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INSIDE POLITICS

Democrats Prepare For Battle On Gorsuch; GOP Praises Supreme CT Nominee Gorsuch; Petraeus: Putin Will Pounce On U.S. Weakness; 900+ U.S. Career Diplomats Protest Trump order; Trump On Travel Ban: Call It What You Want; White House Prayer For Supreme Court Nominee; Democrats Gear Up for Supreme Court Showdown. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 1, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


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[12:33:19] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. One big asset for Neil Gorsuch is President Trump mold as Supreme Court choice? A resume that includes being confirmed as federal appellate judge with zero Democratic objection. Now that's a chat (ph) misleading. Gorsuch was confirmed on a voice vote as part of a deal between the Democratic and Republican leaders. We don't know how many Democrats might have voted no had there been a reported roll-call vote. But the fact a voice vote was allowed tells you there was not significant opposition, leading Democrats say that was then and this is different.

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SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: Let me tell you, he's moving from triple-a ball to the big leagues here, and he is going to be the deciding vote on the future of the court for a long time, it appears. This is an important decision. When someone moves up to the Supreme Court level, different important questions are asked, and people are much more careful. That's the way it ought to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Makes perfect sense. What the Democratic senator Dick Durbin says there but it also makes perfect sense for the President and Republicans to say you guys love this guy. Last time, he got through without any objection so, this is all partisan.

ABBY PHILLIPS, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think it helps Republicans enormously from a public relations perspective to be able to say look at all these guys. Over a dozen Democrats were in the Senate when they allowed him through, and I think there are also even now where a few hours into his nomination, Democrats are writing statements that are basically saying he deserves a vote. If they're starting, you know, day one not being on the same page about how to move forward procedurally, I think it's going to be very, very hard for them to mount a real opposition to him.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But they can't be on the same page because they've come from such different places by definition. I mean you have the Democrats like Elizabeth Warren, who is a Democrat from Massachusetts, incredibly popular in her own state. Never mind the fact that she's sort of the, you know, head of the liberal wing of the party right now whether she likes it or not. I think she likes it.

[12:35:14] And then you have Democrats like Heidi Heitkamp from the reddest of red states. It's almost -- it's sort of politically miraculous that she's even in the United States Senate as a Democrat from North Dakota saying, whoa, whoa, whoa. And so that is what Republicans are relying on is for those Democrats who are from states where Donald Trump won and where Democrats are not really usually representing them to say, OK, I'm going to give him --

KING: And to that point, again, the value of preparation, unlike some of the other roll-outs, the Trump administration was ready for this one, and they have conservative allies who as we speak are airing television ads in these red states. 10 Democratic senators were up in 2018 in states that Trump won. And we can show you the map up here.

Some of them, you know, Trump won Michigan just barely. Trump won Florida just barely. So how much weight does he have there? When you look at Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, when you look at Joe Manchin of West Virginia, I think that was 42 points in West Virginia.

And if you start, Republicans have 52. Senator Durbin is on the record saying he wants a vote that he has won a filibuster. There's a handful or half dozen Democrats who have said that. So that gets you up to 56, 58. So they only need a couple, do I need to peel a couple, those other people to get to 60 and make this go away? I guess my question is, number one, you have to give kudo to see if it works, but kudos to the Republicans and conservatives for being ready to mount this campaign. The question is will it work?

MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC: Well, you know, the Republicans are aided by the fact that Judge Gorsuch is a known quantity, and also by the fact that he will not be changing the balance of the court if he is confirmed. Because his views are seen as so similar to former Justice Scalia's, it is not the case that Democrats can argue that all of this judicial president if suddenly going to be out the window. It is not the case that he is such an unorthodoxed choice, that he is so, you know, outside the mainstream, a term that Senator Schumer used to describe what he would be looking for.

It is not the case that this is, you know, somebody that Trump literally picked off the set of the apprentice. The Democrats get some mileage out of saying, you know, this isn't someone with the right experience, the right qualifications. Now, they will argue --

KING: You're surprised it wasn't Amarosa?

BALL: They would be making this argument on the basis of ideology and on his judicial interpretations, and it is not unprecedented for there to be votes against or even a confirmation denied for that reason, but it's different than saying, you know, here's someone who is not qualified. It's different than saying this is someone who is going to totally change the face of the court.

KING: It's a great point. DAVID DRUCKER, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: This is all about politics within the Democratic Party. You just referenced the 2018 Senate map, which I can count to four, maybe five because of that. I can't get count to eight, which is what they need to overcome -- which is what Democrats need to provide to kill the filibuster.

I think Democrats need to decide if they're going to take the short- term view possibly angering their base the meantime or take the long- term view, because if they do not filibuster this and if Mitch McConnell doesn't have to use the nuclear option to change the rules, I think they could set themselves opt (ph) to be in a better position to influence President Trump's next Supreme Court nominee if somebody retires than if they just changed the rules.

In which case Trump doesn't even have to consider how the next Supreme Court justice would pick would look or how to get them through the Senate, but if it they decide to just go to the mat over this one, then he won't have to take Democrats into account.

BASH: That's a good point. That's such a good point. Democrats give up their leverage for a next pick if they go to the mat on this one.

KING: And the next one could matter immensely because this is, again, you know, younger Scalia replacing a Scalia as you point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah.

KING: Not a big shift in the idealogical balance of the court, but a lot of people also think -- a lot of conservatives say Justice Kennedy in private conversations says he wants to retire, and Neil Gorsuch which is a former clerk of justice candidate he thinks, oh, Trump is doing well here. He's picking good guys. Maybe he will go. That's the swing vote on the court. We'll see.

This debate will end probably in about 70 days, that's the average run time for Supreme Court nominee. Sometimes they look very different at the end as they do at the beginning. Go back in your history books, but how you frame those beginning matters. Listen to the Senate, Republic leader the majority leader Mitch McConnell, a few moments ago the Senate floor trying to set the standard here.

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MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) MAJORITY LEADER: Judge Gorsuch received a unanimously well qualified rating by the American Bar Association when he was nominated to his current position on the Court of Appeals. And he was confirmed without any votes in opposition. That's right, Madam President, not a single Democrat opposed Judge Gorsuch's confirmation. Not Senator Barack Obama, not Senator Hillary Clinton, not Senators Joe Biden or Ted Kennedy.

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KING: I don't know if that history will matter, but that's well played, including Senator Obama -- then Senator Obama, now former President Obama, was a classmate at Harvard with Judge Gorsuch. BALL: That's right. And so -- and it also sort of underscores the degree to which this potential new justice is a card-carrying member of the establishment, right? For all of the disruptive things that Trump has done, this is not one of them.

[12:40:01] And the question for a lot of people in Trump's orbit both the Republican leadership in Congress and even people inside the White House who are as Abby mentioned sort of at war with each other, in different camps, divided as to the approach he would take towards different things.

What signal is President Trump going to take from how well this roll- out is perceived as having gone? Will he take a signal? Oh I could make less trouble for myself by doing more things this way, doing more things in the normal way. I mean, the establishment way. Or does he want to -- or just that did he likes it better when people's heads were exploding.

BASH: Except if he -- not sure if he understands this, but it's important to note that the Supreme -- a Supreme Court nominee is different from anything else that he will deal with because there is a conservative machine out there at the ready, and they have been at the ready with ads, with ideas, with a whole lobbying apparatus to use whatever Republican President they had, whether it's President Trump, as a vessel to get that person on the Supreme Court.

KING: It's a great point you raise. Yeah, this works well, but does he prefer chaos if thing will blow we'll find out I guess. Up next a seemingly routine hearing in Washington, but it has a big purpose, to get the President's attention.

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KING: Live pictures here in Capitol Hill General David Petraeus, Former CIA director John Magclokel (ph) and this is the House Armed Services Committee. At first glance just one of the routine hearings you find in the Congressional schedule. 10:00 a.m. it started. The House Armed Services Committee as noted topic, global threats. But this one was scheduled with a purpose. Many in Congress worry about the new President's world view and they know he watches television. They're trying to get his attention.

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GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: American should not take the current international order for granted. It did not will itself into existence, we created it. Likewise, it is not naturally self- sustaining. We have sustained it. If we stop doing so, it will fray and eventually collapse. This is precisely what some of our adversaries seek to encourage.

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KING: Translation? Don't be nice to Vladimir Putin because he is trying to disrupt the European Union and the NATO alliance. PHILLIP: Really, I mean this is really serious stuff. He is not the first person to say this. You know, Former General James Mattis said basically the same thing in his confirmation hearing. There is this risk that the North Atlantic treaty is going to disintegrate if we don't continue to sustain it, if we don't continue to do the things that we need to do to start in our alliances with the U.K., for example, as opposed to with Vladimir Putin who is explicitly about undermining NATO.

And, you know, this goes beyond Trump. It's about the people around him. It's about the world view of the folks around him. The idea that we should rethink this whole world order thing is very real, I think, in the White House, and that's why some of these folks --

KING: But to the point you made earlier about the competing power centers, it is fascinating that we have a President never been in the military or been in government service. That's never happened in our history.

[12:45:06] But there's an open tug-of-war and a competition for his world view, for his focus on, you know, be pro-Putin? No, don't do that. Say NATO is obsolete? No, it's the fundamental source. And that's -- he is in office, and there's still a tug-of-war for his world view.

DRUCKER: Yeah. And the one hand Trump surrounded himself with hawkish generals that believe in supporting the world war of the U.S. is created. On the other hand, he's elevated Steve Bannon, his stop political adviser to the principals committee at the National Security Council diminished the role of the DNI, the Director of National Intelligence, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in terms of being a regular guaranteed attendees to these meetings.

And I think it's still unclear as to which direction Trump is going to go. In his inaugural address, he gave very short philosophically to the idea of the U.S. as the world guarantor -- as the guarantor of world peace as we have been since World War II. He has talked very sort of derisively about what we get out of these alliances, it's not clear if he appreciates the piece dividend that the U.S. gains from basically being en charge and so we're going to have to see which direction this goes.

BALL: And Trump was very consistent about this throughout the campaign. He repeatedly questioned whether NATO was obsolete. This was also a major theme of the British Prime Minister's visit last week. Prime Minister Theresa May seeking some kind of assurances from Trump that he would not go as far as he has said he would go, and she did not get any commitments from him either. So there is still a lot of nervousness on the world stage. The administration and Trump also have never made any commitments about what they're going to do with Russia's sanction either, and so there's a lot of uncertainty.

KING: And one of the things driving the debate now is the immigration ban or restrictions, oh what the president put in place earlier in the week. He tweeted this morning because there's been a debate about can you call it a ban. He has used the word ban. So on this his press secretary says it's not a ban, everyone says well, the President calls it a ban.

And here what the president tweeted this morning. "Everybody is arguing whether or not is a ban call it what you want. It's about keeping bad people with bad intentions out of the country." Smart messaging from the President there, make it about safety. There's a process in the State Department. So this may sound more dramatic than it actually is. But they have this dissent process.

If you are an ambassador, if you're in the Foreign Service, if your station to this for the State Department from around the world, you can join this dissent process. More than 1,000 people now have signed this dissent cable protesting this policy, and they say "The end result of this ban will not be a drop in terror attacks in the United States, rather, it would be a drop in international goodwill towards America and a threat towards our economy."

This is a process again it happens in other administrations. This is early in this administration. You've had the White House Press Secretary on notice saying either get with the program or resign. The acting Attorney General Obama Holdover wouldn't enforce this policy. The President said you're fired. How will this be processed in this administration? Will they say, great, we're having a conversation about this, or will they say go away?

BASH: Not well. I mean, it's like you said, Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, was as blunt as you can be. Get with the program or get out. And that isn't how it works, and it is -- and this process or at least (inaudible) colleague has been doing great reporting on this.

The reason this process is even in place in the state department is because of the Vietnam War because afterwards the officials who are in charge realized that they need place and a mechanism for people who have expertise in areas to voice their dissent, their opposition, and their concern. And you know what, we should welcome that. It's something that is incredibly important. This is not an autocratic government. That's not how we operate and even, you know, certainly within certain branches, I guess, you know, Donald Trump was in his right to fire the acting attorney general, but this is a process that needs to happen, and they probably should not say get with the program or get out because at some point they're going to need people to say, excuse me, this is going to hurt you.

PHILLIP: And it goes beyond the State Department. Across the government there's been this sort of like undercurrent of dissent among career public servants. And it's interesting to see this White House with a lot of people who've never been in government who's never run a government before, dealing with the unwieldy nature of the vast federal bureaucracy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah.

PHILLIP: There are a lot of people who may or may not hold dissenting views, and they have ways to make those views known. It can create a lot of turmoil for this White House if they're not careful about managing the fact that most of these people are not political appointees. They're career people who have been there for decades.

KING: I think the offense they have taken mostly impart of this is who Donald Trump's bet when it goes public.

PHILLIP: Yeah.

KING: Their attitude is I won the election. I'm in charge of the government. You work for the government. We'll see how this goes, but we'll see if they do it quietly. Maybe they'll tolerate it a little bit more. They do it publicly, I don't think they like it. We'll be back in just a second

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[12:53:06] KING: Remarkable picture here. This from President Trump's Twitter account last night we can put it up in the screen. A moment of prayer for the Supreme Court nominee, this is at the White House after the announcement of appellate judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court vacancy. You see the President, the Vice President of the United States there, two of the sons. Mrs. Scalia, the widow of the late Justice Hansen Scalia there and his son. Roman Catholic priest also there, as well. The White House Attorney and Judge Gorsuch and his wife.

A remarkable to get behind the curtain of the White House is one of the things we love to do in our business you probably had a curtain what do you think when you look at that?

BALL: Well, you know, it's a moment of unity. It's a moment of joy. This is obviously an occasion that a lot of conservatives particularly, social conservatives, literally were praying for. Went around the country to Trump rallies, a lot of traditional conservatives and church going social conservatives who had their doubts about whether he was personally a godly man, nonetheless, they were praying for a conservative choice on the Supreme Court and to see that prayer answered by Judge Gorsuch is a happy moment for them.

KING: Excellent point. You made a point while we in break just chatting about how, you know, Mitch McConnell's not there, he was not in this time, but this moment is here because of Mitch McConnell's decision 10 months I'll hold out (inaudible) Collin and we're not get a vote.

DRUCKER: I think people forget that immediately upon Scalia passing away, Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, made it very clear --

KING: Even before Collin was nominated, he may as clear.

DRUCKER: Yeah. That there would be no hearings and no votes for no reason whatsoever would he waver from that. A lot of people, particularly conservatives and the insurgent community doubted him. They have not been always happy. He didn't hold the line the way they would prefer. This is something he cares very deeply about. The President would not have had this opportunity. He wouldn't have been able to make the bargain with wary conservative voters during the election if McConnell has not done this. He spearheaded this. This has not come from the bottom up, this came from the top down and that's why Gorsuch is going to be most likely the next justice on the Supreme Court.

[12:55:01] BALL: And may be the reason that Donald Trump is President. I mean the amazing thing is--

BASH: Absolutely.

BALL: -- Democrats thought Republicans would take a political hit for leaving the Supreme Court vacancy. They thought that voters would be mad at what that did to the institutional fabric of the Senate. Not only did Republicans did not take a political hit, they drew political advantage from it got a lot of conservatives out to vote.

BASH: And conservatives who probably would not have seen Donald Trump as their guy. I mean let's be honest. Who might otherwise have stayed home because this is a guy who was for single payer, was, you know, actively outwardly pro-choice and so on and so forth, but because he put out the list of potential nominees early on, very smartly, he convinced the conservative base that he would take care of them and he did.

PHILLIP: And Trump is also facing a huge group of people at the lower court level that he can fill in part because of Mitch McConnell's strategy throughout eight years of holding the line on federal judges.

KING: Thanks, everybody, for dealing with the rock n roll today. That's what happens when we get live television. Thanks for joining us in "Inside Politics". Moments away from the White House briefing Press secretary Sean Spicer getting ready. My colleague Wolf Blitzer will take you there in just a moment.

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