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INSIDE POLITICS

Congress Nears Budget Deal; Trump on Shutdown over Immigration; Trump Could Ignore Counsel; Biden Doesn't Rule out Run. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired February 7, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:27] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

It's Washington's version of Groundhog Day. Another government shutdown looms. And while the odds this hour are in favor of a big spending deal, House Democrats are demanding a promise to move next to an immigration debate.

Plus, big West Wing drama. The president is telling allies he wants to ignore his lawyers and sit down with the Russia special counsel.

And the president wants to spend millions on a military parade. He calls it a salute to the troops. Critics call it wasteful narcissism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: It's a fantastic waste of money to amuse the president. Take the money that the president would like to spend on this parade, instead let's make sure our troops are ready for battle and survive it and come home to their families. Let's put money into the quality of life for military families who sacrifice with our men and women in uniform. And, finally, let's make sure that we are doing something to stop the waiting lines at veterans' hospitals. That's a good way to put money -- taxpayers' money, investing in our troops, investing in our veterans, instead of the amusement of the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We'll get to the parade a bit later.

But we begin this hour in a familiar place, with the government set to run out of money in just 36 hours. This time, though, a new twist. The Congress actually seems ready to do its job and do it in a big, bipartisan way. Senate negotiators nearing a two-year budget deal. Yes, you heard me right, a budget deal. Two years, not two months. The framework, blow the lid off spending caps, pump money to the military and into domestic spending, do some desperately needed disaster relief, take a debt ceiling fight off the table until after the midterm elections.

Now, this is all still in a flux because Congress hasn't done its job in a long time. Of course, there's a lot being crammed in here, including some land mines for conservatives, especially those who cringe at the deficit impact. But the deal would end governing from shutdown to shutdown. One problem is what the deal leaves out, a so- called DACA fix for the dreamers. The president says he would love to see a shutdown over immigration. The top Democrat in the House, Nancy Pelosi, says she opposes the big spending deal for the same reason.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: Why should we, in the House, be treated in such a humiliating way when the Republican Senate leader has given that opportunity in a bipartisan way to his membership? Without that commitment from Speaker Ryan, comparable to the commitment from Leader McConnell, this package does not have my support, nor does it have the support of a large number of members of our caucus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights today, CNN's Nia Malika Henderson, "The New York Times'" Michael Shear, CNN's Phil Mattingly, and Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist."

Mr. Mattingly, we've taken you hostage from your beat on Capitol Hill to help explain this.

Now, you heard leader Pelosi there. They're mad. Mitch McConnell in the Senate has promised, you do -- let's do this, let's keep the government open, let's do a spending deal, and then we'll move on to an immigration debate. An uncertain immigration debate, but we'll move on to it. She wants the same promise in the House.

How much of that is a negotiating tactic? How much is she under pressure from the left that she can't personally sign on to what could be a big compromise but they'll sneak enough Democratic votes for it?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's all of the above. It's a negotiating tactic.

Look, what you're going to hear from Democrats -- House Democrats over the course of the next 24 hours, and that's how long it's going to take before they can actually vote on anything in the Senate or the House, is they're going to push repeatedly for a commitment from Speaker Ryan to have a similar process to what Senate Majority Leader McConnell has.

Now, it's worth noting, Speaker Ryan has said, hey, once the president signs off on something, I'll put it on the floor immediately. We will address this issue. That's not good enough for Democrats. They're going to fight for that.

If they don't get that, this will likely still pass. At least that's what I'm being told right now. There are dozens of Democrats for whom the domestic spending priorities in this deal are very important who want to move this forward. And there's no question, there will be outrage and there will be a lot of people that are very upset about it, but Leader Pelosi knows, she's got a lot of moderate Democrats that are up for re-election as well, some of the similar dynamics that you have with Senator Chuck Schumer over in the Senate, and she needs to let those members go.

You'll notice when she put out her statement in opposition to the bill this morning, she made very clear she was only speaking for herself.

KING: Right.

MATTINGLY: She was not whipping the caucus. She was not saying the caucus is going to be against it on the whole. That wording matters. They're very careful with their wording on those types of things. So clearly there will be some fireworks over the course of the next 24 hours, but the expectation is, they'll get this across the finish line.

KING: That's her wink-nod to members of her conference. Let's flip and move to the other side.

Mark Walker, who's the chairman of the Republican Study Group, a very conservative group of House members, says he spoke to the speaker this morning. He's still struggling with this.

Here's Jim Jordan, a conservative member, I believe he's a member of the Freedom Caucus, from Ohio. "This is a bad, bad, bad, bad -- you could say bad a hundred times deal." He doesn't like it.

[12:05:00] And Dave Brat -- remember, Dave Brat's the one who won his seat knocking off a member of the Republican leadership a couple of years ago, he doesn't like this either.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DAVE BRAT (R), BUDGET COMMITTEE: Any third grader could tell you -- I taught economics for 20 years -- if you're at 21 trillion in debt, you're supposed to be going down, not adding to it massively.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So if the left doesn't like it and the right doesn't like it, does that make it the sweet spot or does that make it just a bad deal?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, "THE FEDERALIST": I mean -- well, first of all, a two-year deal is sort of refreshingly grown-up, or at least more quietly dysfunctional then this last attempt at this.

KING: Well put.

HAM: So that's good.

And the way you get things done in Washington is to spend a lot more money. That's how you do it. You buy off both sides and we move forward.

And --

KING: Even with a Republican president, a Republican House, and Republican Senate, the way to keep this working is to spend more money?

HAM: That's why people don't (INAUDIBLE). Yes. And it's like Rand Paul and a couple think tankers and I will be upset about it.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and everybody else will sort of complain before any deal gets done. Maybe they'll end up voting for it. Maybe they won't. I mean I think it depends on whether or not the government is actually going to shut down. But we've seen this play out before. The sort of Rand Paul caucus and folks who had been for years concerned about government spending. I mean that's what the Tea Party was supposedly all about. But a lot of -- a lot of the deals we've seen so far, you've seen those people pretty much fall in line.

MATTINGLY: Yes, pour one out for the spending wars of the Obama administration that I think we all covered deciduously.

HENDERSON: Yes.

MATTINGLY: Those are --

HENDERSON: They're gone.

MATTINGLY The 2013 sequester would be done away with. The 2011 budget caps would be done away with. This would be $300 billion over the course of two years, plus another 80 billion or 90 billion on disaster relief. It's just -- to talk to 2013 or 2012 reporters or even House Republicans who are doing this and show them what's happening right now, I think they'd be mind-blown by it.

But as you noted, the defense spending is hugely important for many Republicans in the Senate, and many Republicans in the House, and the president. If you want to get that, you've got to do the non-defense domestic spending. That's hugely important for Democrats. And that's why, to your point, there's a deal and it's going to kind of grab the middle and lose the polls, but that's where they're at.

HAM: Well, and I would note, there was always a split among Republicans on sequestration --

MATTINGLY: Yes.

HAM: Because many are hawks and did not want to do that. I was a fan of it because it was our one chance to actually cut some spending. And we are going to do away with it because this is Washington.

MATTINGLY To force some tough choices. Just -- I'm saying it's -- it is a gimmick in the age of gimmicks, if you will, but at least it forces some tough choices. And now you're back again, pretty striking, with a Republican president, a Republican House, and a Republican Senate. The way to get to a deal is to increase spending.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right, but you -- but one of the elements of those three that you mentioned, the Republican president, is not a person who has ever demonstrated a -- HENDERSON: Right. And he loves that.

SHEAR: Yes. Yes, right. Right. Yes, he is, right?

And so you've got -- he never demonstrated the same kind of, you know, devotion to deficit cutting that other Republicans, some other Republicans have. And, in fact, he hasn't sort of demonstrated a core when it comes to fiscal issues on anything.

HENDERSON: Right.

SHEAR: I mean, you know, sort of -- so people are left to wonder, where is he going to be? That's one of the issues in DACA as well is that people aren't exactly sure which side he's going to come down on in the end and I think the fiscal issues are the same.

KING: The fiscal issues are the same. And here's a remarkable thing as well. This deal -- we'll see. We'll talk in a minute about the substance of the deal and whether it could fall apart. This is the Senate side. You first reported this over the weekend, a big two-year deal, which a lot of people thought was impossible, but they're trying to put everything -- a lot of tough decisions from the debt limit to the military spending and everything else into this one basket, get it through the Senate and then have the House sign on to it.

Yesterday, in the middle of all this, it's very sensitive, the president of the United States, who you would think would not want a government shutdown, says, yes, I do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we don't change it, let's have a shutdown. We'll do a shutdown. And it's worth it for our country. I'd love to see a shutdown if we don't get this stuff taken care of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Was -- is he oblivious to the fact that they had a deal in the Senate, we're going to do this and then move on to immigration? Or is he just irrelevant to this? Or is there some secret master play there I haven't quite figured out?

MATTINGLY: All three? No, look, I think it's important to note that this was a congressionally driven deal. The White House is obviously involved. Marc Short, legislative affairs director, General Kelly, the chief of staff, where there, involved. But this was driven by the four corners. This was driven by the budget staff that has been working on this for months, very clearly.

I'll tell you, the craziest thing yesterday was, when the president said that, I was in the middle of the Senate stakeout every Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. The Senate majority leader and the Senate Democratic leader come and give their press conferences about the state of play. The most optimistic I have seen the majority leader and Senator Schumer about anything they agree on, at least in a year about this deal. And as they're doing that, I'm getting text messages from that White House talking about a shutdown. It was just a bizarre split screen and I can tell you, congressional aides were a little bit worried for a little bit. You know, will this throw off what at that point was still a very fragile deal? But I think it's the president doing what he does --

HENDERSON: Yes, and --

MATTINGLY: And congressional leaders at this point have just recognized it. We'll just move on and do our own thing.

HENDERSON: And he --

KING: Just ignore him. Is that -- is that fair, just ignore him?

MATTINGLY: I think that's (INAUDIBLE).

HENDERSON: That's right. And he said this before, right, almost a year ago in talking about maybe the country needs a good shutdown. Maybe he's looking at this last -- wasn't even really a shutdown, right? I mean maybe he's thinking that the people who got the blame for that, at least in his mind, were the Democrats. And certainly they got blowback from their own caucuses and members around that.

[12:10:08] But, I mean, he sort of likes the sort of drama. He even seems to like to say the word shutdown in the way, you know, he says it there, because it's like drama, which he likes. And so -- but I do think -- I mean kind of the takeaway is, he's irrelevant to the whole process.

KING: Well, he won't be irrelevant after. Number one, let's assume this goes through, that they get this big two year deal and they keep the government open. Then the Senate leader has promised to move on to immigration. The House, you mentioned Speaker Ryan, who says he wants to move on to a DACA deal. He just wants some clues from the president about where the landmines are. So then we're in this situation where a bunch of conservatives are going to either vote or walk away from a spending bill that they don't like because of the deficit impact. Then you're going to ask them to deal with an immigration plan that goes with amnesty. And that's going to go how well?

SHEAR: Well, look, I think one of the things -- you know, yes, the president's comments yesterday may have been irrelevant because the Senate leadership especially decided to just sort of keep marching in the direction they were marching. He won't be irrelevant when the DACA -- assuming something comes out of the Senate on immigration, the real question about whether it passes the House or not is going to be Donald Trump.

KING: Right.

SHEAR: If he dumps all over it and says it's not good enough and it doesn't -- it doesn't meet his, you know, four pillars that he's laid out for, you know, protecting the country, that is going to give enormous cover for Republicans in the House to reject it. On the other hand, if he were to say, you know, this is enough, it meets enough of my tests or whatever, it will be very hard for House Speaker Ryan not to follow the lead of Mitch McConnell and put something on the floor that could win.

KING: So if we close this one chapter by midnight tomorrow, the shutdown chapter, we open another one that's just as interesting. We'll stay up on top of that.

Up next, the president telling friends and allies he thinks he can outfox the special counsel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:00] KING: Welcome back.

In our last episode of keeping up with the president's legal strategy, the lawyers were telling the client, don't do it. As in, don't grant an interview to the Russia Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

But, today, a new plot twist. Call it hubris, call it conviction, or call it naivety, the president is raising the possibility he will ignore his counsel and do it anyway. Quote, he thinks he can work this, a source familiar with the president's thinking tells CNN. He doesn't realize how high the stakes are.

CNN's Sara Murray broke this reporting and joins us now.

Sara, seems everyone in the president's orbit, his lawyers, his friends, his allies, say don't do it. But --

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But, you know, it's not necessarily clear that the president will ignore all of these people. He's not, you know, immune to what his friends and allies are saying on television and also privately to him. But he does feel like he has nothing to hide, that he did nothing wrong, that he wants to sit down face to face with Robert Mueller and sort of share his side of this story. You know, he also happens to think that this will help the investigation wrap up more quickly.

Now, is that such a great idea? As you pointed out, pretty much everyone from the president's friends, to his enemies, to lawmakers are saying, this is not a great idea. You could give Mueller more fodder for an obstruction of justice case, you could perjure yourself in that interview. You could basically make your life a whole lot harder.

But it doesn't change the fact that this is a president who has been involved in a number of lawsuits from his real estate career. He's sat for depositions before. And so he feels like he has a certain amount of experience.

But we should note that nothing is final right now. There are still these sort of informal talks between the president's legal team and the special counsel. The special counsel has not given them a formal request yet for an interview with the president, which means there's still a little bit of wiggle room. Could that mean an interview is possible? Maybe. Could that mean written questions? Maybe. Or could it be an interview with a much narrower scope? Anything, I think, is still possible, John. KING: Anything, if none of those happen, anything could include a

subpoena and a court fight.

Sara Murray, appreciate the reporting.

To Sara's last point, all of this, he won't interview -- the president first says, absolutely, I'll do it under oath. His lawyer saying absolutely no way. Now the president talking -- well, maybe I can pull this off. It's all part of negotiating to the ultimate -- where -- where are the ground rules going to be.

But we have to assume eventually that clock runs out. The special counsel says, OK, it's time, fish or cut bait, right?

SHEAR: Yes, I mean, I think that's right. And the negotiations are only about the first cut at the issue, right, which is, do you do a voluntary kind of sit down interview. If that -- if negotiations break down over that or if the president refuses to do that, there are other steps in the process, right? There's then a possibility of a subpoena to -- before a grand jury. And ultimately, if the president were to get to that grand jury, he could decide either to essentially answer questions or not, plead the fifth or not, and then the sort of legal and political ramifications from that.

So we're at the -- we're still, even though it seems like this has been going on for so long, we're still at the beginning of this process, or at least not -- not quite at the end.

KING: Well, the longer that goes on, the president wants this investigation wrapped up, the longer they have this negotiating over the possibility of an interview, the longer the investigation goes because the president, at the end, has to be there.

So I want you to listen to one of the president's advisers, Anthony Scaramucci, who for ten minutes or so was the White House communication director. But he still talks to the president. And he's trying to make the case for saying no and saying, if the president says no, it's not because he did anything wrong, it's not because he has something to hide, he just doesn't want to get caught in a trap.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It's not a concern that he's done anything malicious or anything nefarious. But, you know, there was a joke somewhere where Mueller's sitting in the Oval Office with him and the president says, good morning, and he says, OK, you've committed perjury because today's really not a good morning.

Listen, you know, we're all getting a little older. I don't remember every single thing that's happened to me in my life. And certainly if I said something that happened that didn't happen, I wouldn't want to be accused of perjury.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: This is -- it's part -- you listen to that and it's part of --

we've seen a much bigger campaign to discredit the FBI, discredit the special counsel, essentially try to convince at least the president's base or the right side of the political spectrum this doesn't matter, it's not fair, it's biased and tainted against the president. That's something different there. That's essentially -- no -- nobody I know who knows Bob Muller thinks he's going to charge the president with perjury or accuse the president of perjury if the president forgets you were at the meeting or says that was a Wednesday when it was a Tuesday. That he's not going to have that low of a bar because we all forget. The presidency's a busy job. You're not perfect about recall. That -- but they're trying to set the standard, don't do it because he's trying to trap you.

[12:20:30] HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, it -- all of the comments, whether it's from him or Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, I mean they kind of paint the president as someone who has a problem with the truth and somebody who isn't savvy enough to deal with Bob Mueller. It didn't seem to be sort of serving him well in terms of what they think of his ability to sit before somebody and tell the truth. So -- and I imagine that's kind of getting -- I can't imagine that sits well with him, right, and it might be one of the reasons why he's so adamant, at least publicly, that he can handle anything that Bob Mueller wants to throw his way.

KING: And yet, and yet, not for exactly the same reasons, but among those who say they agree with the president's lawyers is the former vice president of the United States.

HENDERSON: Right.

KING: He just doesn't say it so kindly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CUOMO, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEW DAY": Do you think he should sit down with the special counsel?

JOB BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.: If I were the president's lawyer, I would probably tell him not to sit down with special counsel.

CUOMO: Why?

BIDEN: Because --

CUOMO: Then they subpoena you and you wind up in front of a grand jury without a lawyer.

BIDEN: Yes. Yes. And -- and if you -- you're in a situation where the president has some difficulty with precision.

One of the things that I -- that I would worry about if I were his lawyer is him saying something that was simply not true without him even planning to be -- to be disingenuous.

CUOMO: You think he has that little control over whether he tells the truth or not?

BIDEN: I just -- I just marvel at some of the things he says and does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAM: And he's right.

MATTINGLY: With precision.

KING: He's right. He does have difficulty with -- but, I -- to me, that's bait. The vice president knows that the president watches cable television. He knows that that's going to be out there. And that's the vice president saying, don't do it, don't do it, don't do it, to get the reaction from the president.

HAM: I mean, that may be. I think some of these notes of caution are just like common sense because he does have problems with precision. This entire White House is not full of extremely disciplined people who say the same thing over and over again, as you are required to do in these kinds of interviews.

The other thing is, we are talking about, at this point, a hypothetical interview in his hypothetical reaction to it. Trump is always raising possibilities. It is the rose ceremony, boardroom ceremony presidency to sort of keep us on our toes and talking about this stuff. So I don't want to like project too far. But it does seems like a bit of common sense to go, hey, can he handle this? And I do think you're right. It's a possibility that he also rises to this bait and says, I'll go in there. And I -- there's something about pride going before the fall.

MATTINGLY: I will -- I will note, though, in kind of playing into that, and I think Sara touched on this in her reporting, having spent a lot of the campaign reading hundreds, if not thousands of pages of depositions from the president, or then candidate, he's got a lot of experience at this.

HAM: Right.

MATTINGLY: And he was pretty careful. There wasn't a lot of things, when I read through all those depositions, where it looked like he was getting himself into big trouble. And I think that might actually play a role of him saying, look, I've done this. I've done this for hours on end in however many cases you want to talk about, whether it's a Native American casino down in Florida, or something else. I can totally do this.

But I think, just to move aside for a bit, your point, I think, is the most interesting, which is, the idea that the special counsel was solely bringing him in to trap him on a -- on a measly lie -- and, sure, that's happened before. There's no question. But I just -- I think that that's kind of -- it's not what he set out to do. I don't think there's any sense that that's what his investigation is all about. And I think it would undercut everything that Bob Mueller has done over the course of his career to this point. So I think it's more of a strategy to back the president off than it is to try and lay out what actually could happen.

HAM: So what you're saying is maybe the other Trump we always hear about shows up in depositions?

MATTINGLY: Yes, 100 percent. I've got them all in my office. It's like this big. I'll transfer them to you.

HAM: (INAUDIBLE).

KING: In one of them, 30 times, 30 plus times they acknowledged he hadn't told the truth.

MATTINGLY: Yes.

KING: Thirty plus times.

HAM: Yes.

KING: OK.

We'll have another episode of the president's -- keeping up with the president's legal strategy, I promise you.

Up next, Joe Biden, as you just noted and saw right there, back in the spotlight, attacking the president and churning, yes, the 2020 rumor mill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:28:35] KING: As Democrats gear up for the 2018 midterms, one of their most prominent faces hitting the trail also one of the most familiar, the former vice president, Joe Biden. The VP will deliver a pep talk to House Democrats later today and is fielding requests for appearances from candidates all over the country. He's also taking shots at President Trump along the way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.: I just marvel at some of the things he says and does. Like, what, two days ago anybody who didn't stand up and clap for him was un-American and maybe even treasonous? I mean what the hell.

CHRIS CUOMO, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEW DAY": They say it was tongue and cheek, Democrats can't take a joke.

BIDEN: Well, let me tell you, he's a joke.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: While Biden and his team swear their focus is on 2018 squarely, just 2018, that's all we're doing, his travels this year of course will factor into whether he decides to run for president come 2020.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: If I can look in the mirror in two and a half, two years, and walk away knowing I'm not walking away because I'm afraid or I don't have the nerve to try to do the job or I don't want to make the effort, then I'll be -- happily walk away for real. And there's a lot of new folks that potentially are coming up here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A little math help for the vice president. You can't wait two and a half years to make your decision. He knows that, I think. He might have got a little lost there, caught up. If you're going to run for president, you have to make that decision pretty quickly after 2018 midterms.

[12:29:59] But let's start first with his appeal in 2018 because he is in demand. He is in demand if places, for example, where former President Obama might not be welcome.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: Where Hillary Clinton might not be welcome. Because this --

HENDERSON: (INAUDIBLE).

KING: The -- we -- you know, the nickname, scrappy kid from Scranton, why is that?