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INSIDE POLITICS

Health Care Progress Report; Reviewing Trump's First 100 Days; Curiel to Hear Deeporation Case; Ernst Talks Trump Flaws; Trump Critics Emboldened; Iran Deal Ignored. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 20, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: This administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran. The evidence is clear, Iran's provocative actions threaten the United States, the region, and the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And coming close in another special election bears a giant Democratic dilemma. Yes, the party's base is full of anti-Trump energy, but, no, there's not much to show for it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Democrats went all in on this race. They spent over $8.3 million. They said on the record that they were -- their goal was to win this race. They lost. And the reaction has somewhat been, you know, that they almost won. No, they lost. They made very clear what their goal was in this race. They spent $8.3 million and threw everything including the kitchen sink at it and lost.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Not quite the kitchen sink but the man has a point.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg Politics," Peter Baker of "The New York Times," Michael Shear of "The New York Times," and Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist."

We are standing by for an event at the White House. The president, as we speak, in a meeting with the owners of American steel companies, the head of the United Steelworkers Union, the president signing an executive memo today directing the Commerce Department to do a study, are steel imports hurting U.S. national security? What can be done to help the U.S. steel industry. When we get tape of that event, we'll bring it to you right away.

We begin, though, with word of progress and some believe a possible breakthrough in efforts to find enough votes among House Republicans for another try at repealing and replacing Obamacare. The embarrassing collapse of that first effort is a major failure on President Trump's 100 day report card and he has been pushing and pushing for a do over.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're on time if we get that health care approval. So press every one of your congressmen, press everybody, because we want to get that approval.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's MJ Lee has new details of negotiations, MJ, that have continued while Congress is at home for a two week Easter recess. A breakthrough, really?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, there are signs of a potential breakthrough, John. What we know right now is that leaders of the Tuesday Group and the House Freedom Caucus, they have been communicating over the Easter recess and sources are telling us that they are trying to reach a deal that could bring on board some 18 to 20 new House Freedom Caucus members. Members who were previously no, who now may be a yes.

Now, I do want to point out that there are some significant obstacles to there being a vote next week. First of all, the House is going to be very much focused on funning the government next week. So it is very unclear how much political capital Republican members are going to want to spend on the issue of health care next week. There are also fundamental divides still on policy when it comes to health care within the House. For example, some conservatives are not going to want to vote for anything less than a full repeal of Obamacare, and then there are the moderates who want to make sure that some of the protections that are in Obamacare are preserved.

Now, all of this coming as the 100 day mark is approaching for President Trump. I can tell you, the White House would like nothing more than to get something done on health care before that point in time. We'll see if the deal actually is a real one.

John.

KING: MJ Lee tracking the moving parts.

MJ, thanks so much for that.

Let's bring it inside the room.

This is -- the president keeps saying do this and do it now. There are a lot of people on Capitol Hill saying, sir, you remember what happened the first time and that didn't go so well. Let's get everybody back in town. Let's double check, triple check, quadruple check everything. But is it your sense that conservatives are willing to actually sign on to something this time or are we going to have a repeat of what we had last time where the president made concessions to the Freedom Caucus. They said, we want more. He made concessions to the Freedom Caucus. They said we want more. They were about to schedule the vote and Lucy pulled away the football.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, "THE FEDERALIST": Yes. So from what I've heard from Freedom Caucus members and from the Paul Ryan team, lessons were learned and bringing those folks into the fold is part of this process and part of what the Freedom Caucus said was lacking last time. But the question remains, you still have to, like, thread this tiny, tiny needle and you have to bring in all these things that can be done through reconciliation and perhaps get past the Senate. So it's a really tricky process and I do think it's an open question whether Freedom Caucus members who want really in their hearts full repeal will be on board for that.

KING: Right.

MICHAEL SHEAR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": And tricky enough if this was the only thing on the agenda next week.

HAM: Yes.

SHEAR: The funding questions really are huge and there are interconnections between them because part of the debate over funding has to do with this question of whether or not the Trump administration is going to fund the subsidies that are part of Obamacare. If they decide not to, that could collapse the entire marketplace in a pretty quick order. And so, you know, the question of whether or not the government remains open is in some members minds a really -- a much bigger and a more imminent question than whether or not you make some sort of incremental progress on health care.

KING: Right. If you're Speaker Paul Ryan, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate, you're thinking, we told the American people, give us a Republican president, we will govern. And if you have a government shutdown three months in --

SHEAR: Right.

KING: To a Republican government, I assume that's a pretty big stain on the party. So that's the question.

[12:05:09] You laughing. That's the question. But this has been -- this has been part of the dysfunction in the sense that, of course, repeal and replace was a signature Republican promise. You would have assumed they would have been ready once they had a Republican president, but they weren't. In part they weren't ready in the House to mitigate the differences between the conservatives and the moderates. Legitimate policy differences. And they also weren't ready for a president to say this is open for negotiation and then keep extending the process.

MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG POLITICS": (INAUDIBLE). But, OK, so when you look at that 100 day mark, you really see how much the White House is driving this idea of, can we push this vote to happen again next week?

KING: Right.

And as for making call this morning, a lot of the members in the interest groups are, like, what? Or like, they know it's kind of out there, but they're not really sure like what it -- what it is or does it -- is there really support for it. Fundamentally, centrally, there is still this question, which I know the president would like to have something big on the board, something else big on the board to mark the first 100 days, but there's still this central question that's divided the Republican Party, which is, do you cover those pre- existing conditions and a lot of those kind of Obamacare protections that the president himself was explicit during the campaign that he was committed to his base to maintain that support. The answer to that question has implications well beyond the first 100 days. (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Right. And they're not going to get a final bill before 100 days. Even if they got a vote through the House, there's no way they're going to get it through the Senate.

TALEV: Yes.

KING: And if they move this thing to the right to get the Freedom Caucus votes that they need to pass the House, there's no way they're going to get the same bill back from the Senate. And then we're going to go through this for weeks and months --

HAM: Yes.

KING: While they're trying to keep the government open in the short term and then move on to tax form. So, a rough start, and including, as they try to come back to this, listen here, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent, had a conversation with Dr. Tom Price, who is President Trump's now Health and Human Services secretary. Listen as Tom Price describes what he views as the benefits and the compromises in the version that collapsed a couple weeks ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM PRICE, HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: I believe firmly that the bill that has been discussed and that was put before Congress is a significantly better program than the one that we currently have.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: But you want the best. You've been at this for a long time. Why would you just settle for significantly better? Didn't you want the best possible bill after seven years of saying you're going to repeal and replace Obamacare? We want to put the best thing forward possible.

PRICE: The process that we have is not what Secretary Price thinks ought to be the legislation. It's what 535 individuals in the Congress of the United States and the president believes is the most appropriate thing and the best thing moving forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's that last part that's so telling to me in the sense that, you know, the plan the president signed off on that then collapsed and couldn't get the votes, it's not even close to what his own health secretary wanted to do when he was still in the House of Representatives. And it's got a -- very telling there. He's essentially saying, you know, that this thing's moved far away from what I want to do. PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. No, that's right, political

reality has, you know, reared its head. I mean they're not negotiating with Democrats. They're negotiating with each other. Republicans are negotiating with Republicans. That limits your pool of votes. And if you have to get all of those votes in order to pass it without any Democratic votes, you're going to necessarily make tradeoffs, as you say, it will be really difficult in the Senate. And it will be difficult to President Trump's campaign promises in which everybody gets to keep health care. And, you know, Tom Price can't be happy about that, but, obviously, they're looking to make a win because right now it's all about scoring something for that 100 day chart.

KING: Scoring something for the 100 day chart. Just imagine, the president's at an event today. He has signed a number of executive actions. And even if those bear fruit, it takes time. In this case he's asking for I think 90 days the Commerce Department to have a study, are foreign steel imports hurting the American steel industry. If they come back with the answer yes, are they hurting national security? Then, what do you do about it?

So there's no question the administration, you know, we sometimes gloss over the regulatory, the executive, the administration steps they're taking. There's no question they've taken some steps. But in terms of, he does not have one major legislative victory. He has Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. But not one piece of listen that, from his campaign agenda, that has reached his desk. And yet listen to Mike Pence here who says, hey, we are off, we're running, all is good.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I couldn't be more proud to be a part of an administration that hit the ground running on day one. Driving forward to repeal and replace Obamacare and putting together a team and a cabinet that I think has inspired and given confidence to people around the country and, frankly, around the world. I think at the 100 day marker, I think the American people are going to conclude what I've concluded, and that is that President Donald Trump is off to a great start, but the best is yet to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If you look at the numbers, we're going to talk more about the politics of the moment later in the program, but if you look at the numbers, his approval rating is down. A lot of people now are starting to question whether he's keeping his promises. You know, you want a loyal vice president. You -- you know, and kudos to Mike Pence for doing his job there supporting the president, but can they really make that case?

TALEV: Mike -- look, Mike Pence is in Asia right now on kind of a second cleanup tour after going to talk to the western allies in that Munich conference, now in Asia talking now in Indonesia, talking to the Muslim world about the Trump administration's respect for moderate Islam and respect for that religion.

[12:10:05] Mike Pence is in a really difficult job of trying to translate the campaign rhetoric, both foreign policy and domestic policy, into governing rhetoric ahead of President Trump's own travel around the world later this year. And, in many ways, he's trying to do the same thing in terms of kind of translating those campaign messages into something that Congress can actually work with. It is a real challenge and he is a team player.

SHEAR: But can I -- but can I -- can I just argue, I do think that, you know, there's obviously been a lot of fizzles and false starts and things that haven't gone well in the first 100 days, but, you know, you could also say that the Trump administration has begun laying the groundwork for a lot of potential changes. You know, maybe these reviews kind of fizzle and get put on a shelf and don't end up on, you know, doing real things, or, you know, you could see actual substantive changes in trade policy. You've already seen a little bit of that with the TPP. You, you know --

TALEV: Visas.

SHEAR: Visas, immigration. I mean, you know, so I think --

KING: That's -- to that point -- to that point and you see, you know, again, some voters don't like this, but the president promised in the campaign more aggressive immigration enforcement.

SHEAR: Absolutely.

KING: We'll certainly see that. Secretary -- Attorney General Sessions, excuse me, and Secretary Kelly at the border again today.

I guess -- so my question is then, then why are they so -- this is -- it's largely a media thing, but they have bought into this 100 day thing. The Trump White House has bought into it as opposed to making your point that, look, we're new at this. We're trying to fundamentally change this town. We're making a lot of down payments. We don't get the return until down the road. They're not making that case as much as they're making -- you know, we've gotten more done than anybody in the first 90 days.

HAM: That's fundamentally not a Trump case. Trump makes (INAUDIBLE). He says, I'm doing everything.

KING: Right.

HAM: But I do think it's important to remember that, you know, and I lived through the primary when I was critical of Trump on the -- on the right. The voters don't actually care about those policy inconsistencies and some of the things that this town cares about as much as we do. And so they're reading --

KING: So then why force health care vote that might knock other things off the tracks?

HAM: Well, because I think -- and, again, his numbers have always been down. They were down when he won, right?

KING: Right. HAM: So he's dealing with this part too. But people look around and they go, well, I sort of settled for the fact that he was not conventional and that was what I wanted.

TALEV: Yes.

HAM: And so if he's still sort of breaking dishes and doing things differently, they look at that and go, all right. Now, certainly going for another health care vote is different. I don't know if it will be successful. But that -- I do think that is more how people read it than the conventional way that we read a first 100 days.

BAKER: He created the sense of expectation repeatedly during the campaign. He said on day one we're going to do this, this, this, this.

TALEV: On day one.

SHEAR: On day one, right. Right.

BAKER: And, of course, any seasoned politician knows you actually can't do a lot of these things on day one.

SHEAR: Right.

BAKER: You don't have the power to do these things on day one. So momentum matters to him. But it is not really necessarily a barometer of where this presidency is going to end up. Look at the first 100 days of Bill Clinton, right? You would not have predicted the way Bill Clinton's presidency played out just on the basis of his first 100 days. We got some clues. It was chaotic, a little messy, but he got better. And we should be careful about over reading what these first 100 days tell us.

KING: You're saying Steve Bannon should spend some time at the (INAUDIBLE) to figure out the rough rolling days. I remember those days very well. It's an excellent point. I -- that's why I think the second 100 days of the Trump presidency is critical in the sense of trying to get some more things to the finish line. But they have bought into this, one more week of that.

Everyone sit tight

. Up next, the president's weekends in Florida are a hot topic at congressional town halls.

And remember that judge candidate Donald Trump said was biased because of his Mexican root. Well, that judge just assigned a case with major implications for the Trump White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:17:43] KING: Welcome back.

Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel became a household name in last year's campaign when then candidate Donald Trump said Curiel was unfit to hear a fraud lawsuit against Trump University. Now Judge Curiel has been assigned another case with big implications for President Trump. A lawsuit by a 23-year-old undocumented man who says he was deported despite being eligible for that so-called dreamer program, protecting those brought into the country as children.

First, a quick campaign flashback when candidate Trump attacked Judge Curiel in the Trump U case, his reasons was, shall we say, more than a little suspect. Trump put it this way, he was proposing a wall on the U.S./Mexican border and Judge Curiel is of Mexican descent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, HOST, CNN'S "THE LEAD": If you are saying he can't do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I don't think so at all.

TAPPER: No?

TRUMP: No. He's proud of his heritage. I respect him for that.

TAPPER: But you're saying he can't do his job because of it.

TRUMP: Look, he's proud of his heritage. OK. I'm building a wall. You know, I think I'm going to do very well with Hispanics.

TAPPER: He's a legal citizen --

TRUMP: You know why I'm going to do well with Hispanics? Because I'm going to bring back jobs. And they're going to get jobs right now. They're going to get jobs. I think I'm going to do very well with Hispanics. But we're building a wall. He's a Mexican.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Judge Curiel, of course, is an American. Born in Indiana. That's in the middle America -- America.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House now with more on this new twist.

Jeff, a coincidence, but, wow.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean who would have thought this going back to a year or so when candidate Trump did that interview with Jake out in California before the California primary. But, John, this is something the White House, at least this morning, is not commenting on yet. The president, of course, at some point will be asked about this. But, look, I mean, Mr. Trump really assailed this judge, calling him a hater, calling him a Mexican. As you said, he was born in Indiana. Yes, he has Mexican heritage.

But, look, these cases are assigned randomly, but the implications of this case very important. So the president has not necessarily lived up to some of his campaign promises on DACA specifically. He has essentially said, look, I have a heart. He's not going to be deporting people. But this case, certainly the fact that this judge is assigned to it, will draw so much more attention to it. So watch for the president or the White House to make more comments on the substance of this, as well as, of course, what he thinks of this judge, John.

[12:20:05] KING: I suspect it would be wise for the president to say nothing about this case, Jeff, since he is the president, since it involves the administration policy.

ZELENY: Good advice.

KING: But, yes, I don't know if it will be taken. Jeff Zeleny for us at the White House, thanks.

Listen, I want to talk about the mood out in the country we see from these town halls. But on this particular point, they say this is routine. You know, federal court have a rotational system and a new case comes in, who's next on the list? Up comes Judge Curiel. But it's like play the Power Ball day?

TALEV: That's pretty good, right?

BAKER: Look, if you're sued a lot, you're going to ultimately (ph) get, you know, some of the same judges more than once. And there are a lot of lawsuits out there. So --

TALEV: And if you offend a lot of people, it's also possible that you'll come back across some of them.

KING: OK, the facts are in dispute in this case, so we'll see how it plays out.

It will be playing out -- if you remember back in the campaign, a lot of Republicans were mad at the president when he attacked the judge because then they got asked about it. They were in a campaign year too and they kept getting asked about it. Well, that's not coming up out in town halls. But I want to take you -- this is Iowa. Joni Ernst, the senator there. Interesting here how she has been largely supportive of the president, but listen here where she seeks a little bit of distance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: I think that we have a president that has a number of flaws. I would say I support more of the policies. I do wish that he would spend more time in Washington, D.C. That's what we have the White House for. And we would love to see more of those State Department visits in Washington, D.C.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Meaning less Mar-a-Lago, more D.C. But that is interesting. Now, Iowa is one of those purple states that swings back and forth.

HAM: Right.

KING: So she's being smart and being safe. But she's also been pretty good to the Trump administration. What does it tell you that she's trying to tell the voters back home, like most of the policies, but the person, yes, I'll back up a little bit.

HAM: Well, look, I think that's part of the new reality and that's what I sort of liked about the way Speaker Ryan handled his relationship with Trump during the campaign. And he just was sort of like, we're not going to solve all these problems right this second. This isn't going to look like the perfect merging of these two entities because there are real ideological problems and there are issues that someone like a Joni Ernst, who's more convention and a polished, sometimes, politician than Trump, is going to have with the way he behaves and the way he tweets. And I'm sure some of her constituents, who are Iowa nice, do as well. And she's probably hearing a bit of that. But she wants to make clear, look, I'm still on the side of, you know, shaking up Washington and getting behind him. But it's a tough line to walk and many Republicans are going to openly walk it instead of, you know, pretending they're not.

KING: And they're going to more openly walk away a little bit, create a little separation when you have the president's approval rating at 39 percent. And if you look historically where that stands from other presidents, he's way down, even from a Bill Clinton or a George W. Bush if you look at the numbers we put on the screen. I always compare to George W. Bush and to Bill Clinton because Bill Clinton run the first time in the Ross Perot year. George W., which, of course, lost the popular vote and won the presidency and so did Donald Trump. Also, they come out of a tumultuous year. And so you look at that. And to be fair to President Trump, he hasn't dropped. He's been sort of stuck there since the election. But if you're a Republican, especially in a state that can swing back and forth, the president's at 40 percent, you're going to back up a little bit.

SHEAR: And I also -- I also think that watching a politician like that is a good barometer for trying to figure out how much real power is in some of these town hall meetings and the sort of -- is the Democratic Party really as energized as some of the Democratic leadership would have you believe? Is there real power that's going to translate in the midterm elections or is it going to fizzle out and not really be anything. And the fact that politicians like Joni Ernst are paying attention is a sort of indication that maybe she thinks there's something there.

KING: And she think its's organic and real, not just coming from organized people.

SHEAR: Right, not just -- not just (INAUDIBLE), right.

BAKER: Yes. But it's also important to remember that that number, 39 percent or 40 percent for his approval rating, if you break it down, you look at Republicans. Republicans support Trump overwhelmingly.

SHEAR: Right.

BAKER: He's got very strong support, 80 percent or more among Republicans. So there's a risk of Republican lawmakers of putting too much distance between him because, in fact, you know, he's -- you know, their supporters are his supporters in a lot of cases. He's lost independents, right, or never had them to begin with perhaps and that's where Joni Ernst obviously is attacking. But it's a real risk if Republicans get too far away at this point.

HAM: Well, a -- a perfect example is Senator Ayotte was one who created some distance in a state that could have gone either way.

SHEAR: Yes.

BAKER: Right.

HAM: And liked Trump and she ended up not in the Senate.

KING: Right. Jim Lankford, a conservative Oklahoma senator, says he promised he would. He should keep his promise. That's about the president releasing his taxes. So that's another way. You find -- you find an issue or it's Mar-a-Lago for Senator Ernst, taxes there. This is how David Carney (ph), a veteran Republican political strategist, the pride of New Hampshire, put it this way in an interview with "The Washington Post." He said, "back in 2009 and 2010 if Democrats had not been drinking Kool-aid saying Obama makes no mistakes, and actually called him out on a few things, they would have had a better chance to survive the onslaught in the midterm elections." So he's saying, look, you're going to be on the ballot in 2018. The president's party usually loses in the first midterm election of a presidency. So be smart, find an opportunity to separate yourself so you can tell voters, I'm not, you know, I'm not Velcroed to this guy.

TALEV: It's true. And I think we're -- I think it's a little too soon to say whether these are individual cases of lawmakers. Whether it's Joni Ernst, Lankford, who are just speaking on principle and don't really care what the repercussions are, or whether it's part of a much broader trend of leaving maneuvering room. I know when you cover politics, you can be infuriated by listening to politicians who never say what they're thinking. God, why won't he just say what he actually thinks.

KING: Right.

[12:25:13] TALEV: But the problem with saying what you think all the time is -- is this.

KING: The art of the segue. Listen to Lindsey Graham right here. Listen to Lindsey Graham right here on "Fox and Friends," who says what he thinks. He's a happy man.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I am like the happiest dude in America right now. We've got a president and a national security team that I've been dreaming of for eight years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Some Republicans want distance. Lindsey Graham is happy.

Everybody sit tight.

Up next, the administration says Iran is complying with the big nuclear deal and then it compares Iran's nuclear ambitions to those of North Korea. Mixed signals for sure. But why?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're standing by to see the president of the United States. He has just signed an executive action trying to protect the U.S. steel industry. We'll get tape of that in just a moment. We'll bring it to you as soon as it's ready.

In the meantime, the Trump State Department yesterday certified that Iran is complying with terms of the deal negotiated by the Obama administration designed to put restraints on its nuclear program. And then, after saying Iran was in compliance, this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: This deal represents the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face from North Korea. Iran's nuclear ambitions are a grave risk to international peace and security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, that's hardly the first mixed signal on a big foreign policy question. Can Syria's Assad stay or must he go? A U.S. naval carrier group is steaming toward North Korea. Well, actually, no.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I think they have a big credibility problem. They obviously had no idea where this aircraft carrier fleet was going or they did know and they decided to lie about the fact that it wasn't heading towards North Korea. Either -- either way, if you're an ally of the United States, you're just wondering, what's going on inside of this administration? And if you're North Korea if you're President Kim, you're wondering, who are you dealing with here?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ah --

BAKER: I think the Iran one, though, is a little different than the other ones.

KING: Right.

[12:30:03] BAKER: I mean whether Assad comes or goes is a definite disagreement and definite mixed signals h ere. The Iran thing is simpler. Under the -- Congress requires you to certify, are they complying with a deal or not?