Return to Transcripts main page

INSIDE POLITICS

Bush And Obama Warn Against Division; Trump Meets With U.N. Secretary-General; Kelly Accuses Congresswoman of Grandstanding. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 20, 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] TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, BLOOMBERG: And President Obama we know he has been wanting to get back on the campaign trail and try to right some of the wrongs that were done, some of the losses that were given up during his presidency. And we're not necessarily so surprised that they're speaking out against President Trump.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And let's start with President Bush in the sense he went through the tone, the substance, immigration, diversity, nativism, free trade, he went through everything. In tone and substance just sort of point by point attack. He never mentioned Trump. It was crystal clear what he was doing.

This is the tug of war in the Republican Party, people who are in the more establishment, more Bush camp. And a lot have bitten their tongues because they think Trump will pass. We'll just let's this ride out in a tide until it goes away. How significant is it he speaks out?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: Look, I think that he is an avatar of this sort of old Republican guard. He's also well liked even by people --

KING: Old Republican guard past?

HAM: Within the establishment.

KING: But as in mad because their day is gone or as in speaking up because they want their day back?

HAM: No, I don't think he's mad. I think he's genuinely concerned about the direction of the country. I don't think he's looking to be the head of the party again or anything. But I do think he wants to lay down a marker. And I think during the campaign there was some question as to whether people like Mitt Romney and Bush speaking out against Trump would do more to help or hurt that cause.

Now that he's President he wants to lay down this marker. There is though I think a risk of a bunch of people who voted for Trump who are part of this party who he's trying to speak to are going to look at that and go, well, for eight years under Obama you kept your mouth shut and there were many customs broken then and there was loose talk about for instance many on the president's staff calling Republicans hostage takers and terrorists at times, and he didn't say anything. Now, Obama made that -- those breaking precedents look better and classier than Trump does, but they existed. And I do think that many people who voted for Trump will look at Bush's criticism with a jaundiced eye for that reason because they'll say why weren't you talking?

KING: And a lot of them will also say you had eight years, Obama had eight years, that's the reason Donald Trump is president because we're mad at both parties and both establishments.

HAM: Exactly.

MICHAEL SHEAR, NEW YORK TIMES: And look both Obama and Bush are in somewhat of the same dilemma, which is that they're constrained to come out too strongly against President Trump because in fact it could backlash against exactly what they're trying to do.

In other words, you know, I know talking to the Obama people that part of the reason he hasn't been more of a forceful presence in, you know, as his legacy's being chipped away at piece by piece. Because they worry that, you know, if he's front and center and it unifies the Trump coalition against -- because then there's something for them to, you know, Barack Obama is back and they can unify around their hatred of Barack Obama.

And so, you know, to some extent both of these guys have to be careful that, you know, too directive an attack against President Trump doesn't suit their interest.

HAM: Works against them.

KING: We don't hear from either one of them that often and that's by design. They both step back. That's again, part of the rule of the ex-presidents club. It's also they were president for eight years. They want a break from all of this frankly.

To be honest here, I want to listen -- the President Obama yesterday making his case against President Trump. If you listen to him during the campaign it's not brand new to you, but he has gone silent during the presidency. At one point while he campaigning yesterday is kind of a reference to the calendar on what century am I living in?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Some of the politics we see, we thought we put that to bed. I mean, that's folks looking 50 years back. That's the 21st century, not the 19th century.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Speaking there in New Jersey for the governor's race. He was in Virginia for the governor's race as well. Whatever you're political views, smart politics if you're a Democratic president, former President speaking to a Democratic group trying to turnout Democratic voters to go after Donald Trump. That's politics 101 there. But just the rare that he is President Obama doing that he's been quiet for so long is this just because we're in campaign season for him? Or will it continue, I guess, is my question?

OLORUNNIPA: I think it will continue. I think we will continue to hear from former President Obama in part because he feels based on what he said this is a crisis moment. That our democracy is at stake as he said yesterday.

Some of what you've seen from President Trump has caused Democrats to worry about sort of where the country is going in and whether or not they have enough fire power to push back. And a lot of Democrats want President Obama to be more outspoken. And I think that's what we've seen and we'll probably continue to see that as Michael said with President Trump chipping away at President Obama's legacy.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, WASHINGTON POST: I would be surprised though if he takes the gloves off any further than they are off right now. I think he's maybe just going to bare the knuckles or something. But again, it's not because of what Michael was saying before which is that you can't go too hard after Trump because so much of what is rallying Republicans around Trump at all is the fact he's not Obama and can erase the past. It is Obama because they just hate that so much.

[12:35:07] HAM: I would also suggest that Obama out on the trail and this sort of broader message that maybe half the country harkens from the 19th century is not the most effective way to bring the country together, is not perhaps the opposite of the divisiveness that he is speaking about. And is what unites exactly those folks and by the way didn't work on the trail during the past eight years when he lost 1,000 seats.

DEMIRJIAN: But this is Obama's fundamental challenge, right? He's somebody that can whip up cohesion and support, it's the cohesion in the opposite support in people that really don't like him and he's also probably the only figure in the Democratic Party right now that can actually motivate people that would vote Democrat to actually, you know, get off their couches.

HAM: That worked only with him though. It didn't work with any other candidate.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. So what's the sweet spot? Can they use him in a way that doesn't actually -- because it's going to flip over that line. And is there, may be there isn't --

KING: Quickly shift gears here. This video just in CNN President Trump meeting with the United Nations Secretary General in the Oval Office. Let's listen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I was doing what I'm doing right now. We were friends, we knew each other. You have done a very, very spectacular job at the United Nations. And I can tell you speaking for the United States we appreciate it. And I know you're working with our ambassador, Nikki is a very, very unique class. He is -- we're very proud of you. We want to thank you for the job you're doing. But it's an honor to have you. And thank you very much for being here. Lucky (INAUDIBLE).

ANTONIO GUTERRES, SECETARY GENERAL, UNITED NATION: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I must say that extremely grateful first of all for your support that you have given us in the reform process in the general assembly. I'm a true believe that we live in a messy world, but we need strong reforms and organized U.N., we need a strong United States engaged based on its traditional goals, freedom, democracy, human rights, and we need a very solid cooperation between the U.S. and U.N. And it's a great pleasure to meet you.

TRUMP: Thank you Antonio.

GETERRE: Thank you very much.

TRUMP: I have to say the United Nations has tremendous potential. It hasn't been used over the years nearly as it should be, but the United Nations perhaps almost more than any other thing I can think of, and I will tell you I also happen to think that the United States even as what we're doing right now has additionally tremendous potential.

We have just started. But the United Nations has this great, great -- it's almost a power to bring people together like nothing else. It hasn't been used. You are starting to really get your arms around it. And I have a feeling that things are going to happen with the United Nations like you haven't seen before.

I mean, to have this group of nations in one location with one person, which is you, leading it strongly, I think is in terms of world peace and other things, and many other things we'll be working on, I just wish you luck because the potential that you have is really unlimited. Good luck.

GUTERRES: Thank you very much. And I need all the luck (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: You need luck and you need talent, OK. You need talent. And he's got the talent. We'll see what happens. I'll report back to you in about seven years. OK, thank you all very much.

KING: President of United States in the Oval Office with Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations. We were talking earlier on another subject about all the norms being broken during the Trump presidency and lines that we thought would never be crossed.

It is remarkable to see a Republican president and a man who was a candidate and many Republicans run against the United Nations, they pillar the United Nation. They call it a big bloated bureaucracy of its anti-Israel and their view. It most cases it doesn't do much.

And now he said it was dependent on the reforms when he was talking about the great potential of the United Nations there. A lot Trump voters might be surprised to hear that from their President. Although again, to be fair to the President his point is he believed this Secretary General is beginning to do things at the United Nations that some of his predecessors refused to do.

DEMIRJIAN: It was a little bit of tough love. Like you're a great guy, your organization's just a mess like, you know.

And the thing also, is that, you know, Trump's not wrong. I mean the United Nations has never done what it had the potential to do. It was set up after World War II, they were supposed to work together, Cold War took that over.

I mean, it's never actually been functional as it could be. So I guess maybe it's heartening for the world to hear President Trump who everybody thought might just, you know, continue criticizing, criticizing recoiling to actually say, oh yes, sure, I think you guys have great potential.

But whether that means the United States will continue to put enough skin in the game in terms of diplomatic support, dollars, I mean we just pulled that in UNESCO like so, you know, what we're doing with the left hand does not necessarily match exactly what he's saying in the Oval Office right now.

KING: And the reason we take these moments whenever we can. Number one, is the news make it potential. Number two, just always interesting to hear the President of the United States to talk to who ever is visiting with him, to get his perspective on things, but as the media pool is being escorted out the President was asked did you authorize that mission in Niger and the President did not answer that question. He let it go.

[12:40:04] Which doesn't mean -- doesn't necessarily mean he did or he didn't, just he decided in current environment of all these questions to stay silent.

OLORUNNIPA: And there are going to be more questions about this ambush in Niger because people want to know exactly what happened, why four American soldiers died and why one of them was left for two days. And now there's word that there was a private contractor that was being used to rescue some of the people who were involved.

So there are a number of different questions not only from Congress but from the American people. And he can expect to continue to get those questions.

KING: I know legitimate questions, sometimes you get push back and I have respect for Secretary Mattis who says we need a little time to get all of this. We don't want to give a bad account with early information, that's a perfectly acceptable answer as long as answers are forthcoming. We'll stay on top.

Up next, nine months of President Trump, we break it down by the numbers and some of the more memorable moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I was sitting at the table, we had finished dinner, we're now having dessert, and we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen. And President Xi was enjoying it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:45:39] KING: Want to turn back to the story we began the hour because of the new video just in to CNN. Remember, this is about the President's condolence call to the family of Sergeant La David Johnson and the drama inside the White House briefing room yesterday.

In the briefing room the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly dismissed the congresswoman who surfaced the story about the President's condolences, he called her an empty barrel. Part of his evidence, General Kelly says he relies on his recollection of a 2015 event he attended in Miami to dedicate a new FBI building in honor of two slain agents.

Now, Kelly says the Congresswoman Frederica Wilson stood up but that's location and did what members of Congress often do, praise their self.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: And the congresswoman stood up and in long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise stood up there in all of that. And talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money and she just called up President Obama, you know, on that phone call, he gave the money for $20 million to build the building. And she sat down. And we were stunned. Stunned that she'd done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel we were stunned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, this morning on CNN the congresswoman said the White House Chief of Staff isn't telling the truth. She said she wasn't even in Congress when the money for that building was secured. That part's true. And in the video of the event recorded by the Florida sun sentinel, the congresswoman doesn't mention money. But let's listen to her. This is April 10, 2015.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: Consider this scenario. The brand new federal building that will house the FBI has been built. And the FBI approaches my office, Congresswoman Wilson, the ribbon cutting has been scheduled in four short weeks.

The dedication is on the government's calendar and cannot be changed. One problem, the FBI wants to name this gorgeous at the same time in four weeks. Everyone says that's impossible. It takes at least eight months to a year to complete the process to House the Senate and the President's office.

I said I'm a school principal. And I said, excuse my French, oh, hell no. We're going to get this done. Immediately I went to attack mode. I went to the speaker, Speaker Boehner. And I said, Mr. Speaker, I need your help. The FBI needs your help. And our country needs your help. And we have no time to waste.

He went into attack mode and in two days pulled it out of committee, brought it to the floor for a vote. Representative Bennett and I presented it, we all voted and I dashed it over to the Senate and put our senators on notice, put it on your radar, Senator Nelson and Senator Rubio, who I believe have representatives here today, they hotlined it to the Senate floor in just two days.

And guess what, the president signed the bill into law this past Tuesday April 7th, 2015 we a bang, bang, bang,

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So now that this video's out, the White House is still defending the Chief of Staff this statement from the Press Secretary just minutes ago General Kelly said he was stunned that Represented Wilson may comment to the building dedication honoring slain FBI agent about her own action in Congress including lobbying former President Obama on legislation. If you're able to make a sacred act like honoring Americans heroes about yourself, you're an empty barrel.

So the fight continues, the fight that many of us wish would go away, at least this is not about the fallen in Niger, but so let's come at this. General Kelly did say in the briefing room she talked about getting the funding. He's wrong about that. He's wrong about that. That was a factual misstatement by Chief of Staff.

[12:50:07] However, from his prism his point is I'm a member of the military, I've been in Arlington, I've buried my own son, I go to these services, this was about FBI agents, this should be about them, we should be naming the building, this should be solemn and you have a house member gets up and showboats a little bit bragging about her ability to get stuff done.

Now, from the congresswoman's perspective that happens at ribbon cuttings all over America all the time. In this one you can decide at home should it be done when you're naming a building in honor of two slain FBI agents? But this is the parallel universe we're living in here.

SHEAR: You know look, the whole thread through this story from beginning to end is how things are received by people, right? I mean think about it. The way the President talked to the family of the slain soldier was as much about how they received what he said as what he said.

In this case, you know, you can see both sides. You can see, you know, there were people laughing and applauding and clapping. So there were clearly people at that event that weren't or at least didn't seem offended at the moment that she was, you know, giving that kind of speech.

And yet you can also see depending on who you are maybe you're General Kelly, maybe you do receive it in a different way. And I think this whole story is just rife with that kind of division between what people meant and how other people took it.

DEMIRJIAN: And everybody is seeing it from just pretty much their own perspective and not really trying very hard to see --

KING: Right, in going to their sides.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. And I did not see the full speech of Congresswoman Wilson's speech, and I guess it was a 20-minute speech where she spent another 18 minutes talking about the actual service of those people that, you know, the building was being named after. It makes sense. Otherwise, I'm sorry, naming things after fallen troops is not a real hard lift in Congress. It's not like she got health care bills like hot lined in two days, it was like OK.

But, yes, this is basically coming back to the point where everybody is diplomatic speech as they possibly can muster defending why do thing from their own perspective? And thinking of themselves and their own experience on this

And I think that is from the president through the congresswoman and like you said before, the actual service of these dead troops is getting lost.

HAM: We also have like we are ruled by fairly self-absorbed people including the President and now including many in Congress. And when they fight each other often Trump's tactics the other side will use because they have some of the same issues as he has.

KING: And part of this is the different perspective of General Kelly who's not a politician. I think I'm fair in saying he would have had no offense if she in a speech saying welcome all here today what a proud moment, I'm proud of my role in fast tracking this and getting this through in record time to name this building, boom, done. Would had no time.

But she goes on and on about her role. And she did the right thing. Here's my question. Why you touched on this, why will nobody end this fight? The White House comes back out and defends the Chief of Staff instead of saying we're done let's move on.

The congresswoman, who last night at one point said I will have nothing more to say about this, then a couple hours later was tweeting and was on CNN this morning. Who will be the grown-up to say now it's a bit on the edge and the fringe of this but a young American hero was ambushed and killed in Niger along with three of his service members.

In the case of La David Johnson his body was not found for two days. His viewing is tonight back home for his friends and family. This is about, you know, (INAUDIBLE) between now our congresswoman and White House Chief of Staff who will be the adult saying OK, let's have a private phone call, let's make this go away, let's stop.

OLORUNNIPA: I don't see that happening. The congresswoman in that clip sounded very Trumpian talking about how, you know, she accomplished so much in telling the story about how she got the money. You could see President Trump doing the same thing even earlier this year when he was in front of the stars at the CIA building commemorating the CIA members who had fallen he had talked about the fake news and how he was being persecuted by reporters.

So, if you take those things into context, it's unlikely the President's going to step up and apologize, it's unlikely that the congresswoman is going to try to find some kind of settlement in this. Now General Kelly has been somewhat sullied with his statement which is being fact checked and we're losing sight of the actual issue and the people who are hurting, the gold star families.

And it just seems like it's going to continue to bear on and bear on and bear on with no end in sight.

DEMIRJIAN: What will likely happen is that this episode of the controversy will get overrun by the next episode of the controversy that is coming as Capitol Hill either starts demanding their briefings or getting briefings about exactly what happened.

Remember, again, yes, honoring the service of the fallen soldiers is important but also the idea nobody knew what was going on is vitally important to this. You also have coincidentally, the AOMF (ph) debate happening in Congress. It's starting in a week. You also have Tillerson and Mattis.

[12:55:04] KING: Authorization of use of military force that those of you out of American.

DEMIRJIAN: Authorization for use of military force. We have been fighting ISIS off the basis of authorizations we had in 2001 for Afghanistan which is more about Al-Qaeda and Taliban, but there's a legal basis for counting ISIS as an offshoot is murky and shaky and 2002 for Iraq.

There's a debate that has been promised for months and months and months just so happen it's been scheduled for a week from Monday. Tillerson and Mattis will have to face questions on this. You're already seeing members of Congress saying Niger is why we have to do this. And so that could be a real galvanizing moment at which point you're both talking about the episode and then you're talking about how does the Trump administration deal with the military at all. That will bury this.

KING: That is a debate worth having and a debate overdue. The administration should stay where a young American men and women risking their lives to fight who and whom and why. And that's a conversation of debate we should like to including General Mattis after today Secretary Mattis up with John McCain trying to get some at least preliminary answers, that's a conversation we could have for days and days and days because it's a good conversation. Not what we just went through.

We had to go through it, but I wish it had to stop. Thanks for joining us in INSIDE POLITICS: We'll see you back here Sunday 8:00 a.m. Give me wake up call if you want.

Wolf Blitzer up after a break. Have a great weekend. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)