Return to Transcripts main page


Curbing Legal Immigration; Trump Signs Sanctions Bill; Trump Fact or Fiction. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 2, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: "Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

A very busy day at the Trump White House. Number one, more credibly questions. The White House confirms the president's lawyer didn't tell the truth and it appears the president himself is stretching the truth in talking about phone calls the Boy Scouts and the Mexican government say never happened.

Big, breaking international news also. The president, a shortly time ago, signed legislation that imposes new sanctions on Russia because of its 2016 election interference. The president still doesn't like the new law, but it passed Congress with overwhelmingly veto-proof majorities.

And just moments ago, a big White House push to reshape legal immigration policy by placing strict, new limits on who can enter the United States.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For decades, the United States has operated and has operated a very low-skilled immigration system, issuing record numbers of green cards to low wage immigrants. This policy has placed substantial pressure on American workers, taxpayers and community resources. Among those hit the hardest in recent years have been immigrants and, very importantly, minority workers competing for jobs against brand-new arrivals. And it has not been fair to our people, to our citizens, to our workers.


KING: That's the president just moments ago.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, "The Atlantic's" Molly Ball, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," Perry Bacon of FiveThirtyEight and Julie Hirschfeld-Davis of "The New York Times."

It's called the RAISE Act, follow me here, Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment. And it now, as you just saw, has the president's blessing. Here's some of what it would do. It would slash legal immigration in half, tighten rules for temporary works visas, sharply restrict family-based visas into the United States and cap refugee programs -- refugee admissions at 50,000 per year.

Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia are the lead sponsors. They were with the president there at the White House. They say too many low skilled workers get into the United States and that rules for getting green cards should be tilted now in favor over higher skilled workers. They also still want new restrictions on family members joining U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents here. Minor children and spouses would still get preferential treatment under the law -- the act, I should say, but not grown children, grandparents or siblings.

We start the conversation with Jeff Zeleny live at the White House.

Jeff, why this now from the president?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, there's one reason for this, the president, after, you know, a string of setbacks, health care most importantly, he wants to fire up and reinvigor that conservative base. He wants to show, a, that he's engaged, b, that he's doing something here.

And what he's doing today is, as you said, giving his blessing to a bill that was introduced back in February. This is something that a president can do, use his bully pulpit to talk about issues that are popular with his conservative base.

Now, it's almost a certainty that this bill, as its written, will not become law. It would take 60 votes to get through the Senate. We know the president has often talked about how 60 votes is an unfair threshold.

But the reality is, even many -- even some, a small group of Republicans, oppose this as well. But it is a starting point. It is a conversation point. And it's one of the examples of the White House trying to get back to business, if you will, by talking about issues, talking about things his base cares about, not the railing about the media, not railing about staff changes, et cetera. Trying to talk about something that, you know, will get the conservative base on board.

So it's an early play, I would say, John, for 2018, those midterm elections. It won't necessarily be an accomplishment. But it's something to talk about that shows that he is engaged and shows that he's working here at the White House.


KING: Jeff Zeleny live for us. A busy day at the White House.

Jeff, thank you.

Let's bring it into the room. Policy and politics. This is -- we were talking about this getting ready for the show. This is a conversation the country has to have about legal immigration. You have, as Jeff noted, within the Republican community or the business community there are some splits. There are those in the agricultural industry who say, no, we need those temporary workers, the lower skilled workers, to come in. And there are the high-tech industries that say, great, let's tilt this more in favor of people with the high-set skills. This is about legal immigration. Every time you try to have this conversation in the country the last 10 or 15 years, it gets bogged down in the intractable debate over illegal immigration.

Where -- does this go anywhere, I guess, is question number one. A big announcement from the president. He gives White House backing to these two senators. Now what?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, it's hard to how this goes anywhere where other proposals that they have tried to move have not. I mean I do think there is a sense that if they could get something like this going and perhaps pair it with doing something about the dreamers, which has been a problem that Donald Trump has actually said he wants to find a way to resolve, that that could potentially be a way forward here.

But the mood on Capitol Hill does not seem to be amenable to this sort of thing. And as you said, in the business community, there's a lot of resistance to this. This approach had been tried before. George W. Bush had a point system in his comprehensive immigration reform bill. It was a huge lift. And, in the end, he couldn't make it happen, even though there was a lot of consensus that had been forming around this issue. So it's hard to see how that changes now.

[12:05:16] MOLLY BALL, "THE ATLANTIC": Yes, I think as Julie said, there's basically two factors here. Number one, on the policy, this is an issue that divides the Republican Party, much less the Democratic Party, which is, I don't think, very interested in this kind of legislation at all. There are a lot of Republicans who say we're for legal immigration, we don't want to reduce those numbers. And particularly in the business community they're saying, look, unemployment is at 5 percent. We need more workers, not fewer, and we don't have enough here in the United States.

So -- and then the politics of it are that -- as Julie was saying, the president has lost a lot of clout on Capitol Hill. The idea that he could use his bully pulpit to push Republicans around has faded dramatically since the early days of his presidency because the Republicans on Capitol Hill do not feel like they have a good working relationship with the president and they don't feel that he's been helpful to the things that they want to do. So, you know, this thing hasn't going anywhere since it was introduced in February for a reason. There was a time when Trump getting behind it might have been a big help. I think that time has passed.

JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Two quick points. First of all, this is where the party is going. This party is moving away from the kind of Bush era, dovishness on immigration. You've got this rising star senator, 40-years-old, in Tom Cotton, who is a Harvard graduate, very much coms from the party itself. He has basically made a name for himself by being a sort of immigration hawk, next to former CEO business tycoon from Sea Island, Georgia, who's now talking about clamping down on immigration, David Perdue. That's a very telling moment.

Secondly, this is actually good politics for Trump for a couple of reasons. First of all, you've got a lot of red state senators next year who are running for re-election. Democrats, this is a tough issue for them. This is a good wedge (ph) for the Republicans.

KING: Right.

MARTIN: You go to those red states and talk about reducing legal immigration, I'll tell you what, you're going to find a lot of support among both parties. And then even more raw, if you listen to that Trump sound bite, speaking of wedge (ph) politics, he's talking about trying to, you know, divide black voters and Hispanic voters, and it's not subtle at all what he's doing. He did it in the campaign last year and he's trying to now do it again.

KING: The question is though, can he get a Senate majority leader, or a House speaker, to bring a version of this to the floor. If you can talk wedge politics, you get one big event at the White House, I agree with you completely, or he can run out in 2018 and campaign with senators saying, why can't we get a vote on this, but it would be much more effective to get this puppy on the floor and to make the people, you know, yes or no, yay or nay.

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: My initial view in the Senate is no. This is problematic as Lindsey Graham and John McCain. There's a more Dream Act sort of caucus there. In the House I would say, Paul Ryan, before this year, was not a big immigration hawk. He was, yesterday, talking -- he had this big video about how he supports the border wall. We need to building a border wall. Now he made sure that the board --

MARTIN: On the horse.

BACON: On the horse. There was a great video if you watch it. And it --

KING: Yes, put it up. We had the video. Pop it up while Perry speaks. We can show you the video.

MARTIN: Speaking of where the party is going.

BACON: So that's where the party -- so if that kind of idea is moving in the House, and this is an appropriations bill, I do think the border wall could pass this year and that could maybe lead the groundwork for more immigration policies like this.

KING: Right, the border wall newly defined.

DAVIS: Well, and to your --

BACON: Newly defined.

KING: Even the new White House chief of staff says varies (ph) in a lot of places.


DAVIS: And to your point, it may be the -- and to Jonathan's, it may be the vote that's the issue here. That that's what they're driving for, that they want people to have to go on the record about this. They want Republicans in conservative states to have a chance to go on the record voting "yes" on this and to be for something on immigration because, obviously, it was a very powerful issue that propelled -- you know, played a large part in propelling Donald Trump to the White House.

KING: And let's listen to a little bit more of what the president said. Remember, this was a big issue in the campaign for him, both legal and illegal immigration. Here he is at the White House just a few moments ago.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As a candidate, I campaigned on creating a merit-based immigration system that protects U.S. workers and taxpayers. And that is why we are here today, merit- based.


KING: If you look at this, look, they -- you know, they so far ineffective in getting the health care law through. We talked about how this president never really received a honeymoon. Yes, he was elected president. He didn't win the popular vote. The Democrats immediately went against him.

He did win the presidency. George W. Bush won the presidency in the disputed election in 2000. The Supreme Court got involved. He said, I do have a mandate, tax cuts. Can Donald Trump, can he -- should he travel the country? Should he tell the American people? He can claim, rightly claim, I know it's controversial, I know the, you know, the Democrats would run against him, but he can certainly say, this was my signature issue in the campaign. I want the Congress to deal with it.

BACON: I would say on the wall he can do that. Does anyone in America know he was campaigning on a merit-based system that would have points and so on? He did not get into that level of detail on this issue in the campaign.

On the other hand, the idea that he talked about with Jonathan too (ph), the idea of everyone saying you should assimilate and learn English and those things, he talked about in the speech, those are the kinds of things that are good politics and also that he campaigned on.

[12:09:56] MARTIN: Well, I think reducing immigration would resonate in a lot of states in this country, generally the idea of it. But Julie raises a good point. We'll know if he actually wants to pass this or if he wants the issue, depending on how creative they get. If he was to marry basically letting the dreamers stay in this country with a kind of hawkish immigration bill like this, and put that on the floor, boy, that's a pretty tough vote for Democrats there, right? I mean what do you do?

DAVIS: And Republicans.

MARTIN: And some Republicans, absolutely.

KING: And some Republicans.


KING: It would challenge the system. He would be trying to unbreak a broken Washington.

MARTIN: And it would be creative.

KING: Let me ask --

BALL: Well, and at this point he just wants to win, right? I mean to Perry's point, I went to a lot of Trump rallies. They were not chanting build American an immigration system with points. They were chanting build a wall. And I think people are going to notice that this is essentially a diversion from the much harder promise that he did make. On the other hand, because so many of Trump's promises have floundered (ph) on Capitol Hill, I think the White House really just wants a win and they would settle for anything.

KING: But it -- but define win for me. If there's no way this legislation can be passed this year, what's a win?

BALL: That would not be a win.

KING: What's a win? Getting press coverage today? Getting -- you know, getting here on CNN, I assume on Fox News, on Breitbart, Drudge and the like, Donald Trump returns to his core issues? That's a win for how long?

DAVIS: Well, it's fleeting. And I don't think that this goes much of anywhere on The Hill given what they've demonstrated about how they can work the system up there. It's not been very successful so far.

But to the extent that his core supporters and the core supporters of a lot of Republicans who are going to be running in 2018 feel that they have been undermined --


DAVIS: They feel threatened. They feel backed into a corner by a global economy, a lot of immigrants, people who don't look like them, people who they think have taken their jobs unfairly, I do think this issue is a potent one for him to talk about, whether he gets a bill or not.

KING: And he might soon add it to the list of, this isn't me, I'm trying, it's the Republican leadership in Congress that isn't getting this done for me.

MARTIN: Exactly.

KING: Keep that list. It's going to get longer.

Up next, President Trump, just moments ago, signing a bill slapping new sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia, even though he says that legislation is seriously flawed.


[12:16:13] KING: Welcome back.

More big news at the White House this morning. President Trump signing a bill that imposes new, harsh sanctions on the Russian Federation, along with Iran and North Korea. The president's advisers had left open the possibility he would let these sanctions become law without his signature because he objects to how the package puts restrictions on the president's power to ease those sanctions on Russia down the road a bit.

But the president did sign it, but with objections. First, a signing statement raising constitutional questions. Then, a personal statement raising, among other things, this. You want to listen to this. "The bill remains seriously flawed -- particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch's authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking. I built a truly great company worth billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress."

So, help me here. The president -- this is -- this is -- under -- under -- if this were not Donald Trump, if this were George W. Bush or President Obama they would be raising even just as -- just as significant issues about, as this an encroachment on executive power. Because it's President Trump and you have the whole big Russian question, and the veto-proof majorities, he had no choice but to sign this.


KING: But signing statement, past presidents have done that. A personal statement after that saying, how can you send me a bill on Russia sanctions when you can't pass health care and I cut better deals? Somebody help me.

MARTIN: Well, to your point, at the close of the last segment, John, I think this is also a preview of things to come here in terms of this president taking aim at his own party on Capitol Hill. He wants to be seen as a winner in the media. That is the overriding goal here. And he can't do that if he can't sign bills. And that's the -- that's the game here. And that's why he's frustrated. But he had no choice. He was going to be overridden on this legislation, on the sanctions, if he hadn't signed it. So he had no choice. But he clearly isn't happy about doing this. BALL: Well, he did have a choice, though. I mean he could have declined to sign it and just let it pass into law. He -- which would have been a little bit less of a capitulation.

MARTIN: Raise more questions, though, right?

BALL: Or he could have vetoed it and dared them, you know?

KING: Picked a fight. He could have picked a fight, right.

BALL: He really could have picked a fight and said, you know, I'm more popular with the Republican base than you are. I dare you to take the direct shot at me.


BALL: Because overriding a president of your own party is a bigger deal than just passing legislation over his objections. He did have a choice and he capitulated. This bill -- the passage of this bill, Republicans in Congress don't necessarily want to say this out loud, but this bill was a slap in the face to the president.

KING: Right.

BALL: The signing statement demonstrates that Trump knew that and he's taking a shot back at them.

MARTIN: I think if it's a 60/40 vote he has a choice. But, what, it was 98-2, right?

KING: Ninety-eight --

DAVIS: There was -- he knew where this was going and he vetoed it. And I mean the most telling part of that statement to me it was the last line where he said, I can make better deals with Russia than you can.

KING: They don't want him making deals with Russia.

DAVIS: It seemed to me the whole reason they passed this bill is because they don't want him to be able to make a deal with Russia and they're worried that left to his own devices, if they seed all of the authority to lift sanctions to the president, that he might be to ready to do that and they wanted to, a, substantive limit that ability and, b, send a very clear political message that we don't agree with that. And if it's up to us, we have a say in whether these sanctions come off or not.

KING: I remember the signing statements of the previous administrations and some of them stirred controversy, but I never remember a president when the subject of the legislation is issue a, in this case Russia sanctions and executive power. In the personal statement saying, you couldn't pass a health care bill after seven years of talking. What does that have to do with Russia?

BACON: Yes, Bush signed a lot of statements (ph), but they were always very technical, and usually about this detail on paragraph seven does not conform with what we think the Constitution says. This was much more personal. But I wonder, looking back at this week, you know, a year from now, we'll think, this was the week where The Hill and Trump kind of broke up in a lot of ways. We have seen five or six examples of The Hill saying, no, Mr. President, we do not -- aside from that McCain speech where McCain said, we don't report to you. we're an equal branch of government. You've seen that this last week, they pushed him four or five times. He's pushed back once so far. But we are in a real sense of escalation here right now.

[12:20:16] KING: And let's --

BALL: Well, and on health care as well. The deal that they're looking to make on health care is also a rebuff to the approach that the president has advocated, which is to worsen Obamacare and make it fail.

KING: Let me ask you a question. This is what, day two, a fill day two of the -- it's day three of John Kelly as chief of staff? I mean the whole question is, where do you get a communications director. I'm just not sure -- I just -- I just don't get it. I was going to talk about other issues, but I'm stuck on this one here. Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking. What does that have to do with international sanctions against Russia and North Korea and Iran. I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.

This is an official statement of the president of the United States, going into the official record of the United States government on a bill with Russia sanctions.


BALL: OK, but look, it does make sense what he's -- because this bill is tying his hands on deal-making.

KING: He's saying I don't need a Congress?

BALL: And what -- no, what he's saying is, deal-making is the president's job.

KING: Right. Right.

BALL: I mean it's just a more trumpian way of exerting executive authority, exerting his executive authority.

KING: So but to your point, why not --


KING: Why not veto it and say, I'm going to veto this. I know you can override me, but I'm going to veto it and ask you to rewrite it.

MARTIN: He's the commander in chief, but he's wrong. The president isn't in charge of foreign affairs. Congress is an co-equal branch of government. So he's mistaken. I think you're right to be dumbfounded. And on the Kelly point, there's no question that this raises questions about just how effective is he going to be. Forget the staff, Anthony Scaramucci, God love him, was fun, but how about the principle himself. Is John Kelly going to be able to make changes when it comes to how Donald Trump conductus himself?

KING: This statement --

MARTIN: And when the president takes a shot at Congress, what's he doing?

KING: It's just a -- he is -- he is adding a log to the fight that everyone's talking about here. Whether it's health care, whether it's executive power, whether it's not trust on Russia sanctions, the president, instead of just signing this and saying, mmm, is signing this and poking back.


BACON: At least Kelly got him to do it not on camera. So that's the one thing that did happen today.

BALL: Or on Twitter.

BACON: Or on Twitter. It was like a statement.

MARTIN: Good point.

BACON: It wasn't -- it was just -- it was a thoughtful statement in a certain way. It addressed the issues at least.

KING: We'll get the victory parade lined up.

Up next, credibility questions about the White House. Did the president's lawyer tell you a lie about what the president did about that Russian meeting with Donald Trump Jr. And, the president says he got a call from the Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts can't find any record of that call.


[12:26:28] KING: Welcome back. It's hardly breaking news that Donald Trump for years has had a causal relationship with the truth, but he's president now. Is basic truth telling too much to ask? Just recently, there was this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts, right?


KING: Well, as most of you probably know, the president went on to talk about politics at great length and the head of the Boy Scouts apologized to scouts and their parents. The president says he got a different take, telling "The Wall Street Journal," quote, I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them and they were very thankful. But the Boy Scouts says they have no record of such a call. And they say this, the chief scouting executive's message to the scouting community speaks for itself.

Well, here's another example.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, as you know, the border was a tremendous problem and now close to 80 percent stoppage. And even the president of Mexico called me. They said, their southern border, very few people are coming because they know they're not going to get through our border, which is the ultimate compliment.


KING: The Mexican government, however, issued a statement saying, quote, President Enrique Pena Nieto has not been in recent communication via telephone with President Donald Trump.


BALL: This is who he is. He just says stuff. And I don't want to make it sound like that's OK --

KING: You know, so he -- he catches an -- he involves now a --

BALL: But it's certainly a consistent pattern.

KING: Our neighbor and major economic and cultural partner, Mexico, and the boy Scouts of America, now caught up in stories about the president of the United States is telling fibs, really?

BALL: Well, I mean, he has a talent for picking enemies, right? I mean he -- starting with -- starting with prisoners of war and war heroes way back years and years ago.

KING: Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, curious, kind.

BALL: So this does seem like just another instance of Trump hasn't changed from the candidate that we -- that we saw on the campaign trail from the very beginning.


BALL: And the people who voted for him, I think, had their eyes open. They knew that this was who he is. They didn't vote for him because they thought they were, you know, electing a truth teller. They saw someone who was flawed and this is one of his flaws.

MARTIN: Yes, Molly makes a good point on the voters having their eyes wide open. I'd have a third example to that, which was reported by "Sports Illustrated" that he told some friends in Jersey that the White House is, quote, a dump. Look, if any other president said these things, and this is why I

think the conservative route that the media is tough on Trump is actually laughable, right, because any other president -- I don't care if it's a Democrat or a Republican -- called the White House a dump and make up stories about the Boy Scouts and the president of Mexico, that would have been the story for days on end, the scrutiny and the questions about this. But their -- because the volume of this, you know, and because it's Donald Trump, as you said, you know, it doesn't quite get the kind of outrage. And I think the question is, at some point, do his voters care, because the last two years they sure didn't and so far they don't now.

KING: Right. And so this is about conversations that some would say are trivial, the president was making a point, and it's the point that matters, not the fib that's part of the point.

MARTIN: That's a rationalization.

KING: That's what they will say. Or, oh, come on, you know, give him a little creative license. That's what they'll say.

Here's another credibility question, or questions. There's zero wiggle room if you listen to this.


JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP ATTORNEY: The president didn't sign off on anything. He was coming back from the G-20, the statement that was released on Saturday was released by Donald Trump Jr. and I'm sure in consultation with his lawyers. The president wasn't involved.


KING: The president wasn't involved. That's Jay Sekulow, the president's private attorney. But yesterday two top White House officials made clear what you just heard the president's lawyer tell you, not true. Not even close.

[12:30:07] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The statement that Don Jr. issued is true. There's no inaccuracy in the statement. The president weighed in --