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Trump at National Prayer Breakfast: Pray for Schwarzenegger Ratings; Paul Ryan Press Briefing; Tillerson Faces Problems with Iran, Australia, Mexico; Trump Meets with Congress at White House; McCain: Trump/Turnbull Dispute "Unnecessary and Harmful". Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 2, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:32:59] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been a total disaster. And Mark will never, ever bet against Trump again. And I want to just pray for Arnold, if we can, for those ratings, OK?

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ACTOR & SHOW HOST: Hey, Donald, I have a great idea. Why don't we switch jobs? You take over TV, since you're such an expert on ratings, and I'll take over your job. And then, people can finally sleep comfortably again, hmm?


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That was President Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning asking for prayers for Arnold Schwarzenegger and "The Apprentice" ratings. There was rapid response from the former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger on that subject.

Joining us now to discuss this and more serious issues as well


BERMAN: -- Jess McIntosh, former director of communication outreach for the Hillary Clinton campaign; Mike Shields, CNN political commentator and former chief of staff to Reince Priebus; and Reid Wilson, national correspondent for "The Hill."

Reid, let me start with you.

On the one hand, this was the National Prayer Breakfast. Usually, you pray for things like the country, other countries, peace, wellbeing, things like that. It's unusual to pray for television ratings for "The Apprentice."

On the other hand, Reid, I laughed. I also laughed as the comments from Arnold Schwarzenegger. So, is this OK or is this over the line?

REID WILSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE HILL: When was the last time President Trump did something and you thought, that was normal? This is a White House that is going to blaze a new trail and start a new path. It's a president who is completely unscripted, somebody who is more comfortable talking off-the-cuff about his own success, as we saw with his phone call with the Australian prime minister, about his election results, even in conversations with international leaders than he is --




BOLDUAN: Hold on one second.

BERMAN: We're going to listen to House Speaker Paul Ryan taking questions right now.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It's a very important ally. Australia is an essential ally. They are and will continue to be. I think it's important that presidents and prime ministers, heads of state, are able to have candid and private conversations with one another.


RYAN: A twofer.


[11:35:04] RYAN: Did he? Did he -- do the accent or --


RYAN: Say that again.




RYAN: Yeah. I'm not going to comment on this stuff. Let's talk about policy. Let me go in the back.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE). Most employer-based health programs (INAUDIBLE) what is the model for that?

RYAN: The model is the plan we ran on last year that you can go to and take a look at. You want a vibrant individual and employer market. We want Medicaid to work so states can innovate and so doctors will take patients. We want Medicare to be solvent. We want Medicare to be something you can depend on when you retire. What we want is choices. We don't want one choice. That's not a choice. We want to have more insurers and providers in the marketplace competing against each other for our business as consumers and patients. We want patients and doctors to be the driving force and the nucleus of a health care system, instead of some government regulator telling you what you have to buy and where you have to buy it. We want a lot of insurers competing for our business. That's what I mean when I say choice.

The point of all of this is, it's the cornerstone of the free enterprise system in America. The more choices you have, the more competition there is, consumers benefit from that. And that is obviously true in health care. And it is one of the big reasons why Obamacare is collapsing.

Look, as you heard me say, how few choices and options there are because of Obamacare. It is not coincidental that we have double- digit premium increases every year, that the deductibles for Obamacare exchange plans are three times as high as people in the large group insurance markets that they get from their jobs. Clearly, this law isn't working. It is collapsing. And, yes, this is what we call a death spiral. You're not getting the kind of pooling that needs to be allowed with choice and competition to get rates down. We had to step in and replace this law before it's too late, before people lose what they already -- their insurance.


RYAN: The words, you're talking about. Right?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) The allegation that you're intentionally -- can you respond to that?

RYAN: There's a misinterpretation of what we're trying to say. Our job is to repair the American health care system and rescue it from the collapse that it's in. And the best way to repair a health care system is to repeal and replace Obamacare. It's not an either/or. If you want to repair the American health care system, you've got to repeal the law that's destroying it and replace it with a system that's much better.


RYAN: Thank you. I know most of you, but thank you for saying that.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) The chairman wasn't sure when the committee was going to be (INAUDIBLE)also to the other question, sexual identity and orientation.

RYAN: I voted for in 2004. I can't remember when that bill was. I don't believe in discrimination in the workplace, period.

Back to your health care point, what was your health care question?


RYAN: The timeline. So, all defer to the chairman when he wants to have his markups. We want to be moving our Obamacare legislation by the end of the first quarter.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you support tapping the exclusions for (INAUDIBLE)

RYAN: I always have. There's no secret. I had a bill when we were debate Obamacare that did that.

My own position is very clear. Where Congress goes on this is an open question. That's one of the ways you can finance tax credits. There are other ways of financing tax credits as well.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) Are you totally comfortable with Trump's executive order (INAUDIBLE)

RYAN: Sure. That's a good question. Because you know this is not a Muslim ban. If it were, I would be against it. We are a tolerant, pluralistic country. We are, and we will be. It's really important.

The bill we passed last year, if you recall, after the Paris shooting, it became clear to us that one of the terrorists infiltrated the refugee population coming from Syria. We wanted to make sure that that didn't happen here in this country. That's like national security 101. And then when we inquired among our professionals at Homeland Security and the FBI, can you properly vet these people so you can make sure this doesn't happen in America, they said, no, we can't. That's why we passed legislation, with 289 votes, a big bipartisan bill, saying let's pause this program until we can figure out how to get this right. That's effectively what this is about.

To your point about religious persecution, presidents always and often put preferences in refugee populations. I think President Obama had one for sexual orientation. They didn't call that a sexual orientation test. He put a preference in for sexual orientation. Religious minorities are being persecuted. There's nothing wrong with preferring religious minorities from persecution. The Yazidis are being persecuted. Sunnis in Shia countries are being persecuted. Christians are being persecuted. There is nothing wrong with saying we're going to take into account minority religious persecution with our refugee situation.


[11:40:57] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The question of Australia, what about the perception, and do you have concerns (INAUDIBLE)


RYAN: Of course, I do. Of course, I do.


RYAN: Like I said, I didn't read the transcript so I can't speak to the president's --



RYAN: But I do think that there is a perception issue. And I think this loose rhetoric that suggests that this is a religious test or Muslim ban is wrong because it furthers that perception, because this is not that. So, I do think it's important for people to pause and look at the actual context of this. Look at the press conference that Secretary Kelly had to put this in its proper perspective so that it is not misinterpreted as being something that it is not.


RYAN: I said this on Tuesday, it could have been done a lot better. Green card holders, no one wanted green card holders to get caught up in this. The rollout could have been done much better. We all know that. Going forward, let's make sure we're not saying this is something that it's not so that we further misperceptions.


RYAN: Well, my position on sanctions are pretty clear. I think Rex Tillerson will be a great secretary of state. I think people who don't know him or haven't followed him very closely will be pleasantly surprised. This is a very capable man. He's a good model for secretary of state.

I don't know what their policy is going to be with Russia. I'm a Russia hawk. I think the sanctions should have been done a while ago.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think a lot of this stuff, you talk about the rollout, this came through Congress, would this have been a more smooth process?


RYAN: Are you talking about the executive order?


RYAN: Yes, I think they could have done a better job on the rollout of the executive order. They don't even have a full cabinet in place yet. It's important to get their cabinet up and running so these interagency reviews could be done well. And I think going forward, they're going to do a better job of these things.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Donald Trump said this morning he's going to renege on a deal with Australia. That's the first time we've heard from the president directly on this. Is this problematic that this is the way diplomacy is being conducted and should Australia be worried?

RYAN: I don't think Australia should be worried about its relationship with the president or this country. No, Australia is an important and essential ally. It will continue to be. You haven't been, maybe, to many press conferences. I typically don't comment on the tweet of the hour.



RYAN: I would be in favor of additional sanctions on Iran. I would like to put as much toothpaste back in the tubas possible. I think the last administration appeased Iran far too much. I think they went too far with Iran and, as a result, Iran is far more activist than it otherwise would be. Iran, don't forget, is the largest, greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world. The biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Iran writes on their missiles in Farsi, Hebrew, and English, "Death to America, death to Israel," and then tests them. This is not a friendly country that has global peace or national security interests in their mind. So yeah, I think we need to have a tough on Iran policy.


RYAN: I think we should stop appeasing Iran.

[11:45:02] BOLDUAN: All right. Right there, House Speaker Paul Ryan at his weekly press conference, making a lot of news, including talking about the latest tensions that have been rising overnight, really, between Australia and the United States, getting a couple of questions about that, and also about the now new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

That's where I want to continue the conversation with our panel.

Mike Shields, let me bring you in.

He's faced questions about Australia and the reports of the heated call between the president and the Australian prime minister. And Paul Ryan kept hammering the point that it's an important ally and will continue to be. But if you're Rex Tillerson and you walked into the State Department today, you're speaking to employees for the first time, he made a good first impression with his remarks there, but what does he take on first? He's got problems with Iran, Australia, and Mexico. And that's really just overnight.

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMENTATOR: Well, look, we're a month into President Trump's administration. And he inherited essentially a failed foreign policy of the American government, weakness abroad. You're seeing strength now towards Iran. A weakness even among our allies. And so, the world has been saying to us for years now, please lead, America, lead. Someone needs to be the leader. And you play that role. And in Europe and in South America and other parts of the world, they behind the scenes have been saying, we don't have the strength of the American leadership in the world now.

So, Rex Tillerson is going to be a strong secretary of state. Donald Trump is going to be a strong president. You're seeing that.

Look, a phone call --


BOLDUAN: Strength, getting in a fight with one of your allies on the phone, the first phone call you have? Is that the kind of strength you're looking for?

SHIELDS: Sure. And the president said --

(CROSSTALK) BERMAN: Come on, Mike. You think the prime minister of Australia was looking to be talked down to by the president of the United States, if that's what happened?

SHIELDS: Well, we weren't on the phone call --

BERMAN: Do you think the president of Mexico wanted to be told something about bad hombres? Angela Merkel, apparently, had a bad conversation with the president that he didn't like.

I appreciate you're saying, you were against a lot of the last administration's foreign policy. And this is a clear break from that. But the idea that the rest of the world is asking for it, I'm not sure there's proof of that, Mike.

SHIELDS: It's documented. Our allies are saying we have a lack of leadership from America, will you please lead. You may not like the tick-tock of a phone call here or a phone call there. And certainly, this administration is pretty transparent and we get to learn a lot about these phone calls.

But what you're seeing overall, the big picture of strength, Iran is shooting off missiles because suddenly there's been a change in the White House and a strong leader is challenging them. I'm surprised Iran still has missiles. I thought the Obama administration made them peaceniks, right? That's absurd. The country voted by the way against the Iran deal. Dozens of ads were run in congressional districts and Senate races across the country against the Iran deal because the American people didn't like the weakness President Obama showed towards Iran. Now the country is showing strength towards Iran. And they're sort of over reacting to it.

I think overall -- the question you asked was about Rex Tillerson.


SHIELDS: I think he is coming in to be a strong secretary of state. He may be the good cop to the president's bad cop. We'll have to see how that dynamic works out. But in the first month of the administration, there has been a marker has been laid down that the president intends to be strong on the world stage, and that's what voters voted on.

BOLDUAN: A quick point. Kellyanne Conway this morning said the leaks didn't come from the White House, so they weren't trying to be more transparent about these phone calls, even though Donald Trump confirmed it was heated at the National Pray Breakfast today.

But, Jess, jump in on this.

JESS MCINTOSH, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATION OUTREACH HILLARY CLINTON PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: I think that I don't envy Rex Tillerson his job this morning. I think going in, needing to smooth things over with one of our biggest allies, talking to Mexico about the fact that we're probably not going to be sending troops across the border to take care of bad hombres, and Michael Flynn popping off about Iran without there seeming to be a strategy behind it. That's a really tough position for Rex Tillerson, who I didn't have a lot of support for before, to come in with.

I think there was this tendency during the campaign not to take Donald Trump seriously, not to take him literally. He was a showman, he was a deal maker, he was going to come in with a different style of leadership. Now that we're actually seeing it play out, it turns out that he meant exactly what he said. When he campaigned in December of 2015 on a Muslim ban, we are now watching him put that in. I don't envy Paul Ryan either having to stand up there and say that is not what it is.

BERMAN: Hang on one second. Hang on one second.

Because the president of the United States, Donald Trump, is at the White House meeting with members of Congress on the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways & Means Committee. His getting his first look at the tape. Let's listen in.


[11:50:09] TRUMP: Hello, everybody. Nice to see you all.

Thank you, Senator.

Good to see you.

We're going to start getting our trade in order. I know you like that. That's one thing we really get along on, right?


TRUMP: So thank you all for being here today. Great honor.

We have put together an all-star team of top-level people that are working on trade. We are working very, very hard and will be very soon as soon as we get the go ahead. You know we have the 90-day period that we have to think about. We want to get that whole thing kick-started and going. We have some statutory limits. We don't want to have those statutory limits. That's very important.

I have some very serious concerns about NAFTA. NAFTA has been a catastrophe for our country, our workers, and our jobs, and out companies. They're leaving our country. I want to change it. And maybe we do it. Maybe we do a new NAFTA and we put an extra "F" in the term NAFTA. You know what the "F" is for, right?


TRUMP: Free and fair trade. Not just free trade. It's very unfair. All the statutory guidelines we're adhering to, I would like to speed it up if possible. You're the folks who can do it.

Senator, so important.

And we will make great trade deals, and we will have something that -- I don't care if it's a renovation of NAFTA or brand-new NAFTA, but we do have to make it fair, and it's very unfair to the American worker and very, very unfair to companies that do business in this country. That's why they're leaving, one of the many reasons, including the taxes are too high. We're going to take care of that also.

You all know Wilbur Ross, who's one of the great people of Wall Street. He's going to be representing us in negotiations, along with a lot of other great people.

So, we've really assembled tremendous talent, some of the best in the world. Carl Icahn called me and said, I can't believe you got Wilbur. Wilbur, on Wall Street, is just known as Wilbur. He's one of the greats. And he's fair. And he's fair to other countries. He will be fair to other countries. And I think we're going to have a whole new -- a whole new picture by the time we finish.

So, I just want to thank you for being here.

We're starting the process, and I think it's going to be a tremendous thing for our country, for the workers, and for our companies that employ the workers.

And thank you all for being here. Thank you.


BERMAN: There's Jared Kushner right there, of course, President Trump's son-in-law. Sitting right next to him is Wilbur Ross, his secretary of commerce right there. Donald Trump, the president, went on at length how much he likes having Wilbur Ross there.

And he was meeting there with Senators and members of the House in the powerful Finance Committee and the Ways and Means Committee.

The president says he wants to talk about NAFTA, creating a new NAFTA with an extra "F" for fair.

Reid Wilson is with us.

I was wondering what would this be about. It's about trade, which goes to show, I think, where this administration wants the focus to be on in these early days.

WILSON: And this is an interesting group of Senators because as we've seen over the last couple of months, trade does not break down along the element lines. There are elements on the left that want to see elements of NAFTA revisited and revised. There are elements on the right that want to see the same thing. And there are elements on both sides that like these trade deals.

It's interesting he brought in Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. Wyden was a big proponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He took a lot of heat back home in Portland and around Oregon. A lot of protesters came out and protested his role in backing the TPP, while his Democratic colleague, the more liberal opponent, Jeff Merkley, was a big opponent of the TPP. This is an area where President Trump is going to find allies on the

Democratic side and the Republican side and he's going to find some enemies on both sides as well.

BOLDUAN: That seems clear.

Jess, this is one of those campaign promises that Donald Trump said. He didn't like NAFTA. He called it a catastrophe. He wanted a change or a renovation. This is one of the reasons why he won.

MCINTOSH: He made a number of campaign promises leading to NAFTA. He was going to get rid of it entirely, then he wanted to overhaul it. Now he's adding an "F." I think it's clear Donald Trump doesn't spend a lot of time in the actually details he's in charge of. The idea is that he can have a contentious conversation with one of our allies. That's not going to make American less safe. If we renege on deals we have made with other countries that we've always been there for, that's not going have a negative backlash on us, that he can be vague about what this Muslim travel ban is, what it applies to, which people, which families it applies to, that he can talk about NAFTA in a way that he doesn't care whether we scrap it altogether or re-do it or add a couple of things. It doesn't matter to him. The fact that he doesn't understand that those kinds of vagaries and that uninterest in how our policies, foreign and domestic, works, the fact that he doesn't get that that has a really detrimental effect on the American's psyche and average Americans that's incredibly frightening this early on in the presidency.

[11:55:25] BERMAN: We'll have to see how it plays out. He's made it crystal clear he wants to change the trade posture of the U.S. going forward.

Mike Shields, it is also clear that that will force a big change among some members of the Republican Party, including Orrin Hatch, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who we heard speak before who were very prominent supporters' early on of the TPP. They are prominent free traders.

But now you get the sense at least for now, they're all in with this president. They're like, we've got your back. It seems like they'll sublimate their views for his benefit.

SHIELDS: Part of that the they're listening to the American people. The American people elected President Trump on this agenda.

It's interesting hearing Jess saying what he doesn't get. What the Clinton campaign and what the Democrats didn't get is the message. They didn't care about talking to voters. Going back to 2010 even, the Republicans have started to chart a different course of trade. So, this isn't something actually new. There's a lot more support on Capitol Hill than you might believe among Republicans to take a look at the new trade deals.

But look, in the end, there's going to be clear. The president's been clear. He ran on this agenda. He's bringing both parties together. I'm sort of like, what's the problem with that. That's exactly what you would expect the president of the United States to do. He's the one who's in touch with the American people. He won. And the politicians on Capitol Hill are starting to realize we need to listen to them on these issues.

BOLDUAN: It's fascinating to see the alliances that are forming.

Guys, thanks so much for bobbing and weaving with us on the moving parts. We really appreciate it.

And there's this. "Unnecessary and harmful" -- that's what John McCain is calling the reported dispute between President Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after a tense phone call between the two leaders. This just in. McCain said he also called the ambassador to the United States to express, quote, "his unwavering support for the U.S./Australia alliance."

BERMAN: The former U.S. ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, joins us right now.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much for being with us.

You did work with the Obama administration. Let's stipulate that right now. But what's your take on what was, at best, a frank conversation, at worse, something of a spat?

JEFFREY BLEICH, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO AUSTRALIA: I think unnecessary and harmless were good phrases from Senator McCain. It's just needless poking the eye of a good friend. In fact, we have no better friend in the world than Australia. I don't think people quite appreciate how vital that relationship is. They have fought with us in every conflict going back 100 years. They have been our closest ally in terms of sharing of information, in terms of counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, narcotics trafficking, human trafficking, in any endeavor that we're working on to keep America safe. We're interoperable with them. They work closely with us. They've made enormous sacrifices when it comes to the United States.

Not clear on what advantage there could possibly be to the kind of interaction that was described.

BOLDUAN: When it comes down to the bottom line, you have John McCain calling it harmless, Lindsey Graham told me earlier that he thinks, this relationship, it will survive, and it's stronger than one bad phone call. Would you agree?

BLEICH: Oh, yeah, yeah. I think the strength of the relationship is deep. We've woven ourselves deep into each other's fabric. You see it not only in the national security space I've described --


BOLDUAN: Then is much ado about - you know, does the relationship remain?

(CROSSTALK) BLEICH: It would be much ado, except for the fact that we've never had this. We've had people from different parties and ideologies. They've always gotten along. It didn't matter if you were Republican, Democrat, or Liberal or Labour, everyone got along.

The reason this is significant is that people in Australia were already nervous about this change and they are looking at the --




BOLDUAN: I'm sorry. We're short on time today with all the breaking news. We have to let it go.

Thank you so much, Ambassador, for your time. We really appreciate it.

BLEICH: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for joining us AT THIS HOUR.

BERMAN: Thank you for joining me AT THIS HOUR.

"Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.


[12:00:12] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: John and Kate, thanks much.