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INSIDE POLITICS

White House Defends Border Separations; Trump Visits The Hill; Dow Drops on Trade War Fears; White House Defends Trade Tensions. Aired 12n-12:30p ET

Aired June 19, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:08] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The White House is defiant but facing a growing public revolt over its policy of separating illegal immigrant families at the border.

Plus, the Dow is down, Beijing up in arms. The president says he's considering another $200 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports.

And the immigration debate on the campaign trail. A big reason more Republicans are criticizing the White House is because they are hearing it back home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you agree that we need to take care of those children?

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS (R), TEXAS: We are taking care of those children. Your tax dollars -- your --

I appreciate that you're critical of the leadership in this country, but where the hell is the leadership in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador? Where are those presidents? (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what, that's not my (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We begin today right there, a big bipartisan revolt against the Trump White House just as the president prepares to make a rare visit to Capitol Hill. Lawmakers across the spectrum can't escape the words and the images of children separated from their parents at the nation's southern border. The government tells us that since mid- April, more than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents or guardians. It is part of what the White House calls its new zero tolerance policy. And the president's morning tweets are again defiant, stoking a fight most of his party doesn't want. The president keeps blaming the Democrats, but this is his policy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President, you should fix it. But if you don't want to change this cruel policy, at least admit that it is your decision. Blaming others falsely is cheap, easy and dishonest. A cheap way out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The president also says if lawmakers want to change the policy, they need to strike a big deal with him on a big immigration package. That is why the president heads up to Capitol Hill later today, to talk immigration policy with House Republicans.

But the odds of a big deal are longer than long. And some Republicans are warning the White House that if it doesn't stop separating families, they will pass a narrow law and forbid the practice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think Congress can only change the underlying problem, but they can pick up the phone and change the policy. It's not all the Democrats' fault. This is a problem a long time -- in 2014 you had this same problem. The problem is that neither party has been able to come together to fix it. I've tried a bunch. Now it's President Trump's chance. He's president, not Obama. I think there's a deal to be had.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill.

Phil, a very different tone and tenor for this meeting that we thought would be about a big immigration package that now seems to be about the anger about separating families.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's no question about it, John. Look, uneasy is probably the best way to describe lawmakers right now. And when the president comes to the Capitol, he will be visiting basically a place that has become totally enveloped by this issue, by this crisis, by lawmakers on both sides trying to figure out a way out of it.

The most interesting element right now I think that's going on is the fact that there is no clear path forward. When you talk to lawmakers, they say, both Republican and Democrat, the president can stop this on his own. That's very true. They also acknowledge they have been given no sign from the White House, publicly or privately, in staff briefings or in messaging documents that they've received, the White House is going to change direction anytime soon.

So where does that leave things? As you noted, the president is coming up to talk about a broad immigration mostly related to DACA effort that is occurring on the House floor later this week. The family separation issue has now been combined with that. And this is a confluence basically of two very different issues that have now crashed into one another, are both very complicated and very emotional and at this point don't have any type of bipartisan support. Now, you mentioned, Ted Cruz has a bill. John Cornyn has a bill.

Democrats have all signed on to Dianne Feinstein's bill to target the family separation issue individually. What they haven't gotten is any sense from the White House that they want a targeted approach to this. They, as you noted, have continued to push for a broader approach.

Here's the hole in that. At this moment, what the House is doing is purely a partisan effort. There is no effort in the Senate right now to match that, and no Democrats that will support any of the House legislations that's moving through on the off chance that it actually passes.

So where does that leave things? Well, the president's coming to the Capitol with a lot more questions than answers, and a lot more riled lawmakers than lawmakers that are even remotely on his side on this issue, John.

KING: An issue he has always viewed as his wheelhouse. It may be getting away from him at the moment.

Phil Mattingly live on The Hill. Appreciate it, Phil.

With me in studio here to share their reporting and their insights, Rachael Bade with "Politico," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Michael Warren of "The Weekly Standard," And Tarini Parti with "BuzzFeed News."

Is there any indication the president is prepared to go up there thought and say, I will pause this while we negotiate, I will stop this while we negotiate?

[12:05:05] Senator Orrin Hatch sending a letter to the Justice Department saying, stop. Is there any indication the administration will, frankly, the word would be blink?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not publically but privately this is getting to the president.

I was told yesterday, about 24 hours or so ago, they were sort of keeping a loose list of Republicans who were speaking out against this. Now that list is so long, it's, you know, essentially who isn't speaking out against it? So I think the sense that the White House is, you know, believes that, you know, it is a good issue in some respects for them, or it was a good negotiating issue has, in fact, become a disaster.

Read "The Wall Street Journal" editorial this morning.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: Read "The New York Post" editorial yesterday. When you have folks like Orrin Hatch, others, Mark Meadows, people who support the president and want the president to do good things, but publicly they certainly haven't blinked.

I asked Sarah Sanders in a briefing last evening if the president would be willing to simply sign something that just deal with this. She said he doesn't want a Band-Aid approach, he wants money for the wall. We'll see when he goes --

KING: But he doesn't have to sign anything. He doesn't have to sign anything.

ZELENY: No, he could pick up the phone.

KING: He could pick up the phone and call the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice and say stop.

ZELENY: I don't think he'll do that. I don't think he'll do that necessarily. But we'll see what happens at that House conference meeting this afternoon. Blinking, I don't know, but finding an exit ramp, absolutely.

KING: Right, and we'll get -- later in the program we're going to get into some of the House districts and sort of the granular map of why House Republicans are getting more nervous about this. But you see it and you see the volume going up day by day.

Guess what, it's an election year. They don't like the policy. They also don't like the politics. The president always tells them, I'm right, you're wrong, especially on issues like immigration and trade, which we'll talk about. But, listen, here's Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a conservative guy who's been with the president, whether we're talking about Bob Mueller, whether we're talking about tax cuts, whether we're talking about Obamacare, been with the president, but --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Hopefully that will give us a path forward where Democrats and Republicans can come together and endorse a piece of legislation that deals with this issue at our border.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have a sense that the White House actually supports a stand-alone bill to deal with this?

MEADOWS: You know, really, at this point, it's more a legislative action. I think the administration has said that. It's up to the Congress to act on this particular thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Someone help me with the odds on that? Again, Mark Meadows disagrees with this policy, but he says, as of now, he's leaving the White House there, talking to our Abby Phillip, they want a package. The odds being, what, negative what that Congress can agree on an immigration package?

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Well, oftentimes when you talk about immigration on The Hill, it doesn't take more than five seconds for people to start just adding more and more pieces. You know, they want to fix this, but then they want to increase money for border enforcement, and then we want a solution for DACA. So it's really tough for lawmakers to just do a one-off solution. That being said, it's clear from Republican responses on The Hill

that, you know, unlike when the president ended DACA and said, come to me with an immigration deal, I'll fix DACA and I'll help the dreamers, Republicans are really uncomfortable with this. Even more so than they were when he ended DACA. So that pressure is just going to keep increasing.

I know Republican lawmakers -- leaders, Speaker Paul Ryan and his team right now, are trying to keep a proposal to fix this in a bigger immigration package because the president wants it to get his wall, to get these other things.

KING: Yes, the president wants it, but -- but -- but, forgive me for interrupting, but will they stand up to him? They tell us -- they're telling the -- you know, they're writing op-eds, they're issuing statements saying -- there are varying degrees of outrage or opposition, but some are saying it's cruel, some are saying it's immoral, some are saying it must stop. Will they say that when they're in a room with the president of the United States and will the speaker say, Mr. President, I'm glad to -- I'll bring a bill to the floor that has everything you wants, but it's never going to pass the Senate. This is an election year. You need to stop this.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "BUZZFEED NEWS": I think it was interesting the language Mark Meadows used in talking earlier this morning. This is someone who really understands how Trump's mind works. And the language he used was similar to what the White House has said, shifting the blame on Congress, saying this is a legislative issue.

So I think there's a soft approach that some of these Republicans whom the president actually listens to could take in terms of approaching him this evening. There are obviously those moderate Republicans who are pretty fed up and know that this could cost them in November. So they might take a different tact as well.

BADE: And there's another thing. There's a -- there's a conflicting interest right now With House Republicans, and that will be evident in this meeting. They need the president to back this immigration bill if they have any prayer at passing it. So why would they go out there and press him and say, Mr. President, you're doing a terrible thing. Stop this. They just won't do that because they need him for cover to pass this bill. I don't see it happening.

KING: If they can pass that bill.

BADE: Right.

MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Right. And I think the confusing message from the White House about why they've adopted this policy is a big problem for House Republicans. They look to the president and to the administration for guidance. And that's not all that unusual. It's sort of the way that House majorities work when they have the same party as the president.

The problem here is that clearly the White House was not prepared with any sort of unified message on this. So what are they supposed to say except their constituents are seeing these images, hearing these terrible sounds and are outraged. They're responding to what their own constituents are likely telling them.

[12:10:13] KING: And, again, the president's instincts, which have been right a lot, which is one of the reasons he sticks with them, he said, I did this in the primaries. Everyone said it was crazy. I would not be nominated with this tough rhetoric on immigration. I won the Republican nomination.

We'll talk about trade later in the program. He thinks he's president because of his views on trade. So he doesn't want to budge.

But you do see pieces of the Trump coalition pulling away here. We mentioned Mark Meadows, Ted Cruz yesterday. A, you know, he's ahead in his race by 10, 12, 15 points in Texas. Seems a little nervous.

This is a -- Bob Vanderplatz (ph), excuse me, who's a Christian conservative leader in Iowa, has a picture of the president in his office, taking issue with Jeff Sessions using biblical reference to justify this. The nuclear family, where children are raised, is a more fundamental social unit than a nation. The government has no right to place a national border between a parent and a child. We can have justice with mercy. It is possible to be tough on illegal immigration without being cruel to illegal immigrants.

So the president's safety zone has always been the Trump base. Parts of the Trump base don't like this either.

ZELENY: No question at all. And, you know, I cannot think of one sector of the Trump base that hasn't really risen up in objection to this. You know, your evangelicals, your chamber of commerce, your Tea Party voters. But I think that that does not mean that the president will get an earful tonight.

Remember a few weeks ago when the president went to the Senate, you know, in the wake of that criticism of John McCain? All this talk of he's going to get an earful. He didn't. One of the reasons is this. When the president goes to visit someone, it's much like he's at a campaign rally in a small room, an HC-5 (ph) of the House, which is a, you know, a room with low ceilings in the basement of the Capitol. He filibusters most of that time. At the end there's room for a question or two. So I think that is one of the reasons he's not likely to get a ton of questions. That doesn't mean people aren't upset and looking for a way out.

KING: Yes, the question is, who will stand up and say, sir, here's the math on our seats. We know Steve Stivers, who runs the Congressional Campaign Committee, is among those out there saying, this is bad policy. He also thinks it's bad politics if you want to keep the majority.

Who's going to stand up and say, next year this will be Democrats. Democrats will have the gavel if you don't help us. We need your help.

WARREN: But the White House seems to believe, or at least certain elements within the White House, believe the opposite.

KING: Right.

WARREN: This is actually galvanizing that. This is -- which I think maybe reflects sort of their own views about the fact that they don't have much else to galvanize their base with ahead of the midterms.

ZELENY: What about that tax cut?

WARREN: Right. I mean -- exactly. I mean it shows they don't have a lot of faith in that tax cut really pulling the House Republicans across the finish line. So --

KING: It --

BADE: And they could also be looking at the polls. I mean 55 percent of Republicans back this proposal, as surprising as it is.

ZELENY: (INAUDIBLE) at the beginning. But I think we should keep in mind, that was done before this really reached this fever pitch, before people talked about this in, you know, at, well, church services on Sunday, et cetera.

KING: Well, plus -- yes, plus it's a national polling --

ZELENY: (INAUDIBLE).

KING: It's a -- it's a -- plus it's a national poll. This is a midterm election year. In presidential years we always say, don't look at the national polls, look at the Electoral College. In a midterm year, look at those 25, 30, 45 House districts who are going to decide who wins the House or not. We'll come back to that a bit later.

A quick break. When we come back, though, the United States and China keep tariff threats against each other. Global markets don't like trade wars.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:17:27] KING: Tough, new trade threats from the White House today are being matched in Beijing and the financial markets don't like it. Right now you see right there, the Dow down 300 points after dipping 400 points a bit earlier in trading. "The Drudge Report" hit the market reaction, highlighting that 400-point plunge, noting that would erase any gains for the entire year.

But team Trump is defending its actions. The trade adviser, Peter Navarro, telling reporters today the president was, quote, a visionary with, quote, a special kind of courage. The administration threatening now to slap tariffs on an additional $2 billion worth of Chinese goods. That's if China retaliates on the president's original $50 billion tariffs that were imposed at the end of last week.

Today, China's response more than firm, saying, China does not want to fight a trade war, but it's not scared of one. We advise the United States side to return to reason and stop words and actions that harm itself and others. This is the only way. That's Beijing's perspective.

CNN correspondent Alison Kosik joining us from the floor of a volatile New York Stock Exchange.

Alison, what should people make of the drop and what are the markets' process of this trade war?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, with the -- all that red on the screen, John, you know, it shows just how nervous investors are about how this war of words over trade is really going to play out. Many investors thought by now the rhetoric would have died down a bit, but, no, it's ramping up.

And you alluded to why. On Friday, President Trump said that he would slap a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion worth of Chinese exports. China quickly said it would retaliate, placing tariffs on high value American goods like pork, soybeans, cars and crude oil. And then last night the Trump administration said if China goes ahead and retaliates, the U.S. would place an additional $200 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese exports.

So you see this back and forth going on. At this point, the market's getting nervous because they want to see this wrapped up. And, instead, it seems to just be going on and on, especially since that $50 billion worth of tariffs, if it -- or $50 billion worth of Chinese -- tariffs on Chinese goods is expected to take effect on July 6th. The worry is, of course, in the market that you are seeing the Dow lose all of its gains for the year as we sit 295 points lower.

John.

KING: Alison Kosik on the floor. We'll keep an eye on the numbers. We'll have a few more hours while the market is open.

Let's bring it back to the studio.

Again, here's an issue, just like immigration we just talked about, most of the president's party says, Mr. President, we think you're wrong. Financial markets are reacting in a way saying, Mr. President, we don't think this is wise. The president says, I trust my instincts.

[12:20:03] And you were on this call with Peter Navarro today, correct?

ZELENY: I was.

KING: Reading -- I was reading some of the quotes from him. I mean clearly he's playing to the audience of one. But is -- he has the president's ear right now and they seem quite determined. $200 billion more. That's picking a fight.

ZELENY: No question it's picking a fight. And it's going to play out in real time tomorrow in Minnesota. The president is going to be traveling to Duluth, Minnesota, for an election rally. It's being sponsored by his re-election campaign. And this is the conundrum that is going to be unfolding really in one state. Minnesota, a key state for midterm elections, Senate races, governors' races, House races.

But Peter Navarro said this morning that the president is going to Duluth to talk to steel workers and bring back jobs to the iron range. That is a classic part of the American economic sector that has had its decline over the years, no question. He's going to be talking about that.

But at the same time, soybean farmers in the state of Minnesota, pork producers, beef producers are freaked out about this, quite frankly, about what this is going to do to their market. So tomorrow in, you know, essentially playing out in one state, a purple state essentially, it's -- it used to be blue, but not necessarily now, this is where his policies will be on the ballot in the midterm election here.

So the -- it worked for him in 2016. We'll see about now, though, because there are a lot of red state voters who, frankly, are worried about this. It's the classic argument, manufacturing versus other sectors of the economy. But it's a -- it's a real one with a new focus.

KING: And the president thinks he's right. And if there's a hit --

ZELENY: Right.

KING: If there's a hit in the financial markets, and if there's a hit in some sectors, it will be temporary.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: And by the time 2020 rolls around, he can say, I was right. The issue is if you're a Republican on the ballot in November, here's some of the headlines you mentioned, "WQAD," China tariffs on U.S. soybeans could cost Iowa farmers up to $624 million. "The Portland Herald," China's threatened tariff on lobster has Maine's industry on edge. "Crain's Detroit," experts say auto tariffs could raise prices, cost jobs.

In the short term, Republicans are nervous and they say, Mr. President, don't do this to us, and the political operation at the White House, led by the president, doesn't seems -- they seem much more focused on the longer term. This is a fight we have to have with China. We're going to have it, even if there's a short term impact.

WARREN: I thought there was an interesting comment from Gary Cohn, the former National Economic Council chairman, last week speaking to "The Washington Post," an old Peter Navarro rival in the White House, who suggested that a trade war could undo the benefits of the tax cuts. Again, we talked about this earlier. Republicans don't have much to run on. Those tax cuts and the economic benefits that they can say come from that could be wiped out. I think that's something that Republicans are very concerned about.

On the other hand, this is the view that the president has. Peter Navarro and President Trump are simpatico on the overall good of tariffs. KING: Right.

WARREN: That tariffs can be good. Well, we have a test case apparently developing right now.

KING: And it's interesting, to that point, Peter Navarro, ascendant. Larry Kudlow, recovering from a heart attack. We wish him the best. He's more of a free trader but he's lost these arguments, just like Gary Cohn, his predecessor, did. Remember, the president called him a globalist --

WARREN: Right.

KING: On the way out at the last thing.

And listen, this is the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. The secretary of state who -- his job is not to do trade policy but he does have to sit down with his international counterparts. He says this is a fight we have to fight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We're taking a really hard line on foreign practices that harm America. Everyone knows today that China is the main perpetrator. It's an unprecedented level of larceny. I was with President Xi on Thursday night. I reminded him that that's not fair competition. But it's a joke. And let's be clear, it's the most predatory economic government that operates against the rest of the world today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He's right. He's right. This is a -- this is a problem that needs to be dealt with. And the question is, you know, people are debating, is trade war the right way to do it? Should you do it in negotiations? Or if the -- I -- their -- their answer is, China won't move until you show them you're willing to push. The question is, what's the political impact?

BADE: And Republicans do want the administration to push back on China. But when it comes to slapping tariffs on, you know, goods from -- coming from our U.S. allies, that makes them really uncomfortable. And there's a -- there's a tricky balance that the administration has to strike between penalizing China and escalating into a trade war. And it seems like we are 100 percent escalating it into a trade war.

I don't know what the White House expected. I mean if they are going to crack down on China, China is going to crack down on us, and it's just going to keep going until, you know, the economy --

WARREN: I think --

ZELENY: It's complicated even more today that Kim Jong-un is meeting with President Xi in China. The U.S. needs China's help with North Korea. Everything is linked. KING: But the president -- the president thinks -- again, he trusts

his instincts -- he thinks China's the bully. The only way to get the bully's attention is to hit the bully. You can't just talk to the bully, you've got to hit the bully. That's -- we'll see how this one plays out.

[12:24:58] Up next, the political cost some venerable Republicans pay because of the president's zero tolerance policy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

We know the president trusts his instincts on immigration policy, but more and more and more of his fellow Republicans worry he doesn't understand their politics are very different than his. The outcry from those fellow Republicans is growing. Yes, because many think separating families is wrong, even cruel. But also because they see the numbers, meaning public opinion back home, and worry about their November election odds.

Let's look. This is the current map of the House of Representatives, the entire country here. This -- these are the races CNN views as most completive in the battle for the House. Republicans hold it now. Democrats think they can take it back. Look at all these red districts that are in play this year, viewed as very competitive right now. Some of them down along the border. Others won by Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. A lot of them in the suburbs where suburban women don't like this policy.

[12:30:00] What Republicans are telling the president is, this isn't about 2020. Maybe that's how you view it, be tough on immigration. Let's say you're Will Hurd. You have to win right down here on the border in Texas. You're saying, Mr. President, bad idea. I could get beat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When they made this decision --