have to look up in the sky to get an idea of this. This is our live drone shot right now. And we're going closer to some of the damage in this area. It's from here that we were able to see the extensive amounts of damage.

And it's people who lived in this apartment complex who talked about the real fear of the shaking and the noise and the glass breaking and being fearful on the inside. And you see this devastation as the light comes up, and you see some of these buildings that have obviously been destroyed by the power of this storm. We've heard semis were turned over. We've heard cars were turned over. But it's here where you can notice that there were people who were probably living in here who were really scared.

In fact, listen to this one person talking about trying to get through the storm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE O'CONNELL, MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: The storm hit about a mile from me, but, of course, there was numerous warnings, including what they call a tornado emergency. And so when you hear that, you want to get -- put as many walls between you and the possible tornado. That meant getting into a closet. I was able to do that and then go down about a mile from where I live and then see all of the damage that Ryan was just talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YOUNG: John, as my photographer Jake conditions to fly over this area, you're looking at some of the damage that's being assessed right now. We even saw emergency crews using their own drone to try to get an idea of the pictures.

But that's not all that's going on. There is a massive cleanup effort here on the ground. We'll come back to the live camera here on the ground. You see this group of people here at the U-Haul. As they clean up, one of the things we've noticed is, these downed power lines, and that's something that obviously they're concerned about as well because you would hate for someone to get hurt at this point.

Here's the good news here. No one was killed in this storm. We did have 20 injuries where people did have to get emergency help and go to the hospital. We have seen also first responders using canine unit to go through this area to make sure no one else is unaccounted for.

John.

KING: Ryan Young on the ground for us. Important reporting. Still dangerous in that situation there as we watch it play out. Appreciate the live report, Ryan.

Up next for us here, back to politics. Talks between the president and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, falling apart. But a little flashback here, Pelosi called it two years ago.

[12:20:01] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): He operates this way. First he tries to charm you. If that doesn't work, he tries to bully you. If that doesn't work, he walks away from the deal. And if that doesn't work, he sues you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:24:54] KING: A closer look now at the most important relationship in Washington and its current moment of complete dysfunction. The president launched a Twitter tirade against Democrats in Congress, blaming them for the lack of legislative progress and insisting, contrary to what Speaker Pelosi says, that he was calm, even as he walked out of yesterday's White House meeting with Democratic leaders. Speaker Pelosi, in turn today, calling it a tantrum and a stunt and again saying she prays for the president.

That's not the only time she's suggested he needs some help.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Another temper tantrum. Again, I pray for the president of the United States. I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.

QUESTION: Your comments almost suggest you're concerned about his well-being?

PELOSI: I am. And the well-being of the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tough words from the speaker.

When trying to process the high drama of the past 24 hours, it is important, very important, to remember the complicated history at play in this most unusual relationship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: (September 2015): He supports Pelosi. He supports Schumer. He supports Clinton.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (September 2015): Got along with everybody.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA) (January 2017): I feel sorry for him. I even prayed for him. But then I prayed for the United States of America.

TRUMP (March 2017): I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, because now they own Obamacare.

PELOSI (June 2017): He's been a jobs loser.

PELOSI (September 2017): We talk infrastructure, we talk about a number of issues, trade, et cetera. There are plenty of areas to find common ground.

TRUMP (November 2018): And I give her a lot of credit. She works very hard.

Hopefully we can all work together next year to continue delivering for the American people, including on economic growth, infrastructure, trade, lowering the cost of prescription drugs.

I like her. Can you believe it, I like Nancy Pelosi.

TRUMP (December 2018): I have the White House. The White House is done. And the House would give me the vote if I wanted it.

PELOSI (December 2018): You do not have the votes in the House. PELOSI (May 22, 2019): We believe that the president of the United

States is engaged in a cover-up.

TRUMP: (May 22, 2019): I don't do cover-ups.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Complicated is an understatement. At times, begrudging respect. At the moment, I would say complete dysfunction, correct?

PACE: And you look back start of Trump's presidency where there was actually some concern among some Republicans that he might try to work with Pelosi and Schumer.

MARTIN: Yes.

PACE: He was a Democrat. There are some policy positions where they are probably more aligned than Trump is with their regular Republican base. Obviously that hasn't come -- hasn't come to pass.

I do think that there is an underlying respect that he has for her. She is powerful. She is in control. She has loyalty among her members, and those are all traits that Trump does respect. But just in terms of a functional relationship between a president and a speaker, I think any hope that they could work on infrastructure together or some of the other policies that we've seen talked about, it's pretty much gone, I think.

KING: And to that point, for the people watching out in the real America, and Washington is often very disconnected from the real America, there are some important issues on the table. A budget and the spending deal. It needs to get done. Keeping the government open is kind of important. Raising the debt ceiling. The Treasury Department says that has to be done pretty quickly. Disaster aid funding. We just showed you the horrible scene in Missouri. Think back, in recent weeks and months, all the disasters we have had. A trade deal the president wants very much. There are prescription drug bills designed to lower the cost of prescription drugs there.

This is John Thune, a member of the Senate Republican leadership. It seems like we have a little bit of an issue right now. It's hard to figure out how much gets done around here unless the atmospherics change. These are the things that need to get done. I think it makes all those things a heavier lift when you have this kind of operating environment.

True words.

MARTIN: Well, I -- the Trump/Pelosi, you know, relationship is fascinating for all the obvious reasons. They're both pragmatists, neither is an ideologue, both of them are just -- you use with politics and as transactional as they need to be.

But what I think is more important here, when you show that list of what has to get done, is the Senate. The House has passed a lot of bills actually. They're not being taken up in the Senate. And beyond funding the government and raising the debt ceiling, which are the first two items that you showed there, I'm pretty skeptical that anything else is going to get done between now and the 2020 election for the reason that neither side wants to give the other a victory. And I don't think Mitch McConnell is going to bring up a bipartisan bill that can give House Democrats something to run on in 2020. And the idea of any of those bills that you mentioned that are not must dos, i.e. keeping the government open, I'm pretty skeptical about right now.

MATTINGLY: Yes, this Hill reporter associates himself with the campaign reporter to my lift in terms of the other bills that are out there. I think the concern that I was picking up yesterday, beyond trying to figure out what the hell actually happened at the White House from both Democratic and Republican staffers who work on these issues, is the must-pass issues. Where do we go from here? And I think when you look -- you kind of break -- go through them. The USMCA is the stated number one legislative priority of the trade deal of the Trump administration. Nancy Pelosi decides whether or not that goes to the floor or not. So where does that go from here.

[12:29:54] KING: And the president lost ground on that front yesterday. She, in her heart, wants to do it because she's a free trader. She gets in trouble with her caucus about that. She was trying to find a way to cooperate with the White House. That shrunk yesterday.

MATTINGLY: Absolutely. No question about it. And then when you have the budget deal, $120 billion in automatic cuts.