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Trump Decision Making: How He's Returning to his Base; Spicer's Briefing Heavy on Optimism, Light on Answers; McCain: Trump's Actions Have Unsettled America's Friends; Trump Inadvertently Creates New Word: "Cofveve". Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 31, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:01] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Now, public -- private chastisement and then we got home, public tweets going after Germany on trade issues. Now, retreating, if not, completely withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords. That is Steve Bannon's folder, not Gary Cohn and what Steve Bannon likes to call "Javanka".

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: I don't think you're overrating it at all. I mean, I think a couple of things that happened, one is that the president was really frustrated about the coverage he got about his first 100 days, how nobody was getting anything done. And that it was sort of all, everyone agreed. There needs to be a discussion about what sort of reset is needed but we have to get through this major foreign trip first.

Let's try to focus all of our attention on Saudi, on Israel, on the Pope on these last two stops with European allies. And then come back and do all the things that need to be done in terms of sort of, you know, tweaking communications folks, or is the leadership team working? And how do you get (inaudible) of messaging.

Now, we're starting to see all those things happen. And if we see just a consistency across the board in the next several days of pulling out of this, you know, global deal and making this decision on the military. If there's a consistent pattern, maybe we can talk about whether or not there's a re-calibration towards the nationalist base. But if it's a little bit of this and a little of that, I think it is just a real effort to try to get the message on track.

JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think in terms of Ivanka Trump, we hear again and again how she's going to be the moderating voice for her father, how she is going to be the bigger -- her voice of reason, if you will, on the moderation side. I think -- and the list of things is growing where she is losing head on. If this really to be believed that she is the influence.

I'm told that Jared Kushner was more lukewarm and was trying to figure out all of the sort of both sides of the argument. And now he's sort of distracted with something else going on. But we know that Ivanka was strongly opposed to this. But the president himself, what about --

KING: Paris. ZELENY: -- yes, exactly Paris. What about his idealogy? He is said to be sort of indifferent on this. It's not really his issue so he's relying of his advisers.

I think that is what is so striking about this. That's -- this is a different kind of president in that respect, to sort of not know if human activity leads to climate change depending on which side you believe. Everyone believes one side or the other. No one is sort of lukewarm or indifferent on that.

KING: I want to fix something because I think I tripped over my tongue as we started to bluff. Eleven U.S. citizens among those hurt, not among the confirmed dead in Afghanistan. Ninety people are dead, 11 U.S. citizens, government personnel among those confirmed hurt. My apologies for that, I'm sorry.

JONATHAN MARTIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. I mean, you know, tomorrow is June 1st and we haven't even talked much about the legislative agenda that the president has because he has not signed one major bill yet. I guess to your point, John, I'd be more persuaded if he's turning to this nationalist agenda if I saw some sign that they were, you know, telling Capitol Hill hey, guys, move this big infrastructure bill or you know what, we're not going to do a health care bill but actually yanks health care coverage from some of our voters.

KING: There was a debate in the White House and I haven't seen this pop up in the schedule yet. They don't give these foreign events by getting on the road next week on infrastructure, not this week but next week. So we'll see if that happens.

MARTIN: But they've out sourced his entire agenda to conventional establishment of Republicans on Capitol Hill who are doing sort of market traditional and conventional policy.


ZELENY: And they said they weren't going to do that after the house bill failed the first time. They said he's going to take more control of this. He was supposed to consider what happens tomorrow. He's not going, he'll not travel this entire week. He's in a bunker.

KING: That I think is mostly because of the Russian investigation and deciding how much of the staff he's going to shake up? How many new lawyers you're going to bring in both for the White House Counsels Office and he's quite busy.

But if you look back at the campaign, whenever the president felt that he was at a crisis point or pressure point, he went back to the basis, the bread and butter. Push on immigration and trade for this president, more populist, more nationalist.


KING: So, it is something to watch.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And how does -- you know, considering any sort of troop increase in Afghanistan, how does that fit into what he campaigned about, how does that fit into what his base wants? I mean, it does seem to be in keeping with something like what John McCain would like, kind of the traditional hawkish wing of the party.

TALEV: So with Rex Tillerson, so with Jim Mattis, so with H.R. McMaster. These are his core foreign policy advisers, many of whom when you throw Greg Cohen and Rex Tillerson (inaudible) also want him to evolve on climate change (inaudible).

ZELENY: I think the president has to explain, the president has the unique ability to use his (inaudible) to explain his position and bring people on board if it's the decision for Afghanistan or climate change or other things. But we hear shockingly little from this president.

KING: And you mentioned John McCain. As we watch this debate play out here, we cover politics. This is our job and our passion. But people around the world are also looking Paris climate change, what's he going to do? Afghanistan as he said he was going to pull out but now his advisers want him to stay in, not but at least temporarily increase troop levels.

John McCain is in Australia right now, another one of the U.S. allies when they look at North Korea, they look at the China standoff, they're looking for that North Star from the president of the United States, John McCain says don't wait for it.


[12:34:59] SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I realized that some of President Trump's actions and statements have unsettled America's friends. They've unsettled many Americans as well. There is real debate under way now in my country about what kind of

role America should play in the world. And frankly, I don't know how this debate will play out.


KING: Interesting because John McCain speaks his mind. But he's reading from a prepared speech there in talking about, I know you're unsettled and I don't now how this is going to play out. This big debate that is now Donald Trump's America.

HENDERSON: You know, a Republican criticizing a Republican president on foreign soil and he's done this before. And I guess the question everybody has, is it just going to be John McCain and Lindsey Graham and Sasse every once in awhile or will there be other people. And really a question I think for people who are running in 2018, how do they kind of navigate the Trump presidency in arguing what the Trump presidency means to voters who they're trying to rally.

KING: Part of that also depends on how coherent and coordinated the Democrats are in making a counter argument. And Republican still need to fight back. Everybody sit tight. Next, the president is thrilled with his staff. And he has a fabulous relationship with Germany's chancellor. Just ask Sean Spicer.


[12:40:07] KING: Welcome back. On his big overseas trip, the president lectured NATO allies, frustrated other G7 leaders, and one what could be emphasis on could be a big promise from Arab and Muslim nations. It was one trip early in his first term and it will take months, if not, longer to watch these relationships develop. And to watch, for example, if Saudi Arabia actually keeps its big promise to finally crack down on extremism and terror financing. So we wait and we watch or we call the sculptor from Mt. Rushmore.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We've never seen before at this point in a presidency such sweeping reassurance of American interests in the inauguration of a foreign policy strategy, designed to bring back the world from growing dangers and perpetual disasters brought on by years of failed leadership.


KING: That just one of several doozies as Sean Spicer returned to the podium and for a day anyway, turned the (inaudible) briefing room into the amphitheater of alternative facts. We know from the president's closest friends, we know this very well, his friends and advisers, the president has been ranting for weeks about his staff. Nope.


SPICER: I think he's very pleased with the work of his staff. I think that he is frustrated like I am and like so many others to see stories come out that are patently false, to see narratives that are wrong, to see, quote unquote, fake news.


KING: And we know because we have eyes and we have ears that the president's relationship with the German chancellor is rocky. Nope.


SPICER: I think the relationship that the president has had with Merkel he would describe as fairly unbelievable. They get along very well. He has a lot of respect for her. They continued to grow the bond that they had during their talks in the G7.


KING: I'm honestly not trying to be a jerk here. But when you have a day like that, what are we to do when there is a crisis in the country and he has to stand there and talk to the American people? ZELENY: I think the credibility is sort of the central thing that is you know, just not there every day. I mean, this is not the -- you know, when you don't sort of agree to the basic facts or at least. And there's always going to be a spin and there's always a point of view. But the credibility here, you know, is just not coming from that podium there. But you know, from their point of view, they think that as Sean Spicer went on, on that briefing as they got very agitated talking about fake news. The thing that's annoying them is the real investigation.


ZELENY: So, that's the reality here.

KING: And I think to your point of the lack of progress on the agenda. But to defend Sean --

MARTIN: But John, nobody makes him do that job though.

KING: I was just going to say, I just beat him up a little bit because the taxpayers pay him. And I covered the building for almost 10 years. That's supposed to be a space where you can have a back and forth. But he is answering to a boss who wants him to do that.


MARTIN: Right. Look, eyes wide open. Everybody who works for Donald Trump knew what they were getting into going in. There's no surprise door here. If they choose to do it, then frankly, that's on them.

But ultimately, it's the president that causes these upheavals. I thought it was so striking yesterday in the morning where simultaneously they announced that they're dumping their comments to go overboard at the same time that Trump is going on a terror on Twitter, you know, talking for example, about the Germans and the trade issue. If you hold those two stories up at the same time, their commerce director being cast aside and Trump on Twitter really, you think it's the commerce problem?

It isn't the commerce problem. It's the principal. You can hire all the staff in the world. As long as the president of the United States is out there do -- saying these things every day on Twitter, that's going to be the issue. It doesn't matter who you hire or they say

HENDERSON: And you could almost see -- I mean, in reading -- in hearing Sean Spicer talk about the outstanding success of the trip and the historic nature and, you know, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious of the trip. You could almost see Trump sitting there sort of writing it with him, right? He was certainly wanting to stroke Donald Trump's ego and he's wanted to do that from way back. I mean, if you think about his first press briefing, it was all about the crowd size and that's where he lowered the credibility bar and since then hasn't, you know, raised the credibility at all.

TALEV: I'll say during the trip itself, one really interesting element for those of us who were, you know, on Air Force One or in the briefing rooms because we were in the pool a lot, was to the extent which you saw Rex Tiller on, H.R. McMaster, Gary Cohn, these very senior officials who actually have policy portfolios, not (inaudible) portfolios, not just participating in the briefings but running the briefings off and on the record, sometimes on background with a combination of other top officials.

Part of that, it seemed to many of us who were there was a test to find out whether that would drive the coverage in a more positive nature for President Trump if you put policy people out who legitimately couldn't answer questions about the domestic politics.

MARTIN: And Trump never spoke once through the entire trip.


TALEV: Sean Spicer didn't -- and Trump -- once or twice we got kind of a stray comment from a shouted question but no briefings.

[12:45:03] MARTIN: But no press conference.


MARTIN: No Twitter.

TALEV: Yes. But to the question was when you see Tillerson or Cohn out there on the record talking with reporters they'll often answer questions much more directly than Sean Spicer has the ability or the portfolio to do a briefing.

KING: But, I'm struck by sometimes when they do those, how they say the president's evolving or we just have to get him to listen to the right person, then he'll change mind to get what we need him. How they speak of the president.

ZELENY: It's remarkable.

TAVEL: And I think that's the part of a test if that what you want to do.

KING: If I were the president sometimes I'll be like, you know, he's like a third grade.

MARTIN: Well, they treat him like a puppet. We're going to get him low and --


HENDERSON: And that's (inaudible) during confirmation hearings. I mean, she was the one -- you knew before she was in the jump saying that she felt like the cabinet could sway Donald Trump.

ZELENY: The war on this absurd is what Jonathan was saying earlier because the president if he keeps this is up every morning talking about, you know, the fake news, the Russian investigation, the savviest strategists in the world. We'll not be able to counteract that. KING: Well, then you'll have to do what Sean has no choice but to do to say the tweet I think speaks for itself, because what else you're going to say (inaudible). But another thing during the briefing yesterday and again, it seems like an alternative universe. Yes, the Republican health plan passed the House. It is nowhere in the Senate right now.

They're trying to figure out. Mitch McConnell has been quite honest saying I don't know how to get to 50 votes. I'm going to try.

The Republican tax reform plan is in limbo. And the president's own team up lobbying against the speaker of the house as chief proposal. The president may go out and promote infrastructure but there's to legislation yet. So the Republicans have the presidency, the Republicans have the Senate, the Republicans have the House. And if you hear Sean Spicer, it's all the Democrats fault.


SPICER: That I think that the frustration he's had with the base, some of the legislation, some of the obstructionist tactics that Democrats have employed. This president was elected to get things done. And he wants to see things move through the House and the Senate especially when you've got a majority of support and people to stop playing games.


KING: A majority of support? Eight percent in a new poll today want -- eight percent of Americans want them to pass the house health care plan as is.

ZELENY: I mean, never mind the Democrats. The Democrats obviously are opposed to this agenda but they're on the sidelines. This for right now is an internal Republican battle. And, you know, the White House is not leading that or corralling them.

He could still because he does have popularity among his base. And this, you know, the -- that's something that could sway them. They just have nothing.

KING: So, quick interesting numbers from a (inaudible) university poll out his hour. Does this person help or hurt the president by speaking for the White House? Sixty-one percent of Americans say the president hurts himself when he speaks for the White House. Forty-two percents of Americans say Sean Spicer hurts the White House.

MARTIN: Trump's going to love that. President Spicer.


KING: Sean outranks the president there. I think if depends how you do the math I guess.

Up next, the president invents a new word and sends Twitter into a tizzy. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:51:55] KING: Welcome back. Today, a new entry into the political lexicon courtesy of the president of the United States. And no, I'm really not sure how to pronounce it.

Here it is in its original usage from a tweet six minutes after midnight. "Despite the constant negative press covfefe." (Inaudible) will be settled. The Marian Webster Twitter account sent out this image of frustration and genuine sadness. "Wakes up, checks Twitter, looks up, regrets. There you go checking Twitter. Goes back to bed."

While they mourn, the rest of the internet took that tweet and did what the internet does, makes jokes.

Jimmy Kimmel, "What makes me saddest is that I know I'll never write anything funnier than covfefe. Is that how we say this (inaudible)?

TALEV: Covfefe.

KING: Covfefe?

MARTIN: With the French (inaudible).

KING: So, is this is my theory and we only have theories at this point. The president sent out of flight for tweet later saying figure it all out. We look at this morning at 5:00 o'clock. Guess that this was a press -- and hit the old button goes out but --

HENDERSON: Somebody said maybe someone snatched the phone from him at that time. You would --

ZELENY: We do know sometimes (inaudible) always the one who sends out this message.


ZELENY: In fact, usually he isn't so who knows. But he also like to have the press and others talking about something that has no meaning at all. It takes up the oxygen. I'm not saying this was intentional thing.

KING: Covfefe is not a Russian word. You are correct sir. The Philadelphia Police Department had a lot of fun with in this morning. Actually police, "Roads are still slick from last night's rain, please use your wipers and drive with covfefe."

HENDERSON: Yes. You know, the president said that he invented the phrase "prime the pump". At some point, maybe he really did. This is neologism that the president can take credit for. Who knows how to pronounce that as well? No. They have words, you know, we'll see what happens with this one.

KING: I bang my head off the wall at some of the words they've added in recent years. Senator Al Franken, who's, you know, if you remember was a comedian before he became a politician was on CNN's New Day this morning. And Alisyn Camerota hit him with it.


ALISN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: What is a covfefe?

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: A covfefe is a Yiddish term for I got to go to bed now. I think.

CAMEROTA: It sounds like that's totally plausible.

FRANKEN: Yes. I mean, he got that from, you know, from Jared. I guess.


KING: That's plausible as any.

MARTIN: I mean, you know, Franken is a great, you know, a great comic but when I think when real life is sort of in some ways even, you know, wilder than comedy and parody, it's hard to --

HENDERSON: And the (inaudible) that the president was up tweeting at 12 in the morning. In the sort of enduring image from one of the New York Times columns is him kind of there with his phone and the T.V. and sitting in his bathrobe. And so, that's the reality of this president.

KING: If you're a Trump supporter, you don't like this Twitter feed. But if you have a sense of humor, you should check it out every now and then. It is not kind to the president at all.

I have Trump trolls. They make light mostly of his executive actions and the signings and everything. The president, you know, when he's tweeting the signature on the executive actions. But here's what their take on this one. Let's let it play out.

[12:55:03] KING: I am covfefe.


HENDERSON: Are we going to settle on covfefe?


HENDERSON: Covfefe, it could be -- I don't know if the southern kind of take on it would be --

MARTIN: You do wonder a 100 years from now John, when folks look back on this presidency, this first year, what this will be.

KING: Well, I'm hoping this particular segment.

MARTIN: Right, covfefe --

KING: This particular segment --

MARTIN: -- would not be --

KING: -- disappears from the digital library perhaps. But our friend Jackie Kucinich, covfefe, noun, a trap that proves we will talk about literally anything. It's pretty good.

HENDERSON: (Inaudible) Jackie.

ZELENY: That changes the subject at least.

MARTIN: This segment will self-destruct immediately upon the completion, right John?

TALEV: But it's true that there -- the previous president took such great length to shield his White House in kind of the inner workings of every moment of how he lived his personal life from the outside world. And one thing Donald Trump has done which is Twitter feed and bypassing all of those filters. Many of them are good filters. You do see how one man and one phone can still move very directly.

KING: And in a very serious class about presidential communication at the esteemed universities around the world, there will be one day covfefe day.

Thanks for joining us for Inside Politics. Wolf Blitzer in the chair after a quick break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in --