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Trump Sparks Confusion; Trump Reverses on Background Checks; Inslee Drops out of Race; Sanders on Unions and Health Care. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired August 22, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:29] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Inside whiplash week at the White House. The president contradicts himself on guns and the economy, stoking confusion and raising questions about his behavior.

Plus, Bernie Sanders offers his version of a green new deal and he has a new twist to Medicare for all to deal with complaints from unions who like their employer-provided health care.

And the Democratic field loses Governor Jay Inslee, but still has 20 plus active candidates. Theirs search for attention might interrupt your drive time play list.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hello, Spotify, I'm Mayor Pete Buttigieg from South Bend, Indiana, and I'm running for president because our country is running out of time. But it's not too late.

Hello, Spotify, I'm Mayor Pete Buttigieg. We're living in a moment that's even more serious than what the Trump presidency represents.


KING: Back to 2020 a big later and a lot to tackle this hour.

But we begin with the mixed messages of the president and the headlines they are creating. Let's do a quick scan. This is just today from "The Washington Post." Trump's week, a snub, a rollback, a divisive comment and much confusion. In "Politico," Trump's whiplash week. "The New York Times," economic anxiety among voters is a sign of vulnerability for Trump. And from "The Guardian," quote, I am the chosen one, with boasts and insults, Trump sets new benchmark for incoherence.

Confusion, whiplash, vulnerability, incoherence, not the kind of rhetoric or headlines you want tossed around if your mood often depends on your media coverage, or if you're a first-term president facing re-election.

With me to share their reporting and their insights on an interesting week at the White House, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Carl Hulse with "The New York Times," Matt Viser with "The Washington Post," and "The Wall Street Journal's" Tarini Parti.

You were part of the scrum yesterday with the president where he contradicted several things that he had said just the day before. And, again, if you're Republicans on Capitol Hill and you're wondering, is the president going to make us take tough votes on guns, you need clarity and consistency, you're not getting it. If you're trying to figure out, does the president have a plan as it economy teeters, possibly near recession, what is his plan, he's all over the map.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You're seeing all the reporting about what's been going on in the White House and in President Trump's mind and what he's been hearing come true. Where you saw there are multiple people lobbying him on gun control, where he was going to go with that. That's why you're seeing the president flip-flop back and forth in between those, even in just a matter of hours talking about background checks.

The economy. There was reported that they did not have a backup plan if there was going to be a recession or what they were going to do to stave off this economic downturn, and then now you're seeing the president saying one day, yes, I support a payroll tax cut, and the next day he says, actually, I'm not looking at that right now, or capital gains indexing.

And so you're seeing this president go back and forth on things while he's trying to express confidence that he's, a, got Republicans on board with him on gun control, even though they're worried to come out in support of anything because they're worried he'll back off of it. And, b, he's saying that the economy is fine, but we know behind the scenes that they're actually fretting about it.

KING: And so let's go through some of it, and let's start with the economy. And, again, this is great political chatter here in Washington, what is the plan, do they have a plan, why do they keep switching. But it's a lot more than that. If you're a farmer and you're trying to figure out, should I borrow money and plant big next year or is the trade war going to keep going on? If you're an investor trying to figure out, what will the administration do if the Fed won't cut interest rates again or cuts them a little bit and the economy is still slowing? Is the administration going to do more to try to juice the economy to keep it out of recession.

If you're looking for an answer this week, you are confused.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A payroll tax is something that we think about. And a lot of people would like to see that. That very much affects the working -- the workers of our country.

So we're talking about indexing and we're always looking at the capital gains tax, payroll tax.


KING: The president says he's always. Now he says he's not.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, that was actually an interesting pivot for me this week, from going to always to never. So it's really hard to figure out what the president's up to. This is all just kind of based on his last conversation.

Here's an interesting thing, John, that I -- so I was reporting on guns yesterday. And I've talked to multiple Republican senators and staff. And they're kind of just ignoring this right now, because they say we -- we're not going to be able to figure this out until we get back. They say there's actual serious discussions going on with the White House staff. They're trying to figure something out.

So I think, you know, we've gotten used to this a little bit and people are just saying, well, we have to ignore it and kind of go on our own and then see what happens, you know, at the moment where you have to make a real decision.

KING: Right. And so on -- at the moment when you have to make a real decision. But if you're -- if you're Cory Gardner, you're a Republican, you're up in Colorado, you've got the suburbs to worry about. You might be thinking, maybe we should do something on background checks. You -- there's a rural part of that state, too. He has to be careful. But you're thinking, maybe we should do something. Other senators are saying it's not necessary. There are -- as the president, you know, says there are some laws in place.

[12:05:11] But -- so you're looking to the president. What should we do? And is he going to ask us? Is he going to push us to do something?

Again, let's check in on the last few days and if you're looking for an answer, you're confused.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking to do background checks. I think background checks are important.

People don't realize, we have very strong background checks right now.

And I have to tell you that it is a mental problem. And I've said it a hundred times, it's not the gun that pulls the trigger, it's the person that pulls the trigger.

I have an appetite for background checks. We're going to be doing background checks.


KING: I mean, number one, it's just -- that's the same guy in the span of 72 hours for the most part. But imagine if you're -- if you are Cory Gardner, if you are Susan Collins, you're a venerable Republican. You have to hide. You can't go out and answer questions because -- unless you're willing to stake your position and not change no matter what. If you're sort of not sure yourself and you're thinking, let's see what the president wants, what are you going to do?

MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And you've seen that even among White House aides sort of being undercut by President Trump, which is not a new thing. He's always -- he's never sort of had this ideological core where he's pushing sort of one thing consistently. He's awfully flexible. And we're seeing that in real-time this week in sort of a microscope that you don't normally see. Usually you see one issue, him sort of maneuvering on now. It's multiple issues making it really confusing for any politician trying to get in line with the president. It's hard for his opponents to figure out how to counter him. Joe Biden has talked about some of the tax policies that President Trump is talking about. It's hard for them to sort of fully go after it because they don't know exactly where he stands on so many different things.

KING: And, remember, in 2016, he bragged about how he likes to be unpredictable, but there are some issues, a, if your party's trying to defend its Senate majority, b, if the country's looking to see if you have a plan when -- as the economy slows to keep it out of recession. There are some issues where consistency and clarity would actually be helpful.

TARINI PARTI, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": I think on the background checks issue in particular, it's especially tricky because there's overwhelming support for background checks. We had a "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll earlier this week that showed that there's, you know, 90 percent of people support background checks in some way or form. So, you know, for a lot of these vulnerable Republicans and for President Trump to sort of politically counter what is -- you know, seems to be a majority of people supporting an issue, I think it's going to be very interesting to see how he keeps trying to do that while also appeasing his base in the NRA.

KING: And you hear, and you do this first hand, those of you who cover the White House, that, you know, the president, he's -- you know, he's concerned, some say rattled, by these mixed signals from the economy. Is the economy going to tip into recession or near recession, just as the president gets close to re-election.

Again, our last one-term president, I'm a broken record on this, was George H.W. Bush, who had a very -- relatively mild recession a year before he ran for re-election, but he kept trying to tell people it was over and they didn't believe him. So there is history to tell you if you're President Trump, or whatever your name is as president, you don't want this to happen.

And just in recent days, the Labor Department revising downward job -- recent job gains. So the economy a little bit weaker than previously reported. Another yield curve inversion. That's usually a warning sign of a potential recession.

And talking about the president's tools to deal with this, one of them could be spending, government spending, to stimulate the economy. But the budget deficit is about to hit a trillion dollars. So a lot of conservatives would be up in arms if suddenly deficit spending was the way to juice the economy.

HULSE: Well, especially if you're going to spend it buying Greenland, right? So I'm not sure what the -- I'm not sure what the impact that would have been --

KING: That was nasty.

HULSE: On our -- our -- you know, I think this is what's really got them. And I think they -- they are reading the same poll numbers we're reading. His numbers are not good right now. He's rising -- his disapproval is really going up. They know that. And I think they're rattled. I -- I -- he's trying to figure a way out.

KING: To that point, a brand-new Monmouth poll out this hour, should the president be re-elected or is it time for someone else? Thirty- nine percent, so four in 10 Americans say re-elect the president. Nearly six in 10 say, time for someone else.

The election's a long way off. This president has proven he can bend poll numbers. But that's a bad number. The mood of the country, you start the election season with the mood of the country being, we're looking. Not, we like the incumbent, but we're looking.

And here's another one here. And this one especially. We have 3.7 percent unemployment in the country. The economy is doing well since day one of the Trump administration. He inherited a strong economy. But are we going in the right direction or on the wrong track? Only 28 percent of Americans think the country is going in the right direction. More than six in 10. Which means a lot of Republicans say the country is on the wrong track. That is not a good number to re- elect an incumbent.

VISER: And the swing districts in that poll, too, there are 300 swing districts that they polled, and those numbers, in those districts, Trump generally did well in 2016. But he's only has sort of 37 percent support in those right now. So you talked about Cory Gardner, those kind of people who are trying to win over those swing districts at a time when Trump is sort of dragging them down, and with bad signs on the economy on the horizon.

[12:10:01] COLLINS: And it all goes back to the economy because of those people who do approve of the job that the president is doing, one of their main reasons is the economy. That's what he banks on time and time again. Despite what will he tweets, how -- what world leader he insults, what policy he flip-flops and reverses on, the president has repeatedly gone back to the economy. And when we talk to people at his rallies, we say, does it bother you when he sends a tweet about a Congress or a lawmaker saying this? What does -- what is your response to that? They point to the economy. They say we're doing well.

So the White House knows, if they lose that, it's going to be really difficult for them to make the argument for why he should be re- elected. KING: And we saw in 2018 the erratic behavior of the president, his

combustible tweets and the like were a factor in the Democratic (INAUDIBLE) 2018. The president says it will be different when he's on the ballot in 2020. That's a test that we will get to in the months ahead.

Just into CNN, some new developments in the investigation into Jeffrey Epstein's suicide. A source telling CNN, as many as 20 correctional officers at the Metropolitan Correctional Center were hid with grand jury subpoenas on Friday. Investigators want to re-create the events from the night of Epstein's death and believe the subpoenas are key to building a comprehensive account of what happened and how correctional officers failed to keep Epstein alive. The source also telling CNN more subpoenas could be in the work as that investigation continues.

Up next for us, the candidate who centered his campaign on climate change bows out of the race.

And if you have any questions for today's political group here, tweet them using the #insidepolitics. We might answer them at the end of the program.

Be right back.


[12:16:03] KING: The governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, quickly moving on to his next chapter. He bowed out of the Democrat race for president last night. Just moments ago, sent out official word he plans to seek a third term as Washington state's governor.

Inslee bowing out, but the Democratic field remains still quite crowded. There are 22 candidates still in the race. Some, like Mayor Messam (ph), don't campaign that actively, but officially still a candidate. Twenty-two candidates still in the Democratic race.

Now, when will the winnowing come? By the end of the year you'll see it quite significantly. Only 10, these 10, have qualified for round three of the Democratic debates. That's next month in Houston. It's possible one or two more could. The deadline is next week. But right now these ten have qualified for the next debate. It's hard to keep oxygen in the race if you're not on the debate stage. Round four will be in October. We'll see. We could have more candidates by then.

The interesting thing, despite all these candidates is, the same five have been the top five going back to June. That would be former Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. These have been the top five, no Biden's way up here, Buttigieg and Harris in recent polls have fallen down to here. But the top five as the other candidates try to break through, and that has been the problem. Eric Swalwell wanted to run on gun issues. He dropped out. Couldn't break through. Jay Inslee conceding last night, I tried, I wanted to make climate change the big issue. He says, just couldn't break through.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA): We had 130,000 people help me in the campaign. But it's become clear that I'm not going to be carrying the ball. I'm not going to be the president. So I'm withdrawing tonight from the race.

But I have to tell you, look, I've been fighting climate change for 25 years and I've never been so confident of the ability of America now to reach critical mass to move the ball. I believe we are going to have a candidate to fight this battle.


KING: Is there a lesson here? Is it just a candidate? Interesting guy. Governors usually thrive in presidential politics. Not in this cycle, it appears. There's only one governor left. Is that the lesson? Is there something else, or just in a crowded field he got in late, couldn't find his place?

VISER: I think it's probably that. In a crowded field, you need to stand out. And governors -- I mean I am struck that the governors are just not faring well in this. And accomplished governors from important states. And, you know, Inslee has this single issue of climate change that he was really pushing that just did not catch on in a broad way.

I think also you should think about, with some of these candidates, the sense of pride that they've sort of lost. And they have another job to sort of go to. Where Hickenlooper's now running for senate in Colorado. And Inslee will run for governor. They had something else to go to. So they had a reason to drop out.

KING: Right. And he makes a point. I mean my first campaign was covering Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. I was a statehouse guy there, ended up moving to Washington.

Governor Inslee's point, he says, number one, that local politicians don't get as much media coverage. That newspapers have retreated, a lot of media has retreated covering local stuff. And I think another factor is, in the Trump age, so much of the political conversation has now moved to Washington. Even pre-Donald Trump, but especially now in the Trump presidency.

He says in -- to "New York Magazine," the way this campaign was set up favored those who had name ID early, the debate rules I mean, set up to eliminate the prospects of those who did not. So would Bill Clinton and Jim Carter have thrived under these rules? He asked the question. Also, going forward, governors can't roll over campaign donations like senators can to have more money.

Two valid points. But Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton also had much smaller fields back when they were running. I think the size of this field has made it very hard.

PARTI: I think the financial advantage that he mentioned is actually a real thing that we're seeing. We've seen nine of House representatives and senators transfer more than $40 million to their presidential campaign committees. This is something that governors can't do because they don't have federal campaign committees. And this is something that we saw Kristin Gillibrand do. She has, you know, transferred about $10 million. And even through she's not fundraising as much, she's been able to use that money to establish her presidential campaign.

So I think that is a -- that is a valid point. And that's something that Hickenlooper -- Governor Hickenlooper, who also dropped out, brought up as well.

[12:20:01] KING: And I don't know how long he can survive. But one of the interesting candidates, if you will, one of the outsider candidates, Andrew Yang, throwing some shade at some of the others. This is in a tweet. Eric Swalwell, John Hickenlooper and Jay Inslee all have other races to join. It does make one wonder who else would drop out in the days to come. I hope some of these supporters decide to come our way.

I mean I, you know, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say, Andrew Yang's unlikely to be the Democratic nominee for president. But -- but, again, if you're an established politician and you're looking at Andrew Yang or Marianne Williamson ahead of you in the polls, is there not a message in that?

HULSE: Well, social media, and the ability to attract attention. Some of these governors, you know, they're fairly -- I don't want to say staid, maybe that's not the right word, but they're pretty establishment and they don't want to be too provocative, and that costs them a little bit. I mean the ability to go out there and churn and get some attention helps these other candidates.

COLLINS: And the intimidation about, if you have another job you can go do, run for governor, run for Senate, is an interesting one that could appeal to voters who they see that this field is so crowded it's hard for people who are working regular jobs and not paying attention to it all day to distinguish which candidate is who and which one is on which platform. They might have that attitude as well. You saw it with people like Beto O'Rourke, where people were saying he should drop out, run for John Cornyn's Senate seat. You're going to potentially see that attitude among voters as, you can go do this other job, you can be a governor, you can be a senator, you can do whatever, let these other people who are the frontrunners stay and continue to be in the race so that we don't end up with this watered down field to where they don't have someone who can defeat Donald Trump.

HULSE: I still think this was good for Jay Inslee, though. It got him out there on the national stage. He's a fairly young guy. I think he's got a future. And certainly if the Democrats win. So it's also this, what's the -- what's the downside of running in these crowded fields? You can stay in there for a while, get some national attention.

KING: And I think he made a call that if there is a down side, sometimes you --

HULSE: He was getting close to it. KING: Sometimes you get punished back home if it's all of a sudden don't -- what about -- you don't care about your day job. I think he made the call, if I'm -- if I'm not going to be -- get the nomination, and I want to run for re-election, it's time to go. We'll see how that one plays out.

Up next for us, Bernie Sanders unveils an expensive plan to combat climate change. And he offers up a health care compromise to union workers.


[12:26:51] KING: Bernie Sanders making clear today he is all in on the green new deal. The Vermont senator unveiling his $16 trillion version to combat climate change earlier today. It targets the fossil fuel industry, calls for 100 percent renewable energy for electricity and transportation by 2030. There are steep cuts to carbon emissions in the plan. Investments in solar energy and the electrical grid. And the creation, Senator Sanders promises, of 20 million new union jobs. The focus on unions is also driving an important shift with another Sanders policy, Medicare for all. A lot of union workers like their employer provided plans and many unions have made concessions on wages and work rules in recent years to protect those health benefits. So Sanders is promising a tradeoff if he enacts his Medicare for all plan if elected president. Sanders says he would require companies with union health care plans to keep coverage for anything not handled by Medicare for all. And, he says, he would require those companies to pass on any savings in their health care costs to the union workers.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are talking to unions about this (INAUDIBLE). You're looking at perhaps the strongest pro-union member of the United States Congress. We're going to work with the unions on this issue.

What they will be able to do is take health care off the table because their members will have comprehensive health care as a human right, as will every other American. And then they can sit down and negotiate for decent wages and decent benefits.


KING: Now, this has caused the additional help for union workers here. Sanders campaign says he is not and how dare you suggest he's changing his plan Medicare for all. They say he's just doing something on the side to deal with the union issues here.

This has caused a bit of a stir today in the field. They're attacking your newspaper, saying you've got the story wrong. We can put up some of these tweets actually. The staff director, @washingtonpost, you had asked for off the record comment on this bogus headline, well, here it goes, bullshit. The policy director, stories factually wrong throughout. David Sorota (ph), Sanders' adviser, taking issue with Jeff Bezos, say this is all about Jeff Bezos. It is a fact that Sanders, no, he's not changing his Medicare for all

bill, but he's doing something on the side to deal with complaints about it and some of the other candidates are saying, hey, wait a minute, Kamala Harris, for example, her communications director out there when she amended her Medicare for all plan. Sanders essentially said, you're not being pure here. You got to do it my way or you're not doing it the right way. Lilly Adams saying, oh, how interesting. I thought no one was allowed to make any changes to Medicare for all, at all, ever.

VISER: I mean clearly it's a concession from Sanders from the heat that he was getting from labor unions. You saw him allude to his support from labor unions in that press exchange yesterday. And this was causing a problem. I think a lot of union members like their negotiated health care plans. And that's been the crux of a problem for a lot of people in getting on board with Medicare for all. Sanders is attempting to win them back with this -- with this concession. He may not be wholly changing his Medicare for all plan, but he is trying to sort of tweak the way that he talks about it in order to get that support.

KING: And to that point, Joe Biden speaking to the same union conference saying Medicare for all would take away your employer- provided health care benefits. I won't.

[12:29:59] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Negotiated really hard for your benefits with your union, with the employer. And my plan, you get to keep it. You don't have to give it up.

You'll be able to keep