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Mexico Slams Trump's New Immigration Directives; Tillerson, Kelly Set to Meet with Mexican Officials; Angry Crowds Pack GOP Town Halls across U.S.; White House Withdraws Protections for Transgender Students. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 23, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:05] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. John Berman has the day off. So glad you're with us.

This morning, some Republican lawmakers may be longing for the sharp elbows and bare knuckles of Washington because, for many, their week back at home has been less than welcoming.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 2020, you're gone!



HARLOW: You're looking at some images from town halls in Louisiana and Arkansas, two ruby red states that voted overwhelmingly for the President. But 35 days after his inauguration, Republican lawmakers returning home to discover the divisiveness of the election is as strong as ever.

We begin this morning with our Ryan Young. He joins us from beautiful Charles City, Iowa, where another town hall is being held this morning.

Good morning, Ryan.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Poppy. You know, politics is now a contact sport. Joining you from this city, look, the temperature has dropped more than 20 degrees in the last 24 hours. But I can tell you, people are expecting the temperatures are raised inside the room here when this town hall starts.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody here --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- 2020, you're gone! YOUNG (voice-over): Republican lawmakers across the country coming

home to this.

CROWD: Shame! Shame! Shame!

YOUNG (voice-over): Facing off with scores of enraged constituents.

CROWD: Do your job! Do your job!

YOUNG (voice-over): The anger palpable in Arkansas.



YOUNG (voice-over): Senator Tom Cotton looking out over a sea of protesters in a packed town hall.


YOUNG (voice-over): Some emotional about their prospect of losing insurance coverage under ObamaCare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What kind of insurance do you have?


YOUNG (voice-over): Others expressing their frustration over the new administration, including this 7-year-old boy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump makes Mexicans not important to people who are in Arkansas who like Mexicans, like me, my grandma, and all my people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he's deleting all the parts in PBS Kids just to make a wall.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He shouldn't do that.

YOUNG (voice-over): In New Jersey, a record crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- how you will mobilize the other Republicans to push back against this man when he makes delusional statements.

YOUNG (voice-over): Congressman Leonard Lance shouted down for not standing up to the President's so-called alternative facts.

REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I believe that when the President misstates as, for example --



YOUNG (voice-over): In northern California, tempers erupting after Congressman Tom McClintock sidestepped this question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you support a bipartisan investigation of the Trump administration's dealings with Vladimir Putin and Russia?


REP. TOM MCCLINTOCK (R), CALIFORNIA: I'm not sure that an investigation, which would take up an awful lot of bandwidth in the Congress --


YOUNG (voice-over): Liberal groups across the country holding empty chair town halls for lawmakers who are reluctant to face voters.

CROWD: Where is Pat? Where is Pat?

YOUNG (voice-over): The President and White House downplaying the wave of opposition.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think some people are clearly upset, but there is a bit of professional protester manufactured base in there.

MARY STORY, FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS RESIDENT: I'm Mary Story from Fayetteville, and I am not a paid protester.



YOUNG: You know, Poppy, we're literally standing on Main Street. This is a big topic. People are talking about this. It's kind of interesting to see now politics going right to the top, more than reality T.V. because at this point, people are getting what they want. They're getting a chance to get their voices heard.

HARLOW: Yes. Well, it's the lifeblood of democracy, right?

YOUNG: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Ryan Young, thank you so much, in Charles City for us.

Meantime, the White House late last night reversing the Obama administration's federal guidelines on transgender bathroom use.


CROWD: Protect trans youth! Save our students! Protect trans youth!


HARLOW: Those guidelines let transgender students use whichever bathroom they wanted, whichever one correlated with their gender identity. Well, not anymore.

The President now saying state and local officials and parents should be making that decision, not the federal government. This is a case that is headed to the Supreme Court. Let's go to the White House where we find our Joe Johns.

And, Joe, what's interesting about this, other than just the fact that we've had a reversal here from the Obama administration, is the divide within the Oval Office and the President's Cabinet, right? You had Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opposed to the administration doing this. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said this is what we should do and he won out.

[09:05:03] JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's absolutely right, Poppy. The President's new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, sources telling CNN, she was opposed to this but apparently, eventually went along with it, or at the very least, was overruled.

Now, we do have a part of a statement that came out from her just last night that said, "We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment." Also adding, "This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual school district or state can abdicate."

And there was more push back last night from the recording artist Jackie Evancho whose older sister came out as transgender just a couple years ago. Evancho tweeting, "You gave me the honor to sing at your inauguration. Please give me and my sis the honor to meet with you to talk transgender rights."

We heard from her last night as well. Let's listen.


JACKIE EVANCHO, SINGER: When I heard the news, I was kind of just thinking about my sister and the things that she's gone through and the struggles that we've all had to deal with. And me watching her suffer like that is hard to do.

JULIET EVANCHO, JACKEI EVANCHO'S SISTER: In order to make a huge decision like that, you need people who live it every day. So I feel like it was a little rushed and I feel like there wasn't a lot of planning that went into it.


JOHNS: Now, the guidance on transgender issues is far from a settled issue. As you said at the top, Poppy, there is definitely a case that is headed to the United States Supreme Court.

Now, Trump administration weighing in on this issue comes at a time when President Trump could use a little help in his approval ratings. The latest Quinnipiac Poll indicating 38 of respondents approve how President Trump is doing, with 55 percent registering disapproval -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Joe Johns at the White House. Thank you very much. We've got a lot to talk about with our panel.

Joining me now is Charmaine Yoest. She worked in the Reagan administration. She also served as the senior adviser to Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign. She's now a senior fellow at American Values.

David Swerdlick is a CNN --


HARLOW: Hi, good to have you -- CNN political commentator and assistant editor at "The Washington Post." And Patrick Healy of "The New York Times" joins us. He's also a CNN political analyst.

Nice to have you all. And, Charmaine, let me begin with you. I was reading a little about what you've said about this move by the White House. And you say, look, this is consistent, you believe, with the President and where he has always stood and what he said on the campaign trail, but a lot of people are remembering this moment.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 way.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS HOST: Do you have any transgender people working in your organization?

TRUMP: I don't know.


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

LAUER: So if Caitlyn 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.


HARLOW: So, Charmaine, how do you square the two?

YOEST: Well, I think he is doing, in terms of the policy that he laid out on the campaign trail, exactly what he said he would do, turning it back to the states. And look, Poppy, teenagers have all kinds of problems, particularly in 2017 America. It's a tough time to be a teenager.

We need to be empowering local school boards to do what's appropriate in their communities, not having Washington --

HARLOW: How does this help teenagers that are struggling because the ACLU said this is, you know, the antithesis of what the President ran on? They called those words empty words when he promised to protect LGBTQ individuals.

YOEST: Well, it's not a zero sum game here. Betsy DeVos tweeted out last night that the Department of Education is deeply committed to compassion for all students. You don't want federal bureaucrats dictating policy to local school boards.

And frankly, Poppy, as a woman, I'm concerned that one of the more important voices that has come out in this whole debate are sexual abuse survivors. We have to ensure that we maintain safe spaces for young women and girls in locker rooms, in bathrooms, and that there is --

HARLOW: Absolutely. But can you point one --

YOEST: That those women are also --

HARLOW: Charmaine, since you bring that up -- absolutely. But since you bring that up, can you point to one incident where a transgender individual has inflicted harm on the people you're talking about?

YOEST: The real issue is the opening that it provides for sexual predators. This makes it much more difficult for law enforcement agencies to identify people who might be using this as a way to get access to young girls and women.

And frankly, Poppy, I would challenge people to look it up. There are multiple examples of people doing this, so it's something that should be a real concern --

HARLOW: I mean, you can't --

YOEST: Yes, absolutely.

HARLOW: You need to back up that assertion --

YOEST: Absolutely. I was --

HARLOW: -- with facts on this program.

YOEST: Look, you know, I can give you multiple examples, and it's documented very well on the internet. So you can see law enforcement being concerned about the fact that this makes it harder for them.


[09:10:02] YOEST: We're not talking about -- it's really all about people using this as an opportunity to say, hey, the law has changed, I now have access to these girls in a bathroom.

HARLOW: All right. I wish you would provide those sources for what you're talking about in the internet. YOEST: Sure, I absolutely can.

HARLOW: You can send those to us. But, David, to you.


YOEST: I'm happy to.

HARLOW: Thank you. Civil rights groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center have come out with a statement, "The administration has contributed to the baseless hysteria and panic that puts so many vulnerable transgender youth at risk."

When you look at the FBI statistics, in 2015, 118 transgender hate crimes were committed. How do you believe the Trump administration can answer to its critics on this one before this is all hashed out at the Supreme Court level?

SWERDLICK: Yes, Poppy, I'd put three questions to the Trump administration and to Charmaine there. One, on the politics, as you pointed out, President Trump campaigned and said several times that he was going to be a great friend, or words to that effect, to the LGBT community. Yet he's kind of prioritized this move in the early days of his administration.

Second thing is that, if Republicans are characterizing this as a states rights issue, will they be consistent on states rights as we go forward on other issues? For instance, will they take the states rights posture with states that have, you know, laws that legalize marijuana? What will Attorney General Sessions' view be on those laws?

And then lastly, I would say, yes, as Charmaine brought up, sexual assault victims and survivors have to have a voice in this discussion. But that's the challenge here, right? It has to be balanced against the voice of transgender individuals who do face, especially youth, disproportionate, you know, violence and bullying, et cetera in schools.

HARLOW: I do want you guys to weigh in, also, on the big story that we keep seeing play out day after day here, and that is the outcry at a lot of these town halls this week.

Patrick, to you. Here is what one of the co-founders of Indivisible says. This is a movement that bills itself, just to be very transparent here, as a progressive movement that encourages anti-Trump activists to organize locally. Here's how they put it.


LEAH GREENBERG, FOUNDER, INDIVISIBLE: We've seen this playbook before. When the Tea Party first started popping up in 2009, Democrats said, oh, they're astroturf. They said 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 well for them. So if I were a Republican member of Congress and I was seeing massive

concern from my own constituents, I would recommend that they take that seriously.


HARLOW: Is she right, Patrick? Because Congressman Sanford on my program yesterday who had a lot of that outcry at his town hall said, I learned more from the dissenters than the people that agree with me.

PATRICK HEALY, DEPUTY CULTURE EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. I mean, the protesters, I think, on the progressive side are definitely taking a page from the success that the Tea Party protesters, conservative protesters, have for years. These aren't, necessarily, people who are professional protesters, Poppy, but they've learned professional tactics for how to protest.

They know that, right now, there is a sense of sort of disorganization, or maybe even chaos from some point of view, in the Trump administration. There are a lot of different issues kind of going down the tracks in terms of ObamaCare, in terms of Russia, in terms of the wall, in terms of tax reform.

And these protesters know that the way to really get their voices heard is to make good television, is to sort of take advantage of a moment when there's a lot of kind of uncertainty and instability, it seems like, in Washington, and do things like having a 7-year-old, you know, making comments that the kid made on television. That makes great television. That's galvanizing. It's very hard for Sean Spicer, at the podium in the White House, to get into a fight with a 7-year-old.

HARLOW: So you bring up a good point. And, Charmaine, you saw that at the top of the program, that 7-year-old so we don't need to replay it. But, I mean, kids can't vote but can certainly get people talking, right?

How do you think the administration can back handle things like that? How should Spicer address it when he's asked about it, no doubt today, in the presser?

YOEST: Well, I think we need to stay focused on the fact that, of course, there are some legitimate concerns out there with people. That's what you're supposed to do at town halls, come out. That's the best of American politics.

But let's not miss the fact that you have Michael Moore out there, tweeting out, putting lists of town halls, hash tagged #resistance. You have preprinted signs, precanned chants. You know, I noticed that in your package, all across the country, some of the exact same signs and chants going on. So there is definitely an element of gasoline being poured on a fire.

And there's also some real --

SWERDLICK: Wait. HARLOW: Does that make it less legitimate?


HARLOW: Does it make less --

YOEST: Well, some of it is. I mean, some of this is a relitigation of the election. Some of this is just a continuation of irresponsible kinds of rhetoric.

SWERDLICK: Yes, Poppy, this is a relitigation of the election, in the same way it was a relitigation of the 2008 election when the Tea Party came out and protested President Obama. [09:15:03] People had a right to protest then. They have a right to protest now. I'm not sure what Charmaine is driving at.

CHARMAINE YOEST, FORMER REAGAN ADVISOR: Nobody is saying they don't have a right. The question is the intensity, the level of vitriol, hostility and hatred being expressed. You know, frankly, here's something --


YOEST: If I can just finish real quickly. I mean, you haven't seen a situation like we have now where a former president within the first month of an election is coming out and criticizing his successor. I mean, we're in uncharted territory here in terms of decorum and the kinds of things that we expect in American democracy of moving forward and uniting.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Really quickly, guys, I want to get your reaction to new Quinnipiac polls coming out about the president. Let's pull this up about truth and who people trust most.

When it comes to who voters trust most, over all the news or the president? Fifty-two percent trust the news more than the president, but there's this big divide, so many more Republicans trust the president than the news and vice versa when you look at Democrats.

Patrick, what do you make of these numbers?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLIITICAL ANALYST: Yes. No, it goes to the divide very much in this country and I think a lot of the energy that you're seeing out there. I think Republicans still feel the need right now to very much stand behind President Trump because they see him a bit on the ropes in terms of asking the question, how is he going to build coalitions certainly with the other side to try to get any kind of registration passed, or is it just going to be kind of a Republican sort of bloc that's trying to move things?

I think the one concern I would say in terms of just on the left in terms of these protest movements is, if -- you know, in 2009 with the Obamacare town hall movement, there was a lot of focus on the right against Obamacare. It was a very focused protest.

Right now, you're seeing a very diffuse protesting. You're seeing in the polling numbers, you know, a real sort of divide and conflict in terms of, you know, who trusts whom and what institutions really have influence right now. So, I don't think at least right now it seems like, you know, these movements aren't quite as focused and strong.

And for a lot of Republicans who look at the news media and don't sort of trust us or see these videos aren't from sometimes they think really authentic, that it's professional protesters. It's a problem.

HARLOW: I got to leave it there. It's nice to have you all on, heated debate. We appreciate it.

Charmaine, David and Patrick, thank you.

Still to come, a major test for the United States and Mexico's relationship today. Secretary of state and secretary of homeland security set to meet with the Mexican president. This after Mexico slammed the United States' immigration policy. That's ahead.

Also, the largest conference for conservatives kicking off right now. Will we see a united or divided conservative movement? You see Kellyanne Conway speaking there live at CPAC.

And a major victory for Iraqi forces in Mosul. What it all means for the battle against ISIS?


[09:22:02] HARLOW: Mexico's foreign minister slamming the new crackdown on illegal immigration ahead of a meeting with President Trump's top diplomats. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are in Mexico today. They're going to meet with the president, part being greet, part fence mending mission.

This just hours after Mexico signaled it will push back against the Trump administration's new policies that could expand deportations of undocumented immigrants back to Mexico.

Our Leyla Santiago is in Mexico City with more.

Good morning.


And even stronger reaction just in the last few minutes from the economic minister telling Mexican media that it will be an eye for an eye when it comes to the plan B in the renegotiation of NAFTA, the free trade deal. You can bet that will certainly be a topic of discussion in these meetings that the Secretaries Tillerson and Kelly will be having today.

We're at the Department of Foreign Affairs where we're expecting Tillerson as well as the foreign minister here in Mexico to give some statements as to how these meetings have been going thus far. We know they had dinner last night and the foreign minister's office is not commenting yet on exactly how that went. But it will not only be just NAFTA and the economy that they'll be

talking about. As you mentioned, they will be talking about immigration, given the guidelines that came out from the Trump administration. And already, the foreign minister is pushing back, saying that he will not accept any migrants that are not from Mexico that the U.S. may send as suggested by those guidelines.

So, lots to talk about. Busy day. And, of course, a lot of us waiting to see what kind of tone comes out of these meetings.

HARLOW: Tone and policy. Leyla, thank you very much.

Let's talk more about all this with David Rohde, he's our global affairs analyst and national security investigations editor for "Reuters".

Nice to have you here, David.

So what would you do if you were Secretary Kelly and Secretary Tillerson walking into this meeting today and Mexico's foreign minister has already said, hold on, you know, the president says we're not going to pay for the wall. By the way, we're in the going to take people that aren't Mexican citizens back into this country just because you, the United States, say we should.

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALSYT: I would look for some middle ground. You know, this is a difficult position politically for the Mexican government. They can't be seen as backing down to what the foreign minister said yesterday where there's sort of unilateral demand from the U.S. So, maybe Tillerson and Kelly have some win-win formula here, but I'm not sure what it is.

HARLOW: So, here is how White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer described U.S.-Mexico relations just yesterday.


REPORTER: Is this a cleanup job for the secretary of state?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No. I think President Pena Nieto and President Trump spoke. Again, the foreign ministers had several contacts with our staff. I would argue that we have a very healthy and robust relationship with the Mexican government and Mexican officials.

[09:25:00] I think they would echo that same sentiment. President Pena Nieto has echoed that as well.

But I think the relationship with Mexico is phenomenal right now. And I think there's an unbelievable and robust dialogue between these our two nations.


HARLOW: Is phenomenal how you would describe it? ROHDE: Things are very rocky. And, look, all politics is local.

There's a presidential election coming up in Mexico in 2018. Pena Nieto, his approval numbers are very low. There's a leftist candidate who's very anti-American -- even more anti American than Pena Nieto who's running against him.

So, it's a very difficult situation for Mexican politicians. Again, they have nationalism. Americans have nationalism. They can't be seen as sort of bowing to whatever the Trump White House demands.

HARLOW: Let me get your take on something else, the issue of mixed messages coming from the White House to our European allies. A week before Vice President Mike Pence went over to meet with NATO secretary general, et cetera, Steve Bannon, the president's right-hand man, gave a very different message. He had this call with Germany's ambassador. He called the E.U. a flawed institution. He talked about favoring bilateral agreements over working with E.U. as a whole.

I mean, how critical is it that the E.U. and NATO are getting one single message from the White House and not these two?

ROHDE: It's very critical. I have colleagues from Reuters that were at the Munich security conference, they said Europeans are just baffled. They don't know what to believe. Pence said the right things at the meeting, Tillerson said the right things. But they really want to hear this from President Trump. There's confusion.

General Kelly who's down in Mexico today, he said that building the border wall wouldn't work, yet President Trump is saying this is a priority. General McMaster, the new national security adviser, his whole ethos in the war in Iraq is to work with Iraqis. But you have a White House that banned all Iraqis from gaining visas to the United States.

HARLOW: Right.

ROHDE: So, there's a huge amount of confusion out there.

HARLOW: So, if the Bannon world view is the one that wins out over the, say, Pence world view in all this, does that play into Russia's playbook when it comes to the U.S. relationship with Europe as a whole versus Russia's intentions?

ROHDE: Absolutely. One of Vladimir Putin's key goals in his 17 years of power in Russia is to weaken the European Union. That happened already with Brexit, and most of all, to weaken NATO. It's a hugely effectively alliance for the U.S. and Europe, and it's really been a thorn in the side of Putin.

So, all this confusion helps Putin in something he's been trying to achieve for decades.

HARLOW: David Rohde, nice to have you on. Thank you.

Meantime today at the White House in just a little bit, the president will meet with a number of big company manufacturing CEOs. Of course, they'll talk about jobs in America, taxes, trade policy.

Christine Romans on top of it all before the bell.

Who's going to be there?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You know, a lot of big names are going to be here. Dow Chemical, Ford, 3M, a whole bunch of folks, and some of the president's top advisers, too. We're told from the White House, they're going to talk about deregulation, tax and trade, training and the workforce of the future, which is pretty key here. This all gets under way at about 10:30.

Here is why training and workforce of the future is so key, Poppy. If you look at employment, there are 5 million fewer manufacturing jobs today than there were in 2000.

Look at that chart. Now, look at this chart. There are 325,000 manufacturing jobs open and available at this very moment.

So, what the president wants to hear from these manufacturers is, what are the barriers to job creation? One of the barriers we've heard from many of these CEOs is the skilled workforce to fit into these. There's automation also changing how manufacturing is done in this country.

So, they're going to sit down with the president and talk about what they need, what they would like to see to be able to create more jobs. But it's so fascinating there are 325,000 job openings right now.

HARLOW: Yes, and a lot of them love the tax policies, except they hate the travel ban.

ROMANS: They hate the travel ban. They love the tax policy. They heard this morning from the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin that it could be August. They hope to have tax reform passed by August.


ROMANS: That's something that will make those CEOs happy.

HARLOW: Been a long time, we were kids --

ROMANS: I don't even recall the last time they did that.

HARLOW: Pretty old tax policy. Thank you, Christine. We appreciate it.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

HARLOW: Still to come, controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon, just one of the guests we'll hear from later today at CPAC. You see live pictures of Kellyanne Conway on stage right now. We'll bring you more about that conference, next.