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Iran and Pakistan Criticize President Trump; McCain's Health Update; Trump Blames Lack of DACA Answers on Democrats; Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired January 2, 2018 - 12:00   ET


DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome to Inside Politics I'm Dana Bash, John King is off. President Trump's America first policy is on full display as Iran and Pakistan both attack the president for what else, his tweets. And sources tell me that John McCain is feeling better and plans to come back to Washington. Details and a date to be determined.

Oh and did we mention congress is coming back with another spending deal deadline looming? The white house also has some requests.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: This specific agenda item and we certainly hope we will get democratic support on them include the budget, the apprenticeship and workforce development opportunities, on welfare reform also infrastructure. We need to rebuild our nation's roads and bridges.


BASH: President Trump is doubling down today on his unflinching support for anti-government protests in Iran. He said this morning on twitter. He said the people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their pockets. The people have little food, big inflation, and no human rights. The U.S. is watching.

At least 21 people have died in the demonstrations and Iran supreme leader is here heaping blame on the countries enemies for the protests. Let's get straight to CNN's senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh and he joins me live from London. Nick set the scene for us of exactly what's happening there in Iran and the import of it.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're in the sixth day now of protests I think but for most observers of Iran were unanticipated yet. The economical and political grievances causing predominately often young men to get out in the streets. And in the last few days becoming increasingly agitated or even violent, they were well known., those grievances. But the kind of scale, the number of cities, the fact that this is not happening in the intellectual elite studentaries of Iran (ph). But in normal working class areas in provincial towns.

That's got many people, I think taken back by what's occurring here. Now initially we heard President Rouhani, a moderate recently reelected who was behind the nuclear deal with the U S. Make a clear statement to desympathize with some of those grievances. That people have the right to protest. But it's clear now they shouldn't be rioting and there's a difference a set between protesting and rioting but as we've edged into the sixth day now, and we've seen that death toll overnight almost double.

I should point out most of the nine new deaths were in one instance at a police station, Tehran (ph). So it's not blood shed across the country. As we've seen edge into the sixth day the (inaudible) voices have come to the floor now. That's troubling because those heart liners (ph) are blaming outside agents for fermenting the protest. The supreme leader of Iran Ali Khamenei and not a man given to daily commentary on political scene issued a statement in which he said the enemy is waiting for an opportunity. By that really he means the U S, possibly Saudi Arabia and that could mean a more hard line (ph) response maybe in the days ahead, Dana.

BASH: And Nick, Iran is pushing back specifically at the U.S., specifically at President Trump.

WALSH: Absolutely, and well I think also too it's important to note that Donald Trump's decision to lump and support the protestors is very mark (ph) from Barak Obama who step back in 2009 and its similar protest., not once seen those protestors to be aligned with country that Iran often calls "the great satan", America, by his support of them, Donald Trumps taken the opposite approach. Now also too I should point out we've heard from Iran's reformist movement, those opposing the current government and they've in fact also criticized U.S, involvement too.

So there's a lot of confusion here, certainly but I think the broader concern is now Iran's trying to blame outsiders with the white house stepping forwards and saying well you know we support you and everything you do and there should be change. I think many are concerned that might make those on the streets who are protestors perhaps tarnished as agents of an outside power.

But a delicate time ahead certainly because you know there are many people on the streets that are expressing grievances. Which even the president of Iran himself a moderate said was possibly justified. And now we're into the sixth day and it's getting more violent, Dana.

BASH: Nick Paton Walsh thank you so much for that reporting. And here with me at the table to share their reporting and insights Bloomberg's Margaret Talev, Sahil Kapur also with Bloomberg. Kimberly Dozier with Cipher Brief and the Weekly Standards Michael Warren. Happy New Year everyone. - I thought that that last point - Nick made was really really interesting and important. The difference between how president Obama dealt with the protest that happened back in 2009, which was -- kept his mouth shut. And how president Trump is doing it as we showed, he's aggressively trying to encourage them and fuel them. And whether or not that could undermine the protests, because it looks like - it sort of feeds the state's argument that this is just outsiders


KIMBERLY DOZIER,CIPHER BRIEF: Well, there's a very different situation facing - in each case, in the Obama case, there was the JCPOA, the Iran Nuclear Deal and he often to play (ph) for.

So his comments, when they finally came, were a signal to the Iranian administration. If you want a deal, you better stop cracking down on your people. With the Trump administration, however, he has already threatened to pull out of the deal.

So his comments do more to, in a good sense, signal other countries around the world that we do care about human rights in the United States, and if you do go too far, there could be censure from the American president in the form of tweets.

BASH: And Margaret, the flip side of the sort of argument that you're obviously going to hear and probably are already hearing from the Iranian government, that this is proof that this is just the outsiders, this is the president coming in.

The flip side of that is President Obama was criticized for not- because that he was concerned about the Iran deal, not encouraging these protests and showing them that they have the back of the greatest democracy in the world, and obviously President Trump is trying to do that.

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean, these are sort of micro problems (ph) of the two different U.S. president styles, aren't they? That President Trump wants to be out there, wants his name on things, wants credit for when things go well or when there's change.

And President Obama, sometimes criticized for a leaving behind strategy, but he often thought, you know, when you're thinking about saying something, don't say it, count to ten and figure out whether you really should have said something.

But also, part of it goes to the end goal. President Trump doesn't like the Iran Deal, has considered trying to blow up the Iran Deal in some format, and is obviously still thinking that through. President Obama didn't have the Iran Deal at the beginning of his administration, but by the end, very much his goal had been to try to get to a place where they could do diplomacy with Iran.

You know, but I think what you see now is a real question about whether President Trump can bring European allies around to what he's trying to do, which is to exert more pressure on Iran, even if that - prior to that nuclear deal, whether it has to do with other weapons or sort of just fighting their involvement in the region. And this is his effort to ratchet up that pressure. It's a high stakes game.

BASH: And that is -

SAHIL KAPUR, BLOOMBERG NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: It often tends to be the case, right, that president's foreign policies are in some ways a backlash to their predecessor. So President Obama looked at President Bush and said I'm really more cautious, more estranged (ph), not stark, dumb wars in his view. I think President Trump looked at President Obama and decided I'm going to be less restrained, I'm going to speak my mind, flex American muscle on the world stage and use it to get what we want, and we've seen that in so many different...

BASH: Which is so weird, because that's the opposite of what he campaigned on. He campaigned on looking inward. You mentioned the fact that you know the - OK, the tweeting is one thing, and the reacting - he's obviously setting down a marker, but then the question is what's the policy, and his now regular golfing buddy, former rival in the primaries for president Lindsey Graham talked about that over the weekend. Let's listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: It's not enough to watch, President Trump is tweeting very sympathetically to the Iranian people, but you just can't tweet here. You have to lay out a plan, and if I were President Trump, I'd lay out a plan as to how I would engage the regime.


MICHAEL WARREN, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, I think that - I think that's probably very good advice. This is something that the administration is trying to figure out, and since we were talking about comparing the Obama approach to protests in 2009 to the Trump approach, we have to remember that what was central to the Obama administration's Iran policy. It was the deal, before it was about getting the deal, then afterward it was about maintaining the deal.

The White House has said throughout all of last year, 2017, that their Iran policy, their South Asian policy is more - about more than deal. We heard this when we heard the statement from president a few months ago of his policy in South Asia.

That it was about sort of a broadening of the United States focus, and I think that's something that we're still kind of waiting to hear about. We've obviously got these congressionally imposed deadlines, we've got this upcoming just next week from the Corker Cardin bill.

Again, the recertification deadlines probably, again, not going to do - recertify that. We've also got a sanctions waiver that he's got to make a decision on, people are reporting now that they're considering new sanctions, I think that is - these are all questions that have yet to be resolved, and these protests have sort of hastened the need to for administration to make a decision.

BASH: And if you take a step kind of 5,000 feet, but when you look at this, this is also the president, once again, showing his alliance with Bibi Netanyahu in Israel, and the Saudi's -- and the Saudi's, which is this growing alliance in the Middle East that the U.S. - the Trump administration is backing. DOZIER: Well, my understanding is the national security counsel has finished its Iran plan to present soon and that it was going to -- it will include all levers of national power to try to step up the pressure against Iranian proxies overseas, things like that. The problem is the moderate Republicans within the Trump administration, within the NSC have tried to keep the JCPOA in place but they --


BASH: The Iran deal.

DOZIER: The Iran deal. But they fought a battle against Donald Trump himself, who thinks it means that he is endorsing something his predecessor did. And the concern now up on Capitol Hill among Democrats and Republicans is that these latest demonstrations could give Trump the excuse to jettison the Iran deal and that, you know, it won't really matter what the NSC comes out with in terms of an Iran policy once that - the Iran deal is out the window, that there are a lot of other factors, chaos that could break out.

And that we could also lose Europe in the process instead of having them on side to ratchet up some of the sanctions against the Quds Force, for instance.

BASH: Yes. That's so interesting. Meanwhile, this is happening. In Iran, I want to move the discussion a little bit around the globe to Pakistan, where it wasn't that long ago -- in October of 2017, that the president was talking about how great his policy is towards Pakistan and how much things have changed. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I want to thank the Pakistani government, want to thank Pakistan. They -- they worked very hard on this, and I believe they're starting to respect the United States again.


BASH: And now, just a couple months later, he started 2018 by saying the following. The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe havens to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan with little help. No more.

KAPUR: The United States has a very complicated relationship with Pakistan and since 9/11, there's been through the executive branch and the legislative branch threats to cut off aid to Pakistan in an attempt to get them to be more serious about combating the terrorists on their soil and the safe havens around their country.

Previous presidents, President Bush and President Obama decided not to roll the dice on cutting off foreign aid because there's a short term danger, which is that Pakistan's alliance and their land and bases are needed to prosecute the war in Afghanistan. And then there's the nightmare scenario, which is that this is a country with nuclear weapons, there are radicals in that country that are eager to get their hands on those weapons. Does anybody want to chance that? President Obama said no, President Bush said no. Let's see what President Trump does.

DOZIER: Well from the Pakistani point of view, they've prosecuted a major counterterrorism operation across the FATA, the Federally Administered Tribal Area. And they've lost thousands of soldiers in the process. They've beaten back a lot of the militant groups, but there are still militant groups that they seem to look the other way on, like the Haqqani Network that supports the Taliban inside Afghanistan.

The Pakistanis also complain that they have some major militant criminals that they're looking for who just go over the border and hide inside Afghanistan. So they say well, we're trying, what are those guys doing over there?

BASH: No, it's true. I mean since -- since 9/11, Pakistan is probably the most -- one of the most complicated relationships that the U.S. has had. Thank you all. We're going to take a quick break. Up next, New Year, old business for Congress as they come back into session. Plus, a health update on Senator John McCain.



BASH: And this just in to CNN, an update on Senator John McCain's condition. Sources tell me that he's feeling stronger and plans to return to Washington soon. No word exactly on when that might be, but when he does, fellow Republicans will need his help tackling a long list of agenda items left over from 2017. But there's still no budget deal, no agreement on long term funding for CHIP, the government sponsored health insurance program for children.

Also in limbo, a part of the FISA (ph) program allows for government surveillance of foreigners overseas. Controversial because Americans can also be spied on, incidentally. But the most emotional fight looming in 2018 is clearly going to be one over DREAMers. Hundreds of thousands of whom could face deportation in March if Congress cannot reach an agreement that the president will sign on the DACA program.

This morning, President Trump took a swipe at Democrats saying they've done nothing for DACA and that Hispanics will turn on them and start quote falling in love with him and Republicans over the issue. Joining our panel now is Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post. And I'll start with you. Jenna, do you see a love story brewing between -- between DREAMers and particularly -- in particular, the Hispanic voters and President Trump and Republicans?

JENNA JOHNSON, POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, this is a love story that the president has been hinting at for a long time. And we have not quite seen this play out yet. On the campaign trail, you know, I mean he was always in front of these nearly all white audiences but talking about how he would be great for minority voters. For Hispanics, since he got into office, they've -- they haven't seen many things that they can get behind.

And when it comes to DACA and his treatment of DREAMers, kind of kicking that to Congress and forcing them to come up with a decision, they -- you know, he hasn't delivered anything for them.

BASH: He hasn't, but my impression is that he's doing a lot of posturing for the conservative base in -- in anticipation of what's going on behind the scenes, which is real work with Democrats on a deal -- a potential deal to allow DREAMers to stay legally, maybe even get citizenship and some form of border security. What do you think?


WARREN: He's also -- he's also sort of getting at something of a truth which is that Democrats do like this issue politically to be able to say that Republicans and President Trump, they want to treat these dreamer kids in a really poor fashion. I think there was this idea -- remember the meeting with Chuck and Nancy were supposedly we had this DACA agreement and it never came to be? A lot got conservatives got really mad and upset about that.

BASH: Exactly.

WARREN: But I do -- I think there that is something going on behind the scenes. This is some political posturing. But I think he gets to a truth there and it will be interesting to see if when push comes to shove, if Democrats get on board if they're needed that forces them to vote for, you know, who knows, what other kind of package of conservative wish list items to get something through Congress.

TALEV: Well there is another truth about the pressure the democrats face. It's not so much that their base is going to go running into the arms of Donald Trump or the Freedom Caucus, right? It's that they may go running into the base -- you know, theoretical primary challengers or a theoretical different kind of presidential candidate as 2020 winds up.

And so you see the Democratic pressure coming from the internal side to kind of tack more to the left which is why I think a lot of the speculation that we have been thinking about coming into the New Year is what is in it for Chuck and Nancy if we're going to use that moniker.

On the other side, I think rhetorical difference to look for is whether they talk about the wall or whether they talk about border security. I noted that Steve Scalise was on one of the morning shows, I think it was on Fox and spoke about how there could be a deal and never once used the phrase the wall.

Talked about border protections and border security, not the wall. President Trump's tweeting about the wall, he wants his base to see he's still committed to the wall, but the wall is not part of the negotiation.

BASH: And you can't under estimate base politics and how much that plays into this potential immigration deal because we are now in 2018. A midterm election deal where in any midterm election year is much more about the base than in sort of the presidential years.

And yes, he is talking about bipartisanship, but if he gets this done, he will anger a lot of people who voted for him. And those people might say you know what, member Congress, X Y or Z who represents me, I'm going to vote for the primary challenger or I'm going to stay home.

KAPUR: And the other fear for Democrats is that their base stays home, that their base isn't energized and sees the Democrats aren't necessarily standing for something, or fighting for something, willing to go to the mat for this issue which is very popular overall and it's especially popular among their base.

I'm not sure Democrats ultimately prefer the issue over the results here. They're under enormous pressure to deliver something. Nancy Pelosi is getting heckled at home over this. That's how serious it's gotten. I think the negotiations over this, here's the status of things right now as I understand them speaking to senior aides on the hill.

The Senate is likely to go first as a bipartisan working group. Senator McConnell has said they need to come up with a result that is acceptable to the administration, key word there. Hard to know where President Trump is because he's trying to add on, not only the wall, but he's trying to cut family based immigration and eliminate the green card lottery as part of this.

He just tweeted that out a couple of days ago. In the House, this is a very tricky situation for speaker Ryan. He's said he is sympathetic to these kids who would be affected and wants a solution. But as you just pointed out, Dana, the Republican base does not like this and there will be a threat of a primary challenge.

TALEV: And yet, some of these swing states--

KAPUR: Or a legalization right before a primary.

TALEV: But some of these swing state Republicans who are potentially damaged because of the tax bill that they had to sort of -- you know, that their party owns now. In some of these districts, the DACA issue is popular with voters.

BASH: That's true. And then you have this deadline that we talked about at the beginning of the segment for -- by January 19th for Congress to pass yet another spending bill so the government doesn't shut down.

Democrat's threaten to use that as leverage before the New Year, before the break -- the Christmas break. And now they have another deadline that they can use as leverage to say OK, you want us to spend money, you want us to vote to keep the government running? Fine. Let's help the dreamers.

JOHNSON: Yes. Exactly. And let's remember -- I mean, the president is not very popular right now, but Congress is even less popular. Both sides are looking to get some sort of a win. Yes, the dreamer issue is not popular with the president's base, but it's one of those things that I think a lot of Republicans can kind of get behind, if they're getting something else in exchange.

If they're getting a wall, if they're seeing the lottery system change or more of a merit-based system come in. But when you complicate this, it becomes more and more difficult to actually get something passed, especially when you're hitting up--


KAPUR: Could I just add briefly? This comes down to how you finesse it. Democrats are going to say no to you know, build concrete wall, sea to shining sea I'm told. But they're not necessarily going to say no to some repairs of fencing, some little bit here and there. And so they got it landed a situation where President Trump can say I delivered a wall and democrats can say no wall -


JOHNSON: No wall.


WARREN: That's the solution here.

BASH: Exactly, not a wall with a big beautiful gold door but a wall wink, wink, nod, nod. Okay everybody stand by coming up President Trump rings in the New Year with old problems as the Russia investigation hangs over the west wing.


BASH: President Trump is marking the New Year with a new attack against former Hillary Clinton aid Huma Abedin. And with an attack on his own justice department. The president is putting pressure on what he calls the deep state DOJ. Remember this is just days after telling the New York Times "I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the justice department. But for purposes of hopefully thinking I'm going to be treated fairly, I've stayed uninvolved with this particular matter".

Let's bring in CNN's justice correspondent Jessica Schneider. Jessica?