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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump: I'll Be Meeting with Vladimir Putin Soon; GOP Loses Support Among Independents and Key Voting Groups; Conservative Dem Fights Survival in Illinois Primary; Trump Touts Military Sales to Saudi Arabia. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 20, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- and it was right after the election, one of the first statements he made, and we are spending $700 billion this year in our military, and a lot of it is that we are going to remain stronger than any other nation in the world by far. We had a very good call and I suspect that we'll probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control, but we will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have. And also to discuss Ukraine and Syria and North Korea and various other things.

So I think probably we'll be seeing President Putin in the not-too- distant future.

(INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: Well, we're going to see what happens. The Iran deal is coming up probably in another month or so and you're going to see what I do. But Iran has not been treating that part of the world or the world itself appropriately. A lot of bad things are happening in Iran. The deal is coming up in one month and you will see what happens.

(INAUDIBLE)

MOHAMMAD BIN SALMAN, CROWN PRINCE OF SAUDI ARABIA: Well, we talked about that today.

TRUMP: OK, thank you very much, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, everybody, let's make our way out, please. Let's go.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States in the Oval Office there with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman. The Iran deal, the last thing they talked about, an interesting collision of events, if you will.

We got to the Oval Office after listening to the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill. Their urgent call, they say Russia is still meddling in U.S. elections, meddling this year. They want the federal government to work more closely with the states to fortify election equipment to keep a closer eye on the Russians to make sure states -- they say Russia tried last time to hack into the voting systems, unsuccessful in changing votes, they want to make sure it doesn't happen this time.

And to the Oval Office, the president of the United States talking about his congratulatory phone call with Vladimir Putin. The Russian president who the senators say is still trying to meddle in U.S. elections, and how they hope to get together soon, and of course the president, under any circumstances, won't have conversation with the Russian leader about he says significant tensions right now about nuclear weapons, about an arms race, have a conversations soon just to -- I guess welcome to Donald Trump's Washington.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That (INAUDIBLE) was amazing. It was really unbelievable. You couldn't have scripted at any other way to show -- first of all, I was looking at the senators was thinking people at home are trying to sort of fiddle with the screen. It's like, no, don't address your T.V. set, those are actual Democrats standing with actual Republicans talking about ways to figure out how to protect the American voting system, the electoral system this year in November from Russia which is important. It's very important that at least that they can agree in a bipartisan way in the U.S. Senate, House is obviously we know is a different story about the -- identifying the problem never mind trying to find the solution which is much more difficult.

And then, you know, one second later we hear from the president talking about how great it is that Vladimir Putin won by 700 million percent.

KING: And his guest at the moment, a very influential voice on this president, he says it started from his first trip is Saudi Arabia, he had said he wants good relationships here. Saudi Arabia as nervous as anybody or maybe Israel would be their equal when it comes to the intentions of the Iranian Government, the president offering what he has in the past, a bit of a tease there, you're going to have to wait.

But, will we get -- we know we're going to get a new secretary of state who's more of a hawk when it comes to Iran deal.

What will we get when the next deadline comes up for this president? Will he actually rip it up? Will he walk away? Will he set new bars? What's he going to do?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, now that he no longer has Rex Tillerson around, it seems dramatically increased more likelihood that he's going to get what he wants which is to rip up the Iran deal. We'll see how Pompeo thread that line, you know, if he is in at state by the time that deadline comes around.

But, you know, Trump has been frustrated by his advisers trying to pull him back, trying to get him to take half measures on the Iran deal, something that he actually campaigned on. And he wants to get rid of it and there are a lot of people pushing him to do that. You mentioned Israel, they want him to get rid of it just as much as he does.

So, I think the defenses that might have been around Trump holding him back from doing that are coming down one by one. So I think we're got it pretty close.

KING: Is there a middle ground here?

Well, it's hard to find. The Europeans have been basically planning for the day when Donald Trump withdraws United States from the Iran deal.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO! NEWS: There are two separate problems here. One is the Iran deal (INAUDIBLE) sort of the destabilizing activities by Iran in places like Yemen or in Syria.

You can go back to for example to the 2003 invasion of Iraq which took out Iran's arch-nemesis in the region and point to that in recent history as a point when they started to get assertive. Because there's two different issues though. They're connected obviously by the fact that Iran's using their moneys (INAUDIBLE) from sanctions relief to buy more weapons, to seek more influence elsewhere.

Europeans are planning for the day when we pull out. I think the odds are that on May 12th or earlier, the president says that he is not going to wave the nuclear (INAUDIBLE) sanctions. There's a very good chance of that.

MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: And the only really voice in the administration that the president listens to who would push back against that I think at this point is Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

KING: That's an -- it's an interesting point you make. Mattis has said, it's not perfect but it's an infrastructure through which we can deal.

[12:35:09] Let's keep it, maybe make it better. We'll get a test of the power play. Pompeo at state, Mattis at defense, H.R. McMaster, still a question mark as a national security adviser, he wants to stay in as well.

A lot to consider as we go there. Back in politics next, remember that shellacking President Obama the Democrats took in the 2010 midterms? Well, is this the Republicans turn in 2018?

We're going to show you in to the numbers and why Republicans are more than a little nervous.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

I want to show you in detail now why Republicans are so worried. Some thinks it's already a conclusion that they will lose the House in the 2018 midterms.

New NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows the Democrats with a 10-point edge when voters were asked who you're going to vote for Congress, Democrats or Republicans. The president's approval rating, actually up a couple of points but still historically low when you look at that polling and other polling.

[12:40:00] But the problem for Republicans is when they look deeper into the data to try to find solutions, the problems get even worse. Let's just show you few examples.

This is 2010, the big red wave that gave the Republicans control of the House. Look how big, more than half of independents, 56 percent of independents voted Republican that year, a big piece of their coalition.

2016, the presidential year, Republicans hold the House. Again, independents, half a little bit more voted with the Republicans. How do they plan to vote now in 2018? Down to 36 percent say they will vote for Republicans. Republicans is bleeding a big piece of their coalition.

There's another slice, white voters who have a college degree, in 2010, the big red wave, nearly six in 10 of these voters went for the Republicans. 2016 in the presidential year, these are the House votes, more than half, again, white voters with a college degree, a big part of the Republican coalition.

How will they vote this fall? Down to 42 percent. Republicans again, bleeding part of their coalition.

One more. Whites without a college degree, a giant piece of the Republican coalition. You can see it here in 2010, 63 percent of white voters who do not have a college degree voted Republican for House. In 2016, it was even more, 66 percent helping President Trump win and helping the Republicans keep the House.

How are they going to vote this November? Down to 50 percent. Again, Republicans bleeding a key piece of their coalition.

Let's look at it in even more detail. Compared to 2010, among independents, Republicans down 20 points. Among women, down 15 points. Among younger voters, down 13 points. Among whites who have a college degree down 16 points, and among whites without a college degree, 13 points.

I could show you even more. In just about every demographic group from the big one in 2010 and even their status quo House election in 2016, Republicans are going in the wrong direction.

Team Trump, listen to Kellyanne Conway here, they say, hey, we know the history. Midterms are tough, we'll deal with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The party empowered the White House suffers grievous losses in the midterm elections. Bill Clinton lose control of the House and Senate in 1994, President Barack Obama lost 63 House seats in 2010, the first midterm after his election. Both of them were successfully re-elected, but this president isn't looking at his re-election, he's looking at this particular cycle. We know that, but we also know that Republicans, I assume they'll be running on tax cuts. So they're going to be bragging about the prosperity that's been brought to over four million Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is her job. You have to tip your hat to her because she knows how the number's doing, and she knows how this works to be optimistic.

When you talk to Republicans especially as they look closer at the data after the Pennsylvania '18 race the other day, a lot of smart Republicans think the House is already gone. When you look at so many pieces of their coalition, their support is down. But you can't fix this problem because then you have another problem over here.

And what the Republicans will tell you it's the president is problem number one and they can't fix that. If you're running the House, if you're candidate X running for the House and statewide, you can't fix the president.

WARREN: I think they thought the tax cuts would be a boom for them and help them. And there was reason to think that after the tax cuts passed because Democrats thought how terrible it would be and ended up -- a lot of people actually saw they were getting more money in their paychecks. And they saw the ballot shrink.

Well, now it's -- that gap has grown again. And Democrats have the bigger lead in the generic ballot now more like what they had last December. What's the common denominator here? It's the president. It's his low approval ratings.

Kellyanne Conway says this is what you expect in the first midterm for a president's term. But not those not so bad numbers for the president. I think that (INAUDIBLE).

KING: And I could have stayed there for an hour. If you look deep inside the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, our most recent polling as well, you know, the Republican numbers are best in rural areas. Well, that's where the safe House seats are. That's where safe Republican seats are.

Anywhere there's traffic lights and strip malls, meaning suburban or urban American -- the ditch is even deeper.

KNOX: You know, I talked to a senior Republican who said, look, we need Donald Trump at 55 or at 10. And anything in between is a problem. And we're at 30 and 40 or something.

PHILLIP: It also very much seems -- sorry, that the suburban voters are very sensitive to the environment around politics right now. It's not just about the economy. With a booming economy like this, Trump should be doing much better, but it's everything around him.

It's the chaos, it's the investigation, it's the Twitter, it's the temperament. And these suburban voters, many of them women, are revolting against that and that is almost an unfixable problem for Republicans at this stage. Trump, they know now is not going change.

BASH: And the irony is that, (INAUDIBLE) won by playing up (INAUDIBLE). And right now, the Democrats (INAUDIBLE) their back because they are playing up and playing to the emotion of people who are disgusted by Donald Trump and the policy, the tax cut that the Republicans passed and hoped would help them is being completely overshadowed.

[12:45:01] KING: And the flip side of this, Republicans are trying to figure out how to deal with this environment. To your point about taxes, their people are telling him at home run like you're running for a sheriff, talk about tax cuts if you want but talk about it created jobs here and put more money into the community. Do that.

Democrats have people coming out of the woodwork to run because this is like when Obama ran for president in 2008. You know it's going to be a Democratic year. Come out, even if you think you're -- in over your head, even if you think you can't beat Hillary Clinton, run.

This is the year you want to run and see what happens. A great primary today taking place in Illinois, they have a conservative Democrat Dan Lipinski whose district has changed and he hasn't. He's anti-abortion, he's a more conservative Democrat. He now has a much more diverse district.

Here is an ad from his opponent (INAUDIBLE) you to go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dan Lipinski agrees with Trump on too many issues. Lipinski voted against the Dream Act, voted against ObamaCare and Lipinski co-sponsored 52 bills to restrict abortion. It's time to dump this Trump Democrat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ouch. How much of this is -- you have an emboldened, progressive movement that says we don't want anti-abortion Democrats in the party. We don't want if you voted with Trump on anything, that Tuesday comes after Monday, we're against you.

And how much of it is just -- forgive me -- ambition that you realize this is a Democratic year and you have these older guys who want to keep running and you're one and you just want the job.

BASH: It's a combo and it's both. It really is both. In this district in particular, it is inherently very liberal. I was talking to an Illinois Democrat who was reminding me that Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton there pretty easily during the primary.

So that just kind of shows you where the Democratic Party inherently is and that Lipinski has just been there a long time, he has no name and nobody has challenged him. Nobody had the ambition to challenge him.

So I think it's both but it really does seem to be a fascinating question that we will look at in the data about what it means for the heart and soul of the party.

KING: And you see Diane Feinstein in California, Michael Capuano and couple other incumbents in Massachusetts. More veteran incumbents even incumbent -- Michael Capuano has a pretty good record when it comes to progressive issues but he's being challenged by a -- someone say, you'll be more progressive because, a, people think that this is the year.

PHILLIP: I mean, I think if Democrats are going to be successful this year, they have to actually run candidates that fit the district. And that actually also includes more liberal districts. So if you have a liberal district, you're probably going to need a more liberal candidate or end up with one regardless.

And if that happens, then so be it as long as their primary audience is not dramatically different from the general election. But in places like that those Democrats are going to be at risk, but if they can get Conor Lambs and, you know, moderates, blue dogs back in some of these purple states and purple districts, they can probably pull it off.

KING: Up next, a similar dynamic. Andrew Cuomo (INAUDIBLE) is running for office.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:52:14] KING: Reporters have been given more access the president meeting at the White House with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. This is in the Cabinet Room. Let's listen in.

TRUMP: -- and I met in May when we were over there where he promised $400 billion was made by Saudi Arabia with the purchase of our equipment and other things. And the relationship is probably the strongest it's ever been. We understand each other. Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation and they're going to give the United States some of that wealth, hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the financed military equipment.

Anywhere in the world, there's nobody even close. As I said, before when it comes to the missiles and the planes and all of the military equipment, there's nobody that even comes close to us in terms of technology and the quality of the equipment.

And Saudi Arabia appreciates that. They've done tests of everything and they appreciated -- they understand it very well, probably better than most. So I just want to welcome you, it's a great honor to have you back again. Some tremendous things have happened for you since your last visit to the White House when you were with the crown prince and now you're beyond the crown prince.

So I wanted to just congratulate you. I think your father made a very wise decision. And I miss your father, a special man. And I know he's coming over soon, but we do miss him and that was a very incredible two days, and we appreciate the investment in our country, and thank you very much. SALMAN: Thank you, Mr. President. We believe the same. I do believe that opportunities is really huge and we are trying also to (INAUDIBLE) and to prepare the visit of His Majesty as soon as possible with the new waves of opportunities in different area and we believe we can do great things together.

TRUMP: Thank you, thank you very much. Thank you everybody. Thank you very much. Thank you.

(INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: Thank you.

(INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

(INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go. Make your way out. Let's go.

TRUMP: It's terrible. It's a terrible thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Keep moving. Let's go.

KING: The president of the United States in the Cabinet Room at the White House there refusing to answer a question about whether he plans to fire the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. A terrible thing we believe in response to the school shooting.

Today, you hear -- the president is sitting there as well across the table from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. The president promoting the fact that he said it's great for American jobs, great for investment markets the Saudis are buying billions of dollars in U.S. military equipment.

A few minutes left in the program. It always just sounds odd to have the president of the United States bragging that we make the best military fire power in the world, but when a world leader comes to meet with the president, that's a staple.

KNOX: Sure. The United States is the single largest arms exporter in the world. The arms sales are a very important part of the Saudi-U.S. relationship.

[12:55:05] If you remember at the late stage of the Obama administration, their policy in response to Iran buying weapons with the money they get from sanctions relief. The Obama folks said, if the Iranians will buy weapons, we will sell more weapons to the Saudis to balance things out and then we will ensure that Israel retains a qualitative edge in terms of conventional hardware which basically means the policy was an arms race.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) of the president, he complimented the crown prince, 32-year-old crown prince who has made his name in recent months by rounding up, not by U.S. justice standards, rounding up critics, opponents, relatives, others in Saudi Arabia that he views as a threat to his rise in power using a Ritz-Carlton famously as a prison. Cutting deals with many of them to give up some of their wealth or give up some of their power to release them.

I'd say a fascinating moment in the relationship. The president not talking about it publicly. It'd be interesting to see if it comes up privately. It's how you do business, it's how you consolidate power.

PHILLIP: He is unbothered by it, just in the same way that he congratulated Vladimir Putin on his electoral victory. He congratulated the Chinese president extending his rule potentially indefinitely.

President Trump is not bothered by this issue of how long and in what way people hold onto power, and he's envious as we know of some of the reporting that's out there. He kind of wishes that we had a system like that.

But that being said, he does not let it get in the way of other things that he wants to accomplish in the relationship, which is why you will probably never hear him say a word about things like that face to face or in any other context, really.

WARREN: Yes, I don't think he -- there is sort of more of an element of foreign policy which we all gotten so used to in the last several decades from U.S. presidents. It's just not a real part of his wheelhouse. He's much more of a real political guys and what are you doing for me sort of (INAUDIBLE) foreign policy and that's reflected there.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) a CNN conversation, he did not answer a question about Robert Mueller. The president's legal team is now looking -- we talked about a bit at the top of the show to add the former solicitor Ted Olson to his team sourced familiar with the matter telling CNN.

However, Olson's firm has decide there are too many conflicts, existing clients in the Russia investigation so you couldn't come in to the (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to wash his hair.

BASH: I'm sure Ted Olson is crying very hard over an -- I shouldn't joke about it, but look, as we talked about at the beginning of the show, there are very specific reasons why the president has the lawyers that he does have.

And one of them is that there are a lot of people in this town who are lawyered up. And they're lawyered up with people who work for big firms, and once you are representing somebody involved, that it's very hard to take on a client where there would be a conflict.

KING: And so now he has brought in Joe diGenova who again has gone in television and said he believes this is all an FBI plot to trap the president. I'm skeptical if he actually believes that in his heart and soul. He's a former federal prosecutor, he knows how the FBI works. And he knows that we'll get him on television and get him some buzz.

But for the president (INAUDIBLE) clearly the president is bringing somebody who can punch in the cable T.V. environment. What does that tell you about the courtroom environment? We'll see as this plays out.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS today. Back here this time tomorrow. Wolf is up after a quick break. Have a great day.

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