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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Trump Reverses Federal Protections on Transgender Students. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 22, 2017 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER HOST: -- in The Situation Room. Erin Burnett OutFront starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT HOST: OutFront next. Breaking news. Anger rising at republican town hall across the country. Lawmakers booed, heckled, chased out by fed up voters. We're live at one town hall where protesters have been lining up for hours tonight, plus the Trump administration weeding out critics. Par for the course or a president too thin skinned? And more parents choosing not to vaccinate their children. Why? Let's go OutFront.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, the breaking news. Town hall outrage. Angry voters squaring off right now against republican lawmakers in town halls across this country. These explosive meetings have put republicans on the defensive, some lawmakers concerned about their safety. They've been warned about this. Moments ago angry voters in Arkansas heck willing Senator Tom Cotton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, Mr. Senator Cotton, listen to this. We just did a photo shoot here in Springdale. We're going Medicare my way, not your way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: This is a familiar scene now across the country, at least a dozen town hall showdowns and each of them a familiar script, voters asking questions like the ones you just heard, many of them very angry, booing, shouting down and battled lawmakers. And if you are looking right now you're seeing live pictures from Branchburg, New Jersey where hundreds are gathered outside the local college. They have been gathering for hours, they are going to confront Republican Congressman Leonard Lance moments from now.

He was first elected in 2008. Democrats want to flip his seat and we're going to take you there in just a few moments. You can see that one going to be very intense this evening. The White House has taken notice of all of this too and we want to begin there first. Jeff Zeleny is there. And Jeff, these town halls and protests, President Trump is now paying extremely close attention.

JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESSPONDENT: Well, Erin, they are -- of course, they are monitoring all of these as they're happening just as we are and it is one thing that we know that this president likes to watch what is happening in the country, he likes public approval polls. At least polls that show him doing well. And the White House is dismissing some of this as simply democrats who are unhappy at the outcome of the election returns. But there are also republicans wondering if they're members of congress are also going to be doing some of the things he promised. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had this to say earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECERTARY: 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's -- 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 what you're seeing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Now, that's easy for the White House to say because of course this president is not standing for re-election for four more years, not true of several members of congress of course. So they are watching this very carefully, Erin. And really what they're looking at, most of the outrage is about immigration, about healthcare, it's about things that this president is just getting started on hire. So the White House believes this is probably the beginning of this, not the end of this. That's why he is expected to do more rallies like we saw last weekend to show that he actually has supporters on had side as well in this will very, very divided country.

BURNETT: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much. And you can see how many there in Branchburg as our cameras are sort of going up and down the line. That's Branchburg, New Jersey. It's about an hour from New York City and that is a town hall that's about to begin with Republican Congressman Leonard Lance. Kyung Lah is OutFront at that town hall. Kyung, obviously passion, there are a lot of signs there and there are a lot of people.

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT : This town hall has actually just begun. The congressman has just to applause, been welcomed at his town hall. What we have not (INAUDIBLE) yet is going -- he's just going to the mic. That's something we haven't seen in other town halls that are taking please right now around the country. This entire area, I just want to give you a sense, Erin of what it looks like. This entire area is full here. There's a balcony upstairs that is full. There's an overflow room that -- where this is being live streamed.

There's intense interest outside. You can see that people there are still protesting. Those are people who could not get tickets to get inside. These are constituents who say they want to go face-to-face with their congressman.

(CROSSTALK)

LAH: The growing grassroots tied of public outrage against congress. Visceral and visible in town halls across the country. LEONARD LANCE, UNITED STATES SENATOR FOR NEW JERSEY: Everybody stand

and place your hand on your heart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do your job.

LANCE: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and the republic for which it stands, one nation, under god, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

LAH: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer explaining what the administration believes is behind this.

SPICER: I think some people are clearly upset but there's a bit of professional protester manufacture base in there.

LAH: Are you a political operative?

COIURTNEY MARDEN, UTAH INDIVISIBLE: Absolutely not. I'm a nurse, I'm a mom. I've never contacted my congress person for this.

LAH: We met Courtney Marden in Utah, professional nurse but not a professional protester.

MARDEN: No.

LAH: After the election she founded a local group called Utah Indivisible. That did this at Utah Congressman Jason Chafes' town hall. It was so packed, police told us about a thousand people couldn't get inside and about those crowds the White House calling them loud and small. But from Utah to Louisiana, we saw large passionate crowds with pointed questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you vote to repeal Obamacare with or without this in place?

LANCE: And so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you vote to repeal Obamacare with or without this in place?

Lance: If I can finish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please answer the question. Answer the question.

TOWHNHALL ATTENDEES: Yes or no, yes or no, yes or no.

LANCE: Now --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's your (INAUDIBLE) everybody here, 2020 you're going.

LAH: These constituents maintain they do represent their district and Virginia wearing stickers showing off their ZIP codes. Grandmother Anne Tucker formed Virginia's Indivisible 757.

ANNE TUCKER: I think it's a desperate attempt to delegitimize what they must definitely perceive to be a powerful grass-roots movement.

LAH: So, how did it begin? The local groups are following this, The Indivisible Guide written by these former congressional aids based on 2009 Tea Party tactics used against their democrat bosses. Are you making any money on this?

EZRA LEVIN, INDIVISIBLE GUIDE: Making any money? No. I mean, no. This is not a money-making venture.

LAH: Ezra Levin is the only full-time employee, he just left his real job and he's yet to be paid. They wrote the guide shortly after the election, posted it online and it became a viral sensation. They say viewed 15 million times. He says republicans called their constituents professional protesters at their own peril.

LEVINE: It's sad that they -- that they would make that claim without any evidence at all. Bottom line, these are their constituents, the members of congress. These are folks who feel really strongly about the direction of the country.

LAH: And a lot of people are talking about the Spicer comment. They're actually having the zip codes here also stickers that they're wearing and with the words not paid that are written also on their stickers. So far, just a few minutes and it has been pretty respectful so far here.

BURNETT: All right, Kyung. Thank you very much. As Kyung is there in that town hall, we'll go back as it develops. OutFront now though, you just saw them in Kyung's piece, two of the founders of the Indivisible Movement, Angel Padilla who helped write that Indivisible Guide, you saw him in the Greenburg and I appreciate both of you being here tonight.

And there's a lot to ask you about. Leah, let me start with you. The White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer just today said these protests are being organized for media attention. Now, obviously media attention in and of itself is a good thing, right? What's your response to him?

LEAH GREENBERG, CO-FOUNDER, "INDIVISBIBLE" MOVEMENT: All that we're telling people to do, and this is Civics 101, is contact your representative, tell them your concerns and try to get them on the record and talk about where they're standing and do it in public because that's what a member of congress should be doing.

BURNETT: So, Angel, some republicans say that these protests not about changing policy, right? Obviously we've heard some of the questions, they've been about Obamacare, they've been about policy, but some republicans say that is not what this is about. Here are what two of them been in these town halls in the receiving end have said in their own words.

REP. TOM MCCLINTOCK, (R) CALIFORNIA: Of the vast majority of the people attempting to attend this meeting were peaceful, decent law abiding folks who sincerely opposed Donald Trump. But there was a well-organize the element that came to disrupt and disrupt they did. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, (R) UTAZ: They're welcome to come, yell, and scream. I thought it was a bit over the top, I thought was it was intended to bully and intimidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Angel, are they right that some people there are to disrupt, bully and intimidate?

PADILLA: No. I mean, by enlarge, the folks -- the folks that are at these meetings just was answers from these representatives. Unfortunately, a lot of these representatives have been less than forthcoming with them about what they plan and a lot of times they don't have a plan and they're hoping that people won't pay attention. So these are their constituents. All they want is some time with their members of congress.

BURNETT: So this -- you're saying no one is there just with the purpose of yelling and shouting anyone down, that's not true?

PADILLA: So, again, what we've always been advocating for and it's in our guide is that we want these to be respectful and polite. They're there for a single reason and that's to communicate their concerns to the member of congress. And we always, you know, recommend that you stay polite and respectful. This is -- again, this is a progressive movement, you know, this is what we're about. We're about inclusiveness, being respectful. But we also want to protect those that are under threat under this new administration and under this congress that seems to be ready to rubber stamp Trump's agenda.

BURNETT: So, Angel, I want to ask you about that actually and your guide but firstly I want to ask you about something very important. This is the issue of whether people are paid. The White House, as you know, has been adamant that they believe some of the protesters are being paid specifically to go to these town halls and cause chaos. Here's what they said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: I think that we need to call it what it is. It's not these organic uprisings that we've seen through the last several decades. You know, the Tea Party was a very organic movement. This has become a very paid Astroturf type movement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: So you heard Sean Spicer paid, Astroturf type movement. I mean, Leah, can say with 100 percent certain that no one, not you, not any outside organization has paid anyone to protest at the town halls?

GREENBERG: I cannot say that nobody in a country of hundreds of millions of people has paid anyone at any point in the past, but what I can say that is this administration's presented zero proof of those allegations and we've seen this playbook before. When the Tea Party first started popping up in 2009, democrats said, oh, they're Astroturf. They said these are being -- they're being funded by the Koch brothers, we don't have to listen to them, we don't have to take their concerns seriously because they're not, you know, representative. And that did not work out for them. So if I were a member -- republican member of congress and I was seeing massive concern for my own constituents, I would recommend that they take that seriously.

GREENBERG: That's an interesting point. It's an almost -- I'm paraphrasing but it's almost who cares. You've got listen to what people are saying because it will matter at the ballot box. Angel, your guide, you mentioned it, Indivisible, the practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda. Kyung mentioned it in her piece. I wanted to ask you about another group that's founded impart by staffers from Bernie Sanders campaign and on their website it says this, democrats must know there is price for collaborating with Trump.

Any democrats who would give legitimacy or support to Trump do not represent us and must be replaced. It's sort of what people hated about the Tea Party, right? My way or the highway. There's absolutely nothing that you can do to work with Donald Trump or we hate you. Do you agree with that attitude?

PADILLA: So, I think what's very different about this movement and, you know, some of the Tea Party movement that started back, you know, when we were on the Hill was that they were so focused on being anti- Obama that that's all they cared about. We have a different perspective. We're about protecting those communities that are at risk. So we do think that we should stop the Trump agenda. We do think the democrats should stick up for progressive values. We do think that they should oppose all of these proposals that are coming out but we're doing so because we think that we need to do -- we need to protect those vulnerable communities and we're talking about immigrants, refugees, all these people that are under attack right now.

BURNETT: Is it just saying no though, Angel to absolutely everything? I mean, is that -- is that in your view the right thing for the country? I mean -- because it didn't work so well for the past eight years, right? Just saying no by republicans and democrats. Do we really want to see the same thing again?

PADILLA: Well, so -- I mean, saying no did do one thing and that slowed down the Obama momentum. It slowed down the Obama agenda. And so if what that means is slowing down Trump and republicans and that means protecting, again, immigrants and refugees and all the people that were -- that are under attack, then I'm OK with that, you know. It's about protecting people and that's what we -- that's what I think a lot of these people in these town halls are focused on. They want to keep their health insurance. They don't want 32 million people to lose their insurance. They don't want these anti-American institutional Muslim and refugee bans. That's what we're talking about.

BURNETT: All right. Angel and Leah, I appreciate it. Thank you both very much. GREENBERG: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, the breaking news, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Homeland Security John Kelley seconds ago arriving in Mexico City as fears spreads over the immigration's -- administration's immigration crack down. Plus, is the White House weeding out Trump critics from federal agencies? And by the way, are they completely justified in doing so? And meat loaf on Trump's menus at the White House. Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago. Jeanne Moos on the president's obsession with meat loaf.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So he knows now how to do it, he could do it alone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Breaking news. Moments ago, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelley arrived in Mexico City. They're going to be meeting with the Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to discuss immigration and border security, IE, the wall. Also on the boarder today, the House Speaker Paul Ryan meeting with border patrol agents and mayors in the Texas border town. All of this as many immigrants are afraid as to what is going to happen, whether they will be deported under President Trump. Nick Valencia is OutFront.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jonathan Ramirez is an undocumented immigrant. At seven years old, he swam across the Rio Grandewith his parents to come to the United States. Now 22, he works at a produce store and lives in Atlanta with his wife and daughter. Both born here.

JONATHAN RAMIREZ, UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT: I think you're going to be a ballerina.

VALENCIA: But ever since Donald Trump became president he's living in fear, worried his family won't be together for much longer.

RAMIREZ: It feels kind of uncertain because of the situation. I don't know if I may come home tonight or I might not come home tomorrow.

VALENCIA: For Ramirez, even leaving his house is a big deal. He says people in the Latino community are worried about what they've seen in recent weeks. Raids and hundreds of arrests by immigration agents. They say these so-called collateral arrests are a new development under President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You already know people that have been deported.

RAMIREZ: Right. Exactly. So that's how real the situation is. And, you know, I just -- I come to think, you know, may -- right now is them but tomorrow it might be me. My daily fear is that when Obama was in place, you know, I didn't have to worry about as much as going to work, you know. I didn't have to worry about walking the streets. I didn't have to worry about driving, you know, and getting a simple ticket. Now with Trump being in place, you know, I have to worry because I got pulled over twice for driving with no license. And they told me at the courts if we pull you over again we're going to transfer you over to immigration. So, I mean, it can't get no more real than that.

DAVID SCHAFFER, DIRECTOR OF ADVOCACY, LAA: I think the reality is that we may be looking into an era of expanded enforcement.

VALENCIA, David Schaffer is the director of advocacy at the Latin America Association in Atlanta. The organization says there's an estimated 393,000 undocumented immigrants in Georgia, the majority of them are Latino. Schafer says while President Obama deported more people than any other president, more than 2.5 million, it's the rhetoric of the current president that really has people worried.

SCHAFFER: They want to know how to -- how to govern themselves, how to think about reality, how to think about their families, and so a lot of them have questions about how do I prepare if something comes along? How do I -- how do I get my family ready for that kind of event?

VALENCIA: They're packed parking lot tells the story of just how many people are worried about being deported. People like Jonathan Ramirez. Jonathan qualifies as a Dreamer there, technically he's not. He's still going through that process. What that means is that at any day, at any moment, he can be deported, he took a big risk by being on camera with CNN. But he says it's important to stand up to President Trump. He says, if President Trump is doing anything right, if that he's uniting undocumented across the country to stand up for a bigger cause. Erin?

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Nick. And OutFront now, the democrat Former Mayor of Los Angeles, current California Gubernatorial Candidate Antonio Villaraigosa, and republican former congressman, former presidential candidate, Tom Tancredo. Thanks to both of you. Mayor, let me start with you. You heard Ramirez eligible to be a Dreamer, hasn't registered yet, kind of going through that process which means he is not protected by the fact Trump isn't deporting Dreamers right now. Should Ramirez be afraid?

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, (D) FORMER LOS ANGELES MAYOR: Absolutely. Given what we've seen over the last few weeks, what we've heard over the last year and a half, almost two from the rhetoric of the president during the campaign. I think we have to ask our -- ourselves a question. Why are we doing this? The fact is and according to the national academy of sciences, immigrants commit crimes to a lesser degree than the native born, five times less by the way, including Mexican immigrants I may add.

We know that they contribute to the economy. I was Mayor of Los Angeles, this was not my number one issue. Public safety, education, transportation. But it's the epicenter of the foreign born and the undocumented. They're starting businesses in Los Angeles, in Colorado, in Georgia, all across the nation. This is creating a terror in these communities. People who have been -- women who have been assaulted as we saw recently a woman who was deported after she went to testify about an assault occurring in her home against her, she was deported. So women across the country now if they're undocumented know they can't come forward to report those kinds of crimes.

BURNETT: So, Congressman, when you hear this and you think about the story that we just saw and I know, you know, it may seem hard to put this question to you like this but I think it's fair because it does come down to individuals, you look at Mr. Ramirez's story that he actually went on television with his face so that could open up to deportation tomorrow, I mean, should he be deported?

TOM TANCREDO, (D) FORMER UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN: Well, I'll tell you, I don't know his particular circumstance, but from everything you've said he's probably not in danger of that because he is in that Dreamer category.

BURNETT: But he's not a dreamer. But that's the thing, he's not actually a Dreamer. So he could be, right?

TANCREDO: In fact -- in fact, yes, he could be. Now, look. If you -- I don't care what crime it is that you commit, there are penalties associated, whether it is a small misdemeanor or if it is a very serious one. There are, in fact, ramifications.

BURNETT: So driving without a license in his case twice, does that -- does that count that he should be deported?

TANCREDO: No, no. Coming in -- yes. Coming into this country illegally starts the process, I mean starts that problem. He has to live with this for --

BURNETT: But he was seven.

TANCREDO: -- forever until he gets it straightened out. OK. So, you know, now he's got how many -- he's been there 26 years old?

BURNETT: Twenty-two.

TANCREDO: So he's -- 22. So he's had however many years to try to get this straightened out. Apparently hasn't done it and so, yes, there are ramifications to this. You're asking me to think about some situation in which you can do these things, you can come into the country illegally but never worry about it. Well, that's not going to happen. At least not until you do something crazy like a massive amnesty, which I think say horrible idea.

And by the way -- by the way, we have totally different figures than -- I have totally different figures for the number of crimes committed by illegal aliens in this country than Mr. Villaraigosa because right here in Colorado I'll tell you it's much higher for that particular community than the non-immigrant community.

BURNETT: All right. I want to though talk about the issue of who should be deported because I think the individual stories are important because when you're an ICE Agent and you're going in or you're doing a raid, it does come down to these stories. I mean, Mayor, we've been covering the story of a woman in Colorado, right? Hiding out in a church to avoid deportation, she has three kids, born in the U.S., she doesn't want to be separated from them. It's a heart-wrenching story.

But we've also covered the story of a woman and her baby who were separated from her husband. He missed the first in his child life, why? Because they did it right. They played by the rules. They went to the formal immigration process, that meant being separated. Is this fair?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, look, we need to fix this --

TANCREDO: I'm sorry. OK.

VILLARAIGOSA -- broken immigration system for sure. I think both democrats and republicans agree that we need to fix this broken immigration system. Deporting 11 million people is not the answer. No country's ever done that. The notion of mass deportations of building walls, it just doesn't work. It doesn't work for them, it doesn't work for any of us. The cost to our economy, the cost of increasing the ICE by another 10,000 officers, it's already the largest law enforcement agency in the United States.

We spend more on border enforcement than we do for the DEA, the ATF, and, the FBI combined. We've got to be smart with respect to this issue. Nobody is saying that they haven't broken the law, they have broken the law. Let's fix this broken immigration system, secure our borders, give them a pathway to citizenship, put them at the end of the line and go on from there.

BURNETT: So, Mayor, you had the first one, I'll give you the last word, Congressman. Could you respond to the mayor's point though about the are the law enforcement the largest law enforcement in the nation, we're spending all this money. Is this really the way we want to spend extra money on deporting people like Mr. Ramirez?

TANCREDO: Believe me. The immigrant community in this country, primarily because they are, you know, low-wage workers, the fact is that massive immigration of low-scale, low-wage workers into this country does not benefit us economically. It costs us. The amount it costs all of the taxpayers in this country for healthcare, for immigrants both legal and illegal for the most part, for incarceration.

BURNETT: OK.

TANCREDO: For education, it's far more expensive, it's -- wait a minute, Mayor, I didn't interrupt you. It is far more expensive for the taxpayers of this country to sustain that illegal immigration than it is to try to stop it. And what is it that is so hard to understand about a country trying to actually establish its rule of law? And if a president comes out and says we are going to enforce the law, why is everybody so amazed at that? The fact is it should have been enforced a long time before now and in terms of wanting to fix this system, oh, buddy, I am absolutely with you a hundred percent . It is -- it is -- BURNETT: All right.

TANCREDO: -- broken. And I'm all for fixing it, it's just you and I have a different approach I think about how that --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: I will hit pause there but I'll merely say between law and humanity there is a -- there is a line.

VILLARAIGOSA : So they have more education than they did 20, 40, 60, 80 years ago.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both.

VILLARAIGOSA: And that's a fact according to national academy of sciences.

BURNETT: Thank you.

TANCREDO: OK. Thank you very much.

BURNETT: And next, breaking news, the Trump administration just announcing it is undoing federal protections for transgender students in public school. A major reversal from president Obama's policy and wait until you hear the split on the Trump administration on this. It's stunning. And do you have to agree with Trump in order to work for him?

SPICER: They're called political appointees for a reason. The idea is that people who come into this government should want to support and enact the president's agenda.

BURNETT: And we continue to watch the protesters across the country right now. Multiple town halls with republican lawmakers. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:32:28] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news: a major announcement from the Trump administration moments ago, now rolling back federal protections for transgender students in public schools -- a significant reversal of President Obama's policy.

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT live at the White House.

Jeff, a very big move from a president who obviously had spoken very differently during the campaign.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, it is a move tonight from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education which both agencies just released separate letters within the last few moments or so. And what this is doing, is essentially issuing a directive to schools to disregard the order that President Obama issued a year ago last year about student restrooms and transgendered students. Now, this is something that has been hanging over the government here

and the Trump administration with the Supreme Court case pending in a Virginia case decided to issue this directive, saying that they will not stand by the order that the president signed last year, President Obama signed last year. So, it is certainly something that is controversial in this context, but we are still waiting for a statement from the White House tonight. But we just got one from Justice and the Department of Education which, of course, have the purview over this and they are rolling back that guidance that was issued last year in the Obama administration.

BURNETT: Al right. So, Jeff, you know, the thing that's interesting here on a secondary level, and could be very, very important, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a hugely controversial figure, but on this, she was not fully supportive of what her boss wanted to do.

ZELENY: She wasn't Erin. And we are finding out some fascinating details that there was a meeting in the Oval Office yesterday and she was at odds with the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and she was saying that there needs to be protections for students. She said that's what she is sworn do here and she is very conservative, yes, but in Michigan, her home state, she has also been supportive of gay rights and she made a strong argument for student protection.

So, there is actually a piece of information in the letter tonight that says students still should be protected. And essentially, this is giving the directive back to the states, back to local schools, what they should do to protect students. But, Erin, I am told she was arguing strongly for there to be student protections here.

BURNETT: Yes.

ZELENY: So, basically, this is just taking away the federal guidance and saying, hey, it's up to states and schools to do this. But a fascinating disagreement here in the early days with Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny.

And it certainly is because she's embattled on social media, an incredibly controversial figure.

[19:35:00] Interesting that she went against the president on this, and, by the way, in a direction a lot of those who oppose her would support.

Let me bring in John Avlon now, editor in chief for "The Daily Beast", Paul Callan, our legal analyst, and Nia-Malika Henderson, our senior political reporter.

Paul, let me start with you. By sending this back to the states, that means that in certain states those protections will be gone, right? That is the bottom line here.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is the bottom line because this is a very important letter, the letter that was sent by the Obama administration saying that certain protections had to be extended to transgender children. This letter says forget about that, rescind it, we're not taking that position.

Now, the federal courts can still get involved in this and I think they will down the line, but at least from the standpoint of the Department of Education and Justice, they're saying, we're leaving this to the states.

BURNETT: All right. John, but there is on this issue, Betsy DeVos.

JOHN AVLON, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes.

BURNETT: I mean, this is hugely significant. She went against the attorney general. She went against the president and she lost.

AVLON: She did.

BURNETT: He said he would listen to his cabinet secretaries, but not now.

AVLON: Well, and Donald Trump has made a big show, saying that he's a different kind of Republican when it comes to LGBT rights. But here is where the rubber meets the road. And Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, came under pressure early on from the attorney general to back this.

She apparently, according to our reporting, refused to do so, kicked it up to the president, very contentious Oval Office meeting where she really tried to stand her ground on the issue of gay rights, particularly protection for trans children.

She apparently lost that power struggle to attorney general from Alabama who successfully argued for states rights when it comes to these civil rights.

BURNETT: And, Nia, here's the thing, this actually goes against what the president said during the campaign. I mean, let's just be clear. There was the whole discussion about the North Carolina bathroom bill, Donald Trump talked about transgender bathrooms and here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble. I would say that's probably the best.

INTERVIEWER: Do you have any transgender people working in your organization?

TRUMP: I don't know. I really don't know. I probably do. I really don't know.

INTERVIEWER: So, if Caitlin Jenner were to walk into Trump Tower and want to use the bathroom, you would be fine with her using any bathroom she chooses?

TRUMP: That is correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: That was the president then. This is the president tonight, Nia.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and this is him really trying to play to that social conservative part of his party, the Ted Cruz wing of the party. Because even if that primary, Ted Cruz on a very different side of this issue, along with a lot of evangelicals as well.

I mean, fascinating that it's coming down to this, with DeVos and people around here clearly wanting to get this story out here, leaking her position on this.

If you look at what the attorney general said, he also mentioned Congress. He mentioned sort of state and local officials but also Congress. The idea being that Congress might have a role to play in this in terms of reinterpreting oar rewriting that section of Title IX and talking about transgender issues and somehow including that in this.

So, we'll see what happens. I mean, inevitably, this seems like this will be something that will be resolved by the courts. You know, at least, if you talk to progressives, it's a civil rights issue and obviously --

BURNETT: That's how they see it, yes.

HENDERSON: They see it as a civil rights issue and obviously, Betsy DeVos seems to see it that way, too. But you got some evangelicals and Trump I think playing to that part of the party, those social conservatives saying this is about states rights.

But, listen, this is going to be I think like we saw with gay rights as well, and gay same sex marriage, how that bubbled up and eventually went to the Supreme Court and had to be decided there.

BURNETT: John, this is amazing, though, that the president is going against what he himself said, right?

AVLON: Yes.

BURNETT: We all know that he believes he will be a hero if he keeps the promises he made. OK, this wasn't one of them.

AVLON: This was core. It is something that he had said and he was apparently overruled by the social conservative wing of his own administration.

BURNETT: He's caving. Let's just be clear Donald Trump is caving to part of his party. This isn't Donald Trump actually triumphant here if you listen to his own words. ALVON: That's right. And not only, it's an unforced political error,

given the Supreme Court confirmation hearings we're going to hear. Because there's an upcoming Supreme Court case which is going to deal with this issue about a young child, and this will cast a shadow over these confirmation hearings and all of a sudden, the focus is going to be is where does Judge Gorsuch stand on these types of issues? That's presumably not the narrative they want.

BURNETT: So, is this a new litmus test then? It's is not going to be Roe v. Wade? In some sense, it's going to be the Virginia transgender student that John is talking about?

(CROSSTALK)

CALLAN: This is going to be the new test of the Supreme Court and how it splits ideologically.

But I think we have to make it also clear because that the Trump administration's going to say, we're not taking a position on how ultimately this should be handled, whether a transgender boy or girl should be able to choose which restroom to use. We're leaving that to the states, to the municipalities to make the decision.

So, they're not making a decision one way or the other. They're just saying we think it should be decided on a local level.

BURNETT: A lot of these states don't believe children know if they're transgender and won't give them -- I mean, that's where you get back to the fundamental issue, because they know by reverting to the states, plenty of states will not give these rights.

[19:40:01] CALLAN: There will be a split. Some states will handle it one way. Some states will handle it another way. And I have to add, even back in desegregation days in the aftermath of, you know, the Board of Education case, that thing took about ten or 12 years before it applied to all the states. It's very hard to get social changes of this magnitude.

BURNETT: Thank you all.

And next, thousands of political appointee jobs still unfilled. Is Trump vetoing anyone who disagrees with him and should he?

Plus, meatloaf, it's what's for diner. And you probably say eh. Well, apparently, it's at the White House, it's at Mar-a-Lago, it's at Trump Tower. He loves it. Jeanne Moos is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Tonight, the White House denying there's a problem with staffing amid reports of officials being fired or reassigned after criticizing the president. Press Secretary Sean Spicer saying today that cabinet secretaries can hire who they want, but.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: At the end of the day, no matter what position you have, whether it's you have the lowest or the highest in the White House, or in a department or agency, we should be making sure that people who are coming in as appointees of the president support the president's agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[19:45:05] BURNETT: Miguel Marquez is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The CEO in chief off to a running start when it comes to getting rid of those who don't agree with his views.

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, FORMER HUD DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: I wrote an article in October that criticized the candidate who's now president, and so, I was let go.

MARQUEZ: Shermichael Singleton on the job less than a month, when this opinion story he authored critical of then-candidate Trump resurfaced. He says his immediate boss, the chief of staff at Housing and Urban Development read him a statement specifically referring to the article when he was fired.

SINGLETON: I was angry, but, you know, you learn quickly in politics.

MARQUEZ: Then there was Elliott Abrams who served in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, all but offered a job as deputy at the State Department, when this critical piece he wrote last May was brought to Trump's attention. He says White House staff knew about the piece but they believe it was Steve Bannon who scuttled his job offer.

ELLIOTT ABRAMS, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The only person on the White House staff that I know was opposed to me being hired was Steve Bannon, so that's my guess. It's a guess.

MARQUEZ: Finally, there's Craig Deare, removed and reassigned from the National Security Council in the White House after reportedly knocking the administration's Latin American policy.

The White House says these are political appointees, emphasis on "political".

SPICER: Obviously, we are going ensure that people who are political appointees share the vision and agenda that the president campaigned on and is implementing.

TRUMP: You're fired.

MARQUEZ: "Apprentice" showman Trump.

TRUMP: You're fired.

MARQUEZ: Campaign mode Trump.

TRUMP: You're fired.

MARQUEZ: President-elect and now President Trump true to his nature hiring and firing at the will. But does he have the luxury of hiring only those people that agree with him?

MAX STIER, PRESIDENT & CEO, PARTNERSHIPS FOR PUBLIC SERVICE: If you begin to peel way everyone who might otherwise disagree on any of the issues that you care about, you wind up narrowing the field I think too much.

TRUMP: This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.

MARQUEZ: But the Trump administration so far has filled only 14 of 549 key positions. In all, there are 4,100 political appointee jobs to fill. The vast majority still don't have candidates named or under consideration.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now, it's worth noting a couple of things here. Other administrations have gotten rid of employees that didn't agree with the president's policy before, and Trump has hired those who have aired differences of opinions with him, namely the Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis, State and Defense, both raised differences of opinion with the president during their confirmation hearings.

But it is clear that President Trump will demand loyalty at every level of his administration.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Miguel.

And OUTFRONT now, the senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner", David Drucker.

And, David, let me just put this to you, right? A lot, dare I say all the establishment GOP hated Trump during the campaign, OK? At one point, maybe there was one branded person, I don't think so.

Here's part of a letter signed by 50 Republican national security officials during the campaign. Here's what it said about Trump and I quote, "He lacks the character, values and experience to be president." It goes on to say, "He would put at risk our country's national security and well-being."

I mean, would anyone hire someone who said those things about them?

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Probably not. And, look, I think that Donald Trump as the president, has the right and in fact in a sense of duty to hire people that are committed to his agenda and that he can trust to be loyal to him.

I think the question is when you're getting into subcabinet positions, you need competent people. And in politics, you always come, especially when there's a contentious primary come out of a system where there's people who had disagreed with you, had spoken out against you. And so, if you're going to exclude everybody who had ever been critical of you, it's going to be hard to fill these positions.

BURNETT: Yes. I mean, because that's the issue, right? Loyalty is good, yes man is bad. And somewhere in between the two is the balance. I mean, you know, Spicer said that anyone in the Trump administration should be committed to a Trump agenda.

But when I spoke to Elliot Abrams and you saw a clip there, he thought Steve Bannon had torpedoed his becoming number two at the State Department. He also said it's a huge mistake for the president. He went on to say you have literally hundreds of qualified, experienced Republicans ready, willing and able to serve and he's saying stay out. So, it's going to be really hard to govern.

I mean, doesn't he have a point about that?

DRUCKER: Well, he definitely has a point. Look, it's interesting because on the one hand Donald Trump hired Governor Rick Perry to be secretary of energy. Governor Perry once referred -- said that Trump was a cancer on conservatism.

BURNETT: True.

DRUCKER: And he's brought in other people that were very critical of him during the campaign. But there are some people which he just simply wouldn't go there.

I think that the way he should look at this is that if somebody who was critical of him in the past is willing to join his administration, is willing to be committed to his agenda, then he should take a look at them.

[19:50:01] What do you want in a cabinet official, what you want in people that are a little bit lower down, even as somebody who can say, "Mr. President, I disagree with you, this is my best advice." And then when president says, "Thanks but no thanks," you go along with that. If a person says they're willing to do that, I think President Trump would benefit from hiring that kind of person.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

And next, Jeanne Moos on Donald Trump force-feeding -- well, not just Chris Christie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: He says there's a menu. You guys order whatever you want. And then he says, "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: Tonight, meatloaf, it's what's for dinner in Trump's White House. Here's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No matter how you mash it, no matter how you shape it, seems President Trump has yet to meet a meatloaf he doesn't love. His meatloaf arm-twisting has recurred.

TOM BARRACK, DONALD TRUMP'S FRIEND: By the way, his favorite dish was meatloaf.

MOOS: This time, the president invited his friend, real estate investor Tom Barrack to dine at the White House.

BARRACK: The lunch was terrific.

BURNETT: He made you eat the meatloaf?

BARRACK: The meatloaf is unbelievable.

MOOS: Previously, the designated meat loaf eater was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

[19:55:00] CHRISTIE: He says, there's the menu. You guys order whatever you want. And then he says, "Chris, and you I are going to have the meatloaf."

HOST: It's emasculating.

CHRISTIE: No, it's not.

MOOS: But Christie got dumped on.

SETH MEYERS, COMEDIAN/TV HOST: The meatloaf was a second course for Christie after Trump made him swallow his pride.

MOOS: The last time Trump dictated the governor's diet, it was to boycott Nabisco.

TRUMP: Neither is Chris. You're not eating Oreos anymore.

MOOS: Oreos, no. Meatloaf, yes.

JENNY JONES, HOST, "JENNY CAN COOK": I touch a meatloaf like I judge most men. If they look good, smell good, and they're easy, I'm in.

MOOS: Meatloaf may not be for foodies, but it is the meat of the people.

And the president loves populist food. KFC Chicken, McDonald's, taco bowls where.

No wonder he has a soft spot for meatloaf.

TRUMP: Everybody is saying I should run for president. Let me ask you a question. Meat Loaf, should I run for president?

MEAT LOAF: Absolutely.

MOOS: Trump once tweeted, "Mar-a-Lago has the best meatloaf in America. Tasty." Based on his mother's recipe.

He and Melania even made meatloaf sandwiches with Martha Stewart.

Famous germaphobe that he is, the Donald actually let Martha touch his meatloaf.

MARTHA STEWART, TV PERSONALITY: My hands are clean.

TRUMP: What am I going to catch?

STEWART: Nothing.

MOOS: We can just imagine President Trump some night at the White House pulling a Will Ferrell.

WILL FERRELL: You hungry? Can we get some meatloaf?

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, please?

MOOS: -- New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: It's pretty amazing. You know, his sister, actually, the federal judge, she made meatloaf for him once on his birthday. It's truly an addiction.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: And thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" with Anderson starts right now.