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Angry Crowds Pack GOP Town Halls across U.S.; WH Dismisses Some Protests as "Manufactured"; Moments Away: Tillerson, Mexican Counterpart to Speak. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 23, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:03] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Democrats did this back in their Tea Party years, cancelled their Town Halls so as they glean out in this sort of in your face moment for the Republicans. We should remember a little history. Democrats had a little pok-pok (ph) in them back a couple of cycles ago.

What do we make of this? You know, on the one hand you can say, you know, Democrats are fired up. They're mad about this presidency. And so they're showing up even in red states like Arkansas. And this time of conversation, you're all Arkansans, I'm happy to have you here. Is it just frustration or is it the seeds of something?

MATT VISER, THE BOSTON GLOBE: I thought Tom Cotton's answer was a pretty good one. You know, like it doesn't matter necessarily who these people are. That, you know, or if they -- or how organized they are.

I mean they're there and they're challenging their elected officials, which is a core aspect of democracy. I think the aspect of whether this turns into something is so early to tell. But there is 23 seats that Republicans won, that Hillary Clinton also won. So those are the seats I think where, you know, something could happen. You know where this activism could turn into electoral victories. And that's I think where some of that energy is starting to be directed.

KING: Right. And we're going to watch this. We'll get an early test. You know that Tom Price is now Health and Human Service Secretary in his district. Which is a Republican leaning district, as one of the shotgun primaries of the top two people have make the file, but if Democrats have a chance to prove this energy is about something. That's actually changing minds and bending districts, that would be one early test of it.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and I think the other day they it tells whether t his grows into a movement or where it goes is what happens when the policy front.

I mean one of the reasons people are turning out like this, frustrated, worried is because healthcare is something that is pivotal to people's day-to-day lives. Trying to remove a benefit as flawed as it may be but that they currently have and replacing it with something that is unknown is scary to people, especially to people who are older, to people who are sick, to people who do pay a lot of money in healthcare costs. And so, what we see in this replacement plan might be a big driver of just how big this movement grows and how much trouble people have ahead of them in some of these re-election fights.

KING: And one of the interesting things is I think Senator Cotton that hit it just right. Is that whether they're organized or not, you know, when you went home six months ago, they weren't there. Probably when you were in home last year, they weren't there. So after there now, you know if somebody was able to organize them. That means they were able to tap into some mood that's out there. Senator Cotton's view, Senator -- Majority Mitch McConnell has said things similar, a very different from White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think there's a hybrid there. I think some people are clearly upset but there is a bit of professional protester, manufactured base in there. But there are obviously there are people that are upset, but I also think that when you look at some of these districts and some of these things, it is not a representation of a member's district or an incident. It is a loud group, small group of people disrupting something in many cases for media attention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Translation, not to worry from the new Republican White House Press Secretary, which sounds like a former new Democratic White House Press Secretary.

(BEGIN VIDEO-CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This White House contention that they angered at some members of Congress are experiencing a Town Hall meetings especially over healthcare reform, is manufactured?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think some of it is, yes. And, in fact I think you've had groups today, conservatives for patient's rights that have bragged about organizing and manufacturing that anger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now Democrats learned, first in 2010, and then again in 2014 that organized or not, it matters if you can turn that energy into what the two -- Tea Party elections. The question is -- and the Tea Party people pushed back. They say this is nothing like it. But how do they even know? Do we know the answer to that question at this point?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: I don't think we know the answer to the question. Well, I think these things are always a mix of sort of organic anger and to some organizing on top of it. And that's fine. That doesn't delegitimize what's going on. I think the huge question for Liberal activists and for Democrats is what to learn from the Tea Party, and what not to learn from them, and what to copy and what not?

And so I think when it comes to, for instance, the policy on this as the replacing or repeal and replace possibly moves through, do they obstruct on every possibility? There is some polling in battleground states done by a right winning advocacy groups just a -- what do we mean by that -- that shows that there is danger in that obstruction part, too, as well as danger in --

KING: Right.

HAM: -- the repeal parts. That's one thing to look out for.

And the other thing is, electorally, how many districts are going to end up actually being mismatched to their representative, who are more liberal than their representative, because of redistricting and because of many Republican wins over many years. Those mismatches are not as common as they were during the Tea Party years for the right. So I think, that's a question, too. How many of you can actually flip?

OLIVER KNOX, YAHOO NEWS: And the really important thing, too, is that Democrats have set their sights on recapturing as many governorships as possible.

KING: Right.

KNOX: Ahead of the next census. And so we got to see how they sustain this passion through that process. Democrats famously don't do that well in midterm elections. But you wonder whether they can sustain this through the gubernatorial elections, which are the ones that they really, really want to get back.

KING: And you make a key point, they are week for weeks work in Washington. So we focus more on these House and Senate seats which do matter for the Trump agenda in the future for the party. But for the Democrats who are in a deep ditch, the most important thing in the next cycle as those governor's races and state legislative races.

[12:35:07] Everybody sit tight, we're waiting for the Secretary of the State Rex Tillerson. We are told to his meeting in Mexico City. The first version of them about to break, we're going to hear from him shortly his view, how it goes in the Global States trying to sell President Trump's immigration policies to our normally friendly neighbor. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. We're told just moments away, you're seeing on the right of your screen there from the very important diplomatic appearance by the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He is in Mexico City meeting with his Mexican counter part, and then later with the Mexican President trying to sell Trump administration immigration policies. You might recall, Mexico was already upset saying, "No way," to President Trump's proposal that it pay for a new border wall.

Now, those guidelines released yesterday by the White House on a new deportation policy. Mexico upset about those as well. So we're going to hear from the Secretary of State in just a few minutes. He has to define and defend these policies to the Mexican government. The Mexican government is objecting. The President just as short time ago at the White House said, "I don't understand what all the fuss is about."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: We're getting really bad, dudes, out of this country. And at a rate that nobody has ever seen before. And they're the bad ones. And it's a military operation because what has been allowed to come into our country, when you see gang violence that you've read about like never before. To all of the things, much of that is people that are here illegally. And they are rough and they are tough but they're not tough like our people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So a lot to unpack there. That number one, you can fact check that, and you might have some issues that it's not a military operation. It's a border patrol on ICE, Immigration Custom's Enforcement operation.

Number two, we're getting the bad dudes out like never before. The guidelines were just released yesterday. So I don't think we have a test to really of the numbers yet even on some of the administration, but just the tone of that.

That the tone of that is important to the President as he tries to keep his signature campaign promise. And well, as we wait for Secretary Tillerson, its part to be debate here in this country, will this be mass deportations or will it just be people who have criminal records, or suspected of gang involvement? We don't know the answers of that. They're just implementing these policies.

[12:40:10] From the Mexico perspective they're already mad about being told, they are going to pay for the wall which they say, "No." But now there is -- the administration guidelines saying if you round up somebody on this side of the border and they are from Guatemala or somewhere else, they're still going to dump them back into Mexico, which Mexico says you cannot unilaterally do that.

VISER: And he also -- I mean, the polls that we talked about at the top of the show, you know, 60 percent of the people. People say that they don't -- they support the courts over Trump on the travel ban. And 60 percent said that they opposed the wall. You know, so I think, Trump, there is some selling to the public. You know winning over not his hard-core supporters but a broader swath of the public. For some of these executive orders and some of the things that he wants to do on immigration.

KING: But he has focused out of the box on his voters. On his voters, and not try to -- not even put much effort I guess, I would say, into selling it. Maybe that's what the speech to congress will be about next Tuesday night. Trying to sell it to a broad audience, we will see. But this, as we await Secretary Tillerson, this is a big test for a Secretary of State who we're told is already on a little frustrated with his boss.

MURRAY: Well, and I'm sure is one of the awkward conversations he's having with Mexican officials as Mexican officials explaining, hey look at all these people, we turned down from South America and send them back, so that they don't make their way to the U.S.

We are doing, sort of part of this enforcement for you. And so, if all you're doing is trying to stick us with a build for the wall, make us build the wall, dump people back into our country that aren't from our country. We don't have to be helping you out the way that we are. So, it doesn't seem like they're going into this meeting on particularly great footing to begin with.

HAM: Well, there's a couple things going on here. I think, I'm looking out for Tillerson's style, when he comes to the podium for one, and whether this idea that certain things are just negotiating positions. That he might take from Trump into this meeting and figure out if we step them back a little back.

Also would always get's a friend like American public, recent polling shows that immigration is a top issue as the economy falls. And, "Getting rid of the bad dudes," is actually quite popular.

KING: Right.

HAM: It's just a question of whether that's what's actually going on or to say --

MURRAY: And like what's the bad dude under the definition of the Trump administration?

KING: But I also think we have seen in the last 24 hours when we are talking about the immigration guidelines or transgender rollback from the Obama Administration, you could popup the map of red and blue America.

Donald Trump is playing to red America, which is the giant swath of the map. And the blue area is largely the coastal areas, Democrats are gaps saying, how can he do this? Well, he won the election. And that's what he's trying to do.

The administration often accuses the news media of sometimes this network particularly of being part of fake news. Describing the climate for Secretary Tillerson's trip, south of the boarder, listen to the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer yesterday. I'll call this some fake spin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: We have a very healthy and robust relationship with the Mexican Government and Mexican officials. And I think they would echo that same sentiment. President Pena Nieto has echoed that as well. But I think the relationship with Mexico is phenomenal right now. And I think there is an unbelievable and robust dialogue between our two nations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Forgive me but if I am wrong that the dialogue from that side has been, "No to the wall, no to these new guidelines." Where is the robust happy part?

KNOX: There's a long history of U.S./Mexico tensions first of all. Thus they didn't suddenly become bad under Donald Trump. The President of Mexico is widely unpopular and he is not going to make himself more popular if he just actually bows to everything Donald Trump says. I think his popularity rating may actually be inside the margin of error in the polls, meaning that he might be at zero percent.

So, the relationship is enormously complicated. It's enormously complicated.

KING: Right.

KNOX: And the parts that work are things like the massive flows of trade, right? And the Mexicans rely on remittances from Mexicans who are here back to their families back home. That's a big chunk of their economy. At the same time they are defending their southern border.

It's an extremely complicated relationship, and I'm -- one of the case as pointing struck me -- yes, the deal making. Let's see whether can the Mexican President, stay salvage to win by negotiating some things away? Can Rex Tillerson come away with a successful fore ray abroad?

I don't know, I would be a little bit surprised, and we get back now to whether Donald Trump would maybe roll that back with a Tweet or comment.

KING: Well, that's a great point, because it's an early test and we will have dozens of them about the Trump style is to sort of put you back in your heels, disrupt you, make you mad, but make you a little unnerved, and then cut a deal.

That's if you read "Art of the Deal" that's sort of what it's about if you watch to the campaign. And so whether it's NATO, he says obsolete. He really needs and wants those countries to spend more f their defensing (ph) contribute more than NATO Alliance. Whether it's this relationship here, whether it's renegotiating NAFTA which he said at one point he'd rip up on day one. Now he says let's modernize it.

So, if Trump is the bad cop and Rex Tillerson is the good cop maybe that's not the right analysis but --

MURRAY: Right, and if you throw all those priorities that neither are talking about the when dealing with Mexico. You're talking about the wall, you're talking about deporting immigrants from any country back to Mexico. You're talking about renegotiating NAFTA. Maybe they can find wins on some of those issues and things that would essentially be sacrifices elsewhere. And Donald Trump can walk away saying, look, we asked for six things, we got four of them and, you know, that's how I do business. KING: Right and you talk about the importance of the economic relationship.

[12:45:03] He gets lost sometimes in the immigration debate because it's a very emotional debate here in this country. And, again, speaking to his voters in red America, Donald Trump's on pretty good standing.

And this is the one issue. Again, like him or not, voted for him or not, he was more specific on this issue than any other. I think that's fair to say during the campaign. And so in his view, he's delivering on his campaign promises even though some digressions, some conservatives are little upset when it comes to the young, the DREAMers, so called DREAMers.

Listen to a Rep. Congressman Ruben Gallego here, you heard Sean Spicer said the relationship is robust. Here's the Congressman that says he tracks it closely, he disagrees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D), ARIZONA: To actually talk to the Mexican government. I talked to Mexican Congressmen and Senators. I read our Mexican newspapers and, you know, you'll be watching any type of Spanish media, you know that is quite the opposite. I mean they're threatening to do boycotts of U.S. goods especially corn and other farm products.

You know, there, you know, some Senators are threatening to make certain cut off to other types of relationships, especially security relations with the United States. You know, I think Sean Spicer is very loose with the truth and facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, the Democrat obviously given his parts and perspective there from a border state. But I think the important part what the Congressman said there was something we're just touching on. And that this is a test of the President in that.

If you're having such tensions with Mexico to the point that they could involve a trade war or economic retaliation, what do you put first? Your primary goal to create jobs, to keep the -- put the American economy that was on a good path -- on a great path, or this issue of immigration if it disrupts the relationship.

VISER: And part of this is interesting with Tillerson, too, in Rex Tillerson. This is a big moment for him. We haven't even really heard him speak at all. You know. So, Having him come out, and not only walking into a difficult Diplomatic situation but how he addresses cameras and how he talks and what his style is in sort of how he navigates this publicly. Because we've read and seen how he's kind of been cast aside by the Trump administration. Now, a lot of their colleagues were being made out of the White House and he does not seem to have a lot of autonomy in how he negotiates.

KING: Well, perhaps a chance to reassert himself early on here.

We're watching south of the border for this news conference to play out, these statements to play out. On the other side of the border, the U.S. side of the border, Speaker Paul Ryan led a Republican delegation down there yesterday. There were aerial photos of them going over the border. They did not talk to reporters on site after. But a big question for the President when it comes to policy is, what does the Congress willing to do? A lot of Republicans still think you don't need as big of a wall. A lot of Republicans are saying how are we going to pay if the cost is $15, $12, $20 billion? That calm inspect literacy of Speaker Ryan on a horseback they're going along the border and their --

HAM: And most important moment of that.

KING: Most important moment. Do you take horseback over the helicopter?

Do we have any Intel yet on how -- what he's prepared to tell the President when it comes to the spending that would be required to carry out the President's plan?

HAM: Well, I think that's the most friction here. Because the idea during the campaign was, well, Mexico is going to pay for this. There -- it was very unclear how that was going to come about and Mexico seems not terribly interested in playing ball on that.

And I do think, you know, Ryan, of course, will have reservations of this about such spending. But the argument from Conservatives or Republicans will be -- well, it's infrastructure, its national security, those are things that the constitution says we can spend on. Whether it's going to be bang for your buck and a conservative sometime, I'm not really sure.

KING: Everybody sit tight up for just one second. We're just going to sneak in a quick break. We're waiting for the secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Mexico City.

Also, tracking big developments at a conservative conference here in Washington that soon, meaning next hour. We'll feature Reince Priebus the White House chief of staff and Steve Bannon. The Senior Advisor which then he's often described as odd, they say not the case. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:1:25] KING: Welcome back. As you see we're keeping an eye on room in Mexico City there. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meeting at the moment with his Mexican counterpart the foreign minister later meetings with the President of Mexico, all of that about controversial Trump administration new immigration policies. We will take you there in Mexico City when the foreign Minister and the Secretary of State cannot just speak to reporters.

Back here in Washington now, Reince Priebus and Steven Bannon wants you to see there's nothing to see. Priebus is the White House chief of staff. Bannon, you probably recall the former Breitbart news executive turns Senior Trump adviser.

The first month of the new Trump administration has featured almost daily accounts of friction between the two. Accounts for example that Priebus blames Bannon for the rocky roll-out of the initial Trump travel ban, and accounts Bannon blames Priebus for its early missteps and for pushing too many old guard establishment figures for administration jobs.

They have several joint meeting and abuse to call reports of tension a crock. And next hour, on the stage you see on the right of your screen there, a dark hallway, they will make that case together at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

And so I guess the question for the table is, if they feel the need to go public at this conservative conference to make the case, we are Kumbaya, all is good. Does that mean all is good?

HAM: Maverick and Goose, going up together.

Look, I think it's interesting that they're doing this at CPAC. I would say that my prediction would be that Reince Priebus would be anodyne and nice. And who knows what would come out of the Bannon part of this. But I think it's an optics thing that's papering over what are actual policy concerns in addition to management concerns. And that's sort of a symbol for all of CPAC.

Right now we're just like, what are we actually here believing? And that's a bit of an open question when it comes to trade and when it comes to some immigration issues and even social issues.

KING: Well, it's a great part because it's a different administration. But it's also a different movement. And so this is not CPAC of 25 years. This is not what do they thought with CPAC, this is not Ronald Reagan CPAC, this is not George W. Bush era CPAC. The movement itself has changed in part because of the Trump effect. But when these two guys sit next to each other on a stage, they are at the White House everyday. I mean, you know, how much of it is the creative tension this president likes, and how much of it is two guys who are incredibly different trying to stake out their turf?

MURRAY: Well, first of all I think they're probably going to skip in together holding hands and then hug which is to prove that everything is fine.

Look, they have --

KING: Music for that?

MURRAY: Yes. I think I've broke up the sound track.

Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon have very different world views. They've stood for very different things, had different beliefs about the direction the Republican Party should go before Trump. That doesn't go away. This is not a cohesive team. This is not a cohesive team that worked together for the last two years. I've been covering Trump longer than these people have been working for Donald Trump. So, that's part of what you're getting at. But I also think the fact that they are trying to be so public in this united front tells you that something has shifted with the president. The guy who likes stiff (ph) gums, who likes his advisers fighting got a little bit exhausted with staff infighting stories every single day. That is the reason we are now seeing them go on the record to say lovely, fawning things about each other, but also people in this west wing that have been under fire.

They want to try to calm this down for at least a little bit. The question is, is this a little bit three hours? Is it a week? Is it two weeks or is it just until they try to do their next big policy thing and they find themselves on opposite sides of the issues?

KING: Right. It's a great point. Because I believed within the course of just 72 hours or at least within the same week, you have Steve Bannon on the cover of "Time Magazine." The great manipulator they called him. So that's an insult to the President that the president is being manipulated. And there was a Breitbart news story just trashing Reince Priebus, a very long story just trashing him. And everyone said that's Bannon and his old haunt. But he told CNN he was disgusted by that story and thought it was horrible. But there it was.

[12:55:09] VISER: And you also -- I mean to your point earlier about CPAC and this being just a different environment right now, Reince Priebus sort of represents the old CPAC. And Bannon, I mean his staged his own kind of counter event in past years at CPAC. So, those two guys represent two different parts of the Party and two different, you know, areas that are showcased at this CPAC in general.

KING: Now we're waiting for that event. That's in the next hour. We'll carry that live. We're also waiting here for Secretary of state Rex Tillerson there in Mexico City, but we're out of time for us right now. INSIDE POLITICS would be back right here right here at noon time tomorrow. Hope you come see us Sunday morning too.

Wolf will be on the chair after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's at noon in Mexico City, 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, wherever you're watching from around the world. Thanks very much for joining us --