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Trump Calls on Media to Cover Georgia Special Election; GOP Town Hall Facing Feisty Voters; Status of Trump's Agenda as 100 Day Mark Nears; Trump Staying Home More Often Than Obama, Bush 43; Trump Admin Wants to Keep WH Visitor Logs Private; EPA Chief Calls for Exit From Paris Climate Agreement; Trumps Get Their First Crack at Egg Roll. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 17, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:03] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: -- their base there. But if Democrats the chance would get over 50 percent that would be huge. I think that's pretty unlikely. You know, you can add every singer, actor, dancer into the district.

We saw the limitations of that during the presidential campaign last year I think. And the reality is that, this is a time of rebuilding for the Democratic Party. And I think it's pretty unlikely, you know, just four months into the year that a Democrat like him -- he's not that well known in the district, he's 30 years old, he's a former house staffer. It's not like he has been on the school board for ever or in the state Senate.

So, the problem for Democrat is recruiting candidates. And what happened during the Obama administration during eight years. The party has just estimated at the state and local level. So, just because a loss there does not mean the midterms are loss for Democrats at all. But it means that they have a very, very weak bench.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And they've got to figure out sort of what is the kind of candidate? I mean, you saw in previous elections in 2015 sort of blue dog democrat who was able to appeal to independents and Republicans. And we don't know what that looks like if these go around. And of course be different for each seat that's open.

I imagine that they think the Sam Jackson ad maybe that will rally African-Americans. There were people who were fans of the 500 movies he's been in over the last many years. I don't really know this. I guess there's connection to Georgia. I think --

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And there's that credit card commercial by Charles Barkley.

HENDERSON: Yes. (Inaudible) yes, yes. There's been (inaudible) cards. And so, we'll see. And we saw what Trump think. He twitted about this and he called Ossoff a super Liberal Democrat.

KING: Yes. Put that up. Put that up on. He says," The super Liberal Democrat in the Georgia Congressional race tomorrow wants to protect criminals, allow illegal immigration and raise taxes. HENDERSON: I mean, (inaudible). I mean, he knows sort of what drives the Republican Party base and sort of what keeps them together, right. And it's not clear what the Democrats stand for other than being against Donald Trump.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: Well, I think the closeness of the Kansas race was a bit of, you know, bat signal to the rest of the resistance. Like, we can do things, look, like we came really close and think that will improve their chances here likely not to get him over 50 percent. But the question is whether the excitement of that movement which is very left leaning, helps you win.

Special elections are weird. You can get a weird turn out, you know, and perhaps pull something off you wouldn't otherwise. In subsequent years, who do you need to be appealing to and do those candidates? And does that energy help you get there? That's the real open up.

KING: You mentioned the bat signal to resistance, the question is what's the bat signal for Republicans? In this again depends on where you live. We sit in Washington and we have these conversations about, you know, national politics, close race in Kansas. We'll see what happens in Georgia.

I want you to listen just moments ago. This is a congressional town hall. A Republican Congress member and Republican senator made a joined town hall out in Reno, Nevada. A lot of local issues coming up but even there we see some anti-Trump energy. Listen to the question here about the president's budget and more importantly the response.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I hear that Donald Trump wants to severely cut the EPA budget, I'm angry. This is not acceptable. We cannot go backwards, OK.

SEN. DEAN HELLER (R), NEVADA: Isn't the president is going to submit a budget. Obama submitted eight budgets and in eight years he got one vote on his budget, one vote. Now, we've got Trump, Trump is submitting his budget, Trump is submitting his budget. And the House is going to propose their budget and the Senate is going to propose their budget. And I guarantee you this, it will look nothing. It will look nothing like the president's budget.


ZELENY: (Inaudible) that's a Republican speaking. And not exactly embracing the Trump budget blueprint. And EPA is a concern to voters out there, you know, particularly in the middle, but also Republicans. A lot of Republicans are environmentalists in a slightly different way but conversationalists of the land, particularly out west.

MATT VISER, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Including the president's son. You know, I mean, he's pretty vague on that.

KING: Yes. But you see there from Republicans, the whole idea that look, you know, we don't -- we're not going to fall in luck. But this is some new polling out just this hour. The president's job approval, 39 approved, 54 disapproved. Speaker Paul Ryan's job approved, 29 approved, 54 disapproved. So, there's this sort of anti-Washington, not just anti-Trump but anti-Washington mood there that benefited candidate Trump. The outsider coming to change Washington and now he lives in a place called 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, his title is Mr. President. You get the baggage of this town.

HAM: Well, I think that was -- to me that's a useful exchange, the Republican congressman offering a civic lesson. So there's a (inaudible). Well, there is this part where the president's budget like flaps only to (inaudible) unicorns on it because that's what it is. It's an idea of what he would like in his wildest, wildest dreams. And he will not get out of the Congress.

I think that's helpful for people gauging exactly how much that means. And it was the same in the Obama administration. But you see this hesitancy to embrace his priorities that showed in that budget partly because part of the Trump constituency are people who are less like me and don't want to cut as much from the federal government. So that's a sticking point they will continue to have.

[12:35:00] VISER: But -- and part of this electoral is how much can Democrats tag Trump with all of that? And you see that in Georgia where health care is becoming sort of one of the referendum items which is not all that. And there's some similarities with 2010 in Scott Brown's election which was a shocker. Health care, again, was what that was over and it drew sort of national referendum on Obama early on.

This similarly -- that was Ted Kennedy's seat, this is Newt Gingrich's old seat. You know, it's a very conservative district. So, I think that depending on what happens tomorrow and then over the next two months if he doesn't win is a lot of national lessons.

KING: And you mentioned the weakness of the Democratic bench. I mean, you know, they lost the House, they lost the Senate. They lost a thousand state legislative seats during the Obama years. And again, this is not a criticism of any current Democratic leader but the Democratic Party's future at the moment appears to be its past.

I mean, let's listen again. Now, Bernie Sanders who's about to go on a tour across the country including it to some red states, one of the challenges for Democrats is how do you take that energy that we see. Legitimately there's the energy out there. How do you put it in a bottle and make it work on Election Day. And Bernie Sanders says, he's going to travel the country and try to figure it out, listen.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), VERMONT: I believe you're going to see it in Montana. I believe you're going to see it all over this country. It's the many so-called red states. Working people are going to wake up and say, wait a second, Republicans want to cut social security, Medicare and Medicaid and education and they want to give hundreds of billions of dollars of tax breaks to the top one percent.

No, that's not what we elected Trump to do. Yes. Climate change is real. It's not a hoax.


KING: All right, just the fact that we fact checked the president when he does it. There is zero indication President Trump is what -- Bernie Sanders just said that they want to cut social security and Medicare. Zero indication that President Trump is willing to go along with that.

So, yes, there are Republican budgets that have been put on the table in the past to do such things but to be fair to the president he has said, no. We'll see what happens when we get to that process. But it's unfair to say the president wants to do that right now.

HENDERSON: Yes. And I mean, Bernie Sanders in some ways sounds like a broken record. I mean, this is what he was campaigning on. This is what Democrat -- you've heard from them all along.

KING: He thinks he would have won if they quote unquote establishment.

HENDERSON: Yes. Grandma had -- whatever. No. I think that's right. What I mean is they don't have any sort of unifying message and you can tell, even in what he's saying in there. He's talking about the EPA and climate change, decided and calling and wrong there in terms of what he's talking about on social security.

I mean, the Democrats have always thought that diversity was their strength. In many ways it's not. I mean, there are too many sort of competing. I think factions competing demographics in many ways. And you have Republicans who have a very solid message in many ways.

They have the presidency obviously and these voters are committed to Donald Trump. They're emotionally attached to his message in a lot of ways. And I think again from that tweet he knows what pushes their buttons. And in this case it was taxes, it was illegal immigration.

ZELENY: But Donald Trump has a ceiling. We've seen this in all his approval ratings. I mean, 39 percent to 40 percent. The challenge for Democrats is not to be pulled too far to the left here, that's sort of the inclination. But is this going to be sort of a repeat on the left hand side of what happened in 2010, 2014? We don't know.

But there are, you know, those voters in the middle whoever speaks to them is this issue. But Bernie Sanders is one of the leaders of the Democratic Party right now and that is both a blessing and a curse for the Democratic Party.

KING: If he learned anything from the Hillary Clinton campaign, it should be that no matter what party you're in you should spend a lot of time on what you're for, not just what you're against.

Up next, more potential reason why some of President Trump's legislative agenda has gone nowhere so far.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:42:42] KING: Welcome back. President Trump came to Washington with a huge agenda, health care, tax reform, infrastructure, and much, much more. And to get it all done, the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer promised the president would assume the role of traveling salesman in chief.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are out in full sell mode all around the country, talking about how we think this is the best way to solve the problem that the American people face. And that why we believe that the solutions that we put forward in this bill are the right ones and it will benefit them. I think you will see a lot of travel and a lot of activity by the president and all of the administration.


KING: Now, though, 88 days into the Trump presidency, most of his legislative objectives have failed or remain stalled. Part of the reason even many of the president's supporters believe is that he has not (inaudible) on the country to pitch the American people on his policies. So far, he's been around (inaudible) compared to his immediate predecessors.

Look at the numbers there compiled by the New York Times only seven public events in state, in seven states. By this time, President Obama had been overseas three times. President George W. Bush had visited nearly half of all the states at this point in his presidency.

Again, those numbers compiled by the New York Times which called the president relatively a home body. I think that is surprising actually given how his brand was defined how successful he was at rallying his voters during the campaign. You've talked to a lot of his supporters who say why, especially during the health care debate.

Before the health care. Yes, before the vote was brought to the floor, why wasn't he out there negotiating in Freedom Caucus districts as suppose to bringing them to a table in the White House?

HAM: Well, I think the question is what is Trump selling and does he want to be selling it. And when he was on the trail he was selling Trump. And so he was very excited about that.

The health care bill, he was not, I don't think, ideological committed to anyone and to get a win. But the question becomes when do you get that win and I think this White House feels good about some of the regulatory stuff they've been doing. They feel good about Gorsuch. But at some point I do think he have to get something on the board. And it doesn't get any easier after 100 days.

I think theoretically he has some of the schmoozing Congress skills that Obama didn't have, combined with the ability to go out in the trail and make this sales, but he's not combining those skills.

KING: Right. [12:45:04] ZELENY: I think that many of those visits and he went to a Louisville, to a Nashville, to Detroit or in Michigan. He's going to Wisconsin tomorrow. What I'm struck by is that he still -- when he's having these bag rallies, he still sounds like he's running for office as opposed to being president. And I think the White House -- the advisors there I sort of speak to are -- they said there are some growing pains and being president does not translate as much to these big rallies.

They are time consuming and he does like the Oval Office. He has more people inside to visit him in the West Wing than previous presidents. And communications have changed since President Bush.

You know, he was not on social media. So this president is more visible in a sense, but I think it is one of the biggest surprises that he's not been out there selling it more because he only sort of wants to have these big rallies as opposed to small events.

KING: You make the point that he's at the White House a lot, and on the weekends he's been at Trump properties a lot. And one of these questions of this town is now this is not a transparent administration. I think that President Obama didn't come anywhere close to keeping his promise to be the most transparent president in history.

And now you have the follow on here. This White House has refused to follow the Obama administration's policy of making White House visitor logs public. We don't know who's going in to see the president, and we don't know who's golfing with the president.

Some of you at home probably think who cares but in this environment is it not appropriate? The White House is a tax payer paid building. Should we not know who is going in and out of the White House? And if there's some particular guest that they have to keep secret for some national security reason, they have a waiver for that.

But (inaudible) the White House communications director Mike Dubke, he says this, "Grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually." There's the reason they're going to go back to the old ways and not disclose the visitors.

VISER: And there's a way around that. I mean, to limit who you're releasing. And we should know that information of people coming in and out. But am I shocked that we're not? No. I mean, Trump did not release his tax returns. He's been untransparent in other ways.

And, one, despite that, you know. So I think you're seeing him implement some of those lack of transparency guidelines that he's run by in the White House.

HENDERSON: Yes. In some ways you see how much they can get away with and to see if it works essentially. And it worked on the campaign trail. You did have -- I think Sean Duffy on our air this morning criticize the White House and talk about the need for transparency. And you've heard the White House call the -- you've heard the White House or Trump called the White House the people's house.

Well, if it's the people's house, it would be good probably to know who's going into the people's house, as tax payer funded building. And so -- and you're right. I mean, I think they are using this convenient excuse about privacy, national security. And we'll see if they can get away with it.

VISER: Trump himself also used the information from the visitor logs to criticize Obama.


VISER: Based on information gleaned --

KING: That was then. This is now.

HAM: To me the visitor logs is a no brainer. It's one of my favorite things the Obama administration which I was often critical did. And no, it didn't change the town, right.

They still had the meetings at the nearby Chernobyl coffee a lot. Because they work around in things because that's what this town does. But you have a sort of standard and you have some idea of who is there and you can look to it.

And I think that is an obligation to the American people. You should absolutely do it. The question is whether the constituency to make noise about it is loud enough to make them change their minds.

KING: One of the big policy challenges for the administration this week is deciding whether to stay or pull out of the Paris global climate change accord.

We know inside the White House, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner known to be relatively influential. They are believed to be in the stay in the Paris camp. We know there are others who want to pull out of their Paris camps. Among them Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator who went on Fox News last week and said so publicly.


SCOT PRUITT, ADMINISTRATOR, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: Well, Paris is something that we need to really look at closely because it's something we need to exit in my opinion. It's a bad deal for America. It was America's second, third, or fourth kind of approach. China and India had no obligations on agreement until 2030. We front loaded all of our costs.


KING: Not a surprise in his position but that's consistent with his views when he was the Oklahoma attorney general. But given on what we've seen with the rise and fall and what have purgatory of Steve Bannon. When you're going into these conversations, is it smart to get out publicly on an issue where you might be at odds with the president's daughter? VISER: No. And I think this is one of the first times that we're reading a lot about palace intrigue of who's up and who's down in this White House. And this is one of those tests of who really does who carry weight and whether the Jared Kushner, you know, and Ivanka Trump side wins on this.


VISER: And maybe some symbolic though because -- and the EPA is really -- it's already gotten a lot of the things that impact the Paris climate bill. So whether we're in it or we're not, we've already kind of gotten rid of the things that we would need to do to satisfy the agreement.

HAM: Why would Trump called it politically binding, not legally binding. It's no longer political binding because the Democratic Party is not in control.

KING: In fact, a lot of that might play out this week. Everybody sit tight. Up next, nearly 18,000 eggs on a roll. Big fun and a big test for the Trumps today, the first Easter egg roll of the Trump presidency.



[12:53:57] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we will be stronger, and bigger, and better as a nation than ever before. We're right on track. You see what's happening and we are right on track.


KING: The Easter bunny clearly agreed that we are right on track.


KING: That's the president of the United States. We're going to have a little fun at the end of the program here. Beginning the 139th Annual Easter White House egg roll, the first of the Trump presidency, it's such a surreal picture, any president standing there with the Easter bunny next to him. But it was a little odd there with (inaudible) those future Trump voters I guess, those six, seven, and eight year-old down on the lawn telling them we're right on track here. In there, you see the picture of the president (inaudible).

There was a lot of conversation in town last week. Could they pull this off, will they have to point this off? It's going to be smaller than it was in the past. But Washington sometimes obsesses about things that perhaps Washington should not obsess about. It's a fun event and it's important I think for every presidents. And you see first lady there as well, Melania Trump and young Baron Trump. We don't see Baron Trump very often, so it's nice to see him on the ground to the White House today.

HENDERSON: Is that an executive order?

[12:55:01] KING: That's a signature little art class there. Well, anything to make of this great event except for being partisan for a minute.


KING: The president is on the lawn hanging out with kids. That's a good thing.

HENDERSON: And that's the great thing about this all the time. You saw Obama like reading to kids, shooting basketballs. He missed a bunch at some point. So -- I mean, I think seeing Donald Trump in that atmosphere --

ZELENY: It humanizes him. I mean, him out there like he knew the -- the cameras were on and that's why he said we're, you know -- everything is going along just fine, you know, we're on track here. He knew he was on television there obviously. It's a fun moment.

VISER: But it also get him sort of the pomp and circumstance of the White House which we're starting to see a little bit from him. He does that at Mar-a-Lago and he loves it. And now, he's doing that out of the White House. New England Patriots is coming on Wednesday, like another opportunity to showcase the world champion.

HAM: And I think there is an element when you talk about things that this town and media gets obsessed about. The New York Times last week called it the largest, most celebrated, and most heavily scrutinized public event of the year. I'm like, look, I'm willing to buy if they mess this up, it could be sort of an event of Eminem's metric about whether he can handle a bigger thing. But this is not the biggest thing and it was fine.


KING: We're going to get tired of Easter egg rolls. Thanks for joining us with Inside Politics. We'll see you back here at this time tomorrow. Wolf Blitzer is up after a quick break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Ankara, 2:00 a.m. Tuesday in Seoul, South Korea --