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Pelosi and Schumer Don't Meet with Trump; Little Room for Defectors on the Tax Bill; Trump Honors Navajos; Scaramucci Defends Trump. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 28, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Government shut down just got a whole lot more real.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day for us.

And a busy breaking news day here in the nation's capital. The president heading to Capitol Hill in just a few moments for without a doubt this is a defining day of his first year in office.

Challenge number one for the president, the Senate tax cut plan that is still short votes. Challenge number two was supposed to be a year- end spending deal. Something the president was scheduled to discuss later today back at the White House with bipartisan congressional leaders. But, just moments ago, the Democrats switched their RSVP to not attending. The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, releasing a statement that reads in part, if the president, who already said earlier this year that our country needs a good shutdown, isn't interested in addressing the difficult year-end agenda, we'll work with those Republicans who are.

A dramatic development. Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us.

Jeff, how does this change things on what was supposed to be a huge day for the president?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it potentially changes, you know, the next coming weeks of December, which, of course, are going to be dominated first by the tax plan up now, but later on by that year-end spending bill, as you said. And with Democrats essentially, you know, refusing to come here to the White House to negotiate, it changes everything potentially in terms of how this White House deals with them.

Now, Democrats do have quite a bit of leverage, particularly in the House, on some of these spending plans. But this could be an example of how tweets have consequences, John. This response from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer came about two hours or so after the president sent on out a tweet.

I believe we have that. Let's take a look at this. He said, meeting with Chuck and Nancy today about keeping our government open and working. Problem is, they want illegal immigrants flooding into our country unchecked and we're weak on crime and want to substantially raise taxes. I don't see a deal.

So by the president throwing this out there, largely to his base, usually he actually has good conversations with these leaders one on one, it certainly changes the dynamic here. But now the fact that they aren't coming today puts all the eggs in the Republican basket here and the Republican leaders will have to negotiate with the Democratic leaders on The Hill.

But, John, this changes the dynamic. What was already going to be a testy and tough December suddenly could be an even tougher one.


KING: Jeff Zeleny at the White House. Jeff, keep working your sources. We'll see how this one plays forward.

Let's get straight up to Capitol Hill. Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill.

Phil, you've been up there tracking the votes. The challenge -- the immediate challenge for the president is to get in the room with those Senate Republicans, many of whom, let's be honest, don't think much of the president, don't think much of his leadership style, are worried about him having a hands on role at the end here. As he comes up now with this dramatic news that this big four meeting, the summit, has been canceled.

Let's focus on challenge one, tax reform. You've been tracking whether the leadership can get some of the holdouts onboard without making changes that cross the line for other Republicans. How's the math?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, they're in a bit of a Rubik's cube situation right now. Twist it one way and you lose kind of the perfect symmetry, twist it another and it goes the other way.

The immediate concern right now is there's a Senate Budget Committee mark-up this afternoon where they're supposed to take up the tax proposal. That will push it to the Senate floor. And they've got two senators right now who have very differing issues that have them as a "no" on the bill that sit on that committee. The problem? Well, Republicans hold a 12 to 11 advantage on that committee. Lose one and the bill stalls out.

Here's the issue that they're trying to do right now. Senator Ron Johnson has an issue with pass-through income. He wants the rate for businesses that pass through their income to pay on the individual side to be more generous, to expand a little bit. That costs a lot of money. That becomes problematic for somebody like Senator Bob Corker, also on the committee. He a deficit hawk. He doesn't want this $1.5 trillion plan to add to the deficit over the long-term. How do they manage that right now? John, there's been a lot of talks behind the scenes. There were a lot

of frustrations last night. A lot of Senate aides saying, let's call Senator Johnson's bluff. Let's call everybody's bluff. Let's make this vote happen. And if they want to sink it, they can sink it themselves.

The question right now is, they're very cognizant of the fact that that would create a lot of bad optics and that's certainly not something they want to deal with right now. They've continued to work throughout the morning to try and address the concerns. Will they get there? I'm going to be honest, this mark-up starts in a couple of hours. They're not there yet, John.

KING: Phil Mattingly tracking the votes on Capitol Hill. We'll keep in touch throughout the day.

Back here in studio with me to share their reporting and their insights, Carl Hulse and Julie Hirschfeld Davis with "The New York Times," Asawin Suebsaeng from "The Daily Beast," and "Bloomberg's" Margaret Talev.

Well, chaos in Donald Trump's Washington. What a surprise.

This was supposed to be a defining day. The president first goes up and tries to settle a family feud within the Republican family, of which he is the leader, although, as I noted, a lot of the senators aren't happy with that face. Now this. The other part of the busy agenda between now and Christmas was get a deal to keep the government up and running, decide defense level spending. Can he, with Chuck and Nancy, as he likes to call them, get a deal on the so-called dreamers and immigration? And now they decide we're not even coming because he tweets out, Julie, that, you know, well, I'm not going to give you a deal unless you give me more than you're willing to give and you're weak on the border and this. And, now what?

[12:05:03] JULIE DAVIS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I mean, Jeff Zeleny pointed out rightly that this is an example of tweets having consequences. But it's not just the one from this morning. Frankly, when the president tweeted months ago after the last go around with congressional Democrats on a budget deal that maybe we needed a good shutdown next time just to confront some of these debates about spending between the two parties, he set this train in motion and, frankly, a lot of his advisers recognized that back then. Certainly a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill recognize it, that he was then going to own a shutdown at the end of the year if indeed there was one.

And I think Democrats seeing him put this out this morning saying he didn't really see a deal, he didn't see room for a deal, I think on the president's part it was a -- it was a posturing tactic. He was playing to his base. But Democrats saw that and said, well, he's -- he's, you know, reviving this narrative. He's the one who's pushing us towards a confrontation. And they don't really have any skin in the game to want to deal in that sort of environment.

KING: Right. And Democrats who already think the landscape has tilted dramatically in their favor heading into 2018, now essentially putting the president on the spot.

ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, "THE DAILY BEAST": Right. And months ago, when the president of the United States was basking in the positive media glow of his deal framework, shall we say, he kept touting it as the bipartisan deal with Chuck and Nancy. There was a very brief period of time where Democrats thought, OK, maybe there's some window in here where we could get some of what we want. That has since evaporated completely because, according to people I've been talking to inside and outside the White House who are close to the president, not only has he sort of gotten over that moment, but people who are advising him closely have told him that this is not a good play for the base. There is no real way forward for you as a Republican in terms of constantly cutting deals with so-called Chuck and Nancy. So any hopes of a revival of that is as completely been pounded into the silt.

KING: Yes, I was -- I was raised with manners, so we called them Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan. But when Leader McConnell -- when Paul and Mitch were in the room, Carl, and he cut the deal, tried to cut the deal with Chuck and Nancy, that was one of the things that started to further unravel -- I shouldn't say unravel -- whether Republicans can trust him.

He's on his way up there in about 30 minutes to get in a room. They don't have the votes right now to pass a Senate tax cut plan. They're not going to repeal and replace Obamacare this year. The president' infrastructure plan was only words. He never sent a plan up to Capitol Hill. This is their one chance to do something big in the first year of all Republican Washington. What does this further year-end dynamic do to what was already a pretty international environment.

CARL HULSE, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, these -- these two things were linked, right? The president had sort of been taken to the cleaners earlier this year by the Democrats. He wanted to show the Republicans, before he got up there this afternoon, hey, I'm going to stand tough in these spending debates. Look at this tweet.

However, it blew up on him because, you know, Senator Schumer and Leader Pelosi, they've been around the block here a few times. They're like, well, you know what, we don't have to deliver one vote on the spending bill. The Republicans own the House, the Senate and the White House, let them fund the government, which, of course, they can't do because many Republicans won't vote for these spending bills.

As far as a tax deal, I know there's a lot of votes still hanging out there and people are undecided, but every Republican I talked to says the tax bill is going to pass. This is the last stage of the negotiation. It's going through. The big question to me is, is there going to be a conference committee between the House and the Senate? The tax bill looks like it's moving along. The spending deal now looks like, wow, how is this going to work?

KING: So, for the tax bill, it's the political imperative argument that we have to pass something. So, Senator Corker, you might not like this, Senator Flake, you might not like this, John McCain, you're complaining about this, you know, Ron Johnson, you're complaining about this. In the end, we, as Republicans, are going down the chutes if we don't pass a tax cut plan.

On the spending bill, to Carl's point, I -- remember a campaign with this guy named Donald Trump saying everybody in Washington was stupid and you just needed to send a businessman who would get everybody together and cut these great deals.


KING: He just seemed to blow up a meeting that was supposed to get him a smooth year end.

TALEV: So, on both of these issues, on trying to avert a government shutdown and on the tax plan, his real obstacle and enemy really is the enemy within. It's the divisions inside the Republican Party. They can do it without the Democrats. They can do both without the Democrats. They just can't do it right now.

And although I would say these two issues are side issues, the president's treatment both on the Roy Moore issue and on those latest with Elizabeth Warren, the Native Americans, the Pocahontas moment yesterday --

KING: Right.

TALEV: Have added, at least in a kind of color or qualitative way, another dynamic, which is, it's given Democrats who don't want to help him at all more cover to do so.

KING: Right.

TALEV: It's given Republicans, who are already uncomfortable making deals with him, more pressure not to make deals with him. And that has kind of shifted into the Democratic basket another kind of lever they can use.

[12:09:59] KING: And somewhat unexpected, at least if you go back to the beginning of the year. One of the questions -- and maybe I shouldn't say somewhat unexpected. One of the questions was, would the Democrats stick together and would they emulate what the Republicans did when Obama took the presidency and just be "no." Just be "no." If you say it's Monday, we say it's Tuesday.

SUEBSAENG: Right, and back to what you were saying earlier about the tax reform, there certainly is a politically annalistic (ph) element to what the Republicans are doing right now in -- at least in terms of -- look, they know that the polling for the Republican tax legislation is nearing pretty catastrophically low standards that were set by their Obamacare repeal efforts. But, like you were saying, the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill have gotten to the Geronimo point where they need to get something done before year out because how can they bring this to Republican voters in the midterm. What is the point of having us in office if we're not going to do taxes, we're not going to kill Obamacare. What is the point?

KING: Yes, I -- I get the logic, the rational approach of that argument and your augment that they're at this point where they have to do something. However, in the 10 plus months we just lived through, for seven years they said they would repeal and replace Obamacare. They couldn't do it.

Just put up on the screen. These are the Republican senators we know have questions about this. And Carl's right, if negotiations are still open, you say you're undecided. You wait until you are forced to vote and you try to get something in the bill.

But the math of this year, when it only took -- it only takes two, or one in a committee or two to take it down. Are we to place -- would you, in Vegas today, place your bet on Republicans will figure out the imperative to get this done or would you look back at the Obamacare debate and the new mess caused today by canceling this bipartisan meeting and say, "no"?

HULSE: So, should I phone it in? I would bet -- I would bet that it gets done. I'll call my bookie.

The Republicans who were, you know, who were -- are in the mix right now, Steve Daines and Ron Johnson from Wisconsin, these are not people who are going to stop a Republican tax bill from going through at the end. We saw Ron Johnson threaten this in the health care bill.

I think that they will come around. But it's going to be messy. I mean these are the way these things work out. They know they have to get it done.

You know, it's sort of a parallel with health care. Democrats knew their health care bill had really big problems. But they are -- they're the health care party. So they -- they pushed that through. Republicans, they're the tax cut party. And this is their thing. If they don't get this, it is a true debacle.

DAVIS: Well, and this is easier for them in a lot of respects than health care is. They -- if you talk to Republicans privately, a lot of them were not enthused about that debate at all. It was about undoing something. As Carl said, this is not their party's big issue. They would much rather, on any day of the week, be talking about tax cuts and economic growth and all of the things that they will argue this tax plan will deliver.

The problem is that Donald Trump is really coming into this last sort of stage of the negotiation from a place of weakness rather than strength. And when you look at that array of Republicans that you had up on the screen before, you have people with concerns about the deficit, you have people with concerns that there are not enough or not steep enough tax cuts for the wealthy, for wealthy business owners and the math of that deal is very difficult to make work. And you have to have a president who has the trust of members who are wavering and of the leaders, and we do not have that right now on Capitol Hill.

KING: None of that. None of that, I would argue, is actually getting worse, not better, as we go through the year as the Roy Moore thing adds to the Republican doubts. They want nothing to do with this president right now. Everybody hold the thought. And just a reminder, tonight here on CNN,

you want to see a good debate about this tax reform bill, Independent Bernie Sanders, Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, debate Republicans Ted Cruz and Tim Scott. That's tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. They'll debate the details, hear from voters who have concerns on every which way.

Up next, though, for the president, advice not taken.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: What do you do in a situation like that? This is what I do, OK. See that? That's what you do.



[12:18:00] KING: Welcome back.

Oblivious, insensitive, even racist, or much ado about nothing, just Trump being Trump? Well, you make the call. Here's the president of the United States yesterday at a White House event honoring Native American code talkers, World War II heroes, in the shadow of a portrait of the American president who signed the Indian Removal Act that had Native Americans removed from their land at gunpoint.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas. But, you know what, I like you because you are special.


KING: That, of course, the president's favorite nickname for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

The White House press secretary insisting that is not a slur. Native Americans don't agree.


SONNY SKYHAWK, NATIVE AMERICAN ACTOR: I think it was a condescending, racial slur. It's uncalled for. Totally uncalled for. And he knew what he was doing.


KING: First and foremost, there are questions about the president's sensitivities or lack thereof. And then there's his pension for going off script and creating drama when Republicans, as we were just discussing, are begging for discipline and pushing for tax reform. A familiar face today reminding us the president hasn't changed and don't expect him to.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Listen, you know, that's the president's style, OK. It's a little shock jockey. It's -- listen, it -- I think it's the style that got him elected. And so you -- I don't think he'd be in the Oval Office if he didn't have that style.


KING: That's the Mooch's view of how the president got where he is.

When you watched that event yesterday, even without the use of Pocahontas, just bringing in Native American heroes into a room in the White House and standing in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, they've had the building for almost 11 months now, are they oblivious? Is there no grown up in that room, or was this just deliberate insensitivity, and I'm being way polite, in saying insensitivity.

[12:20:03] SUEBSAENG: If you had wrote this into an episode of "Veep" a year or two ago, you would have been laughed out of the writer's room for it being too heavy-handed and the head writer would tell you, this isn't even good satire.

But this is the kind of moment and PR opportunity for disaster that the president of the United States has actually become very accustomed to. In fact, I'm a little bit surprised that it did go a little bit poorer than it did.

KING: It is -- I don't know what to say about it. I mean when you look at it. And if you don't know your history, you know, they have this thing called the Internet. You know, Andrew Jackson is not exactly the right image. And these guys are heroes. John McCain tweeting this morning, our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Navajo code talkers whose bravery, skill and tenacity helped secure our decisive victory over tyranny and oppression during World War II. Politicizing these genuine American heroes is an insult to their sacrifice.

So part of it is just that room, that spot in that room. And then there's the slap at Elizabeth Warren.

TALEV: So just like for viewers who are not totally steeped in the way this works. Whenever there's an announcement or an event at the White House, there is an entire team of advanced people that figures out what -- and protocol people, what room do you want to do this in, what's the angle, whose picture do you want in the background, where should the microphone be, should there are a teleprompter, all this kind of stuff. So certainly the positioning of something like this would be well thought out by staff in advance.

And if something like that were an accident and were not the message that was trying to be sent, even for an administration that typically doesn't apologize, there would be some sort of backgrounding on it by now. Somebody would have come out and told, you know, a handful of reporters on background, that's not what they were trying to do. It was -- you know, we regret the error. That kind of thing. The fact that none of that has happened only validates what already seems like is the case, that the -- the camera shot, the position, the angle, was chosen to send a couple different signals on a couple different levels.

KING: But stop -- we sometimes get caught up in the blur of Donald Trump's presidency. Stop about -- think -- let's think about what you just said then. If it was not an accident, if some kid didn't mess up and is not writing letters of apology to every one of those code talkers right now, every one of their families, every one of their organizations and saying I'm sorry, I had no idea, I'm x teen years old and didn't know my American history and I blew it and I'm sorry and I didn't mean to embarrass you or the president. If that's not happening, then the president of the United States stood in the White House, a museum, a national American treasure, and slighted Native American heroes deliberately?

DAVIS: Listen, I don't think you have to believe that this was deliberate to understand why they're not apologizing. They don't apologize. The president doesn't apologize. And so it may well be that, you know, he said several times that this event and Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was supposed to honor the code talkers. There's nobody we honor more. World War II veterans, their contributions to the country. They wanted them in the Oval Office.

But this president has chosen to put the portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office. We know that he's somebody that President Trump emulates. He calls him a populist, just like Trump considers himself and has styled himself a populist. And they don't talk as much about the fact that, you know, there is this ugly history of Andrew Jackson's record on Native Americans and what he did. And so I don't think it's necessarily that farfetched to believe that they didn't actually think about the imagery of having him right behind this photo-op.

But be that as it may, the fact that he would use this nickname in an insulting way in the presence of these heroes was just remarkable. And you could -- I wasn't in the room physically, but I was just outside and you could see the body language. You could -- you know, the veterans were stone-faced. And afterwards I talked to several Native American leaders who said they had worked really hard to organize this event. They were really proud of this event.


DAVIS: And they couldn't believe that this was unfolding at what was supposed to be an uplifting occasion.

TALEV: An honor. An honor.

SUEBSAENG: Right. And it was just a handful of weeks ago that the president of the United States drove a recent war widow to tears, albeit inadvertently. So this kind of insensitivity, shall we call it, is professionally baked into the equation when it comes to this White House and this presidency. It would be nice if that weren't the case, but if people are outrage by it, I completely understand. But to be surprised about it, that is another story.

KING: And he also, we didn't get time to talk about it here, he also elevates Elizabeth Warren every time he does this. She's in the back of his head sometimes --

HULSE: Yes, she's actually become --

KING: Right.

HULSE: You know, been able to push back on this now in a way that she wasn't before because, you know, I like the no -- the first shock jock president. I hadn't heard that before. The first no filter president. I mean this was just a totally inappropriate, insensitive thing to say. And in that setting, and it's just sort of mind-blowing that it happened at all.

KING: Right. And if you're a conservative out there who thinks Elizabeth Warren should be held to account or fact checked or triple fact checked, I get all that. And if she runs for president, if she runs for re-election, we will go through all of that. The issue is not that. The issue is -- the issue --

TALEV: Yes, it's not that she's off limits. It's that whether these (INAUDIBLE) --

KING: The issue is with these heroes in this place, in what's supposed to be a sacred building. I think you get my point.

[12:24:59] Anyway, up next, a new candidate comes forward in the Alabama Senate race as the two main contenders hone their messages for the final stretch.



SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Show meaning that won't result in an agreement from a president who doesn't see a deal. We've asked Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan to meet with us this afternoon. We don't have any time to waste addressing the issues that confront us. So we're going to negotiate with Republican leaders who may actually be interested in reaching a bipartisan agreement.

If the president, who already earlier this year said, quote, our country needs a good shut down, if the president isn't interested in addressing the difficult year agenda and wants to make the government shut down, we'll work with those Republicans who are interested in funding the government, as we did in April.

[12:29:56] We have so many things to do. We have to fund the government. We have DACA. We have the Children's Health Insurance Program. We must re-instate cost sharing for health premiums and out of pocket costs. We have to deal with disasters.