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Trump to Kick Off Re-Election Bid in Orlando; Military Options on Table for Iran; Trump Admonishes for Cough. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 17, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:19] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump gearing up for his official re-election campaign launch. Poll after poll after poll shows the incumbent trailing the top Democrats nationally and they show an electorate open to change. The president today tweeting they're all fake.

Plus, escalating tensions with Iran. The regime says it will enrich more low-grade uranium and break the terms of that nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama presidency.

And we learned a lot from ABC's extended interview with the president. His controversial take on accepting campaign help from foreign actors, for example, his disdain for Robert Mueller, and this.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Good morning, Mr. President. How are you?


STEPHANOPOULOS: Have a good night?

TRUMP: A very good night. We had a good day and a good night.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How much sleep?

TRUMP: Probably I average four or five hours, I guess.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you a big breakfast guy?

TRUMP: I'm not a breakfast guy at all, fortunately.


TRUMP: I like the lunches, but the dinners is what I really like.


KING: President Trump is heading to a big rally in Orlando tomorrow -- that's where we begin the hour -- to make the obvious official, he is running for re-election. The president offering a preview of his message today in his tweets, of course. The president saying, quote, our country is doing great, far beyond what the haters and losers thought possible, and, only fake polls show us behind the Motley Crew, the president insists.

Well, we'll get to some of those polls in a minute. They're not fake. But let's take a look. Remember, the president wants four more years. This is the map that won the presidency for him in 2016. Let's just focus in on some of the early battleground states as we look at it.

The president will start his re-election campaign officially with a rally in Orlando. You know how important Florida is in every presidential election. Critical to the president's win, a close race in 2016. Critical again to the president's map as he heads into 2020. The White House is confident they can hold Florida, but it will be a battleground, you can counted on that.

Now to the president's point. The polls are not fake. They're early, but they're not fake. Michigan, absolutely critical, one of those blue states the president flipped red back in 2016. You see the margin. Look how close it was. Look how close, 10,000 votes, 10,700 votes in Michigan. Well, a recent poll there shows the president trailing all of the top Democrats. 53 to 41 when it comes to Joe Biden, 53 to 41 when it comes to Bernie Sanders. You see the president's standing here. Here's what's interesting. The polls can change a lot between now and next November. Forty-seven percent, almost 48 percent, the president's underperforming in the polls now, suggests the electorate is open to change.

One more place to look. The president again says these are all fake. They're not fake. They're early, but they're not fake. And in Pennsylvania, another one of those blue that flipped red, trailing Joe Biden, trailing Bernie Sanders, trailing Elizabeth Warren, very close with Pete Buttigieg, tied with Kamala Harris. Again, the president's 45 percent underperforming the nearly 49 percent he got back then.

What's that tell you? It tells you the electorate is open to change. It tells you it will be a close election. And it tells you these polls are real, despite what the president says.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's tightening up a lot, which is interesting.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: But he's still beating you according to the polls.

TRUMP: Well, I don't believe those polls.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But even your own polls show you're behind right now, don't they?

TRUMP: No. My polls show that I'm winning everywhere. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know, we've all -- we've all seen these

reports that 15 out of 17 states you spent $2 million on a poll and you're behind in 15 out of 17 states.

TRUMP: Nobody showed you those polls because those polls don't exist, George.

To -- hold it off for a little while. Just call Brad on the phone and I want to ask him that question.


KING: With me this day to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace with "The Associated Press," CNN's Manu Raju, Ayesha Rascoe with NPR, and Lisa Lerer with "The New York Times."

The polls are not fake, but the president wants his supporters to believe anything you see or hear that says I'm losing is not true. To the point where they have -- I don't know if the word is fired or reassigned or shifted around several of his own pollsters because he was mad some of his own numbers leaked.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": It's actually a bit of a strange strategy. You often hear incumbents talk about how at risk they are as a way to rally their supporters. You know, polls show us behind. Our fundraising is behind. That's how they try to generate some enthusiasm. Not this president. He sees any sign that he could be behind as weakness.

I think the real question is what he is actually hearing privately. You know, is he getting a straight story from his -- from his advisers? Because the reality is, his polls and other polls do show him behind. And in some ways it's not surprising. It is a -- it is a very divided country. This will be a competitive election. But if the president is going into this without a real clear sense of what his vulnerabilities are, I think that makes his re-election a challenge.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And is it just public bluster. Is this -- privately, does the president actually believe or understand the real challenges he faces to winning re- election. And the real numbers out there that show that he is a vulnerable incumbent. Does he acknowledge that privately and will they have any sort of strategy shift? Perhaps the campaign will try to do that around him. But will the candidate himself adjust his message, adjust where he agrees to spend his time and focus and energy on? That's another question.

[12:05:24] LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": But, look, this is a -- it may not be a wise strategy, but it's one that makes a lot of sense. This is a president who ran as an outsider against the Washington establishment, so now he's trying to set it up as if the Washington establishment is on, to use his favorite term, a witch hunt against him. That's what they do with every one of these kinds of stories. They raise money.

And, in a way, it makes kind of sense, right? He promised to drain the swamp. The swamp has gotten swampier, as we talk about a lot on this panel.

KING: Right.

LERER: He promised to do something on immigration. Nothing has really happened on immigration. And what has hasn't been particularly well received, like family separation. So he needs to explain the fact perhaps that he hasn't kept his campaign promises and everyone being against him is one way to do it.

KING: And even if he's watching his favorite station, all the networks pick up the other network's polls. But if he's watching his favorite station, here's the new Fox News poll. If the 2020 presidential election were held today, Biden, 49, Trump, 39. Sanders, 49, Trump, 40. Most of the polls show about the same thing. You know, the numbers shift a little, tiny bit.

But you -- pretty good reason why his own team leaked some of his own polls. They know the way to get the president's attention is to get them on television.

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: And at this point it really is not that unusual for a president to be kind of behind in the polls. We've seen this with prior presidents who did go on to get re-elected where they were behind at this point. But President Trump really just can't accept or cannot publicly show any -- what he would look at, I guess, as a sign of weakness. And, you know, this is not really unusual for him because he obviously had bad polling during the 2016 election.

Now, nationally, those polls were right, but it didn't matter because we had the Electoral College, but he can always point to that and say, look, they said I was way behind then and that's the same thing they're doing now and that's why he calls them these so-called suppression polls, they're trying to keep my base away.

LERER: Right. And the president -- that's a really good point, because the president's seminal, political experience, really his only major political experience, was his surprise win in 2016, which surprised even him. So it would make sense that this is not a politician who puts a lot of faith in polls.

KING: Right. And his brand -- his brand is winning.

So he's going to do this rally tomorrow. Again, it's not -- no surprise. It's been clear, and he's officially a candidate because he's been spending money going around the country already, but he's going to make it official. He's going to ask you, the American people, for four more years.

He can brag about a good economy. That's any president's best friend, to have low -- such low unemployment. He will do that. He did not repeal and replace Obamacare. He did not build a wall or they're just slowly starting to build little pieces of the wall.

One of the things the president says he will do in this campaign is have a new health care proposal. Democrats want to run on health care again, as they did in the midterms. Listen to the Senate majority leader, a Republican. Your Republican president has a health care plan. The Senate majority leader says, yes, but, he knows it's for after the presidential election.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We're anxious to see what the president recommends. Clearly they're walking away from Obamacare. There's a space there him the president to advocate something and we're looking forward to seeing what he's going to recommend.

STEVE DOOCY, FOX HOST: The idea of him coming up with something to replace Obamacare with, you want that after the election?

MCCONNELL: Well, he has -- he's going to lay a plan out and he has said it would be dealt with after the election when we get the Congress -- a Congress that's more sympathetic to our approach to health care.


RAJU: More sympathetic to our approach to health care. They had the Congress for two years.

KING: They had -- they had a Republican House and a Republican Senate for two years. I don't know how you're going to get more sympathetic than that.

RAJU: Yes, exactly. And, look, what happened there? The Republicans were at war with each other over how to deal with health care. And the president often likes to blame John McCain for not replacing Obamacare. That is totally false. What John McCain and three -- two other Republican senators voted against was a skinny repeal of the health care law to advance that to a House Senate conference committee, which still had a lot of challenges, just to get the repeal part through. They were nowhere near a replacement because the party has been at odds of coming around -- around a single approach to say that there's going to be a plan now, you know, they had the opportunity to do that.

PACE: And Trump has floated this idea before over the last couple of months only to see Mitch McConnell sort of swat it down. So I think we'll see if he actually is going to come forward with something. One group, if you will, that would love for him to come forward with something through are Democrats.

KING: Right.

PACE: They would love for this presidential election to be about health care. They look at the 2018 midterms where health care was on the table. They feel like they flipped a lot of those red seats to blue on that promise.

KING: Right. And another big -- my question I have in the campaign, Trump's base is remarkably loyal. And you see that in all of the polling. That's why Republican lawmakers fear him so much. But, you can make the case, Ann Coulter having some fun, we can show

you this on Twitter, she was featured in a video put out by the president's social media director, and she tweeted it -- retweeted it and says, wasn't it fun when we thought we were getting a wall?

[12:10:08] You know, she's a constant, what's the right word for it, she's constantly in the president's face, I'll say it politely, on this issue. But listen to the president in that interview with George Stephanopoulos. This is about immigration, where he makes clear his disdain for the Congress.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I find Congress more difficult, frankly, that many of the foreign leaders.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: That's democracy, isn't it?

TRUMP: Yes, I guess it is. But then I play the game. But sometimes it's too much of a game. There's so many things, like the border. The border should be done, George. The border -- the Democrats should come in and 15 minutes to an hour we could have it all solved, it's so simple. They want nothing --

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that way you have to give some stuff as well.

TRUMP: Well, but it's not even giving stuff. The things that we're talking about, you shouldn't have to give.


KING: His point there, more about the current crisis at the border, the detention centers, need money for the humanitarian needs there.

But this president, for all the art of the deal myth of Donald Trump, has not -- has not done a lot of deals with Congress.

RASCOE: And that's what stands out to me in that interview, he keeps saying -- and in other places -- he'll keep saying, well, we'll get this done, but we've got to get the Republican Congress too. We've got to get the House. We've got to get 60 members in the Senate. And it's like, well, you're president. Like, how are you -- so you're saying that for you to get what you want done, you have to have the absolute most favorable conditions, but no president usually gets that. Or even when they get it, it doesn't last for long. So he's basically kind of putting these kind of measures on what he'll be able to do. It will all depend on if we can get the right Congress, but not saying, I will be able to get it done.

KING: There's a lot to be done before the next election.

RASCOE: Exactly.

LERER: Yes, and then for, in terms of his re-election, it becomes a turnout question. Like there's no question, poll after poll shows us his base is with him, the Republican Party is with him, does not feel like there's a lot of room for any sort of primary challenge to President Trump, but do they turn out? And I -- I have to say, I was at CPAC, which is the big conservative conference, we've talked about it a few months ago, and I did hear some faint rumbling in a conference that really President Trump has come to dominate from a couple activists and voters there that, well, we would have liked it better had he done something on immigration or the wall or this or that. So we'll have to see how this all plays out in terms of who comes out for him.

KING: Officially starts tomorrow. We've got a ways to go, with the Democratic race as well. We'll get to that in a few minutes.

Up next, though, foreign policy news. Iran sending a message to the White House, President Trump now weighing his options to respond.


[12:17:07] KING: Welcome back.

Iran, today, announcing plans to accelerate low-grade uranium enrichment and Iran says it will exceed the limit it is allowed to stockpile under its 2015 nuclear deal. Tehran giving an ultimatum, saying it would back down if France, Germany and the United Kingdom step in to help it circumvent U.S. economic sanctions. The announcement only adding to a very tense moment in the Persian Gulf region.

The Trump administration says it has clear proof Iran is responsible for the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week. Iran denies any involvement. Listen here, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, signaling just how far the president is willing to go in his response.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States is considering a full range of options.

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS HOST, "FACE THE NATION": Does that include a military response?

POMPEO: Of course. Of course.

BRENNAN: So when you talk about military response, you're talking about that, keeping the waterways open. You are not, at this point, talking about a strike on Iran.

POMPEO: Oh, goodness, President Trump has said very clearly, he doesn't want to go to war. At the same time, we've made very clear that what --

BRENNAN: Do you have the legal authorization for a strike on Iran?

POMPEO: We -- we always have the authorization to defend American interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby joins our conversation.

Low-level enrichment, not weapons grade uranium --


KING: But still a poke, still a poke at the Trump administration, a poke at the agreement. What do you make of that?

KIRBY: I think it's more than a poke. I mean it would be a technical violation of the agreement should they do this. But it's a far cry from the level of enriched uranium you would need to create a bomb. What they're trying to do is pressure the Europeans for the sanctions relief that they've yet to really see and enjoy as a result of the deal being put in place a couple of years ago. So, clearly, they're sending a strong message to the Europeans, don't side with Trump and the United States. You need to keep in the deal.

Now, Federica Mogherini, the E.U. president, said today that they want to stay in the deal and they're hoping in the next ten days Iran doesn't take this step.

KING: They'll see if Iran backs off. And it's -- the timing is interesting, just because you do have this sort of -- everyone trying to play off each other.

KIRBY: Right.

KING: The administration says it has proof. It says it's prepared to offer more proof that Iran was responsible for attacking those oil tankers. This is a rare case. This is the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, often disagrees with the administration. He says, the administration's right, Iran did it, but then listen.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): There's no question that Iran is behind the attacks. I think the evidence is very strong and compelling. And, in fact, I think this was a class a screw-up by Iran to insert a mine on the ship. It didn't detonate. They had to go back and retrieve it.

The problem is that we are struggling, even in the midst of this solid evidence, to persuade our allies to join us in any kind of a response. And it shows just how isolated the United States has become.


KING: You do see that, some questioning the -- some saying that, you know, it's not an excuse, Iran should never be able to attack tankers, but that the administration, by poking Iran and by withdrawing from the deal and by escalating is somehow -- I don't -- I can't connect those dots in my head, but that somehow this is Trump's fault.

[12:20:02] RAJU: Yes. Yes, look, I mean, I think the challenge for Trump is going to be able to convince Congress, convince allies that the right course of action is whatever he decides to take, if it is some sort of military action, to get people behind him. But you are seeing that agreement behind the scenes, at least that Iran is responsible for some of this. It was interesting to hear Adam Schiff, who does get briefed on classified intelligence, say that. But if the president does go forward in some military action, to say that what Mike Pompeo said, that they have force to do essentially whatever they want to protect American interests, he's going to get a lot of pushback from The Hill on that.

PACE: I think there is a real question about what the Trump administration's goal in its dealings with Iran is at this point. When Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal, the idea was that the economic pressure on Iran would get so great that they would be forced to come back to the negotiating table and be willing to take a tougher deal. We haven't seen that happen. If anything, we have seen the Iranians try to get more provocative. They may be trying to goad the U.S. into striking some sort of deal that would be more favorable with Tehran.

But you hear so much confusion within the administration about what Trump is even after right now. I do think it is incumbent on him, not just publically but within his own administration to just articulate what he is after here right now.

KING: And you heard, as part of the conversation is, what are the limits. A lot of Democratic presidential candidates have said, hey, wait a minute, calm down, you have to come to Congress if you want to do anything. You heard the secretary of state saying they always had the authority to protect American interests. If there was a direct provocation, that would be the case. The question is, if this just escalates and it's not a direct provocation. But listen here to Senator Tom Cotton, one of the Republican hawks in the Senate, saying, yes, the administration does have the right.


MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS HOST, "FACE THE NATION": Do you believe that he can act, the administration can act, without coming to Congress first?

SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AK): Yes, Margaret. Going back to President Washington, and all the way down to President Trump, the fastest way to get the fire and fury of the U.S. military unleashed on you is to interfere with the freedom of navigation on the open seas and in the air. That's exactly what Iran is doing. One of the world's most important, strategic chokepoints, the president has the authorization to act to defend American interests.


KING: You know that business of escorts and the free passage very well from your career. Is the senator right?

KIRBY: No. I mean he's -- the cavalier manner with which he's talking about military action against Iran really disturbs me. There are military options you can put in place that would help the free flow of oil but not be provocative. For instance, you could escort tankers in and out of the Persian Gulf. The Navy knows how to do that. We've done it well. That wouldn't necessarily take the temperature up to a degree where you'd be talking about open conflict.

And I think that, frankly, I'm glad to hear Pompeo say that the focus still is on economics and diplomacy because that's where it needs to be right now. Iran is doing exactly what they can do. They do have leverage. They still want sanctions relief, but they have a way to disrupt the world's economy and they're showing that they have that capability. We need to respond to that right now, not talk about regime change, which is, I think, where the Trump administration really wants to go.

KING: Well, we'll keep our eye on it throughout the week and more. Admiral, appreciate you coming in.

Some breaking news now out of Egypt. The former president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi died suddenly today. Egyptian state media says Morsi, that country's first democratically elected president, fainted after a court hearing and then passed away. He was on trial on charges of espionage.

Next, the producer president and how he scripts his own White House.


[12:28:00] KING: We learned quite a bit from the president's extended interview with ABC News. The biggest news headline was his matter of fact way of saying, despite the law, and despite the Mueller investigation, that he would take a look at any dirt on political opponents offered by a foreign government. But the interview also offered a telling glimpse into how he views his presidency, as made for TV. Watch here for a flash of the president's anger as his chief of staff breaks the fourth wall in the middle of his boss's bragging about his wealth.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Are you going to turn it over?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, at some point, I might. But at some point I hope they get it because it's a phenomenal -- it's a fantastic financial statement. It's a fantastic financial statement.

And -- let's do that over. He's coughing in the middle of my answer.


TRUMP: I don't like that, you know? I don't like that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your chief of staff.

TRUMP: If you're going to cough, please leave the room.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll come over here.

TRUMP: You just can't -- you just can't cough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to change the shot.



TRUMP: OK, do you want to do that a little differently then?



KING: He wasn't joking.

RAJU: He was angry. He was angry. And this was a -- this was not a coughing fit. This was -- this was just a couple of coughs. And he was, obviously, very concerned about anything that's perceived. But for most people they would have ignored it (INAUDIBLE) but not this president, who has every -- has an image about how things should come across and will let his staff know when he's not happy.

PACE: I've had worse coughing fits than this.

RAJU: Yes.

LERER: Right. I was going to say, it also shows that he's someone who comes from scripted --

KING: Right.

LERER: I mean I don't know if his reality show is scripted, but not live television. He is looking at it with like a producer's eye who is shooting the movie of his presidency, because I'm sure you have plenty of guests, including, apparently, Julie, who cough on your set and I don't think you boot them.

RAJU: He removed -- no, he does remove them.

PACE: Kicks them right off.

LERER: You kick them off?

PACE: You want to know what John does during the commercial break?

KING: There's a trap door button. A trap door button.

But, no, to your point, it's -- it's -- and this -- this is who he is. I mean he comes from the reality TV experience. He understands the camera. He understands this is being taped, it's not on live television so we can make it better. That's pretty fascinating.

[12:30:02] RASCOE: And he -- and he looks at everything from maybe, how does this look on TV. He also said in this interview, he talked about, I send my tweet out and then I look.