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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump: McConnell Needs To Get Agenda Pushed Through; Trump Takes 30 Plus Questions From Media At NJ Golf Club; 'Badass' Woman At McConnell's Side. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 11, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:02] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: -- get back to work on health care. Here's the president going off on McConnell at yesterday's press conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very disappointed in Mitch. But if he gets these bills passed I'll be very happy with him and I'll be the first to admit it. But honestly, repeal and replace of Obamacare should have taken place. And it should have been on my desk virtually the first week that I was there or the first day I was there. I've been hearing about it for seven years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: The president was asked if he thought McConnell should step aside as Senate leader. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: If he doesn't get repeal and replace done, and if he doesn't get taxes done, meaning cuts and reform, and if he doesn't get a very easy one to get done, infrastructure, if he doesn't get them done, then can you ask me that question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And just in case that wasn't clear enough, the president retweeted something earlier today. A "Fox & Friends" report that says, Trump fires new warning shot at McConnell leaves door open on whether he should step down.

Jackie, we've seen fights with Congress between the Congress and the executive branch in our time, anything like this?

JACKIE CALMES, LOS ANGELS TIMES: Never, anything even close to this. It's just extraordinary. And, you know, every time there's something like this that happens in the Trump administration, I look for a way to be devil's advocate or find out what is the -- what possible explanation could there be for this? And I cannot find one.

I mean, Mitch McConnell is someone who even through the campaign, through even the "Access Hollywood" video release did not publicly criticize Donald Trump. Even when Paul Ryan would feel compelled to come forward and say something. Mitch McConnell was silent.

Donald Trump is not repaying Mitch McConnell in kind. And in truth, Mitch McConnell has shown an ability to get much more done in Congress than Paul Ryan has ever shown. Donald Trump needs Mitch McConnell. The good thing for Donald Trump is that Mitch McConnell has an interest in accomplishing things. I don't see him trying to hurt Trump's agenda in any way because they have a mutual interest in getting something done.

BASH: Absolutely.

CALMES: But Mitch McConnell will find ways.

BASH: Yes. Right. And then -- I mean, look, this health care failure, it was a failure, is the exception. It's a glaring exception, but it was.

McConnell has colleagues now coming to his defense, his leadership, John Cornyn tweeted out something in support. Also people who are, you know, not as kind of onboard, rah, rah leadership. Jeff Flake, a senator, a Republican senator from Arizona, Senate majority leader does a tough job well. He has my support. Dean Heller, probably one of the most vulnerable Republicans in 2018. I look forward to Senate majority leader's leadership as we work to reduce American taxes.

OLIVER KNOX, YAHOO! NEWS: All right, Mitch McConnell has a giant as a campaign finance war chest, a giant one that he can use to help these embattled Republicans. So, of course, they're coming out.

There's been a really interesting dynamic from the Trump White House, though, over the last weeks and months which is increasingly he says, the Republicans, they need to do, you know. You can sort of laugh at fact he went from Senator McConnell to Mitch McConnell to just Mitch this week in tweets.

But this has been a long process. He keeps saying, they need to do this. They need to step up. They need to do their job. My colleague at Yahoo! who is Matt Bai has been suggested the idea that maybe we're finally seeing really solid evidence that we have the first independent president that we've had in a really long time.

BASH: Yes. No. That's interesting. And yet he's got the Republican base.

KNOX: He does.

BASH: By his side, and cheering him on. Laura Ingram, who of course is a -- the very well known conservative radio host and then some, hey, Kentucky, time to tell Senate Majority Leader McConnell to stop rolling over for the Dems. Advance the Trump agenda or step aside.

And now, Conservatives are already, and of sort of have historically been kind of itching at the leader primarily because they itch at all leadership that's kind of what the base has been doing over the past around a decade or so.

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: It would be really interesting to see whether Democrats now come to Mitch McConnell's defense.

(CROSSTALK)

STEVE INSKEEP, NPR: Like they defended Jeff Sessions --

TALEV: Well, for like a minute. Right, exactly. But look, I think you see a couple of interesting things. And one is, the idea of President Trump himself raising the specter that tax reform now may not pass and he needs someone to blame and it's going to be Mitch McConnell.

If some tax thing doesn't pass before the end of the year, there's a lot of people inside the Republican Party who think its can be a real problem for them in the midterms and potentially after repercussions that would affect them --

BASH: Well, and then you have -- go ahead, well, go ahead Steve.

INSKEEP: I was going to say. The president in all fairness raises a couple of legitimate questions. Although I'm not sure that he would like the factual answers. Why is it that Republicans have spent months and months on health care when it's clear that they do not agree after all of these years on what they actually want to do? Why is it that the president is continuing to push them to spend more time on health care when it's clear they don't agree on what to do?

[12:35:08] Why is it that Congress has not moved to what the president said was a relatively easy one, infrastructure when that could have been a very bipartisan way for the president to begin and otherwise divisive administration. I'm not sure the White House would be found that the entirely innocent in answers to those questions.

BASH: Well, that is very true. And yet, you have the political reality --

CALMES: Right.

BASH: -- that everybody knows about which is next year is an election year for Congress, who -- in which they rely on the base to be excited, and the president is basically effectively depressing the base with his attacks on Congress.

The "Wall Street Journal" editorial page this morning which is kind of a place to look for the more I guess establishment conservative way of thought these days, here's what they said. He -- talking about the president -- still needs a GOP majority to pass his agenda as much as Republicans need him to sign it. They need each other in particular this autumn to raise the debt ceiling, press deregulation and pass a budget and tax reform. Failure on that agenda after the health care fiasco opens the door to a Democratic House which means nonstop anti- Trump investigations and perhaps impeachment. The best defense against mutual assured political destruction is legislative success in the fall. That's a point that you were making.

CALMES: Exactly. And this is, before we even talk about the things the president's talking about, like tax reform and infrastructure, and finishing health care. They need to get through the fall. They have not passed any of the appropriation bills to fund the government, that fiscal year begins October 1st and we need raise the debt ceiling or else default on our obligations.

These are must-pass. These -- if Congress does nothing else, if Congress and the president do nothing else and if they have to do this. If they don't, it is going to be the utter ultimate proof of the failure to govern --

BASH: And real quickly, because I got to get a break in. The idea here of if you push too hard it can -- could embolden the Democrats. And potentially allow them to get the 24 he has needed to take over the house and what means when they have -- when the Democrats have control of the House for a president potentially in trouble. We saw it with Bill Clinton.

KNOX: Tell me where we've seen that argument work thus far in 2017, though? There was a version of that argument in the health care fight, didn't pay off. I'm very skeptical that's going to -- that's especially coming from the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page which is an exactly --

BASH: Are you skeptical that the Democrats can take over the House?

KNOX: No. I'm skeptical that the message that they make, that there's a risk that if you don't achieve X, Y, Z, then they take over the House. Particularly, I don't think a ton of the Trump base is reading the op-ed pages of the "Wall Street Journal" for starters. But I haven't seen it work yet. And I think the calendars are really important point. You know, there are all kinds of pressure on this president, all kinds of ways that you are confining this president. The calendars are really big one.

BASH: OK. Thanks guys, standby. Up next, 17 days hanging out on a golf resort, sounds pretty nice and relaxing. But so far it hasn't exactly been all fun and games for the president. We've got some proof, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:42:07] BASH: It's the vacation that President Trump insists is not a vacation. And to prove it, he took 31 questions from reporters at his New Jersey Golf Club trying to clean up some lingering issues that have been nagging his administration for weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did you categorize your relationship currently attorney General Sessions? Have you guys spoken about some of the differences you've had in the past?

TRUMP: It's fine. It is what it is. It's fine. He's working hard in the border. General McMaster, I have tell you, he's our friend, he's my friend. And he's a very talented man. I like him. And I respect him.

The opioid crisis is an emergency and I'm saying officially right now it is an emergency.

Seventeen years, our longest wars. It's going to be a decision that's going to be made very soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And we learned that President Trump will now return to Washington on Monday for a quick trip before heading to Manhattan. Listen, all of us particularly you, you cover the White House every day. You're going to have a big job with the White House press corps. I think you already do.

TALEV: Two of us together --

BASH: OK. Oh, wow. OK. Perfect. So, we can have you guys both with the -- leading the Washington press corps. Look at this. OK. So, despite the numbers, the number of questions, as I said before, that the president took yesterday, 31. The last time the president took that many questions, February 16th, which is about six months ago. And he took more questions yesterday than he has in the last few months combined. I think this is a part where we say, awesome. Thank you. Keep it coming, right?

TALEV: I think it's safe to say that this is, I think, working vacation was actually the perfect way to describe what he's doing and it's been more working than vacation lately.

But, look, there haven't as you said, been sort of a unilateral non- foreign leader full format news conference in months. We've been pushing for one. And saying, hey, it's good for the president as well as for the press corp. And there's people have a lot of questions, his chance to just sort of address all of these.

The last couple of days have been pretty close to that. It's been an ability for the reporters who are covering the White House day in and day out or at least those who are up there in the pool to try and address some of these questions for the president to answer with.

BASH: And I want to go back to that February 16th press conference that he had in the White House, because some of the topics may sound familiar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I inherited a mess. It's a mess at home, and abroad. I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet, it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine tuned machine. Nuclear holocaust would be like no other. How many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse. I'm just telling you. You know, you dishonest people. But I'm not ranting and raving. I love this. I'm having a good time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:44:59] KNOX: Well, when you're facing the most serious international confrontation of your 203 or four day presidency, has a way of focusing your attention. That press conference was kind of a mess. Every topic was covered. You covered to him more serious points. But they were all kinds of questions.

Yesterday, last couple of days has been great because they have allowed reporters to ask the president about North Korea. It's a major story. About the news strategy for Afghanistan, it's a major story about the latest developments. And the Mueller probe. It's a major story. It was really great. It was good to have that kind of clearing house.

You know, working vacation, you can't help but at laugh a little bit. You covered a lot of them in Crawford, Texas, as did I. They are working vacations. Presidential vacations are essential done war shock tests for partisans.

BASH: Yes.

KNOX: You know, the other team's guy, then he's a slacker, who's always golfing. And it's your guy who's getting much needed R&R. They're never off the clock, guys.

BASH: I know. No, they aren't. And to be fair, nobody is. You mentioned during the break that September is going to be an interesting time. Let's just look at some of the things that the Trump -- yes, I know --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Again, we are a family show, where the president has promised decisions and actions, we don't have yet. Troop levels in Afghanistan. Press conference on ISIS. To figure what he's going to do on Obama the DACA program. Response to China's trade practices. Plans for tax reform and infrastructure. Oh, yes, and he has to nominate a Homeland Security secretary.

CALMES: And a lot of other -- like we see Seoul, South Korea doesn't have an ambassador at this time of a nuclear crisis. There is the -- you can't underestimate how far behind they are on the fiscal duties they have to do in September. And it is just going to be, and to go into it with the hard feelings left from the Senate's failure to pass a health care bill, and the subsequent stoking of that in President Trump's attacks on Mitch McConnell, it's not setting them up for a very productive September.

BASH: Steve, quick, quick button.

INSKEEP: Just a reminder that they're not going to be going back to health care in September, as the president demanded. There's too much else to do.

BASH: Very good point.

Up next, we spotlight one bad-ass woman in Washington whose long memory helped her and her husband make it to the halls of power.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:51:20] BASH: His name is in the headlines this week, even more than usual, but not in a good way. Like, the "New York Times" deepening rift, Trump won't say if Mitch McConnell should step down.

As the Senate majority leader contends with the GOP base boiling mad over the Senate failing to keep its promise to repeal Obamacare and a GOP president stirring the pot, McConnell is luck to have one bad-ass woman by his side, though now in the unenviable position of being caught between her husband and her boss. Elaine Chao is Donald Trump's transportation secretary. She's in his cabinet. And I had a chance to spend some time with her well before the president started attacking her husband.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: You are one-half of sort of the ultimate power couple in Washington, is that --

ELAINE CHAO, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: There are so many powers couple nowadays.

BASH: There are. There are actually it's different than it's used to be.

CHAO: Yes. I have to say this part, because this is really important. You've got to leave this in. I call him my low- maintenance husband. He does his own laundry and he cooks.

BASH: He really does his own laundry?

CHAO: He does mine too sometimes.

BASH: Really?

CHAO: Yes. He's really good. So, life with him, you know, is very easy that way. And he's very encouraging.

BASH: Is he a good cook?

CHAO: He's actually a very good cook.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: News you can use. One of Chao's many bad-ass characteristics. Her incredible memory which she says she has used over the years to help her husband's political career. Keep track of his donors and supporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHAO: There was this article that said I took notes on people. I didn't take notes. It was all up here. I have an incredible memory. It's just one of, you know, life's blessings. If I met you 24 years ago, I can remember the place, the time, the circumstances.

BASH: That's a great asset in politics. CHAO: Well, it's proven to be pretty helpful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: So Steven Inskeep, when you have a long memory, and your husband is a Senate majority leader and your boss is the president who is attacking your husband, how do you use that long memory?

INSKEEP: My guess is, you do nothing at least for now. I've never asked Mitch McConnell this specific question. But having watched him for years as you have, I sense that he is of the school that politics has never personal, that you let that all of that go away and focus on what it is you want to do. And I would presume that that would be his approach and his spouse's approach. Although, yes, they both have a long memory, so who knows what you do with that several years from now.

BASH: And look, she's somebody who has helped her husband along the way when he was in trouble in this last re-election campaign, she went down to Kentucky. She was out there for him, helping with women. He was running against a female candidate.

CALMES: Yes. I think she's, you know -- I hate to say it this way, but she's sort of softens his image when they're together. And I agree with Steve that she's -- just been someone -- I mean, they're a couple, when they go -- she's having an awkward, very awkward time with her boss, the president, right now.

But yet, they've been going to Washington social functions for a long time, in which they run into people that Mitch McConnell has made an enemy of in one way or another. And so I think they're probably pretty used to awkwardness.

KNOX: Right after the election when Donald Trump met with congressional leaders and he laid out some of the things he wanted to do, including infrastructure agenda. The people who said no to him on the infrastructure, has ended up Mitch McConnell.

If Donald Trump were to lay out --

BASH: And she and transportation -- has transportation secretary, she's in charge.

KNOX: So, right. So, if Donald Trump were to lay out a conventional infrastructure plan, she would have to play a big role. She got to testify it, she got to defend it, she got to argue for it. And her husband is the one who said, it's not a priority right after the Election Day.

BASH: Right.

TALEV: These are two people who play the long game. And I think in an era of Twitter and era of a very tactical president, it's -- we are all thinking in terms of the short game every day, a 100 times every day. But there are some major players in D.C. who still play the long game. And there was two of them. [12:55:13] BASH: That's a great point. And two people who are very, very savvy, very savvy. And you can learn more about Secretary Chao and other bad-ass women in Washington. I had the pleasure talking with our special airs tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. Eastern, 11:30 a.m. Pacific righty here CNN.

Thanks so much for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. John King is back here on Sunday at 8:00 a.m. Eastern. And Wolf Blitzer is up right after a break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Moscow, 1:30 a.m. Saturday in Pyongyang, North Korea, wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

[13:00:01] First it was fire and fury. Now, it's lock and loaded. Those are the latest words from President Trump in the verbal confrontation with North Korea. Earlier today, President Trump tweeted this quote, military solutions are now --