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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Heads To Arizona Amid Feud With Flake; Possible Pardon For Arpaio Looms Over Trump AZ Visit; Super Pac Takes Aim At Flake's GOP Challengers In AZ; Treasury Secy's Wife Faces Backlash For Instagram Post. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 22, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[12:30:00] SEN.JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Don't worry about it at all. Go ahead and doing my job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it the President's place to endorse a primary challenger particularly someone against someone from his own party?

FLAKE: That's not my realm. That's somebody else is. So, I just -- I'm running my own campaign. It's going well. And, you know, what the President does, that's his prerogative.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: And yet another subplot we're watching as Trump heads west, the possibility that he'll pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who's found guilty of criminal contempt for refusing to follow a judge's order barring from racially profiling Latinos. But Trump hinted last week he may let Arpaio off the hook.

Arpaio, however, has not said he's been invited to tonight's rally. So we have three White House reporters at this table. What are we hearing? Is the President going to issue a pardon of Arpaio tonight?

JULIE PACE, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPODENT, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, that's a big question. I mean, Arpaio has been cute on this a little bit. The White House is trying to be cute about it as well. This would be a pretty controversial thing for the President to get onstage and do. Typically, Presidents don't issue pardons that this -- put in their presidency for someone like this in general.

But the Flake subplot is, I actually think, one of the more interesting one. And you can see the awkward position that Flake is in written all over his face in that clip there. The idea that a President who is seven months into his term is targeting a senator of his own party. I mean, that's not normal. That doesn't happen.

I think sometimes we lose sight of that in all of the hecticness and all of the antics that we go through here, but that is not normal.

RAJU: It is remarkably. You've not seen this outward level of aggression towards a single senator from your own party. Typically, you want to preserve your seats in the Senate and go after Democrats.

But on this rally tonight, there is a lot of concern from Republicans about what he's going to do and how aggressive he's going to be. Would it be off script? Will he take himself off message after his party thought he had a good night?

And a lot of people, including the Mayor of Phoenix, have asked President Trump not to attend, and if he is attending, this is the message from the Mayor of Phoenix.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR GREG STANTON (D), PHOENIX: I said to talk about pardon people, instead of getting involved in intra-party fights for the Republican nomination for Senate, instead, the President should take this moment, speak directly to the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: What are you hearing from White House officials about this event tonight? Do we expect him to be -- not throwing the red meat that he tends to do? Do we expect a red meat speech or is he going to try to stick to the script like he did last night?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: Well, unfortunately for White House officials, they have a limited amount of power over what the President can do. Remember the press conference last week at Trump Tower where the President went rogue and started taking questions. Much to the chagrin of the White House officials who had wanted him to talk about infrastructure.

That could be the case again here in Arizona when the President has a rally. We've seen these rallies in the past. The President gets riled up. He sees a big crowd. Sometimes there are protesters, and he let's loose. He attacks the media. He attacks his opponents, he attacks democrats. A lot of times even members of his own party. And --

RAJU: And that person could be Jeff Flake, as we were just talking about or even John McCain.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Which would be -- I mean, my goodness, lacking empathy. He just had chemotherapy. He is suffering from brain cancer. So, we'll see what he says. Last week he sort of referred to John McCain as the one who voted against the health care bill. So we'll see what he says.

You know, I think to the base, Arizona is ground zero for anti- immigration policies. Policies they liked in many ways. Certainly, I think he's going to the border, he's going to talk about the crackdown in terms of flow of illegal immigrants to the country. But does that, again, sort of does it contradict his message from yesterday? This idea about unity, and coming together, and sweetness in life, does he sort of overturn that with whatever he does today?

RAJU: And will this civil war within his own party intensify after tonight? We talked about Jeff Flake. He was asked about this rise of populism within his party. It's pretty clear who Jeff Flake is talking about right here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLAKE: I'm very concerned where we are today. I'm concerned that the party is going down a populist route. You know, populism is called populism for a reason. T may be popular. You might be able to win elections that way but it's not a governing philosophy and I'm concerned about where the party might be going there as well. If we follow the lead of some individuals who would give in to that kind of destructive behavior. So you could have a partisan debate, but it can't get ugly and we've got to get away from calling our opponents losers or clowns.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Pretty clear who he's talking about there.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Losers was the dead giveaway.

RAJU: The dead giveaway. But, you know, last week the President did something remarkable.

[12:35:02] Coming out and saying that he's essentially endorsing Kelli Ward, one of the primary challengers against Jeff Flake, as Julie was discussing. Have you heard about whether or not the President actually going to offer an official endorsement of her tonight?

TALEV: We've heard very little from White House officials want to ask about kind of all aspects of what his messaging going to be tonight. Other than what's obvious on sort of the policy front which is to emphasize during this trip today the apprehensions at the border which have actually, you know, changed some of the dynamics. And, you know, the numbers don't lie. The numbers tell the story.

RAJU: And I want to show you just one quick ad from actually a group that was linked to the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The super PAC going after Jeff Flake's opponent really just showing this battle that's happening within the party now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now after losing big league to John McCain, Chemtrail Kelli says he should resign so she can be senator.

KELLI WARD, U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Step away as quickly as possible. I should be at the top of the list for appointment to that Senate seat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Embarrassing behavior, dangerous ideas. No wonder Republicans rejected her just one year ago. Chemtrail Kelli, not conservative, just crazy ideas.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Brutal ad from --

HENDERSON: Basically calling her crazy.

RAJU: Yes.

PACE: They are.

TALEV: Yes. And add that Jeff Flake himself will never personally --

PACE: Right, right, right.

RAJU: Exactly. You know, Kelli Ward is someone who ran against John McCain last year and lost pretty handedly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

RAJU: In this primary, do we think the White House -- the President always getting the message from Republican leaders who were saying, all Republican senators saying, stay away from these intra-party fights.

TALEV: No, no, no. No. He's not at this stage and this is absolutely meant to send a signal to other lawmakers who were standing for reelection and could face primary challenges. So if they cross the President, if they speak out against him, if they don't go along with his policy approaches, that they could be in trouble at home.

You got to get through a primary in order to stand in the general election for re-election. And that's still the dynamic we're looking at heading towards the end of this August recess into this really important chapter in the Trump administration where we see everything from the debt ceiling fight, whether there's going to be a government shut down, the approach on tax reform.

We've got a period of three months or so that are going to absolutely tell a story that are going to shape the midterm elections and the President's popularity.

RAJU: And then also, a perfect segue to our next segment.

Coming up next, when the President criticizes his own party, he doesn't tend to mince words. But House Speaker Paul Ryan still tries to strike a balance between backing the President and calling him out for his mistakes.

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[12:41:42]

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JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Mitt Romney said President Trump needs to apologize --

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I just think he needs to do better and I think he just did today. Are there some of those tweets that I prefer not to have seen? Of course there are. But at the end of the day, what I control are my own actions.

And I think the President, in my own view of it, he likes the unpredictability side of this. And I think it's important that Kim Jong-un is called to the carpet when he does this kind of reckless rhetoric.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: That was Speaker Paul Ryan last night with Jake Tapper at a CNN town hall event. Republicans have struggled to distance themselves from the President seeming to equate neo-Nazis with those protesting against them without taking it too far. Here's what the Speaker had to say when asked whether he would support an official censure of the President for what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: I will not support that. I think that would be so counterproductive. If we descend this issue into some partisan hack- fest, into some bickering against each other and demean it down to some political food fight, what good does that do to unify this country?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: President Trump in recent week has been more than happy to take on Republicans via Twitter. Remember this when the President slammed Senator Lindsey Graham calling him "publicity seeking" after Graham slammed his Charlottesville response.

And then there was a President's feed with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The President hammering him for the failed Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. And Trump did not spare Senator Lisa Murkowski either after she came out against the GOP repeal plan.

The question is how come the President is so quick to go after his own party, when there are so many Democrats up for re-election? Just a list of vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in states that Trump actually won by more than 19 points. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana. Clear pick up opportunities. Will the President spends most of his time going after his own party?

PACE: It is really bizarre. I mean, Democrats are really worried about all of those races that you just put up on the screen, because Trump won in those states. And they tend to be states that tend to be a little more conservative and they know that they're going to have a hard time even in a midterm election year where the President's party tends to do pretty poorly.

But they're kind of watching in awe about Trump not going after these people. I mean, this is a gift to Claire McCaskill or Joe Donnelly giving them a little bit of breathing room at least in their home state to be able to push their own message forward instead of worrying about the President tweeting at them every morning.

RAJU: And we discussed this in the last segment too about the challenges in balancing this. The President going after them, or attacking the President, staying with the President deciding this is more of a, you know, they go after him in specific issues and they will be with him behind others.

And one reason why, and we discussed this earlier as well. The congressional agenda is intense when they get back in September. They have to deal with raising the debt ceiling which is a perennial problem for the Republicans and to pass some spending bills to keep the government open past September 30th. And they want to do big things like tax reform which is very difficult to accomplish.

Infrastructure. They have no agreement within their own party or with Democrats and potentially even a fix on the Obamacare exchange in individual insurance markets. Do we expect that this feud within the party is going to make it harder for them to get this done?

[12:45:05] HENDERSON: You know, you imagine, too. I mean, I guess the big question for Donald Trump all along is why can't he make friends more easily, right? Not only why is he not going after those Democrats. Why didn't he try to bring them into the tent and then maintain those relationships?

And, I mean, if you talk to Republicans early on, they want this President to succeed, they want to be for him and they've been disappointed. But they have, I think, typically, been with him when we talk about this, Flake even, right? I mean, Flake hasn't really done anything to go against this President in terms of policy, right? He was on the President's side in terms of health care.

So, you know, I am interested to see whether or not -- I don't know, we always talk about this, whether or not there'll be a new version of Trump. But really, will there be a new version of Trump post-Bannon. Whether we have Bannon in the White House sort of stoking this intra- party fight among the GOP and we all know that Bannon is anti- establishment and going forward whether or not there is sort of a more Kelly influence. And we'll see something different. Whether or not he drops, what you were talking about before, you know, stoking these primary challenges.

RAJU: One of the things that is moving over this as well is the Russia investigation. This is kind of, of course, a continuing to percolate today, actually Glenn Simpson who is the co-founder of the research firm Fusion GPS, the one that actually hired that British intelligence agent to investigation possible campaign coordination context with Russian (INAUDIBLE) now infamous dossier that lot of it has unsubstantiated allegations the President has gone after, still a clandestine meeting behind close doors with the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier today as part of their investigation.

But still that committee wants to talk to Donald Trump Jr. They want to talk to Paul Manafort. There is still, the special counsel's investigation. This is going to be a huge thing. We have not talked about that a lot personally (ph) but it's still hovering over this presidency.

TALEV: Well, it certainly -- then I think when you go to the question of why is the President going after fights in his own party when he'd got Democrats to worry about? It seems to me that the President calculus thus far is that Democrats are not well enough organized to take advantage of it and it doesn't do that much good to have your own party in control when your own party is investigating you. It doesn't do the stuff you want them to do on health care, won't pass the bills you want them to pass.

Now, the alternative is obviously much worse politically for President Trump. And if he reaches the point where he believes the Democrats are actually poison taking over the chamber, I think, although I'm not sure, I think you probably see a slightly different approach politically. But for now, those primary fights, the threats to those primary fights, the potential to shape the way Republicans behave I think is very much part of his thinking and he's very frustrated with his own party for seeming to go along with Democrats and not take a bipartisan approach to the (INAUDIBLE). That's it.

RAJU: Absolutely. So, more on that ahead.

And next, the wife of one of the Trump's key cabinet secretaries gets a lesson in the perils of social media. You can hashtag that #dcproblems.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:52:17] RAJU: Words to the wise, engage strangers on social media at your own peril. Everyone will see what you say. Maybe it's advice Louise Linton should have taken.

Linton is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's wife. She might have what you call expensive tastes and few reservations about showing them off. Take this post on Instagram. A great day trip to Kentucky, Linton wrote before tagging the post designers she was wearing. Brands such as Tom Ford, Hermes and Valentino. That prompted one user, Jenni Miller to post this, "Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable."

Now, Miller's response sent Linton off on a rant that you could charitably call out of touch. "Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband?" Linton wrote. It goes on. "I'm pretty sure we paid more taxes towards our day trip than you did. Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you'd be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours."

Now -- the Treasury Department has not yet apologized. The -- Mnuchin's wife has not yet apologized for this. It's not really comments down this. Other than saying that they reimbursed the government for their travel, do you think they're going to have to apologize or there's -- going to move on and ignore it?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, it's going to be difficult for them to move on, because the next thing that they want to do is pass tax reform. And it's going to be not easy for them to say, this is our tax plan and this is what it does for rich people, because most people expect that this tax plan is going to reduce taxes on the rich. And when you have this imagery of a very wealthy Treasury Secretary and his wife getting off a taxpayer-funded plane and supporting all kinds of designer fashion, it's going to be difficult for them to say that this is tax reform for the middle class.

RAJU: And it's also, this speaks to two things. One, there a lot of millionaires and multi-millionaires and billionaires in his cabinet, and as well as, there are a lot people who did not serve in government before. First time, they really have to endure some public scrutiny.

HENDERSON: Yes. And don't understand that being in government is about public service, right? It's not about being glamorous. It's not about, you know, what name brands you're wearing or sort of seeming to channel the Kardashians in terms of name-checking all of these brands.

I mean, you know, it was tacky. It was cheap of her to do that. On an engagement she had with that woman as well, we'll see if they come out and apologize. I mean, this is sort of the no apologies administration. So we'll see what happens.

PACE: It is right and, you know, when things like this happen I think about covering the Obama administration and thinking about how sensitive they were to any perception that they were getting advantages or Michelle Obama would go on expensive vacations and it would become a big embarrassment.

[12:55:08] There's not really that sense from the Trump administration. They've embraced the wealth even when it gets some folks in trouble.

RAJU: Yes, that's right. And they also -- they don't apologize and at the same time they have a base of working-class voters who put the President in office and one that he says that he's vowing to protect. We'll see how this one plays out.

Thank you all for joining us, panel. Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Wolf Blitzer is up after a quick break.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 10:00 a.m. in Phoenix, 1:00 p.m. here I Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Jerusalem. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

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