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Democrats Boycotting Inauguration; Trump Approval Rating. Pentagon Readies ISIS Plan; Trump Angers Allies as Russia Comes to Defense; Band Pulls out of Inauguration; Trump's Health Bill. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired January 17, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:18] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you so much for being with me.

Right now inauguration preparations are certainly well underway. In a matter of three days, Donald Trump will be elevated to the highest office in the land and he will do it with the lowest approval ratings ever for a modern day president. Here is the latest polling from our CNN poll. And that is just one setback dogging the president-elect both here at home and abroad. You have more and more Democrats planning to boycott his inauguration this Friday. And listen now to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: I respect where they're coming from. There have been so many irregularities in this, most of all Russian interference. So I respect where they're coming from. I mean I think each person has to make his or her choice on his own, but I don't begrudge those who have said they're going to boycott.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Would you urge Senate Democrats to attend?

SCHUMER: I want each person to make his or her own decision.


BALDWIN: All right, so also leaders of ally nations are worried about Mr. Trump's next steps after his recent comments in that joint interview on NATO, on trade, on China, Germany, the European Union. So you have this cloud, right, emerging ahead of this Friday.

Then ethics questions could mar confirmation for his nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services. Another two nominees for education secretary and for interior secretary face confirmation hearings this afternoon. All of this is happening.

Heads are turning around the world over one person coming to Trump's defense. That person is this man, Russia' President Vladimir Putin. We will dig into all of this.

Let's kick off the hour with Sara Murray in Washington.

And so I know I keep getting e-mails. The number keeps changing as far as Democrats who are saying, thanks, but no thanks to a date in Washington this Friday.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Right, Brooke. We're up to about 50 Democrats in Congress who say they're going to be skipping the inauguration and the vast majority of those, aside from a couple, they're saying it's essentially a public boycott. And it just gives you a sense of how against, you know, sort of the pomp, the circumstance, the excitement we usually see around the inauguration, there are still deep divisions, there's a lot of unease for people around the country, but also even members of Congress. Now, Donald Trump's advisors were asked about this this morning on a transition call and they sort of shrugged it aside and said, ah, look, that will free up more seats closer to the front for people who really want to be there, but it is a shame, they acknowledge, that not all these members of Congress are attending. But it just sort of gives you a hint at just how deep some of their levels of concern are when it comes to the president-elect.

BALDWIN: Concern, yes. Secondly there is the approval ratings that we just threw up on the screen. But I want you to - you know, it's important to look back, not just at this, you know, incoming presidency, but previous presidents, especially in the wake of, right, the recount with President George W. Bush. Put it in context for me, these numbers.

MURRAY: Well, that's right, because you look at Donald Trump, who has this 40 percent approval rating according to our new CNN/ORC poll and say, what does that really mean?


MURRAY: Well, look at these past presidents who were in this same context. When President Obama was going in, he was at 84 percent. When George W. Bush was going in, he was at 61 percent. And, of course, we know there was plenty of controversy surrounding his election. And then when Bill Clinton was going in to the White House, he was at 67 percent.

So this is certainly a very low number for Donald Trump. It gives you a sense of the challenges he's going to face as he crafts this inaugural address to try to bring the whole country behind him. And we'll see if he continues to hammer home this notion that I'm president for all people.


MURRAY: One of the thing that could help him, though, is on the economy. There are still a number of people who believe that he is going to be a successful jobs president. And when he is asked about that in our CNN/ORC poll, 61 percent say he's going to create good paying jobs as posed to 39 percent who say that he is not. So maybe this will be a focus for him in his first weeks in the White House and maybe this is the kind of area where he says, OK, if I get a trade deal through, if I can get a tax plan through, maybe more people will come around to my side.


BALDWIN: Perhaps. Perhaps. Sara Murray, thank you.

And, of course, as Trump prepares to take office, some news out of the Pentagon today. CNN has learned the Defense Department is ready to supply the incoming administration with aggressive military options to accelerate the war against ISIS in Syria. These are options that could send additional U.S. troops into direct combat.

Let's go to Barbara Starr, who has the news from the Pentagon.

Barbara, tell me more about the options and what he could be weighing.

[14:05:00] BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Good afternoon, Brooke.

Well, the key word you've just said, "options." Now, you will remember during the campaign and since the election, the president-elect has said he wants his generals and admirals to give him a plan to win against ISIS. What we now know is, you know, they are putting together that very plan, that proposal set of options to brief President Trump has soon as he takes office and wants to hear them. Many of these options have already really been in existence, but not approved by the Obama administration.

So what are we talking about? Well, a big one would be, do you want to send more troops, U.S. troops, on the ground, near Raqqa, Syria? That is the ISIS stronghold in Syria. The U.S. wants ISIS out of there. There is a sense that the only way to do that is with troops on the ground. Do you want to put U.S. troops on the ground, a high-risk strategy, one the Obama administration wasn't willing to accept? So they will lay out for Mr. Trump those options. How many U.S. troops, the level of risk and what it would take.

But they will lay out other options for him. And one of them would be - it's a little complicated, but actually it's quite key to all of this, arming the Kurds. These are the Kurdish fighters that the U.S. is thinking about arming, that would fight around Raqqa while the Arab fighters would go into the city. Why hasn't that happened? Why did President Obama never approve that? Because the Turks, a NATO ally, object to that. They don't want the Kurds to get any more power. So we're beginning to see how the military is going to lay out all these options for Mr. Trump and see what he wants to do. They do feel, we are told, that these kinds of options would accelerate the fight, which is what Trump is looking for. But, still, it could take weeks or months to make a real difference.


BALDWIN: OK. So as these options are presented to Mr. Trump - Barbara, thank you so much - let's shift to, you know, geopolitics here with this new administration. Add China to the growing list of Donald Trump's antagonists this week. As the president-elect prepares to take his oath in just three days, he has managed to isolate the leader of one of the United States' most critical allies, that being Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, while European leaders are anxious alliances might be abandoned. China is troubled that traditions won't be respected and are threatening to, quote/unquote "take off the gloves" if Mr. Trump continues to provoke Beijing. I want you to listen to what Senator John McCain said on CNN about this today.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: He seems to want to engage with every windmill that he can find, rather than focus on the large aspect of assuming the most important position on earth. And, obviously, apparently, according to the polls, many Americans are not happy with that approach when he has not even assumed the presidency.


BALDWIN: Well, Trump can count at least one fierce and unprecedented defender, Vladimir Putin. The Russian president saying that those who leaked that unverified dossier implying Russia had dirt on Trump are, quote, "worse than prostitutes."

Let me bring in George Mitchell, former U.S. senator and former U.S. special envoy to the Middle East.

Senator Mitchell, it is always wonderful to have you on.


BALDWIN: Just beginning with Putin's language, trying to, you know, undermine - accusing the Obama administration to trying to undermine Trump's legitimacy. Obama has, by the way, been one of, you know, very high-end Democrats who said he's absolutely legit, right, the 45th president of the United States. It's extraordinary stuff. What do you make of the language and all of the above?

MITCHELL: Two issues concern me most. In the first and second world wars, 68 million people died. Hundreds of thousands of them Americans. And in a world in which the population was a third to a half of what it is now, the United States, then the dominant power, as now, led a worldwide effort to create alliances and institutions that would prevent a third world war from occurring and to restrain the dissemination of nuclear weapons.

There's a lot of criticism. It hasn't been perfect. All human efforts are imperfect. But I believe historians will judge that to be one of America's finest hours. One of the -

BALDWIN: So what are you - what are you saying, but not saying here?

MITCHELL: One of the lynchpins of that is NATO, the European Union and other institutions that try to engage countries in a common interest, in stability, security. We want democracy and peace. And it's largely worked. Yes, there have been conflicts. Yes, there's turbulence. Yes, time and circumstances change. But NATO has been a great success critical to the security of the United States and our European allies have stood with us in difficult times.

[14:10:02] Just take Russia, that you talked about.


MITCHELL: When Russia violated international law in the Crimea and Ukraine, the United States led the way to impose sanctions on them for violating international law. The Europeans stood with us even though their hurt by the sanctions in a way that we're not.

BALDWIN: So I'm hanging on your every word and I'm hearing what you're saying -


BALDWIN: But then we have to inject Trump in all of this, right?


BALDWIN: And what he said, you know, the list of China, NATO, European Union, Germany, the list of people, leaders he has really irked this week, which would make someone like you, it sounds like, nervous. Do you think this could be a businessman acting tactically with his language and this is maybe an opening negotiation and going all the way on one end, is this truly how he feels? Is this whim? How do you interpret it?

MITCHELL: I can't read his mind and many of his statements are, of course, internally inconsistent. In the same sentence that he said that NATO was obsolete, he said NATO was important to him. Leave out China now, I'm talking about Europe. I believe the president-elect has plenty of time to deal with this. Most presidents are remembered for what they do in office, not for what they say before they take office.

I hope that what he will do is convene a meeting of European leaders to reassure them that the United States stands by its allies, that the United States keeps its commitment and its word. And if, in fact, Russia takes further illegal action in the area geographically proximate to Russia, where remember they dominated through the use of force and oppression for a half century, that's what the demise of the Soviet Union meant, the loss of control over other countries and people, which they regarded as a buffer against western Europe and the United States. That's what Putin wants to regain control, as he has done, trying to do, in Ukraine, in Georgia, in the Baltics, in Poland, in the other countries. He has to know that if he militarily attacks them, it draws in the United States because they are our allies and they are our partners in NATO.

BALDWIN: OK. You were Middle East envoy under Obama. You have heard now - this is the second time Trump has mentioned his son-in-law, who's now a senior advisor, could potentially be the one to broker Middle East peace.


BALDWIN: Would you have advice for him? MITCHELL: He doesn't need advice from me. They have plenty of advisors

who are close to them. I will say, I wish them well. I seriously do. This is a critical issue. Stability in the Middle East is important to the United States as the dominant power and to the people in the region and to the preservation of Israel's security. And I hope very much that they're able to succeed where prior efforts, my own and others, have not succeeded. It will take a lot of effort, but I do believe it's going to happen, maybe not right now, because I believe that for both Israel and the Palestinians, not getting an agreement is more risky than the difficulty of getting and implementing and agreement. I - in other words, I believe it's in their self-interest.

Every American should read a speech made by George W. Bush, January of 19 - in January of 2008 in Jerusalem to Israelis and Palestinians where he said to them, Israel you have a very successful state, you don't have security. The only way you're going to get it is if Palestinians get their state. To the Palestinians he said, you don't have a state, you want one. The only way you're going to get it is if Israel has security. In other words, each of them has an interest in both succeeding. That's still true today. It looks like a long way from now. There's no reason to be immediately optimistic. But I believe that countries like people ultimately act out of self-interest and their self-interest lies in getting an agreement to live separately side by side in peace.

BALDWIN: And you would know better than most, and we will look up Bush 43's speech from Jerusalem.

Senator Mitchell, thank you so much for your time today.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: I really appreciate it.

And coming up next here on CNN, as we talk ahead, of course, to the big week for Mr. Trump, a Bruce Springsteen tribute band pulling out of the inauguration festivities this week. We'll talk live with the band about why and whether The Boss himself played a role.

Also ahead, we talk about the economy. Walmart, General Motors say they are adding thousands of jobs in the United States. So does Trump deserve the credit? Let's talk about that.

And after eight years in America's most famous house, we now know where the Obama's are going directly after inauguration.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:18:44] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, MUSICIAN: And I was born in the USA. I was born this the USA. I was born this the USA.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: That, of course, is The Boss, Bruce Springsteen. No, he will not be performing at Donald Trump's inauguration and neither is the prominent tribute band that covers his music. Not any more, at least. The B-Street Band just the latest act to drop out of performing at the big show this week.

Joining me now by phone is Will Forte. He is the band's keyboardist, manager, agent and publicist.

So, Will, thank you so much for taking time with me. I'm -

WILL FORTE, B-STREET BAND (via telephone): And keyboardist also.

BALDWIN: I think I said that. You've got a long title, my friend.

FORTE: Oh, did you say that? I'm sorry.

BALDWIN: I got you. I got you.

FORTE: OK, I didn't catch it. OK.


FORTE: Nice to - nice to talk to you this afternoon.

BALDWIN: Nice to have you on.

Will, you know, I have to ask, why did you guys get a phone call from Bruce or any of the guys in the B-Street Band to say, what are you doing?

FORTE: No, it didn't quite happen that way. We were hired to play a New Jersey gala that we had performed four years ago and eight years ago under President Obama's inaugurations. It's a non-political event that's used to - it's an event run by Jersey people to raise money for - for fundraising for charities.

[14:20:06] And we were - after - subsequently after playing the last two, we were - we did such a great job for them that they signed us to play again four years later after 2013. Now, of course, you know, of course the situation that developed became known that our band was playing this gala about a week ago and it went viral over the media. And it was basically saying that Trump hired the B-Street Band as a (INAUDIBLE) tribute for his inauguration, which really wasn't true. We were playing - like I have said in the past, we were playing a non- political event. It's a - and Jersey inauguration. The theme's all Jersey-based. The music is about Jersey (INAUDIBLE) -

BALDWIN: I got you. I got you, Will, you're feeling the Jersey love. You've played for the Obama inauguration. But, I mean, talk to me, when you say this whole thing went viral, what kind of backlash did you guys face?

FORTE: Well, we did. It was terrible. It was - you know, there was - you know, as we both know, emotions in this political arena is so high on both sides. And with Bruce Springsteen's music - and with Bruce Springsteen involved in it, meaning his music and his - and his band being brought out into the media, it just infuriated everything more. And here we are, as a cover band - I mean we're - we're a prominent tribute band. We're the longest running tribute band in the world, 37 years. We've raised millions of dollars and - for fundraising for cancer and Parkinson's and diabetes and personal tragedy in the name of Bruce's music, because they come to see us. We're the - the drawing attraction for that kind of event. And so we thought we could go out and tell our story to like - to like media like yourself. But what we found out was, we were caught in a hurricane. I mean it - just the frenzy was beyond anything we could ever expect, you know? So then we decided, we got together as a band -

BALDWIN: Well, let me just jump in because I want to share with everyone - hand on - hang on a second. On the hurricane -

FORTE: We got together and said, what's the most important thing to us. The most important thing to us is that it's not misconstrued that our respect and our gratitude for Bruce allowing - and the band allowing us to make our living and our livelihood and to go out and play, that's the imperative thing. If that gets distorted - if that gets distorted, then everything else, the contract that we had with the gala, everything else doesn't matter anymore. We just have to do what we feel was right, and that's why we decided not to play.

BALDWIN: OK, Will, I appreciate it. I just wanted to end on this tweet from the actual E Street guitarist Steven Van Zandt. He had tweeted this before you guys backed out. "Nice guys, met them. I wouldn't say right or wrong. Up to them. But it's naive to think one can separate art and politics. Art is politics."

Will Forte, the B Street Band, thank you so much for the time and keep on rocking. Keep on rocking I guess elsewhere.

FORTE: Thank you for having me. Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, General Motors, once criticized by President- elect Trump for building cars in Mexico, now says it plans to invest an additional $1 billion in American factories. Walmart also touting a plan to add thousands of U.S. jobs this year. Is this part of the Trump effect and should he take credit for that? Let's talk about it.

Also, boxes are packed, moving vans rolling in, CNN has new details on life after the White House for the first family and, by the way, where they plan to hop a plane to immediately after Trump's inauguration.

Back in a moment.


[14:27:55] BALDWIN: All right. So this new government report on Obamacare has some bleak news. The CBO, or the Congressional Budget Office, says repealing major Obamacare provisions without a replacement plan would quickly strip 18 million Americans of their insurance and cause premiums to skyrocket. But a critically important note here. This report is not based on the current plans for replacement that President-elect Donald Trump is now working on. In fact, the CBO isn't the only one clueless on Trump's health plan. It turns out that a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill were actually surprised to hear Trump's recent statement to "The Washington Post" when he vowed, quote/unquote "insurance for everybody."

So let's go to Manu Raju, our CNN senior political reporter, for us in Washington.

And so, Manu, you know, set us straight. We heard what, you know, Trump said to "The Post." How - how in the dark, or not, are Republicans in Congress?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, look, I've talked to several senior Republicans who would know about a health care plan from the Trump administration if there was one that they were briefing them on. And they're not getting any word from the Trump team about what this plan is, about - in terms of exactly how he plans to cover everybody in the president-elect's words, and the fine points of the policy.

In fact, Republicans are operating on their own plan to deal with the replace part of the repeal and replace when it comes to Obamacare. They want to deal with it on a case by case basis, piece by piece. Pieces they want to add some provisions in the repeal legislation that we're going to see up in the next coming weeks and then deal with some individual pieces through the regular legislative process in the coming months. But they have not gotten much word from the Trump team about exactly what they want to see in that proposal. So perhaps in a couple of weeks, actually next week, Brooke, Republicans - the House and the Senate are having a retreat in Pennsylvania. Donald Trump is expected to be there, as well as Trump transition, Trump administration officials, and expect more effort to try to get behind a cohesive plan because right now there's sort of - a lot of folks on Capitol Hill are kind of operating in the dark in terms of what Donald Trump actually wants.

[14:30:07] BALDWIN: OK, as this is their priority. We'll continue that conversation.

And also under the file of Obamacare, let's talk about the story you broke