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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Wants Vote; Kavanaugh Accuser Conditions; GOP Message Hits Snags; Counteroffer to Ford. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 21, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hear more from officials here shortly.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: OK, we'll look for an update then, Miguel. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. We'll update you when we have that.

Thank you so much for joining me though. "INSIDE POLITICS" with Dana Bash starts right now.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off.

The president said, take the vote. Now he's looking past ongoing negotiations to settle these questions, if, when, and how Brett Kavanaugh, and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, will testify. Ford's attorneys say the only deal breaker now would be requiring their client to tell her story on Monday. And the president, who artfully waded through this controversy surrounding the Supreme Court nominee, is pressing control, alt and delete on caution, hitting send on a new Twitter grenade. One (ph) that alleged attack couldn't have been as bad as she says if Ford didn't tell anyone. Now, he may have missed this minutes before on the White House lawn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: There's no reason to attack her, is the reason, there's no reason. Let her tell her story under oath here in Washington. The Senate Judiciary Committee has offered for her to do it privately, for her to do it publicly, for her to do it in Washington, for her to do it somewhere else, I guess in her home state of California. They've been quite accommodating to her. There's no reason to attack her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And we begin there with the president, no longer restrained, no longer on message, and now publicly doubting Christine Blasey Ford's account of what she says happened 36 years ago. From the president's Twitter account this morning, quote, I have no doubt that if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, changes would have been immediately filed with local law enforcement authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place. It couldn't have been that bad, the president says, otherwise Ford, then 15 years old, would have told her parents, who would have told the police.

Now that's something, of course, anyone who knows anything about victims of abuse, especially young women, know often does not happen for a myriad of reasons.

Now, the alleged incident, now familiar to most of us, which the president says couldn't have been as bad as Ford describes, a party in 1982, Ford's lawyer says Brett Kavanaugh would have raped her if he weren't so drunk.

Now, we should also note that, once again, that Brett Kavanaugh denies any of this happening adamantly.

Minutes ago, the president, on Twitter, added this, let her testify or not and take the vote.

Let's get straight to CNN's Abby Phillip, live at the White House.

Abby, what are you hearing from your sources about why the president has done an about-face on his tone here?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Dana.

All week the White House has been wondering and perhaps holding their breath, waiting to see how long President Trump would remain restrained on this issue. He has been very careful to praise Kavanaugh, to worry about the damages that this has done to him and his family, but not necessarily to attack his accuser. And now that has all shifted.

And it's very likely that the White House is going to have to go along with the tone that President Trump is setting here. Just minutes before, the president sent those tweets, as you just played. His counsellor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, was just saying, let's not attack her. Now that has all changed.

Now, what is different about today compared to where we were say 48 hours ago is that now the talks are very real and it seems more likely than not that in some capacity Dr. Ford is going to testify. She's going to be out there giving her side of the story. President Trump is now on the offensive.

Just a few days ago he was saying, we have to hear what she has to say and then make a decision. Now he's saying, she can either testify or not. But, either way, he wants his nominee confirmed.

Going forward, it's going to be interesting to see how the White House deals with this new tone, whether or not they are going to try to continue to strike a more measured tone. But, clearly, President Trump is going on the attack, as he has many times in the past when it comes to accusations of sexual misconduct involving people close to him and his administration.

Dana.

BASH: It's just so interesting because I know you were hearing, I was hearing, that he was boasting privately about the fact that he was being so presidential and so restrain and then that changed. He was with Sean Hannity last night. Maybe they got a poll. We're going to continue to dig on that and I know you are too.

Abby, thank you so much.

And here at the table to share their reporting and their insights, Catherine Lucey with "The Associated Press," CNN's Phil Mattingly, Sahil Kapur with "Bloomberg" and Lisa Lerer with "The New York Times."

Welcome to all of you.

Let's start with something else that has happened this morning on this fight, and that is the man in charge, who you know quite well, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, was speaking at the Values Voters Summit early this morning and was very clear on how he saw the situation ending.

[12:05:12] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: You've watched the fight. You've watched the tactics. But here's what I want to tell you. In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court. So, my friends, keep the faith. Don't get rattled by all of this. We're going to plow right through it and do our jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: That really struck me, Phil Mattingly. Don't get rattled by this, speaking to a group of ardent supporters of the conservative base. What do you make of it?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it's the -- it's the latter part there that was probably most important --

BASH: Yes.

MATTINGLY: Where he was and who he was speaking to. Those are going to be the individuals that they will need, particularly if there is a public hearing, which is, as you know better than anybody, the majority leader likes to control every aspect of what's about to happen, particularly if it's a high stakes nominee on the highest court in the land. He can't control what would happen in a public hearing should they get to that point, which means that outside groups, the base, outside supporters are going to play a big role. A big role in supporting the nominee, which it's very clear McConnell still supports the nominee, but also helping to pressure from the right the senators that are going to have to vote yes.

So a lot of people have (INAUDIBLE), this means McConnell knows that he's got 51 votes. This means -- that's not the case here. What he's doing is sticking to what he said all along, that he believes this is going to happen, he's not going to hedge on that, and also trying to rally the people he knows he's going to need next week.

BASH: Rally and reassure -- MATTINGLY: Exactly.

BASH: Which we'll talk about later in the program.

What do you make from your perch covering the White House of what the president has done today?

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Well, it's interesting. I think the thing that we heard from advisers all week is that they wanted him to keep this under control. They liked the measured tone. They didn't want to rock the boat. But it's hard to keep this president on message for this many days. Once the deadline, if you will, got moved to Monday, people were saying, it's just that much more time. Can he keep it together? And we saw last night -- we all saw he was -- he's out of the White House. He had a rally last night. He was in front of supporters. He did a Fox interview. Maybe that. And he sort of -- he edged a little closer to (INAUDIBLE) some of this rhetoric last night.

BASH: Woke up in his hotel room, was watching cable news.

LUCEY: Yes. So, I mean, all of those things could be factoring into it. The question now is, does he continue to escalate these attacks, I mean, which are potentially damaging with women voters, you know, with some key votes, you know, going into next week. He has another rally tonight that I think will be key in Missouri. McCaskill has said she will not support Kavanaugh. So I think that's another moment when we could really see him come out with more of this.

BASH: Definitely a shift in tone and you said off message. But is it off message or is it a new message that they think might be more necessary right now politically.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It may be a new messages, but I think Republicans are really walking a very, very delicate line. And I think it's important to point to the second half of what McConnell said, which was, we're going to plow right through this. Plow right through this, meaning, we're going to plow right through this woman's, you know, accusations and she's, you know, presumably, if she does testify, it's going to be her trauma and her -- it's going to be a very emotional kind of presentation.

I'm not sure you want to say that you want to plow right through something like that. And it's really important, you know, they could -- there definitely could be a scenario where Republicans get Kavanaugh confirmed, but they pay a price and they pay a big price in November. So balancing the confirmation politics and the politics politics, I think, is a difficult sort of very -- they have to walk a very careful line. And I think having the president kind of balancing the back and forth are switching messages in the middle of that doesn't make it easier for any of these Republicans as they try to walk this fine line.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": Yes, it's very bold and it's pretty daring on McConnell to be so categorical. And I agree with Phil, I read this less of a -- as less of a prediction because he cannot guarantee 51 votes. He doesn't hold all their cards. And more of it a pressure and attempt to keep the pressure on to rally the conservatives who are working hard to confirm this nomination and to keep the heat on senators like Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, who, at least the former two of them, they do respond to pressure on this. They consistently vote with the very conservative judges, many of whom they probably agree -- disagree with on some ideological issues. And this is the dilemma for Senator McConnell. He does need suburban women in places like Missouri and Tennessee to hold on to his majority, you know, but he also needs Republican voters to turn out. And one major Republican donor messaged me early this morning saying, all hell will break loose if they cave on this nomination. There is pressure they're facing from their own base as well.

BASH: OK. And so let's talk about the potential for this hearing, what's at stake here and the negotiations going on. We know from an e- mail that the -- that Professor Ford's attorney sent to the Judiciary Committee last night that they want to talk about how many rounds of questioning, the scope of examination, whether the committee will subpoena Mark Judge, the other individual who she says was there in the room, talking about the day, providing for her safety and saying that she -- that they want the senators, not outside counsel, to question.

[12:10:11] Phil, you were reporting earlier that there was a conference call. I think it -- I believe it maybe just wrapped up.

MATTINGLY: Yes.

BASH: Got a call you. We're both looking at our phones trying to maybe see if we can report and talk on the air at the same time -- among Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which might be an indication of where they are in these negotiations. It's really important.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's a really important call because it will dictate what Chairman Chuck Grassley, and with McConnell beside him, respond to what Debra Katz, the lawyer for Christine Blasey Ford, laid out in terms of the conditions that they wanted. And, look, let's set something straight, when people are going into hearings, they want conditions that are favorable to them. What's happening right now, the negotiation process, is not rare for a congressional hearing, particularly one where the stakes are positively enormous.

I think the interesting element of the call that happened between Judiciary Committee members today is, roll back to Monday. That was when they had a meeting with the Judiciary Committee and the plan going into that meeting was not to schedule a public hearing.

BASH: Right.

MATTINGLY: Inside that meeting, Senator Jeff Flake, and I'm told one or two other members of the committee said, there has to be a hearing, it has to be public. McConnell and Grassley were forced to shift and schedule a hearing. That's why this call is so important. While Republicans say we're not going to add witnesses, we don't think that some of the conditions can possibly be met. If one senator in that group on that conference call says this has to happen or I'm going to oppose the nomination, they can help set the terms.

Will it happen? I don't know. I think people just kind of want to move this process forward at this point. But it's an important call and it will go a long way to deciding what happens next in this process.

BASH: All right, I'm go to take an audible. I'm going to go to break because we all have a little reporting to do and maybe we'll have some new information for you on the other side of the break.

But up next, we're going to keep talking about this. And Republicans hunting for the perfect mid-term message to prevent a blue wave from hitting Congress. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:06] BASH: President Trump is hitting the campaign trail today with events in Nevada and Missouri. Both states are home to really tight Senate races in November for the midterms, which is just 46 days away. The president is urging voters no to play hooky on Election Day. Here is his speech last night in Las Vegas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Promise me, you gotta get out get out for the midterms. Don't be complacent. You gotta get out for the midterms.

You've got to vote. We need more Republicans. You know, when they say we have a majority, it's like this. It's like this. If somebody has a cold, we don't have a majority that day. It's like, we have to have more Republicans in office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: But the don't get complacent message might be strong in some places, but maybe not strong enough to hold the House and the Senate. And that is the key here for Republicans, especially the president. They're trying hard to stick to their talking points. The economy is booming. The tax cuts have been a success. But the bigger talking point for voters could be, seems to be, President Trump himself.

And we'll play it a little bit later in the show. I was out in Colorado talking to people in a very important House race and that was the thing I heard more than anything else from voters, particularly independents, particularly those who are undecided, I just -- I'm so sick of the chaos in Washington, in particularly President Trump.

LERER: So one thing that I found really interesting is, so Kaiser (ph) Health News does this poll. They're kind of the gold standard for health care reporting. And for months and months, health care was the top issue. A couple weeks ago, corruption went to the top issue. And that, of course, speaks to the point you're making, the chaos. And I think it does shows how at the beginning of this midterm a lot of strategies on both sides would tell me, President Trump is baked in. Whether you -- voters like him or don't, it's baked into the voting already, where people are. I'm just not sure that's true anymore. I think there are -- what we see in the polling, what we see from this corruption rising to the top, is it could have an impact on independents. They may be voting on the president. And also is clearly having an impact on where female voters are and they're a huge key demographic, particularly in a lot of those suburban House races.

LUCEY: I think --

BASH: And you've done some reporting on this --

LUCEY: Yes, that's right.

BASH: And talking about what you're hearing from Republican pollsters who are asking this very question.

LUCEY: That's right. And we -- yes, we reported on a briefing the -- a bunch of top White House officials got about polling and what Republican pollsters are seeing, and they were seeing exactly this, that it's not the economy, it's not health care, it's not these other issues that typically we think move voters, people really are focused on Trump, his presidency, his chaos -- the chaos that he's had in the White House.

Another thing too that I think is really interesting that comes up in the polling that we've seen is that Trump supporters aren't necessarily convinced by the polling. So -- because he won in 2016 and because he defied a lot of -- all of the public polling when his supporters see, you know, this warning signs, they just say that this isn't real and so there's concern on Republicans that voters won't be motivated.

BASH: Which is -- which is understandable.

You also have reporting, Sahil, on Republicans and the fact that last year, when the House and Senate, the president signed this tax overhaul and they thought this was it, this was going to be the thing that keeps them in the majority in the House and the Senate, but maybe not so much.

KAPUR: No, it doesn't appear that way. I mean this was supposed to be a centerpiece of their midterm campaign. They say, look at all this extra money you have in your, you know, in your pockets. You can go on that vacation that you always wanted to. We gave you some tax cuts. Vote for us again. And it's not working out. The public, according to an internal RNC poll that my colleague, Josh Green and I, obtained, the public is evenly divided when you ask straight up or down whether they approved of the tax law. But by a two to one margin, Americans believe that it benefits the wealthy and large corporations over the middle class. Completely goes against Republican messaging.

[12:20:05] It's been a failure. The Democratic message has succeeded on that front and to the point where they have argued that the tax law, that the reduction in taxes coming into the Treasury, the higher deficits are a threat to social security and Medicare. The RNC poll warned Republican lawmakers, voters believe this and that's a bad -- that's a bad thing.

Aside from the economy, you know, people -- I think people overestimate the impact of the economy on midterm elections. Ask President Obama how that worked out in 2014, 3 million jobs created. It was the best economic year of his presidency. His party got crushed. The bigger predictors tend to be presidential approval, which is really bad right now. It's dipped well into the 30s. And the generic ballot, which is looking god for Democrats, it's in the double-digits.

BASH: All right, everybody stand by. We have one more commercial break to dot our i's and cross our t's.

We do have some information coming about what Republicans discuss inside the Judiciary Committee on a conference call they just had about the Kavanaugh nomination. Controversy about a potential hearing next week. Stay with us. We'll give you the news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:25:43] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BASH: We do have breaking news now on the Republican counteroffer to Christine Blasey Ford's attorneys. Two sources familiar with the negotiations tell Phil Mattingly and myself that the following is the likely proposal. Republican committee members want a hearing on Wednesday of next week. Ford would testify first. The Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, following her. Republicans also are saying that they're not willing to subpoena any outside witnesses. So those two individuals would be the only witnesses at this hearing. Also, they want an independent lawyer, somebody who is not a U.S. senator, to conduct the questioning of both witnesses.

Let's talk about this now.

Phil, I mean I just sort of gave the headlines.

MATTINGLY: Yes.

BASH: What's your take on where this stands right now?

MATTINGLY: Trying to find a middle ground of some sort, not taking the full proposal that Debra Katz, Christine Blasey Ford's lawyer, laid out last night. Trying to meet them in the middle on some things. Moving the hearing back from Monday. The Democrats proposed Thursday last night on the call, we were today. They're saying now Wednesday.

Democrats also raised concerns about bringing in an outside lawyer, saying it would make the appearance too trial-like. But as you know, and we've reported, Republicans have been discussing this now for a number of days and they believe that that is something that they feel like they have to do. They believe it's -- that they should go try and hire a woman who has experience on sexual assault issues in cases to ask those questions for both optics reasons, because there's 11 men on the committee, but also because they don't want it to turn into a political circus, which I think there's some concern about as well. Look, I think the interesting element here is, kind of as we discussed

earlier, they're in the negotiations process right now. This is now a counter proposal, should it be sent as it was discussed on this call. And we'll have to wait and see what the response is to that. I think everybody came out of yesterday thinking they are on the road to having a hearing. There's no question about it. They just need to work out the finer details. Is this the answer? Well, we'll see.

BASH: It seems to be closer.

MATTINGLY: It seems closer, yes.

BASH: Yes. And I was also told that if for some reason these talks break down, that perhaps the Judiciary Committee would send aides, investigators, whatever you want to call them, people on the committee staff to see her and have a private discussion with her at the least. But it sounds like this is more likely. The public hearing is more likely. Likely is the key. We want to -- we want to have a --

MATTINGLY: Yes, keep the likely in there. This has been very fluid over the last seven days.

BASH: Very fluid. Very fluid.

I want to get straight to Capitol Hill. Our Manu Raju is up there.

Manu, how is -- I know this just happened and I know you're doing your own reporting on this. What are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that this is a proposal that probably would be closer to being accepted by the Democrats and by the Ford camp, in large part because of the -- exactly (ph), the negotiating position that the Ford camp staked out last night. You'll recall that really the only really major red lines that they drew in those negotiations were no Monday hearing. And if they're going to move to a Wednesday hearing, that is certainly not a Monday hearing. They did not want Kavanaugh to be in the same room as her. Also, and that most certainly is not going to be the case.

Those other two issues, which could still be sticking points, what was described to me last night and this morning was that they were not necessarily hard and fast requirements by the Ford camp. That being an outside counsel, which they didn't -- weren't -- they were concerned about an outside counsel for sure. They would rather have the senators do the questioning, but it was not something that they said that they would absolutely not testify if there was an outside counsel. Only registering in a, quote, strong objection to having an outside counsel.

So that will probably be a focus of discussions going forward. How exactly that will be structured, undoubtedly there will probably be some more back and forth. But they are certainly moving closer to a resolution here, a sign that this hearing highly, highly anticipated and consequential hearing that will undoubtedly determine whether or not Kavanaugh gets that lifetime seat will -- looks likely take place, Dana. BASH: Thank you so much, Manu.

And back here around the table.

This whole notion of somebody who is independent from the senators, let's just call it what it is. It is fear. I mean, look, I might be eating my words if they pick somebody independent who is a man, but the whole goal here, at least initially in saying it should be someone independent of the senators, because there are all men on the Republican side and they understand the optics of that are delicate to say the least.

[12:30:14] LERER: Delicate is a very