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Raucous at Town Halls; Trump Envoys Go to Mexico; Trump Lift Transgender Guidelines; White House Denies Micromanaging; DNC Race; Woman Confronts McConnell. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 22, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Pence. He's landed in St. Louis just a little while ago, where he'll address the vandalism at a Jewish cemetery. Part of a rash of anti-Semitic incidents across the country. We'll bring you his comments live.

The news, in the meantime, continues right now, right here on CNN.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, here we go. Top of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you for being with me.

Moments ago the White House hit back on this.


BALDWIN: Anger, outcry, frustration at these town halls across the country for Republican members of Congress. But is it for real or is it for show?

Let me first show you what President Trump tweeted in reaction to some of this. Quote, "the so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually in numerous cases planned out by liberal activists. Sad."

Once again, the White House press secretary clarified the president's position.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he suggesting this is manufactured anger? That this is not real anger and real concern?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes, I - thanks. I think there - there's a hybrid there. I think some people are clearly upset, but there is a bit of - of professional protester manufactured base in there. But there - obviously there are people that are upset, but I also think that when you look at some of these districts and some of these things, it is - it is - it is not a representation of a member's district or an incident. It is a loud group, small group of people disrupting something, in many cases for media attention, no offense. It's just - I think that - that necessarily, just because they're loud, doesn't necessarily mean that there are many. And I think in a lot of cases that's - that's what you're seeing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president doubt that there's real anger and real concern out there -

SPICER: No, I just said that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beyond just a few loud agitators, that there's really concern that people may lose their health care (INAUDIBLE).

SPICER: But they won't (ph) - I think that that's a false narrative. And I - I don't - the president's been very clear - look, you have to look at what our health care system is right now. In so many counties around our nation, we've gone down to one provider.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think they're making it up?

SPICER: No, not making it up. But what I'm getting at is, I think that there is a lot of blurring of the facts. And the reality is that some people aren't on Obamacare. They're on an employer-based system, they're on Medicaid, they're receiving their benefits through Medicare because of their age and so that they're in - they're - nothing - you know, they have no problems.

The reality is, is that they are losing their health care, but they're losing it under Obamacare because the exchanges are collapsing on themselves, carriers are pulling out, premiums are going up and access is going down.


BALDWIN: Let's begin with this point at the White House. Sara Murray was in that briefing. She joins me now.

And so you can understand why John Karl pressed Spicer on precisely that, because of the president's words in that tweet organized by liberal activist suggest being planted, paid, organized to be there and so we needed an answer.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's absolutely right, Brooke, we did want an answer about how the White House was viewing these outcries that we're seeing among members of Congress at the town halls and we got sort of mixed reviews. They seem to believe that some of it is legitimate and some of it is manufactured. But what we're hearing from our reporters who are going to these town halls is that there are people who really are concerned about what happens when you peel away Obamacare and what the replacement plan is going to be. We don't have a good idea of what that replacement plan is. Today the president said he will sort of move forward with unveiling that likely in early to mid-March.

But part of the reason we're seeing this concern is, you know, Sean Spicer pointed out that there are flaws in the current health care system. I don't think anyone would disagrees with that. He said there are concerns about affordability, about acceptability. But the concerns among some voters in these district are, are you going to replace it with nothing? Does that mean that I'm not going to be able to afford, you know, health care in the private sector either? At least under Obamacare I'm assured to have some kind of coverage, even if it is a premium that's going up. And so I think that's, you know, a question we're still waiting to see from President Trump and from these Republican allies on The Hill, Brooke.

BALDWIN: About to talk to my panel about all the points you're making, Sara, but before I let you go, let's talk about Mexico. I know Sean Spicer was also asked, you know, is this a - is this a cleanup mission for Tillerson, Secretaries Tillerson and Kelly today? Why are they there?

MURRAY: Ooh, to be a fly on the wall at these meetings between the secretary of state, Homeland Security and are meeting with the Mexican president, Enrique Pena Nieto, as well as a number of other Mexican officials there. And you can guess the number of topics they will have to go over. But I think one of the big ones is going to be this immigration crackdown we're seeing here in the United States. There are plans to send immigrants back to Mexico, whether they're from there or not. There are also a lot of questions about who could be targeted. That is certainly going to be a topic of conversation in these meetings. And you would imagine, Brooke, that yet again that border wall is going to be a topic of conversation. We still have not heard from the White House how they are going to pay for that, but Mexico has made it pretty clear that they are opposed to the wall and they have no plans to pay for it.

[14:05:04] BALDWIN: Sara Murry, thank you so much, at the White House.

Let's talk about all these protests and town halls with CNN political commentator Mary Katharine Ham, CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel and CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson.

Ladies, good to have you on.


BALDWIN: And, Jamie, let me just turn to you on the town halls, on the way Sean Spicer responded. I mean even if there are some people who organized this, how - how dangerous is it to paint with such a broad brush these constituents?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. I think what was very important was three little words that Sean Spicer used, he said "a bit of" when he was talking about the activists. Is it possible that there are a few activists -


GANGEL: At some events? Of course, yes. But when you look at these things, as Sara Murray just reported, when our reporters on the ground go to these events, these do not appear, by and large, to be activists. One - there's - there are going to be some town halls tonight. I was looking at Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas FaceBook page. He had to change his location two or three times because so many people want to come to these town halls. And I'm told that they expect that town hall to be big and loud. So - but these are not, you know, for the most part paid activists who are there.

BALDWIN: Right. Right. A bit of, got you.

GANGEL: A bit of.

BALDWIN: Mary Katharine, just following up, you know, and, listen, I say kudos for these Republican members of Congress to stand up there. I mean this is - they were elected by some of these people. This is their job to answer tough questions. And I realize the questions are really, really tough. At the same time, though, you know, we remember from all the Tea Party activists, the roles were reversed not too long ago in, what was that, '09 and 2010 where you had the opposite. You know, a member of Congress on the stage and Tea Party activists and the Republicans at the time were saying, go to those town halls, speak up.

HAM: Right.

BALDWIN: And now some Republicans are saying, deuces, we don't want to go.

HAM: Right. You know, look, I think Democratic congressmen at the time, you know, when roles were reversed, were, among other things, called them mobs - extremist mobs, brown shirts at one point and AstroTurf.


HAM: I don't think that is the right tone to take with people who probably are largely your actual constituents. There will be people who come in from other districts. There will be people who are paid activists. But these people - their concerns should not be discounted and you should address them. I think Dave Bratt (ph) actually in Virginia did quite a good job at a very rowdy town hall -


HAM: Of having a back and forth, taking 30 something questions. That's not a bad showing. And it actually gives people a feeling that they're having an outlet and they're talking to you and they're being heard.

He also, of course, part of this Tea Party movement that took out a Republican leader at one point. So he's pretty comfortable in a boisterous, sort of grassroots area. But I think facing those folks and answering some questions is great. There are some diminishing returns if it gets too rowdy because your actual constituents aren't hearing your answers.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes, agree.

HAM: But I think that's the right approach.

BALDWIN: Agree. Agree. And, by the way, we'll talk to a Republican member of Congress who's been on one end and we'll talk to some of these protesters through the next two hours. It's important to hear from both.

Nia, to you, and let me - let me just set up this next question for viewers if you don't know what's going on. So there's news today - a huge piece of news - questions about whether President Trump is on the verge of lifting some guidance from the Obama administration, specifically on transgender students. Former President Obama required public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that matched his or her chosen gender. The White House now saying it is not a federal issue, this is a states' rights issue. Here was Sean Spicer.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's no daylight between anybody, between the president, between any of the secretaries. I think there has been some discussion between the timing of the issuance and recommendations or between the exact wording. But as far as the conclusions go, I've made this clear, and the president's made it clear throughout the campaign, that he's a firm believer in state rights and that certain issues like this are not best dealt with at the federal level.


BALDWIN: Nia, why tackle this as one of their first big actions and what do you think the potential fallout could be here?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I think ultimately this is a case - I mean there is obviously a case now that's before the Supreme Court right now that's based on this guidance that Obama issued in May around transgender students - specifically a transgender student in Virginia. Who knows if it's going to be kicked back now because of this order essentially being rolled back. But you ultimately feel like this is going to be something that is decided by the Supreme Court.

And this has been something that has been bubbling up certainly at the state level for a couple of years now. You saw what happened in North Carolina obviously and them losing some money. The NBA Finals, for instance, because people were so - you know, corporations were upset with the way that went down in North Carolina. So this is going to be a big issue, I think.

And a lot of people, especially on the left, see this as a civil rights issue and we obviously see that the Donald Trump administration and his allies there see it as a very different issue in terms of thinking that it's about state's rights. It really, I think, is an echo of the same fight we saw around gay rights, around gay marriage. The thinking initially was that this was a state's rights issue and you saw people in different states essentially sue and it made its way to the Supreme Court. So you imagine that that is ultimately where it's going to be.

[14:10:24] But it is interesting that it has bubbled up to the to do list of this administration so early, early on. And it looks like they are coming down firmly on the conservative side, essentially saying, listen -


HENDERSON: This is something that should be decided by the states.


Jamie, let me turn to you and ask about your reporting on - you know, Sean was asked about any sort of micromanaging among cabinet members, staff. We know there reports they wanted to pick and choose. They deny it. What do you know?

GANGEL: Right. Well, he was asked about this a couple of times and he - his defense was, these are political appointees, that you should pick people who are politically aligned with the president. The problem with that is, if you look at history, during campaigns there's a lot of criticism. Barack Obama would never have picked Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state.

The other thing that we're hearing a lot of from people who were critical of Trump is, they're not filling these jobs and there are a lot of very qualified people out there who would come and serve, who would support the agenda.


GANGEL: And they're not being taken advantage of. So the question is, is this still thin skin that he's concerned about the criticism?


GANGEL: Or is there another agenda? Is there - you know, we saw last week that Rex Tillerson wanted Elliott Abrams (ph), who had been a critic, for his number two. We were told that Reince supported it.

BALDWIN: What Elliott Abrams thinks -

GANGEL: That Jared Kushner supported it.

BALDWIN: But it - but it was Steve Bannon.

GANGEL: But that Steve Bannon nixed it. So are there other agendas at play here?

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

Nia, to you on the Democratic National Committee. We know they're picking their leader on Saturday. The president has already weighed in on this. Let me just read President Trump's tweet. Quote, "one thing I will say about Congressman Keith Ellison, in his fight to lead the DNC, is that he was the one who predicted early that I would win." You know, you laugh and the congressman has said, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, you know, I - you know, I'm not in cahoots with President Trump if this is - this is some sort of air quote endorsement. What's going on here?

HENDERSON: You know, Donald Trump is right, Keith Ellison did predict on ABC one Sunday that he could end up winning. He could win the nomination. He could win the presidency. The reporters around the table laughed and he was right.

Listen, I think all of the folks who are campaigning to lead the DNC are trying to figure out how to go - go at Trump, how to be Trump's foil essentially and also put forward a vision for the Democratic Party that opposes this president, but also advance some ideas that speak to those key groups that they - that Democrats did so poorly among.

So, yes, I mean I think this is just the kind of going back and forth. You've seen Tom Perez do the same thing, not necessarily on Twitter, but certainly be vocal in his opposition to Trump because every one of these Democrats really are trying to figure out how to harness this anger that you're seeing on the progressive left and shock, right, because they lost this campaign back in November.


HENDERSON: So I think that's what you see. And we'll, of course, have that debate tonight on our air among - I think it's eight of them who are going to be there debating who should lead the DNC.

BALDWIN: Thank you for bringing that up. Throw the graphic on the screen, guys. "The Democratic Leadership Debate" tonight, live, 10:00 Eastern, only here on CNN.

Ladies, thank you so, so much.

Coming up next, we will talk with the woman who confronted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at his town hall and refused to quote/unquote shut up and sit down like Elizabeth Warren.

Plus, is President Trump's political advisor undermining U.S. policy behind the scenes on the global stage? Brand new reporting from the State Department.

Also ahead, first daughter Ivanka Trump showing up at the United States Supreme Court today for arguments. Hear why and who invited her.


[14:18:26] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Town hall fury plaguing Republican lawmakers across the country. You heard White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer moments ago saying, quote/unquote paid protesters are partially to blame for these disruptions at these town hall events. And this just comes after this tweet from the president mentioning so-called angry crowds, saying that they were planned out by liberal activists. Angry crowds? I want you to see for yourself. This is just one day of town halls.


CROWD: Shame on you. Shame on you. Shame on you.

CROWD: Investigate Trump. Investigate Trump. Investigate Trump.

CROWD: Work for us. Work for us. Work for us. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got to go back to the ACA. You folks up in Washington have had seven years to come up with a (INAUDIBLE). There's a lot of concern that you're going to coble something together and kick it out the door.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You stole the Supreme Court pick. You stole it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people are organizing and doing rallies and getting - people are getting boisterous. But I don't mind boisterous. I'm having fun.


BALDWIN: Among some of these participants is one woman by the name of Rose Mudd Perkins of Georgetown, Kentucky. Here she was giving a peace of her mind to the senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.


ROSE PERKINS, CONSULTANT WHO CHALLENGED SEN. MCCONNELL AT TOWN HALL: You have to acknowledge that we got too damn many people on food stamps in Kentucky. And last I heard, we're the leader and that is not where we want to be the leader. And the last I heard, these coal jobs are not coming back and now these people don't have the insurance they need because they're poor. And they worked those coal mines. And they're sick. The veterans are sick. The veterans are broken down. They're not getting what they need. And if you can answer any of that, I'll sit down and shut-up like Elizabeth Warren.


[14:20:25] BALDWIN: Woo, Rose. Rose is with me now. Rose, you're live on CNN. Thank you so much for joining me.


BALDWIN: No, no, I mean - tell me, why was it embarrassing for you?

PERKINS: Well, for one thing, in the moment, in real time, I thought I was being this nice grandma and talking nice, but I was really, really nervous and I didn't realize that I was spiraling out and I was screaming. And when I saw the video, I was stunned.

BALDWIN: What were you -

PERKINS: So, yes.

BALDWIN: What were you getting at, Rose? What were you - was there a - was there a direct question? And also did the senator respond?

PERKINS: The question - really, what this - this is - this is about they're not being truthful to people. They won this state something like 63 to 70 percent, you know, went for Trump and they went down there and they lied to everybody. They told them - they told them that the coal jobs were - BALDWIN: Who's the "they," Rose? Who's the "they"?

PERKINS: The politicians. Various politicians have lied and lied and lied to Kentucky, not to mention the country. But right now I'm concerned about Kentucky. And those jobs aren't coming back. There are lots of reasons those jobs aren't coming back and they know they're not coming back. But they tell them that and they get their votes.

Now - now they also tell us that we have to ruin the environment so that we can get industry here. OK, well, let's Kentucky just, you know, aside from being the number one food stamp recipients, let's also be the dirtiest place that we can possibly be because that will bring back industry? No, it won't. No, it won't. I want my grandson to be able to walk in the country like I did when I was a kid. I want the dog to be able to drink out of the stream.

BALDWIN: Let's me just jump in. Let me - let's take a deep breath and let me just step back three steps because not everyone knows what you're facing in Kentucky. I want you to just tell me your own personal story. I understand you lost your son to heroin.


BALDWIN: You are - I'm so sorry. But that's just the piece of it. You are unemployed. You know, this is coal country, too.

PERKINS: That's correct.

BALDWIN: I know a lot of folks don't have work and part of the problem is you feel like your voice isn't heard.

PERKINS: Oh, no kidding.

BALDWIN: Tell me what you are - tell me what you are struggling with.

PERKINS: A lot of things. One thing I'm struggling with is, you call those numbers and you call and call and call, I don't even know if he's keeping count of the constituents that call, but it always says the same thing, that you can't leave a message. He doesn't want to hear it. He doesn't want to hear from us. If he wanted to hear from us -

BALDWIN: What would you say if you could talk to him? What would -

PERKINS: But one thing -

BALDWIN: Well, tell me - I mean, Rose, I'm just trying to take you back to your own personal story. Tell me what you are struggling with to get you to show up at that town hall.

PERKINS: I'm struggling with all these people in Kentucky who have all those needs. Yes, I'm unemployed right now, but I'm going to be fine. I'm strong. I've always been fine. I still live in a nice big house and I have a good life, but a lot of people aren't going to be fine. And this really concerns me. I lose sleep over it sometimes. I mean this is - this is about people. And you can't sell us off for your campaign donations. And that's what they've been doing. You know, both parties, they're not doing anything for the people of Kentucky.

BALDWIN: Can you give at least the senate majority leader - and I really - like, this is his job. You know, he was elected to serve -


BALDWIN: The great people - the great state of Kentucky. And so it is his job to show up at these town halls. But you know other Republicans, Rose, they're not showing up.

PERKINS: They wouldn't let me in today. The Republicans are not showing up?

BALDWIN: What do you mean today?

PERKINS: Well, today, I got thrown out. I had a big 6'5" cop come up to me and ask me to leave I was in the lobby.

BALDWIN: Where were you, Rose?


BALDWIN: You - where were you, the lobby of what?

PERKINS: At Embassy Suites where Mitch McConnell was. Mitch McConnell was at Embassy Suites supposedly because he wanted to hear what we had to say. So I showed up and I didn't have -

BALDWIN: Hang on, hang on, let me - just so I'm clear. So you want to the town hall and then you went to his hotel this morning to do -

PERKINS: No. No, no, no. Yes, two town halls. Yesterday I went to the Lawrenceburg (ph) town hall. Today I went to the town hall in Louisville, but I didn't have a ticket. So I was going to go and see if I could get a ticket once I got there. So I was standing around with all - you know, with a lot of news people, people with cameras and microphones and things just, you know - and I brought my big camera because I'm a photographer and so I shot a picture in - you know, I was in the lobby, in the lobby, and I shot a picture that showed the inside of the room. Well, what's the big secret?

[14:25:05] A big, huge cop came and got in my face and intimidated me. He threatened to arrest me. I'm just a grandma. I'm just an unemployed grandma. I'm no threat. I'm not armed. Why - I said, why do I have to leave? And he said, do you have a ticket? And I said, no. And he said, are you a guest at the hotel? And I said, no, but it's a town hall. And I understand I wasn't very nice yesterday -

BALDWIN: What did you - let me - let me just throw - forgive me for jumping in, I only have a smidge more time. But if you wanted to speak directly to the Senate majority leader, final question, you know, in 30 seconds, what do you want to say to him?

PERKINS: Mitch McConnell, you need to listen to people. You forgot what you're there for and you have out lived your youthfulness. I'm sorry, sir, I respect you as a human being, but that's about all. You need to get some integrity. I asked you to hire me because you need a conscience. Hire me and I will be your conscience because you don't appear to have one. And it's concerning. This is America. This is Kentucky.

BALDWIN: Rose Perkins, thank you - thank you for speaking up and out in Kentucky. Thank you, ma'am, so much.

PERKINS: You're welcome.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

PERKINS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: We'll be hearing from more people like Rose and also a member of Congress, Republican on the other end of the questions momentarily.

But just into us here at CNN, a suicide bomber in Iraq has been identified as a former Guantanamo Bay detainee. What we know about him ahead here on CNN.