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Priebus and Bannon at CPAC; Bannon and Priebus Relationship; Bannon Talks Media; Crus talks Supreme Court Vacancy. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 23, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: -- judge that has the vision of Donald Trump and it fulfills the promise that he made to all of you and to all Americans across the country.

Second thing, deregulation. What hasn't been talked about a lot is that President Trump signed an order that puts in place a constant deregulatory form within the federal government. And what it says is, for every regulation presented for passage, that cabinet secretary has to identify two that that person would eliminate. And that's a big deal.

[14:14:17] MATT SCHLAPP, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: Well, it's a great honor to have you both here. I think - I think the best thing we could do is to let these two guys get back to work. What do you think?

PRIEBUS: That's right.

SCHLAPP: Thanks for being here.

PRIEBUS: Thank you, Matt.

SCHLAPP: Yes. That's great.

PRIEBUS: Thank you.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So what shall we call that? That was a bit of a love fest, Kumbaya fest, between those - those two, the chief strategist for the president, Steve Bannon, and the chief of staff, Reince Priebus. Not often you see them speaking out, especially Steve Bannon. Not a lot of people have even heard him speak. So, there you have it, Matt Schlapp there with CPAC interviewing those two men.

Really just a couple of headlines. You know initially the question was, what's the biggest misconception about you two, and the answer from Reince Priebus, "I think the biggest misconception is everything you're reading." So they went on to complement one another. Steve Bannon, again, referring to the media as the opposition party. He's trying to start a war. We'll get into that and if it's at all effective. Maybe not when you look at some of these numbers in some of these polls.

[14:15:14] Let me just - I've got a number of very smart voices here across this spectrum.

Gloria Borger, let me just bring you in first here. Between - first up, they talked about - you know, we've had reporting between Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon. The knives are out. Inner circle chaos. They deny, deny, deny.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think at this point a case they were making is that they - they kind of need each other in an interesting way. Reince said that the thing about Steve Bannon is that he's the person who is loyal and he makes sure that Donald Trump's promises are kept. And we know from the campaign that Steve Bannon was, in many ways, brains behind the campaign, the visionary, if you will.


BORGER: If you consider that Donald Trump is the main visionary always, and that Reince - that Bannon would be there.

And then, you know, Steve Bannon admitted, you know, I can run hot, which he does, and that Reince is kind of the steady force. And so they are making the case that they - that they work together and that, of course, they work for one person, Donald Trump, because there have been stories that they were disagreeing, that they do have some different visions and we're not so sure that isn't still true -


BORGER: But they're going out there to sort of make the case that they're a well-oiled machine.

BALDWIN: Nia-Malika Henderson, what did you make of that, especially - including the fact, again, not a lot of people have actually heard from Steve Bannon. I mean this is a - he's a political animal.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, he is. I thought this was a great PR move from this White House. I mean it was basically, everything is great. This is the best 30 days of your life. I mean he talked about Trump being the greatest public speaker, the greatest cabinet ever. At some point, Trump is going to be one of the greatest presidents ever. That he's maniacally focused.

So, yes, I mean, they talked about TPP being one of the best things to ever happen in the history of the world. So in terms of that, you know, sort of a laundry list of Trump's greatness, I thought it was a good move in terms of - in terms of messages. I think it's necessary to look at what we saw today and Bannon talking about economic nationalism and the bookend of that is what we saw before, which was Tillerson in Mexico talking about the relationship with Mexico and we see, I think, from the Mexican leaders there, really what the downside of economic nationalism might be with those Mexican leaders are really in some ways lecturing America about human rights, talking about a long way to go in terms of repairing this relationship. So there's one thing I think to have this kind of PR move from the White House, talking about economic nationalism, talking about law and order and then to see some of the effects of that and what it really means in terms of America's relationship to this ally to our south.

BALDWIN: I've got voices on the left and the right. We'll press a little further on whether this has been a peachy keen 30 plus days in the White House or not. But on media, let me just play one clip. Steve Bannon, again, referencing the media as the opposition party and said it's not going to get better, it will get worse. Roll it.


STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: I think if you look at, you know, the opposition party and how they portrayed the campaign, how they portrayed the transition and now they're portraying the administration, it's always wrong. I mean on the very first day that Kellyanne and I started, we reached out to Reince, Sean Spicer, Katie (ph). It's the same team that, you know, every day was ground (ph) away on the campaign, the same team that did the transition. And if you remember, you know, the campaign was the most chaotic - you know by the media's description, the most chaotic, most disorganized, most unprofessional, had no earthly idea what they were doing. And then you saw them all crying and weeping that night on - on the 8th when - when - and the reason it worked, the reason it worked is President Trump. I mean Trump had those ideas, had that energy, had that vision that could galvanize a team around him of disparate - look, we're a coalition. You know, a lot of people think, you know, have strong beliefs about different things, but we understand that you can come together to win, and we understood that from August 15th. And we never had a doubt and Donald Trump never had a doubt that he was going to win. And I think that that is the power of this movement.


BALDWIN: So on that point, Dylan Byers, let me bring you in, our senior media and politics reporter. I know you also text with Steve Bannon, so you have a window into his thinking. You know, clearly this is strategy he wants the Trump administration to be at war with the media. He wants the people in America to think that the media is bad or evil or fake. But you look at these numbers, especially from Quinnipiac, on Donald Trump's approval down to 38 percent, I don't think the people are buying it.

[14:20:03] DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA AND POLITICS REPORTER: Well, look, first of all let's say that it's a strategic moving to go against the media. A lot of that is coming from Bannon, but it's also very sincere. I mean this is something that Bannon has believed in his core since well before he joined the Trump campaign. He really does not like the media, he really views the media as the opposition party.

BALDWIN: You think?

BYERS: But, look, I - look, when I - when I went to the White House two weeks ago and I talked to people there, there are a lot of people there who actually say they would like to have positive relationships with the media, that they would like to see that relationship get better over the course of the next four years. Steve Bannon doesn't - he doesn't say that at all. He said he could care less about establishing a positive relationship with the media. So a lot of this is very sincere and it's something that not just Bannon but everyone in that administration has really come to feel and believe. They're wearing a chip on their shoulder because for so many months and in some cases years they were told that they were going to lose, they were told that they were on the wrong side of history, they feel they're emboldened now. They feel very much that they are on the right side of history. You heard Steve Bannon say this is the top of the first inning. That's a thing he says a lot. And he really believes they're building a movement.

As for those approval numbers, they're low. But are they low among the base? No. Are they low among the audience that's turning out at CPAC? No. Clearly the Trump administration, driven in large part by Bannon, by his sort of far right idealism, believes he only needs to cater to that portion of the country.


I have CNN political commentators Ana Navarro, Marc Lamont Hill, Ben Ferguson.

Marc, I see you - you want to jump in. What are you thinking?

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's just a bizarre thing. That was like - like a scary buddy comedy watching those two work together and be on good terms with one another. The language they use, you know, we're going to get rid of - we're going to impose sovereignty, which really means like kicking white folk - kicking non- whites out. We're going to, you know, protect the - get rid of the administrative state, which means get rid of regulation. And this media thing, right, we're going to frame the media as an opposition party allows them to essentially not have to be accountable for any mistakes, any contradictions, any lies. It's a very, very dangerous moment we're in right now.

And I agree, Trump is very popular at CPAC. He's very popular among his base. Everybody's popular among the base. The question is, can you reach across the aisle and can you reach to the bulk of American who are increasingly disappointed at what Trump has done so far?

What we saw today was really the intellectual basis for this movement. Trump is kind of the mouthpiece for it, but this - these are the framers of it and we're hearing their logic, we're hearing their action and it's a little scary to me.


ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well I saw two things that - that, you know, came across to me. First of all, a remarkable transformation by Reince Priebus. I've known Reince Priebus since he was elected chair of the RNC. This is the guy who commissioned the postmortem after Mitt Romney's loss, which was supposed to be about growing the tent, about bringing in gays, and Hispanics, and African- Americans and all those minorities that have not been part of the traditional Republican base in the last few years. And what I saw him and heard him do today was adopt, you know, Trump's agenda, adopt Trump's words, adopt Trump's superlatives, talk about the walls, talk about things that Trump - Reince would not have talked about before.

The other thing that was obvious to me is that they are there trying to co-op, trying to make a conservative movement their movement. Trump is not a conservative. He's not an idealogue. He is a populists. He is a trumpist. And what they are there - what they're doing there today, there were - there's something like eight members of the Trump administration showing up at CPAC. That's an enormous amount of administration presence. They are trying to court that base, keep them in their - in their corner, tell them it's us against them. It's us against the media. It's us against the world It's us against our enemies, and you are our army.

BALDWIN: But will that work? But does that work?

NAVARRO: Well, it works with that base.

HILL: Yes.

NAVARRO: Well, I mean, it's -

BALDWIN: Ys. It worked during the campaign, but -

NAVARRO: Does it - look, does it work in a general spectrum? No, his numbers are - are lower and getting lower. He's at 55 percent disapproval. He's, what, he's got something like a 39, 38 percent approval.

BALDWIN: Thirty-eight.

NAVARRO: But it certainly works with the base.

The minute they start losing the base, they're lost, period. So that, they have to work on, keeping them happy, keeping them activated, keeping them engaged, keeping them backing them no matter what.

BALDWIN: OK. One other thing that they mentioned a couple of times, and this is a big plus so far for the Trump administration, is the nomination of Neil Gorsuch as the Supreme Court nominee. But interest Senator Ted Cruz said this today.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I think we'll have another Supreme Court vacancy this summer. If that happens, as much as the left is crazy now, they will go full Armageddon meltdown because the next vacancy is where we have the ability to get back and restore our basic constitutional protections.


BALDWIN: Gloria, is there something the Texas senator knows that we don't?

BORGER: Well, he - there must be. And he's also assuming that the person who resigns would have been appointed by a Democratic president. We don't know any - you know, we don't know any of that so I -

[14:25:08] BALDWIN: To then flip it and get the majority.

BORGER: And then flip it and that - that - that would change the balance of power on the court -


BORGER: Because, of course, Neil Gorsuch, if he's confirmed, would just - would just take Scalia's place.


BORGER: So the balance on the court would not be changed.

NAVARRO: But this was such an important trigger point for conservatives during the campaign.


HILL: Right.

NAVARRO: That was one of the smartest moves that Trump made.

BALDWIN: With his list.

NAVARRO: With his list because -

BORGER: His list was very smart.

NAVARRO: You know conservatives didn't trust him. At one point he was talking about maybe appointing his sister to the Supreme Court if he won. And when he put out that list, which he has kept to with the Gorsuch appointment, there were a lot of conservative friends of mine who couldn't stand him any more than I could, but said to me, we're going to hold our nose and vote for him because of the Supreme Court.

HILL: Thinking big picture, yes.

BALDWIN: I've got Ben Ferguson, hand on, I think he's on the phone. I don't know if you're in traffic, Ben, but we've got you on the phone. I want to hear you in this whole - entire conversation. You know your friend, Marc Lamont Hill over here, say - he was listening to Steve Bannon and he said it's scary. How did you hear it?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR (via telephone): I - well, I'm not surprised he said it was scary. Look, you listen to what Steve said and I think there's two things here. One, they want to make it very clear that there is not some rift within the White House. You see those two individuals on stage. There's been a lot of press about them, quote, not getting along and a fighting within the White House. There, obviously, is not that. And I think them showing that up front (ph).

And the second thing was it also showed that they are enjoying themselves and having a good time with what they're trying to accomplish. I think a lot of people have been trying to act like it's chaos. You look at those two men on stage. That was not chaos. They share a suite together. I think they humanized a little bit of the Trump White House, which was probably a very smart decision for them to do that and to talk about some of their accomplishments.

The other thing is this, no one should be shocked by what Steve Bannon said on stage there because they're doing exactly what they said they were going to do -

BALDWIN: With regard to which part?

FERGUSON: I think in general. And I'm saying in general with all that they're doing right now because they're doing exactly what they said they were going to do in the campaign. And you could even see them laughing about that early on about, you know, this should not be a surprise. We gave you someone on the Supreme Court that people have liked. We have done what we said we were going to do fighting on the borer issues. We've had these other issues that we have been standing firm on and no one should be surprised by that. So I think it was a very smart move by the White House to do it this way, have both of those men on stage together and show there is a united front, that they actually are friends. You can't fake that. They genuinely like each other, work together all day long.

HILL: I think - I don't think many people are surprised by it as much as they are - some of us are scared by it. And I think there's a difference.

There was some people in the center and on the left who are hopeful that some of the language used during the campaign was just to play to the cheap seats. It was just to appeal to a particular fringe element of the base. But he would govern more like a traditional Republican. He - no one expected him to turn into, you know, Obama or J.F.K. They just wanted him to be an ordinary Republican. And what they're seeing is much of the same language and much of the same practice of running - of running for the presidency as he has running the country. And that's what is scary for some folks.

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: Well, I think what we're - what we're seeing with Steve Bannon there is that he's got the vision.

HILL: Yes.

BORGER: And has called this a nation with a culture and a reason for being. That's a - as a singular culture. A culture and a reason -

HILL: That's a whistle.

BORGER: And a reason for being. That's - that's - and he called it the center core. That's Steve Bannon. You have this power center in the White House and you have Steve Bannon, you have Jared Kushner -


BORGER: And you have Reince Priebus making the trains run on time.

BALDWIN: This is the nucleus.

BORGER: And then you have a cabinet and you have Rex Tillerson trying to deal with Mexico. You have Rex Tillerson being left out of important diplomatic conversations that were held in the White House. Jared Kushner having them. You - you - you - so you have two sort of centers of power here, whether it's on foreign policy, where was Wilbur Ross today at the -


BORGER: At the CEO meeting? Jared Kushner was there. Where, you know, where was the commerce secretary? So I think what you're seeing is a White House power center and everybody else.

HILL: Right.

BORGER: And we'll have to see how that plays out because there's going to be a struggle and it's going to be a struggle for Donald Trump's ear and for his mind.

BALDWIN: But who do you - I mean who has his ear most? Is -

BORGER: Well, but I mean I -

NAVARRO: Well, at this point -

BORGER: The people who are with him -

HILL: I hope he doesn't (ph).


HILL: Those guys on stage do.

BORGER: People -

BALDWIN: The guys on the stage.

BORGER: Exactly.

HILL: Who doesn't - who doesn't have his ear is - oh, I'm sorry, go ahead, Ana.

NAVARRO: What came across from the reports that's we've seen in the last couple of days is that a Jeff Sessions, for example, is growing increasingly stronger within his administration. He's got his former staffer, Steve Miller, making policy and sitting there with Bannon and Reince Priebus. And we saw that people like a Betsy DeVos are losing their battles on ideological, on policy decisions. I think you're going to see that more and more. And it's a very dangerous precedent that was set.

I'm, frankly, you know, I would say to Betsy DeVos, after all the hell you went through to get yourself confirmed, stand up and use your voice. Be you.

HILL: I think to some extent Trump may have resented her performance or resented the media's reaction to that performance. But my bigger - Ana, because i agree with you.

[14:30:12] My concern is the Rex Tillerson issue. You know --