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Ryan's Officer Worried Over Tariffs; Netanyahu Confidant Turns; Trump Hosts Embattled Netanyahu; Early Voting Gives Dems Hope. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 5, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:26] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King.

A live look here at the White House where the embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be arriving any moment. Cameras also allowed into an Oval Office greeting a bit later. Images the Israeli leader is hoping help him back home amid a big corruption investigation.

Plus, the president ignores a Republican revolt and defends his trade tariffs, but he also dangles a possible deal.

And politics always has a supporting roles on Oscar night. All the more so in this age of Me Too, Time's Up and Trump.


LUPITA NYONG'O, ACTRESS: Like everyone in this room and everyone watching at home, we are dreams. We grew up dreaming of one day working in the movies. Dreams are the foundation of Hollywood and dreams are the foundation of America.

ASHLEY JUDD, ACTRESS: Our voices joining together in a mighty chorus that is finally saying, Time's Up.


KING: Back to the White House in a moment when we see the Israeli prime minister and the president.

But we begin this hour with President Trump making his case on trade tariffs. A case that pits him against his own political party, not to mention key global allies. The president's Monday morning tweet storm takes after neighbors Canada and Mexico and declares tariffs on steel and aluminum will only come off if a new and fair NAFTA agreement is signed. That's the president tweeting this morning. He punctuated that a few minutes later with this, to protect our country, we must protect American steel, #americafirst.

Republican leaders think the tariff threat is bad policy and bad politics. Likely, they think, to put a drag on the economy in an already challenging midterm election year. The House speaker's office in a rare rebuke with the president this morning issued a statement saying, this is a mistake. We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war. We are urging the White House to not advance with this plan. The new tax reform law has boosted the economy and we certainly don't want to jeopardize those gains.

Again, that from the Republican House speaker. The White House response?


PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: Who cares. We've got the politicians, everybody in the swamp is rising up against it. You know, at the end of the day, we're getting a bad deal. The president has said quite clearly and quite correctly that these countries around the world are running huge trade surpluses with us. We're shifting our wealth offshore. They're taking our jobs and factories. And all we're trying to do with our trade policy is to get a fair and level playing field.


KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights this day, "Time's" Molly Ball, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," CNN's Manu Raju, and Julie Pace of "The Associated Press."

Remarkable, the president -- again, if you're an America first voter, the president is finally keeping a campaign promise. But very rare is it that the Republican House speaker would have his office issue a statement about an hour after they also distributed some news accounts about the markets being down, saying, Mr. President, you're wrong.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is pretty remarkable. You know, we've seen at times the Republican leadership and others in Congress push back on things the president has said. But rarely have you seen a significant policy divide such as this.

Of course the president did campaign as someone who would take such punitive actions against other countries, imports and the like. But not many people thought he would actually carry through with it. So this is potentially problematic for the economy, according to the views of the Republicans, but also for the midterm elections as the party -- leaders in the Republican Party believe touting their tax legislation would be the way to save their seats in Congress. But, if they're at war over this issue and if this undercuts what they believe are the perceived gains of the tax reform law, perhaps that will be problematic in the long term.

JULIE PACE, "WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": And it's, of course, worth noting that the president hasn't actually followed through on this yet.

RAJU: Right.

PACE: He came out last week against the advisement of a lot of his advisers and said he's planning to do this.

The question that a lot of Republicans are wrestling with right now is, is this going to become yet another thing where the president promises action, makes statements about it and then ultimately doesn't take action? That's why you see them being so forceful on both the policy and political argument because they do sense this opening where his views could be swayed.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": And to Manu's point, I -- you know, I think when Trump first took office, a lot of people did take him seriously, did fear that he would do not just this but a number of things that went against the doctrine of the Republican Party. Over the course of his first year in office, Republicans in Congress and around him, the more conventional conservative advisers, found that they could talk him off the ledge on a lot of these things, or at least distract him to the point where he just didn't get around to doing them. And so -- and most of the things that he did during his first year were conventional, conservative things in terms of policy.

[12:05:06] This is an exception. This is a promise that was very explicit, really a signature promise that differentiated him from the rest of the Republican field in the primaries. He was all alone in talking about trade in this manner. And, you know, I think that clip you played of Peter Navarro, it's true, there is a bipartisan consensus in Washington on trade policy. That's not necessarily the consensus out there in America among Democratic and Republican voters. And when you look at the way that Trump flipped a lot of these rust belt states where there's a lot -- there used to be a lot of manufacturing, people really heard this promise.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It's actually politically fascinating to me because Trump is basically placing his rust belt base ahead of his southern and farm belt base. So he won all three regions of the country, right? He won the plains, the farm belt states, he won the deep south and he obviously crucially won the industrial Midwest.

But what he is doing here, he is saying to the states that produce a lot of the crops in this country and a lot of the cars in this country, the south and the west, he's saying that you are to me politically not as important as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan. And so it's really vast and (INAUDIBLE) politics, too.

KING: Let's watch these pictures, as we continue the conversation. I'll just pause for a moment. We'll come back to this story in a minute.

But let's just watch Sarah Netanyahu and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel entering the White House. The president and first lady out to greet them. Very important optics here. The original schedule this morning did not include open events at the White House for the prime minister of Israel. He is in a major corruption investigation back home. He wants these pictures to show, I'm a player on the world stage, I'm a player in the United States, President Trump is on my side.

You see the pictures here, a very warm greeting. We're going to watch the leaders head inside. They also have an Oval Office meeting -- family meeting. If it's not -- they do have a business meeting later. But the first photo op in the Oval Office will be with the spouses. Again, that's outside of the normal protocol, the president going out of his way here to give the Israeli prime minister what he wants, this picture. So we'll watch the two leaders go into the White House here and then we'll continue the conversation a bit later when we see them in the Oval Office.

Again, both men under investigation. Both men say it's a witch hunt. Both men say the media is conspiring against them. Now they're going into the White House to have their meeting. Some business to be done between the two nations as well, but this cloud of investigation over both of them.

Let's come back to the trade argument, to this very same point. The president is -- has a chaotic White House staff right now, does have this investigation over his administration, and to the point everybody's making, now he gets to be like he was in the campaign. So even the Republican establishment is against me. I'm the outsider again. I'm fighting for you. The question is, does he follow through?

Julie brought this up. Listen here. This is the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, one of those in the administration who wants the president to do this. This is a big tug-of-war within the administration's big cabinet team. Wilbur Ross wants the president to get tough on trade like this, but is the president maybe going to change his mind?


WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: Whatever his final decision is, is what will happen. As I just said, what he has said, he has said. If he says something different, it will be something different. I have no reason to think he's going to change.


RAJU: You can say that about pretty much every single issue.

PACE: So much.

MARTIN: It's the Trump doctrine. It has one lag (INAUDIBLE) today. There you go.

KING: Yes.

PACE: Well, the argument that Republicans are making to Trump that they think could be successful is they are going to argue about the stock market declines in the aftermath of the reports that he's going to do this, and they are going to argue on the merits of the economic gains they feel like they are starting to see from the tax bill. Both of those, the daily churn of the stock market and the tax bill have been big boons for Trump. He feels like those are successes that he is responsible for, that he can argue on, not just for Republicans in the midterms, but that he can argue on for his own reelection. And they want to essentially put fear in him that that will all go away if he follows through -- MARTIN: And that helped on NAFTA when he was talking about scrapping NAFTA last year.

PACE: It did. Absolutely.

MARTIN: They scrambled and put maps in front of him and the whole nine yards.

The challenge, I think, on the tariffs issue, especially on steel and aluminum, the data doesn't matter. It's a gut thing for him.

KING: Right.

MARTIN: He has been convinced for 35 years --

PACE: That's a great point.

MARTIN: That America is taking it on the chin in these industries and that foreign competitors have an upper hand. And, by God, he wants to even things out.

And it's one of the few substantive things where you can watch his comments for literally decades and he's consistent on it.

RAJU: Yes. And --

BALL: That's true. But I think that there are two waring impulses in Trump here, right? There is this gut instinct that he has on trade, which is much deeper than his policies.

MARTIN: Anything else, yes.

BALL: Pretty much any other issue.

MARTIN: Right.

BALL: But then, at the same time, he wants the respect of the establishment.


BALL: He wants the Republicans and the rich people and Wall Street to like him.

MARTIN: Right.

BALL: And when he does something like the tax bill --

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE) media too.

BALL: Even the media.

And when he does something like the tax bill that makes those -- that makes Wall Street happy, that gives him a really good feeling. So the fact that those people now are being disrupted by this. We've actually seen in the Trump presidency on policy a president who is less willing to be nearly as disruptive as he promised originally (ph).

RAJU: And I think that's why the -- also the Republicans do hold out some hope that he may retreat from this decision ultimately. And not just because of what Molly said, but also because of the fact that the president has done this time and again on immigration, has retreated from suggesting he'd cut a big deal with Democrats. And on guns last week, after meeting with the NRA, signaling that perhaps a retreat from more significant gun control measures. Perhaps he does it this time on tariffs, under all this mounting pressure from Republicans.

[12:10:24] KING: Well, that's why the tweet this morning was curious. He dangled out the NAFTA. Which NAFTA has been -- they've been trying to renegotiate. The negotiations were stalled. The Mexican government, the Canadian government mad at the United States. They think the Trump administration is being recalcitrant in these negotiations. But he did dangle out the prospect there.

I just want to show our viewers, before we end this conversation, because we'll come back to it. Here's the test for the president. As you mentioned, he's been consistent on this for a long time. The question is, a lot of his -- even people who say, OK, Mr. President, you can try this, they think these are declining industries. They just think they are.

And we want to just show you jobs in the coal industry, the aluminum industry and the steel industry. Three industries the president's promised to protect. On the left of your screen is December 2007. A little more than ten years ago. You see in all three sectors the jobs are down. Then there's December of 2016, right after the election, and then some slight gains, about the status quo really in all three industries, as of December 2017. The latest data is a couple of months old.

So this is -- the president is making a bet that he can revive these industries that many people would say, in the global economy, you're not going to do it.

PACE: And even some of his own advisers say that.

KING: Right.

PACE: They are careful about how much they say about that publicly because they know that these are people who have voted for President Trump. But the reality is, we are talking about industries that the company is moving on from. And that's a scary thing. That's what Trump tapped into, this idea that there's a fear about what will be replaced in these communities? Will there be new jobs that will come in? How will people be trained for them? Trump is largely choosing to not address that and focusing more on this idea that he can try to revive industry.

KING: And in his mind, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, because blue collar workers think he's going to fight for them.

PACE: Yes.

KING: That's one of the reasons this is his gut instinct.

RAJU: (INAUDIBLE) clearly.

KING: Right. We'll see if this comes up. All right, we'll continue to watch that.

Next, we go to the White House in minutes where Bibi Netanyahu's political future may be hanging in the balance.


[12:16:10] KING: Welcome back.

Any moment now we expect to see video of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his wife, Sarah, are meeting with President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump in the Oval Office. We'll bring you that when it happens. Reporters will be allowed in there.

The prime minister bringing with him the heavy cloud of multiple corruption investigations and the threat of indictment. Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, but his political future is in jeopardy nonetheless. He's certain to find a sympathetic ear at the White House in President Trump, who's also weathering an investigation that has cast a heavy shadow over his inner circle and his agenda.

It is remarkable, these two have been buds from the beginning. The prime minister is grateful for President Trump's decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. One of the agenda items is trying to get the president to commit to coming to Israel when they do that in the coming months.

Largely we say, who has the most at stake in a meeting like this, which leader has the most at stake right now? I think without a doubt, Prime Minister Netanyahu.

MARTIN: Oh, yes.

PACE: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Clearly.

PACE: I mean the situation that he's facing has echoes of what's going on with President Trump, but it is much further along. The people who are flipping -- you know, we talk about the Mueller investigation, people who are flipping and working with investigators are much closer to the inner circle of Netanyahu than what we've seen with the Mueller investigation and President Trump. There was just reports out of Israel this morning that another close adviser is now cooperating in this investigation.

It is notable that President Trump is giving Netanyahu the pictures that he wants. You know, they time these visits for the evening news in Israel so that this will be broadcast live there right now. Trump is certainly putting his chips in Netanyahu's corner right now, banking on him surviving this investigation, banking on him being there in a year or two. But I think that looks like a bit of a risk at this point based on all of what we're seeing out of Israel.

KING: A risk that Netanyahu will survive, but is it a risk for President Trump to put his -- to stand with Netanyahu, assuming, for the sake of argument, if Netanyahu's government does fall or if he personally does face charges, does President Trump pay any price for standing with him now? I would think not, right, especially among his (INAUDIBLE).

RAJU: I mean, you know, especially -- I don't think so because look at what he's been saying about other -- even more controversial foreign leaders, Xi Jinping over the weekend saying, I'm OK if you abolish term limits. Maybe he was saying that offhand. But he has not criticized Xi Jinping for eliminating term limits. He's not criticized Putin. He's said good things about the Philippian leader as well, Duterte.

I mean so the president has taken these steps to show himself aligning with a variety of controversial foreign leaders. This is probably another example.

KING: Just for our viewers in the states who haven't followed this closely, Netanyahu, right now, facing at least three corruption probes. One of the allegations is that he offered regulatory benefits to a telecommunications executive for better media coverage. Another one is he offered help to a newspaper owner in exchange for better media coverage. And he allegedly accepted about $280,000 worth of gifts, champagne, cigars and other gifts.

I just want -- as you guys jump into the conversation, this is what just jumps off the page to me. Listen to this. This is Miki Zohar, Knesset member, member of the prime minister's party. The left cooked up a scheme to oust the prime minister. The media embraced it and the police fell into their trap. You can see how the police are being led by the media and the left.

That sound familiar?

Here's another one here. Miri Regev, the culture and sports (INAUDIBLE), also part of Bibi's cabinet. Every half leak immediately becomes the main headline and a public indictment. The public understands there's a witch hunt which you, meaning the media, have undertaken for the past 22 years.

RAJU: Talking -- trading talking points.

KING: Talk about -- yes, talk about a parallel.

MARTIN: Democracies are messy. And a free press and, you know, opposition figures, this is the kind of thing that happens. In other countries, it doesn't happen. You know why? Because if it's, you know, by Erdogan and Turkey or what have you, they crack down on this and they crack down on a free press and you don't see those kinds of stories.

Look, I -- there are not enough American voters who (INAUDIBLE) who are following this to have much of, I think, a political impact here. But what is striking to me is just the similarities between not just the investigation but between the two figures, right? They're such similar figures.

[12:20:06] On one hand they claim not to care about the media. There're consumed by the media.

RAJU: Right.

MARTIN: I mean you're reading the indictments there. It's all about Bibi worried about the coverage. And here we are talking about Trump watching cable cirons (ph). It's the same deal, you know?

BALL: Right. And, well, and as you were reading the intro to this segment, I was imagining it reversed, right? Imagining hearing it in Hebrew, talking about, here comes Trump, you know, he is under this investigation. He needs these pictures. He wants to be seen as strong next to this foreign leader.

MARTIN: Right.

BALL: And I think there is a very similar dynamic where, for Trump, he wants to be seen standing with Israel. That's the beginning and end of it. And whatever is happening to Bibi, domestic politics, obviously he doesn't necessarily feel that an investigation is a bad -- or is necessarily proof that you've done something wrong, right, because he's said very similar things about what he feels about his own investigation. But I think that for both men this show of solidarity is about saying that our countries are linked, our fortunes are linked and let the chips fall where they may.

KING: And forgive the pun, but Netanyahu's trump card has always been, maybe there's controversy around me, but the people of Israel, you need me to keep you safe, to keep you from the Iranian menace, to keep you in this complicated neighborhood. And the president has largely given Netanyahu words of support at every time. As Aaron David Miller, one of our contributors and former Middle East peace negotiator calls it, Trump's giving him a port in the storm.

PACE: Absolutely. I mean on -- on the issue of the embassy, which is symbolic, but still very important on his tough line on the Iran deal, and the fact that, in terms of this -- this discussion about Mideast peace negotiations, the Trump administration has largely fallen on the side of the Israelis --

MARTIN: Oh, yes.

PACE: To the point where the White House isn't even communicating directly with the Palestinians right now.

MARTIN: Right.

PACE: Bibi has gotten everything that he hoped he would get at this point.

KING: An important footnote on that part, we do expect Jared Kushner to be part of these meetings despite the downgrading of his clearance. But let's also be honest, there is no peace process at the moment, so it's not a lot -- not a lot of classified information that you need to see access to if you're trying to advance the pace process because there is not one.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: Again, we'll take you back to the White House when we see that. It will be fascinating to see if they take any questions in that session because both the American press and the Israeli press, having been in some Oval Office meetings with the Israeli press, sometimes they shame us in terms of their --

MARTIN: Remember last year --

PACE: Quite a press corps there.

MARTIN: And last year, famously, during the joint (INAUDIBLE) between the two of them, Bibi heard Trump do his (INAUDIBLE) and say, there it is, the art of the deal.

PACE: Exactly.

KING: Right.

OK, a quick break. Up next, early voting numbers in Texas. Are they an early warning sign for Republicans across the country?


[12:26:43] KING: Democrats would be fools to bet on Texas to help much with their 2018 midterm goals. But as the primary season kicks off there this week, there are some dramatic signs, even in ruby red Texas, of what the political pros call the enthusiasm gap.

First to the point about the Democrats placing too much of a bet on Texas. These are the House districts in Texas. As you can see, it's overwhelmingly Republican. But early voting has now ended. The primary is tomorrow. Just want to show you some stats so far.

You know, among the early voters, Republicans are about evenly split between men and women. Democrats think this is a great sign, not only in Texas, but across the country. Look, 60 percent of the Democratic electorate in early voting was women. Democrats are counting on women across the country to pour out in this midterm election year.

Younger voters are also a big part of the Democratic coalition. In the Republican early voting, 3.2 percent 30 and younger. Look at how much a bigger slice younger voters are in the Democratic electorate. Again, Democrats think that's a good sign in Texas. They think it's a great sign if it continues across the country. Younger voters joining their coalition.

Now, what about voting in a primary for the first time. Most people don't participate in primaries. Only the activists do. Eleven percent of the early vote in the Republican side were first time primary voters, people who perhaps had voted in a general election before but never in a primary. Look at how much bigger, 24 percent of the Democratic early voters never played in a primary before. Again, Democrats think that's intensity.

Now, that early voting advantage is just one example of the Democratic intensity. Another is the number of contested Democratic primaries across the country, but in Texas, including one in the Houston area, listen here, the Democratic family feud is a big issue.


LAURA MOSER: We have to fix our broken politics. And that starts by rejecting the system our Washington party bosses tell us who to choose. We tried that before and look where it got us. This time it's our turn. We have the power to choose who represents this district.

I'm Laura Moser and I approve this message because you have the power to change the way we do business in Washington.


KING: So what is the early read? If you look at the early voting numbers, Democrats are encouraged because they see more people, they see the pieces of their coalition coming out in big numbers. But you also see, in a number of these contested primaries in Texas and around the country, the Democrats have some family feuds as well which some Democrats will say is great, that means we get more interest, more diversity. Other Democrats worry it gets a little dicey.

PACE: Well, look, certainly in the numbers that you showed, there are some signs for Democrats, reasons to be optimistic. I do think it's worth noting that Democrats get excited about Texas a lot.

KING: Right.

PACE: It tends to be something where they see a lot of demographic trends that look favorable based on what we see for the party nationally and it never really comes to fruition. So I think it's worth being cautious at this point seeing how this plays out.

You know, it just is a difficult state for Democrats, even though the trends do seem to be lining up with what happens nationally, they just can't seem so far --

MARTIN: Right.

PACE: To crack through and put this over the finish line.

RAJU: In a lot of ways this is a reflection of what we saw in 2010 on the Republican side heading into that. This was -- of course, the Republicans were in the minority then. They were on the (INAUDIBLE). There was a fight between purity politics and electable candidates. So we'll see what happens in the primary season if they do bring -- nominate people who can win a general election or if they do resort to the ideologically pure candidates who may captivate the interests of a lot of these more liberal voters, but who may not do so well in general election. [12:30:03] MARTIN: It's always the byproduct of an out party that is

energized by what they see is the radicalism of the in party.