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Tensions Flare Between U.S. & Mexico; Speaking with Heads of State; President Heads to the Pentagon. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 27, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:11] MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: A border wall battle escalating on both sides of the Rio Grande. The White House laying out ways to get Mexico to pay for the wall after Mexico's president called off a trip to Washington.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All this as the president gets ready to host his foreign leader at the White House today. And overnight, we learn he will speak with another leader tomorrow. You don't want to miss who it is.

MARQUEZ: And President Trump making his first visit to the Pentagon since taking office to get started on a new plan to bring down ISIS.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Miguel Marquez. Happy Friday.

ROMANS: Nice to see you. Oh, it is Friday. I'm Christine Romans. It is January 27th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. Good morning, everyone.

And breaking overnight: an administration official telling CNN, President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to speak on the phone on Saturday. It will be their first conversation since the president took office.

However, that call goes, it will be smoother than the first foray into global diplomacy, with Mexico. The White House suggesting that it may try to pay for the border wall, with the 20 percent tax on imports from Mexico, though walk that back a bit later in the day. That proposal came after Mexico's president canceled the planned meeting with the American president. The Mexican leader under intense pressure at home after President Trump signed an executive order laying the groundwork for the border wall and vowed again to make Mexico pay for it.

And then, essentially, in the eyes of the Mexican people, insulting the Mexican people and the entire country by saying, unless you're going to pay for it, you should cancel this meeting. This all comes just hours ahead of President Trump's first face-to-face meeting with the foreign leader.

I want to bring in senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny for the very latest. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Christine and Miguel, President Trump is going to be meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May here at the White House today. It is the first meeting with a foreign leader of his young presidency. It's the first time he will have a chance to take a measure of her and vice versa, her of him. They'll be holding a press conference here as well, talking about so many issues between these countries and indeed around the world.

But it is a dust-up with another foreign leader, the president of Mexico, that is really causing the first diplomatic standoff of this new administration. Yesterday, President Trump said that he agreed with the Mexican president to cancel a meeting next week between the two leaders.

In fact, that is not exactly how it went down. The Mexican president said he would not come to the U.S. next week because of the issue over the border wall and who will pay for it.

This is how President Trump explained it in a meeting in Philadelphia Thursday with Republicans.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president of Mexico and myself have agreed to cancel our planned meeting scheduled for next week. Unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless and I want to go a different route. We have no choice.

ZELENY: Saying such a meeting would be fruitless, but that does not take away a challenge how the wall will be paid for. It is something that House and Senate Republican leaders do not agree on at all. On the House side, they are discussing putting a 20 percent tax on goods coming into the U.S. The Senate Republicans think that is a bad idea. Donald Trump is going to have them work it out, but it's going to be a cost of some $12 billion to $15 billion to build that wall if this plan goes forward here.

So, even as the British prime minister visits the White House today, still discussions, still ongoing controversy over that cancelled meeting with the Mexican president next week -- Christine and Miguel.


MARQUEZ: Thanks, Jeff Zeleny.

We have new details this morning on the cancellation of President Trump's meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. Mexican officials were in Washington planning for Pena Nieto's visit next week when President Trump tweeted that if Mexico won't pay for what he called the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the meeting. So, they did.

CNN's Leyla Santiago has more on what went on behind the scenes and how it's all being received in Mexico. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Miguel, we're getting new details on exactly how this cancellation went down.

According to Mexico's new foreign minister, he was at the White House meeting with Trump's staff, discussing the trip from Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto when he got word of that tweet. He asked for a break, stepped outside, called the Mexican president directly who then ordered him to go inside and tell them the meeting was off. But he's asked him to do that in a cordial matter. And that is how the cancellation went down.

This, by the way, going over pretty well with people here in Mexico. The Mexican senators who called for President Enrique Pena Nieto to cancel the trip, they're giving him a thumb's up. Former President Vicente Fox, he also said, good call, way to protect Mexico's interests.

[04:05:05] And as I've been out here, talking to people just on the streets, they seem to be pretty happy about this. And I think they feel that finally they are not being bullied, as if a sense of dignity has been restored -- Christine, Miguel.


ROMANS: All right, Leyla Santiago.

The White House floating this idea of 20 percent tariff on Mexican imports. To be clear, there is no official proposal on the table. This is something the administration says it's discussing. They say it would pay for the border wall. Economists say it would also hurt the U.S. economy.

The U.S. imported $296 billion worth of goods from Mexico in 2015. Twenty percent of that is $59 billion. That's more than double the top estimates for the cost of the wall.

Here is an important note: Mexican companies would not be paying that tariffs. U.S. companies would pay for it. The importer of record pays the tax for the privilege of bringing the goods in. Mexico's foreign minister who met with the Trump administration officials yesterday says it would make goods like avocados, appliances and flat screen TVs more expensive. Also, there are jobs at stake. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says 6 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico.

MARQUEZ: Here's a good one. So, what does Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican, think about the proposal for a tax on Mexican imports to pay for a border wall? The South Carolina Republican making his feelings very clear in a pair of tweets, saying, "Border security, yes, tariffs, no. Mexico is the third largest trading partner. Any tariff we can levy, they can levy huge barrier to economic growth."

Graham putting his own twist on the president's signature tweeting style, wrote, "Simply put with policy proposal which drives up cost of corona, tequila or margaritas is a big time bad idea. Mucho sad." I didn't realize he was bilingual.

ROMANS: Was that considered --

MARQUEZ: Mucho sad.

ROMANS: All right. As for the British prime minister's Oval Office meeting today with President Trump, she is expected to explore ways to boost trade between the U.S. and Britain. May warmly praised the president for his election victory in a speech Thursday in a Republican retreat in Philadelphia. The prime minister said, while the U.S. and U.K. share the burden of global leadership, there are limits to intervention moving forward.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is in our interests, those of Britain and America together, to stand strong together, to defend our values, our interests and the very ideas in which we believe. This cannot mean a return to the failed policies of the past. The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries to attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.


MADDOW: May's speech frustrated some Democrats who said she should not have gone to the Republican retreat, but should have spoken to members of both parties when she arrived to Washington.

MARQUEZ: Now, President Trump makes his first visit to the Pentagon as commander in chief. Today, he will preside over the swearing in of his new defense secretary, General James Mattis. He is expected to meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to present them with a series of objectives for fighting ISIS. The president is asking the military to use those objectives to develop a more aggressive strategy for defeating the terror group.

ROMANS: The president will make a stop at the Hall of Heroes in the Pentagon where he'll sign a series of executive orders relating to national security. White House is not offering up details. But President Trump is expected to begin the process of toughening refugee and visa policies for what he considers terror prone countries, something he addressed last night on FOX News.


TRUMP: The people that we're going against, they don't wear uniforms. They're sneaky, dirty rats. And they blow people up in a shopping center. They blow people up in a church. These are bad people.

When you are fighting Germany and they had their uniforms, and Japan, and they had their uniforms, and they had their flags on the plane, and the whole thing. We are fighting sneaky rats right now that are sick and demented, and we're going to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: President Trump was expected to sign an executive order launching an investigation of the false claim of voter fraud. That signing was postponed now without explanation.

MARQUEZ: Vice President Mike Pence will be the featured speaker at today's annual March for Life anti-abortion rally in Washington. It's the first time in the 44-year history of the event that anyone as high ranking as vice president has attended. March for Life organizers are hoping for huge crowds at the National Mall to compete with the turnout from last week's national women's march which drew hundreds of thousands of people. March for Life officials have been aggressively urging their followers to attend. But they say they have no way to gauge how many demonstrators will actually show up.

ROMANS: President Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is ramping up the administration's, quote, "running war with the media." Bannon is a former Breitbart news executive.

[04:10:01] He gave a rare interview to "The New York Times" and he did not hold back at all.

Listen to this. "The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while. The media here is the opposition party. They don't understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States."

He added this, "The elite media got it dead wrong, a humiliating defeat that they will never wash away." He also accused the press of being outright activists for the Clinton campaign.

MARQUEZ: And sources telling CNN that President Trump pressured the head of the National Park Service to find photograph proof to support his claims about the inauguration crowd size. Mr. Trump was said to be outraged over tweets that negatively compare the size of his inaugural crowd to Barack Obama's in 2009. The sources say he called acting director Michael Reynolds to complain that one such message was retweeted on the Park Service official Twitter account.

ROMANS: All right. A big shake up at the state department. Really big news over there. Several high ranking officials being told their services are no longer needed in the Trump administration. Why let all that experience walk out the door?


[04:15:24] MARQUEZ: Now, the Trump administration is cleaning house at the State Department. Four top management officials receiving a letter, informing them their services are no longer needed. Among those being shown the door is Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy who's been at the State Department since 1973. The move leaves a huge management void for incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who has no diplomatic experience.

We get more from CNN's Michelle Kosinski.



Yes, it's clear, even though the new secretary of state hasn't been confirmed that the new administration is starting to clean house. This is an entire top level tier here at the State Department. They have decades of experience each. I mean, combined it is more than 150 years of service.

And even though their career State Department people, they've gotten to the point where their current high level positions had to be appointed by a president and then confirmed by the Senate. So, as the process works, they submit their resignations now that there's a new administration. But it was expected that at least some of them would be asked to stay on, given their experience. I mean, when you think about it, decades here at the State Department. They have been through multiple administrations, including changes in party.

But what happened was they were told their services were no longer needed. They were not asked to stay on until their positions can be filled. That comes as a big surprise here to many. It's being called the single biggest loss of institutional memory that anyone can think of.

And it is absolutely the prerogative of a new administration to change out top people. But the concern is, with so much experience and knowledge of how the vast operation that is the State Department works, those positions are tough to fill -- Miguel and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Michelle Kosinski, thank you for that.

The head of the U.S. Border Patrol, Mark Morgan, is also stepping down. His departure after just six months on the job and a day after the president announced plans for ratcheting up immigration enforcement and building a border wall. Morgan had clashed with the border patrol union which endorsed Trump for president. It's not clear whether he actually quit or whether he was forced out.

MARQUEZ: And you won't be seeing many TV commercials urging Americans to sign up for Obamacare. The Trump administration is pulling all of them. The ads were scheduled to run the final few days of open enrollment period. But with President Trump and congressional Republicans vowing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, $5 million worth of commercial placements have been canceled.

ROMANS: All right. Many big cities are pushing back against President Trump's order to slash funding to sanctuary cities. But one big city is ready to respond to the order. You may be surprised which one.


[04:22:34] MARQUEZ: Well, as many major U.S. cities push back on President Trump's crackdown on sanctuary cities, Miami's Cuban-born Mayor Carlos Jimenez says he will comply, saying it basically comes down to money. Trump's executive order threatens to cut federal grants for any counties or cities that refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which means the city could lose millions. Trump taking to Twitter to respond to Jimenez's move, calling it the "right decision. Strong."

ROMANS: The man suspected of killing five people at the Ft. Lauderdale airport could face the death penalty or life in prison if he is convicted. Twenty-six-year-old Esteban Santiago is charged Thursday at a federal indictment. Prosecutors say he opened fire at an airport baggage claim area earlier this month. He killed five people, wounded six others. Santiago reportedly told FBI agents he carried out the attack on behalf of ISIS.

All right. Lake-effect snow hitting the Northeast today. Meteorologist Julie Martin joins us with the forecast.


JULIE MARTIN, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Miguel and Christine, winter making a big comeback here. A lot of cold air in place, even some lake- effect snow cranking up through the weekend. Some people could be getting one to two feet of snow in some of the usual suspects. The Tug Hill Plateau here going to get the bulk of it. If you are traveling along the I-81 or the New York thruway, down toward Buffalo, going to want to use extra caution over the next 24 to 48 hours.

Again, some of those totals through Saturday and through Sunday could be up to two feet. But that's really the big weather-maker over the weekend. The rest of the U.S. remaining relatively quiet and cold, high pressure in place. Take a look at some of these temperatures, though.

This is a look at the high temperature this afternoon -- 42 degrees for you in New York City. Considerably colder. You were up in the high 50s on Thursday. That wind chill is going to feel like 36. We're looking at a wind chill of around 20 in Chicago. And in Minneapolis, it's going to feel like 19.

So, get ready.


ROMANS: All right. Julie Martin, thank you for that.

All right. Welcome to diplomacy in the Trump administration. This is what it looks like. Mexico's president cancelling a trip over the border wall controversy. What should we expect when Trump hosts the British prime minister today and speaks to Vladimir tomorrow?


[04:28:55] ROMANS: Building a border wall. The White House laying out plans to get Mexico to pay after Mexico's president canceled a planned trip to Washington. MARQUEZ: All this as the president gets ready to host the British

prime minister. But it's the conversation Trump now has plan for tomorrow that's bound to stir up Washington.

ROMANS: And President Trump will visit the Pentagon for the first time since taking office. He will meet with top military brass to get started on his new plan to defeat ISIS.

There is so much going on. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

MARQUEZ: It's going to be a busy time.

I'm Miguel Marquez. It is 29 minutes past the hour.

Breaking overnight: an administration official tells CNN that President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to speak on the phone on Saturday. It will be the first conversation since Mr. Trump took office.

No matter how that call goes, it will likely be smoother than the president's first foray into diplomacy with our neighbor Mexico. The White House suggesting that it may try to pay for the border wall with a 20 percent tax on imports from Mexico -- though it walked that back a bit later in the day.

That proposal came after Mexico's president canceled the planned meeting with Mr. Trump.