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DHS Secretary Defends Trump's Tougher Immigration Policies; GOP Priority: Filling The Courts With Conservatives; Pennsylvania Primary Results Test 2018 Midterm Mood; Senate Panel Breaks With House On Russia Meddling. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 16, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:02] MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The problem is, the President has been all over the map on this.

Yes, there have been times that he seemed to be an obstacles and an impediment to that, but there have also been expressions of, you know, that he wants to do something to help these folks. And so, the uncertainty of where the President is on this, and you could imagine a situation where if this discharged petition succeeded, something happened or was going to come up for a vote on the House, where is this President going to be and would he side with those moderates, would he go conservative, it sort of unclear.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: It sort of unclear. And you see -- we knew, and the reporting last week that the President berated his own Homeland Security Secretary because he is not happy. He doesn't think the border wall is being built fast enough. He didn't give the money for it, but that's, you know, that's the substance.

And here's Ann Coulter tweeting, again, the conservative base is suspicious of even the President sometimes. So they're trying to lower (ph) here. "Today's border wall construction update, miles completed yesterday, zero. Miles completed since inauguration, zero. Next update, tomorrow."

So, you know, we laugh about this, but it is a message to certain people in the Republican Party, we're watching you and we're loud and we can be disruptive. Another issue, and again, conservatives like this, tougher enforcement along the border. Including, if necessary, separating families, because some people are taken into custody. The administration exploring using military bases to house some of the children if this happens. And those moderates won't like this, and we can see from this testimony, the Homeland Security Secretary on Capitol Hill, Democrats don't like it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Your agency will be separating children from their parents.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: No. What we'll be doing is prosecuting parents who have broken the law, just as we do every day in the United States of America. We do not have a policy to separate children from their parents. Our policy is, if you break the law, we will prosecute you. You have an option to go to a port of entry and not illegally cross into our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: She's right, that the people who cross are crossing illegally into our country. But it's also, let's say in this leading, I'm going to be polite, to say we prosecute parents in the United States all the time who break the law. Yes, parents who have, you know, spouses or auntie and uncles or family members in a support structure, so that if you get arrested in Maryland or Wisconsin or Nebraska and you're an American citizen, and the parent goes to jail, presumably there's a support structure implies. When you come across the border illegally, she's right, illegally, it's an illegal act, but --

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. I mean, and this is what you hear from this White House whether you're talking about President Trump when he set rallies, it's about building the wall, it's about yelling at his DHS Secretary, because the flow of immigrants across the border has ticked up after it had kind of ticked down. So it is this hardline immigration, hawkish on immigration.

You hear from Jeff Sessions, the idea that they are going to separate children from their parents as a deterrent, and reports that they are already looking at these military bases to the place to house them. So that is what this White House thinks is going to keep the base engaged, keep them coming to the polls in November. Keep them on the Republican side. So this DACA piece at this point is inconvenient and at odds with where the President is with the folks around him.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: And it's certainly not. I mean, to Michael's point, it's just not what we are hearing from them right now. I mean, the issues you're hearing from them on immigration are these hardline issues, are the wall, are law enforcement. We just have not -- the President has offered a lot of different opinions on DACA. We haven't (INAUDIBLE).

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The other thing I just find this kind of a little rich is conservatives, in the Republican Party, rail against the leadership saying you defy your leadership when they don't do something that supports a conservative cause, and now the conservatives are saying how dare you defy the leadership of your party, because there's something you believe in.

KING: All right. Immigration unlikely to happen before the election.

Next up for us, President Trump outpacing his predecessors on another key issue, one that is very, very important to that same conservative base.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:38:25] KING: Welcome back. When the President was on Capitol Hill yesterday meeting with senators, one thing he asked for, more confirmations of his judicial picks. This is an area does, again, a ton of attention where the President is making a lot of progress, and it's an area where his conservative base is very happy with the President.

So far, 38 judges have been confirmed, not including Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. So you could make that 39 if you have Supreme Court. But 21 Court of Appeals judges, approved, confirmed under the Trump presidency. Seventeen U.S. district court judges confirmed already during the Trump presidency. How's that matched up? Well, let's take a look.

This is the Court of Appeals. The President running ahead of the five presidents who served before him. He likes that. He likes to be able to say, look at me, I'm 21, Obama, Bush, Clinton, H.W. Bush, Reagan, Donald Trump leading the pack there. Not so much when you get to the district court judges, the lower level of the federal courts, where as you can see, yes, he's running ahead of where President Obama was at this point. This is a reflection of the polarization, more recent polarization in Washington over the judge issue. But W. Bush, Clinton, H.W. Bush and Reagan, well out here.

Part of the President's message is, give me more, get it done before the election just in case the Democrats win the Senate this year. That's sparking a bit of a debate between the top Democrat in the Senate and the top Republican.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), ALABAMA, MAJORITY LEADER: That means that 1/8th of the circuit judges in America have been appointed by Donald Trump and confirmed by this Republican Senate. So we think we're making dramatic progress on that front.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK, MAJORITY LEADER: They can't have it both ways. They can't brag that they put in more judges than anybody else, and then at the same time say they're being obstructed. So they ought to figure out where they're at.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:40:05] KING: A big debate on Capitol Hill, and regardless of what you think of the President, what is report to the President, this is a legitimate feather in his cap in the sense that the conservative base is happy with this. And they have not at the pace the President would like, but they have met a lot of these confirmations, and he wants a bunch more before we get to November.

SHEAR: Yes. And it's a lasting, you know, victory, not something as we've seen over the last couple of years, a lot of what, for example, President Obama did using executive orders and taking actions that regulatory actions that are easily or at least somewhat easily overturned. These are, you know, judges that are going to be in place for 10, 20, 30 or longer years and it has a real imprint on --

KING: And everyone keeps talking, I just want to put on the screen the court vacancies by President. We showed you the confirmations by President to give you some context. If you look at the vacancies right here, you know, there are 122. Look at those vacancies right there. Ahead at the district court level, the Court of Appeals level, judges are about even. About even when you get to the, you know, the Court of Appeals level but a much higher level of district judgeships there, which is why you've had the Senate Majority Leadership under pressure from the White House. Maybe he don't have a long August recess. Senator McConnell saying, hey, we'll stay until December if we have to.

Yes, I know, necessarily view that as -- that might be fixed in shall we say.

LUCEY: Another thing with the judges too, we've looked at (INAUDIBLE) looking at diversity among judges. So, another lasting impact, not just that these are lifetime appointments, and they shape judicial positions but also that when we took a look at this back in November, it was -- Trump was nominating white men sort of higher rates than we've seen in the past 30 years. So that's another way that we're seeing to sort of reshape the judiciary.

BASH: And this is, look, there was a lot of head scratching about evangelicals and otherwise socially conservative Republicans backing a guy who had been married three times and done a bunch of stuff that they would just turn the other way on in general, but a big reason is this. Is because they understand the power and the importance of the courts on issues that they care about. And that is why even though we're all talking about a lot of things that are very important, behind the scenes, the White House is working very hard.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: This is where a lot of their business is done now. The fact that you've challenged at the state level you had with federal court. Before we go, the President brought this up in the meeting with senators yesterday. He also talked about other stuff yesterday.

Before the meeting yesterday, I want you to listen here. You're probably following this since last week. So many of John McCain's colleagues said it's an outrage that that aide at the White House said those disparaging things about Senator McCain. The President is going to be up here, the White House should apologize.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, should the White House apologize to John McCain for the remarks that they made last week?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I believe so.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I think the person who laid the statement should apologize.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I mean, it wasn't the President making the statement, but I'm sure if he asked her to apologize she would. So I don't know why he hasn't.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Well I think the administration should apologize.

(INAUDIBLE)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: No, and I'm not going to talk any more about it out of respect to the family.

SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: And he wasn't really sitting with us. He came in, he gave a presentation and he left.

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Honesty is the best policy, we ran out of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I'm sorry, they're a co-equal branch of government. They say the President keep talking, the President was talking about his agenda. I mean, give me a break.

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean --

KING: Were they so afraid?

HENDERSON: Yes, yes.

KING: If it's important to you, interrupt the President and say you're on our turf, you need to do something about it.

HENDERSON: And you would at least expect somebody like Lindsey Graham, who is, you know, best friends with John McCain, to bring it up, and just make a statement. It'd be nice if the White House apologized to our brethren, John McCain. If only that didn't came up VTE, I don't think came up either even though there's been lots of blowback on Twitter from people like Marco Rubio. But once they get the President in their presence, they act like something that rhymes with chicken.

KING: But those are your kids too young to do it to the internet thing. It's an old foghorn, leg horn skit, you know, about the difference between a chicken and a chicken hawk. Yes, but let's just look it up.

Coming up for us here, GOP House member seeking higher office, get another tough reality check in this year's primaries.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:48:31] KING: Welcome back. The votes are in, and we are now certain Pennsylvania will be a giant test of the 2018 midterm mood. GOP Congressman, an immigration hardliner, Lou Barletta winning his Senate primary last night, full of Boston there, Barletta. That race will now test whether the climate that carried President Trump to his shocking 2016 Pennsylvania win is still as strong two years later. Democrats are betting the answer is no. Barletta faces Democratic Senator Bob Casey, once a very cautious operator who is now a fierce Trump critic. Anti-Trump sentiment in the vote rich suburbs is one reason Casey feels a lot more comfortable being a lot more partisan. And those suburbs are the stage for the other big Pennsylvania test. Democrats believe they can pick up four, maybe even more seats in the House just from Pennsylvania this year. And female candidates won big in the House primaries where Democrats see the best odds.

And that what was striking. We can show this up on the screen here. Seven women nominated in these districts in the Pennsylvania primaries. Pennsylvania at the moment has 18 seats in the House, not a man -- not a woman, excuse me, all men in the Pennsylvania delegation. So the first woman to be elected from the House in Pennsylvania is likely Democrats have been saying this is going to be the year of the women. You have very competitive primaries and they think plus four, maybe plus five, just for Pennsylvania alone. If you need 24, 23, to take back the House, that's a nice way to start the basket.

HENDERSON: Yes, it is. And one of the things we've also seen is that these people who are emerging from the Democratic side are sort of Bernie Sanders' Democrats. They're progressives, they are embracing the decriminalization of marijuana, they are embracing Medicare for all.

[12:50:12] So that's one of the things that, in some ways, is spooking some Democrats who really want to have sort of more moderate Clintonian, Obama kind of style, Democrats to pick off some of these Republicans --

KING: Happened in Nebraska House seat, yes.

HENDERSON: Yes, yes.

KING: Democrats thought they might have a chance and they nominate. We'll see what happens if nominate somebody.

To that point, this is the Weekly Standard's take on this. The President's numbers are up a little bit -- they're still historically bad but they're up a bit lately -- the so-called generic ballot, which party do you want to run. Congress has gotten tighter. Democratic events (ph) much tighter.

The Weekly Standard writing this editorial. "If the economy continues to improve, Republicans keep eschewing irresponsible zealots, and Democrats keep pushing left and assuming hatred for Trump will win elections. Republicans might still avoid the debacle they have prepared for themselves over the last two years." Ouch.

BASH: But it hasn't happened as much as we would have thought, given the success of Bernie Sanders' surprise success he had in 2016, and the expectation that a lot of these Bernie Sanders candidates would be winning these Democratic primaries. Some have, but not as many as, in some of these competitive districts, as one would have thought. KING: And to the Pennsylvania Senate race, when you see this, you know, Bob Casey was very cautious when he came, a more conservative Democrat. Now because of the suburbs, he see what's happening in the Philadelphia suburbs, says I can be a tough anti-Trump. Barletta is Trump in issues like the wall, in issues like immigration. Trump shocked everybody including most of his own team by winning Pennsylvania in 2016.

This is going to be a great laboratory, is this climate still there in a state that has vote-rich moderate suburbs but also a very conservative central part of the state. This to me is 2016 all over again.

LUCEY: And these blue cities. And you saw the first thing we heard from the President today this morning was tweeting about Lou Barletta. So I expect that he'll be there a lot. I think he takes a ton of pride that he won Pennsylvania. And so I think he's really going to invest in that state, as well.

SHEAR: And I don't think Democrats -- I think there would be a mistake if Democrats feel that they can just sort of skate along, that Donald Trump, this sort of chaos that we always talk about in the White House and this sort of anti-Trump feeling and sentiment, means that somehow all of that kind of deep support that was for Trump in these places is going to evaporate. Because I don't you know, know that it will.

KING: With that, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, there are some breaking news coming out of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Stay with us. We'll bring you that just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:56:35] KING: Late breaking news out of the Senate Intelligence Committee today. Its leaders issuing a statement that puts that panel at odds with what the House Republicans said after their investigation of Russian meddling.

Let's get straight up in Capitol Hill to CNN's Manu Raju. Manu, what's the big headline?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes. The big headline is the disagreement that the Senate Intelligence Committee has with the House Intelligence Committee. You recall they both had investigated that 2017 assessment done by the intelligence community about what happened in 2016. The intelligence community concluded that there was a cyber campaign orchestrated by Vladimir Putin to help President Trump become President Trump.

Now, the House Intelligence Committee Republicans said that they disputed the analytical trade craft behind that assessment, saying that there was no real way to verify that Putin was trying to help Trump become president. Well, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee just put out a joint statement with Mark Warner, the top Democratic Committee and Richard Burr, the Chairman of the Committee, Republican Chairman says, quote, "we see no reason to dispute the conclusions of that January 2017 assessment," much different than what the House Republicans have been saying.

And John, I've been talking to Republicans on this committee, including Senator John Cornyn, who just told me by in large that assessment from 2017 was well done. So you're seeing a difference in the approach here. And expect a report about what they ultimately concluded about how that assessment came together in a matter of days, John.

KING: Manu Raju with the breaking news on Capitol Hill. Manu, appreciate that.

Let's bring into the room quickly, this is a big deal. Number one, the President of the United States is not going to like this, a Republican Chairman he helped win his election campaign at 2016, agreeing that the intelligence community in his view got it right when they said a Russia meddled, the Russia meddled with the intent of hurting Clinton, helping Trump.

BASH: But they didn't say Russia succeeded. And that Russia is to, you know, Russia gets the credit or the blame no matter how you look at it. The other person who said under oath that the intelligence assessment was right is the woman who is probably going to be the president's new CIA Director, Gina Haspel. She also supports it. So, if he's going to, you know, be upset with the Senate Republicans, he's probably going to also be upset with his own new CIA Director.

SHEAR: You saw him after the House Intelligence Committee took the opposite view. You saw the President tweet that out multiple times. I think we should start the clock going to the Trump tweet on this, because he's likely not going to like this one very much.

KING: I'm paraphrasing (ph) my friend Wolf Blitzer, not happening now.

LUCEY: No. Yes, he's not going to be pleased. He was very happy with the House report. He's also continuing to insist there was no collusion, no collusion and I would think he'll go back to that will.

SHEAR: Yes.

HENDERSON: Yes. I think that's right, no collusion, no collusion, times 100 on Twitter, witch hunt. That's what he is going to do going forward. And, you know, we're coming up on the anniversary, I guess it's tomorrow and when we'll see what they do in terms of trying to further undermine --

SHEAR: The anniversary of Mueller.

HENDERSON: Right. Right.

KING: There's no question they'll continue to undermine Mueller, if Rudy Giuliani has said so publicly. They want to start questioning why is the crack (ph) right there. But it is significant again, we're in a midterm year, you have the Senate Intelligence Committee which has been a much more credible by partisan investigation, forgive me, than the House side, just that the fact, saying yes, Russia meddled. And yes, the two chairmen agreeing that they accept this intelligence community assessment that meddling was designed to hurt Clinton and help Trump.

Much more in this breaking news continuing throughout the day. Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today. See you back here this time tomorrow. Our coverage continues with Wolf starting right now. Have a great day.