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Trump Clashes with Australia, Mexico & Iran; Details Emerge of Deadly Firefight in Yemen; Bitter Cabinet Battles Rage On. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired February 2, 2017 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. The White House beginning another day with diplomatic tension over a phone call on Saturday between the president and the prime minister of Australia. Mr. Trump also reportedly creating tension with Mexico by telling that country's president that he's doing, quote, "a terrible job with tough hombres." New details of both these conversations emerging overnight.

[07:00:21] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Tough talk for Iran, as well. The president's new national security advisor has warned the Iranians they're on notice -- that's his quote -- for testing a ballistic missile. The White House not elaborating on how it will walk that talk, but Trump has been using the term this morning on Twitter.

All this happening before Rex Tillerson begins his first day as secretary of state. Day 14 of the Trump White House, in effect.

And CNN has every angle covered. Let's start with Jeff Zeleny at the White House -- Jeff.


President Trump's tough talk on the campaign trail now is being tested on the world stage as we are learning that a series of curtesy calls with our allies have now become confrontational.


ZELENY (voice-over): New tension between President Trump and a major U.S. ally. Sources say the president grew angry during a phone call with Australia's prime minister last Saturday, President Trump calling the Australian refugee agreement a "very bad deal." That resettlement deal, reached by the Obama administration, will transfer refugees currently living in detention centers on islands off Australia to the U.S.

MALCOLM TURNBULL, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: I'm not going to comment on the conversation.

ZELENY: Prime Minister Turnbull repeating to President Trump that,, according to the deal nearly 1,300 refugee versus to pass U.S. screening requirements. But sources say Mr. Trump kept insisting it was a very bad deal, remarking one of these refugees will be the next Boston bomber.

TURNBULL: I always stand up for Australia in every form.

ZELENY: The prime minister saying the conversation ended courteously, but a source says President Trump abruptly ended the call.

Notably, the readout of the call provided by the White House on Saturday showed no sign of a contentious meeting, instead saying, "Both leaders emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship."

As news of the contentious call broke on Wednesday, Mr. Trump tweeted, "I will study this dumb deal," in the same tweet calling the refugees "illegal immigrants."

But White House secretary Sean Spicer confirming the deal will ultimately go through.

SPICER: The president, in accordance with that deal to honor what had been agreed upon by the United States government, and assuring that that vetting will take place in the same manner that we're doing it now, will go forward.

ZELENY: And more on yet another diplomatic dust-up with a U.S. ally after the Mexican president cancelled their in-person meeting.

CNN is learning President Trump offered to help Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto with drug cartels in Mexico during their Friday phone call. According to an excerpt of the transcript provided to CNN, Mr. Trump said, "You have some pretty tough hombres in Mexico that you may need help with. We are willing to help with that big- league, but they have to be knocked out and you have not done a good job knocking them out."

Meantime, national security advisor Michael Flynn offering a stark warning to Iran after their recent ballistic missile test launch.

MICHAEL FLYNN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Iran is now feeling emboldened. As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.

ZELENY: "On notice" has some lawmakers worried the administration will dismantle the Iran nuclear deal.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: I hope that it doesn't include trying to undo the nuclear deal. I think that would be a grave mistake, but we'll have to just wait and see what General Flynn meant.

ZELENY: As others call for a collaboration on policies.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: I think the Trump administration needs to work with Congress.


ZELENY: Now the president today was scheduled to travel to Wisconsin for a trip to talk about the economy, but because of protests there, the leaders of that company, Harley-Davidson, are coming here to the White House.

But in the next hour the president will be speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington. You can watch that live. He'll be talking to faith leaders from across the country -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. And very early in his tenure, President Trump had to perform one of the most solemn and difficult duties for president. He had to pay respects to the Navy SEAL killed in a raid in Yemen over the weekend.

The president made a surprise trip to Dover Air Force Base to greet the casket of Chief Petty Officer William Ryan Owens. It comes as new details emerge about the deadly fire fight that targeted Al Qaeda.

CNN's Ryan Brown is live at the Pentagon with the latest. Ryan, what do we know?

RYAN BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, this raid was what's called a site exploitation operation, and it's designed to gather as much intelligence on Al Qaeda as possible to facilitate future raids and drone strikes down the road.

Now, this complex operation was in the planning stages for months during the Obama administration, but President Trump was left with the task of actually greenlighting the operation due to requirements that made the mission necessary after January 20. Now, one of those operational requirements was the absence of moonlight to kind of help provide cover as the Special Forces moved in.

[07:05:04] Unfortunately for them, Al Qaeda was able to detect them coming in even without that moonlight, and a firefight broke out involving small arms fire, grenades and airstrikes. One of these airstrikes is believed to have caused a significant number of civilian causalities. And a U.S. aircraft, an MV-22 Osprey, actually suffered some technical difficulties, forcing it to conduct a hard landing and forcing the U.S. military to destroy it to prevent that technology falling into enemy hands.

Now military officials tell us that the information, including hard drives grabbed during the raid, actually is already yielding valuable intelligence to help deter future terrorist attacks from Al Qaeda in Yemen down the road -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Ryan, thank you very much for all that reporting.

Well, Rex Tillerson is now the secretary of state, but battles still rage over other key Trump cabinet posts. The Democrats also preparing for a battle royale over his Supreme Court nominee, with Mr. Trump suggesting Republicans "go nuclear" to get him confirmed.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is covering all of it for us on Capitol Hill. Hi, Sunlen.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Alisyn.

Rex Tillerson becoming the 6th official cabinet official in place, but there are still many members of Donald Trump's potential cabinet still hanging in the balance up here on Capitol Hill.

Today will likely be another contentious day for them. We have Democrats still continuing to dig in, really trying to throw down obstacles at every place they can to delay this process. And the White House is really losing patience here, labeling these moves by the Democrats childish.


SERFATY (voice-over): In an unprecedented move, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee suspending committee rules, advancing the nominations of Steve Mnuchin as treasury secretary and Tom Price as Health and Human Services secretary. The extraordinary measure coming after Democrats demanded additional information on the nominees and boycotted when they didn't get it.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Our Democrat colleagues chose to cower in the hallway and hold a press conference.

SERFATY: But the Democrats' boycotts did successfully delay a vote for President Trump's EPA choice, Scott Pruitt.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: I cannot participate in any way possible with moving someone along who has not allowed a thorough vetting.

SPICER: They are doing their constituents in our country a service by resorting to these childish tactics.

SERFATY: Tensions between the two parties front and center, with tempers flaring ahead of the confirmation vote for the president's attorney general nominee, Senator Jeff Sessions.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Senator Cruz misrepresented what happened. So I'd like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I object to -- I object to the senator disparaging a fellow member of the committee here in his absence.

SERFATY: Lawmakers erupting in a bitter exchange over Senator Ted Cruz and Al Franken's differing opinions of Sessions's civil rights record. There's just one problem: Cruz wasn't in the room.

FRANKEN: Senator Cruz did the very thing that Senator Cornyn is accusing me of doing. In my absence, he misrepresented me. He personally impugned my integrity. You didn't object then, did you?

SERFATY: Meanwhile, another fight with Democrats is brewing over Trump's Supreme Court pick for Judge Neil Gorsuch, but Republicans could cut Democrats out altogether, going with the nuclear option, changing long-standing Senate rules requiring 60 votes to confirm Gorsuch to just 51 required votes.

TRUMP: If you end up with that, good luck. I would say if you can, Mitch, go nuclear. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And today the big thing to watch: education secretary nominee Betsy Devos. Her nomination is now on a bit of shaky ground, now that two Republicans have come out and said that they will not vote-- they will vote against her when she reaches the full Senate. That means that this will be a 50/50 tie, with Senator Sessions casting his vote for her before he is voted on and confirmed as attorney general.

So all of this boiling down to the fact that it's very likely we will see Vice President Mike Pence headed up here to Capitol Hill at some point to break the tie, cast his vote for Betsy Devos, Chris, in his capacity as president of the Senate.

CUOMO: That assumes no other Republican votes with the Democrats against Betsy Devos. All right, Sunlen. Thank you very much.

Let's talk about it with the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner.

Senator, good to have you.

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: Do you think that another Republican senator might defect and wipe out Betsy Devos as a nominee? It would be the first time we saw that since, like, 1925 where the ruling party didn't get the president's choice.

GARDNER: Obviously, there's a lot of speculation, and I think a lot of people on the other side of the aisle are trying to make sure they talk to their Democrat -- talk to their Republican counterparts, trying to get them to break off of Ms. Devos, but -- Mrs. Devos. But I don't think that will happen. I think the votes are there to confirm Betsy Devos, even if it means a 50/50 vote with the vice president coming in for a tie.

[07:10:04] CUOMO: Do you think Mitch McConnell should use the nuclear option, the constitutional question procedure, if it needs to be done?

GARDNER: Let me just say this. Neil Gorsuch has one of the brightest legal minds in our country. A sterling reputation not only on the bench of the 10th Circuit Court where he serves, but amongst judges from around the country. And so I don't think the filibuster, the nuclear option is even going to be something that we have to deal with, because he is going to get the votes that we need to confirm him. So I don't think the nuclear option is going to be discussed. I don't think it's going to be needed, because I believe he's going to receive bipartisan support.

CUOMO: If Democrats hold firm on their idea that he is a hostile choice, that he is everything is Scalia was and more in terms of hewing to a conservative model of justice, do you believe you can make the case to Democrats that they're wrong? GARDNER: Well, I think if they believe he's such a bad judge today,

why did 11 of them who are serving in the Senate today vote for him ten years ago? He received unanimous approval by the United States Senate ten years ago when he was placed on the 10th Circuit Court. Then the U.S. Senator Ken Salazar from Colorado praised Neil Gorsuch as an impartial judge who could have the right temperament for the court.

Again this is somebody who has tremendous support across the aisle, and I don't believe a 60-vote filibuster threat is actually going to be carried out, because he is going to have the support he needs.

Now look: one way or the other, he's going to become a justice of the Supreme Court.

CUOMO: Well, of course, and it does serve to note that Merrick Garland got the same overwhelming oral support by Democrats and Republicans.

So let's move on to...

GARDNER: There's the significant difference between Judge Garland and Neil Gorsuch, again, applying whether it's the Biden rule from his time in the Senate or what Chuck Schumer laid out in New York, this is apples to oranges comparison to say that Garland and Gorsuch are the same.

CUOMO: All right. So let's -- let's move on to foreign policy here. The president has a call with the Australian prime minister last weekend. The readout from the White House is remarkably different from what we now know took place on that call. It left the Australian prime minister feeling that he was bullied and feeling that he may need to bully back. Do you see this as a good thing to do to one of your best allies?

GARDNER: Look, Australia is a great ally. There's no doubt about that. And we will continue to be great allies going forward. A number of trade opportunities, a number of security operations that we perform and carry out together. And so we will always have a strong relationship with Australia.

I only know what I've seen in open-source reports and newspapers. I wasn't on the call, believe it or not. President Trump doesn't invite us to be parts of phone calls with foreign leaders.

The fact is this. Australia is a great ally. They will continue to be, and we need to work hard to make sure that our allies, whether it's Australia or the United Kingdom or other allies around the globe, know that the United States is going to stand strong with them and that we have their backs.

CUOMO: How well do they know that, Senator, if the president of the United States hangs up on them in the middle of a phone call after berating them and leaving them feel that they were bullied?

GARDNER: I don't speak for the White House. I don't speak for the White House. You'd have to ask the White House. But what I know is that we will continue to strengthen our relationship with Australia, as we do with allies around the globe, unlike the past eight years where we saw tremendous weakness in U.S. leadership.

CUOMO: But hold on a second. I know that I can speak to the White House about it. They just gave us a readout that was remarkably different than what happened on the actual call. I don't need to talk...

GARDNER: Were you on the call, Chris?

CUOMO: No, I wasn't. But we do have a readout of the actual verbatim of the call, and those excerpts give a very different picture and they reflect very clearly the way that the Australian prime minister came out of it; and his reaction is being reported in Australia. So I'm asking you, how do you feel about the fact that who you're calling a great ally was just hung up on in the middle of a phone call?

GARDNER: Look, you just admitted you weren't on the phone call. I wasn't on the phone call. The fact is, Australia is a great ally. We will continue to work with them on trade agreements, on national security issues, making sure that we're matching and meeting the threat of ISIS throughout the region that Australia sits in, whether it's Indonesia or other countries that have the threat, growing threat of ISIS.

And so the fact is this, Chris. You'd have to talk to the White House. I don't speak for the White House about this phone call, but I'm going to continue to work hard to make sure that Australia knows how important it is to this country.

CUOMO: Right, but I'm saying you don't care about what happened on that phone call? That's what I'm hearing.

GARDNER: Now you're trying to put words in my mouth.

CUOMO: Because you won't answer the question, Senator. It's a pretty straight question.

GARDNER: What you have to do is to make sure we have strong leadership around the globe to recover from the past eight years of weakness.

Look, what you've seen from this administration this week is standing up to Iran for the first time in eight years. What you've seen from this administration is saying, "Hey, you know what? Maybe a refugee policy that doesn't vet clearly enough is important to make sure that we have that vetting in place."

This is a different administration. We have to remember that the past eight years, there was an election. It's over. The past eight years of leading from behind, that's over. And that's what we have to make sure that our allies understand. Now, I wasn't on the call.

CUOMO: I don't understand what "on notice" means.

GARDNER: ... expect to be treated with respect. Global leaders expect to be treated with respect, and that's important.

CUOMO: Well, if it's important and it didn't happen in the Australian prime minister call, how do you feel about that?

GARDNER: Again, Chris, our leaders -- our leaders, their leaders, leaders around the globe deserve to be treated with respect. I wasn't -- I don't speak for the president. I don't speak for the White House. I wasn't on the call, and I would expect the president of the United States to treat every leader around the globe with dignity and respect.

[07:15:11] CUOMO: All right. Senator Cory Gardner, I appreciate you being on the show.

GARDNER: Thank you.

CUOMO: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, Chris. Up next, what Democrats are saying about President Trump's diplomatic dust-ups. We'll find out next.


CAMEROTA: Well, he's been in office two weeks, but he's already making his mark on diplomatic ties with allies like Australia and Mexico, and adversaries like Iran.

Let's talk about what President Trump is doing with Democratic congressman from Tennessee Steve Cohen.

Good morning, Congressman.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: Good morning. Good to be on CNN.

CAMEROTA: Thank you for being here.

Let's start with Australia. It has been reported that there was a tense call between Australia's prime minister and President Trump. President Trump did not want to honor a deal that President Obama put into place to take 1,250 refugees who are currently languishing on an island off of Australia. And I guess my question to you is why does President Trump have to honor a deal that he doesn't believe in, that when, by the way, the prime minister of Australia won't take these refugees.

[07:20:07] COHEN: Well, it's -- what they talked about is the peaceful transition of power. In America, power is supposed to flow seamlessly from administration to administration. You're part of a process. I'm afraid that this administration kind of looks like they think it's regime change; and that's not what the American electoral system and political system is. And you kind of work with the past, and you change in the future. And it's unfortunate that he's not honoring the obligations the United States has incurred, whether you like them or not.

CAMEROTA: I understand what you're saying, Congressman, but obviously, with each election, the mood changes. The policies change. That's what elections are all about. And so, you know, Mr. Trump, in part, was elected on saying that he was going to crack down on, you know, outsiders and make the U.S. safe. And it sounds like this is what he's doing.

What do you think the upshot of having this argument with the Australian prime minister will be?

COHEN: Well, he's not making the United States safe. Just like his Muslim ban does not make it safe, because it gives ISIS material to get more jihadists, and it gives other people, like in Iraq who are fighting with him to defeat ISIS, it puts our soldiers in jeopardy. And you just don't go with disagreements against one of your best allies. Australia's been a friend of the United States, continues to be a friend to the United States, and it's just not what you should do. I don't think he got elected on that.

Refugees are not war prisoners. They're not people who've committed crimes. They certainly can be vetted and should be vetted. And I'm sure President Obama was going to vet them. President Obama vetted and our country vetted everybody that was coming in from Syria for at least two years with intense vetting, extreme vetting, huge vetting. What's going on?

CAMEROTA: Let me ask you about what's going on with Mexico. Because we understand that there was another tense phone call -- excuse me -- between President Trump and the president of Mexico.

We -- CNN obtained a readout, like a transcript of that phone call, so let me just read a portion of it to you. Mr. Trump reportedly told Mr. Pena Nieto, "You have some pretty tough hombres in Mexico that you may need help with. We are willing to help with that, big-league, but they have to be knocked out; and you have not done a good job of knocking them out."

Congressman, what do you think of that relationship?

COHEN: I like the nuanced words that this administration uses. "Big league" and "hombres" and "notice." You know, with President Bush, we knew the axis of evil was North Korea and Iraq and Iran. With President Obama we knew we were going after Al Qaeda; and with this group, it seems like we're going after Australia, Mexico and Chicago.

The good news is elementary school students can learn a lot more about geography now, because every country is a possible enemy. Just depends on the day.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, I am picking up on your sarcasm here, but let's talk about what some people think is obviously the deadly serious interactions with Iran.

So yesterday, General Flynn came out and said that Iran is officially on notice. This morning, President Trump has tweeted this: "Iran has been formally put on notice for firing a ballistic missile. Should have been thank you for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them."

Well, they did violate a U.N. agreement by firing a missile. Isn't it time for the U.S. to say something in no uncertain terms to Iran?

COHEN: Well, it may be, but there may be better ways to say it. Saying things directly to Iran may be more effective than tweeting or making that announcement by Mr. Flynn.

CAMEROTA: OK, but what about the message? Are you comfortable with the message that, "Iran, you're on notice. Knock it off"?

COHEN: Well, I think that there are more sophisticated, diplomatic ways of speaking. I know a lot of people think that diplomatic speak is out. There's a reason that we have done it for years, starting with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. There are ways to communicate to people, and there are ways to give notice but not cause people to get to the brink.

I'm concerned about us going to the brink, and I'm concerned about peace on Earth and the safety of American servicemen all over the globe.

CAMEROTA: I think that everyone is, Congressman. Everyone would agree with you, but you're arguing for style over substance. And understood, that's your -- that's your opinion.

COHEN: No, not style over substance, Alisyn. I think style and substance can go together. I don't think you have to be, you know, a macho guy and act like you're some TV star to deal with other countries and to give a strong message that we object to and -- your conduct. I think you can do both.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, what's going on on Capitol Hill? What's going on with the Democrats not showing up to do their jobs, to vote for Mr. Trump's cabinet picks?

[07:25:02] COHEN: Well, I'm not a member of the Senate, so I don't know the strategy; but I believe that the Democratic senators are showing their constituents that they object to the cabinet picks. I certainly think that there should be at least one Republican that joins the two ladies and opposes education secretary. It's amazing how the women -- it was women judges who stopped President Trump. It's women Republican senators who are refusing to go along with this not-competent education secretary; and the men are just going along with the program.

CAMEROTA: But why not, then -- Congressman, why not show your disapproval and express your disapproval with a "no" vote?

COHEN: Well, I think that Senator Schumer has a strategy. I believe it's a good strategy and I believe they need to have unity in opposing these nominations. There have never been so many nominations of people who are not aware of the job that they are about to undertake and have shown woeful lack of knowledge and lack of interest. And this education secretary is the worst.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Steve Cohen, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much for being on NEW DAY.

COHEN: Thank you, Alisyn. Give Chris my best.

CAMEROTA: Will do.


CUOMO: Here I am.

CAMEROTA: Congressman is sending his best regards to you.

CUOMO: Return the favor.

CAMEROTA: OK, I'll do that.

CUOMO: All right. So the big story of the morning is that President Trump was in a heated exchange with Australia's leader. That's not the readout of the call last weekend between the two men that we got from the White House. So what really happened? Excerpts of transcripts of the actual call are now out. And we're going to speak with an Australian journalist about what they are hearing about the exchange from their prime minister, next.