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Trump Calls for States to Decide Bathroom Issue; Angry Town Halls; A Big Day for the Right at CPAC; March Madness is Around the Corner. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 23, 2017 - 05:00   ET


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Big blowback today after the White House rolls back protections for transgender students nationwide. But the administration says it's just returning power to the states.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm an angry constituent! You work for us!


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Anger boiling over against Republicans at town halls nationwide. Do Republicans have answers for the questions they face?

BRIGGS: And leadership on stage for both political parties. Democrats hoping to lead the party battle on CNN, as the Republicans descend in the most influential conservative conference in the nation.

[05:00:00] Good morning and thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Nice to see you. Nice to see you especially.

BRIGGS: Nice to see you.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday, February 23rd. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Schools and students facing heightened uncertainty this morning after the Trump administration withdraws federal guidance on transgender bathroom use in public schools. The White House has dropped an Obama directive that ordered schools nationwide to allow transgender students to use the bathroom to match their gender identity.

The new administration kicking that question back to the states. A new administration is offering no new guidance even as it declares students remain protected.

BRIGGS: The ACLU, though, not buying that, slamming the decision in a statement, "Revoking the guidance shows that the president's promise to protect LGBT rights was just empty rhetoric. School districts can and must continue to protect transgender students and all students from discriminations. School districts that recognize that should continue doing the right thing. For the rest, we'll see them in court."

Even within the administration, not everyone was on board. The move faced strong opposition from one key figure.

Senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny withhas the latest.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, good morning. The White House issued new guidance on Wednesday about the transgender bathroom issue that was controversial in the last year. Now, essentially, they issued a directive to states to disregard what President Obama did last year by calling for extra federal protections for students using transgender restrooms.

Now, the Trump administration did not put out a new executive order. They simply put out a statement from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, advising people to ignore the guidance from President Obama from last year.

Now, important to note, this is not taking away any protections. It simply is taking away the federal guidance of what to do, saying this should be in the hands of the states.

The White House put out this statement last night, I'll read it to you. It says, "As President Trump has clearly stated, he believes the policy regarding transgender bathrooms should be decided at the state level.

The joint decision made by the Department of Justice and Department of Education returning power to the states paves the way for an open and inclusive process to take place at the local level with input from parents and students, teachers and administrators.

Now, interestingly, Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, parted ways a bit with the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions. They had a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday where Secretary DeVos, I'm told, argued strenuously to have more protections for students. She issued her own statement last night saying it was the moral obligation of the government to help protect students.

Now, important to note -- this is not taking away protections. It's simply is taking away the federal guidance of what to do, saying this should be in the hands of the states -- Christine and David.


BRIGGS: Thank you, Jeff. It likely ends up in the hands of the Supreme Court.

The biggest national gathering of conservatives shifts into high gear this morning. Outside Washington, the Conservative Political Action Conference known as CPAC. Welcoming top Republicans to the podium today, GOP figures once viewed as fringe are ready to address the gathering as members of the White House staff.

Tal Kopan is leading our digital coverage of CPAC. She joins us live from Washington.

Tal, this is usually fringe as we said there. It's usually the Ron and Rand Paul wing. Is it more mainstream beginning today?

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, that's right, you know. And welcome to you, Dave.

BRIGGS: Thank you.

KOPAN: You know, we're going to have to watch. CPAC has traditionally been sort of the pulse of the conservative base and not necessarily the most establishment wing of the Republican Party. But what happened this election is that the anti-establishment folks won, making them the establishment.

So, we're going to see the White House out in full force at this CPAC, something we have not said for eight years. But we're going to see Kellyanne Conway, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos who you were just talking about with the Title IX transgender issue, sort of buddy/buddy everything is all right here duo between Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, the two major White House advisers. And, of course, Vice President Mike Pence will close it out, you know, with an appearance by conservative firebrand Ted Cruz, of course, representing the Senate in there.

So, it's going to be a jam-packed day and it will be really interesting to watch how we see this group that was typically an insurgency over the past eight years under the Obama administration really start to bridge into the governing philosophies that they have to employ now that they occupy the White House.

ROMANS: Back home in their districts, though, some of these folks are facing -- they're facing constituent anger, you know. And yesterday in Springdale, Arkansas, Tom Cotton took the stage. You've got to give it to some of these -- some people have been cancelling these events. I think you really have to hand it to some of these members who are showing up and they know exactly what they're going to get into here.

Let's listen a little bit of this Tom Cotton event.


[05:05:01] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband with dementia suffered multiple other things and you want to stand there with him at home and expect us to be calm, cool and collected. What kind of insurance do you have?


ROMANS: Now, in some cases, there is so much shouting these members cannot answer the questions. In other cases, though, I mean, they are spending an hour or two hours or three hours just hearing and just listening to all of the complaints. What do you make of this?

KOPAN: Yes, I mean, in some ways, it is amazing to watch American democracy figure itself out sort of live in action. It is not always clean, right? It can be quite messy.

And, you know, keep in mind, we tend to remember the winners of elections and not necessarily the margins. This was a closely fought battle this past year and there are definitely folks who feel like their side didn't win. But they are afraid of not having to closeness and that, you know, sort of big minority represented. And, you know, absolutely we have been speaking about how it's difficult to say when folks are shouting how much is actually heard.

But I think the goal is to be so noisy when the lawmakers go back to Washington and try to work out policy issues, in the back of their minds, they still remember, you know, that passionate woman who spoke about her husband. I mean, that is the goal for these folks to try to make an indelible mark on their lawmakers.

BRIGGS: And certainly, difficult for these folks, many of these states went Trump's way. He campaigned on getting rid of Obamacare. So, they had to know what they were getting into. Maybe they should be mad at their fellow constituents.

But moving on to the other side in the battle for leadership a top the DNC played out here on CNN last night. Some see it as a two-horse race between Tom Perez and Keith Ellison.

Here is Ellison talking about the party's message moving forward.


REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Donald Trump, as deceptive as he was, did say he was for jobs, trade, infrastructure and protecting Social Security. That's our message. That's what we do. That's why he beat all those other Republicans because he stole the Democratic message. We do have to lead with our values.

I encourage Democrats in all offices to say, "Stand for Social Security. Stand for fair trade. Stand for good jobs. Stand for infrastructure investment and don't back off of it.


ROMANS: You know, the Democrats are in the wilderness, you know? And let's listen to a little bit of what Tom Perez said about how they are going to find their way back.


TOM PEREZ, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: Bet back to basics. That's what we need to do as a party. We have to make house calls. We have to have a 12-month a year organizing presence.

You can't show up at church every fourth of October and call it an organizing strategy. That's how we take back the Senate. That's how we take back the House. That's how we take back statehouses and that is why when we lead with our message, our message of economic opportunity, that's how we win.


ROMANS: I heard this really interesting, Tal, interview with Howard Dean where he says, no, no, no. We need somebody young. We need a whole new, we need a bigger bench and we need to reach and find somebody new.

KOPAN: Yes, it's sort of like watching a postmortem play out in real time with people representing the different ideas.

You know, one of the really fascinating things about the DNC race is that there isn't actually a ton of daylight between the candidates. You know, it's not like there is some broad policy divisions. There is sort of at the margins, a bit of a debate about how the party should be structured.

But what they are talking about is what the failures were of us in the past election cycles and what will be the solution going forward. And then it's sort of a referendum of which wing of the party you want to follow. You know, Keith Ellison represents a bit of the Bernie Sanders wing, a bit of the more progressive look return to working class voters. Tom Perez isn't unlike that, but he tends to represent more of the Obama era and has the endorsements of a lot of Obama world.

And you mentioned Howard Dean. You know, Pete Buttigieg is sort of the dark horse candidate that represents the next generation of Democratic leaders. He is a bit of a far third and that's sort of two horse race in the front. You know, we're going to see the Democratic Party kind of figure out, all right, what do we want the lesson learned to be and who do we place our faith in to, as you said, lead us out of this wilderness?

BRIGGS: Tal, thank you.

The message, though, Christine, may be a little muddled, though, when Keith Ellison calls for impeaching President Trump. If you are trying to move forward, can you really talk about impeachment? We'll see. That's --

ROMANS: Yes, we will see how it all shakes out. Tal Kopan, thank you, my dear.

All right. The first meeting on the president's agenda today, a listening session with CEOs of some of the nation's largest manufactures. Job creation, of course, is a central topic here and Trump promises to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.

[05:10:01] And he has already taken credit for creating thousands of factory jobs. But there's a lot of ground to make up here. There were more than 17 million Americans working in factories in the year 2000. Now, there are about 5 million less. The number has slowly rebounded, you can, see since the recession.

Manufacturers are hiring. But they say they are having a hard time finding workers with the right skills. There are 325,000 open positions right now and that held steady for the past year, at levels we have not seen since 2006 -- 325,000 open jobs today in manufacturing.

So, while Trump's move to bring jobs back and call companies out maybe working, another way to get Americans back to factories is equipped them with the right skills and training.

A couple of top stories in "The Wall Street Journal" this morning, by the way that a lot of people will be talking about in the markets, Steve Mnuchin, the new treasury secretary, says we're going to have a tax overhaul by August. He's giving August as the deadline, and Fed eyeing aggressive rate increases. Fed will probably raise interest rates fairly soon here.

BRIGGS: The economy roaring.

ROMANS: Here we go.

BRIGGS: Time to make those changes.

Well, two members of the president's cabinet in Mexico trying to smooth over relations after a rocky start under President Trump. We have a preview from Mexico City, next.


[05:15:18] BRIGGS: Well, we'll now have to wait until next week to see the president's updated travel ban. The White House is postponing the rollout which had been expected this week. The administration, no doubt, taking time to get it right this time after the bungled rollout of the previous travel ban last month.

That ended with a federal court blocking the enforcement of the ban. This time, the White House counsel taking lead. Among the big outstanding questions, whether Syrian refugees remain banned indefinitely as they were in the original order?

ROMANS: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are in Mexico. Their visit coming at the time when the tensions between the U.S. and Mexico are at a high not seen in decades.

Tillerson and Kelly are slated to meet with Mexican officials who have publicly slammed new immigration directives from the White House. The country's foreign minister makes it clear the country will not accept unilateral policies imposed by Washington.

CNN's Leyla Santiago has latest from Mexico City.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, quite a busy schedule today for Secretary Tillerson, as well as Secretary Kelly who are now in Mexico City, scheduled to meet with the Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto but also with the foreign minister and some cabinet members here in Mexico.

So, what do we expect that they will talk about? Well, you better believe they will be talking about immigration, given the timing of this, given that this is just within days of the Trump administration releasing clarification and guidelines on immigration policies, sort of a crackdown as seen by some immigration advocates.

So, you can also expect that they will be talking about the economy, NAFTA, that free trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. that has really been kind of controversial. President Trump called it one of the worst deals in U.S. history. But Mexico points out, it is critical for U.S. jobs. A lot of U.S. jobs actually depend on it just as much as Mexico does -- David, Christine.


ROMANS: Leyla Santiago for us in Mexico City.

You know, the Mexican government has its own leverage. There's already one senator who has introduced a bill to wean Mexico from U.S. corn and buy from Argentina and Brazil instead, so to sort of put the screws on the U.S. and show how important that NAFTA relationship is.

BRIGGS: Just a lot of Republicans, including Senate Republicans, aren't in favor of the tax they are discussing with Mexico and the United States.


BRIGGS: Well, who doesn't love a good fight with a coach and a fan? What made Rick Pitino go off in North Carolina?

Andy Scholes with this morning's "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:22:23] BRIGGS: March Madness is in the air, folks. Syracuse and Duke playing a thriller last night. This one hurts this Duke fan.

Andy Scholes has more this morning with the "Bleacher Report".

Hi, Andy.

ROMANS: Hey there.


You know, going into last night's game, Syracuse on the bubble in terms of making it to the NCAA tournament. You know, they needed to beat Duke to keep hope alive. And this game coming down to the final seconds.

They were tied at 75-75. Blue Devils have a chance to get the lead, but their shot off the mark. The Orange get the rebound, dribble up the court. John Gillen, the buzzer beater. Not sure he called glass there, but nonetheless, Syracuse gets the big win, 78-75, as all of the students rushed the court.

Elsewhere in college basketball, North Carolina and Louisville squaring off in Chapel Hill. At the half, Rick Pitino getting into it with a fan as he walked off the court. Now, the fan was ejected from the game for this altercation.

Afterwards, Pitino, he was asked, well, what happened.


RICK PITINO, LOUISVILLE HEAD COACH: I take it from the students all the time. You expect it from students. From an adult and then turns his back on me like he's a coward. So -- and he is a coward. So, he doesn't have to take it --


SCHOLES: And North Carolina beat Louisville, 74-63.

For the second straight year, the Brazil open is going to the dogs. Instead of using ball boys, the tournament is using rescue dogs to fetch the balls at the net during the semifinals and finals of the tournament. Now, the hope is the exposure the dogs get during the matches get them adopted. After last year's tournament, all four dogs that helped out found new homes.

All right. Finally, Tom Brady's Super Bowl jersey still missing. Brady posted this hilarious suspect board to Instagram. On it, you will see Lady Gaga. Gollum from Lord of the Rings. His teammate Julian Edelman.

If you look closely, guys, there's even a creepy picture of Brady during deflategate. He put that on there. Also, Jaws saying he has a history of violence. Brady, although, you know, he was pretty rattled when the jersey was originally taken, he seems to be having some fun with it.

ROMANS: He needs one of those tennis rescue dog to go and find his jersey.

SCHOLES: They'll find it.

ROMANS: There you go.

BRIGGS: No one wants a slobbery ball from the dog.

ROMANS: That is the cutest story Andy Scholes has brought us.

SCHOLES: Yes, Dave, come on.


BRIGGS: I don't want to hold my own dog's slobber ball. Swipper from Dora was on the suspect charge. Swiper, no swiping.

Scholes, thanks, buddy.

ROMANS: Swiper -- thanks.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: All right. Why did the White House overrule a key cabinet secretary and rollback protections for transgender students or roll back guidance for transgender students?

[05:25:06] The latest on this controversial move, next.


ROMANS: Advocates for transgender students pushing back after the White House rolled back some protections. Why does the White House say the move was necessary?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your third warning from everybody here. In 2020, you're gone!


BRIGGS: And Republicans facing growing anger at town halls nationwide. What did they have to say when questioned about health care and the president?

ROMANS: And leadership in focus for both parties this morning. Democrats hoping to lead the party into the future. They battle it out on CNN as Republicans head to the most influential conference of the year, CPAC.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. Good to see you, my friend.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

BRIGGS: Welcome back from your vacation.