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Flake: Trump Inviting 2020 Primary Challenge; Ryan On How He Can Influence Trump; Kushner Meets With Israeli And Palestinian Leaders; Navy Suspends USS John McCain Search-And-Rescue Efforts; NRSC Sends Mariachi Band To Donnelly Campaign Event. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 24, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:01] LAURA MECKLER, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: -- performer and that's how he's gotten to where he is.

JAKE TAPPER, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: People keep talking Democrats, who you're talking about?


TAPPER: There's another party?

MECKLER: I think so.

TAPPER: Do they have leaders?

MECKLER: I'm told they do.

TAPPER: Yes, I'm sorry.


TAPPER: Let's listen to what Lindsey Graham had to say this morning about some of these moments that Trump critics have called unhinged.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He's not the first president to use the bully pulpit to try to push the country in a particular direction or to keep his base onboard. So there's nothing unhinged about it. It's a political strategy that I'm not so sure is smart, but it's a very thought-out strategy.


TAPPER: That's basically what Mike was saying. Do you agree?

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO! NEWS: Yes, I don't know how much of the strategy and how much of just -- a really incredible entertainer's instinct. You know, a lot of it is instinct. I don't think that these things are not getting work shopped by 90 aides before they're pushed out to Twitter. But there's not like, you know, multilayered, multitiered fact checking operation before he puts out 140 characters. So I don't know that it's -- I think a lot of it is instinct. And what he and other people inside the White House have point out, like wait a second. We -- I'm President. Like, I got here. I did, you know, I haven't changed since the campaign. It worked for me then. The question obviously everyone asking is whether it's working for him now.

TAPPER: And then listen to Jeff Flake, the senator from Arizona, Republican. He's up for re-election next year. President Trump actually meeting with potential Flake primary opponents when he was in Arizona earlier this week. Take a listen to what he had to say.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I think that certainly depends on him. I think he could govern in a way that he wouldn't. But I think that the way -- the direction he's headed right now just kind of drilling down on the base rather than trying to expand the base, you know, and I think he's inviting one.


TAPPER: An incumbent Republican senator, a conservative saying that the incumbent Republican President is inviting a primary challenge.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So this is the difference between things that work for you in a campaign and things that work for in a White House. In terms in a campaign, you have lots of time to read teleprompter speeches but then say something crazy, but then clean up the mess from saying the crazy thing. And then read another teleprompter speech and like rinse and repeat and you make everyone happy and you keep moving on.

But when you're in White House you actually have to do governing along the way. You have to have some policies, you have to push them. You have to get Congress to pass them. You have to sell them to the American people.

And I think that that is the kind of thing that Jeff Flake is talking about. It's one thing to have all of this stuff, you know, teleprompter Trump versus rally Trump playing out as they're moving forward with tax reform in Congress, if they've done to repeal and replace of Obamacare. But it's another thing when that's the only show. And there's no any substance behind it. And I think that that's the risk Republicans -- certain Republicans that are running in 2018. What are we supposed to say we've accomplished?

WARREN: Well, there's this poll that Donald Trump's own pollster Tony Fabrizio tweeted out yesterday --


WARREN: -- that showed, I think, it was 54 percent of definite Republican primary voters. If they were to vote in Republican primary today, only 54 percent would pick Donald Trump. Now, he was trumpeting this as a good thing because -- TAPPER: It's incredible.


TAPPER: As Ted Cruz -- he's leading, his rival, Ted Cruz, by more than 30 points in this tweet from Tony Fabrizio, his campaign pollster, the President Trump partner (ph). But as you note, there's quite another way to look at this.

WARREN: Yes. And the fact that they're asking this question several months in suggested they think it's likely he's going to get in and that comports with what Jeff Flake is suggestion.

And I think what's more important than the question of, is his base with him or not? Which, they are, if nobody else is n the polls. Is what are Republicans in Washington thinking about him? Because they're the ones who are going to be thinking themselves about challenging the President or encouraging their colleagues to challenge the President in a primary. If he gets really, really bad, I don't think it's quite there yet, gets really, really bad, they might be emboldened to do so.

MECKLER: I mean -- I think it's likely he will have a primary challenger. I mean, this is not a --

TAPPER: Like a serious presidential challenger.

MECKLER: Yes, but it's not unprecedented for there to be primary challenger.

TAPPER: So it's like Kennedy versus Carter and -- I mean --

MECKLER: Yes, absolutely. You know, George H.W. Bush had a primary challenger, Pat Buchanan. There's, you know, there are -- this happens. Bernie Sanders was encouraging someone to primary President Obama, who is incredibly popular inside the party. I mean, there is discontent in parties and people challenge the incumbent and --

WARREN: And they loss.

MECKLER: Yes. Often they loss and it weaken -- and then they often weaken the incumbent. However, given how much division there is in the Republican Party today, and I think it's fair to say there's an enormous amount of division. Wouldn't it be surprising if the whole party just basically said, yes, this is our guy, let's keep going. I mean, I think it's -- I mean, I can't tell the future anymore than Sara can but I think it's not unlikely.

TAPPER: Although they have been generally still supportive or trying to be supportive. House Speaker Paul Ryan, for example, went at town hall with him earlier in the week. He had another town hall I think today, and he was asked about how he can influence President Trump. Take a listen.



[12:35:03] First, you control your own actions, and you lead by example. If you saw what I was saying in Racine and I've been saying pretty much every day since, what I think needs to be said over and over again about repulsive bigotry and racism in the country and how we can never get normal with this. We must always, every single time, stand up and repudiate it and condemn it unequivocally.


TAPPER: That's Paul Ryan, but obviously, and he said this to me in Racine at that town hall meeting, he does not feel President Trump did that, and, of course, factually he's right.

KNOX: He is doing what he did in 2016. Exactly. Responding to Trump, President the way he did to Trump candidate. Occasionally standing up and putting some distance between him trying to offer a sort of a policy alternative, to the daily noise coming from the trump campaign. Right now he's been tweeting and putting out statements and campaigning on the idea of tax reform. This really looks -- I mean, I can't distinguish 2017 Paul Ryan from 2016 Paul Ryan.

MURRAY: Yes, I think that's pretty much right. Look, Republicans have found this way of branching out, being critical of Trump when they feel like they need to, when they feel like the moment is so egregious, and I think that, you know, pretty much everyone agreed that the Charlottesville issue was so egregious. But then, you know, they elected him.

They told their voters to vote for him. They vote for his policies for the most part, and I think that's pretty much what we're going to see when they get back in town. Now, obviously this puts people in a side show, it means that senators are pissed because they get to town and they spend half their time responding to what the President has tweeted. And that's very aggravating to them. But -- so, they'll be at the tax reform bill, probably it will come up for a vote. Probably. And most Republicans won't vote for that.

TAPPER: I love this idea that Republican lawmakers getting annoyed that reporters ask them to talk about something that the President of the United States has done, as if we're talking about Kim Kardashian.

Anyway, coming up next, will Donald Trump be the president who finally achieves Middle East piece? He's got his son-in-law on the case as we speak in the region right now meeting with leaders on both sides, both sides.


[12:41:13] TAPPER: President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner is set to meet this hour with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Earlier, Kushner has held talks in Tel Aviv with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the two voicing optimism about restarting Israeli/Palestinian peace talks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I'm happy to see you and the effort that you are leading on behalf of the President.

JARED KUSHNER, TRUMP'S SON-IN-LAW & SENIOR ADVISER: We're appreciative of your team and all the efforts that they've made. The President is very committed to achieving a solution here that will be able to bring prosperity and peace to all people in this area.


TAPPER: Despite the talk of peace and prosperity, the Trump administration still has no clear framework for any peace negotiation.

CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us now live from Jerusalem. And Oren, this is Jared Kushner's third trip to the region since being tasked with brokering peace. Are you hearing of any breakthroughs at all?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think breakthroughs right now is much too strong of a word. Both sides, Israelis and Palestinians were very much tempering their expectations of what's might come out of this. And you got a sense of it right there in those statements from Kushner and Netanyahu from earlier today. There was nothing concrete there, no next steps, no solid vision, no timeline, and no immediate statement of, hey, let's get back into negotiations. And that's part of why everyone isn't expecting anything big coming out of these meetings.

Kushner will have problems in dealing with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu is under criminal investigation. And in response to those investigations, he's shifted sharply to the right attacking the left and the media which leaves him very little flexibility and very little wiggle room if he wants to make concessions or go to negotiations. He's also attacked previous Israeli/Palestinian accords. Again, that all makes it very difficult for him to really engage on a peace process.

As for a Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he is dealing with his own internal Palestinian political in-fighting which makes it difficult for him to make negotiations or for him to make concessions. And the entire Palestinian leadership is waiting for Trump to openly commit to a two-state solution. That's the international consensus on what should happen here in the state of Israel next to a state of Palestine. So, the fact that it hasn't happened yet is very much beginning to worry the Palestinians.

Before coming here, Kushner did make a round through the region visiting some of the Gulf leaders. That's an important and smart move. If Trump wants to push a regional peace initiative and get everyone onboard instead of just making these Israelis and Palestinians. That was smart. But until there is something definitive here and some next step, this is all some sort of nebulous stage and that shelf life, the ability to do something there, may run out quickly.

Jake, one more point is worth making. As you said, this is Kushner's third visit to the region. He's had other invoice here before many more times. It's an indication that Trump is still interested. And unless, to some extent, you have to believe that if Trump tells both leaders come to the negotiation table, now, they both would likely say, yes.

TAPPER: All right. Oren Liebermann in Israel, thank you so much for us.

You know, I think the first thing seeing from a lot of foreign policy establishment types (ph) from Washington is, why are you sending this kid there? He doesn't know anything about it. He doesn't have any diplomatic experience. But by the same token, people with a lot of diplomatic experience have been trying to do this literally for decades. I mean, why not?

MURRAY: Well, right. Why not? Jared Kushner made it clear early on that this was something that he wanted to be involved in. And in a sense that we continue to find administration officials who say things that the President then contradicts, Jared Kushner might actually be sort of a more reliable funnel to the President's mind, to the President's ear. And so that might be the kind of thing that gives people a little bit more reassurance who are involved in that process.

So, obviously, we heard from Oren the frustrations, which is that the administration doesn't have a framework for this, it seem to be indicating behind the scenes, that sure will go along with the two- state solution to part of the one side of the negotiations that would approve of that. But they're not saying anything publicly. So it seems like a bit of a mess. But, as you said -- I mean, you know, nobody else has figured it out yet.

[12:45:07] MECKLER: Well, and my view on this has always been that, you know, what the United States does is a lot less important than what the parties themselves do. I mean, they have to decide that they want to do it. Both sides have to decide that they're willing to make hard choices in order to come to a solution.

And I don't think there's any indication from either side that they're willing to do that. In fact, it feels like it's going in an opposite direction. So, I don't -- yes, I mean, I don't necessarily think that Jared Kushner is going to crack this nut. But, you sure, give it a try and again, it's really up to the people who live there to make these decisions.

KNOX: One quick point. The Palestinian demand which is that the Trump administration commit to a two-state solution was good. That requires Donald Trump to reverse himself. On February 15th, with Benjamin Netanyahu at his side at the White House. The President effectively downgraded the two-state solution to one of many options.

Now, you find national security experts on both sides of the aisle who say that's the right call. The situation has changed since George W. Bush made that formal American policy. The Palestinian government is less reliable, especially on a security front.

The settlements have grown up to a certain point. The region feels differently about it. But if Palestinians are saying we can't do negotiations until Donald Trump commits to the two-state solution being the way it forward, good luck. Because that would require the President to back away from his backing away.

TAPPER: He does get -- Kushner does get kind of attacked internally at the White House and among the Breitbart nationalistic crowd as being too far on the left on the left on this issue which is interesting. Because, a., he's an Orthodox Jew and b, the Kushner family foundation actually funding to some of these controversial settlements.

WARREN: Yes. And it's not just the Breitbart crowd. I think there are other people I've talked with have some romance in the White House. There's constant refrain on Jared Kushner himself is that, yes, but what has he accomplished? I don't know if that's going to change on this particular topic, but he does have a sort of more filled out team.

Victoria Coates, who was on the National Security Council, is now working, as I understand it, full time on this effort. She sort of bring a more traditional approach from a conservative foreign policy perspective to the effort. So we'll see.

TAPPER: And best of luck.

Before we go to break, I want to give you an update on the devastation the collision between the U.S. destroyer and the oil tanker in the Pacific. The Navy sadly has now suspended its search and rescue operations for the nine missing sailors. The crash has, you know, happened earlier this week just east of Singapore. Divers discovered the remains of one missing service member, a 22-year-old, Kenneth Aaron Smith.

The military also released the names of nine others missing at sea. The search suspended after an 80-hour effort. And official told CNN, the destroyer steering went out before it struck that tanker ship, but it's unclear why backup systems were not used to avoid the collision. Our thoughts and prayers with the families, of course. We'll be right back.


[12:52:07] TAPPER: Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly, a Democrat running for re-election got quite the welcome to one of his campaign events this week. Donnelly is running for re-election, as I said, in the traditionally red Hoosier state. So, in an attempt to basically troll him, the National Republican Senatorial Committee did this.



TAPPER: That's a Mariachi-style band, and they are called Mariachi- style. To greet him this event in Anderson, Indiana Monday, the NRSC has been calling Donnelly Mexico Joe because of reports that his family business has outsourced some labor to Mexico. Donnelly says that he has sold his company stock.

There you see a handful of protesters accompanying the music with signs like Made in Mexico and Outsource Donnelly out of D.C. The tactic did catch the attention of Democrats. The Indiana Democratic Party media strategist telling the Hill newspaper that the band was a cheap publicity stunt only sent to distract from Donnelley's record. Weird tactic, I guess, kind of?

MECKLER: Well, actually I think it's very kind of typical these days. I mean, you have, people dressed up as chickens showing up at people's events. You know, you have, you know, fake newspapers being sent and all sorts of, you know, stuff that's done to try to get attention. So, I think one thing it does highlight is that, you know, we talked today and there's been a lot of talk about, you know, a couple of the vulnerable Republicans running for re-election. But, in fact, Democrats have a much bigger challenge ahead.


MECKLER: Next year, a lot of -- many more Democrats, incumbent democratic senators up for re-election than Republicans and some of them in some tough states. The only reason that Donnelly was elected in the first place was, in fact, because the incumbent, Dick Lugar was beat by a Tea Party candidate and turned out to be, you know, not very electable in the general election. And that's how he ended up getting in. So, I think that Democrats definitely have their hands full.

TAPPER: Donnelly vulnerable?

WARREN: Yes, I think so. He could be more vulnerable I think if the President had tried in many ways to drive a wedge between red state Democrats and the left of the party. Struck by just watching this. And seems kind of quaint. Like this is the most ridiculous political story. Like -- and we used -- you're right. The chickens and all that stuff that used to be sort of the way -- the things that we all laughed at.

Now it's like, yes --

TAPPER: That nice back then.

WARREN: Exactly.

TAPPER: We now call people a flip-flopper.

WARREN: Exactly. Exactly.

TAPPER: But, I mean, that is an excellent point. I mean, President Trump could be using his skills and his talents and his leadership to really try to make the red state Democrats more vulnerable. But, in fact, he's only unified the Democratic Party on the Hill.

KNOX: Yes. And Joe Donnelley's bigger problem isn't going to be Donald Trump, it's going to be how Mitch McConnell uses the massive war chest that he's amassed. How the NRSC place in Indiana. Those are going to be a lot more important. We can -- Donnelly's rivals can count on those efforts. What we've seen from Donald Trump is flirtations with the primaries.

[12:55:03] He's talking more than the health care negotiations at one point. He sort of floated well. You know, you want to keep your job, you want to -- he's obviously come out in favor of -- one of the challengers to Jeff Flake. But we haven't seen yet -- what we haven't seen yet is a sustained campaign in any one state where he throws the full weight of his presidential clout behind a candidate. We haven't seen that tested yet. And so, TBD.

TAPPER: All Right. Thanks for joining us in Inside Politics. I'll see you back here at 4:00 p.m. Easter for "The Lead." My colleague Wolf Blitzer will be right up after a quick break. Thanks for watching.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's noon in Houston, Texas, 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, D.C., 8:00 p.m. in Tel Aviv, Israel, wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Divisions may be deepening between President Donald Trump and top Republican leaders in Congress.