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White House Press Conference; Trouble for Trump's Education Department Nominee; Trump Administration Puts Iran "On Notice"; Sean Spicer Talks Navy SEAL's Death During Yemen Raid; 900-Plus State Department Employees File Dissent Cable on Travel Ban. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 1, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: General Flynn, as well as countless if not hundreds of retired flag officers join a speaking bureau and has given speeches at various places. And I think, you know, that is something that is kept in practice. And the Department of Defense is, you know, the appropriate place for them to review it. But as I said, I think when you look at so many countless retired flag officers, that's something that keeps them.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sean, General Flynn, about your offer (INAUDIBLE) and Iran, is this something expected to hear more from this administration, whether it be on foreign policy or other issues, criticism of the previous administration going forward?

SPICER: I think in areas where there's going to be a sharp difference, in particular, national security, in contrasting the policies that this president is seeking to make this country safer, stronger and more prosperous, he's going to draw those distinctions and contrasts out. But in this particular area, I think the president, when it came to the Iran nuclear deal, was very, very adamant to his opposition to the deal and to its implications. And so, he's going to continue to make sure that the American people know that some of these deals and things that were left by the previous administration that he wants to make very clear what his position is and his opposition to them. And you know, the action and the notice that he put Iran on today is something that is important, because I think the American people voted on change. Again, this is another issue he was very clear about.

So with that, thank you, guys. I'll see you tomorrow. Take care. Have a good day.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: There you go, Sean Spicer with another news-making briefing here. He ran through so much.

Let's being with the headline on Capitol Hill. Betsy DeVos, who we know President Trump would like to have as secretary of education, she passed the committee so she's next up for the full confirmation vote. The hiccup, if I may, is as it's been reported, you have Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who are pledging that they will vote no, against Betsy DeVos.

Let's begin with that.

Phil Mattingly, let me bring you in, from Washington, to walk you through the significance. And you have these two Republicans saying no, that would mean the vice president would be the tie-breaking vote.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Vice President Pence coming out of the bullpen, if you will, to break the tie.

Let's explain why that matters. Sean Spicer was asked and he said 100 percent he was convinced Betsy DeVos would be the next secretary of education. Brooke, we've spoken a lot in the wake of Betsy DeVos' confirmation hearing and there was a lot of problems with how that came out. A lot of concerns that for somebody who had been so focused on voucher programs and things of that nature, didn't have quite the grasp or understanding of public schools. That was exactly the issue laid out by Senator Susan Collins and Senator Lisa Murkowski as to why they would not be supporting her nomination.

Why does this matter? We haven't seen the Republican wall break on any of President Trump's nominees. That's important because Republicans, on their own, can approve every one of the cabinet picks. But Betsy DeVos could afford to lose three Republicans. She has lost two Republicans. That means, assuming, Jeff Sessions, who is still waiting to be confirmed as attorney general, votes in the Senate, which I'm told he is expected to do, that would make it a 50/50 tie, so the vice president will be the tiebreaker. So, she will be approved. The big question now is, are we going to see any more defections. It appears no, most Republicans have all said they are with her nomination, but we didn't expect this. We knew they were wavering. Surprising that both came out on back-to-back floor speeches today -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Let me following up on the potential waiver.

I've got Maeve Reston and Bob Cusack.

Bob, let me go to you first.

Phil perfectly set it up and talks about the beginning of this Republican wall break. It could be just these two Republican ladies and that's it, and Betsy DeVos could sail through. It also might change. How do you see this playing out?

BOB CUSACK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE HILL: It's going to be a very close count and now the Republicans and the White House, there's no fat there. They have to get every other Republican to vote yes, so there's going to be a massive lobbying blitz. And the teachers' unions are going to go after Republicans they think they can get on the floor, maybe Heller, or Jeff Flake, and Republicans who are up for election in 2018. So, this is going to be an intense battle. And as Phil mentioned, this is the first time that any Republicans has deflected from President Trump's picks.

BALDWIN: Maeve, adding to this, we've been reporting, and Manu Raju has been stellar about talking about the boycotts, playing out as -- gosh, I don't want to say that. I don't want to say a drinking game. But they're furious with Senator Schumer and the Democrats because they feel like they're throwing sand in the wheel and they're slowing their roll.

[14:35:11] MAEVE RESTON, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: They are slowing their roll. The Democrats have a very weak hand to play here. But if you look at what happened this morning, the Democrats did actually manage to boycott Scott Pruitt, up for the EPA, but two other nominees sailed right through after the suspension of the rules by Republicans. And it sort of exemplifies how it leaves Democrats with only a few options to kind of slow-roll the nominations. But eventually, a lot of these people will be confirmed possibly without the -- with the exception of education.

BALDWIN: Right. That was significant today.

We also learned at the tiptop of that briefing you had the new NSA chief, General Flynn, come out and talk about this "provocative" - their word -- U.S. condemning this missile testing from Iran.

In case you missed it, here is it.


GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: These are just the latest of a series of incidents in the past six months in which Houthi forces that Iran has trained and armed have struck Emirati and Saudi vessels and threatens the United States and allied vessels transiting the Red Sea. In these and other similar activities, Iran continues to threaten U.S. friends and allies in the region.

The Obama administration failed to respond adequately to Tehran's actions, including weapons transfers, support for terrorism and other violations of international norms. The Trump administration condemns such actions by Iran that undermine security, prosperity and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East and which places American lives at risk. President Trump has severely criticized the various agreements reached between Iran and the Obama administration as well as the United Nations as being weak and ineffective. Instead of being thankful to the United States in these agreements, Iran is now feeling emboldened.

As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.


BALDWIN: So on Iran, I have Nic Robertson and General Spider Marks.

And, Nic, beginning with you, we have the response from Iran's defense minister, and we heard from General Flynn there as well. Explain to me exactly what Iran has done?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Iran has tested a medium-range ballistic missile, but they say they are allowed to do that because it's a missile that they say is not capable of carrying a nuclear payload. The understandings of the nuclear agreement they made in the summer of 2015 stipulates a number of issues that are laid out in U.N. Resolution 2231, and this is what Iran is saying, they haven't broken that. But we have heard from the French, the Germans saying this is a great cause for concern, that they think this Iran is upsetting the ability for nations, particularly the United States' new administration, to have confidence in Iran. They see this as very counterproductive.

We have heard from the E.U. spokesperson for the E.U. foreign - foreign representative, Fredrica Mogherini, who was in on these talks. What her office is saying is that this doesn't -- what Iran has done is a concern, but it doesn't break the words of that agreement.

I talked with a Saudi source, not a representative of the government, but what I'm getting right now is that this is a good thing, if you will, that Iran recognizes that the rules of the game have changed, if you will, that the United States is going to take a firmer line. That's not a Saudi government position, but that's what I'm understanding from Riyadh right now.

BALDWIN: General, how do you interpret this?

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely the same as Nic indicated. The key is that the development of technology and the development of nuclear technology are not independent. So, the concern is when you marry those two, you now have the ability to deliver a nuclear capability. And the range of that, it doesn't have to be extra atmospheric, in other words, an ICBM, to pose a threat. So, it needs to be watched very carefully. And I think, as Nic indicated, the Saudis see this as a good deal because this is a punch in the gut to the Iranians. And for General Flynn to say you are now on notice, the key thing in my mind is we've seen notices that have been put out before, we've seen red lines drawn. And many argue you shouldn't draw red lines. But what does "you're on notice" entail? That's the key point.

[14:40:00] BALDWIN: Right. And that's what was tried to get out of Sean Spicer. I don't know if I heard an answer, but, gain, echoing General Flynn today, we're officially putting Iran on notice.

I'll ask Tony Blinken about this in a moment. He'll join us momentarily.

Let me ask you both to stand by.

Another huge headline, the deadly raid in Yemen, the loss of life that Sean mentioned, the Navy SEAL who deployed 12 times.

Let's go to Sara Murray who asked about the raid.

What did the White House say?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPODNENT: It was interesting to hear Sean Spicer talk about this, because immediately after the raid, he called it a very successful operation, touting the number of al Qaeda operatives taken in this raid. But today, he walked that back a little bit by saying it's hard to say it was 100 percent successful when someone lost their life. There was a Navy SEAL who lost his life in this mission, someone the president spoke with his family yesterday. But he went on to say that this Navy SEAL, after speaking with the family, knowing his background, would have realized that the sacrifice was justified in terms of what they received out of the raid. But it was interesting how he adjusted his language. The White House seems to be walking a little bit the notion that it was a fully successful operation because of this American loss of life.

BALDWIN: Noticeably, the language that Sean Spicer used to answer your question, immediately acknowledging it is absolutely lost because of this young man serving our country.

General, just let me ask you about that, because initially, when we heard about this raid that the Trump administration put out a statement essentially saying this was the most successful raid, followed by, of course, our condolences to the family of Mr. Owings. He walked it back a tad today, was very careful. What did you make of that?

MARKS: I think you need to keep a personal face on every one of these missions, and that's what I heard the administration say today. We honor these young men and women and the sacrifices they make are just amazing. And every decision at the presidential level and with those delegated down, are very sober. Risks are understood, acknowledged and then mitigated. So, when you commit this type of capability, and if it's not simply a kill or capture mission, it is a mission to go after what we would anticipate an inventory of intelligence. That's a crystal-clear mission. It's done with a very, very mature focus, and everybody involves understands the risks. So clearly, it is a tragedy for the family. It is a success in terms of what was recovered.

And let's not forget, we are in a constant state of conflict here. We are going to see more of this, and they will continue to drive our attention and drive our efforts to try to get our arms around this very growing threat.

BALDWIN: Yeah, General Spider Marks, thank you so much.

Thanks, everyone, on this busy, busy news day.

Again, as we're watching the news up on Capitol Hill, the man up for the job as the next secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, his vote is in committee right now. Waiting to see if he passes through on to the full Senate.

Stay with us for more breaking news on CNN after this quick break.


[14:47:47] BALDWIN: Breaking news here on CNN. This is absolutely the full U.S. Senate vote confirmation for who President Trump would like to serve as the next secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. It's significant, what we are watching that play out on Capitol Hill.

Let's get to the global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott. Waiting on this vote, and whether or not he comes through if he's the next chief of the State Department. Secondly, your reporting 900-plus people signing this memo among the ranks opposing the president's travel bans.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, it's amazing. A couple of weeks, during Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing, the big concern from Democrats and some Republicans were his ties through ExxonMobil and whether or not that would play into Donald Trump's views being soft on Russia. And now it's like everyone is dying for him to come into the State Department. There's a lot of confusion. And you have a lot of career diplomats in revolt. More than 900 file an internal memo, called the dissent cable, to the State Department, to the incoming secretary of state, in a scathing protest of President Trump's new immigration policy, that ban on visas for citizens for the seven majority Muslim countries to halt all refugees.

And this memo, obtained by CNN, diplomats warning not only will it not achieve the goal of keeping America safe but will be counterproductive. Why? Because they say you're alienating seven -- six - six countries whose governments are friendly to the U.S., are fighting terrorism in the counterterrorism efforts, particularly the Iraqis, and also that it will increase anti-American sentiment across the globe, increase radical extremism and hurt the economy.

So, these long standing-diplomats serve both Republican and Democratic administration, but dissent is really a culture in the State Department. It's valued and encouraged, and they even give awards for it. And these diplomats speaking out about what they feel is a dangerous policy. From the White House, really, a warning to get with the program by press secretary, Sean Spicer, or get out. Today, he softened that message a little bit, but basically said, this is the president's policy, if you don't feel that you can follow it and implement it, you should think about getting out.

[14:50:38] BALDWIN: On the dissent and all your reporting.

Tony Blinken, let me bring you in, CNN global affairs analyst and former secretary of state under President Obama.

Great to have you on, sir, and welcome.

First, to Elise's reporting and this dissent cable and mega memo from staffers and diplomats who are none too pleased over the travel ban. Let's say Rex Tillerson comes through the confirmation hearing and is the chief of the State Department what is he facing on day one, two, three, four, continuing on?

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: He is facing a diplomatic core who wants to know he has their back. This is almost unprecedented to have this many people sign on to this dissent channel, and it's not just about the depth of feeling about the issue itself and the fact that the State Department was not at the table when it was decided by the administration, but also the reaction from the White House at least initially, saying that the people who opposed the policy should either get with the program or get out. That's not what the State Department officials wanted to hear. So, I think Secretary Tillerson coming in as an opportunity and maybe a real obligation to make it the first order of business to meet with this principle authors of this dissent channel memo to make it clear he has their backs. We had a dissent channel memo as recently as June, during the Obama administration on Syria policy. Secretary Kerry brought in them and spent an hour with them, explained why we took a different position, and they came out feeling they had been heard and they had been respected.

BALDWIN: It happened last summer, under a different president.

Talking about this missile test and Iran, and used very strong words, saying we're putting Iran on notice. How do you interpret that and how should the U.S. respond?

BLINKEN: Well, I'm not quite sure what putting Iran on notice means and it would be interesting to find out. There are two things going on. One, we obviously have to take missile tests by Iran seriously. And indeed, there are U.N. Security Council resolutions that remain in place. After the nuclear deal, we insisted they remain in place regarding Iran testing missiles capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. And if this violates that resolution, they need to be held to account. At the same time, we need to be equally clear that the test in and of itself is not actually a violation of the nuclear agreement. So, if the administration is looking for an excuse to pull out of the nuclear agreement, this is not it. You have to walk a careful line. This has to be taken seriously, but let's not exaggerate what it may or may not be.

BALDWIN: So back on your point that you don't fully understanding what being put on notice to Iran, was that not appropriate?

BLINKEN: It begs the question, what does the administration mean, and I suspect they'll need to answer that.

BALDWIN: Tony, how would the -- had this happened under the Obama administration how would you all have responded to this test?

BLINKEN: It actually happened. Iran tested missiles at various points during our administration. First of all, we would make clear that we condemned what they did, but also take the matter to the United Nations Security Council. That's where it belongs. That's where the resolutions are enforced, that this may, emphasize "may," have violated this. So, it should be taken up by the Security Council.

BALDWIN: So why does Iran keep doing this?

BLINKEN: That's a great question. A few things going on. Some will say they are simply continuing to make sure their own defenses are adequate and their own military capacity is adequate. Others will say that there are those in Iran who are actually trying themselves to undermine or sabotage the nuclear agreement we reached with Iran, to try to get us to respond, to try to get us to pull out of the agreement. Many in Iran, conservatives, don't like it. They see it as a Trojan horse in which, somehow, over time, the West builds better relations with Iran, and the entire rationale of their Revolution is taken away. So, we have to be smart about how we understand what's going on in Iran and what may be motivations the actions that they're taking.

[14:55:10] BALDWIN: Tony Blinken, thank you very much for your time. Appreciate you.

BLINKEN: Thanks. Good to be with you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up next, we're watching live pictures from Capitol Hill, the full U.S. Senate confirmation vote of who might be the next secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

Back in a flash.


BALDWIN: Before we take you back to Washington and continue on, breaking news happening on Capitol Hill, let me bring in my colleague, Maeve Reston.

This is good news. President Bush 41 and his wife out of the hospital. Out of the hospital. And they have some new plans on Sunday. Tell us the details.

RESTON: They do. They will actually be doing the coin toss at the Super Bowl on Sunday, which, obviously, is a wonderful thing, that a lot of people were really worried about the former president and sending their prayers. Their spokesperson said on Twitter, just a moment ago, that they're very pleased by the kind invitation to flip the coin and looking forward to it.

BALDWIN: That is awesome. So, whether you're a Patriots fan or a Falcons fan, you can look for the former president and former first lady there with the good old coin toss at --