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CNN Poll: Trump Approval at 35 Percent; Republicans Compete To Out-Praise Trump; Warner: Firing Mueller Would Be A "Gross Abuse Of Power"; W.H.: There Is No Consideration Of Firing Special Counsel; Some Republicans Step Up Attacks On Mueller; Franken Makes Final Speech As U.S. Senator. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 21, 2017 - 12:30   ET



[12:30:02] REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: -- the jolt of energy in needs to give people the opportunity they deserve.


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: As they make the case that they are correct, Republicans are celebrating the announcements by a handful of major companies that they will distribute some of their tax savings to their employees. And the former holiday bonuses are perhaps higher wages.

That part there, part of a good public relations move for the administration for Republican say, see, we told you so. It's a modest number of companies involved there. But anything they can do is like this, where do we go from here, in the sense that you end the year, this is a win. This is a win for the President, this is a win for Speaker Ryan, and this is a win for Leader McConnell. This is proof that after months of dysfunction, the Republicans could have discipline and stay together. They pass something big critical to their DNA as a party.

The American people are skeptical. I think the American people are skeptical in anything done by Congress. Can they by November -- late October of next year? How do they convince the American people? This is actually good.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, I think I really do think taxes will almost by osmosis become more popular, because people are going to get more money next year. I think the American people though are evaluating a broader set of issues. If it were just the economy, we would sort of see Congress and the President's approval ratings in an unsightly different place.

Congress needs to now do other things that are harder than just giving people more money and spending $1.5 trillion without necessarily paying for it. That's where the real test will be about whether or not they can, you know, move their agenda forward. And frankly things like the Affordable Care Act, despite what the President said about rolling back Obamacare, that's not what happened.

And there is going to be a real challenge of stabilizing the insurance situation for Americans and that's harder. It's harder than just saying we repealed it, which he did not do. So, I think it's going to be a broader, you know, question of the agenda, where do they go from here? I think it's going to be much harder, much harder.

KING: And here's the competition. Midterm elections are almost always about the President, almost always. And we've seen in 2017, pretty good hints to 2018 is going to be a traditional midterm election season. So, if you are the President and you think I'm not getting enough credit.

Look at the stock market. The Dow is up 25 percent this year, unemployment in 17-year of 4.1 percent, quarterly economic growth hit a big high of 3.2 percent, consumer confidence at 17-year high. The President wants those numbers to win. But despite those numbers, this is the number that you see drives midterm elections.

Do you approve of the President's performance? Thirty five percent of American say yes, 59 percent say no, that they disapproved. That is the number. If the President's disapproval is at or around 59 percent when we get to the last week of October next year, there's going to be a wave.


LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Republicans are very confident that they can sell this tax bill. That's what Majority Leader McConnell has been saying, if we can't sell this, we better get different jobs. And I think that what they are worried about is whether or not the President continues to govern like he has and whether this sort of erratic behavior continues because they can't control that. They can only control the agenda that they have on Capitol Hill.

And yes, tax cuts will likely get more popular, even as Democratic say that this was a windfall for corporations not for normal Americans. I think a lot of Americans feel better about $500 or $1,000 in their pocket.

KING: We have this national conversation about this. The big challenge for Republican is in the 30 to 35 to 40 House districts that will decide, is Paul Ryan speaker still or his replacement. If there is one or Nancy Pelosi and the five or six Senate races that will decide which party controls the Senate. That's where the fight is going to be. We're going to have these national conversations on. But if the President stays at 59 percent disapproval nationally, none of that matters.

BACON: And this is an amazing number. Look at those economic statistics and how good they are. Look at the approval ratings and how horrible they are. He's the most unpopular first term President, first year President that you can think off. That tells you voters are not judging him based on the economy right now.

So it's hard to imagine that they start doing that next now until he suspends the erratic behavior, which is probably Republicans and Congress are more obviously benign. Until his behavior changes, I think it's going to be a real problem.

The only thing the bill could do is I think for Democrats or independents, they've -- their optimism with Trump, it could help stir up his numbers among Republicans and I think that's important. If Republicans want to see something done -- if they want to see something done, these numbers are almost a deep throughout the year. And if they go back -- if they helps you in the midterms, it helps you -- you need your base in elections. And his base was not there in Alabama.

KING: Specially in those Republican-leaning --

BACON: Right.

KING: -- on congressional districts where they could get wiped out away but if you get Republicans to come out it makes a lot more competitive. I think that's the key question and the intensity there. So, if you talk to the White House, they say the President loves this win, he's happy, he goes into the new year, encouraged by this and he's going to be on the road all of 2018.

If you are a Republican member of Congress and a competitive district or state, you look at 59 percent disapproval and you say no, no, no, no. Here's Karl Rove writing in the Wall Street Journal today. "If Mr. Trump barnstorms Republican candidates, his unpopularity will rub off on them. If the White House tries to recreate last year's presidential campaign in 2018 by holding one rock as rally after another, he will make Mr. Trump feel beloved while magnifying Republican losses. If the President wants to help his party, he should lower his political profile."

[12:35:13] The odds on that are negative one.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, I think that last bit about lowering his political profile is probably the most important. One of the challenges for this President is that he is in people's faces every single (INAUDIBLE) Twitter. Everything about this President permeates people's homes and their lives. And that -- it's not just the barnstorming, it's also just the fact that he is constantly creating news and drama. That's where the part of the political profile that a lot of Republicans want him to turn down or not, in addition to the fact that many of them probably don't want him in there as well.

KING: Well, in the last 24 hours, we have seen what the President wants. The President -- this is the big win for the President, whether you oppose or favor this tax cut bill. This is a big win for the President after months and months of frustration. What he likes after big wins is this.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know I speak on behalf of the entire cabinet and of millions of Americans when I say congratulations and thank you.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNEL (R), KENTUCKY: This has been a year of extraordinary accomplishment for the Trump administration.

PENCE: Thank you for seeing through the course of this year, an agenda that truly is restoring this country.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), CHAIRMAN OF FINANCE COMMITTEE: You're living up to everything I thought you would. You're one heck of a leader.

PENCE: I am deeply humbled as your vice president to be able to be here.

SEN. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Something this big, something this generational, something this profound could not have been done without exquisite presidential leadership. Mr. President, thank you. Thank you, Mr. President.


KING: Well that praise will now -- when the speaker calls back next year and says remember how much I praised you in that event? Please don't travel.


KING: No, not going to happen.

KNOX: One of the -- And one of his fellow incumbents, the speaker also said that that presidential leadership amount to staying out of the way while the tax writers wrote the bill.

BACON: Exactly.

KNOX: OK. That was kind of interesting message, probably correct. But basically what he said was please recede from the frontlines a little bit. Going back to whether the tax cuts become popular, how many Americans remember that Obama's stimulus in '09 was like 35 percent tax cuts.


KNOX: How did that serve them in the midterms a couple years later? But no, personally, he's not going to recede. Republicans would love him to stop Twitter. The phrase I hear the most when I talked to people on Capitol Hill is, please, if you would just get out of his own way, but please for him to become more orthodox in his hailing of politics. I mean, they've been going on since he'd announced and it's never happened. I don't think it's going to happen.

KING: It is a wasted resolution if that's your New Year's resolution if the President is going to dial it back. No, that would be -- pick something else, pick something else.

Up next for us, a shot across the bow. Senator Mark Warner warns President Trump not to touch Special Council Robert Mueller or his investigation. The White House says, there's nothing to worry about.


[12:42:25] KING: Bring you a quick update on a story we talked about earlier. The House and the Senate need to keep the government up and running. Well, the House is going to try to start this afternoon. 4:30 this afternoon, the House is scheduled to vote now on what's called the continuing resolution that keeps the government running, funded through the middle of January.

Also, separately vote on an $81 billion I believe is the final number disaster relief bill. Those votes scheduled in the House this afternoon then they go over to the Senate where Senate need to pass what the House sent over or it could get a little messy. So stay tune for that. But the process begins 4:30 this afternoon in the House. We'll keep an eye on that.

Now back to other stories, the President getting a clear warning from the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Mark Warner says, he is going to will sleep with one eye open over the holiday recess because he is worried the President might try to fire the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Any attempt by this President to remove Special Counselor Mueller from his position or to pardon key witnesses in any effort to shield them from accountability or shut down the investigation would be a gross abuse of power. These truly are red lines and simply cannot allow them to be crossed.


KING: After that speech, Senator Warner told CNN he is genuinely concerned the President will move to fire Mueller or otherwise for the undermining investigation while Congress is away for the holidays. The White House says in short, this is partisan nonsense. Here's the President's attorney Ty Cobb and yet another statement saying, if the media is going to continue to ask for responses to every of certain basis rumor, attention-seeking partisans will continue to spread them.

For five months or more, the White House has persistently and emphatically stated there is no consideration of firing the Special Counsel and the White House willingly affirms yet again as it has every day this week, there is no consideration being given to the termination of the Special Counsel. So that's the question in town. Does Mark Warner know something we don't know or is he the White House says reckless partisan out there just trying to spread this up?

PHILLIP: At least we know, I mean, the White -- to me that statement was maybe the strongest worded statement the White House has put out on the issue thus far. It leaves very little wiggle room. We will see I think up until this point there's been no indication that that's going to happen. But I think what Warner was responding to was this clamoring from the outside among the President's friends, among people that he listens to on Fox News host who say fire Mueller and fire him now. I'm not sure that Ty Cobb can really control what the President does with the input of people on the outside. That's been the perineal problem for White House aides since the (INAUDIBLE) time.

KING: You wrote a great piece -- I'm sorry to interrupt, you wrote a great piece, Perry, about this whole, the different pieces of what is clearly from allies of the President. Some people inside the White House, more allies outside of the White House. A lot of Republicans in Congress now and whether it's Fox News or other conservative media, efforts to undermine the integrity, raise a lot of doubts about Bob Mueller.

[12:45:13] BACON: Yes, what I see is less -- the firing could happen, the fire can be Trump is invisible (ph) so I would not rule anything out with Trump. But it looks to me more like from Fox News, the Republicans in the Hill have strategies to undermine the Special Counsel.

The question is judgment that sort of raise doubts about him to maybe make it clear to Mueller that if you indict say, Jared Kushner, all Hill will breaks down on top of it. I think it's more like undermining questioning and raising doubt particularly among Republicans.

The public -- the polls already show right now about half Republicans view Mueller as being running an unfair investigation. If they get that number up to 90 or 100 or 80, that makes a difference and it's a little bit like what Bill Clinton to 1990. I think what we're really seeing is an effort to make the special prosecutor a partisan figure who your base hates.

KING: Who your base hates. And let me just show those numbers because you mentioned them. Do you think that Bob Mueller is conducting a fair investigation? Overall among the American people 58 percent, so nearly six in 10 said yes, 29 percent said no. But among Republicans, 48 percent say no, it's not fair. So that's the number of the President going.

Let's listen in some to that. If you turn on TV, if you follow debates in Congress when key witnesses are cover for committees, you hear a lot of questions trying to say, is Bob Mueller doing this right?


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has been damaged at least in his reputation when we found out it was filled with Democratic partisans.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: But I would think he would want to eliminate challenges to the integrity of his investigation.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you look at what they did with respect to the Hillary Clinton investigation, it was rigged. REP. MATT GAETZ (R) FLORIDA: The Mueller investigation has been proven to be biased but it's time for Bob Mueller to put up or shut up. If there's evidence of collusion, let's see it. If there's not, let's move on as a country.


KING: It's effective politically in the sense that the entire pro- Trump echo chamber where it's members of Congress or conservative media says, this isn't right. He is overstepping his bounds. It's partisan, it's tainted. I would argue that's a good political argument, but if there are more plea deals, more charges, you move from the court of public opinion into the court of law that kind of goes away.

FOX: Well, I do think though that, you know, Republican voters just seem not to be caring as much about what is actually happening in the investigation and more about that echo chamber. And so when you are listening to that over and over again, it becomes clear that perhaps depending on whatever Mueller finds, it could be delegitimized down the line, because they're doing the work now, laying the ground work, so that whatever the out come is, there becomes a question of is that really what happened.

KING: And to the sense, if you are the vice president of the United States and you go on Fox News, you have to answer this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you been interviewed by the Mueller team?

PENCE: I had not. We're fully cooperating with the Special Counsel and we'll continue to. But I have to tell you, it's just not been a focus of mine or of this President.


KING: Of this president part, you can look at Twitter or retrace the (INAUDIBLE). But again, to your point there, you have a very clear, increasingly clear statement from the President's lawyers that we're not considering this. But there's the Vice President say they were cooperating fully.

Is there any scenario -- that even people close to the President that he is going to get to Mar-a-Lago, he's g be done it by himself, he's not going have the senior staff around him for some of this. Is there any scenario which he changes the state of play or does he just have to suck it up, forgive me, and see where this goes in 2018?

PHILLIP: I think people around the White House have given up on predicting what Trump is going to do. And so they try not to do that, but at this very moment, he has -- he accepts the theory or which is being promulgated by his attorneys which is that the attorney -- the investigation is coming too close sooner rather than later. They have not found any collusion and so just let it be, let it run its course and will be done with this in a few weeks or months or whatever it is. So far, that's what they've got. It's also worth noting, you know, to some of all of this chatter, the President cited Hillary -- the handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation when he fired Comey. He said Comey mishandled it by putting out that statement on the eve of the election which a lot of Democrats say cost Hillary Clinton the election.

So to come back now, six months, eight months later and say, oh Hillary Clinton should have been indicted is really contradicting everything that this administration has said. That's a separate problem, but it's just worth mentioning every time this comes up in the conversation.

KING: Having covered the White House during another one of this a long, long time ago. I will say this make him down to, I guess, it depends on your definition of sooner.

Up next, Senator Al Franken's farewell speech on the Senate floor today and a parting shot at the President.


[12:54:18] KING: Welcome back. Just a few moments ago, Minnesota Democrat Al Franken speaking on the floor of the United States Senate, his farewell address as a United States Senator. He steps down on January 2nd, that of course after multiple women have accused him of inappropriate touching. The Senator used his last time at the podium to among other things, take aim at the President.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: During his inaugural address, President Trump vowed that quote, the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. But the Republican tax bill represents a slap in the face to those forgotten men and women. I guess the President forgot about that.


KING: He will be forgotten soon. Senator Franken, at least he will go home, he says he's not going to leave public life. But he's pretty much packed up get out.

[12:55:05] FOX: This is an example of how much Democrats struggled with this discussion. You already saw it when he announced his resignation then after Roy Moore lost the race in Alabama. There were some Democrats saying, you know, maybe we should have actually done an investigation rather than coming out and supporting him resigning.

I think there's just a lot of heartburn on the Democratic side. And, you know, he was going to say -- he was going to stay a little longer. It gives series of speeches he said. And then he announced more recently than he is leaving.

KING: A pressure if you're going to go, go.

FOX: Yes.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, I think it's important to know that this is one small example of a bigger problem, which is the uneven dealing with all these allegations. It's just been very piecemeal and at some point there has to be a process put in place and some broad base reforms. Otherwise, every time something like this comes up it becomes this partisan push and pull.

In this case, you know, Al Franken ended up on the other end to that. But there are others who are just, you know --

KING: The rest of that conversation will continue for what's left of this year and certainly carry over into next year as well.

Thanks for joining us today in INSIDE POLITICS. Wolf Blitzer in the chair after a quick break. Have a good day.