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INSIDE POLITICS

Shifting Stories Raise Doubt Over Justification For U.S. Strike; Pelosi To Transmit Articles Of Impeachment To Senate This Week; CNN Polls Show Tight Race In Final Weeks Before Iowa Caucuses; Congressional Clash Over Power To Wage War. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired January 12, 2020 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:20]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): A bold strike and a constantly changing explanation.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a shot at him and I took it and that was the end of a monster.

KING: Plus, the impeachment trial is coming soon.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): It neither guarantees witnesses nor forecloses witnesses.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Documents, witnesses, facts, truth, that's what they're afraid of.

KING: And three weeks from the first votes, Iowa is a tossup.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's why it's so important to elect somebody who's already ready on day one.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We win when we have the big ideas to match the problems in people's lives.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are in the struggle together. It is us, not me.

KING: "INSIDE POLITICS", the biggest sources sourced by the best reporters, now.

Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King.

To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thank you for sharing your Sunday.

Up first today, the Iran crisis. In Tehran, anti-government protests by Iranians angry at the regime for shooting down that Ukrainian passenger jet.

And here in Washington, a president angry at having his actions and credibility questioned at a moment he believes he deserves global praise. Master stroke or madness is how "The Economist" frames the question. Iran's terror chief Qasem Soleimani is dead. And Tehran's missile spray in response to the deadly U.S. drone strike caused just modest damage on two bases housing U.S. military personnel.

Plus, Iran is now apologizing for its fog of war shoot-down of the Ukrainian airliner, killing 176 people. These are images from anti- government protests Saturday. The protesters demonstrators chanting death to the supreme leader.

President Trump tweeting support for those protesters in both English and Farsi. Team Trump sees it as a decisive moment and a decisive victory. So the president bristles at sharp questions including from a modest number of fellow Republicans about why Congress was kept in the dark about the Soleimani strike and about whether the White House is telling the truth now as it constantly changes its rationale for ordering the attack.

The chairman of the joint chief of staffs said it was an imminent threat against military personnel but he said the intelligence did not specify a location. And then days of other, often contradictory explanations, closing with this from the president on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies and I think Baghdad already started. They were really amazed that we came in with that force. We came in with a powerful force and drove them out. You know, that ended almost immediately but Baghdad certainly would have been the lead but I think it would have been four embassies. Could have been military bases. Could have been a lot of other things too, but it was imminent and then all of a sudden, he was gone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Democratic senators say there was no mention -- no mention -- of a threat on four embassies in any of their classified briefings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been told nothing matching that specificity in the briefings, not remotely. I mean, I would have thought if that were the truth, we would have heard that in the very first briefing that we had. and not only do we not hear it then, we have to wait till the president goes on fox news three or four days later for his latest justification.

So I doubt very much there's any intelligence that supports what the president is now saying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us this Sunday to share their reporting and insights, Julie Pace at "The Associated Press", CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Karoun Demirjian at "The Washington Pos", and Vivian Salama of "The Wall Street Journal". "The Economist" cover does frame an interesting question, masterstroke

or madness?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: That is the question, right? I mean, if you are in the White House right now, you think that you really pulled off something significant here. You did take out a leader who was plotting against Americans for years. Now just in this moment but for years been plotting against Americans.

But as the American president you also have a responsibility to explain to the public why you're doing things and certainly explain to lawmakers why you're doing things. By all accounts, even Republicans who support this president if you talk to them privately, you talk to some of their aides privately, will say, yes, there was a threat because Soleimani was always a threat, but there's some skepticism if there was a specific, imminent threat that justified taking this action that is quite to this level of provocation.

KING: Right, especially when you hear and CNN reporting that they also unsuccessfully tried to take out another Iranian military commander in Yemen, you get the idea that they wanted to punch back anyway.

[08:05:03]

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and think of the president's comments since the strike happens and since the briefers have been to Capitol Hill also suggest that, you kind of saw them pivoting away from this idea of the word imminent because that's very vital if you're trying to make the case that it's a self-defense move against something that's actually forthcoming.

But this is a perfect example of how the domestic politics and the international politics don't ever match up. There is a practical argument that the administration is making of would you us want them to come and deliberate for three weeks when we have an opportunity to take out someone who is a potential threat or has been in the past or will be in the future and then Congress sticking to the authority on war powers which you know don't work and they don't have time to percolate through Congress, frankly, and the situation which if the administration is being honest about it they just want to take a solitary strike and take one personnel and started greater conflict.

VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: And all of that kind of goes back to this whole definition of imminent as Julie was just saying, where Secretary of State Pompeo came out this week and said, you know, these strikes were imminent and then kind of backtracked and then so Congress is saying, what's the story? If this was imminent, you should be telling us more information, the American people had the right to know as well. And so, the White House is saying, actually, the American people don't need to know.

The president himself said if it's classified, then you know it's not something that we want to talk about. Of course, he ended up divulging some of the details on Fox News anyway, but this is something they're facing with now. KING: And the question is the credibility questions predate this

crisis. And that's why when you have a crisis of this sort, this is not a debate over health care policy or a debate on immigration policy, or war and peace moment. And when the president has a history of not telling the truth, which is just a fact. You have credibility issues here. When this administration, not just the president, Secretary Pompeo and others, even though he's from the Congress think, no, we don't have to tell you things. We tell you when we feel like it and you have to take what we say as proof.

There's no doubt about it, the administration says as Julie noted, the Iranians didn't do much in retaliating. Now, they're protesting again in the street. They just had an Olympic medalist defect. This is a bad moment for Iran, you shouldn't be saying good for us. But there's no question, if you go back to the past week, there are good reasons to question the White House's credibility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: If you're looking for imminence, you need to look no further than the days that led up to the strike.

TRUMP: We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy.

He was looking very seriously at our embassies and not just the embassy in Baghdad.

POMPEO: We don't know precisely when and we don't know precisely where. But it was real.

We had specific information on an imminent threat and those threats included attacks on U.S. embassies.

TRUMP: I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A, that's all over the map anyway. B, in the wake of the Iraq war debate when the administration got it wrong about intelligence, and our business was not as skeptical as we should have been about the intelligence, they have to know or they should know that if you've going to do something like this, you better have a consistent, clear explanation and they did not.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No question. I mean, the imminent threat aside, just the -- where it was going to be, the justify for it, and the White House, it took the president quite a bit of time to address this publicly. Now he's been out there several times.

But, look, I think a couple things. No question that Soleimani, bad guy. You know, this was justified in that respect. Of course, this is -- you know, a lot of people on the Trump campaign

and others are trying to say Democrats are against this because they're sympathetic or something. Set that aside. I mean, the credibility test as you were saying earlier is something that is key here and the president simply doesn't have it.

It's unclear at that briefing. I was talking to senators right after they came out of that briefing, no mention of this at all. I can still see the look in Senator Mike Lee's eyes when he said the worst briefing ever. They did not make their case. No one mentioned embassies or things.

So I think the point of that is --

KING: If they have good intel about the embassies, we would have had a very different conversation this time --

PACE: And I also think it's risky for any administration when it comes to something as significant as rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran to declare victory after one week. I mean, Iran is playing a much longer game here. So, yes, in this exact moment, Iran retaliated with the strike that did not cause any American casualties. It seem to be pretty limited. They do seem to have backed off here. I would be hard-pressed to imagine that this is the extent of what Iran is planning given how significant it is that the U.S. took out this general.

DEMIRJIAN: Also just remember that I -- I mean, what was happening on the streets of Iran was radically different before and after they accidentally shot a passenger jet out of the sky, like you cannot control all the factors at all. And I wonder if we'd being having a different conversation if that horribly tragic event had not happened because that seems to be what flipped things internally in Iran, which is why Trump is sitting pretty right now and saying, look, they're against Soleimani, too saying death to the supreme leader, not to America right now.

KING: It's a great point about the limited shelf life of almost anything developing in that region.

[08:10:03]

It is so volatile in a sense that a couple weeks ago, there were demonstrations against the regime. Trump administration said, look, our sanctions are working. Soleimani is killed, there are demonstrations against America, "death to America" becomes back on the streets, now they shoot down a plane and it's about the government.

So, the question here is who's right. This is Wendy Sherman, who worked in the Obama administration.

The president is both the arsonist and the fireman. He set the world on flames when he left the JCPOA, that's the Iran nuclear agreement, then when he decided to kill Qasem Soleimani. Now, he wants to fireman and say, I put this all out, and it was President Obama cause all the problems. And, of course, President Trump caused the problems. That's her view.

This is the president's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, to "Axios", saying he sees a potential opening here.

I think the chances of sitting down with the Iranians and getting to a deal have improved significantly. The Iranians have realized they don't want a military confrontation with the United States and the maximum pressure campaign is not going to end. Soleimani's belief is he could end the maximum pressure campaign by going up the escalation ladder with the United States. I think those plays are over now.

We don't know. We just don't know who is right.

SALAMA: Well, and also the administration has been playing this game where, despite the fact it's taken this maximum pressure campaign, despite the fact it's taken a hard line on Iran, they keep insisting they are for the Iranian people and they support them. The president's tweet in Farsi yesterday was indication of that where he said, we're for you, we want to help you.

But there's two sides to that as well because the president has, of course, named Iran and part of his travel ban. He's also come out in recent days and said he would consider targeting cultural sites in Iran. That stuff that really resonates poorly with the Iranian people.

So, on the one hand to go out and say, we're here and we support you, and we continue to support you against this regime and then make comments like that, the Iranian people don't know who to trust at this point.

KING: We'll keep on it and let's go forward. Last Sunday, we were looking at the potential of a war. At least this Sunday, we're talking about what next is, deescalate the situation, we hope.

Up next, the wait is over. The House ready to send the Trump impeachment articles over to the Senate. The trial now just days away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:16:12]

KING: The Democratic House will name impeachment trial managers. And after a four-week hold, transmit its two articles of impeachment across the Capitol for the Senate. The trial will begin within days. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell so far holding firm to his plan, that plan, ignore the Democrats for now and settle the question of new witnesses or new evidence later. After both House Democrats and Trump lawyers make their trial presentations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): A majority of the Senate has decided that the first phase of an impeachment trial should track closely with the unanimous bipartisan precedent that all 100 senators supported for the first phase of the Clinton trial. It neither guarantees nor witnesses nor forecloses witnesses. It leaves those determinations until later in the trial where they belong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But there is this weekend wildcard. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine who faces a very tough re-election race this year, telling reporters back home she thinks new witnesses are a good idea and she says she is working on finding a few other Republicans to force this issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): I am working with a group of Republican senators and our leaders to see if we can come to an agreement on some language that would include an opportunity for the House to call witnesses and the president's counsel to also call witnesses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: She says she wants it in the initial resolution setting up the Senate trial.

Is that wishful thinking, is that somebody trying to seem very reasonable back home in a state that is bluish and purple? Or is that Susan Collins actually going to get a few -- three or four other Republicans and push Mitch McConnell?

DEMIRJIAN: She may as well -- she may be pushing Mitch McConnell. She may get others to push Mitch McConnell. Is she going to say, no, I won't vote for this, if it doesn't actually have this -- that's a very different question.

I think, you know, what she's talking about is what's been the debate between Democrats and Republicans this whole time, about, what's a fair trial? They should hear from witness or not?

If you open the floodgates to witnesses, you do potentially get the Mick Mulvaneys and the John Boltons of this world. But you also you're going to get the whistleblower and you get Hunter Biden side of it, too. That's how this balances out. McConnell has been pretty clear this whole week that he wants to avoid it.

The fact that Susan Collins is saying it has not been surprising. She has been one of the people we've been watching as being potentially in the middle on this, in the middle on health care, she's in the middle on war powers. This is what she does, right? She tries to be the broker of some sort of deal.

Toward the end, it does not always work. Sometimes it does, but the magic number is four. Can she get to four Republicans who agree with her and feel strongly about it that they'll cross the leader? And we can look like Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, maybe the more senior members like Lamar Alexander, other people like Cory Gardner, but we don't have the numbers.

KING: We don't. And so, what Democrats say beginning with Speaker Pelosi but also now in the Senate as well, has the chips this week is during the hold, a lot of people say Pelosi blinked the other day, but during the hold, she would argue, you did get emails from Pentagon officials telling the Office of Management and Budget about the freeze on Ukraine aid, emails proving 90 minutes after the president's call with President Zelensky, the Pentagon was ordered to continue the freeze and keep quiet about it. OMB official telling the Pentagon clear direction that the money was put on old and John Bolton, of course raising his hands and saying, I'm willing to come testify.

So, if you're the Democrats, you say this four-week hold has done that, but as you're Susan Collins trying to broker the deal, and you're Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney Gardner, and the other Republicans say, should I support it? Maybe you say look at that list. There are new facts we want to explore. But then you also listen to the president say if we open the door to the Democrats, we have to open it to this.

[08:20:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: In many ways, I'd like a trial and I'd love to have sleepy Joe Biden, I'd love to have his son, I called him where's Hunter, I've changed his first name to where. Where's Hunter. I'd love to have the whistle-blower who wrote a fake report. And you remember, there was a second whistle-blower, I want to know what happened to the second whistle-blower.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The word you hear most often when you talk to people about this deliberation, is they're worried about having a circus.

ZELENY: And that is the unknown question there. The president is actually very engaged in this upcoming trial. It is going to be a television show in some respects, you know, and he likes that very much.

We do not know what is going to happen between now and the end of the trial. We know he will almost certainly be not convicted. We do know that. We don't know the drama that will unfold between here and there.

So, everything short of the president walking into the floor of the Senate, which is possible, not likely, we don't know exactly what is going to happen. I'm very skeptical of Susan Collins and others coming around. Mitch McConnell has held the line on this very well. I don't see any discomfort from Republican senators on this.

We don't know what the president is going to do. He's the wildcard I think in all this. He may want as this goes on some kind of dramatic show or witnesses or something. Mitch McConnell is trying to keep him at bay.

KING: His lawyers are telling him, you don't want Mulvaney and Bolton testifying. That's what his lawyers are talking. But you're right. We'll see if he will listen. Here is the issue. We don't know how this will play out. We know it's

going to play out at a time on the calendar, that there is a lot of consequence.

If you look at the calendar on Tuesday when the House Democrats will meet, there's a Democratic debate. So, the Democratic senators get to go to Iowa, they get to go for their debate, the ones who are qualified for the debate who are running for president. Then some time in this period, there will be a vote in the House. They'll name the impeachment managers, transmit it to the Senate by the end of the week.

Then Mitch McConnell -- if it comes over on Thursday, he could call the Senate trial in as soon as Friday. The complicating factor is the Martin Luther King holiday. The president is supposed to be in the Davos for the annual economic summit somewhere in this timeframe.

Then you have the weeks -- you do have time here, but then you have the Iowa caucuses and the State of the Union and so on and so forth head to 2020. But you're threading a needle here or just going to collide with a lot of interesting important things.

PACE: It's incredibly complicated and it's so interesting, because at the end of last year, after we got through the House process, the thing that you heard from both parties in the Senate was, we want to get this over as quickly as possible. No one knows how the politics play in 2020. Neither party really wanted this to be something that lingered deep into the year, they wanted to move on to other issues.

For the Democrats, they want to pick their nominee. We're suddenly in this position where we can easily find ourselves in February in the middle of that primary process still dealing with an active trial in the Senate. It's a pretty extraordinary moment in a time in Washington that has been extraordinary.

KING: I remember Bill Clinton's State of the Union in all this. We'll see if we get a Donald Trump State of the Union in the middle of all this. The Democratic senators complaining a little bit. This is Elizabeth Warren to Politico, of course, it matters. We did three hour selfie line. Don't tell me it doesn't matter to do face to face.

They're worried there will be hostages in Washington during the trial. Bernie Sanders says he had came up with the idea and the candidates even talk about sharing a plane. So, after the trial, when the trial ends presumably 6:00, or 7:00 at night, they could get on a plane, go to Iowa, do an event or two, get on a plane and come back for the next day, jury trial. I mean, what?

DEMIRJIAN: That will cut down on an expense otherwise quite pricey to charter those flights. I mean, yes, the Democrats were always going to be gummed up by this calendar. There's no way Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats would be able to get through the entire primary and caucus season where the decision making was made.

They would have had to kept the inquiry going in the House for much longer, actually push all through January and February without the Senate trial being there. So, that was always there.

I think that, you know, that puts the candidates in a difficult spot. It does prevent the situation where you have the Iowa caucuses now and the next day giving the state of the union. In the way it keeps the balls floating in the air. So, now, yes, they're colliding things in the calendar, but in the way, that keeps the balls floating in the air, and that's what Democrats frankly need especially since they don't think at this point they're going to get a conviction.

KING: We'll see this ahead. We will see how they sort it out.

Up next, Iowa votes three weeks from tomorrow. We'll look at new numbers. It's a four-way fight for the coveted first win in that Democratic nomination chase.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:28:43]

KING: The leading 2020 Democrats debate Tuesday night, a debate right here on CNN. That showdown is in Iowa which votes three weeks from tomorrow.

These new poll numbers underscore the high stakes way better than any adjective could. Take a look at these numbers. There's no real leader when you look at Iowa. It's a four-way muddle at the top. Senator Sanders, Senator Warren, Mayor Buttigieg, former Vice President Biden. But all of this essentially within the poll's margin of error.

This is a statistical tie in the competition for the first big win, the Iowa caucuses. Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang round out the top six.

Let's take a look at how it's changed since our last poll. That was in November, Senator Sanders is up some. That is worth watching as you get closer to the vote. He clearly has some momentum.

Pete Buttigieg down a bit. Everyone else pretty much the same. Andrew Yang up a little bit, Elizabeth Warren up a little bit, that's margin of error stuff there, too. Senator Sanders senses some momentum as we go forward.

Here is something that helps Senator Sanders as you get in a close race to a caucus, a different organization. Nearly half of his supporters, 49 percent, say they're extremely enthusiastic about their choice. Energy and enthusiasm matter anyway, especially in a caucus setting.

[08:29:48]

Only a third of Elizabeth Warren's voters say that. Mayor Buttigieg and the former vice president have a bit of a problem. Only a quarter of their voters say they're extremely enthusiastic, so they need to juice that up as you get closer to the caucuses.

We have had four polls in Iowa in the last seven months. Again, these aren't leaders really because it's been close. But it's in a different candidate on top in each of those four polls. It tells you how much turmoil, how unsettled the race is. Biden, Warren, Buttigieg, now Sanders.

Here's another way to look at that. The votes again are three weeks from tomorrow -- three weeks from tomorrow. Only four in ten Iowa Democrats say I have made up my mind. 45 percent say they could change their minds. 13 percent say they still have no first choice.

So it is wide open in Iowa. The first vote of 2020. Sanders among all of the candidates deciding it's time to get more aggressive looking at my rivals. To Elizabeth Warren in a minute.

Listen here, this has been consistent throughout the week. Bernie Sanders sees an opening to go after Joe Biden on an issue we heard a lot about against Hillary Clinton -- the Iraq war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Joe Biden voted and helped lead the effort for the war in Iraq. Joe Biden voted for the disastrous trade agreements like NAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China which cost us millions of jobs.

Do you think that's going to play well in Michigan or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania? If we're going to beat Trump we need turnout. And to get turnout, you need energy and excitement. And I just don't think that that kind of record is going to bring forth the energy that we need to defeat Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A direct attack there. The Biden campaign -- I mean, the Sanders campaign putting out a statement last night essentially backing that up, making it clear they want to have this discussion and they want to have it every single day. That's with Biden.

Politico also reporting that Sanders volunteers have a script when they knock on doors and you'd say, well, I'm thinking ab t Mayor Buttigieg. I'm thinking about Vice President Biden.

He is publicly said Elizabeth is my friend, I'm not going to fight with Elizabeth Warren. Sanders' campaign has began stealthily attacking Warren as a candidate of the upper crust who could not expand the Democratic base in a general election, according to talking points this campaign is using to persuade voters obtained by Politico.

The votes are in three weeks. This is getting chippy and Sanders more than anyone else has decided let's start punching.

ZELENY: Without question. And he has one other advantage he's done this before, most recently. He ran four years ago and almost won Iowa against Hillary Clinton. Some people think he did, actually.

The rules have changed this time. But look, one of the issues though for Senator Sanders is that some of the undecided voters are not open to him. There's a lot of movement out there so his supporters, yes, are locked in; yes they're energetic and enthusiasm but can he grow that at all?

So many others have a potential for expansion. But I think at the debate on Tuesday night the things I'm looking for -- Bernie Sanders is going to go after Joe Biden's foreign policy record and go after it in a way that we have not yet seen examined.

At the same time, others I think will be going after Bernie Sanders like Amy Klobuchar. Remember what she did at that Ohio debate that kind of launched her a little bit. She called for a reality check on some of these plans.

That's not going to take away Bernie Sanders' supporters but it's going to potentially add to hers. And Buttigieg still has a strong campaign revision (ph), sliding a bit. But he wins the endorsement this morning from the retiring Iowa congressman, Dave Loebsack. That's important.

So it is still unsettled and uncertain. He can campaign there every day.

KING: I just want to show Julie -- as you jump in, I just want to show the debate lineup. You only have six candidates on the stage. You have Biden and Sanders in the middle. There's no question this is going to be a chippy debate.

And we saw Warren surge in the summer. She became a debate target. She has plateaued if not dropped some. Sanders has the momentum right now. That means a target on your back.

PACE: And one of the really interesting things about the fact that we are seeing a Sanders and Biden collision is that these are two incredibly different candidates who really represent different poles of the party.

And yet, both of them see each other fighting for a similar pool of voters. They both feel like they are the best candidate to appeal to some of those white, working class voters who Trump may have won over in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan.

But they come at it from two very different perspectives and that's what Sanders had tried to do here basically say hey, If you think that Joe Biden is the best person to pull back Pennsylvania, hold on a second. Let's really take about --

KING: Yes.

PACE: -- where he is on trade. Let's really talk about where he is on some of these economic issues.

KING: Right.

And so in the foreign policy arena, Joe Biden says I have the experience. I'm ready on day one. Bernie Sanders says look at Iraq, you don't have the judgment. Here again, "Washington Post" out at the weekend showing Biden with an enormous lead among the African-American voters nationwide.

This morning Bernie Sanders co-chair Nina Turner writing in the state in South Carolina, "while Bernie Sanders has always stood up for African-Americans, Joe Biden has repeatedly let us down."

We are in the ring now. This is punch time and again, it's really interesting to watch Sanders much more than his other rivals, do ok, it's time, let's go straight at the other candidates.

DEMIRJIAN: This is his opening to actually do it. I mean if he can do this in Iowa and then New Hampshire, then he sets himself apart. If he cannot pull this out in Iowa and New Hampshire, he is going to be clobbered after that.

And as far as the order of the primaries go and somebody else, aka Biden in this case, is probably going to step up given his support among other parts of the electorate that are not necessarily reflected in the first two states.

KING: And if you look at this, Iowa is always important more so for Democrats. Iowa tends to pick Democrats. Sometimes with Republicans it sort of isn't (ph).

[08:35:00]

KING: But New Hampshire can be contrarian or sometimes, you know, John Kerry surged late, wins Iowa and wins New Hampshire, game over.

Let's look -- we have this very close race in Iowa. We don't know how it will change New Hampshire. But look at New Hampshire -- Buttigieg, Biden, Sanders, Warren. Same four, the order is a little bit different but that's a statistical tie.

So Iowa's role is always huge but in terms of influencing, convincing voters in later states, you can just move on here, look three and four are Nevada and South Carolina. Biden has the lead in both of these states. Steyer has jumped up here because of his ad spending.

But this, again, for Biden to survive -- can Biden survive losing? Third or fourth in Iowa? Third or fourth in New Hampshire? Will those numbers hold if that happens? History says unlikely.

ZELENY: History says unlikely but I think also it defends -- if it's a jump ball at the end of all this, then Mike Bloomberg is right in the middle of that. He will be anyway. It's important for us to keep him in the conversation here. He's spending a ton of money and going to go on.

But look, I think Iowa is the most important for Pete Buttigieg. If he does not win there or do very, very well there it's hard to imagine that sort of promise (ph). If Barack Obama would have lost Iowa in 2008, the race probably would have been over.

So it's a must-win state for everyone but I think Pete Buttigieg for sure.

Bernie Sanders is going the distant regardless.

PACE: Regardless.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes.

ZELENY: He is going to the convention or certainly as far as he can. Probably no one else can say that in the race.

PACE: One of the big advantage a Buttigieg and a Biden have over the next couple of weeks, they're not in the Senate. So they don't have to worry about this whole trial. Buttigieg has, I think ten events planned over the next week. It's an incredible amount of facetime that they can both get with voters while Sanders and Warren are going to be locked literally in the senate chamber for hours on end.

SALAMA: The other issue is that Sanders has been a prime target of the Trump campaign and of President Trump himself. And I think that that's going to be something that's playing into the minds especially of these undecided voters where you have the word "socialist" floating around and that puts a lot of fear into some voters who are uncertain about what he stands for.

And so I think you're going to see a little bit more of that playing into the discussion on health care and other issues moving forward.

(CROSSTALKING)

KING: It's a great point. Sanders uses that to brag saying the President is after me because he's worried about me. I suspect when they hear that socialist word on the debate stage Tuesday night once or twice or thrice or more.

Up next, fights between the White House and Congress over war powers are as old as the republic. But the latest clash still has some remarkable wrinkles.

[08:37:16]

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KING: It was another whiplash week here in Washington reminding all of us we begin this election year on very uncertain ground. Anger Thursday as the House voted 224-194 to put the President on notice that Congress decides whether to go to war.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know what bothers me? When I see a Nancy Pelosi trying to defend this monster from Iran who's killed so many people. When Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats want to defend him, I think that's a very bad thing for this country. I think that's a big losing argument politically too.

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KING: Friday began with a gift to any president asking for four more years. The report showing the economy added 145,000 jobs in December and that unemployment is at a 50-year-low.

And this mixed message from voters in Iowa, a Midwest bellwether that is key to the President's reelection map. 48 percent of Iowa voters say the President should -- the Senate, excuse me, should not convict and remove the President, eclipsing the 40 percent who say yes, it should.

But, it's a big but, only 34 percent of Iowans say they will definitely support the President in his bid for a second term. And look at this subset on that question. Only 22 percent of suburban women in Iowa call themselves definite Trump voters. That's fresh proof the suburban struggles that hurt the GOP into the 2018 midterms are now carrying over to this presidential year.

And just -- you can find data points that you say no president can lose in that environment and you can find data points that say this president just well might.

PACE: It's going to be an election on the margins. And any movement in any of those groups that Trump had a hold on in 2016 towards the Democrats could really cost him.

I mean the numbers with women, suburban women are pretty atrocious for Trump and for Republicans. We saw that bleed into the other Republican candidates in 2018.

How his campaign tries to get those voters back could be the singular question of this election.

KING: You see in the data and the focus groups and when you talk to the smart pollsters who study this issue, a lot of that is about tone. They don't like the Twitter. They don't like calling people horrible. They don't like the tone from the President.

We did see what the President said there Nancy Pelosi is not mourning General Soleimani. She's questioned the wisdom oft he strike, there's no question about that. But she's not saying I want Soleimani back. She didn't say that. The President is not telling the truth when he says that.

And other Republicans often on the tone track follow the President's lead.

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NIKKI HALEY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The only ones that are mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership and our Democratic presidential candidates.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: They are now the socialist Democrats are defending Iran over defending America.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R), GEORGIA; They're in love with terrorists, we see that. They mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our gold star families who are the ones who suffered under Soleimani.

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KING: You can have a debate about the wisdom of the strike, about Iran policy, about the use of military force without lying about what the Democrats are saying. The Democrats were not mourning Soleimani. They said he was a bad guy. No one is going to miss him. Blood on his hands.

But that is -- my question is Congressman Collins, the last one you saw there, ended up apologizing when he said Democrats love the terrorists. He then tweeted out, let me be clear, I do not believe Democrats are in love with terrorists and I apologize for what I said.

My question is, is he connecting what he said to this tone problem? That is what has turned off women in the suburbs. They just look at this and they say, a, it's not accurate; b, it's a lie, it's not real, I don't like it, that's not how I live my life and I don't talk that way.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, I think that that's what he stepped into, right. And that's why he felt like he had to make a full about face in that way. But this is the sort of thing that kind of builds on itself, right.

[08:45:05]

I mean, you would have the President setting the tone, other people echoing it. It works with the President's base. But then you can, you know, step too far into this and that's why you have this sort of a situation which you're demonizing the other side.

SALAMA: It also works for the President himself. I mean he's watching a lot of the television and he sees some of his supporters in Congress going out there using this bombastic language that resonates with him and so he likes that.

And he goes back to these people and thanks them for it. He wants to work with those people who are going to be the defenders of his message.

KING: And he can't just let it go. He had a couple of House Republicans like Matt Gaetz, a big supporter who voted for the War Powers Circle (ph). He's been consistent, Matt Gaetz has been on these issues. He believes it's the Congress' authority.

You mentioned earlier Mike Lee complaining, Rand Paul complaining about the quality of the briefing. "Washington Post" story saying a senior White House official said it was super uncool and quite unwise for Gaetz to push the limit.

Why not let it go. It's one vote. It didn't matter. The guy is with you 99.99 percent of the time. What is it?

ZELENY: Because he can't do it, you know.

And back to those suburban women it depends who the Democratic nominee is, of course. So that's why what happens in the next three weeks is so important to what happens in November. The Democratic nominee will decide.

KING: Strap in. Strap in. Welcome to 2020.

Our reporters share from their notebooks next including a billion- dollar question in the 2020 Democratic race.

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[08:49:58]

KING: Let's head one last time around the INSIDE POLITICS table, ask our great reporters to share a little something from their notebooks, help get you out ahead of the big political news just around the corner.

Julie Pace.

PACE: Every presidential election seems to feature a surprise. And Tom Steyer is making the case that it's going to be him in 2020. He keeps clearing the debate qualification standards and he really surprised a lot of people with his showing in those polls last week in Nevada and South Carolina.

So far the Steyer story is really about money. He has spent $60 million on ads and in some of the places where he is on the air, he is basically the only candidate who is spending on advertising. He can keep spending more. He is worth $1.6 billion.

But as a little bit of context and perhaps a warning for Steyer, Michael Bloomberg who is deploying a similar ad blitz strategy in states that are later to come, is worth 40 times as much as Steyer and has already vastly outspent him in advertising.

KING: To own a local TV station somewhere.

Jeff.

ZELENY: No doubt.

Speaking of Iowa with three weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, a furious scramble is under way for the second choice. Over the next three weeks we're going to hear second choice again and again. So Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, even Michael Bennet, John Delaney, other people who are asterisks in the polls are suddenly, incredibly important.

And here is why. You have to get 15 percent of support on caucus night to be viable. And a lot of those candidates likely won't. So other candidate now like the Biden campaign, the Buttigieg campaign, the Warren campaign -- the senators campaigning are identifying all of these others in their areas.

So on caucus night, the precinct leaders and captains can pull them over to their side. So it is all about organization at this point. The Warren campaign has been building organizations since the very beginning, much sooner than the others. So the question here is on caucus night, the precinct captains so important. It might be a local city council member or someone else, they know the people in their communities and to get the second choice is so key to winning.

KING: 22 days.

ZELENY: Indeed.

KING: Fun.

Karoun.

DEMIRJIAN: We have been talking a lot about Iran for obvious reasons. What's going on here, what's going on there. But in the middle, the Europeans are watching everything -- the back and forth right now and they have a really interesting role to play. And I'm going to be watching what they're going -- the discussions they're going to be having. What their next step is going to be.

We heard the President -- President Trump call on the Europeans to now fully abandon the Iran deal and move in a new direction. They kind of are going to be the decision makers and power brokers. True that we don't usually give them being credit for.

Right now, it seems like the E.U. is in no mind to move away from the Iran deal. They want to revive it. How is the big question. There's also -- Europe is going to be fairly critical as the focus moves not just to what the next steps are on the proliferation of nuclear power, but to the arms embargo on Iran that's supposed to be expiring later this year.

So how Europe decides to manage its relationship -- and that's going to be tricky because as we know there is some splintering going on politically, economically, otherwise there. It's going to be fairly critical for the legacy of where this goes, because there are still the same issues underlying it. And that the United States is not the only decision-maker here.

KING: And we know the President likes to poke our European friends --

DEMIRJIAN: Oh yes.

KING: -- from time to time. We shall watch.

Vivian?

SALAMA: So phase one of the long-awaited China trade deal is going to be signed this week. And we're going to be watching that very closely. Of course, President Trump is expected to meet with some Chinese officials this week to get that signed.

The deal is going to include tariff relief which is really critical, as well as the increase in Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural products as well as some changes to the rules on technology and intellectual property. Now obviously, this is really critical going into the 2020 campaign

because a lot of farmers and states that are critical for the President's re-election were really hit hard by the tariffs in particular. And so they are going to be looking at that to see if there is some relief.

But also this weekend interestingly, the White House announced that they were going to start having a bi-annual meeting with the Chinese to talk about trade and economic reforms. The President has said that, initially that he wanted to take a tougher stance with China.

But this signals a little bit of easing up when it comes to China. And so it will be interesting to see moving forward if he is changing his tune when it comes to China and trade relations.

KING: Suggests he's mindful of that election thing coming up.

I'll close with this. The Iran crisis and impeachment understandably dominated news coverage Friday and into the weekend. But three other Friday developments tell us a ton about where the President's 2020 strategy will mirror his 2016 approach and where it will be very, very different.

Immigration again factors large. The Associated Press on Friday obtaining a document outlining plans to significantly expand the administration's travel ban. And on that same day the acting Homeland Security secretary visited the U.S.-Mexico border to highlight wall construction.

The big about-face though from 2016 -- healthcare. Back then, remember, the president and candidate's urgent promise to repeal Obama care, well efforts in Congress, as you know, failed.

But there is a court challenge that could invalidate the Affordable Care Act. Democratic groups want the Supreme Court to fast-track that challenge so the ruling comes before the November election. But the Trump Justice Department on Friday asked the justices to go slow, to wait until the next term, 2021.

[08:55:02]

KING: So why would the President deliberately try to stall on a chance to keep a major 2016 promise? Well, protecting Obamacare was a big piece of those giant Democratic gains in 2018. The administration's go-slow request now is proof Team Trump sees the political risk of disrupting healthcare coverage for millions of Americans just before they vote.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Hope you can catch us on weekdays as well. We're here at noon Eastern, a very busy week to come.

Up next, don't go anywhere, big "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JAKE TAPPER". His guests include the Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Republican Senator Mike Lee and the Democratic Presidential Candidate, Tom Steyer.

Thanks again for sharing your Sunday. Have great day.

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