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Conservatives Clash with Trump on Immigration; Trump Pivots on Taking Questions from Mueller; Trump and WSJ Disagree over Quote in Interview. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired January 14, 2018 - 08:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): The president disparages Haitians and Africans in a vulgar Oval Office rant.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: He said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly.

KING: Plus, more Republicans call it quits, convinced 2018 will end with a giant anti-Trump wave.

[08:00:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Welcome back to the studio. Nice to have you.

KING: And a big flip. The president won't promise to say yes, but the Russia special counsel asks for an interview.

TRUMP: We'll see what happens. When they have no collusion and nobody's found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview.

KING: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.


KING: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thank you for sharing your Sunday.

President Trump just days away now from marking one day in office. The latest reviews are abysmal. The new storm: global disgust at disparaging remarks about Haitians and Africans that are being labeled vile and worse.


REP. JOHN LEWIS (R), GEORGIA: The words and his action tend to speak like one who knows something about being a racist. It must be in his DNA, in his makeup, but it's frightening to have someone in the office of the president in 2018 speaking the way that he's speaking.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: The political fallout, tougher sledding for an important immigration deal and deepening Republican worries that the president is leading his party into a midterm election disaster.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: First thing that came to my mind was, very unfortunate, unhelpful.


KING: Plus, among several shifts and flips this past week, this. Why is the president suddenly suggesting he might not be willing to answer questions in the Russia meddling investigation?


TRUMP: We'll see what happens. I mean, certainly, I'll see what happens. But, when they have no collusion and nobody has found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview.


KING: With us this Sunday to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace of "The Associated Press", Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal," CNN's Manu Raju, and Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg News".

Don't hold your breath waiting for Donald Trump to apologize. He tells friends that the media made too much of the fact that he disparaged Haitians and questioned why America would welcome immigrants or African nations he called latrines, the president used a far more vulgar term. We're going to try not to repeat here this morning.

Several of his weekend tweets were efforts to change the subject. But one, just two words, "America first" reminds us, this president's first reflex is to curry favor with his anti-immigration, nationalist base. His image of America first, we learned much more clearly in recent days, is an America that welcomes white immigrants from Norway, but not black immigrants or brown immigrants from places the president clearly think produce subpar humans.


DURBIN: In the course of his comments, said things which were hate filled, vile, and racist. He said, Haitians, do we need more Haitians? And then he went on, when we started to describe the immigration from Africa that was being protected in this bipartisan measure, that's when he used these vile and vulgar comments, calling the nations they come from shitholes, the exact word used by the president, not more, not just once, but repeatedly.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Now, there are significant first-year achievements the president could be celebrating this week. And there are significant governing challenges here and now, including the fact the government runs out of money Friday, without a new spending plan. Instead, another mess of the president's own making.

Here's "TIME" magazine's take: the president and a presidency on fire.

Perfect, as well, is "The New Yorker's" take, at the very moment his party's grip on power depends on Mr. Trump improving his image, the president is digging the hole deeper.

We talk often about how this is a transactional presidency. That the president can move his position on issues, move which fight he chooses to pick from day to day, if not hour to hour. What is the price? What is the price for this? You see the global condemnation. Does he get it?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: I don't know if he gets the scope of it. His instinct tends to be to dig in, even when he sees everyone around him running away.

But I think that there are a couple of potential casualties for him here. One, he puts his party once again in the position of having to defend, make a choice, to defend or to walk away from pretty indefensible comments. And it puts them in a position of not being able to do things like talk about the tax reform bill, which is what they leaned on, all through last year.

Every time one of these moments would come up, you would have Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell say, but at least the president will sign our agenda. Well, now he's done that and they're still having to answer for him.

I think that it also has ripped open a real debate in 2018 about whether the president of the United States is a racist.

[08:05:02] That is a real and frankly legitimate question to be asking. And again, it's quite jarring to be having that conversation in 2018.

KING: Right. And we've seen this time and time again. His instinct is to disparage non-whites. His instinct is to disparage immigrants. And the White House is not -- what can they say? What have they said? Nothing.

MICHAEL BENDER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, the initial reaction from the White House was that this would help with the base. You were making the point earlier --

KING: That's additionally reprehensible.

BENDER: Right. And I think what you were saying before and what Julie is saying is that it may help with the base. It's certainly not going to expand it. And in an election year, in a midterm election year, this is really important. And there are Republican consultants that are trying to get this

message to Trump, to the White House. Independents increasingly look like Republicans this year. The base is with Trump. The base will be with Trump, whatever wall he decides on. Whatever President Trump tells his base is the wall, that will be the wall.

And if -- and Republicans are trying to tell him, if you would just moderate this language a little bit, if you would stop turning off, you know, these independents just a little bit, we might actually have a fighting chance in these midterms. But with this kind of behavior, with this sort of language, it digs the party deeper in a year that they need some real help from the president.

KING: And the president gets mad, he thinks he deserves more credit for the economy. He's hoping to sell -- and Republicans, forget the president for a minute, Republicans are desperate to sell their tax cut plan, say, hey, look, we're helping you middle class Americans, the voters we need.

But if you look at the statistics, the polling data, the numbers about the president are all going in the wrong direction. Midterm election years are singularly shaped by the standing of the president of the United States.

Look at this -- 69 percent of Americans say he's not levelheaded. That's up 12 points since November 2016. Sixty-three percent not honest, up 11 points. Fifty-nine percent, doesn't have good leadership skills. Fifty-nine percent, doesn't care about average Americans, up 14 points in the past year.

So the president's heading in the wrong direction. That's before these comments, which, I'm sorry, there is no other way to process this, as the debate about whether the president of the United States, who's supposed to be setting an example, is racist or a race baiter or just has a horrible dark reflex.

MARGARET TALEV, REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, this is a real low point for the country and it's a real low point for the presidency. There also are, as I see it, two political implications. One is domestically, it's certain to motivate Democratic turnout and to depress Republican turnout in a really crucial midterm year.

But there are also foreign policy implications, because they're on the scale of Haiti to Norway, there are a whole lot of countries closer to the Haiti scale in terms of economic well-being or that sort of thing, that the U.S. is relying on right now to make a number of deals and arrangements work, whether it involves information on terrorism sharing, whether it involves pathways, literally, across, you know, national lines on terrorism policy, and foreign policy.

And all of this stuff comes into play, the sort of geopolitical implications of this much less just the relationship with the allies. I mean, the trip to England and the U.K. has been canceled. The relationship with Western European allies is further complicated by this. And there are a lot of countries in Africa and in the Middle East that are furious and humiliated and so angry at what he said. And are perhaps willing to even give up some U.S. aid and turn other countries in order to make --

KING: The African Union delegation to the United Nations flat out called the president of the United States racist, publicly called the president of the United States racist. That is remarkable. You don't get so busy sometimes, you don't pause and say, wait a minute.

And one of the other things, you heard the Speaker Ryan at the top of the program. He said unhelpful, very unfortunate. A lot of people think when the president of the United States says things like this, the reaction from the other leaders in the Republican Party should be more forceful.

Among those, let's give credit where the rare occasion where credit is due. Senator Roy Blunt of the state of Missouri, listen here. He was asked about what the president said and he calls it straight.


SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: It's not acceptable view of the world. And it's not an acceptable thing to say. One of the big problems, I think, in the country today, generally, is there are, there's almost no filter on anybody and you would expect the president to lead in determining how you filter your thoughts, rather than to continue to say things that take a lot of away from what's actually getting done.


KING: Very rare statement there. That could have even been stronger. But at least he calls it as it is, that it's unacceptable, it's a bad world view, and it hurts.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, and look who we have also not heard from, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell yet.

And Paul Ryan did speak out, but it was a day afterwards, when he was asked. He did not issue a paper statement, criticizing the president. This came, remember, the story broke as lawmakers were leaving town. So Republicans in a lot of ways wanted to avoid answering questions about this.

Really, to me, it just -- one, it's example 5 million of Trump saying something and putting his party in an awful, awful political position.

[08:10:07] But it also is emblematic of how the party just does not know how to grapple with a president who like this and says things that are just mind-boggling and -- but they have supporters back home who are fervent Trump supporters. They don't want to anger their base.

They don't want to anger the president, who they do need to cut deals on big issues and get his support on things. They don't want to be on the other side of a Twitter storm. They don't want the president to remember them if they were to go after him in this situation.

It really puts them in an awkward -- KING: I get that when it comes to a comment that they think is too

much, a policy issue where he's moving to the left, or even some other issues. This is a defining test question of character.

RAJU: And the question is going to be --


RAJU: And when we come back this week, the members are going to have to answer the questions.

PACE: I think it's important to note here, this isn't just a tweet. This isn't just something that the president said at a rally. He's talking about this in terms of shaping U.S. immigration policy.

I think Republicans have to be held accountable for answering for this. Do they believe that the United States should take more people from countries like Norway as opposed to countries in Africa? I mean, that is a policy challenge that he laid out there in a pretty vulgar way.

KING: Right. You can have a conversation about merit-based immigration. That you have, you know, these are the jobs we need filled. These are the challenges of our economy. These are the needs of our economy.

And the people with those talents, whatever they look like, whatever the color of their skin, wherever they come from, get to the head of the line. That's a perfectly legitimate policy conversation.

But to the second you mention a country to label it -- and I grew up in a city that was having race issues at the time. When you use certain words, you know -- we knew what people were saying. He's not saying we don't want them because they don't have the skills. He's saying, we don't want them because of what they look like and that's a different conversation.

BENDER: Yes, it definitely is. And there are -- this is, this is where the rubber hits the road here. There is one thing about Trump talking differently and is held himself politically as someone who's not going to be constrained by political correctness. But when the rubber hits the road here, when it's time to make policy decisions, is this sort of viewpoint going to dominate, you know, the Republican position on one of the major issues they're facing right now?

KING: Presidents -- growing up, presidents are supposed to set example.

Up next, midterm elections are historically driven by one thing, as we noted, the president's poll standing. It's no wonder so many Republicans are calling it quits.


[08:16:17] KING: Back to politics in a moment. But, first, a quick update on the disturbing events yesterday in Hawaii. Officials confirm human error. Somebody hitting the wrong button is to blame for sending the incoming ballistic missile alert that caused understandably quite a panic on Saturday.

CNN's Sara Sidner is in Hawaii.

Panic not too strong of a word for how people reacted.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, that emergency alert did create panic here in Hawaii for those who received it. It said there was an inbound missile coming to Hawaii, to seek shelter, and that this was not a drill. That last bit really sent some people over the edge. People were calling their family members, telling them this may be their last conversation.

We also spoke to a state representative, who said, he gathered his family in the bathroom, put his children in the bathtub, and hovered over them and they prayed during that time. He was in tears, talking about the fact that his daughter looked at him and said, dad, are we at war? And he turned back to her and said, yes, yes, we are.

But then, 38 minutes later -- 38 minutes later -- there was another message from emergency management officials saying, this was a false alarm. That has a lot of people frustrated here. They do not understand why it took so long for the message to get back out to the public and there is an inquiry, an investigation happening right now to try to figure out how to deal with this very important issue.

One of the reasons why emotions are heightened here is, of course, because of the rhetoric that people have been listening to here and around the world between President Trump and Kim Jong-un of North Korea. Hawaii, particularly, very, very disturbed by all of it, because they know that there is only 20 minutes between the time of a launch from North Korea to the time of an impact here in Hawaii. The public would have about 15 minutes to figure out how to take shelter.

And that information, by the way, has been released to the public quite a bit lately, because Hawaii was the very first state in December to test its attack warning sirens. Trying to get information out to the public that this is what you are supposed to do if you hear this siren. What is interesting now, though, is that the sirens didn't go off.

This was an accident where emergency managers said, look, somebody accidentally pressed the wrong button as there was a shift change. That button sent out messages through television. It sent out messages through radio and through text, but it did not sound the sirens. They said they are looking into how this all happened and they're trying to make sure that this never happens again -- John.


KING: Sara Sidner in Hawaii. We'll keep an eye on that story as Hawaiian officials try to explain just what happened and what they're going to do about it. Back now to politics: even before the president's vulgar immigrant

rant, the GOP retirement list got some new additions this past week as more and more Republicans look to November and they see a midterm tsunami is almost inevitable. Let's look at some of the numbers here so far.

The first target for Democrats in trying to retake the House, 23 Republican members of Congress who represent districts that Hillary Clinton carried in the 2016 presidential election. Four of them, now, have announced they're either retiring or running for something else. Keep an eye on the rest of them as primary deadlines come up and filing deadlines come up.

This is target A for the Democrats. Overall, 33 Republicans already have said we're retiring, running for something else, but we do not want to run for re-election in the house in this environment. That's a big number. Again, we're in January. Watch February, watch March as filing deadlines come up, how much higher does that number go?

Democrats need 24 -- 24 pickup, net, to get control of the house back from Republicans. This, for all the numbers you're going to hear, keep an eye on this one.

[08:20:01] Midterm elections, especially the first midterm election of a new presidency, the president's approval number, almost always determines what happens in November. Thirty-seven percent of Americans, that's it, approve of how the president is doing his job right now. A little historical comparison, it was 46 percent for president Obama heading into his first midterm election, 46 percent. They lost 63 house seats and control of the House there.

This is what Republicans worry about. The president is well below this number. They remember that number. That's how they came to power in Washington.

So, the House Speaker Paul Ryan, already with enough challenges, and then the president this week, added another.


RYAN: First thing that came to my mind was very unfortunate, unhelpful.

I see this as a thing to celebrate. And I think it's a big part of our strength, whether you're coming from Haiti. We've got great friends from Africa in Janesville, who are doctors, who are just incredible citizens. And I just think it's important that we celebrate that.


KING: And the political consultants call that a pivot, say something, so that you're on the record being critical of the president, and then try to pivot off. We'll get into more of the details as we move through the hour. The president is already tweeting this morning, again, trying to

change the subject, I want a merit-based immigration system, I want the best to come into America.

It would be nicer if he had say that in the Oval Office meeting compared to what he said, because the Republicans can't escape, as the president can tweet all he wants, they can't escape what he said. They can't escape being asked about it.

Simple question: this was a bad environment to begin with. Tom Davis who used to run the House campaign committee knows how this works very well, said on NBC the other day, this looks like a tsunami.

Tsunami means Speaker Pelosi.

PACE: It does. I talked to a Republican operative that's heavily involved in House races this week and I said, what's the best-case scenario? They said the best-care scenario is losing between 17 and 20 seats for Republicans. That's the best-case scenario for them right now.

They're worried about their retirements. They're worried about these districts as you pointed out where Clinton won and Trump didn't and you had Republican members in there. And Manu knows this from being up on the Hill every day.

When you talk to Republicans who are facing re-election this fall, they are in a real bind. They are trying to focus locally. They are trying to make themselves a bit distinctive from the president, if they're in some of these competitive races, but they can't escape his shadow, because it is so long. It overshadows everything they do right now.

RAJU: Especially if they're navigating between a primary and a general, they have to worry about the Trump base and they got to worry about a general election that's sort of the case for people like Dean Heller in Nevada among some others.

Republicans really believe in order to keep the house majority, they have to really convince the voters that the tax bill is helping them. That they actually are going to see a benefit from the tax bill. Because by and large, the tax bill, as we know, the law, is very unpopular. A lot of people believe that their taxes, in fact, are going to go up because of that.

And that is the big messaging that they have to take to voters. The challenge is going to be, again, when the president continues to get into controversy, continues to say things like he did last week that are so shocking and overshadow everything, that's going to undercut their ability to sell anything.

And I also want to point out that from the poll that you showed in the last segment, the president's numbers about trust going completely underwater, if they can't sell the tax bill, because the voters can't trust the president, that's another huge problem going into November. KING: And that is one of the issues. Look, the president is about to

hit the one-year mark. That's late this week. Look at the report card he gets in the Quinnipiac poll, 16 percent of Americans give the president an A, 16 percent give him a B, 11 percent give him a C, 17 percent give him a D -- when I was growing up that was failing -- 39 percent give him an F.

The president's standing is what determines midterm elections, barring something out of the ordinary. And if you're the Republicans now, you're just looking at that. So, do you run, which causes even more problems, because then your base gets confused about what to do. You can't hug him. What do you do?

TALEV: Right. And this is exactly why the best-case scenario that Julie's consultant talked about is 17 to 20. Because what's the magic number? Twenty-four, right?

KING: Right.

TALEV: And you cannot overstate how completely the dynamic would change in Washington if Democrats retake the house. It would be a fundamental, fundamental turning point for this White House.

KING: And to Manu's point, I get it politically for Republicans. I think there's a principle issues when the president says what he says in the Oval Office yesterday the other day. But I get it politically if you're in a competitive environment, especially a primary.

Listen here. Gary Tuchman was on the road just yesterday talking to Trump voters and they don't like it when the president says things like this, but they're remarkably loyal.


BOB HOLLINGSWORTH, TRUMP SUPPORTER: We could have done better there, but I think he talked in more so in terms of voicing that against the leadership of the country, more so than the people of the country.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. But the fact that he used that word at all to describe a country in any way, shape, or form?

HOLLINGSWORTH: Not presidential, no. Not presidential.

[08:25:00] GENE ROBINSON, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I don't think that he would have intentionally insulted any country, and that just came out of his mouth, and that's the way he operates. He operates from the hip.


KING: So, a lot of his voters, they kind of wish it didn't happen, but they're loyal to him personally. If you're a Republican member of Congress, and those people live in your district, you fight with the press and say you're wrong to the president, you risk losing them. If you don't stand up to the president, especially if you have suburbs, Latinos, African-Americans in your district, and if all the Democrats come out to play, you're in trouble, boom.

PACE: And Republicans say they are noticing higher energy and enthusiasm on the Democratic side, which is always a question, you know, when you get into these races, where is the energy? Yes, Trump's voters are loyal to him. Are they going to be as enthusiastic as they were when they're voting for people who aren't Trump, when they're voting for another Republican? Democrats feel like they have a lot of motivation behind them.

But certainly for these Republicans who look at those voters, that is the struggle that they've been dealing with for 18 months mow. There is a chunk of the Republican Party that is with Trump that will make an excuse for him, that will try to explain away even the most controversial statement or policy decision and those are voters that Republicans need.

KING: And remember, back in the Obama days, you have the Trump coalition, in the Obama days, the years that he was not on the ballot --

PACE: Those voters didn't show up.

KING: They didn't come to play.

All right. We have much more on that in the months ahead.

Next, the president deadline for a government spending plan, and a big debate about there's any chance, the president is already tweeting about this this morning, any chance for a deal that would protect the so-called DREAMers.


[08:30:45] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

The context of the President's hateful Oval Office outburst is important. Remember, the President began the past week looking to show he was in command, and looking to show he was in the mood to make a compassionate deal to protect the so-called dreamers from deportation.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I feel having the Democrats in with us is absolutely vital, because this should be a bipartisan bill. This should be a bill of love, truly. It should be a bill of love. And we can do that.

I'll take the heat. I don't care. I don't care. I'll take all the heat you want to give me. And I'll take the heat off both the Democrats and the Republicans.


KING: That talk of love and of comprehensive immigration reform brought a backlash from the talk radio and Fox News crowd. In other words, from the places the President looks for praise and policy advice.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: The President held a televised meeting with the very swamp creatures he once denounced. He told them he trusted them to craft immigration policy without his input. So what was the point of running for president?

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: If it does not include a wall, a real wall, not a see-through wall, expect a political revolt from the base which means losing the House and maybe even losing the Senate.


KING: So the week starts, we need an act of love, I want to work with Democrats, do a DACA deal, and then even send me comprehensive immigration reform, I'll sign it, I'll take the heat.

The week ends with, why would we let Haitians into this country? Why would we want people from those bleep-hole countries in Africa in this country?

Can you connect the dots? It's the backlash that got the President into a much more hard line, including offensive place?

MICHAEL BENDER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": I don't know. It's a good question. I think we can get in trouble trying to connect the dots in Donald Trump's White House. I will say that I disagree that his talk earlier in the week riled the base.

This isn't Tucker Carlson's wall. This isn't Laura Ingraham's wall. It's the Trump wall. It's the big, beautiful Trump wall.

And whatever immigration bill Trump signs is going to be good as gold with the base. And Republicans know that. And I think they are betting that that applies to DACA, as well.

Now, when you get into the details of DACA, the bill of love comment earlier in the week, our interview with the President, he described DACA as wanting to look -- uses heart. He wanted to use common sense.

To us, he was telling his party to be flexible on DACA. But then when he walks into the meeting, you know, almost minutes later, and has these other comments, it's hard to square those together.

KING: It is hard to square those things.

And this morning again, as we sit here at the table, the President is up tweeting, he's at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. "@realDonaldTrump. DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don't really want it. They just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our military."

Well, the Democrats do want the deal. The problem with this one is almost everybody wants a deal. There's this faction of conservatives who thinks it's amnesty. But just about everybody else wants a deal, they just want different deals.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes. And the thing is that the facts are that the President was presented a bipartisan proposal that was reached by a small group of senators, not necessarily one that could pass the Senate, but it was something that presumably, if he wanted, he could have embraced --

KING: It would have passed the Senate if he would have blessed it.

RAJU: Exactly. And you would have had fight to get it through the House, but he rejected that. This despite him saying just days earlier at that -- at that meeting in the White House, that he would be willing to sign whatever this group, whatever Congress comes up with.

This is really putting members in both sides in a very difficult position, because they don't know where the President stands on this. They don't know what they can support, what deal they could cut, that would ultimately get the President's blessing.

So it's leaving really the Congress to figure out what to do. And as we know, Congress has struggled for so many years on immigration policy, uncertain how they resolve this.

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: And Democrats in part because of this energy on the left that they know exists right now have been facing a lot of pressure to take a really tough line on DACA, to not bend, to not compromise on anything involving a wall or border security.

And I think it will be interesting to watch how the President's controversial comments last week influence their position this week. Do they feel more emboldened? Do they feel like they can take a harder line; that they don't have to look for room to compromise, especially now that the President has rejected a compromise bill.

[08:34:59] KING: Right. And you see that pressure.

I just want to put this on the table as we continue. To that point, the "Washington Post" editorial board, they understand this pressure. Now the Democratic base is saying don't negotiate with the racist. That's what the Democratic base calls the President.

The "Washington Post" says the wall is a dumb idea, but consider how rare it is that a dumb idea in Congress actually buys something smart in return. In this case the return on that dumb idea would be youth (ph). They're essentially saying give the President some wall money or some border security money and get the DACA deal.

800,000 people who came into this country illegally yes. But they were too young. They were brought in by family members or parents, et cetera. Take the deal. Can the Democrats negotiate and I guess from the tone of the President's tweet this morning what's he willing to give them?

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, they're having their own internal question. This is the base question on the Democratic side, as well. And the leverage point has been the deadline for the government shutdown, right? January 19th, that's this upcoming Friday.

And so the question in part has been, if the government did shut down, would the Republicans who are in charge of the House and the Senate and the White House get blamed, or would the Democrats kind of in a wag the dog way, kind of get blamed, right?

Well, the blame quotient changes considerably when the President paints himself into a corner like this. So Democrats on the base side are feeling more emboldened, like, yes, take it over the cliff, everyone's going to blame the President.

On the other hand, if they actually could give some marginal nod to border security, the President calls it a wall. Nobody else does, and they get DACA, they've done a big thing for an important constituency that tends to vote Democratic. So, there's a lot of politics.

KING: And it also might help some of those Democratic senators from Trump states say, I voted for border security. Help them as well. We'll see.

It is a very much an understatement to say, very fascinating week ahead, as that shutdown deadline approaches on Friday and whether they can try to get a DACA deal and whether they punt -- a word we hear should be left only for football, but we hear it a lot here in Washington.

Up next, it's enough to make you dizzy. The President slams a law his own White House calls crucial and then leaves in place an Iran deal he calls useless.


KING: The President likes to brag that he's flexible. There was no shortage of proof this past week. Some of it stems from major internal policy divides. Those who want to keep the Iran nuclear deal in place, for example, won a round this past week despite the President saying not all that longing he was just about out of patience with the deal.

Some of this flipping or flexibility stems from the President's cable TV habits. Moments after a Fox News commentator trashed a key intelligence law, the President trashed it too.

The House Speaker was among those who had to call and remind the President he very much supports the law. And the President then sent a second tweet to square the circle, you might say.

This one remains without full explanation: President Trump then and now, on whether he's willing to sit down for an interview with the Russia meddling special counsel, Robert Mueller.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of those events?

TRUMP: 100 percent. We'll see what happens. I mean certainly, I'll see what happens. But when they have no collusion, and nobody has found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview.


KING: More than curious about that shift, because I'm always guided by the fact that the President knows a lot more than we know about his lawyers' negotiations with the special counsel, about other witnesses' dealings with the special counsel. Why?

PACE: That's a great question because it is a shift. His posture and the White House lawyers' posture for months has been we're willing to cooperate, there's nothing to hide here. Of course, he would sit down with him. Of course we would have these kinds of conversations.

Notable that the President is leaning so hard though, on collusion which has been a real open question. There is no evidence that we've seen so far of collusion between the President and Russia during the campaign. But that's not all Mueller is looking into.

KING: Right.

PACE: He is looking into obstruction -- things that happened during the transition, and during the first weeks of the Trump administration. And that's where the President himself seems most vulnerable.

RAJU: And we reported last week, John, that a number of his allies and confidants are urging the President not to agree to sit down with Mueller or to at least significantly limit the scope, maybe do written questions instead because they're very concerned that it could impact his presidency significantly, adversely if he says something wrong.

As one conservative congressman told me, Matt Gaetz, he said that if he makes a mistake it could redefine his presidency in a way that he does not want. He should avoid sitting down with him. So that's perhaps one piece of advice worth listening.

TALEV: I mean certainly, he's given to hyperbole so we know that. That can be problematic in testimony. But also, just look at what we've been talking about so far on the show and some of the sort of speech patterns that have evolved in the last week.

He says something in a meeting, then he says he doesn't say it, then he tries to clarify what he meant when he said it. This isn't just on the immigration debate. This has to do with the interview with the "Journal" earlier this week -- a whole number of things.

Well, that's not what I meant or I didn't -- I never said that. A lot of people say that he did say it.

That's one thing when it's in the public arena. It's a completely other thing when you're giving testimony as part of a federal investigation.

KING: Right, even if you're not under oath. When you're speaking to investigators, you can -- yes, dicey territory.

Let's move to something else. Another shift from the President we've seen play out is, remember rocket man? He's short, he's fat, lock and load, fire and fury.

The President has had some tough words about North Korea and Kim Jong- Un. But in the "Wall Street Journal" interview this week, he said that he would probably have a good relationship with Kim Jong-Un.

Michael Bender, you pressed the President, have you actually spoken with him? Why are you saying that you would have a good relationship with him? And the President wouldn't answer.

The President this morning is tweeting -- this is about the "Wall Street Journal". "The Wall Street Journal stated falsely that I said to them I have a good relationship with Kim Jong-Un. Obviously, I didn't say that. I said I'd have a good relationship with Kim Jong- Un. A big difference. Fortunately, we now record conversations with reporters."

Um -- fire away. All right.

BENDER: Well, I mean -- first, I have to say I have to regret that it's come to this, right? I mean we had a substantive 45-minute interview with the President that he enjoyed to the point where he was pushing off additional meetings and at the end, sort of talking about us coming back in on a monthly basis to do this again.

[08:44:58] He was open about highs and lows about his presidency. He brought up the "Fire and Fury" book on his own. And I would urge viewers to go to and read the entire transcript. It was a fun interview, I think, for both sides.

He's now disputing the contraction in a quote. When we were sitting there listening to him, we heard him say that "I probably have a good relationship with Kim Jong-Un." Now he's saying that his quote was, "I'd probably have".

We put up our audio, we have our transcript, the White House has put up their audio. I'll kind of leave it at that.

The broader point, I think, is that it does not change the overall point of what he was trying to make. And where you started off there, he's gone from being very combative with Kim Jong-Un to now, at least suggesting that he's open to a meeting, and you know, in a presidency that kind of ups and downs, he signaling that he's interested in peace and a diplomatic solution than total annihilation of North Korea.


KING: And the substance of that is what's critically important but at the moment, the President for reasons understood only by the President, is trying to pick a fight with the quote/unquote "fake news".

All right. Our reporters share from their notebooks next including the stakes as the President hits the campaign trail this week.


KING: Let's take one last trip around the INSIDE POLITICS table and ask our great reporters to share a little something from their notebooks, help get you out ahead of the big political news just around the corner.

Julie Pace.

PACE: One of the reasons that Republicans were so happy coming off the 2016 elections wasn't just what was happening in Washington. It was their success in the states. In places like Missouri, where you had Eric Greitens winning the gubernatorial race and really setting himself up as one of the party's rising stars.

Now Greitens' future is deeply in doubt after the admission of an affair and these allegations of blackmail. And his future is being watched really close both parties right now.

Democrats would love to be able to have a chance to make up some ground in Missouri particularly knowing that they're facing a really competitive Senate race there this fall.

And for both parties, this is a real question of how politicians can survive in this era of sexual misconduct, this #MeToo movement.

Greitens is digging in right now. He's pushing back on the blackmail questions. But as several people I've talked to have said, other politicians have gone down for much less than what he's being accused of.

KING: We'll keep our eye on that one in the weeks ahead.

Michael -- Mr. Bender.

BENDER: President Trump this week heads to Pennsylvania, which is the site of one of his biggest electoral upsets in 2016. And this time, he's going -- he's trying to reverse another losing streak there in the state.

This is coming after losses in Alabama, a series of losses in Virginia. Now he's campaigning in Pennsylvania in the special election there.

Here's why it's important. I interviewed Mike Pence in his West Wing office last week with my colleague, Peter Nicholas. He made clear that he and Trump are going to be very, very involved in this race and in the midterms throughout the year.

They're going to be recruiting candidates in Ohio. They're trying to protect incumbents like a very vulnerable one in Nevada. And they'll be fund-raising from start to finish. This race in Pennsylvania is the first opportunity this year to show how much impact the party's top two Republicans can have.

KING: Republicans are already starting to walk away. If they lose that Pennsylvania race, they'll be running. Manu.

RAJU: John -- there's growing expectation among Senate Republicans that Florida Governor Rick Scott is going to challenge Bill Nelson in that state's senate race, which would set up one of the marquise races in the country, one that could presumably determine the Senate majority.

If he were to run, it would be a recruiting coup for the President after having several challenges, setbacks in recent days, and particularly in North Dakota last week, when Congressman Kevin Cramer was seriously considering running against Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat at a race.

Cramer had been urged by Trump and Vice President Pence to run. He decided not to do that. Scott, I'm told, is seriously considering it. He has had a number of conversations including with Lamar Alexander, Marco Rubio. Rubio himself told me that he believes that Scott will make a decision after the end of this legislative session, which will be in March.

Of course, we'll see what the political environment is then. Perhaps he may not want to dig into his big, personal fortune to take a risk on a very -- would be a challenging Senate run.

And of course, he got that political gift from the White House after the Interior Department decided to suddenly abandon this decision to allow offshore drilling off the Florida coast. But, it shows you the depths and the lengths that the administration is trying to go to help a political ally.

KING: If he says no after that, it will tell you everything you need to know about the political environment. Margaret.

TALEV: Well, as President Trump gets ready to mark his first year in office since his inauguration, the Vice President is who I'll be keeping my eye on. I'll actually be with him.

He is traveling the end of the week to the Middle East for this trip that was supposed to happen about a month ago. It was postponed so that he could be in town in case he was needed for that tax vote.

And originally supposed to be meeting with Palestinians and persecuted Christian minorities as well as Israeli officials. That's the Palestinian part of this. And still the minority Christian part of this is still off because of the President's Jerusalem decision, which you know was pretty divisive in the Middle East.

So, new importance on his meeting with the Egyptian leader -- that could be very important, and an added stop in Jordan. But all told, we will be able to use that trip as a lens to kind of gauge the implications in the Middle East about that decision affecting the Palestinians and the peace process.

And also, it's a chance, I think, for us to see Pence taking on this much more public role, both domestically in some of these midterm races and on the foreign stage.

KING: It will be fascinating to watch in the days ahead. We'll keep an eye on that. Maybe talk to you from the Middle East.

I'll close with this. One casualty of the dustup over the President's vulgar immigration outburst just might be the recent bromance between the President and Senator Lindsey Graham.

[08:55:02] The South Carolina Republican was explaining a new immigration proposal at the White House when the President aired his objections about Haitians and about Africans.

When the story was breaking the other day, the White House hoped Republicans in the room would defend the President or at least stay silent. But Graham issued a statement that while not getting into the details confirmed he had challenged some of the President's views.

Graham's statement went on to praise Democrat Dick Durbin, who was also in the room and who publicly angered the White House with a detailed account of behavior that Durbin labeled vile and racist.

Once a fierce Trump critic, Graham, of course, recently, has been a presidential defender and a golf buddy of late. Now, the Senator knows the President is mad at him, but he believes he did the right thing. Senator -- you did.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS.

Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday.

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper up next, including an interview with Congresswoman Mia Love -- the Haitian-American from Utah who says the President should apologize for that Oval Office outburst.

Great interview just ahead.

Have a good Sunday.