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INSIDE POLITICS

Poll: Majority of Voters Say Economy Is Getting Worse; Trump Trails Potential 2020 Opponents in New Poll; Trump: Fox News "Isn't Working For Us Anymore"; James Mattis Speaks Out in WSJ Essay; Biden Holds Sit Down with African-American Reporters. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: -- as consumer sentiment go south because businesses have become jittery because investors become jittery. So there is the possibility that this is also an indicator that the bad things are on the horizon, that all these recessions fear that we've been hearing about and that the president has been angrily blaming the media for. They're real. They exist in the minds of American voters. They exist in the premonitions of economists and forecasters who are really worried about, you know, between the trade war and the length of the economic expansion that potentially that expansion is going to end.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And I'm told that this isn't something that we're all just seeing when it comes to public polling. I'm told that this is a major and has been a growing concern, you know, point of frustration even inside the president's world because, you know, again, this is not a new idea that the president picks fights on everything in the world which drowns out economic news, which he has not been, from the perspective of a lot of people close to him, has not been touting enough.

And now the talk of recession seems to be getting a lot of headlines and he is still not getting traction on what should have been, according to people I'm talking to, in his world, the thing that he talked about nonstop instead of, you know, stepping on his own message for all this time.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, we've seen him venting about the economic news a lot. But yes, you're right, this new polling and sort of this increased anxiety over the economy really undercut the argument that a lot of his advisers were trying to make in some key areas that were sort of trouble spots for him. So, the suburbs, you know, women, undecided voters. A big pitch to a lot of those voters was -- and I mean, probably still be, but has been don't look so much at the tweets. Really focus your attention on the economy, focus it on your pocketbook, your bottom line.

And in talking to voters over the summer in some of those areas, I was out this summer in suburban Detroit, you know, suburban Philadelphia. He definitely did talk to people who were sort of, you know, on the fence but they said, well, you know, still my 401(k) looks really good. You know, the economic news has been good. And I think it's a big concern if those people start falling away. BASH: And this is one of the key questions about the president, then- candidate, now President Donald Trump blasting and blowing apart every political norm. The right track, wrong track trend has really been the indicator for whether a president is going to get re-elected or not, whether the party in or out of power is going to take the White House or not for such a long time. And my understanding in talking to sources is that this is actually a place where they think he is a traditional president. It is going to determine whether or not he will get re-elected.

FRANCO ORDONEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: In Trump's world, it is absolutely a big concern. I mean, as we're saying, you know, this is something that they acknowledge that many moderate Republicans would overlook some of the rhetoric. This would -- I was talking with one senior administration official who was telling me that the president has a lot of unfinished business, China, the USMCA, the trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. These are issues out that are still out there that haven't been completed.

It's the economy is the one thing that's kind of held them together, that kept the team together in a group. And if they lose that, they lose so much.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's been this persistent gap in polling if you look at Trump's overall approval rating and his approval on when it comes to his handling of the economy. So in our most recent Washington Post poll, it was in July, his overall approval rate was 44 percent but the economy was at 51 percent, which is pretty good. So it's that approval of what his -- of his handling of jobs issues, economic issues have kind of propped that approval rating up.

BASH: And again, in this poll this morning, that changed.

KIM: Exactly.

BASH: His disapproval number is higher than his approval number on the economy, which was the thing keeping him afloat.

KIM: And I think that you're seeing -- you're definitely seeing that sense of panic come over the president right now with the tweets, with the blaming us and whatnot. But also remember at his rally a couple of weeks ago in Manchester he's trying to make the point that you have no choice but to vote for me. Because if you vote for a Democrat, your 401(k)s will plummet and whatnot. So I think he is definitely starting to sense that.

BASH: And right now, people are not buying that. You mentioned women. I just want you to look at a couple of different data points from this poll this morning. First of all, just in the match-ups between President Trump and a series of Democratic candidates who are running to actually be the ones to be the nominee, they crush him.

I mean, Biden wins by 16, Sanders is 14, and so on and so on. Even down to Pete Buttigieg who according to this poll would beat the president by nine. But look what it says about white women. Biden would win among white women, 18. Same with Sanders. Double digits across the board.

LUCEY: Yes. This is --

BASH: That's what you're seeing here.

LUCEY: Exactly. This is a key group that they've been trying to figure out how to target.

[12:35:00] You've seen, you know, a variety of the campaign they're trying to do events with women, sort of push women surrogates out there. But it's a -- it is a challenge for them. These are -- I think what we saw in the midterms was a lot of women were not comfortable with the first two years. And when you go beyond talking about the economy, you hear a lot of concerns about the environment, about immigration policy, about, you know, family separations. And so there's a lot of issues where it's hard for them to connect to these voters on.

BASH: And we hear -- we talk a lot about rightly so, about working- class voters who helped get the president in the White House. Women were also an important factor and the fact that he's doing so poorly is definitely notable.

OK, everybody, stand by. Up next, this senator is announcing he is going to retire and sets off jockeying for 2020. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:40:16] BASH: Topping our political radar today, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley officially will be part of the president's re-election effort. A source tells CNN Haley will speak at a campaign fundraising event in October. This news comes after Haley herself brought up and swatted away rumors that she's angling to replace Vice President Mike Pence on the ticket. And said that Pence has her, quote, complete support.

And Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson says he'll resign his Senate seat at the end of the year. In a letter, the 74-year-old cites health challenges, revealing he fell in his Washington apartment in July while also acknowledging his Parkinson's is progressing. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp will appoint Isakson's replacement and a special election will follow in the fall of 2020. The loser in Georgia's 2018 gubernatorial race, Stacey Abrams, has already ruled out running for Isakson's seat.

And President Trump is going after Fox News. That's right. President Trump is going after Fox News today claiming that the network isn't doing enough to defend him. Here is what he tweeted. "Just watched Fox News heavily promoting the Democrats through their DNC communications director, spewing out whatever she wanted with zero pushback from anchor Sandra Smith Fox." The president went on to say the new Fox News is letting millions of great people down. "We have to start looking for a new news outlet. Fox isn't working anymore."

President Trump is referencing an interview today with the DNC communications director. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

XOCHITL HINOJOSA, DNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think there's a lot of enthusiasm right now. You're seeing large crowd sizes for a lot of our Democratic candidates. I think that anyone of these candidates will be a better president than Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: I mean, there's so much to unpack here. So much. Not pushing back on a person who they're interviewing? Hmm. I wonder where we've seen that before. Maybe it's with the president himself when he's been on the network? But I digress.

I am told that this is part of what you're seeing play out on Twitter. The president is unhappy since he's come back from the G7. He's unhappy with his coverage across the board, and that includes Fox News.

BALL: And he's literally saying -- he has this habit of putting into words the things that are only implied, right? And in this case, he's almost literally coming out and saying I expect you to be my propaganda organization.

BASH: Yes.

BALL: That's your job. Your job is not to report the news, your job is not to conduct intellectually honest polling, right, that actually depicts the state of the American electorate, which Fox has always done a very good job of. Their polling unit is very well respected, Trump doesn't like that.

Fox is a pretty conservative network. Liberals accused it of functionally being the president's propaganda organization. It is ironic and potentially a dangerous sign for Trump that even Fox is not sufficiently committed to him for the president's taste. You know, he demands absolute loyalty. He doesn't like to hear any dissenting views. To the credit of Fox's news unit they do offer opposing perspectives, they do allow, you know, Democrats to come on the air and offer their perspective. The president would like it to just be all pro-Trump all the time.

BASH: Yes, he would. And for the most part, at least at night, not with reporters we know, he gets that which why he is shocked, shocked when he sees that they're not completely toeing the line.

We'll talk more about that later. Up next, a former cabinet secretary, one of them speaks out and tries to explain why he left the Trump administration. It's new. We'll tell you about it after a break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:48:28] BASH: Former Defense Secretary James Mattis is speaking out for the first time since he left the Trump administration. The Wall Street Journal today published an essay adapted from Mattis' upcoming book. Mattis writes about how he was recruited to join President Trump's cabinet and why he left saying, quote, using every skill I had learned during my decades as a marine, I did as well as I could for as long as I could. When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies no longer resonated, it was time to resign.

Now, this is a fascinating op-ed, it will obviously be a really interesting book in today's in your face politics, maybe more subtle than we're used to. But he is a historian, he is a writer, he is a scholar. I think that's fair to say about him and he considers himself that. People also say that about him.

So, that's how he presents the very clear arguments when you read them. I'll just give you one more example. He says, "Alone, America cannot protect our people and our economy. At this time, we can see storm clouds gathering. A polemicist's role is not sufficient for a leader. A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble loomed."

LUCEY: Well, it's sort of an expansion of some of the things that we saw in his resignation letter.

BASH: Sure.

LUCEY: And I think one of these sentiments he does it's still diplomatic, it's respectful. It's an excellent read.

[12:50:00] And it doesn't directly name the president but he talks a lot about alliances, the value of allies in the world. And so some of the -- there are things in here that really read like a commentary on the America First foreign policy that you've seen, you know, President Trump embrace.

BASH: And for context, you remember, the president loved him. He loved the fact that his nickname was mad dog. It was very controversial because he had not -- he had retired not that long from the military, not that long before he was appointed as a civilian. They had to change the rules for him to do that. But for a while, he was part of the glue that everybody was hoping would stick and hold the foreign policy apparatus together. And then, like many others, he lost faith in the president and it was vice versa, particularly when the president changed the policy on Syria.

KIM: I mean, I can't tell you how many times I talked to Republican senators over the course of the Trump administration whenever there would be a foreign policy crisis or snafu or what have you, especially with President Trump on the world stage and they would tell me, well, we do sleep better knowing that Jim Mattis is on the job. We sleep better at night.

And that's why -- I mean, I've seen a lot of Republicans -- or I've seen Republican senators concerned very often over the last two and a half years, but never -- I mean, but one of the definite points of concern was when Mattis resigned. And if you recall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the time had a really stark statement. He said he was distressed that Mattis was leaving and under those conditions. And I think Republicans will definitely read that essay excerpt today and say this is why we had been concerned. And now they respect as per he's in place now but this is the really private and sometimes public concerns that they have had about President Trump for some time.

BASH: And like many former military leaders who are not allowed to say anything about politics and then are allowed to do so, particularly after they, in this case, he leaves the administration, he goes there on politics. He says, "All Americans need to recognize that our democracy is an experiment and one that can be reversed. We all know that we're better than our current politics. Tribalism must not be allowed to destroy our experiment."

ORDONEZ: I mean, (INAUDIBLE) he really articulated like issues that a lot of people in the administration are really weighing on. He talked about a breaking point. I talked to a lot of officials who tell me that they really question at what point are they contributing to, quote-unquote, the erosion that they think. They come in, they feel by being inside the tent they can do more, they can protect the influence of the United States.

But once you're kicked out, then you don't have that influence. So I was just talking with a Trump official today who said, look, I mean, it really weighs on you. When do you -- when are you helping and then when are you contributing to that erosion? When do you become a political actor?

BASH: Fascinating.

OK, everybody, stand by because up next, we're going to look at Joe Biden. He is hitting back at the president even shading some of his Democratic opponents in a new interview. We speak with one of the reporters who spoke to the former vice president, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:57:34] BASH: Ahead of campaign stops in South Carolina today, Joe Biden sat down with about a dozen African-American reporters from major media outlets, offering up his views on everything from institutional racism to the debate process to what he's looking for in a potential running mate.

I'm joined now by one of the reporters who took part in that sitdown, Errin Haines of the Associated Press. And Errin, as I ask you about this, I want our viewers to see where the former vice president stands with African-American voters who plan to vote in the Democratic primaries and caucuses. He's at 46 percent. The next closest are Warren and Sanders who are each at 10 percent, followed by the two African-Americans in the race, Harris, and Booker at seven percent and three percent, respectively.

Again, with that as the backdrop, take us inside the room about what your takeaway was of what he said and also the fact that they even gathered African-American reporters to sit down with him in the first place. ERRIN HAINES, NATIONAL WRITER ON RACE AND ETHNICITY, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Sure. Well, thank you so much for having me, Dana.

So like you said, there were a handful of us that sat down with the former vice president and really, you know, he took questions from us for more than an hour on a range of issues related to race, suggesting that he -- this is a topic that he is very comfortable with and this is something he's very eager to discuss. And I think that that's a good point for a couple of reasons.

One, because we tend to really stress in conversation about why it is that Joe Biden is a viable candidate for the nomination. His strength with working-class white voters, but what he wanted to remind people of is that he has a deep relationship with the black community as well. And so this is an important conversation to be having right now as he continues to have steady poll numbers with black voters and he was asked directly about that.

You know, in the conversation and what he said is, you know, this is a community who knows me. I've been in this community. And I have never, in my lifetime, felt uncomfortable in the black community. And so that was really interesting, especially also given that he said in his own words that the catalyst to him getting into this campaign is the hypo racial climate, particularly Charlottesville, that he sees as being fueled by the current president and wanting to address that is what makes him want to be president.

And so to hear from him, I asked him directly, you know, what are you going to do about white supremacy if you're elected? Yes. And what he said was, you know, whether -- you know, regardless of the outcome, because, you know, that climate exists, he's ready --

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