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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Budget Blueprint; Dems Descend on South By Southwest; Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 11, 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] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We'll -- I'm very interested to see what next step, if there is a next step, when it comes to Jeanine Pirro.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Because it's one thing to say -- to say that -- you give context to what you said.

STELTER: Right.

BOLDUAN: But an apology, you would think, could be -- could be useful in that regard.

STELTER: Could be.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you. Thanks so much, Brian.

STELTER: All right. Thanks. You too.

BOLDUAN: All right, thank you all so much for joining me.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with Phil Mattingly starts right now.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Phil Mattingly. John King is off today.

The White House sends its budget request over to Capitol Hill. And I'm going to break some news for you, it will not pass Congress. But it will give clues on the negotiations to come. The new CNN polling out of Iowa gives some pretty clear advice to the president. Here's what it is, focus on your accomplishments, not your 2020 Democratic opponents.

Speaking of 2020, it I time for what we like to call your daily is Joe Biden in or out of the race?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last week the vice president was reportedly at 95 percent. I know you recently spoke with him. Is he moving closer to 100?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: He is moving closer. He's someone who I am confident is going to run. I'm optimistic he's going to run.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: He kind of tipped his hand a little bit. The junior senator from Delaware knows a thing or two about this.

But we begin with an early spring ritual and what it actually tells us about the president. This morning the president delivered his budget request to Congress. The asks, they're big and they are worth about as much or as little as the dead trees they are printed on. On this Washington agrees. The document more or less amounts to a very large paperweight. The Republican Congress largely ignored the president's last two budget requests. Democrats, now in control of the House, well, they will do the same but with more gusto, if you will.

But read the very long list of what the president wants as a campaign document and you start to see the sketches of his 2020 message. Big border wall money, bigger money for the military, big cuts to welfare programs and agencies like the EPA. The budgets tag line, it's telling, promises kept, taxpayers first. Read the list and each promise pairs with the big demographic the president won in 2016 and will need to win again in 2020.

Now, CNN's Kaitlan Collins is with us right now at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, I know you've memorized all the pages of this budget at this point, but -- but tell us kind of from the --

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In the last hour.

MATTINGLY: Yes, that's what I figured. But in the top line, what are kind of your take-a-ways as you look through this document right now?

COLLINS: Well, basically when you're looking at this document, you're seeing what it is. Like you said, this is meaningless, especially now so that Democrats are in charge of the House. But what you're seeing is the president renew his demand that Congress pay for his board wall. In this deal -- or in this proposal he's asking for $8.6 billion for the wall, some of it from the Department of Homeland Security, some from the Department of Defense. But Democrats are framing it -- framing this as the president not learning his lesson here, coming off that shutdown fight earlier this year, that fight that did not yield any money for the president's border wall. And they say that the president has not learned his lesson.

Now, the president knows that he's not going to get this money. He has lost his sway, even the sway that he had last year. But this is sending a message for 2020 and setting the president up so he can make that point to his base that he is still here and he's still fighting for the wall.

Now, that comes as right now the Senate is expected to vote this week on a resolution to disapprove his declaration of a national emergency to build that wall, but the president is trying to send a message with this. You can tell he's still sensitive to those criticisms from people like Ann Coulter, who say he's not living up to his promise to build the wall because the president was lashing out at her over Twitter this weekend. You can expect the White House to try to lay out their priorities.

They're actually doing something they haven't done in a while today, Phil, and that's a briefing. Sarah Sanders and the acting budget director are going to brief reporters this afternoon on the proposals that are laid out in this budget.

MATTINGLY: What a novel idea, speak to the American public and reporters.

Kaitlan Collins over at the White House, thank you very much.

And here with me now to share their reporting and their insights, Rachael Bade with "The Washington Post," Jonathan Martin with "The New York Times," CNN's Manu Raju and Politico's Eliana Johnson.

And, guys, I want to start with kind of a reality check, if you will, from noted wordsmith Mike Enzi, the senator and budget chairman, who put out a statement just a short while ago that says, quote, the president's annual budget proposal is the first step in the federal budget process and will allow us to consider his -- how his priorities align with the priorities of Congress. That is not a ringing endorsement of the president's proposal, but it also underscores the reality, and Chairman Enzi is somebody who's been here a while and understands how this all works, understands the reality of what this is.

Manu, you're on The Hill every single day. Kind of -- how do Republicans take what's now being sent to Capitol Hill?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I think that they're going to try to push for the president's funding for the wall. They realize that it's not going to get $8.6 billion for the wall. He couldn't get $1 in the last round of negotiations that led to the shutdown. This is all going to be, as this happens every time, this is -- they're going to put off the very difficult issues, like the funding for the wall up until the very end, right before the end of this current fiscal year. The ultimate question is going to be whether the president digs in, whether he demands money for the wall.

[12:05:00] And a lot of that will have to do, of course, with what happens in these court challenges to the emergency declaration. If the president fails in court and does not convince the courts that he has the authority to move around money administratively, then you could see him potentially digging in and demanding this money back from Congress. And we could have a redux of what just happened in this government shutdown. But we saw the way Pelosi's played this. She's not going to give him any money. Will she ultimately bend as we get closer to the fiscal -- end of the fiscal year? We'll see. But they're saying this proposal's dead on arrival because it is. That's the blueprint. And what they're proposing is not going to become law.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Why would Pelosi bend? I mean she looked super triumphant in the first month of the Congress when she defeated Trump, didn't give him a single dollar for his wall. And you have to wonder, Republicans, they don't have an appetite for another shutdown showdown. They're probably -- they're privately probably rolling their eyes.

But, again, this is -- this is probably not clearly aimed at changing policy on The Hill. This is about 2020, and the president thinks the wall is something he can run on and this is a good message for his base, and so clearly he wants to keep that out center even though he's using the national emergency to try to do this at the same time.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Not to be the skunk in the garden party, but I've been sort of a skeptic of the coverage of the budget process long before President Trump came to office. I think that it's perhaps the most over-covered event in Washington every winter, the president's proposal, because the Congress is going to do what the Congress does. And, yes, it offers some insights under the president's authorities. Maybe that worked for like past presidents, but to be candid, how much is this president even engaged in this budget document? I mean is he even aware of some of the sort of top lines for his health department or HUD? I mean I'm skeptical.

I mean what do you think? What do you think, Eliana?

ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "POLITICO": You know, the thing that struck me in this budget was the request for wall money, which wasn't included in previous budgets at this amount. And it struck me as a concession of defeat. They wouldn't be asking for money to build the wall if they had gotten money to build the wall and if the building of the wall was underway. So they -- they are spending a certain amount of money to build the wall that they have done through a national emergency declaration, but that's not enough money to complete the building of the wall, and that's evident by a request for an additional $8.6 billion. Part of that is to repay the national emergency funds. But $5 billion of that is needed for the completion of the wall. And I think at this point, because they're unlikely to get that money, it is something of a concession of defeat by the president.

MATTINGLY: Yes, so, budget nerds, it's @jmartnyt if you want to attack him for his blasphemous statement on not carrying about budget day.

MARTIN: It is on.

MATTINGLY: Manu, I want to go to you.

So, here's, I think, the concern when you -- when you talk to people on Capitol Hill. And you laid out late September -- late September, the budget fight's coming, the debt limit's coming, and we saw -- Eliana makes a great point, the request for the wall money in the fiscal '19 budget was $1.6 billion, which Senate negotiators actually got for him. And then the president, in a private meeting, made clear, I didn't know that number existed and I want $5 billion. And then --

JOHNSON: Who did that?

MATTINGLY: And stalled at his staff a little bit in front of a couple lawmakers.

JOHNSON: Yes.

MATTINGLY: But is this setting up a clear fight that doesn't necessarily have an end game given the stakes we're facing in September?

RAJU: Yes, I think that's absolutely right. I think the president knows the end game with this. I think he needs to show to his base that he's fighting for something that he has not actually accomplished. This is the biggest legislative defeat of his time in office, a central piece of his campaign, and he needs to show that he's doing something. He ultimately ends, he doesn't know. The Congress doesn't know. The Democrats do know that they're not giving to give him anything for this.

And, you know, also, one thing in his budget document, the president campaigned on eliminating the national debt. I mean that is such an insane proposal to eliminate $20 billion -- $20 billion -- $20 trillion national debt and climbing. This is nothing to even get rid of the deficit -- the annual deficit. And he said that he would get rid of the annual deficit over the next eight years. So it creates, you know, a lot of aspirational goals, but probably is something that he's not going to fulfill.

MATTINGLY: Yes, balancing in 15 but essentially locking in trillion- dollar deficits.

You've got your finger on the pulse of House Democrats as well as anybody right now. The budget caps come into play back in September -- or in September, and to get to wonky into it, but essentially it would mandate $126 billion in deficit reduction if nothing is done about that.

What do Democrats want for a caps deal at this point?

BADE: Well, I think everybody on The Hill realistically knows those caps need to be raised and that it's going to happen. I think that, you know, the president might be talking about his wall and might privately want to go to some sort of showdown in September when the federal budget needs to be renewed.

But, on Capitol Hill, again, I don't see an appetite for this. And McConnell -- Mitch McConnell in the Senate, he's a realist about this kind of stuff. He knows he doesn't want to do another shutdown, so these caps are going to have to be raised. The debt ceiling is going to have to be dealt with. And I think when it comes to dealing with the debt ceiling, McConnell and Pelosi are probably pretty close to the same place. They're -- they don't want to deal with brinksmanship at the end of this year. But, again, it's going to be watching the president. How hard does he push the party. And you've got to feel bad for McConnell right now because you know he is not in the same place as the president is when it comes to these issues.

[12:10:05] MATTINGLY: Yes, and if you look up -- you can pull up the -- what the president requested on defense spending, $750 billion, and what the spending cap would actually be, which is $576 billion. That's $174 billion apart. There's been talk that the administration would try and kind of go through another route, the overseas contingency operations fund, which is kind of a cheating way to deal -- to deal with the budget. But how --

MARTIN: Wouldn't be the first time.

MATTINGLY: Wouldn't be the first time. They've used it for overseas engagements a lot to try and plug some money holes.

But in terms of defense spending, that's always been the hook, right, that you can -- Democrats and Republicans have to get together. That's what's sort of put in place for it. What's your sense right now in how the administration wants to deal with defense spending?

JOHNSON: You know, it's interesting that they have requested a 5 percent increase in defense spending. They've -- the president said he's committed to rebuilding the military. They want to cut domestic spending. And they're simply saying that the old formula of increasing every dollar that they request an increase for in defense spending they're going to increase a dollar in domestic spending, that the country cannot afford that anymore and they're not going to abide by it. We don't see it reflected in this budget. And the administration has indicated they're simply going to push back on that.

BADE: But the Democrats will hold that defense money hostage completely.

JOHNSON: Yes.

BADE: You know, they've done this before. Pelosi has done this successfully before. She'll do it again. They'll say, if you want more money for the military, which is something the president wants to campaign on in 2020 and say he's strong for the military, then you've got to give some domestic money, too.

MATTINGLY: A strategy that was effective when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, and I imagine will be pretty effective now that Democrats actually control one of those chambers of Congress.

All right, up next, a longshot candidate for president boosts his profile, attacking the vice president in the process.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:15:40] MATTINGLY: All right, the ever growing field of Democratic presidential candidates learning today where they could be giving an acceptance speech. Officials tell CNN, the DNC has chosen to hold its 2020 Democratic convention in Milwaukee. J.Mart's breakfast recommendations are coming. For now, though, those candidates spending some time in Austin, Texas. Democratic 2020 hopefuls descending on South by Southwest this weekend, hoping to make an impression with voters. Three of the more longshot candidates sat down with CNN for individual town halls. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, and former Congressman John Delaney. Here's how they're doing in the latest Monmouth poll. All three barely

registering with voters, polling at or below 1 percent, both now and back in January. Now, compare their numbers to the top four candidates in this poll, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, yes, you see it, a little bit of a differential there.

All right, CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins me live from Austin.

And, Jeff, you've talked to just about every candidate, including these three. What were kind of your takeaways last night as a keen observer of this 2020 process so far?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Phil, I think there's no question that Mayor Buttigieg really made an introduction for himself to a national audience that he has been doing in living rooms and bars and smaller settings in Iowa and New Hampshire. And he's making the argument that, yes, he's 37 years old. He doesn't shy away from that.

We have seen presidential candidates and candidates for other office trying to fudge their age or act a little older. He leans right into that. And he did so last night as well saying, look, I have military experience, I have executive experience. And I think he also shows that he was trying to, you know, he's strong enough to go after this administration, the president, and particularly the vice president, who also is from Indiana.

But I think by and large, you know, you mentioned the polls right there. The national polls at this point, as you know, are essentially meaningless because they are a, you know, a barometer of name ID only. But the Iowa polls, certainly much more interesting. But all of these new candidates trying to make their way, make their voice, introduce themselves, but Joe Biden, on top of "The Des Moines Register," a CNN Iowa poll on Sunday, along with Bernie Sanders, one number that was interesting to me, 60 percent, six in 10 Iowa Democrats want him to jump in. They say his experience is needed. Only three in 10 say it's time for someone new. So that is a challenge for these newer candidates here.

We should point out everything, though. Everyone will get a full look once summer begins and let's see who's standing by the time of the Iowa State Fair come August.

Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes, no question about that, Jeff.

A, be careful of the scooters. I've heard that they're all over the place. I saw cars behind you. I want to make sure you don't get run over by a scooter.

ZELENY: They're everywhere. I know. Thanks, Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Thanks, Jeff Zeleny down in Austin.

So scooters aside, look, it seemed like, at least for a moment -- and, again, we live in this kind of micro world with the Twitter sphere and all that. But there was a little bit of Mayor Pete-mentum, if you will. You had David Axelrod tweeting, quote, I've rarely seen a candidate make better use of a televised town hall than Pete Buttigieg on CNN tonight. Crisp, thoughtful and relatable. He will be less of a longshot tomorrow.

This is Jonathan Martin.

MARTIN: Yes.

MATTINGLY: Is Mayor Pete less of a longshot today?

MARTIN: Sure. Yes. Absolutely. I think anytime you can get that kind of national TV exposure when you aren't really that well known is a huge asset for a candidate.

And, look, we're in this proving ground season where, in a wide open race, and you've got a couple of candidates who have, you know, big name ID, or obviously on top of the polls, but this is a wide open race and you're going to have candidates, like Mayor Pete, who could step up.

There is going to be somebody next January/February who we aren't talking about now who's going to be in the mix near the front of the pack, I think. And it's just a matter of sort of who that is.

And when it comes to Mayor Pete, I think it does say a lot about what the incentives are in this era.

Look, a very talented politician taking a pass on statewide office to go directly from running for mayor to running for president. What's the downside of that? You get great exposure, like last night. If you don't get the nomination, maybe you're on the ticket as VP, or maybe you're in the cabinet of the next Democratic president. Either way, you are showing your stuff and punching your ticket via this long national campaign for president. It really does tell us something about how people rise now in the political stratosphere.

MATTINGLY: Do you -- do you agree with that? Is that the play here? Just get your name out there. It's worth more than running for a lower statewide office given the fact that with the media exposure, with social media, all that, you can just get your name out there and run.

[12:20:08] JOHNSON: I think that's absolutely true. And, look, I think some of the candidates right now, they won't succeed in doing that. But the reason why I think that this town hall was a success for Mayor Pete was that he did impress some people, like David Axelrod, that wasn't obviously -- we didn't see the same sort of reaction for the other two candidates who had them. But right now a lot of these Democratic candidates aren't household names. And the point of going to a South by Southwest is -- which is mostly attended by influencers, it's not your everyday voter -- is to get people paying attention to that. And I think that was a success for him.

They want to try to become the sort of household name that a Joe Biden and a Bernie Sanders is right now. MARTIN: Right.

JOHNSON: Those are pretty much the only two candidates in the race --

MARTIN: Yes.

JOHNSON: Who are known by, you know, the average person you see walking down the street who's not tuned into politics every day. I think Mayor Pete took one step towards that. He's far from being there. But that's the reason why he had nothing to lose getting in this race and he just gained something yesterday.

MATTINGLY: Yes, kind of took the jab there that influencers were in Austin and I was not.

JOHNSON: I was not either, don't worry.

MATTINGLY: We're all in the same place.

One of the things that I was struck by last night is something that I think is kind of running roughshod through the entire Democratic Party right now, the Democratic field, and that is the idea of, of what are you? How do you label yourself? Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So many of these labels are misused, misunderstood to the point --

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So how would you define yourself?

GABBARD: Where people don't have any idea what they even mean anymore.

BASH: So you're not a capitalist?

GABBARD: I -- I'm --

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's try to stay away from the terminology and the labels.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bernie has to speak to what Democratic socialism is and --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you are not one?

WARREN: And -- I am not. And the centrists have to speak to whatever they are doing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Capitalism or socialism?

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Capitalism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: It's like bizarre that you actually have to pause on that question.

RAJU: Yes.

MATTINGLY: But do the labels matter? I think people spilled a lot of ink over this in the last couple weeks.

RAJU: Yes. I mean Obama did something very similar. He tried not to say, well, I'm not going to label myself as a progressive or even though he's very progressive on most issues, he didn't want to get himself in there. But it's interesting that they're making -- the one thing that they're not saying is that they're not socialists. I mean I think there is a fear among a lot of Democrats is that the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the party and the Bernie Sanders wing of the party is going to eventually cast a wide net and bring them all in and force them to answer for a lot of the policies that they don't necessarily agree with. Clearly that's the Republican strategy heading into 2020, label everyone as a socialist. These Democrats are trying to make clear that they're not. The question is, are they going to have to differentiate themselves on some policies because of all of the policies they agree with are very socialist, like health care, Medicare for all. That's going to be the question for them going forward.

But that's one thing that that I think they -- some of those candidates may -- tried to make clear over the weekend, that they're not socialists. Elizabeth Warren, for one, trying to make clear, she's not like Bernie Sanders.

JOHNSON: Yes.

BADE: You know, it's interesting because, I mean, we're already seeing Republicans on Capitol Hill do that. I mean the NRCC is attacking House candidates saying, from red districts, Democrats saying these guys are socialists. So, in that regard, they've got to do the labels thing because they're going to have to reject that even more forcefully.

I think the other thing we saw play out specifically in Mayor Pete's interview was that, you know, there's this question about, how much do you talk about Trump and the administration, how much do you talk about yourself? And it will be interesting to see if other candidates, even though, you know, he's not going to slingshot to the front of the line anytime soon, other people might watch how he handled that. You know, he was kind of calm. He sort of had like a -- he wasn't, you know, viciously snarling when he went after the administration, but he was very pointed. I mean talking about Vice President Mike Pence, and what was the phrase he used, something like the prince -- is Pence a cheerleader for the porn star presidency? Talking about his faith. Those are very pointed criticisms at the administration and less about his own personal experience but going after the administration. And -- but the way he did that was well received, and I think it will be interest to see if other people try to mimic that.

MATTINGLY: Could certainly go --

MARTIN: Phil, Phil, very, very fast. MATTINGLY: Quickly.

MARTIN: It is striking in a period of four or five months you've going from sort of Democratic frame in the midterm election, very careful, very cautious, surgically targeted at issues like health care --

BADE: Yes.

MARTIN: And now, you know, four or five months later, they're being branded as socialists. And that does concern Democrats, especially on The Hill, especially in the House, who are trying to keep that majority that they just won last year. They're OK with some of the policies, but they fear the larger branding with the s word.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Always remember, the majority makers, they weren't the progressives, they were the moderate in the wing.

All right, up next, Trump's strengths within his own party in Iowa and how it factors into his 2020 re-election campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:29:35] MATTINGLY: Iowa is home to the first major 2020 campaign contest. And when it comes to how Iowa Republicans view President Trump, there are definitely some signs of strength and a few potential trouble spots for his re-election bid. The president still enjoys strong support with the state's Republicans, even though 40 percent say they hope he faces a challenge for the nomination.

Let's take a look -- dig in a little bit at what some of these numbers say.

[12:29:56] So if you look at President Trump's job approval rating, 81 percent. Still very high and pretty much the same when it was last polled in December. His actual favorability rating in the state up to 82 percent. That's a five point increase through December.