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INSIDE POLITICS

WH Wanted USS John McCain Out of View During Trump's Japan Trip; Remembering Senator Thad Cochran; Democrats Renew Push for Election Security Bills; Trump, Don Jr. Warn Roy Moore Against Senate Run. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 30, 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: -- who died nine months ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know what happened, I wasn't involved. I would not have done that. I was very angry with John McCain because he killed healthcare.

Now, somebody did it because they thought I didn't like him, OK? And they were well-meaning. They thought they were doing me a favor because they know I am not a fan of John McCain. But certainly, I couldn't care less whether or not there's a boat named after his father.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Barbara Starr joins us live from the Pentagon. Barbara, what are military officials saying about what went down here?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, let's just go back for one second with what the president end up saying there. I couldn't care less if there is a ship named after Senator McCain's father and it's named after Senator McCain as well. He's the commander-in-chief and he couldn't care less. I'm not sure what message he thinks those young sailors aboard that ship are hearing from their commander-in-chief.

And remember the McCain was involved in a fatal collision several months ago. It is still being repaired. There was Navy loss of life on board that ship. And today their commander-in-chief is saying he couldn't care less.

There is a long naval tradition in this country. Sailors are very proud of who and whom their ship may be named after. Setting that aside it does appear that in fact the White House Military Office that was advancing the president's trip approached the Navy out in Japan and said keep that ship out of sight. You can ask yourself why they bothered with all of this. It does appear that there was a discussion about it, but eventually, Navy leadership stepped in, we are told, and said no way, knock it off. We're not hiding any U.S. Navy ship.

There's a lot of conflicting information. A tarp was put up at one point but it came down. It was covering apparently the name of the ship, came down in the days before the president even got there. Some McCain sailors apparently thought they might be invited to attend the ceremony on board another ship, but actually, the McCain crew had been on liberty for four days. Many of them perhaps not even in the vicinity of this.

A lot of confusion. The Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan says he knew nothing about it, and he would not have dishonored the memory of Senator McCain or the crew that serves on board that ship, John.

KING: Maybe we'll get some answers to the part that are still a little bit confusing. Barbara Starr, live at the Pentagon, appreciate the reporting there.

A couple of things to this, number one, that somebody in a low to mid- level at the White House thought, OK, this is going to tees him off just tells you how they think. What are the triggers of the president's temper? Is that it? Is that what happened here?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they know that -- they were worried that there could be an incident that happened. That's not like -- there are people in the White House who do not think that the president's feud -- well, basically, everyone in the White House does not think that the president's ongoing feud with someone who has died is a smart move. But they also know that they want to avoid any kind of incident like what we are now seeing play out where the president is saying they were doing a favor to him because they know he doesn't like John McCain.

So they were obviously hoping to avoid something like that happening while the president was in Japan. Even though it's not even clear if he would have seen this warship while he was going there to deliver remarks to the troops. But it does go to show how the White House tries to avoid incidents like that. Like they go out of their way to not to talk about Russia with the president. They also go out of their way to not to bring up people like John McCain to the president because they know what kind of incidence it could spark.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: It shows, I mean, how volatile the president is when it comes to people that bother him, that he isn't able to control himself if he sees the name of someone or hear -- sees a tweet from someone or is mentioned -- a war hero is mentioned that he has an argument with. That he -- that his White House thinks that he won't be able to refrain from commenting on that.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, this is -- I mean, I just think this is a disturbing story on a lot of levels and one of the levels is that when you have political operatives or aides whose instinct is to preemptively do something like this, it kind of -- it just goes to the climate internally. And what -- and the president this morning on the South Lawn was pretty clear that he didn't think that this was an appropriate move, but he took pains to say that he knew that this person who hasn't been named publicly yet was well- meaning. He didn't take the next step of saying to all my well-meaning staff, please don't do stuff like this. It's not appropriate. He did not take the step of honoring the McCain family. In fact, he took the moment to go out and bash McCain again.

Everybody knows how he feels about John McCain. Every time he gets a chance he says it, he chooses this occasion to kind of redouble that. And I think politically, there is a question, although we don't really see it in polling yet about whether this sort of constant chafing with people who have had distinguished military careers, whether it's Jim Mattis, whether it's John McCain, whether that's going to erode any supporter enthusiasm for the president among the military who so strongly in many quarters backed his election first time around.

[12:35:03] COLLINS: Yes. And referring to the warship as a boat. So dismissive as Barbara was laying out there. It's very dismissive to the people in the military to say I don't care if there's some boat is named after him.

Clearly, the president does care about John McCain. He won't stop talking about him even though he has passed on, and people do not think this is a wise thing for the president to do. But it goes to show the president's staff cannot restrain him so they go out of their way to do things like this that end up turning into embarrassing stories for them because they don't want to spark an outburst from the president.

KING: And he could have easily had said I had nothing to do with it. I guess the person was well-intended. If he wanted to defend the staffer he could say that. If he wanted to, the person is well- intended, I had nothing to do with it, stop. As opposed to then take another gratuitous shot at Senator McCain. Among those reacting to this story is the former vice president, potential Trump opponent, Joe Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John McCain was a war hero and he should be treated as a war hero. Anything less than that is beneath anyone who doesn't treat him that way. He's just -- he is a hero.

He was a friend of mine. We argued like the devil as I said in our eulogy. We loved each other, we argued like the devil but we're still guided by the same values. That's why I loved John McCain and that's why we need a lot more John McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What should the repercussion (INAUDIBLE) for this decision to try to block that ship (INAUDIBLE)?

BIDEN: The public.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The public. I assume he means the voters by that.

But to your point that this is not helpful.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, I mean --

KING: One of the consequences, is it something if you support the president's increase in military spending. If you're a member of the armed services, does this turn you from the president? Well, yes, we have an election to settle through all of that. But it certainly gives the president's critics another opportunity to question how he conducts himself whether he has the class and dignity. I'm impressed.

HULSE: And to go back to his own military deferral. I mean, you've seen war stories, more discussion by Democratic candidates about the president's own lack of service. I mean, it shows his mindset in the White House that is actually pretty amazing that they would go to these lengths to avoid something. And it's sort of shameful that the Navy even went along with this. And I think there'll probably have to be some sort of investigation within the Navy itself to find out how that happened.

KING: At some point, it got stopped and somebody said no, wait, sorry.

HULSE: But this is an easy win for Joe Biden, too. It's just like handing -- you know, it's just teed it up and let him take a whack at it.

KING: All right, quick break. Other big political news just ahead. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:41:52] KING: Some sad political news today. The former Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran died this morning. He was 81. Cochran served in Congress for more than 45 years, both the House and Senate.

In the Senate, he was chairman of the Appropriations Committee as well as the Agriculture Committee. The longtime Republican stepped down last year because of health issues. Always a nice guy to talk to in the Hill, smart guy.

HULSE: Yes, old school. He was a Republican consistently in his career. A lot of southern politicians were Democrats who became Republicans. He'd always been a Republican, he was a deal-maker. He is from the old style of politics. Let get together and spend some government money.

He actually had an interesting internal feud with Trent Lott who was the other senator from Mississippi. They once ran against each other for the leader. Trent Lott cleaned his clock. But super mannerly, old school southern gentleman, like another southern senator, Lamar Alexander. He has a piano in his office and, you know, had some talent.

KING: To that point as we go to break, let's take a peek here. Senator Cochran at the piano in his Senate office playing for his successor, Cindy Hyde-Smith.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:47:55] KING: There's a renewed push today from House Democrats to focus on the first part of the Mueller report and to do more to protect the United States and its elections from foreign meddling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL): The threat is still there, so I'm the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds election security. And I promise you the bill that we're going to be moving forward with will make an extraordinary effort to defend this country. It needs to happen soon because the election is coming soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: No offense to Congressman Quigley but Subcommittee action does not new law make. Of at least five election security bills sitting on Capitol Hill, two in the House, three in the Senate, only one has passed. That's H.R.1 which cleared the Democrat-controlled House back in March. It proposes when it comes to election security more than half a billion dollars for new voting technology, distributes some national campaign contributions, prohibits, I'm sorry, foreign national campaign contributions, and would make Election Day a national holiday. But is it being ignored by the Republican-led Senate?

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says there have already been progressed votes on funding intelligence and resources through other means so don't expect the vote on H.R.1 which by the way, and this is one of the reasons Republicans object, it includes several other Democratic priorities including requiring presidents and vice presidents to disclose 10 years of their tax returns.

That bill has too much in it for divided government. It's not going to happen. But why not take the election security parts out or why not if the Republicans want to at least say they care about the election security part of this, advance a separate bill. There's a bipartisan bill, Amy Klobuchar and Senator Lankford had put forward. Why nothing?

HULSE: This is an issue where people -- the parties do not trust each other one bit. They both think they're trying to get an advantage in these bills and, you know what, they are. So, I think you're going to have a hard time. I think at the end of the day you may get some sort of bill so both parties can say well, we tried to address this but, you know, H.R.1, that's criminal number one to Mitch McConnell and he's not going to do any of that stuff.

BARRON-LOPEZ: I think McConnell though also has shown no indication that he's interested in putting forward even the bipartisan bills by Klobuchar and Lankford.

[12:50:03] So if he's not willing to put those on the floor, they're not going to the floor. And to be clear, like Congress has done very little since 2016 to try to rectify the issues of election security. And when you're speaking to some of these campaigns, especially the Democratic presidential ones, there's really no recourse that they can take if all of a sudden they're attacked by bots on Twitter. And even election security experts say, yes, there's not much that can be done since there isn't any regulation.

The only thing they could maybe do is reach out to Twitter or to Facebook. Those campaigns specifically would have to reach out and be like, hey, can you put the kibosh on this because it's going to mess up their campaign.

KING: And elections are state business, meaning each state runs its own election, each state decides on the voting machines, each state decides on the technology, each state decides do you have backup paper ballot or the like, what are the security measures. And a lot of states are saying we don't have the resources or the technical wear with all, help us. Not going happen?

HULSE: I don't -- they might get some money, but it is, and that's why elections are conducted pretty badly in this country because it's such a hodgepodge of systems and ideas, and we don't have any, you know, centrality to it. Look in Florida where Bill Nelson when he complained that there had been interference in the actual counties, and the Republicans pushed back against it. And now they've admitted it, so there's a lot of distrust on this issue between the parties.

KING: Well, one -- I was going to say, one would think that on the most basic thing in a democracy like elections they could have an adults conversation to at least figure out the basics but that's asking too much in today's Washington.

HULSE: I think you're right.

KING: OK. That's why they make beaches I guess.

Up next, Roy Moore hits back at the president and the president's son after both publicly warned Mr. Moore to stay out of the Alabama Senate race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:56:23] KING: Roy Moore says pressure from the president won't work on him. The president and Donald Trump Jr. both using Twitter in recent days to criticize the failed Alabama GOP Senate candidate. Moore is considering, seriously considering, another run in the Senate race next year, 2020. Apparently undeterred by those serious allegations of sexual misconduct that came out during his previous run in 2017.

The president sending this direct warning, quote, I have nothing against Roy Moore and unlike many other Republican leaders wanted him to win but he didn't and probably won't. The president then adding Roy Moore cannot win, and the consequences will be devastating.

Moore, however, not backing down telling Politico in an interview last night, quote, the president doesn't control who votes for the United States Senate in Alabama. They know I'll win, Moore said. That's why they are upset.

COLLINS: I'm not sure if the statement that the president doesn't control who votes is actually accurate because, of course, the president is deeply popular in Alabama, but also Roy Moore does have really good name ID in the state. He lost by a margin that was smaller than the number of write-in votes to Doug Jones. And of course, it's a crowded primary field that's shaping up. So it's not unthinkable that he could run and win and actually be the Republican nominee. So that's certainly is an option here.

Whether or not he goes forward, I do not think it will deter him from running obviously based on his statements there just because the president and Donald Trump Jr. had come out against him. You know, the president said he had nothing against Roy Moore and said that the reason he's saying this is because he doesn't think he can win, not because of the allegations that were made against Roy Moore when he was actually running for that seat.

KING: For the president, it's about can you win. Doug Jones is probably the most vulnerable Democrat, right, on the ballot in 2020. A Democratic senator, many would say he only won that race because it's Roy Moore but Doug Jones trying to have a little fun with this. This is a tweet from him, "It's been so amusing watching all the hand- wringing by establishment Republicans who are all in for Roy Moore with his cowboy suit and a little gun in 2017. Sorry, Moore, guess they're just not that into you anymore." Ouch.

HULSE: It would be a huge, huge break for the Democrats in the next election if they could somehow hold onto that seat in what they're -- in they're trying to win control of the Senate. When the president says Republican leaders who didn't want him, I think he's talking about Mitch McConnell, right? He definitely did not want him.

BARRON-LOPEZ: No, he doesn't. And a big piece of Doug Jones being able to win that seat is also black voters because black female voters is what helped pushed him over that finish line.

KING: And that the Republicans thinking a presidential year, Alabama should be even more red than normal. The Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has gotten Bradley Byrne a congressman, thinks he's the safe right pick for that district. You have the Auburn coach -- former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville tweeting, I'm ready to serve, Mr. President.

Is the president going to stick with Mitch McConnell's plan or?

COLLINS: Well, Bradley Byrne, remember called on the president to step aside after the "Access Hollywood" tape came out. I've been told by sources the president has been talking about that recently. He remembers that Bradley said that. Tommy Tuberville is someone who doesn't have a lot of experience running for office and doesn't have any campaign fundraising experience but he's certainly could be an option, but, I mean --

TALEV: But, you know, I think for the president, there's two things. One is, of course, he wants to hold as many red states or retake as many red states as he can. But the other is the national framing of this, and if Roy Moore ends up as the Republican on that ballot, it becomes another rallying cry for Democratic turnout, for minority turnout, for a turnout of African-American voters or women in other states. None of that adds up to anything that the president wants where it's going to be very surgical, really important turnout models in some of those key states outside of Alabama.

KING: Does the leader have the president's promise to stay on his side in this one?

HULSE: I have no idea.

COLLINS: I'll say no.

KING: Or it has an expiration on.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Hope you come back this time tomorrow. Don't go anywhere, Brianna Keilar in the chair. She starts right now. Have a great day.

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