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Amash Leaves Conservative House Freedom Caucus; Buttigieg Gives Major Foreign Policy Speech; Trump Slams Biden As He Heads to Iowa. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 11, 2019 - 12:30   ET



[12:31:53] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Another curious move by Congressman Justin Amash. The Michigan conservative is the lone Republican in Congress to say the president may have committed impeachable offenses. Late last night he decided to leave a group that he helped put together, the House Freedom Caucus telling CNN's Haley Byrd, quote, I have the highest regard for them and they're my close friends. I didn't want to be a further distraction for the group.

The distraction, of course, is the case for impeachment Amash lays out in a series of tweets that began last month. So is Amash just doing his Freedom Caucus' friends a favor here, or is there more to this?

Haley Byrd joins our conversation. Welcome to the show. Is there more to it or is it just he's not really welcome there anymore, they don't -- he doesn't want to have a fight with his friends so I'm going to step aside or does this create some space from Republicans because I'm really a libertarian and some people think I should go challenge the president?

HALEY BYRD, CNN REPORTER: So Amash hasn't ruled out any of those things as in like a presidential bid or leaving the Republican Party. But in our conversation last night he indicated, you know, this is because he wants to do something to make his life easier for his colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus. You know, it's hard to overstate how big of a decision this is, you know, in terms of the direction of the Freedom Caucus from now on. Justin Amash was one of the founding members of the group. He wrote the mission statement of the Freedom Caucus.

Like he has had a -- just a big hand in shaping the group's direction in the past few years since it started in 2015. So it's unclear at this point. There was some debate after his first impeachment comments about whether the caucus should get rid of him or -- but he had allies who knew him from the beginning and people who know him know that his behavior right now isn't very surprising for him.

KING: He's an interesting bird. He always has been, to the point about the founding member of the Freedom Caucus, he would say and I'm sure he's said it to you that today's Freedom Caucus isn't following what they wrote when they founded the Freedom Caucus. Where is the smaller government, where is the shrink Washington and send power back to the states? Where is that in Donald Trump's Republican Party?

So there's the mission statement, but there's also his personal disagreement over impeachment. The question is, is that just it, and he goes back and runs for re-election again back home where he tries to explain himself and, again, he's an interesting person whether you agree or disagree with him or is it about something bigger?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If it is about something bigger I think Haley probably know better but it's going to be really interesting to see where he finds his place, right? Because for a pure, true, libertarian, it's a lonely road in Congress as we've seen for the, you know, the Rand Pauls of this world and now the Justin Amashs.

And it can be a lonely road on the campaign trail too. You can jump up a lot of fervor from the people who really support you but they haven't -- none of those candidates have ever broken through to really be a frontrunner. So, if he joins the fray, would he join the fray as a Republican and challenge Trump? Would he do it as an independent and kind of the wild card potentially and trying to these independents in the middle?

It's unclear what his best solution would be but clearly, this is a moment for him to try to make something more of a national name for himself because people are paying attention --

KING: That's what he wants. The interesting thing is as he spoke to you but he doesn't. We've asked him, do you want to come on the show. He doesn't do a lot of television. He's so -- again, I don't mean this critically, he just -- he marches to his own beat and so maybe he has a longer game. Don't do television now because I'm going to do something down the road but we don't know that.

[12:35:03] It is interesting, he was home last month for a town hall after he said this, and so he -- to his credit he goes and takes the heat. Some of his voters like this. Some of his voters don't like this at all.

What the Republicans in Washington don't like is listen to Justin Amash say I decided to come out and say I believe there's at least a case for impeachment. And guess what, he says a lot of his fellow Republicans actually agree, they just don't have the courage to say it.


REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R-MI): You saw what happened to me from our so- called leader Kevin McCarthy. I read the Mueller report, I'm sure he did not read it. I stated what it actually says, and he just resorted to ad hominem attacks and other various attacks that have nothing to do with the Mueller report. This is the kind of leadership in quotes that we now have in Congress.

A lot of them think I'm right about the Mueller report but they just won't say. There are a lot of Republicans.


KING: I mean, so-called leader Kevin McCarthy, leadership in quotes.


JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He is right that -- and this has been the story of the Trump presidency and the Republican Party for the last two years where there's a lot that gets said behind closed doors from Republicans about this president that is totally different than what they say in public. And a lot of that is because they believe that the Republican Party voters are largely with Trump, that there's just not a lot of room for somebody to come in and challenge Trump as a Republican. And you've seen that as you've looked at some of the people who were floating the idea of launching a primary challenge to Trump, someone like a John Kasich. I think the only one right now is Bill Weld who's up in New Hampshire playing around a lot.

KING: Who was the Libertarian candidate for vice president last time.

PACE: Exactly. But there just isn't a lot of room right now in the Republican Party which does raise the question if Amash would do this, whether he might look to do it as a libertarian or independent.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Maybe he -- there is no political calculus. Maybe this is what he believes, and he's not necessarily looking two campaigns down or looking to make a national name for himself. Because, he, you know, he probably could be on Fox News a lot. He could be on CNN or MSNBC. It's not something he's done, even though (INAUDIBLE) been a criticism leveled at him, that he's just doing this because he wants more attention. But in a way, he isn't really making use of that moment in any way.

I think this sort of the test cases that we've seen of people trying to challenge Trump. Bob Corker, he's not in the Senate anymore, Jeff Flake. You know, I think, you know, there is the Trump train, you either get on it our you get run over by it.

KING: To that point, they are going to support him. If he just runs for House re-election, they're already going to support a primary challenge against him. But the president won Michigan by 10,0347 last time, Justin Amash won his district by 34,922 votes. So that doesn't -- that's apples and peaches, it doesn't necessarily transfer but if he were a libertarian candidate just in Michigan he could deny the president a state that was critical to his re-election. The question is what does he want?


KING: Unclear it is. All right, unclear. We shall wait and see. He has our interest piqued which might be part of the plan actually.

Up next, humanitarian help may finally be on the way to the U.S.- Mexico border after constant alarm bells from those who handled the crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KEVIN MCALEENAN, ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It's been over 18 months since the administration asked for the legislative fixes that would have prevented the current crisis, and 40 days since we asked for the emergency funding necessary to manage it.


[12:42:49] KING: Topping our political radar today, a big reminder today from the Pentagon chief to all service members. He says, quote, the military doesn't do politics. In a widely circulated memo, Tuesday morning, the Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan asking his deputies to, quote, reinforce the apolitical nature of the United States military. The timing, of course, quite obvious, following a recent reporting that the White House military office tried to get the Navy's seventh fleet to hide the USS John McCain from view during the president's recent overseas' trip to Japan.

Action on immigration that could give some relief to border agents and migrants at overcrowded processing facilities. Senate Republican leaders have just agreed to put a $4.5 billion aid package before the Appropriations Committee next week. Senator Lindsey Graham saying this morning, $3.3 billion will be for humanitarian assistance while just over a billion would go towards operations support, including more funding for detention beds.

The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell now tipping his hat to the president for using tariff threats to leverage Mexico on immigration. This, after you might remember stressing last week that Senate Republicans opposed the president's tactics and the president faced an open rebellion then in the Senate if those tariffs have gone into effect. Today, however, Senator McConnell says all is well that ends well.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Even though almost none of my members were enthusiastic about the prospect of tariffs, you have to give the president credit. It worked.


KING: Mayor Pete Buttigieg today giving us a window on how he sees America's role in the world and what he would do in terms of foreign policy if elected president. Speaking in Indiana last hour, the Democratic presidential candidate and veteran of the war in Afghanistan drew a comparison between that war, the war in Iraq and other chapters in America's military history.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We must remember that the lesson of the Iraq disaster is not that there is nothing wrong withstanding for American values but rather that any action in the name of such values must be strategic, legitimate, and constrained by the premise that we only use force when left with no alternative. It is the difference between the necessary response to 9/11 in Afghanistan and the self-defeating invasion of Iraq. It is in short the difference between Normandy and Saigon.


KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly live on the scene of that speech in Bloomington, Indiana.

[12:45:02] Phil, what other big takeaways did you get from this.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So I think one of the most interesting elements here is there really kind of dual purposes to the speech. First and foremost to feel what the Buttigieg campaign feel is a vacuum to some degree on foreign policy. You have all of these senators or congressmen or governors laying out expansive domestic programs, expansive domestic ideas with foreign policy perhaps have been somewhat at second fiddle here.

Pete Buttigieg today in a more than hour-long speech laid out an expansive view of things and the other reason for that is concerns that have been raised about the fact that a 37-year-old somewhat small-town mayor is actually ready for this position. And those were the dual reasons for giving the speech. It was a lengthy critique of the Trump administration, no question about it calling for the repeal of the authorization of use of military force. Rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, rejoining the Paris climate agreement, retrenching in terms of relationships with U.S. allies.

No question on indictment in his view of President Trump's policy but was also interesting, it was an indictment as well of past Democratic policies saying that he hasn't in his lifetime seen a consistent world view out of Democrats. It was something I asked him about after his speech. Take a listen.


BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think really the focus is on the future, but it's very clear that a future administration needs to find a way to put an end to the forever wars and really needs to recognize that the frameworks and the domestic and international mechanics for foreign policy are going to have to change. But we were really trying to focus on the road ahead and how to meet the challenges at the moment.


MATTINGLY: Now obviously, John, Pete Buttigieg served in the military, was a naval intelligence officer, did a deployment in Afghanistan as well. It's a key part of his bio but now trying to add a little bit of meat to the bones on that when it comes to foreign policy. Something you've heard him talk about pretty occasionally on the campaign trail actually put out regularly on the campaign trail but now going on at 1enght.

I think what will be interesting is one, how this sticks, especially given the big day in Iowa today but also how many of his competitors follow suit, John.

KING: Phil Mattingly live for us in Indiana. Appreciate it, from the trail, Phil. Have a great afternoon.

Next for us here, separate actions by the Trump administration with a common thread, appealing to Christian conservatives as we head into the 2020 re-election cycle.


[12:51:49] KING: The president of the United States is about to leave for Iowa in a big trip out there. It's an official event, promoting renewable energies, not a campaign fundraiser. But at the moment, he is holding court with reporters, he's been at this for several minutes on the South Lawn of the White House. We'll bring you the tape of that as soon as we can, but we do know the president is criticizing the former Vice President Joe Biden. At one point he called him a dummy, called him a loser, only one percent, Obama took him off the trash heap.

There's more of this but one of the interesting things here is, of course, the president has frequently criticized the former vice president who's the Democratic frontrunner but it's all the more important today because Joe Biden is also campaigning in Iowa. And if the president's been watching TV which he is known to do he knows that Biden is delivering a speech which is harshly critical of the president's policies.

I'd rather run against Biden than anybody. I think he's the weakest mentally.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: You know, this -- it's not a coincidence that Biden's people put out Biden's very inflammatory anti-Trump remarks early so that - I mean, I think that they want this. They absolutely wanted this and President Trump saw that --


KEITH: -- and took the bait and said thank you very much, I'll come out and do my insult comedy tour from the South Lawn.

KING: And it appears that low energy which is the favorite of the 2016 campaign applied by then candidate-Trump to Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida. He said of Biden others have more energy. I call him one percent Joe.

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, they're nervous about Joe Biden because Joe Biden, you know, Scranton Joe, average Joe, middle-class Joe, whatever nickname you want to have for him, he does appeal to those white working-class voters in those states, the kind of folks he's going to be trying to talk to and connect with in Iowa. So they want to damage him early and often out of the gate. They don't want to see him in the general election because I think he would be more formidable. And voters think this, too, that he actually is much more electable. Who knows if that's true at this point?

KING: If that lasts. HENDERSON: Yes. And some of the early polling, I mean, it's more than a year away but some of the early polling shows that all of these Democrats are equally electable in some of these states like Michigan and Pennsylvania.

PACE: But this is one of the advantages of incumbency which is you have the playing field to yourself and you can look at your potential opponents and say, all right, I think Joe Biden is going to be the guy so I'm going to spend the next six months trying to damage him. If the race shifts on the Democratic side he can go after who he thinks his next most likely opponent is.

KING: Where is the sweet spot there in the sense that if you're Biden Trump coming after you helps you because it makes your case that I'm the most electable? Look, he's worried about me. If you're Trump and you think Biden is the strongest candidate, you're trying to somehow weaken him. Do you weaken him?

If the -- main challenge first is Democratic voters. There's Donald Trump who's standing among Democrats is (INAUDIBLE) attacking Joe Biden, does it eventually sink in when he says, you know, he doesn't have the energy, he doesn't get the crowds, you know, he's not on your side?

PACE: I think this is like Trump casting about for what the right attack line against Biden will be. It is very possible that he will stumble upon something in a couple of months that nothing that he's saying right now. I think some -- if Trump tries to do this kind of message testing. I mean, he's actually quite good at it, he tries to figure out what gets attention on television, what --

KING: Example in 2016 primaries, 13, 14, 15 established politicians, poof.

PACE: Exactly. So I think he might not have stumbled on it yet but he's going to --

[12:55:02] HENDERSON: And this is sort of recycling any low energy, you know, sort of the idea that Hillary Clinton was sick in 2016, they're also floating that again.

DEMIRJIAN: But it's not just -- I mean, you know, Trump is going to be trying these things to see what sticks, remember it's not just Trump and Biden right now. So it's kind of like what sticks and what gets amplified by the other Democrats and the criticisms they make of Biden. And then that kind of is going to feedback on Trump having kind of sowed these seeds out there. So it's not really his choice and it's not a direct ricochet anymore because all the competitors are looking for points of weakness to plant it on Biden too.

KING: That's a great point. He also said he believes -- the president says he would win Iowa very easily because of the support of farmers. It is one of the most fascinating states to watch. And today gets the spotlight (INAUDIBLE) this afternoon.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. Brianna Keilar will be here with that tape from the president after a quick break.