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Trump to Sign Bill; Questions on Russian Legal Team; Trump Speaks about Spending Bill. Aired 1:00-1:30p ET

Aired March 23, 2018 - 13:00   ET

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


[13:00:00] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: New expressing his displeasure with some parts of the bill. But we are told now by two administration officials, the president does indeed plan to sign that spending bill which would fund the government through September.

But certainly some uneasy hours here in Washington as people were wondering if he was serious about the veto threat. But as of now, Wolf, we do believe, we are told, he intends to sign that spending bill.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Because he had just tweeted a little while ago, I'll read a couple tweets that he tweeted.

ZELENY: Sure.

BLITZER: This one, he said, I am considering a veto of the omnibus spending bill based on the fact that the 800,000-plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats, not even mentioned in bill. And the border wall, which is desperately needed for our national defense, is not fully funded. That's what he tweeted a little while ago.

And then just in the last few minutes he tweeted, news conference at the White House concerning the omnibus spending bill, 1:00 p.m. It's now just 1:00 p.m. here on the East Coast.

So the president clearly at a threat there, but now apparently he's decided to go ahead and sign this legislation?

ZELENY: That's what we were told by administration officials. And I do expect the president to have voiced those same concerns he was raising this morning, that you were just reading there. He is concerned about funding for the border wall. He is concerned about some of these thing in the spending law.

At the same time, fiscal conservatives across Washington believes this bill spends way too much, it's too big. So the president in some respects is trying to place blame on Congress for this to highlight that he's not happy with this but is indeed going to sign it anyway. If he would veto this bill, Wolf, if he would surprise people, and he has been known, of course, to surprise and march to his own drummer here, that would touch off a cascading series of events because the House and Senate are not in. They've -- almost all of them have left Washington. So the government would shut down. But we are not expecting that. We are told by administration officials, he is going to sign it and voice his reservations at the same time, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, they're setting up the diplomatic reception room right now. The White House press pool getting ready to go in. The president presumably will make a statement and then he will sign this legislation into law, and then maybe, maybe, we'll see if he answers any reporters' questions. The president calls it a news conference. We'll see if it actually is a news conference, as opposed to a simple signing ceremony and statement by the president.

Jeff, stand by.

I want to bring in our panel.

Our CNN political analyst David Gregory is with us, our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju, our chief national correspondent John King, and our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Most of the senators and the representatives, they've split. They're out of town already. And if he were -- doesn't sign this into law, the government shuts down at midnight tonight.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: The government shuts down and he doesn't get to go to Mar-a-Lago. And John and I were discussing this earlier. I think he's scheduled to go, what, later this afternoon.

I think what the president wants to do, particularly if he signs this, is be on the record saying, this is what I don't like about it, and the Democrats are forgetting the dreamers, and what about my wall, and I'm going to make these demands. But otherwise he would -- he would be shutting the government down, and our reporting says he doesn't want to do that.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But it's -- it is a remarkable moment in the sense that what the president is about to do, assuming the sources are correct that he's going to sign this bill and he doesn't pull out the rug underneath from everybody yet again, underscoring both the chaos, the dysfunction and the weakness of his presidency. He signed off on this deal two days go. His people went out, told the leaders of Congress, told people who didn't want to vote for it, please vote for it, the president wants it. They spoke publically for it. He wakes up this morning and threatens to veto it. Now he's going to walk into a room and sign it after conservatives, Rush Limbaugh on the radio, all over Twitter conservatives saying, please, Mr. President, this is a bigger spending bill than Barack Obama could have ever dreamed of. This is a Democratic bill, not a conservative bill, veto it.

He built up their hopes. And now he's essentially going to sign a bill, he's going to prove, I'm Donald Trump, my brand is strength. I cannot get what I want, not even little bits of what I want, from a congress controlled by my party. So it's chaos, it's dysfunction and it's presidential weakness. BORGER: Well, it's also -- you get a sense, and maybe I'm wrong, that

he wasn't paying much attention --

KING: Right.

BORGER: To what was in the bill. I mean it is an omnibus bill, so it is large. But clearly he had been briefed on it. But how much attention was he paying to it.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And this has been a product of months of negotiations --

BORGER: Right.

RAJU: That have occurred between the leadership, between the White House officials. White House officials knew what was in this bill. They knew they were not going to get everything they wanted because they made the calculation that those people who were upset, the Freedom Caucus, the Rush Limbaughs of the world, they weren't going to be happy with this bill so they cut them out of the negotiations. Instead, they tried to cut a bipartisan deal to get Democrats on board. Something that they know they could get through. And, as a result, it was something that conservatives wouldn't like because it spent a lot more money than they ultimately wanted.

They did get a lot of priorities that individual members of congress could campaign on in their re-election bids, which is why you saw a significant amount of Republicans support it despite the concerns from the right. But the president should have known what was in this bill before Friday morning and threatening to veto it because the White House was involved with this.

[13:05:08] DAVID GREGORY, CNN : It's becoming classic President Trump, right, which is, he wants to now be the outsider and say, look what they've done. This is the swamp at work. This is an ineffective party at work. He transcends politics in his own mind.

At the same time, to your point, John, about the weakness, which is, to state the obvious, he's in a rather independent mode at the moment where he's deciding that he'll do -- he'll run the government the way he shall like. No one will tell him what to do. And so he says, yes, I'll just veto this and I'll blow this thing up. And then decides, well, no, OK, I can't quite do that, so then I'll go back to, I'm the outsider guy.

It is so head-snapping that I think he defies people to say, oh, no, no, no, I'm actually weak. I'm showing my strength. I threatened to do this, but now I backed off of it, but I'm still very much in control. Nobody believes that because the truth is he couldn't get what he wanted and yet he's still getting some things out of this.

KING: He said it would be easy. This is what he campaigned on.

GREGORY: Right.

KING: The politicians are stupid. They don't know how to cut deals. I will cut better deals.

GREGORY: Right.

KING: And he said he would make compromises, which is good for him. That's part of the process, especially when you have an evenly divided Senate. But the -- what he tweeted about this morning, Wolf, is, you know, he did not get -- he did not get a lot of wall funding and he's saying that it's the Democrats' fault that the dreamers don't get protected here.

The Democrats offered the president that deal. $25 billion, not $614 million. Do the math.

GREGORY: Yes.

KING: $614 million or $25 billion, with a b. The Democrats offered him that deal, but they wanted a path to citizenship for the dreamers. The president would not accept that deal, in part because people said you'll have a revolt among conservatives in the House. It's a midterm election year. So the president made that choice days and weeks ago and now he's second guessing himself in threatening to blow up the deal this morning. And now he's apparently going to sign it.

BORGER: And he's calling his own press conference. Can we just -- can we just say that.

KING: He can only take questions if the --

BORGER: He is -- but he is his own communications director.

BLITZER: He's calling it a news conference. Let's see if it really is.

(CROSS TALK)

BLITZER: He hasn't had a real, formal White House news conference, what, in more than a year.

BORGER: Right, but --

GREGORY: You know, the other big news of the day obviously is John Bolton, his national security adviser. You know we know in particular, having covered the Bush White House, the lack of process here, right, the lack of good debates and any kind of thoughtful process leads to really horrible results. It can result in life and death and not just, you know, the titillation of the aspects of the Trump presidency. He is in a mode right now here he is clearly demonstrating he is not listening to people who advise him. This should be a deeply worrisome moment, whether you support him or you don't support him, whatever policy you care about, the lack of process here really does matter.

RAJU: And this is probably why it's important for the president to come out, speak, take questions, too, because clearly his people cannot speak for him anymore.

GREGORY: That's right. That's right.

RAJU: Time after time they have been undercut by this president --

BORGER: Right.

RAJU: Whether it's been about H.R. McMaster, or it was about Secretary Tillerson, about this spending bill, and Mick Mulvaney said before the mics yesterday the president would sign it before this veto threat this morning. So the president is the person who should be answering questions because he can obviously be the only person who can speak for himself.

BORGER: Well, he's also taken over his legal strategy. I mean not only is he operating his White House as he operated the Trump Organization -- someone told me this morning who has known him for a long time, said, just remember, the Trump Organization, there were only vice presidents. There was like no executive vice presidents. There were only vice presidents. And he said that's what the White House is. There are only vice presidents. There's only one guy in charge. And as Steve Bannon said yesterday, if John Kelly goes, he'll be his own chief of staff.

And so the president now is calling his own press conference, calling his legal -- you know, calling the shots for his legal team, calling the shots for his congressional leaders. It's, you know, a man in full.

BLITZER: I just want to set the scene for our viewers. You're looking at the Diplomatic Reception Room. You see the president will make a statement at the micro there. There is a table set up. Presumably that's the table where the president will sign this legislation, a $1.3 trillion spending bill to keep the government operating until the end of September, $1.3 trillion.

The president was getting grief not only from some commentators, conservative commentators, too much money, this is a Democratic bill, getting grief on Fox News, among other places. But even some senators, Bob Corker, when -- in response to this threat from the president about a veto, please, do, Mr. President. I'm just down the street and will bring you a pen. The spending levels without any offsets are grotesque, throwing all of our children under the bus. Totally irresponsible.

Rand Paul, another Republican senator, said, I agree, Donald Trump should veto this sad excuse for legislation because it's $1.3 trillion in spending that almost no one read.

KING: So he opened -- reignites a debate within his own party. It's a midterm election year. The number one asset anybody has in a midterm election year is party unity, party intensity, party energy. The Democrats have it. We have seen that consistently in the elections. The Republicans do not right now and the president puts a match to this fire and pours gasoline on it again. Are we true conservatives? Why did we win the White House and the Senate and the House if we're going to pass a spending bill bigger than anything we ever sent Barack Obama? That's the debate in the Republican Party right now.

[13:10:09] And so the president's now about to sign it. Manu noted, what, during the end of "INSIDE POLITICS" the YouTube channel says it's a bill signing. So the president's going to sign it after building up conservative hopes this morning. That's an important short term question.

This also could be, if the Democrats take back the House, or even if they just win a lot more seats in the House, they will have more leverage, maybe even power, next year. This could be the last spending bill that the president has any real influence over, any significant influence over, and it gives him almost nothing of what he wanted.

It does give him his military spending. The president should get his due there. He leaned in. He wanted more money for the military and he gets it. But he doesn't get his wall money. He doesn't get his infrastructure plan. And he doesn't get other presidential priorities and the Republicans want to go home and campaign. They don't want to do anything else big this year. And there's a possibility that next year's budget will have a Speaker Nancy Pelosi, not a Speaker Paul Ryan, coming down to the White House to explain it to the president.

BORGER: And what were Republican upset with George W. Bush about? They were upset about his spending, period. They thought Bush was a spender. Well, he's a piker compared to -- compared to this. And so if they ever had any doubts about how conservative the president was on fiscal issues, this -- you know, this kind of ends it.

RAJU: And the reason -- and the way this was all rolled out, too, was a way to kind of limit the dissension within the ranks. They unveiled this on Thursday --

KING: That went well.

RAJU: Exactly. They knew there was going to be an outcry over this process. They unveiled this 2,200-page bill Thursday night nobody had read. They jammed it through the House on Friday, jammed it through the House and the Senate on Friday also that nobody had read. But let the people let off their steam and then sign the bill, move on in the weekend but --

BLITZER: Yes, they quickly passed it in the House, (INAUDIBLE) passed it in the House, passed it in the Senate. Now the president presumably will sign it into law. He's going to be making a statement, then he'll do the signing ceremony. We'll see if he takes questions from reporters.

We've also been told that the White House press briefing, which had been scheduled for this hour with Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, has been canceled in lieu of the president's statement.

Stand by. Much more on the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:16:15] BLITZER: We're following breaking news.

Momentarily we're told the president will go into the Diplomatic Reception Room over at the White House, make a statement and sign a $1.3 trillion spending bill into law. Only a little while ago he had threatened to veto it. He released a tweet in which he said, I am considering a veto on the omnibus spending bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats, not even mentioned in bill, and the border wall, which is desperately needed for our national defense, is not fully funded.

The president, we're told, will make a statement and then he will sign this legislation into law. We'll see if he answers reporters' questions.

Gloria, if there are reporters' questions, and there will be a pool of White House reporters inside, will ask the president some questions. He might just say "thank you" and leave, or he'll answer some questions. I suspect some of those questions might not necessarily be questions he wants to be asked. For example, the Russia probe and his new legal team.

BORGER: Sure. He doesn't -- clearly doesn't want to be asked about that. And Pamela Brown, Evan Perez and I are reporting just now that Joe diGenova, who was announced earlier this week, is joining the legal team. Now his role on that legal team is in question. Joe diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, met with the president yesterday afternoon. And our sources tell us that while the president liked their message, he is now not convinced that they are right for the legal jobs. And so maybe they'll join the legal team, maybe they won't. Maybe they'll be in a more PR role than a legal role.

But Jay Sekulow, one of the president's attorneys, did announce on Monday that Joe diGenova will be joining our legal team later this week. And after this meeting yesterday, we are not so sure.

GREGORY: Isn't that -- I mean one thing you have to appreciate about this president and his presidency is how incredibly transparent the chaos is, because he literally is sharing what he's thinking about, and we into the -- we are in on every part of the process. The flow of the decision making up and down. I mean, again, I think it's no way to run a country or a government because of what the dysfunction creates and what the implications of that are. But we are really seeing that. And you know that Trump is lashing out in lots of directions. We haven't talked about Stormy Daniels and the other accusers and so forth who are giving interviews, fearing that that could become part of the independent counsel. Someone's clearly gotten to him and said, Joe diGenova is great to go on Fox News, may not be the one you want as the (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: Well, I'm not so sure about that. I think it might be the president himself.

GREGORY: Who's saying (INAUDIBLE) --

BORGER: I mean, you know, because as we know, he is newly emboldened and believes that he now knows how to run the White House --

GREGORY: Yes.

BORGER: And he's -- he's running the White House. I think he has this meeting yesterday. People have raised questions about conflict issues with Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing because they represented other witnesses in the Russia investigation.

RAJU: It just really just --

BORGER: That's why -- one of the reasons John Dowd quit.

BLITZER: You know, I want to just point out, that box that we're seeing next to the microphone over there looks like it's the actual legislation, the 2,200 pieces -- the 2,2000 piece legislation.

GREGORY: I thought it looked like a suggestion box for a minute.

BLITZER: Manu, don't you think the president will make a statement. Take a look at this monstrosity.

RAJU: Yes. Which is --

BLITZER: He's not very happy with this.

RAJU: No.

BLITZER: Although, in order to avoid a government shutdown, he's going to sign it into law.

RAJU: And typically when you do that, you have those kind of optics, you're criticizing something. Pretty remarkable this is --

GREGORY: Like the other party, not the one you control. Who controls Congress.

RAJU: Yes. Exactly. Which essentially is the surprising things given if he's -- if he is planning on signing it, unless he changes his mind and is going to veto it and shock everybody, that's going to be a pretty remarkable scene there to criticize something that was a product of his own White House in Republican leadership and Democratic leadership that he thought he was fully behind. But the president clearly has a --

[13:20:05] BLITZER: I think that's his budget director, John, Mick Mulvaney, worked with the legislators in the House and the Senate. He was clearly on board. Marc Short, the legislative director at the White House, he was clearly on board. And then for the president a few hours ago to say I'm considering a veto, have you ever seen anything like this unfold before, that just before a signing ceremony the president is telling everyone I might veto it?

KING: Only in this administration have we seen anything like this where, again, they come out and they say, Rex Tillerson's not going to be fired. A week or two later, Rex Tillerson's fired. H.R. McMaster's job is safe. H.R. McMaster is then fired. The president's happy with his legal team. John Dowd resigns as the head of his legal team.

To the point Gloria just made, you know, this is the president's decision. This is a dangerous time to have a murky disconnect in your legal team because anybody who's gone in to the special counsel understands, this is a solid team of tried and tested prosecutors who have recreated meetings, to have all these e-mails. They are incredibly detailed and disciplined. If there is unfocus or lack of coordination, lack of senior voices, lack of the client listening in the Trump legal team right now, it's a perilous time to be messing around with your lawyers.

BORGER: Well, and that's why the legal team -- and they're still -- you know, they're still putting out feelers, you know, the help wanted sign for some more lawyers to come --

KING: As they negotiate whether the president of the United States should sit down with a team of veteran --

BORGER: Exactly.

KING: Solid, highly detailed, meticulous prosecutors. Good luck.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: And they tried to get Ted Olson, who is one of those excellent attorneys with a lot of experience here in Washington and he's -- he's --

GREGORY: He's actually a grown-up who expects to be listened to.

KING: Right.

GREGORY: So he's not going to sign on.

BLITZER: He was solicitor general.

KING: And treated with respect.

GREGORY: And treated with respect.

BORGER: Can you imagine --

KING: That's the --

GREGORY: It's not what this president is -- yes.

KING: This is -- David makes a key point. A lot of the grown-ups in town -- lawyers know clients who say no and disagree with their strategy. But they expect to be treated with respect. They don't expect to be having their croissant in the morning or their coffee in the morning and get slammed on Twitter.

GREGORY: Yes.

BORGER: Right. They also expect to be paid, that's another thing. They expect their advice to be listened to.

RAJU: Yes, and they love their client to listen to them.

BORGER: And it's hard to reason -- but now the client is the lead attorney, and that's a problem because the president is directing all of this.

BLITZER: Once again, we're standing by. The president's going to be making a statement just before signing this legislation into law. $1.3 trillion spending bill. It will keep the government operating until the end of September. We're standing by to hear from the president. We'll see if he answers reporters' questions. If he does, presumably those questions will be on a whole range of issues he doesn't really want to answer.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Momentarily the president will walk into the Diplomatic Reception Room over at the White House. He'll make a statement and then he will sign into law this $1.3 trillion spending bill, reluctantly. He'll complained about it. There's no doubt about that. Only a little while ago he told everyone via Twitter, I am considering a veto of the omnibus spending bill. He didn't like it, but not apparently, on second thought, he's going to go ahead and sign it into law.

[13:25:03] If he didn't sign it into law, the possibility certainly exists, the government would shut down at midnight tonight. The House and Senate, they are no longer in session. Most of the members, they've already left Washington on various assignments, either gone back to their districts or on overseas travel, so they're not even around. If he doesn't sign it into law, the government will shut down, at least for the time being.

Here's the president of the United States.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, everybody.

We have a lot of good news to report. Some tremendous trade deals are being made with various countries. We're negotiating very long, very hard but very quickly. And the deal with South Korea is, according to Secretary Ross and Bob Lighthizer, is very close to being finished. And we're going to have a wonderful deal with a wonderful ally. We're getting very close to it. It was a deal that was causing a lot of problems for our country in terms of employment and in terms of lots of other things.

I might ask Secretary Ross to just say a few words about that, and then we're going to get on to this ridiculous situation that took place over the last week.

So, Secretary Ross.

WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: Thank you, Mr. President.

We believe we are relatively close to a pretty comprehensive resolution with the South Korean government. It would encompass, if it goes through, both the 232s and broader trade issues. And we hope by sometime next week to be able to have a real announcement. TRUMP: Thank you very much, Wilbur. I appreciate it.

The last time we negotiated something like this, and as you know it's always been a problem for our country, they get together and they create a series of documents that nobody has been able to read because it was -- it was just done. Now, you tell me who can read that quickly. It takes a long time to read it.

For the last eight years, deep defense cuts have undermined our national security, hallowed our -- and they just -- if you look at what's taken out, they've hallowed our readiness as a military unit and put America at really grave risk.

My highest duty is to keep America safe. Nothing more important. The omnibus bill reverses this dangerous defense. As crazy as it's been, as difficult as it's been, as much opposition to the military as we've had from the Democrats, and it has been tremendous. I try to explain to them, you know, the military is for Republicans and Democrats and everybody else. It's for everybody. But we have tremendous opposition to creating really what will be the far -- by far the strongest military that we've ever had. We've had that from the Democrats. So if we take something for the military, they want something for, in many cases, things that are really a wasted sum of money. It's not right and it's very bad for our country.

We're looking to do funding for our final fight in certain areas. As you know, we've gotten just about 100 percent of our land back from ISIS. We have troop increases necessary to accomplish what we have to do. And we have, very importantly, a pay increase for our troops. And this will be actually the largest pay increase for our incredible people in over a decade. It increases total defense spending by more than $60 billion from last year and funds the addition of critically need ships, planes, helicopters, tanks and submarines.

We have submarines being built the likes of which there's nothing anywhere in the world like the submarines we build. Our military equipment is the best equipment in the world. And one of the things you saw two days ago with Saudi Arabia and with other countries, Saudi Arabia, as an example, is buying hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of our equipment. And we're getting very fast approvals on that.

[13:29:47] Therefore, as a matter of national security, I've signed this omnibus budget bill. There are a lot of things that I'm unhappy about in this bill. There are a lot of things that we shouldn't have had in this bill, but we were, in a sense, forced if we want to build our military, we were forced to have. There are some things that we should have in the bill.