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INSIDE POLITICS

Tillerson Refuses To Say If He Called Trump A "Moron"; Bannon: Kochs "Would Own" Pence If He Became President; Gillespie Keeps Distance From Trump In Virginia Gubernatorial Race. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 16, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


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[12:30:03] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because I'm not happy about it and a lot of people are not happy about it.

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JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: He knows a lot of Republicans especially Trump voting Republicans who might not have been historical Republicans, Trump voting Republicans may get more mad when you mention the name Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan than they do when you say Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. The President knows that. The President knows that and he is tapping into that, that his base of the party dislikes its own leadership. But he is the President.

To your point, you know, if he is going to get tax reform which is on the high wire just like health care was, yes, get the budget through first. He needs to bring the party together and not have some people in the party saying I'll screw it. I want to poke the President back by voting no.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, that's the challenge. Is that -- because as, you know, McConnell put it so neatly earlier this summer, he's new to this business. He doesn't quite understand that his faith especially in this era of parliamentary (ph) politics, his faith is so tied to what the Congress does.

KING: The faith of his agenda is I don't think he thinks it's political. I'm not sure he think it's political thing.

MARTIN: John --

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: I think on some level he thinks that if, you know, we just heard him there, it's not my fault, these are the ones who cannot get it done. I think he feels he will be protected on some level if he can find an appropriate scapegoat. You can't blame the Democrats. His party is in full control. I think he feels like he has to find somebody who is not him to pin this on.

And, you know, one of the fears to your point about him and, you know, the agenda on Capitol Hill on whether it is going on or it's not, one of the fears that I've heard Republican aides bring up and they don't know where he's going to be tomorrow based on where he is today. The House passes bill he had a celebration then he called it mean. The Senate passes bill he endorsed then he said it needs more heart. This is the health care bill for both of them. There is always that nagging fear among Republicans if I follow my sort for this is the President going to be with me tomorrow.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But he does -- I mean, he feels like he is protected. He feels like he can blame everyone else. And then if everyone else goes down, if senators go down, if the House goes down, he will still be protected. And he doesn't understand that that's not necessarily going to be the dynamic and that divided Washington (ph).

KING: It's hard with the Republicans you have. It will be harder if you have fewer Republicans whether that means Democrats take back a chamber or you just have fewer Republicans in the House and the Senate, who knows.

Let's just preconscious (ph). So you heard the President on several occasions there saying I like Steve Bannon. Steve Bannon is a friend of mine. I understand what he's doing. I completely appreciate what he is doing. He didn't say I agreed in every way but he certainly encouraged it. This is Steve Bannon, the value voters over the weekend, taking particular aim at the man the President of the United States right now is breaking bread with Mitch McConnell.

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STEVEN BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Up on Capitol Hill because I've been getting calls. It's like before the Ides of March, right? The only question is, and this is just an analogy or metaphor, whatever you want to call it, they're just looking to find out who is going to be Brutus to your Julius Caesar. Yes, Mitch, the donors, the donors are not happy. They all left you. We cut your oxygen off, Mitch.

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KING: Now in a few months we'll be back here testing the power of Steve Bannon. Do they recruit these candidates? Do they knock off incumbents? But if you're Mitch McConnell right now and you're sitting there with the President and you wanted the President to say Steve Bannon stop, or Steve Bannon I share your goal but not your tactics, don't target this guy, don't target that guy, don't target any of my incumbents rights now. The President didn't do that. Mitch McConnell can't be happy with that.

But how about Mike Pence? He is also in the luncheon. In the New Yorker today, there's a profile of Steve Bannon in which -- profile of Mike about the Pence presidency. Steve Bannon tells Jane Meyer, "Bannon is equally alarmed at the prospect of a Pence presidency. He told me, I'm concerned he'd be a President that the Kochs would own". Mike Pence is close to the Koch Brothers, big Republican donor. If you are Mike Pence, you going to be as hard (ph) Bannon as Mitch McConnell is. MURRAY: But in family Mike Pence as chief of staff is out there saying the same thing that Steve Bannon is. Nick Harris (ph) is the one who's telling donors if this someone who is not supporting the President's agenda 100% of the time. We need to purge them.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: Yes. But now you're into politics interest, right? Because if you have a distance between the President, then you are the enemy. And so that's the game exist on somebody leverage here. And we saw it with Bob Corker. He's not even running for reelection last week.

You know, for these individual senators or the vice president, they have both their own political interests but also their policy interest at heart. And so for Corker who's been, you know, at this war publicly with the President, but they both have this goal to try to get through on Iran, the senators have shown repeatedly a willingness to grit their teeth and get through it, because the cost of not doing that is even worse.

KAPUR: Pence is not been what I would call a Trump Republican through his career.

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KAPUR: Now, of course, he is -- what's going out of his way to show how loyal he is to the President and he feels he needs inheritance and basically he's got the shot and he's clearly very ambitious.

KING: But there are a number of times where the President has said scadingly (ph) critical things about his vice president including I thought you were going to get me those votes on Capitol Hill but.

KAPUR: Like immigration and trade and things that Trump had highlighted in his campaign, Mike Pence has not been that person for the last time. I mean he's been a doctor now a conservative.

MARTIN: But that line though about a Pence presidency being controlled by the Kochs is important for our viewers.

[12:35:04] This is a complicated story right now. I mean, the Republican Party isn't just the sort of establishment versus the Tea Party as I've recalled them for years. It's much more complicated now.

You've got various elements of the right, you know, the center right now and they're all kind of in motion. It's a very fluid time now in conservative politics. And people on the left special sort of say the evil Koch brothers. But it's not quite that simple because Bannon sure is on the same side as what has been the kind of liberal boogie man for the last five years.

MURRAY: Yes.

MARTIN: It's a very odd for both.

KING: And he's got his own big money. It's not just about big money. This was, you know, this is not two or three pieces. This thing was the last drop from a big distance and it's a lot of fracture of many pieces.

When we come back, seated next to the President on one side there is a Defense Secretary James Mattis. On the other, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Who? Remember, he probably called the President a moron. Did he take it back? We'll be right back.

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[12:40:05] KING: Welcome back. Just moments ago at the White House, these pictures where you see the Secretary of State right just the left of your screen to the right of the President. The nation stop diplomat side by side with the boss in public view. All is fine. But the backdrop of that cabinet meeting we all know filled with unpleasantness and tension including whether the Secretary of State lashed out and insulted the boss.

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JAKE TAPPER, CNN STATE OF THE UNION ANCHOR: Is it true? Did you call him a moron?

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Jake, as I indicated earlier I was asked about that, I'm not going to deal with that kind of petty stuff. I mean, this is a town that seems to relish gossip, rumor, innuendo and they feed on it. They feed on one another in a very destructive way. I don't work that way, I don't deal that way, and I'm just not going to dignify the question.

As I said, Jake, I'm not playing. These are the games of Washington. These are the destructive games of this town. They're not helpful to anyone. And so my position on it is I'm not playing. I'm not playing. You want to make a game out of it? I'm not playing.

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KING: It's not a game. It's important for those of us in Washington especially for leaders around the world to understand are the President and the Secretary of State on the same page. Do they like each other? Do they agree with each other? You'll notice no denial there from the Secretary of State. Tillerson insists though this relationship is solid and this is effective, but frequent presidential tweets critical of Secretary Tillerson do raise doubts about whether he truly speaks for the President. That is especially problematic especially in that job when allies, enemies around the globe have to interpret comments like these.

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TILLERSON: He has made it clear to me to continue my diplomatic efforts, which we are, and we will -- as I've told others, those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Exactly. On the one hand, you know, look, Secretary Tillerson went out to do the Sunday show, to try to make the case all is fine. The President and I put this behind us. I'm not going to answer the details. That's important. That's important. Some might take that as humor. The diplomacy continues until the bomb drops. But when you have military exercises today as we speak in South Korea where among the things they are practicing is evacuating Americans from Seoul just to game out the possibility of this, it's not so funny.

KAPUR: He is the exact same phrase on another show. This was not an off the cuff thing, you know. And I think it certainly -- people will be trying to interpret it, people will be trying to wonder what he is saying. And in this regard, though, I would say he is a little bit in line with the President. The President has been tweeting a lot of things, putting a lot of threats out there making it seem like he could do something drastic at any moment. And this seems like his Secretary of State backing that up.

KING: The President does like that to be unpredictably. Sure we're having diplomacy, but the military is ready. Sure we'll diplomacy, but the clock is ticking.

MURRAY: But the President has also said repeatedly that he feels like diplomacy has been a wasted effort. That we've been trying this for 25 years and it hasn't worked. And so, nobody has been able to come out and say what they think might be different. What they think may have changed. What this administration might be doing differently than what we've seen from past administrations to give any indication the diplomacy would work this time around. And certainly the best person to make that argument is probably not Rex Tillerson who's been cutoff by the President in return.

KING: Part of the segue Ms. Murray. The segue. A lot of people won't find diplomacy continues until the first bomb drops. A lot of people won't find that funny. This part is funny. Senator Bob Corker with whom the President has been having a sparring match says one of the reasons he disagrees, and he's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he says that he believes the President has castrated his Secretary of State, Senator Corker's words not mine, he's castrated the Secretary of State by repeatedly issuing tweets and other statements undermining the Secretary's work around the world. Jake tried.

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TAPPER: You're a cattle -- you have a cattle ranch. You don't want to say anything about this senator calling -- suggesting you've been gelded before the world? That's not anything that bothers you?

TILLERSON: I checked, I'm fully intact.

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MURRAY: Or it's just like (INAUDIBLE) cut him off at the knee as to what I was talking about.

KING: OK.

TALEV: You do get the feeling, though, that with Secretary Tillerson, this is a matter of running out the clock. Whereas, what we saw I think with Jeff Sessions in the A.G. side, it's like there was this period of time where it looked like he was very tenuous. He seems --

MARTIN: We want his back now.

TALEV: -- back now. And he's even showing some autonomy I think by making some of these moves on bringing federal prosecutors --

KING: Right.

TALEX: -- in for transgender case, that sort of stuff. With Mattis, perhaps because of the capabilities, he has the Defense Secretary and perhaps because of the President's kind of instinct of trust for generals, he's been able to navigate his decision making a different way. But for Secretary Tillerson, it seems like we're now in a management situation not really an improvement situation.

MARTIN: You go on national TV and I assume because of his personal honor, he doesn't want to lie. But to be (INAUDIBLE), you know, take questions about what, you know, what he called the President a moron and not deny them, has to be painful for him. But more painful is what Senator Corker said, last week when I talked to him, and basically that there is no good cop bad cop here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

[12:45:08] MARTIN: So, you know, this is not some deal where Trump has to come and play the heavy and Tillerson tries to do the kind of backdoor diplomacy. The fact is when Trump goes on Twitter and says those things about, you know, North Korea, it's not preplanned. There is no sort of like game that they are playing together. This is Tillerson actually picking up his phone and seeing he's being under cut for the ample (ph) time.

MURRAY: And more importantly --.

KAPUR: Giving voice too I think is the fact that many Republican senators are worried that when there is a crisis moment, will the Tillerson, Mattis, and John Kelly view of the world prevail or will President Trump and his tweeting habits prevail. That's a huge question that I think --.

MARTIN: What a big question right now.

MURRAY: But I think, look, it was a telling moment. Last week when the President came out and said I listen to everyone's opinions, everyone has different opinions. So I see the world a little bit differently but ultimately mine is the opinion that matters. I have no one who gets to make the decision. I think he pretty effectively made the argument about who wins in that scenario.

KING: When we come back, the final days of a race in Virginia, the races for governor. But a key factor whether you're Democrat or Republican is the President.

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[12:50:18] KING: Welcome back. We always love a chance to bring our friend back here. This is the 2016 election. A little while, the President had tier (ph) the South Carolina political event to help raise money for the Republican Governor Henry McMaster. Here's the big question, will we see in the next three weeks the President here in the state of Virginia?

Hillary Clinton won Virginia with 50 percent of the vote and a governor's race in three weeks. It's a very close governor's race. You see all these red down here, look at all that red. Donald Trump still lost the state because conservatives down here, but a lot of people live up here in the Washington suburbs in Northern Virginia.

The Vice President has been here. That's Ed Gillespie. He's the Republican candidate for governor. He's trailing right now. And I think the race is getting closer. Mike Pence in the southwest corner of the state trying to turn out rural Trump voters, rural Republicans.

Former Vice President Joe Biden was here with the Democratic candidate currently the Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam. This is in Richmond, Virginia. Why are they here? Again, take a look in the Washington suburbs. They're deep blue and there a lot of people here, lot of young voters who don't like Donald Trump.

The question is, in the end of this campaign, who is going to win? Listen to this ad here from Ralph Northam. He ran the campaign in times calling the President a narcissist, but seems to be trying to split the difference here.

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GOV. RALPH NORTHAM (D), VIRGINIA: As a doctor, nobody ever asked if I'm a Democrat or Republican. They just want my help. So if Donald Trump is helping Virginia, I'll work with him. But Donald Trump proposed cutting Virginia's school funding, rolling back our clean air and water protections and taking away health care from thousands of Virginians. I've stood up to Donald Trump on all of it. Ed Gillespie refuses to stand up to him at all.

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KING: So the President -- you spend a lot of time on this, right Jonathan? The President is clearly an issue. The lieutenant governor seems to be trying to split the difference a little bit because there are some moderate Republicans. He would like to vote for him. He doesn't want to just totally trash the President, but --.

MARTIN: That's exactly right. In fact I find nugget my story today. That ad right there comes directly from one lady in a focus group in Northern Virginia who said I don't like Trump that much, but I just wish you guys would sort of work together with your politicians. And so the northern folks realize that they can't be too hot with their rhetoric because there's a lot of swing voters. Especially in the outer suburbs here of Washington D.C., we're kind of center of even center right people but who will vote for Democrats. So that's what that ad is aimed at.

The question now Ed Gillespie is grappling with, do you bring Trump for a file push at the end to get your voters out? Really Trump voters out that you need. Part of the problem is that Trump believes since he go to Asia the Friday before the election day. So any hope about doing a Sunday or a Monday kind of election rally that can choose your supporters but perhaps not hurt you with undecided is out of the question because he's not going to be here.

So if you bring Trump in, it's going to be at least five days before the election. And if that happens, who knows what Trump says at the rally and how that story.

KING: Exactly. That make that point. If you bring him in, it's a very delicate balance for Ed Gillespie because there a lot of people in those blue northern suburbs who don't like the President. In a poll couple weeks ago, this is the public policy, at Christopher Newport University, the President's disapproval 58 percent in the state of Virginia. So stop, you quote, Ken Cuccinelli, long time Republican in the state, former attorney general in the state, having watched for a great job he did for Luther Strange meaning the President when he went to Alabama to campaign Luther Strange, having watch for the great job he did for Luther Strange, I'm not sure I want that. Trump rallies are about Trump. And that's the danger if you bring him in late in the race.

KAPUR: It's especially difficult of a balance strike in Virginia which is one of the swing states that Hillary Clinton won partly because of these Northern Virginia suburbs like Arlington and Fairfax County. Population is growing, they're much more liberal than not.

We've seen -- and I think Jonathan talked about this, we've seen Gillespie get a little defensive, get a little annoyed at the fact that Northam wants to make this all about Trump behind this. I don't even know who this man is attitude. Talk about me or running against me.

TALEV: But, you know, people often look at Virginia governor's races is like (INAUDIBLE), right, because it's the first one out. And to give us some clues about how voters are responding, but what I think we're going to be looking at out of this how the candidates respond to the sort of new challenges that Trumpism poses. These tactics where you're trying to appease the middle while energizing your base are particularly complicated and sort of gymnastical in this environment. And how this plays out in Virginia make a lot of clues to sort of the next primaries.

KING: It's an interesting point you make. Because not only the people trying to sort this new political environment or in the voters of a candidate who try to figure out the quick sand there.

And the last piece, been there a long time used to work on Capitol Hill, he's the chairman of the Republican National Committee, had a big job of the George W. Bush White House. He's an establishment Republican. So this is trying to square or circle I think. Listen to the Vice President campaigning for Ed Gillespie.

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[12:55:05] MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The President and I need allies and partners in states like Virginia. And frankly, Ed Gillespie is as good as they come. And Ed Gillespie, despite for the life blood of south Virginia, like President Donald Trump, Ed digs coal.

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KING: Ed digs coal. What Mike Pence could have said is I work with Ed Gillespie when I was in the House and I worked on Capitol Hill and was a chief aide to the Republican leadership but there we know each other great from our days inside the House not the message you want to send to a Trump voter right now.

MURRAY: No. I didn't call I think is probably the much safer route on that.

KAPUR: He mentioned South Virginia and not just Virginia.

MARTIN: Which is real fast -- Pence and Gillespie actually are close. They are talking a lot personally about what to do here on the Trump backdoor. Pence get the deal.

KING: Yes.

MARTIN: And he knows the edge in a very touch point.

KING: Closer, he's pre-Trump.

MARTIN: Yes.

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KING: Thanks for joining us in Inside Politics there. We'll see you back here tomorrow. The White House holding a briefing soon, we'll bring you that live. Wolf Blitzer in the chair after a quick break. Have a great day.

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