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China Denies Trump's Claim; The Chances of a New Ballistic Missile Test Possibly Within a Few Days. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 29, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


DANA BASH, CNN HOST: They bonded over cups of tea in the Forbidden City and a video of Trump's granddaughter singing in Mandarin. That was just a month ago and now they're at each other's diplomatic throats. Today, China is denying Trump's claim that the country was caught red-handed selling oil to North Korea.

The response followed a New York Times interview in which Trump said quote, "I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war. Oil is going into North Korea, that wasn't my deal." I want to bring in CNN Global Affairs Correspondent Elise Labott who is joining the panel now.

Elise, what did you make of what the president said in this New York Times interview about China?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think everybody in President Trump's team is trying to dampen his real impulses which are to go after China on trade. And now, he's looking at China even though President Xi, as you said in the interview treated him better than anybody has ever treated any leader in the history of the world.

It was the best day in anyone's life. China has not done enough on North Korea as far as President Trump is concerned. I will say that since his administration has come into office they have done more than they ever have in terms of signing up to resolutions, U.N. Security Council resolutions last week, the toughest sanctions ever 90 - cutting off 90 percent of North Korean exports of oil.

But if you look at past sanctions and what he's talking about in the past week, China has been skirting some of these sanctions. So, President Trump is once again, as he's done many times before, warning China if they don't get tough on North Korea they're going to get tough - he's going to get tough with them on trade.

I think the problem is right now is President Trump and the history of the U.S. has been maybe overestimating what China can do. If you talk to Chinese scholars and nuclear experts they say that China doesn't feel that it has all that much influence and if it pushes China maximum pressure in China's view (ph) also leads to war.

BASH: Right.

LABOTT: Because if that - if the Chinese regime - if the North Korean regime starts to destabilize then you have all this chaos on the peninsula. And South Korea is involved and the U.S. involved. That leads to war. So if you're China you're looking at two bad options that both lead to war.

BASH: Right. But, I think if you, kind of, take a step back at the whole idea that he, the president, ran as somebody who was going to be tougher than anybody on China with regard to trade and the fact that he is so transparent about the fact that he changed that because he hopes that China deals on North Korea.

This is another part of the interview. He said, "China on trade has ripped off this country more than any other element of the world in history has ripped off anything. But I can be different if they're helping us with North Korea. If they don't help us with North Korea then I do what I've always said I want to do."

He's just so - he's just out there about how transactional it is at the same time, it's a warning to China.

[12:35:00] FRANCO ORDONEZ, MCCLATCHY NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is. I mean I think it's amazing to me how strong and aggressive he has been in these public statements particularly because private - pardon me, privately he's so differential and he's so nice. He's kind of - he's got - he's kind of in a way he works better with autocrats than the democratic leaders of Europe.

He's got, kind of, this business autocrat leadership. I would say one person I think we should really closely watch in this situation is General Kelly. General Kelly I think could play a big role here. Obviously, Trump loves his generals and I think this being such a volatile situation and Kelly's background he could, kind of, help Trump go over these waters and maneuver enough to gain this ship (ph) to be able to approach this is a very delicate but proper way. To be strong but also to be smart.

BASH: And, you know, we were talking about this in the break what precipitated all of this this week was the president tweeting about China being caught red-handed getting oil into North Korea. He admitted to the New York Times that he got that information from watching Fox News.

He said, "It was very recently, in fact, I hate to say it was reported this morning" this was yesterday, "and it was reported on Fox. Oil is going into North Korea. That wasn't my deal." So, he sees this and he tweets it and he causes an international incident.

CARL HULSE, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. My first reaction to that was obviously it's a little scary that he's getting that kind of intel from the media.

BASH: It's not the first time.

HULSE: Right, but you would think that he would -

LABOTT: He did hear it on Fox News but this has been circulating and percolating. The Treasury Department put out a very muted statement last month. I think there's a debate right now going on in the administration between the panda huggers and the panda punchers.

Clearly, President Trump wants to be a panda puncher and hit China. There are many in this administration, not just in the State Department but elsewhere that are more China huggers. They feel like they get more with sugar than vinegar. And so that's why the administration has been loath to publically call out China on that particular oil shipment.

They have the pictures. They put out the pictures. What they didn't say is we believe that this ship is linked to China. So, they've known this for some time, President Trump has been briefed on it but he probably heard it on Fox News as we said and it refreshed his memory and he said oh yes I got to tweet that.

BASH: And, it gave his an out. We have to take a quick break. The president talks a lot about his expertise in business and in a tweet this morning he offered some advice to the U.S. postal service. Here's what he said, "Why is the United States Postal Service which is losing many billions of dollars a year while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages making Amazon richer and the post office dumber and poorer. Should be charging much more."

Now, we should note, Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos has been a target for the president in the past and Bezos also owns the Washington Post. Coming up, Trump tweets that a bitter cold in the east could use a bit of that good old global warming. What did he mean by that? We get the reaction from our panel and a reality check from the weather center.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:40:00] BASH: Breaking news now on CNN, North Korea and the chances of a new ballistic missile test possibly within a few days. U.S. military officials today are telling CNN that the North Koreans are moving equipment that is consistent with preparations for a ballistic missile launch. The possible timeframe, sometime after New Years Day.

Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters today that the U.S. still prefers a diplomatic resolution to the tension with North Korea, but his job is to provide military options. Stay with CNN. We are watching these developments.

And in other political news, President Trump is catching some heat for his tweet about global warming. He appears to be poking fun at the notion of climate change suggesting some, "good ole global warming would be welcome on the East Coast on these cold days."

Lots of comments followed pointing out the difference between weather and climate along with links to scientific studies that the Earth is indeed getting warming.

Alison Cinchar is at the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. So Alison, where to people get it wrong when they equate the climate with the weather?

ALISON CINCHAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right. So Dana, the best analogy the best analogy I can give you is weather is the outfit you're wearing today whereas climate is your entire wardrobe. It's full of patterns, trends, and it evolves overtime. So there's two different distinctions between the two. Weather being what's happening right now. That's often why meteorologists in television gives you a five to seven day forecast. But when we reference climate, we're talking about 30 plus years of averages.

Now, here is a look at North America as a whole. OK, current look. All of the blue areas you see are looking at temperatures well below average. The temperatures in the southwestern U.S. where you see those oranges, those are the regions that are well above average, and here's the thing you have to understand. Yes, we've set a lot of record lows the last couple of days, but we also set over a half a dozen record high temperatures yesterday in the southwestern U.S.

So when you hear climate change, often called global warming, you have to understand that it is a global scale. Now you look at the whole Earth. Look, only this region of North America was much colder than average. Everywhere else was much warmer than average. And even when you look at the whole year, OK, record highs - we've had over 33,000 record highs set this year, whereas we've had about just under 9,000 record lows.

So the overall trend, Dana, is that more of record highs are occurring with the heat than we are seeing with cold, but it's that difference between weather and climate. A very smart meteorologist friend of my, Gene Norman, gave me that analogy and it stuck with me because it makes total sense.

BASH: Well thank you for sharing it with us. Appreciate it, Alison.

And up next, the new year is just around the corner, but some political figures ousted this year by scandal are vowing to stay in the spotlight in 2018.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

FMR. SEN. AL FRANKEN, D-MN.: Here's my promise to you. I may be leaving the Senate, but I'm not giving up my voice.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

[12:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: President Trump went after his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions again, in his interview with the "New York Times." He said, "I like Jeff, but it's too bad he recused himself." He's talking about Sessions recusing himself from the Russia Investigation of course. "I don't want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that - I will say this, 'Holder", meaning Eric Holder, "protected President Obama, totally protected him."

Trump's tiff with Sessions and love of loyalty will continue to be a recurring theme in 2018, something we like to call, given the New Year's holiday, a "political hangover." And our panel is ready to share some of their hangovers.

And I will start with you, and I'm - shortly, just talking about "political hangovers." I just want to put that there -

JOSHUA GREEN, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK: Not implying that I might have some -

BASH: No implication at all.

HULSE: -- "political hangover" -- not yet anyway.

BASH: No. I -

GREEN: -- Still a couple days till -

BASH: I want to play something that Steve Bannon said (ph) and see if I get you to talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: You're going to see in state after state, after state, people that follow the model of Judge Moore, that do not need to raise money from the elites, from the cronies capitalists, from the fat cats in Washington, D.C., New York City, Silicon Valley -

(END VIDEOCLIP)

[12:50:00]

BASH: How much is Moore's defeat changing that calculus?

GREEN: Well, I don't think it's changing calculus a lot. I think that the nationalists, the Bannon wing of the party, are going to continue to be a problem for Republicans. We've seen over the last few weeks just how problematic that can be. One with Doug Jones, a Democrat getting elected in a red state like Alabama. And more recently this week, Paul Nolan, a Bannon and Breitbart affiliated candidate and challenger to Paul Ryan, kind of erupting in anti- Semitic tweets and white supremacist hashtags, causing Bannon to distance himself and Breitbart.

But what's clear from that - from that clip of Bannon is, these guys aren't going away. They're going to continue to be a headache for Republicans heading into the midterm elections.

BASH: And Franco, you're looking ahead to the holdover of immigration, and specifically what to do about the Dreamers. The deadline is in - is in March for either Congress to ask - act, or the Republican - excuse me, or the president to act, or the Dreamers are going to effectively be - be kicked out of the country. Let's take a listen to what the president has said about that.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should Dreamers be worried? DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: We love the Dreamers. We love everybody. I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly. And I can tell you, in speaking with members of Congress, they want to be able to do something and do it right.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

BASH: So there's a deal in the works, we know. Keep allowing the Dreamers to stay in this country legally, maybe even with citizenship, in exchange for border security or something along those lines. Carl, you mentioned this earlier in the show. Just today, the president tweeted the following; he said "The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed wall at the southern border and an end to the horrible chain migration and ridiculous lottery system of immigration, et cetera. We must protect our country at all costs."

I read that as, you know, learning a lesson from the last time he met with Chuck and Nancy over Chinese food and appeared to give away the store on immigration, at least showing the face, I'm trying here.

ORDONEZ: Yeah, it's definitely like an example of like the battle - the internal battle that he has, his - you know, he's certainly sympathetic to the young immigrants who came here with their parents. At the same time, he has his base that he needs to satisfy. I think this is an issue that's certainly - that Democrats and many Republicans want to address. There is bipartisan momentum to get this done.

There is talk that maybe it could get done earlier in the year. But as we know in Congress, they really need their backs against the wall. They really need their backs against the wall. Why? Because what Joshua's talking about. This movement, the further -- conservatives are going to push back, the Bannons, the Bannon friendly folks are going to push back on this. And it's going to be hard to do.

They're going to come to March 5th, can they get it done then, can they get it done earlier? I'm not sure. Can they even get it done by March 5th? Trump has talked about maybe even extending it. It could be a big deal coming in the midterm elections. And I've spoken to White House sources who've told me that this is a concern. And I've talked to Congressional sources, Republican sources, who are telling me there is concern that they could face political ads from Democratic opponents, who are listing all their constituents who could be potentially deported.

BASH: That's interesting. And so, Carl, for you, it is the - a major legacy issue for the president and for Republicans in Congress, judicial nominees. Let's listen to what the Senate majority leader says about that.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

MITCH MCCONNELL, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Today, the Senate will continue another historic week, confirming more of President Trump's impressive judicial nominees to the federal bench.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

HULSE: Well, I think nominations going to be - continue to be a flashpoint. But not just judicial nominations. Executive Branch nomination, Republicans are very frustrated at the pace that Democrats are still slow-walking some of these nominees. They want to change the rules again to shorten some of the time. I think that could end up being a big fight. And with Democrats looking to possibly win the Senate, they don't want to cooperate.

Because if they took over the Senate, then they have a lot of leverage over nominees. So I think this is going to be a potentially ugly fight as the year goes on, amidst all the talk of bipartisanship.

BASH: And then there's the whole question about what happens with the secretary of state. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have a cattle ranch (ph). You don't want to say anything about the senator calling - suggesting you've been gelded before the world? It's not anything that bothers you?

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I checked, I'm fully intact.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did not expect that answer.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

BASH: I had to run that again, that's amazing. Let's hear - what's your sense on Rex Tillerson?

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, rumors about his imminent departure have essentially surrounded the secretary of state since he was sworn into office. And I anticipate those rumors to continue to swirl around him into the new year. Many expect him to depart January or February, but we've been hearing that for the past sic months, so we'll be - certainly be something to continue to watch.

[12:55:00]

BASH: And the question is whether or not his big bed yesterday in your paper in the New York Times was more of an attempt to say, "Look, I want to stay," or an attempt to say, "Look I don't" --

JOHNSON: Establish a legacy of some sort.

BASH: Exactly. All right, thank you, everybody. Happy, Happy New Year. Appreciate you all coming in.

HULSE: Happy New Year.

ORDONEZ: Happy New Year to You. BASH: And a quick reminder, you can bring in New Years Eve with CNN. Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen host out live coverage Sunday night beginning at 8 p.m. EST. Thank you for joining us on Inside Politics. I'll see you back in a few hours, 4 p.m. EST on the lead. Brianna Keilar is up right after a break.