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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump and Irish Prime Minister Speak; GOP Hopes Tariffs Don't Happen. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 5, 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] MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Death. The mystery here is that it does not appear to be foul play. But the question is, how did three Americans die within five days of one another.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: I know. I mean it really is -- this story is not over.

Martin, thank you so much. I really appreciate the update.

And thank you all so much for joining me. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts 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.

President Trump is in Ireland this hour. He began the day in England and took part in a D-Day commemoration reading from a prayer FDR said for the allied troops 75 years ago. With the important ceremonies comes plenty of controversy. The president shrugs off climate change, rewrites the history of the Vietnam era and tweets his displeasure with several of his critics here at home.

And it's a very busy day on the 2020 campaign trail. New policy rollouts from several candidates, a new plagiarism test for Joe Biden and a Bernie Sanders visit to a Walmart shareholders' meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What's going on in Walmart is just an example of what's going on all over this country. The very wealthy are getting wealthier and working people are struggling. So the message to Walmart today is, pay your workers a living wage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's take you straight to Shannon, Ireland, and the president of the United States with the Irish prime minister. Let's listen.

LEVO VARADKAR, IRISH PRIME MINISTER: Sixth time an American president in office has visited Ireland. So we're very pleased to have you here and look forward to meeting later on.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I appreciate it. And the prime minister has done a fantastic job. And we've become friends over the last very short period of time. And a great relationship to Ireland. I think as good as it's ever been, maybe better. A tremendous trade. We do a lot of business together, a lot of trade business together, a lot of tourism together. And, maybe most importantly, you are certainly one of the leading countries in terms of people moving and living in the United States. We have millions of Irish. And I think I know most of them because they're my friends. We -- we love the Irish.

(TRUMP AND VARADKAR SPEAK TO PRESS)

[12:10:13] TRUMP: It's headed up by Mike Pompeo and Bob Lighthizer and Mike Pence is involved. So we have a great group. But Mexico, look, the drugs that are coming in, the people that are coming in unchecked, they're swapping up -- they're coming up by the millions. Mexico can stop it. They have to stop it. Otherwise we just won't be able to do business. It's a very simple thing.

And I think they will stop it. I think they want to do something. I think they want to make a deal. And they sent their top people to try and do it. We'll see what happens today. We should know something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, nice (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, thanks very much, everybody. Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we can just make your way to the back. Thank you very much. Thanks, guys.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

KING: After ending the questions, the president then taking an additional question about trade tensions with China. He added Mexico into the equation there. The president saying, and there's little reason to see evidence of this at the moment, but he says he thinks China still wants to make a deal in the short term. Again, little evidence of that on the table at the moment.

Then the president turning to a giant issue in Washington today. The president has a plan to impose tariffs on all Mexican imports, beginning Monday, with a 5 percent initial tariff. A Mexican delegation at the White House today. The vice president involved in meetings. The secretary of state involved in meetings. High stakes for the president there.

Plus, the potential of a Republican revolt on Capitol Hill.

We're going to take a quick break. When INSIDE POLITICS resumes, we'll explore that issue, including, will the Republicans actually propose legislation to back up their complaints about the president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:16:12] KING: You just heard the president talking about this. There's a big Republican divide over tariffs today and a pair of very big questions. The first, will the president follow through on what he says? The first wave of the president's promised Mexico tariffs, the 5 percent levy on all Mexican imports, is slated to take effect Monday. The president's bet, he said this yesterday in England, is that a deal will come only after Mexico begins to feel the pain. But one of his most hawkish trade advisers today telling CNN, just the threat might be enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER NAVARRO, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE POLICY ADVISER: We believe that these tariffs may not have to go into effect precisely because we have the Mexicans' attention.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Let's set aside the facts for a moment.

NAVARRO: Let's stay -- let's stay calm and look at the chess board here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The vice president and the secretary of state have critical meetings with Mexican officials this afternoon. Now, if some compromise is struck and the president retreats from these tariffs, it will spare Republicans from answering the second big question, will they actually move from complaining about the president to advancing legislation to stop him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): You will have to wait until next Monday to see if the president even proposes one.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): We would all be better off if we don't put a round of tariffs on Mexico. And let's see what happens.

QUESTION: But it seems like he's pretty intent on doing this. I mean he says he plans to go forward on Monday.

TOOMEY: We'll see. We're not at Monday yet.

QUESTION: Will you try to block those tariffs?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Well, what I'm telling you is, we're hoping that that doesn't happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly joins us now live from Capitol Hill.

Phil, hopes, some senators say they'll pray. Will they actually do this if there's no compromise struck in these negotiations with the Mexican officials? PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, John, the two questions you raised are actually the two points that I wanted to make, solid mind meld here. I'll take the later first, and that's, will Senate Republicans actually do this?

This is important to note. Nothing tangibly has actually been sent up to Capitol Hill in terms of whether or not and how -- most importantly how the administration would implement these tariffs. It's one thing when the president is out of the country and you're in a closed door meeting with lawyers from the administration to voice your concerns, to make clear that you have problems with this both ideology and on economic grounds. It's also important to note that one Republican senator coming out of that closed door meeting yesterday told me, view this as a brushback pitch, as a warning, leading into what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, they hope that this will lead the president to pull back.

So it's a different ballgame when there's actually something on the floor, a resolution of disapproval that would go against something the president has made clear he wants and something the president would say, has said, would be foolish.

Now, there's the second issue here, and that is, will the president actually go through with this? I can tell you from my reporting up here on Capitol Hill, literally nobody knows. And I think part of that goes into the closed door meeting yesterday. They were asking these two lawyers, one from the Justice Department, one from the White House, how this would be implemented, whether it would happen, if they had any hints as to what the president planned to do and they got no solid answers. It was part of the frustration from the meeting.

But it underscores the fact right now that going along with that kind of hope and pray strategy is, nobody's totally sure what the president is going to do here. They don't know what the mechanism the Mexican delegation could offer the White House that would address their concerns. They don't know what kind of the broader issues are here that might put this off the table. And so with all of that combined, you have an unsettled Republican conference that says they will vote on something to disapprove of these tariffs if they actually happen. Right now, nobody knows if they're going to happen and nobody knows if that vote would actually occur, John.

KING: It's only Wednesday. It's only Wednesday. The deadline being Monday.

Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill. Appreciate it.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Olivier Knox with Sirius XM, Damian Paletta with "The Washington Post," and Laura Barron-Lopez with "Politico."

Let me start with our White House correspondent here in the sense, the vice president's involved in these meetings today, the secretary of state. Mexico has sent a pretty high level delegation.

Peter Navarro, on CNN earlier, said, hey, this can be avoided if the Mexicans come to the table with a serious plan to stop the flow of migrants, both at the U.S./Mexico border, and he says that U.S. officials will press to see that they have a plan to have more security at their southern border with Guatemala, which is much smaller. Is there any indication that this deal can be struck?

[12:20:08] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, for Peter Navarro to say that, the one who is the chief in pushing this for the president, saying it would get Mexico's attention, it does seem to say something that he would say that. But, of course, it could be the White House trying to back out of this because, as Phil just laid out, they don't even know how they're going to implement this, which is a big part of the frustration. You saw it coming out of that lunch yesterday.

And, also, they haven't set a clear threshold for what Mexico needs it do in order for them to avoid these tariffs. They haven't said they need to have this number of people not coming across the border or they need to do this. They've left it really vague. That seems to be for a purpose because White House officials have been skeptical all along that these tariffs will even go into effect on Monday.

The question is, you're seeing all of this Republican pushback in order to get the president to not do this. But sometimes when he's faced with criticism like that, instead of backing off and listening to them, he doubles down. He becomes defiant. So that's really the question leading up to it. But no one thinks a decision is coming out of that meeting with Pence today because it's all going to be up to President Trump, who, as you just saw, is still in Ireland.

KING: And he thinks he's right about this. And, number one, he thinks he's right. Number two, he thinks the U.S. economy is strong enough to take the hit.

It is interesting whether -- you can't find an economics textbook -- tariffs are controversial in an economics textbook. You can't find a textbook, I don't think, that links tariffs to immigration policy. At least I can't find one. But the president has decided, this is the bludgeon he wants to use to get more action out of Mexico.

Whether you agree or disagree, it's a political risk for the president. I just want to show you some of our new CNN polling. Seventy-one percent of Americans, 71 percent, feel good about the economy right now. That is a great number for a president heading into re-election.

Damian, if these tariffs are imposed, 5 percent is the first, and then it would go up, and then it would go up some more, ultimately up to 25 percent, if it stayed in place that long, what would the impact be? You -- we know the auto industry, other manufacturers are complaining about a supply line because so many parts come. If you're an American consumer and you go to the produce section, guess what, you're going to pay these tariffs when it happens. What would the economic impact be if they took (INAUDIBLE).

DAMIAN PALETTA, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC POLICY REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": The impact would be tremendous. I mean, obviously, this isn't like China where U.S. companies could try to, you know, re-evaluate where they import stuff. These are a lot of American companies in Mexico that have their supply lines built directly through Mexico. A billion dollars a day crosses the border of goods. Those costs are going to keep ratcheting up. The last thing I think any president wants is momentum in the economy going the wrong direction ahead of -- ahead of, you know, their re-election. So I think the big concern is that this Republican revolt in the Senate, they might be seeing this a little more clearly than the White House is. The president's kind of distracted. And that's why I think in the past 12 hours there's been a lot of different, you know, communication out of the White House about what might happen today.

KING: They're hearing it from their business community back home and some other people back home.

But, again, if you look at the -- if you look at the polling, and the president sometimes doesn't -- is not guided by these polls. But it's -- the economy is the one issue where he's above water. Fifty-three percent of American approve of his handling of the economy. Help the middle class, 45 percent. Interestingly, only 42 percent approve of how the president has handled foreign trade.

This is both a trade issue and an immigration issue. And, again, it's an unusual co-mingling, if you will, of his immigration issue, which has been a calling card, the trade issue, which has been a calling card. And he thinks he's on to something here, but it has most of his party nervous.

COLLINS: Right.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: These are -- these are two core pillars of what might be called his populist appeal to his base, right, trade and immigration. The GOP tax cut was not a particularly populist gesture. And so, of course, going into this process, I mean, marrying the two was weird, but that he would take a strong position on both is not.

I think what's interesting in this wave of threat and tariffs is that the impact on the U.S. economy is not as diffuse as some of the previous rounds. It's not -- it's not like the soybean sector being hit but other parts of the economy doing fine. This is a much more broad-based problem. And as Damian laid out, I mean I think -- I think it -- because it will effect grocery store shelves, for example, I think it has the potential to be much more disruptive.

KING: And you hear the displeasure on Capitol Hill. Again, my question is, will they actually back it up? Will they back up the legislation?

This was Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma coming out of the meeting yesterday. He says the president is, quote, trying to use tariffs to solve every problem but HIV and climate change.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Yes. Republicans are really frustrated with this. They weren't happy when he imposed more tariffs on China. And now they're really worried about what he's threatening to do with Mexico. And so I think that there actually could be credibility behind their threat. That they may, this time around, have enough to even have a veto proof majority if they end up going through with this if Trump carries out his threat.

I'm not sure also though that Mexico is heeding Trump's threat that seriously. There was some reporting that people on the ground who would be impacted the most are kind of like, well, he threatens this -- things all the time and is constantly talking poorly about Mexico and maybe he may not even follow through with this.

KING: With -- what with -- before we go, we talked about the U.S. economic impact. Would there be enough pain for Mexico? Would this be enough, as is -- as a bludgeon?

PALETTA: Absolutely. It's a tremendous amount. Eighty percent of Mexican exports are to the United States. I mean I think the last thing the White House would want though is to do so much damage to the Mexican economy that you bring more migrants, you know, who lost their jobs in Mexico, to the United States. So this has never been done before and who knows what would happen.

[12:25:06] COLLINS: Yes, and they're ignoring things like that. And also when Peter Navarro was on our air earlier this morning, he would not admit that it's U.S. -- that they're going to have to pay those tariffs on that. So he wouldn't even admit something as simple as that, even though he was the one pushing this argument to the president in the first place.

KING: We'll see how it plays out. Again, important meetings today.

When we come back, a very busy day in the 2020 campaign trail, including the front runner having to deal in this new campaign with an old issue, plagiarism.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END