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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump's Approval Rating Increases Slightly; Pelosi's Poll Numbers; Virginia Governor Needs More Time; Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 4, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Health, it got a lot of attention.

Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: It sure did. And now he will be -- he will serve as assistant to the president and chief medical adviser.

Barbara, thank you.

Thanks so much, everybody, for joining me today.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with Dana Bash starts right now.

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

On the eve of President Trump's State of the Union, a new survey shows his favorability has stabilized since the shutdown, while Speaker Pelosi's has surged.

Plus, brand new polling this hour shows the top two Democratic choices for president in 2020 haven't even jumped into the race.

And, Virginia's embattled Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, is still in office after his party spent the weekend calling for him to resign, calls that are continuing today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: This has been so offensive and hateful in the racism that it -- it hearkens back to, it's the only choice available to him right now.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D), MARYLAND: He can act most honorably at this point by stepping aside.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is not about him, this is about what's in the best -- what's in the best interest of the commonwealth and he should step away from that job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: We begin this hour with the president no doubt looking for glimmers of hope in CNN's new polling out today as he prepares for his second State of the Union Address tomorrow night. Everyone in the House chamber will be listening intently for what he'll say about border security and immigration since we could be less than two weeks away from another government shutdown over the border wall.

CNN's latest polling shows a slight, very slight, uptick in the president's approval rating since the partial shutdown, from 37 percent to 40 percent. But he is still under water, as they say, in the polling biz. Many more disapprove, 55 percent to be exact. After -- this survey after the 35-day stalemate that left 800,000 workers without a paycheck.

And when it comes to voter's views on how the president is handling immigration, it's within the margin of error, but 43 percent of registered voters now say they approve compared with 40 percent before the shutdown.

Let's get straight to CNN's Abby Phillip, joining us from the White House.

Abby, you know, some presidents say that they don't look at poll numbers. This president doesn't even pretend to say that. He's very, very focused on his ratings, as he calls them.

What are you hearing from the White House about CNN's numbers?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Dana, this is a president who is often looking at his approval ratings to determine where he's -- where he is on some of these issues. But on this particular issue, he has consistently been under water. The idea of the border wall has not been particularly popular with the overall public. But as you can see, reopening the government brought the president back to a more stable place, around 40 percent, in his overall approval rating. The question is, what is that going to tell him about how he should proceed next?

Over the last several days, President Trump has made it very clear that his position on the wall hasn't changed. He hasn't softened on it. He hasn't moved from the place where he has been all along, which is that he wants a border wall. And if he doesn't get it, he's said he's keeping a national emergency on the table as an option and another shutdown as an option.

And one of the reasons for that could be another statistic in our CNN poll which shows that a very healthy majority of conservative Republicans back him up on shutting down the government if he does not get his border wall. So as always with President Trump, the question is, is he listening to his base, or is he looking at these broader approval rating numbers of the broader American public which show that not as much support for this fight for the border wall, and they also show more support for him when the government is open, when the government is working as it should be.

As we go into the State of the Union Address tomorrow, President Trump has teased a potential announcement when it comes to the wall. But, clearly, he's getting frustrated with what's going on, on Capitol Hill and has been talking repeatedly about basically using the power of the pen to go around Congress and get his wall if Nancy Pelosi doesn't give him what he's been asking for, for weeks and months now.

Dana.

BASH: Abby, thank you so much for that reporting.

And here with me at the table to share their reporting and insights, Michael Bender with "The Wall Street Journal," Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post," CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Annie Linskey, also with "The Washington Post."

Hi, everybody. Everyone feeling OK after partying last night? We'll get to that I'm sure. (INAUDIBLE). We'll get to that later in the show.

But I want to pick up on something that Abby said, which is the robust numbers for the president, not just on the border wall, but on a shutdown if the border wall issue doesn't get resolved in the president's favor. Take a look at this, 71 percent of Republicans support a shutdown if no wall funding. OK, that's one thing. Pretty strong. But look at the number of independents, 40 percent of independents say they agree with that, of course, 13 percent of Democrats. I wonder who those 13 percent are.

[12:05:07] But the 40 percent of independents in the middle of your screen there, that is something that really is striking to me because those are the people who the Trump White House, the Trump political team, they were worried might go away. Democrats were banking on them going away over the shutdown. And he doesn't have a majority but he has more than maybe one would expect.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and you're seeing an uptick in his general approval rating well. Not a huge increase, but it has increased since the shutdown.

BASH: Right, within the margin of error.

COLLINS: Yes.

And I do think that is going to be something that they're focusing on before that speech tomorrow night because this is the second chance the president has had in recent weeks to make a prime time televised address on immigration, making his argument for this border wall. And I think if they do it successfully tomorrow night, they could see that as something that could help them over the next few weeks if the president does make that decision to declare a national emergency, because that's what they've been really working with the messaging with this three-week committee conference trying to find a legislative solution to this. They think that even if they don't and the president does declare a national emergency, that they'll have support on their side because they make it look like they've exhausted all options to try to get the border wall built legislatively.

ANNIE LINSKEY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And, you know, there also is some polling though that Republicans have lost ground on the border, which I found quite interesting. "The Washington Post" did a poll earlier in the last few days that showed Democrats, amazingly, had a slight edge among -- Americans believe that Democrats have a slight edge on how they would handle immigration, which is something that Democrats traditionally have had -- you know, been down by nine points. So there has -- there is a -- there is quite a lot of turmoil right now on that issue. And I think that you're right, that the president is going to want to sort of recapture it because it's quite -- it would be quite concerning to see Democrats suddenly -- especially since they haven't offered any kind of plan whatsoever, but if Americans are beginning to think, wow, Democrats might do a better job with this.

BASH: You know, you mentioned the Democrats haven't offered a plan. That's a really important point.

LINSKEY: It is.

BASH: And it has gotten a little bit lost in the fact that, you know, there was such a robust political fight over on the president's terms, on what he wants.

LINSKEY: Yes.

BASH: And if it had gone on longer, perhaps more discussion would have happened over, well, what are the Democrats offering.

Having said that, let's look at -- in CNN's new polling about the president, but also Nancy Pelosi and how she is faring right now after everything that's gone on since she's regained the speakership.

Pre-shutdown, Donald Trump, 41 percent, Nancy Pelosi, 34 percent. Now, Donald Trump, 44 percent, Nancy Pelosi, 41 percent. That's a significant jump. That is way outside the margin of error. And if I might just add, our polling director, Jenna Justice (ph), said that she went back and that's the highest favorable -- favorability rating for Nancy Pelosi since April of 2007, since she first took the speaker's gavel.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And that is -- those are pretty remarkable statistics. But recall what was going on before the shutdown. She was grappling for votes to become speaker. There are a lot of stories out there and a lot of voices from the Democratic Party saying, this is why she should step aside. Obviously that would have an impact on the voters' minds.

But look what she did during the shutdown. She did a lot of things that would be considered a win on her terms. Remember, it was Nancy Pelosi who decided, much to some confusion of even her own leadership, to essentially disinvite the president from the State of the Union since it was being -- since it's held in the House chamber, and the president actually acquiesced to that, which is a surprising loss for a president who doesn't like to admit defeat. And clearly the government opened back up again without money for the border wall. So Nancy Pelosi has really gained some ground among the Democratic base, some members who questioned whether she should still be the speaker, and among, you know, the public rite large. MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": I

think those -- it's a really big jump for Pelosi, but it's sometimes -- it's also important to kind of pull back the scope on these poll numbers and look at the broader importance. One is, these are good numbers for Pelosi, but these are good numbers for any speaker. Paul Ryan spent his term as House speaker in the 30s. John Boehner spent his term in the 20s and teens. So this -- that's a real significant number for Pelosi, not just for herself, but also in the -- in the broader context of Washington. The Trump-Pelosi dynamic isn't just important for this immigration debate, it's going to be the predominant political fight in Washington for the next two years.

BASH: Yes. And none of those Republican speakers had the millions, tens of millions of dollars spent against them, demonizing them the way she did.

OK, let's turn to sort of the heart of the substance. I want to talk about polling. It's important. This is INSIDE POLITICS. Now let's drill down on the substance of what we expect the president will do tomorrow night. And even if it's not tomorrow night, broadly about this national emergency, whether he will try to get around Congress.

Very conflicting bits of advice that he's getting from his television counsel, which is where -- how he does spend a lot of his time, watching his friends and so on, on television.

First, let's start with Rick Scott, the senator from Florida.

[12:10:05] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: This is not a political issue. This is what all Americans want.

So if I was the president, I'd sit there and say, what are my options? If Congress won't do their job, then if he has the power, then he should use the power to fund the border security. And I think, on top of that, he ought to take care of DACA kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: OK. So that looked like a green light to say, you know, forget about us here in Congress from the newly elected senator from Florida.

Then let's look at what Governor Chris Christie said. He is somebody who has a book out about the sort of ups and downs that he's had with the president since they were friends and then working and helping him on his campaign. Here's the advice he had for Mr. Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: But I think everybody realistically knows in the back of their mind that it's not going to happen. I don't think that Republicans in the Senate would permit it to happen, even if the president wanted to. The president would then have to defy Republicans in the Senate and Democrats in the House. I just don't think he's going to do that because I don't think it's practical and I don't think it will get him what he wants, ultimately.

Now, the national emergency thing, you know, is a real jump ball in terms of the legal strategy and whether or not a court will endorse his ability to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: So that's what he's hearing from his advisers on television. What are you hearing from your sources, Kaitlan?

COLLINS: This is the thing. The White House knows they're going to face legal challenges if the president declares a national emergency and bypasses Congress to build this wall, but that's kind of the point for them.

BASH: Yes.

COLLINS: They want it to be a win for the president. Some of them don't even actually think the wall should be built, but they know the president wants a win here. That's why they've been negotiating with Democrats over the shutdown and they were willing to take less that that $5.7 billion, but Democrats would never put a number on the table. They want the president to be able to walk away and say he's got a win here. And they think -- and I've been talking with multiple people who speak with the president about this, and I said, what is your reaction going to be when this automatically goes into some kind of legal challenge, it goes to court? They said, that's fine, because then we look like we've done everything we can to fulfill the president's promise, and that will be a fight that we're willing to have over the next two years when the president is trying to get re- elected.

BASH: That's right. And you see on your screen, Christie, national security, won't get Trump what he wants, which is the border wall when you look at the substance, but he wants and what he needs is to save face more than a political win. He needs to not have -- be able to say he didn't disappoint his base and everybody else who he promised.

OK, everybody stand by because, up next, the big question for Virginia's embattled governor is, will he stay or will he go?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:36] BASH: Today the Virginia governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, is still on the job after giving a master class in how not to manage a political crisis. For all of you who spent your weekend away from politics, here is a recap. On Friday, the conservative website Big League Politics published Northam's 1984 medical school yearbook page which featured this racist photo.

Not long after, every major media outlet confirmed the photo's authenticity and Northam lost support of most major elected Democrats in his state. The governor apologized, twice, admitting it is him in the photo without saying if he is the one in the klan rob or the one in the blackface.

Then, the next day, Saturday, a different story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RALPH NORTHAM (D), VIRGINIA: I am deeply sorry. I cannot change the decisions I made, nor can I undo the harm my behavior caused then and today.

I believe then and now that I am not either of the people in that photo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: CNN's Dan Merica is in Virginia, the capital there.

Dan, I know you have some news that's coming out of the governor's meetings this morning. What can you tell us?

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. Yes, so the governor had two key meetings this morning. He had an all-cabinet meeting this morning and then he had an all-staff meeting kind of back to back, sandwiched together. And what we've told based on a Virginia Democrat who has been briefed on the meetings is that Northam asked for more time, a similar ask that he made yesterday when he had a kind of hastily planned meeting with all of his cabinet members of color, as well as some senior staff of color.

This is kind of what has been going on for the last few days is Ralph Northam asking for more time, asking for more time, and it's getting to the point where there are a number of Democrats here in the state, they've already called for him to resignation, who are unwilling to give him that amount of time.

One thing that Ralph Northam might have going for him, though, is the fact that it is very difficult to impeach a governor here in Virginia. And that was made clear by the speaker of the legislature behind me, a Republican, Mr. Cox. He basically laid out that impeachment is not on the table at this point.

You correctly note, this has been a whirlwind weekend and it's very tenuous here. Things are on a knife edge behind me. You have a number of protestors who are outside the governor's mansion and they started to gather after the Saturday press conference or around the Saturday press conference. Initially it seemed like Governor Northam admitted he was in the photo, issued those multiple statements saying as much, and those protestors came out to call for him to resign. That just was ratcheted up after that very bizarre, frankly, hour-long press conference that he held where he walked that back significantly and said that he now does not recall it was him in the photo, but that he later admitted that he did wear blackface, dressing up as Michael Jackson, in a San Antonio dance contest.

So all of this has kind of contributed to this -- you know, he's hanging on by a thread at this point, Governor Northam is, and there are many people here in Virginia who think that he should be at the end of that threat at that point and he should lose his job.

Dana.

BASH: Dan, it looks so serene and peaceful and beautiful behind you --

MERICA: Yes.

BASH: There in Richmond --

MERICA: Yes.

BASH: And it totally belies what's really going on in that building and in that town.

MERICA: I can promise you it is not.

BASH: I know. I know. I know. We believe you. We believe you.

Dan, thank you so much for that reporting.

MERICA: OK.

BASH: Appreciate it.

And here with us joining the conversation is Errin Haines Whack with "The Associated Press."

And, Errin, you are covering this story for the AP. Based on what you just heard from Dan asking for more time again, is he going to get it?

[12:20:06] ERRIN HAINES WHACK, NATIONAL WRITER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Well, I guess that remains to be seen.

But what is clear, at least at this point, is that Governor Northam appears to be putting his political future ahead of the pain and damage that has been, you know, inflicted on a lot of the people that voted for him, including many African-Americans in the state. He is still stalling. But at this point, very few Democrats, you know, have -- if any, have been willing to not call for his resignation. You saw people on the local, state and national level calling for him to step aside, to allow the state to heal. Virginia is a place that is still healing, frankly, from the racial pain inflicted from the Charlottesville race riot. And so this certainly does not help at the beginning of Black History Month and as the state prepares to mark the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, the first enslaved Africans arriving in this country. And so it's unclear whether he's going to be able to hang on, but certainly, as Dan mentioned, he is hanging on by a thread.

BASH: Yes, I mean you talk about the -- obviously the current tensions since Charlottesville, but you also rightly mention the fact that this is centuries-old tension --

WHACK: Absolutely.

BASH: In the seat of the confederacy.

OK, so let's -- let's look at what we're hearing from some of the African-Americans who are in elected office in Virginia. This is Jeff Bourne, who is a member of the Virginia black caucus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF BOURNE (D), MEMBER OF VIRGINIA LEGISLATIVE BLACK CAUCUS: I think, you know, Ralph Northam, the man, should rehabilitate his reputation and repair the relationships. But his governorship is one that will be ineffective and he's unable to govern because of everything that's transpired over Friday. We have a deep sense of betrayal and have been betrayed by someone who we considered a friend. And it's just going to be difficult, if not impossible, to move forward under any other circumstances other than him resigning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KIM: Yes, I think what the governor has to be looking at right now is, can he be an effective governor from this point on? And I think the answer is pretty clearly no. I mean you have Democrats on the national level saying he should go. He have his own legislators, that he has to work with to pass bills, can he take action on his own --

BASH: We should emphasize of his own party.

KIM: Of his own party, that's right.

BASH: Yes.

KIM: And there is no way that I can see that he can be an effective governor at this point in time. I feel that resignation is inevitable. More bizarre things have happened in politics. But I think that's the -- that's -- and I thought that the legislator made a great point where you can rehabilitate, you can show remorse, but does that mean you have to be in the governor's office to do it? And I think the answer is no.

BASH: Yes. And I find that, just in covering these things, as unfortunately we've done many times over the years, the person who is in the hot seat grasps at allies and grasps for allies, tries to hang onto that. And we have heard some supporting at least him, you know, hanging on for now. And one is former congressman from Virginia, Jim Moran. Listen to what he said on CNN today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM MORAN (D), FORMER VIRGINIA CONGRESSMAN: I don't think we have all the facts at our disposal.

When you get ambushed with these things that come up that you're not expecting, you're like a deer in the headlights and your staff is screaming at you, apologize, apologize. The facts don't matter, just get out there and apologize as profusely as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHACK: Well, I mean, you have a lot of people understanding that he is sorry, and yet, at the same time, calling for him to step aside.

BASH: They're not mutually exclusive.

WHACK: Exactly. I mean Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, while he did not call for the governor to resign, you know, did say that he understood that the governor was sorry. He had spoken with the governor. He knows the governor. These is somebody that a lot of these black lawmakers have worked with for years in the Virginia legislature. So they have a relationship.

BASH: Helped elect.

WHACK: Exactly.

BASH: Yes.

WHACK: Exactly. And whose elections he has helped with. And so they -- they are -- but yet reconciling that with this act is something that just really is a bridge too far for a lot of folks.

BASH: And it's not just the yearbook page. The yearbook page is horrible.

WHACK: Absolutely.

BASH: But then, of course, as he said, it came out that he was Michael Jackson in blackface. He had an unfortunate nickname when he was in college.

COLLINS: And that's the thing. I think the history of American politics has shown that people can be forgiving of things that people have done depending on how genuine your apology is. And if you watched his press conference on Saturday, I don't think that -- it goes back to whether or not people think he can be a leader. And I think that is a growing sign that people don't feel like that because his apology was so botched and it didn't seem genuine to the fact that he almost moonwalked at one point until his wife said it was inappropriate given the circumstances.

So I think given that, the comment he made about abortion the days before this photo came out, I just think there is so much. I don't think he's being ambushed by his own actions. They are things he did and he knowingly did.

WHACK: Right.

[12:25:02] COLLINS: And I don't think he really apologized by saying it was me in the photo and now it's not me in the photo.

WHACK: And because it's not me, I did not do anything wrong here, and therefore I should not have to step aside. So it doesn't seem like he really grasps what is actually wrong with this. And just to your -- I'd be remiss if I did not mention it's Black History Month, just a PSA. You do not have to wear blackface to impersonate Michael Jackson, Diana Ross or any other black person. It's just -- it's not appropriate.

And so even if his admission that he did, you know, impersonate Michael Jackson with blackface, you know, he's saying that was a long time ago, he has learned from that and, therefore, should be allowed to stay. I don't think that other people, you know, hearing that were -- it made them only more resolved that he should go.

LINSKEY: I mean just to apologize for wearing blackface by explaining the last time you wore blackface --

WHACK: Right.

BASH: Yes.

LINSKEY: It just doesn't --

BASH: Not a good -- not a good situation.

LINSKEY: It doesn't (INAUDIBLE) very well.

BASH: No.

All right, everybody stand by because we want to talk about what this means, the broad implications for something that's already underway, which is the race for the Democratic nomination for president. What all the 2020 candidates, could-be candidates, are saying, and why his scandal could become their problem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)