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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Says He Supports "Common Sense" Background Checks; Democrats Accuse Trump of Fueling White Supremacism; 2020 Dems Make Their Pitch to Iowans at the State Fair; Harris Rolls Out New Ad Buy in Iowa; 2020 Dems Campaigning Hard for Spot on September Debate Stage. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired August 11, 2019 - 08:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[08:00:28] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST (voice-over): America's mass shooting epidemic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dispatch, we've got shots fired, we have multiple people down.

MATTINGLY: Has Washington finally hit a tip willing point?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This isn't a crisis for NRA, Republicans or Democrats. We need meaningful background checks.

MATTINGLY: Plus -- tough new attacks on the president and Democrats who want his job.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's a man who cozies up to the white supremacists.

MATTINGLY: President Trump plays down the latest North Korean missile tests.

TRUMP: There have been no nuclear tests. The missile tests have all been short range

MATTINGLY: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Phil Mattingly, in this morning for John King. Thanks for spending part of our Sunday with us.

Why does this keep happening? That's the question Americans have been asking themselves in the days after two mass shootings, one in Texas, one in Ohio, that killed 31 people.

The Texas massacre is the 7th worst shooting in modern American history. Twenty-two killed inside a Walmart store in El Paso. According to police, the confessed killer says he specifically targeted Mexicans. We'll talk about the race angle and how President Trump has responded in a little bit.

But first we start with the debate over guns and whether this time will in fact, be different when it comes to new gun safety laws. President Trump says it will be. And that he's ready to work with Democrats on a bill strengthening background checks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We don't want insane people, mentally ill people, bad people, dangerous people -- we don't want guns in the hands of the wrong people. We have tremendous support for really common sense, sensible, important background checks. There are many bills that have been put in over a period of four or five years. They went nowhere. But there's never been a president like President Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Now, House Democrats passed a background checks bill earlier this year. And they want Mitch McConnell to take it up right now. He is not going to do that.

So, the question now is, how hard will President Trump push? If he's looking to polls like this one it seems, at least on its face, a political no-brainer. Eighty-nine percent support for universal background checks, including the most Trump-friendly demographics.

But on other side, voices like this from conservative media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: George H.W. Bush said read my lips, no new taxes -- raised taxes. Any kind of a deal with the Democrats on guns is going to risk the same fate happening to Trump.

The only thing a new law would do is drive a wedge between Trump and his voters, and the NRA, because make no mistake. They want your guns. They want every gun you've got as quickly as they can get it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Joining us now with the reporting and their insights: Eliana Johnson from "Politico", Sahil Kapur from "Bloomberg News", "The Wall Street Journal's" Michael Bender, and "Time's" Molly Ball.

I want to start with history. We have all covered these issues for a long period of time. We have all seen this moment that feels like a tipping point and then ends up withering away over the course of a couple weeks.

If you take a look at the last 20 years, you see the clusters of the mass shootings, eight or more people killed. And you look at what happened during this period of time.

You have, in 2007, you have the Virginia tech shooting where nothing occurred afterwards, small improvements in mental health data.

2012, you had Sandy Hook over here. Nothing happened. Background checks failed. A large failure for folks looking for gun law changes.

Las Vegas in 2017. Massive shooting. More than 50 people killed. No significant changes.

Southern springs down in Texas, small tweaks in the Fix NICS law. There was bipartisan important, but nothing major. So, I guess the question that everyone wants to know, is this time different?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there's a couple things missing from that timeline. First of all, that's a timeline of federal action.

MATTINGLY: Yes.

BALL: And there's a lot that has been going on in the states during that time. Some of it in the direction of loosening gun laws in some conservative states, but also in some blue states.

[08:05:01] There has been a building grassroots movement in favor of gun control that we really haven't seen. You know, back in the '90s, when Republicans considered this politically toxic issue, because it implicated them in a culture war that they thought they were losing, that's really changed now because in the past when the NRA was virtually unopposed as the source of voice in lawmakers' ears about whether they should go down this polarizing road, now there is a really big movement on the other side.

You have a really remarkable grassroots and well-funded bunch of organizations that are pushing. And you see the ground swell support gradually building to the point that background checks have always been broadly popular. But other gun control measures have also become more popular among the public, which I think you can attribute to a combination of this drum beat of continued mass shootings and this political movement that has arisen.

So the calculus for lawmakers is different now. And I think that -- we saw that in 2018, right? A lot of Democrats in swing districts ran forcefully on a platform of gun control.

So, the politics are in flux. They're changing. That doesn't necessarily mean Congress will act. It never does. But it does mean this is a different landscape for politicians than it has been in the past.

MATTINGLY: Yes, there's no question about it. In Iowa, 16 Democratic candidates at a gun safety event, people are campaigning on it like in 2018, campaigning again in 2020, a 180 from where they have been the past couple decades.

I guess, one of the questions that I have right now is Democrats are clearly in this place right now. Public opinion polling broadly seems to be in this place. When you look at ballot initiatives, say, Maine or Nevada, background checks ended up failing. It didn't match up before the public opinion polling.

When you talk to Republican aides on the Hill, there is a lot of skepticism there, at least that is my take so far.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLIITCAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: I think that's absolutely right. In the short-term, medium term, I think everything depends on how persistent President Trump is. You're not going to get them to move, especially on the Senate level unless there is clear and consistent guidance from the president, and they believe he is not going to swerve, like he did after the Parkland shooting, where he came out raising the rifle age, he came out for "red flag" laws, people forget, and he backed off all of that in the face of criticism.

The truth is the country has moved to Molly's point in a major way. The suburbs especially have moved. Suburban moms, college-educated voters are more in favor of gun control than we have seen in a long time. That is what is driving the Democrats' shift in favor of gun control laws.

President Obama avoided this issue in 2008 and 2012. Democrats had a majority in 2007 and 2011. They didn't touch this issue because their path run through rural areas. Those areas still favor -- still opposing gun control because there's mentality that any step toward gun control will threaten their 2nd Amendment rights.

MATTINGLY: You had a great piece about suburbs. You should read the piece. It is indicative of where things are politically.

But this is on President Trump. Every Republican I have talked to on Capitol Hill over the course of the last week says tell me where the president ends up and I will tell you if I can do something. Take a listen to what the president said in February of 2018.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We certainly have to strengthen background checks. Everybody agrees with that. And we're going to make background checks very, very strong.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Mr. President, it will have to be you that brings the Republicans to the table on this because right now, the gun lobby would stop in its tracks.

TRUMP: I like that responsibility, Chris. I really do. I think it's time. I think it's time that a president stepped up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: That was not this past week. That was in February of 2018. February of 2018, March, April, they did Fix NICS. But they didn't do anything related to background checks at all. Why is it different now?

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, this is where I think the president's week in Bedminster makes for some real uncertainty here. He is going to have people furiously lobbying him during this week. And typically, it's momentum after these shootings that makes legislation happen.

But I think this one-week break and for lawmakers in August, an August break, there is a chance that there's a loss of momentum from this issue. And the president will be hearing from lots and lots of different people. He is somebody particularly susceptible to going off the last person he talked to.

And so, it will be interesting to see where the president lands, when Congress comes pack into session. The other factor here is that the NRA really is in disarray right now. We know the "Washington Post" with a great scoop that Wayne LaPierre was still on the phone with the president. But the president also understanding that the NRA doesn't have the power it used to have. And the president saying multiple times this week he wanted to do something on guns, including remarks at a private fundraiser on Friday.

So, I do think something is likely to happen when Congress reconvenes, but I do think that it's going to be something that disappoints Democrats.

[08:10:04] MATTINGLY: Yes, you make a fascinating point about the NRA, because the organization is unquestionably in a bad place right now in terms of how it's structured, people that have left. Lawsuits have been filed. And yet, Wayne LaPierre was on the phone with President Trump multiple times over the course of last week, put out a statement saying we're interested behind the scenes, which is when it comes to background checks, even when it comes to some specifics of "red flag" laws, the NRA simply is not there.

They say the organization has weakened but the organization is more than just the organization herein Virginia. It is the membership, and the membership that supports very hardly President Trump.

What's your read right now on kind of the NRA's role and how they're going to play over the course of next couple of weeks?

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: We have seen this play out before. You played the clips from -- after Parkland. And the answer to why Trump's shift that time was NRA. He had private meetings.

After that, pretty remarkable pretty open press event. He came out of that meeting with the NRA with a different tone. He has kept the tone so far. The tone has been where he seemed to want to be on stronger background checks so far.

I talked to a few administration officials over the weekend. There does seem to be a real interest in getting something done. But right now, they are -- the White House -- the president is leaving it up to Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans to put pen to paper on what the actual changes will look like.

And reading between the lines from some of the administration officials I talked to, it doesn't sound like there's going to be anything transformational here. They're going to try to get something done. Done is going to be better than good at this point from this White House.

And there's even talk about more interesting kind of what they can attach to it. Does this grease the wheels for a deal or something along those lines? So, again, the NRA still plays a very strong role here, and, you know, if the president wants to get something major done, the public focus is there, the question is going to be whether his focus will be there.

MATTINGLY: Yes, one thing I have heard from Republicans on the Hill. Again, you can't leave it up to Republicans to write this. They need to know where the president is on this.

And one thing I've also heard multiple times is, tell me how universal background checks would have stopped Dayton, would have stopped El Paso. One of the things we have heard from Republicans these specific proposals wouldn't have addressed this specific shooting. That dynamic will have to shift or to Eliana's point, something will happen but won't be as broad.

BENDER: But the question will be whether these background checks will lead to gun registers, right? That is the slippery slope you play with.

MATTINGLY: The details here are really, really important. There are different background check proposals. It gets complicated fast.

All right. Up next, President Trump's post-shooting message of unity is undercut by -- President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:16:24] MATTINGLY: Time and again presidents are called upon to act as consolers in chief for a grieving nation. It's a role President Trump's advisers acknowledged he has struggled at times to fill. But in the aftermath of last weekend's shootings, he offered these words to the American people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside, so destructive, and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion and love.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Now, those are the right words, I think everyone acknowledged. But ones he failed to follow himself. A day intended to comfort victim, shine a light on horrific first responders instead featured political score-settling and personal attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: My critics are political people. They are trying to make point. In many cases they're running for president and they're very low in the polls. They shouldn't be politicking today. I had it with Sherrod Brown, he

and the mayor, they're very dishonest people. That's probably why he got I think about zero percent, and he failed as a presidential candidate.

I was here three months ago, we read a speech. What was the name of the arena? And you had this Crazy Beto. Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot. They said his crowd was wonderful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: All right. The president took his grievances to the air as well, venting from Air Force One about news coverage, political opponents, and local officials in Ohio and Texas. Behind the scenes, Trump fumed about how the trip was covered, with aides conceding that the visits did not go as planned. Look, rolling that all out in a timeline fashion is important, its value, because you understand the press isn't just doing this.

BENDER: Yes.

MATTINGLY: He's doing it. Why?

BENDER: Well, it's just -- it is just his personality here, right? I mean, the White House gets very frustrated with the portrayal of picking out slices of this trip and painting him as, you know, as unable to connect with voters. This is how he connects with voters, right?

And the -- you know, it is -- they feel this is all priced into the equation here, right? Like you have -- when you have Democrats attacking Trump as a white supremacist, they feel like that is -- that falls on deaf ears. But where there is concern is people who are embarrassed by Trump and asking how they are dealing with that.

A White House official told me over the weekend, what are you going to do?

MATTINGLY: Yes. The interesting thing is when you read local press, the people he met with said very nice things. Said he was effective and kind of did what he was supposed to do in those situations. And instead of focusing on that, he is focusing on political attacks.

But I do want to pivot to something that you're talking about here, and that's kind of the sharp Democratic attacks about the issues of race and the issue now seems to be a litmus test on white supremacy. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Is the president a white supremacist?

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is. He's also made that very clear.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is giving people license to not only hate but to foment that hateful violence.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His both clear language and in code, this president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's a man who cozies up to the white supremacists. This is what he's done, the wink and a nod.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: This is a different president. This is a different time. But those are explosive, explosive allegations if you will.

JOHNSON: They really are. They are allegations not just at the president but anybody who wrote it for him.

MATTINGLY: Right.

[08:20:00] JOHNSON: And so, this president we all know he simply can't let a criticism or attack go unanswered. And so, that's why we saw those tweets from him.

So, you just -- I think the media prices it in to who he is, and everybody who works in the White House. So, that's why you have the president comforting supporters but also answering his critics. He's simply not going to devote a day to one or the other.

MATTINGLY: Yes, and you make an interesting point about kind of -- there is a balance for Democrats right now in terms of how do -- do you go all in on the white supremacist angle.

And it's something Eugene Daniels (ph) wrote in "The Washington Post", not boldly addressing racism, one of the most discussed issues in politics is bound to upset black voters, arguably the most influential demographic in the Democratic Party, but boldly attacking Trump could backfire if potential voters feel implicated by the criticism.

I have heard that from a number of Democrats of terms of, right, how do we thread this needle here going into 2020? Is that kind of your assessment of things too?

KAPUR: Yes. I mean, it's a complex issue for Democrats. Not clear how this plays, of course, because there's a base for them to mobilize. There is also a base for President Trump when they hear this stuff, I think they get fired up about it.

But what Democrats are motivated by here I think is polls that show a majority of the country believes the president is racist, a majority of the country believes the president has not done enough to distance himself from white supremacists and actual white nationalists are saying the president is furthering their cause. And they like things about his rhetoric and some positions that he's taking on issues like immigrations.

So, Democrats look at that, they look how their voters are responding. They feel the need to channel those sentiments, so they're trying to win their support in the primary.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's going to be interesting to watch. You made a key point. No one is totally sure how this is going to play. It's still early.

JOHNSON: I think it's risky for Democrats. It's one thing to say that the president hasn't appropriately condemned or distanced himself from white supremacists. It's another thing to call him a white supremacist, which is an attack on any of his supporters, many of whom they need to win over if they are going to win in 2020.

MATTINGLY: Yes, no question, something to keep an eye on.

All right. Up next, we head to the center of the political universe this week, the Iowa state fair. The 2020 presidential candidates ready to dive into that local cuisine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I saw the butter cow from a far. But I have not actually tried the fried butter, or the friend Oreo. I have been fasting all day to have it guilt-free.

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have a whole rift about health food. I don't know if this is the place to give that speech.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My intent is to be the first presidential candidate in American history to have at least one bite from every single food venue.

BOOKER: This is amazing. So, this is a peanut butter and jelly on a stick.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On a stick.

BOOKER: I think the best way to describe this, it's a little slice of heaven.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[08:26:05] REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And that's what I call Iowa nice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I love that Iowa nice.

GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have learned about Iowa nice.

Thanks for your Iowa nice.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: Iowa nice. Get it? It's pandering.

2020 Democrats working overtime to flatter those crucial Iowa voters this weekend. After all, Iowans have a reputation not only for being Iowa nice but also for helping to pick the eventual party nominee. Let's take a look at this, because this is actually really interesting. These are the winners of the Iowa caucuses over the course of the last eight election cycles.

All right. Take a look. Here's who actually ended up becoming the nominee, six of those eight. And we have an asterisk because Tom Harkin because he's an Iowa senator who's basically uncontested primary. So, Iowa picks winners in the Iowa primary.

That is why you see so many current candidates spending so much time here, none more so than John Delaney, 69 visits to the state, basically living there for the last two years. Andrew Yang has been there a bunch, too.

Though if you scroll down, something is kind of interesting when you go through the numbers. One of the lowest attendees up to this point, Joe Biden, the current frontrunner. Expect that's going to change a little bit over the course of the next couple of weeks.

So, let's actually take a look then at where all the polling is right now. Joe Biden, in a change since April at 28 percent, still the clear frontrunner, up about one point in the last couple of months.

Elizabeth Warren, though, up 12 points to 19 percent. We're going to talk a little bit more about this, because there is a reason. And you saw it over the course of this weekend.

Now let's take a look at first and second choice because this is important when you talk about the Iowa caucuses. Joe Biden, first and second choice, 40 percent. Elizabeth Warren, first and choice, 38 percent, just two points below. Kamala Harris, also very strong as well.

What this all means when you look at it right now is Joe Biden, yes, clearly the front-runner in Iowa as he is with national polls. But keep a very close eye on Elizabeth Warren. Anybody who is in Iowa this week can tell you, she's moving. People are paying attention and the numbers are starting to show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm at the Iowa state fair! Woo!

BULLOCK: Only been in this race for about 10 weeks, eighth trip to Iowa.

BUTTIGIEG: This is a great place to remind the country and each other that there is no such thing as a permanently red state or county.

WANG: You take this responsibility very seriously. I love you for you. You're a bit spoiled. You are kind of used to presidential candidates showing up in, you know, like your living room essentially.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: I love the Iowa state fair.

Bender, don't worry, we're going to do mutton busting on set. But I said, let's hold on. We have a helmet for you. We want to keep you safe.

BENDER: All right.

MATTINGLY: So, look, this is obviously a big weekend. It is kind of a must do for any political reporter and obviously candidates itself. What's your read right now on the state of play in of Iowa?

BALL: Well, first, someone needs to tell these candidates what Iowa nice really means. That Midwest nice isn't really nice. It means you are burying your feelings and acting nice openly.

And that maybe a metaphor for how these candidates are being received. The voters are very polite to your face. That may not what they tell a pollster.

I think as you said, there is clearly a feeling that Elizabeth Warren is on the move. Her campaign has always put heavy emphasis on Iowa. They believe that she has this sort of prairie populism that can appeal to not only the liberal activists who are very strong in the Iowa caucuses, but also to sort of more rural voters, you know, farmers, working people who might respond to her economic appeal.

And she also has had a very interesting trajectory. There is a sort of tortoise and the hare thing going on here, right? Where she's been slow and steady, she has been building credibility in voters' minds less about one big moment and more about people gradually sort of turning to her appeal, her plans, substantive thing.

But we still see Biden in very strong position, and all the other candidates are trying to figure out what, if anything, is going to dislodge him. And they haven't found it out yet.

[08:30:00] So you do see some other candidates consolidating support. A lot of that is just voters being interested in this very large pool of candidates and trying to narrow it down, starting to gravitate toward the same group of sort of first-year candidates.

But I think there's a lot that's going to happen between now and the Iowa caucus and it's very much in flux.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: Yes. Nothing is gelled. Everything is very much in flux. You make a good point and you talk to people on the ground there.

Elizabeth Warren's field operation is for real. And people shouldn't sleep on that. And I think that is showing right now.

The missing Joe Biden -- what could bring Joe Biden down in Iowa or nationally? We had yesterday talking about kind of these slips that he has where yesterday he talked about he was vice president when the Parkland kids came up after the shooting. He was not vice president when that occurred.

There was also this comment that he made. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We had this notion that somehow if you're poor you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids, wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids. No I really mean it. But think about it. We think no, we're going to dumb it down. They can do anything anybody else can do given a shot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: His campaign said immediately after, he misspoke. He immediately corrected himself. He did.

But it's one of those things where you see it and you see it kind of repeatedly on the stump. And you think is this -- what's going on? Is this just baked in, I guess, is the question at this point? Or is this going to be a problem at some point?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: You know I think like with Trump, being unable to ignore criticism, Biden has had a bunch of these senior moments. And I think now, you sort of have to assume this is who he is as a candidate in the same way the President is who he is. He's not going to let shots taken go unanswered.

And it doesn't seem to be affecting Biden. His place in this field seems to be pretty well-established thus far. I mean anything can happen.

But candidates seem to sort of be at this point -- or voters, excuse me, at this point seem to be fairly comfortable with this Joe Biden.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And this Joe Biden continues to show in national polls that he beats President Trump by a large margin or sizable margin. I think that probably has an effect on things.

One other thing I was interested in. Kamala Harris's campaign launched their first Ad buy. Let's just -- not a huge Ad buy but an Ad buy in Des Moines over the weekend. Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: After we were fed and in bed, our mother would sit up trying to figure out how to make it all work.

That's what I'm fighting for. Real relief for families like yours. Not in 20 years, not in 30. Starting my first day as president. Because you've waited long enough to get a good night's sleep.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: You have Ad buy. You clearly had crowds that are paying very close attention to her over the course of this weekend. She's buying pork chops on a stick six at a time. That's obviously big in Iowa.

What's your read right now where the Harris campaign is specifically in Iowa.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: Yes. There is that personal story that she suggested she would want to talk a little bit more about after that first debate moment. You know, when she said that little girl was me. Talked about desegregation and bussing.

So I think that's a big part of what she's trying to do. She's been up and down in the polls. She had that big surge up in the first debate and then she's kind of back to where she was before.

So I think the Harris campaign is looking at that and thinking what can we do going forward. The personal story worked for her then.

She has not naturally been doing this on the stump. It does not come naturally to her to talk about herself. And I think there's a bit of a back story to a lot of that but she's trying. I think people want to know where you're coming from, why you are supporting these things and whether there is enough conviction behind them to go.

MATTINGLY: Bender -- you're a veteran of campaigns. You're a veteran of covering the caucuses. When does it become real in Iowa? Are we there yet?

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": I think we are close to being there. I mean for all -- this summer -- this summer the story I think has been Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris. What they're doing to position themselves to take over the lead from Biden.

They haven't done that yet. And it kind of reminds me of 2016 where Trump was at the top of the polls and all the conversation was who was going to eventually take over from him. Who was best positioned to take over the lead?

And at some point that lead stuck and that lead became the nomination. I think you hit the nail on the head earlier with the idea of Biden being able to beat Trump.

My colleague Michelle Hackman did a story over the weekend about Trump's soft polling with seniors -- a crucial electorate -- slice of the electorate with Republicans. And one of the best quotes in the story I thought was with a truck driver from Indiana who said "Right now I'm a Biden man. But the only reason I am is because according to all the polls he can beat Trump."

As long as Biden can hold onto that, this may be the trendline we see for the next few months.

MATTINGLY: And if he doesn't, watch out. There's a lot of people waiting.

All right. Up next, 2020 candidates at risk of watching the next debate from home, not the stage.

[08:34:48] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTINGLY: Let's turn now to some "Sunday Trail Mix" for a taste of the 2020 campaign. Now, the third Democratic presidential debate is just a month away and half of the field could be watching from home. The rule says candidates must hit 2 percent in four different early state or national polls and have 130,000 individual donors. The ones who haven't met that criteria probably spent the weekend practically begging Iowans for just a tiny bit of support.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP TIM RYAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a pleasure to speed date with you here today. If you want a second date you can go to timryanforAmerica.com.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you know anybody who has a dollar after eating all the corn dogs here, ask him to send it to JayInslee.com.

MARIANNE WILLIAMSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Please know that there are powerful forces that do not want me to be in the third debate.

JOHN DELANEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been to all 99 of your counties. Come on, all 99 counties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: All right. Sahil -- name the powerful forces -- no. So talking about the next debate, obviously we all expect the field to winnow (ph) down at least once on stage. How many do you think actually end up there based on where they currently stand?

KAPUR: So far there are nine, I believe, that are qualified at the next debate. There may be a few more. But I think this is do or die time. If you're not on the debate stage, you're not in the minds of people and you're not really going to be able to make your case when it matters and I think you kind of fall away.

Regardless, the party hasn't winnowed the field yet, but voters already have. The field is stratified into a clear top four in almost every poll nationally and state. There is a fifth kind of hanging around. Everyone else is at 2 percent or less.

I think what the candidates at the undercard need to do is go after the person who has their supporters, their potential supporters. John Delaney, John Hickenlooper went after Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They're not going to win any support from there. They didn't go after Joe Biden who's winning those middle-of-the-road Democrats.

Will they do that. I really don't know but that's their path. MATTINGLY: Yes. It's an interesting question. How long do people stay in? How long do they have the money to stay in. Will one dollar at a time besides get them to the 130,000 mark actually be able to finance a campaign.

There is also this strategy from Senator Michael Bennet who hasn't qualified yet as well. He tweeted out, "If you elect me president, I promise you won't have to think about me for two weeks at a time. I'll do my job watching out for North Korea and ending this trade war so you can go raise your kids and live your lives."

[08:40:04] Essentially "I will be boring -- isn't everybody tired of the last two and a half years?"

KAPUR: I think there are some who that will appeal to.

MATTINGLY: I think so, yes. Some of them might be reporters who are a little tired after the last four years.

All right. Up next, President Trump appears to take the side of Kim Jong-un over his own military commanders.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTINGLY: President Trump appears to be siding with Kim Jong-un over his own military and some of America's closest allies.

On Saturday, North Korea launched short-range missiles for the fifth time in the past three weeks. The regime said it's a brand-new type of weapon. The state news agency released these pictures of a smiling Kim Jong-un looking on.

[08:44:53] Now, Trump says it isn't a big deal because they aren't long range missiles and aren't nuclear. Hours earlier Trump said he received a quote, "beautiful hand-written letter from Kim and then repeated Kim's complaints about the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises that U.S. commanders and a lot of lawmakers call essential to regional security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He wasn't happy with the tests -- the war games. The war games on the other side with the United States. And I think you know, I have never liked it either. I've never liked it. I've never been a fan.

You know why? I don't like paying for it. We should be reimbursed for it. I told that to South Korea. But I don't like it either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: And in a follow-up pair of tweets about Kim's letter, Trump referred again to the quote, "ridiculous and expensive exercises" and said quote, "I look forward to seeing Kim Jong-un in the not too distant future." Now first -- to start, the missile tests, while they might not be nuclear or long range, they are all violations of U.N. resolutions which I think is obviously something that's important to say here.

Walk me through where the President is right now on North Korea, period.

JOHNSON: So these are ballistic missile tests. And as you said, a violation of U.N. resolutions. The President essentially says I don't care because they're not a threat to American national security.

This is a president who doesn't see alliances as part of American power or as part of I think what's important, a part of something important to the preservation of American national security.

And so he is saying he doesn't care they are a threat to Japanese national security or to South Korean national security. Traditionally, some of our most important allies. So this has caused a lot of trepidation in Japan and in South Korea.

What the President wants is further negotiation with Kim Jong-un and so he's -- he wants to set aside the violation of these U.N. resolutions in the service of getting back to the table with Kim for a third summit.

MATTINGLY: Yes. look, he's consistent. He has been like this on the military exercises for a long period of time. He's used them as a kind of carrot and stick throughout the course of the negotiations. Then we'll (INAUDIBLE)

But one thing I want to point to Bender -- is the top ranks of the intelligence community kind of departed or is in the process of departing with all of this going on right now.

Sue Gordon resigned, his deputy intelligence director. You might not know her name. But at least on Capitol Hill, and at least in the intelligence community, very well-known and very well, respected.

And in her note to the President saying she was going to resign, "Mr. President, I offer this letter as an act of respect and patriotism not preference. You should have your team."

In other words, she was forced out -- there's no question about it. Where do things stand right now in terms of DNI in kind of the intelligence structure?

BENDER: Well, we have a ways to go before we have a new -- we have a replacement at DNI. And it's going to be closely watched here for a while and for a number of reasons, including what we were seeing in North Korea and how things are unfolding in North Korea.

You mentioned how Trump has kind of departed from his general and his allies. The same goes with intel for the last few years here. But he also comes at it from -- that these sort of institutions haven't gotten the job done before him. And so it is his -- you know, new way of thinking here, his different approach can't hurt the situation. MATTINGLY: Yes. it's where he's been. It's where he is going to

continue to be.

All right. Our reporters share from their notebooks next, including whether anyone wants to be President Trump's next ambassador to Russia.

[08:48:21] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTINGLY: Time now for our reporters to share a page from the notebook to help get you out in front of the news this week.

Eliana -- I'll start with you.

JOHNSON: I'm watching who will replace Jon Huntsman as U.S. ambassador to Russia. The position has a pretty storied history with some notable dignitaries serving in that post going back to George Kennan and Averell Harriman.

But I think it's become a less enjoyable and perhaps elite position in the Trump administration because of all the questions that have dogged this president about his relationship with Vladimir Putin. And any progress that is made in the relationship, I think, is cast with questions about the President's relationship with Putin.

So it will be interesting to see, I think, who replaces Huntsman. There is some talk about Stephen Biegun who is now leading the negotiations with North Korea replacing Huntsman which says something I think about how the talks with North Korea are going and perhaps that is even less enjoyable, I suppose, than serving as the chief emissary to Russia.

MATTINGLY: Low bar, I think. Quite a balancing act.

Sahil.

KAPUR: So Senator Lindsey Graham kicked up a little bit of a storm earlier in the week when he said Republicans would take another stab at repealing Obamacare if they win full control in 2021 and I just to throw a little bit of cold water on this.

I spoke to some several senior Republican aides who said it is unlikely to happen. One of them actually texted me back a laughing face emotion when I asked about that possibility. The one said it's just Lindsey being Lindsey. They don't want this to be the conversation. And they want to stay focused on Democratic proposals on Medicare for all, they believe that is a good conversation for them and they don't want a repeat of 2018 when the issue of the ACA and preexisting conditions was the disaster for them.

MATTINGLY: The emoji response from sources. Always enjoyable.

Bender -- what have you got.

BENDER: Beware the (INAUDIBLE) Mr. Phil. The President is in --at his summer retweet this week. But that usually hardly means a break from the emoji response.

He was in Bedminster in 2017 where he first reacted as blood or (INAUDIBLE) and when he threatened Kim Jong-un with fire and fury, last year during the summer break. You attacked Lebron James and called for a boycott of Harley-Davidson.

Now Trump's poll numbers tend to pick up a little bit when he can stay out of the news. So what I'm watching for this week is if the President could get a little bit of R&R or and continuous summer of unforced errors from a controversial performance this week, this past week in El Paso and Dayton and the racist tweets he posted while we were sitting at this very table a few weeks ago.

MATTINGLY: Steel yourselves for tweets. Molly.

BALL: Impeachment. Is it happening or not? There have been some mixed signals being sent by the Democrats in the House recently. As you've had the Judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler and others saying that, in fact, impeachment is already underway even though the House where a majority of Democrats now do support opening an impeachment inquiry never had what usually is considered the opening of an impeachment inquiry, the full vote on the House floor about whether to go in that direction.

So, you know, Democrats are -- remember the congress are back in their districts for the summer recess and some members are kind of confused about what's going on here with the leadership saying actually nothing has changed, nothing to see here.

[08:55:02] Is this some kind of clever strategy? Are they trying to have it both says by mollifying the pro-impeachment base, while at the same time not setting off the President or his allies with a big announcement.

So meanwhile, Chairman Nadler has set out a very ambitious timeline saying he expects to get court decisions on some of these litigation for the investigation, get some more witnesses before the committees in the fall and potentially have a vote on impeachment by the end of the year, some skepticism about that and more than anything, confusion.

So I think when the Congress returns after Labor Day, you can expect some questions about what is actually going on here.

MATTINGLY: No question about it. Impeachment, in the eye of the beholder apparently.

All right. I'll close with this. About a decade ago, I got in the habit of asking lawmakers and aides what they'd be watching during the August recess. This time around I've really been struck by kind of the acute and growing uneasiness with the state of global affairs.

Among the issues raised to me in the past few weeks: China on two fronts, trade, of course, it's posture towards unrest in Hong Kong; Iran; we just discussed North Korea; South Korea and Japan; along with their own historic tensions now which has essentially diplomatic relations.

Pakistan and India where the Indian government moved to wipe out the economy of the restive and disputed Kashmir region has put rival nuclear powers and the region on edge once again. Afghanistan, peace talks continue but so do Taliban attacks. ISIS, a Pentagon IG report this week said the group has quote, "solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was resurging in Syria".

Also mentioned: Turkey, Yemen, Venezuela, Brexit. As one Senator summed it up for me this week, quote, "There is just a hell of a lot going on right now that could become a much bigger problem.

Let that be a good reminder. August is rarely as sedentary as the empty halls of the capitol would make you believe.

All right. That is it for INSIDE POLITICS. Hope you can catch us week days as well at noon Eastern.

Up next "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper. His guests include presidential candidates Beto O'Rourke and Cory Booker plus President Trump's border enforcement chief Mark Morgan.

Thanks again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Have a good one.

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