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Trump Withdraws Protections for Transgender Students; Angry Crowds Pack GOP Town Halls Across America. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 23, 2017 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Protect trans students. Protect trans students.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Protect trans students. Protect trans students.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Protect trans students. Protect trans students.

[05:58:40] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People go. They use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Trump administration withdraws federal guidance on transgender bathroom use.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump has already done a number of things which raised question of impeachment.

JEHMU GREENE, DNC CHAIR CANDIDATE: Millennials are not the future of the party. They are the now of our party.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You work for us! Not the other way around!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do your job! Do your job!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do your job! Do your job!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do your job! Do your job!

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Some people are clearly upset. But there is a bit of professional protester.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What kind of insurance do you have?


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're watching NEW DAY. it is Thursday, February 23, 6 a.m. here in New York City. Chris is in Atlanta this morning.

But first, a new controversial action from the Trump administration. Last night, they withdrew the protections for transgender students that President Obama had put in place. The White House says schools and states should decide now how to handle this issue.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. This comes as Republican lawmakers continue to face angry crowds of constituents in town halls all across this country. Now, as Alisyn said, I am in Atlanta. That's where the Democrats were creating their own heat in the battle over who should lead their party.

This is day 35 of the Trump presidency, and we have it all covered for you. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House -- Joe.


Well, essentially, what has happened here is that the Trump administration has told schools around the country to ignore what the Obama administration said about transgender bathrooms and let the -- more or less, at least, to let the states decide.

This is clearly a reversal of what Donald Trump said on the campaign trail. He seemed to be in support of transgender bathroom rights, but now after a turn of events, it has all changed.

What we do know, at least at this stage, is that the administration had a bit of a conflict between two of its secretaries -- Betsy DeVos and, of course, the brand-new head of the Justice Department, the attorney general. In part sources, tell CNN that the president's education secretary opposed the guidance but was pressured on the get on board by Jeff Sessions.

And Betsy DeVos issued a strongly-worded statement that said this is not merely a federal mandate but a moral obligation no individual school, district or state can abdicate, reassuring concerned parents that the department will investigate claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools.

Nonetheless, it appears that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, did win this argument. The president apparently siding with him, the determination now to tell the states that the United States government essentially has no position on this, and they will let the states decide on gender -- transgender bathroom rights.

Back to you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Joe, thank you for all of that background.

Let's discuss this with our panel. We want to bring in CNN political analyst and author of "How's Your Faith?", David Gregory; CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" reporters, Abbi Phillip; and CNN political analyst and senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner," David Drucker. Chris, as we said, is in Atlanta all morning, so we will all have a remote conversation.

David Gregory, let me start with you. What do we know about the motivation and the timing for why the Trump administration moved so quickly on this? DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's curious about the

motivation, because President Trump as a candidate seemed less concerned about wading into the culture wars, and he's made a shift. He's got an attorney general who is interested in waging the culture wars and who has been less willing to advance gay and transgender rights.

And so this is a matter that is going through the courts. It might get to the Supreme Court. There's been some disagreement, and there has been a judge who had blocked where we were, who had blocked that guidance that the Obama administration had given. What's striking to me is that the president is willing to wade into this area of denying students' rights at a time when gay rights have come so far so fast in this country and really has been bipartisan, too.

Also striking to me that, as with the Supreme Court justice pick, he is perfectly happy to spark a huge ideological battle. It helps him unite conservatives, even social conservatives at a time with he's got low approval ratings and where it's not just the left but also aspects of the center politically opposed to him.

CUOMO: All right. Well, so you have this basic notion, David, that you're putting it out there, which is is he doing this just to appease the base? And we have to ask that, because this is not what he has said on the issue.

Here's a clip of him on "The Today Show" talking about exactly this, then-candidate Trump. Last April.


TRUMP: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.


CUOMO: All right. "The Today Show" playing up Caitlyn Jenner, because that's what was going on then, and that's "The Today Show." But the important part of what he said there, Abby, is when he was referring to the fact that there hadn't been a lot of incidents. Remember, that was discussion that you would have different predators come and use this exception as a reason to create more victims, President Trump and candidate Trump saying, you know, there's no proof of that. But now they shift. How does it play to you, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, to me, this is -- speaks very much to the power of Jeff Sessions in Trump's orbit. Jeff Sessions has been a really outsized figure for quite some time now in Trump's world and his world view and his -- and his execution of governance.

This is, remember, a president who has never governed before, so he's looking to other people to show him the way. And the fact that he ceded to Jeff Sessions on this issue is very important, because it signals that he's willing to put aside some of his own personal inclinations and actually defer to, in many cases, the Republican base, the more ideological base that he doesn't necessarily personally identify with but -- but sides with, for the purposes of being president of the United States.

And I think that's an important signal for what we might see to come on a lot of these really controversial issues. We saw it in his Supreme Court pick, as well. He's deferring here to the core of the Republican Party. And that's very much what a lot of Republicans wanted to see from him.

CAMEROTA: David Drucker, CNN has reporting that Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, was not fully on board with wanting to do this. In fact, she communicated her feelings, we're told, to Jeff Sessions, attorney general. And then she was summoned to the White House on Tuesday for a meeting during which, basically, it was communicated to her, "You can resign or you can get on board with this."

And then she, her, the Education Department had to issue this directive. I'll read it to you: "At my direction, the department's Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools. This is an issue solved at the state and local levels. Schools, communities and families can find, and in many cases, have found solutions that protect all students."

What do you make of this, David?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I don't think this would actually be surprising at all. Because even though Donald Trump isn't really animated by social issues and has never been socially conservative, really, in any way, he's made a transactional deal with the social conservative part of the Republican Party's base, and he has stuck to that. And that is one of the reasons they're among his most loyal voters.

And this is an issue that had really rankled them, where you would had, by executive fiat, the president of the United States, Trump's predecessor, dictating to local schools and municipalities, local school districts how they were supposed to handle this issue. Now, part of it was just that, by executive fiat.

The other issue, though, for them was this issue of transgender children not using the bathroom of their sex at birth. And this is something that they want to change. And so I don't think we should really be surprised at all when you look at how Trump has dealt with social issues. And you look at the pact he has made with social conservatives that have given him such strong backing that this is where he would end up going in a debate between DeVos on the one hand and Sessions on the other. CUOMO: And yet, David Gregory, the proxy for that social conscience

or conservative backbone that David Drucker is talking about should be embodied in Mike Pence. And yet, he is nowhere near this, and we say that, obviously, because of what went on in Indiana. He was aggressively anti this community and these kids in this instance.

So the politics here are interesting. Betty DeVos, in an early move that seems to have been threatening to her probably won her a lot of fans who were against her during the confirmation process.

GREGORY: Well, right. I think the internal fighting is very interesting, and I think Abby really hits it on the head, that the attorney general has formed a world view of Donald Trump in many ways as he's come into Washington. He's had a big influence on him. He's also been very loyal, and he's going to have a lot of sway.

I do think it's worth saying that, as we talk about this in the political context, you know, you have to predict that all these barriers are coming down. I mean, look at the debate over gay rights in this country.

And people, if you're a teenager, and you're struggling with the idea of who you are, and you're just trying to be who you are the way God made you, and hear all these politicians talking about what rights you ought to have, it's hard for me to see this holding up. I think there's parents around this country and around the world who are in relationship with their children. And their children are saying, "You know what? This is who I am, and I want to be comfortable in who I am." And they're going to get a lot of support from their parents, and I think the political class will continue to come in line. I think it's very hard to reverse the trend that we've been on.

CAMEROTA: In fact, we have one of those coming up on the program. She was the mother of a son who tragically killed himself because of the issues that he faced at school, and then she helped craft the Obama directive on this, Abby.

So it looks like some form of this case is going to be heading for the Supreme Court. So next month, the Supreme Court will be hearing...

CUOMO: The Grimm case.

CAMEROTA: ... the Grimm case. Kid from Virginia. So this is being waged in the schools and in the courts and at the dinner tables simultaneously.

PHILLIP: That's right. And I do think that actually, you know, to David's point, one of the interesting dynamics here is when you put something into place, and then you roll it back. What happens then?

I think that it becomes much more -- it's much easier for people to see the sort of, like, advancement of these rights once this has already been in place. So in some cases, you can't put the genie back in the bottle.

[06:10:07] And one of the challenges that the Supreme Court is going to face is dealing with this question of, sure, it's easier to say that it's states' rights, but what happens when a kid moves from Kansas to New York City or vice versa? Do his rights as a human being change? And that's a question that the Supreme Court has dealt with numerous times in this country's history.

I expect this will not be different, and it may not matter what the Trump administration has said on this issue. The fact that they will not defend it. What may matter more is this idea of civil rights and constitutional rights that are, you know, afforded to people all over this country.

CUOMO: Right, but remember the power of legislation, right? And not just codifying but cementing those values.

After the gay marriage case, everybody celebrated. But those who understood the law best said no, this is just the beginning, not the end, because until you have legislation, that's what Title IX was all about. Right? Protected minority groups. You're going to go case by case. The next one, the Grimm case.

Panel, thank you very much. The unveiling of the president's new travel ban delayed until next week. Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? The White House says details of the new executive order are being vetted. That's why there is a delay, that the counsel's office is owning this and they want to avoid the confusion and court challenges of the last time.

Meantime, two top Trump officials are now in Mexico. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly meeting today with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. That is a tough meeting. The Mexican government taking a defiant stance against the tougher U.S. immigration policy, which calls for returning people in the U.S. illegally to Mexico regardless of nationality.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, Chris, those angry voters continue to ratchet up the heat at town halls for Republican lawmakers across the country. The White House has claimed that this is just a vocal minority and that some of the outrage is manufactured. Well, they say that there might even be paid protestors, but there's no evidence to back up the White House claims at the moment.

CNN's Ryan Young is live in Charleston City, Iowa, where and another town hall will take place today. What's the story there, Ryan?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are in Iowa. And of course, there's been a 20-degree temperature drop in the last 12 hours. And no one is expecting that inside today, and things have been heating up across the country.


YOUNG (voice-over): Republican lawmakers across the country coming home to this.


YOUNG: The anger palpable in Arkansas.


YOUNG: Senator Tom Cotton looking out over a sea of protestors in a packed town hall.




YOUNG: Some emotional about the prospect of losing insurance coverage under Obamacare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What kind of insurance do you have?

YOUNG: 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 and my grandma and all my people. And he's deleting all the parts and PBS Kids just to make a wall. He shouldn't do that.

YOUNG: 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: 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: In Northern California, tempers erupting after Congressman Tom McClintock cites them 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, is...

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is Pat? Where is Pat?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is Pat? Where is Pat?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is Pat? Where is Pat? YOUNG: The president and White House downplaying the wave of opposition.

SPICER: I think some people are clearly upset. But there is a bit of professional protestor manufactured base in there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Mary Story (ph) from Fayetteville, and I am not a paid protestor.


[06:15:07] YOUNG: Yes, today's town hall might be below the fold here in today's local paper, but I can tell you everyone is expecting a packed hall here today. A lot of emotions. I had a young lady grab the mike the other day, while we were covering the story and said she's never cared more about the political process -- Chris.

CUOMO: You know, Ryan, I know from your reporting, you know, this suggestion that it's all organized, we don't see the people standing up who are angry being shouted down by other constituents there. So it's a pretty obvious reflection of the mood.

Ryan, thank you for the reporting. We look forward to more on this. The big question is, well, what is it about? Is it just temporary? Is it just an election reaction? Or are we seeing the seeds of a major movement within the opposition party? We're going to tackle that, next.


CUOMO: Passionate constituents demanding action from their representatives. It's not the flash in the pan that it was written off as initially, and it is spreading all over the country. Angry constituents at town hall meetings just like this.



[06:20:13] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where do you think you're going?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can tell you three members of my family, including me, that would be dead -- dead -- and homeless if it was not for ACA. I'm an angry constituent. You work for us.


CUOMO: And what we're seeing in the town halls is reflecting what we're now seeing in polls. President Trump's approval rating new low, 38 percent in a new national poll.

So what is this about? Is it something that is sustainable? Is it something that could change the Democratic Party?

Let's bring back the panel. David Gregory, Abby Phillip, David Drucker. David Gregory, those of us who book all those frequent flyer miles

running around, we've seen this before. We've seen it in reaction to a new president before. We saw it galvanize and change the face of the Republican resistance into the Tea Party. Do you think that is this equivalent?

GREGORY: Yes, I do. I think there's organizing going on. I think there's anger. I think the anger in our country is not just ideological. I think we're not just in a political fight in the country. I think it's social division. I think it's moral division. I think this is what we're talking about today on transgender and gay rights.

The president is beginning to tear at the social fabric of the country. In addition, he's threatening to take away a major new entitlement which has been given.

So there are debates over social morality and the role of government. What government should be doing. And these legitimacy questions about the president are also coursing through the body politic. This is like 2009 with President Obama. A big debate about the role of government, a big debate at the Tea Party coming after the bank bailout and then the advent of Obamacare.

So I think these are all real issues. I think there's real anger. I think the left is awakening in this country and still trying to figure out how to challenge Trump. So I don't buy the idea that it's manufactured. I do think there's a fair amount of organization going on, both within districts and coming in from the outside. And I think a lot of progressives say, "Right on. We should do what the right did very effectively at the grassroots going back to 2009."

CAMEROTA: Abby, there's so many echoes of 2009. As you'll recall, then White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, I mean, almost verbatim what Sean Spicer said yesterday. Yesterday, Sean Spicer said, "I think a lot a large part of it is manufactured. These are paid protestors." He dismissed it. And that's what Robert Gibbs, then in 2009, said about the Tea Party. So let's just flash back for a moment to watch this.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is the White House contention that the anger that some members of Congress are experiencing at town hall meetings, especially over health care reform, is manufactured?

ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think some of it is, yes. In fact, I think you've had groups today, conservatives for patients' rights, that have bragged about organizing and manufacturing that anger.


CAMEROTA: Abby, first of all, how great was it to see him Helen Thomas and Jake Tapper's son there?


CAMEROTA: But I mean, it's just incredible to hear almost the exact same thing echoed yesterday from Sean Spicer.


PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, what's old is new again in Washington. Look, I think that, if Democrats really could have bottled up this kind of energy and enthusiasm in the 2016 presidential campaign, they would have done it. And we would be in a completely different situation. But they couldn't.

And so now they're dealing with genuine anger and anxiety from -- from members of public, from members of their base, and they're trying their best to channel it. And I think that this is the biggest question. Will they be able to move that into something that actually matters?

The 2018 election is coming up. Democrats are historically disadvantaged in midterm elections, in part because they can't get their voters out.

But if they're able to maybe take some of this energy and bring it to a midterm election, we could see something different, but it's still very unclear whether, you know, this sort of genuine organization, the expression of anger and anxiety is going to motivate people to go to the polls and also to support Democratic candidates and whether there will be Democratic candidates in some cases to support in the places where they need them the most.

CUOMO: Right. You know, David, it's interesting. Even what Abby just said as critique of the distinction this time was said the last time. Hey, they didn't have it during the election. Who is this new group now all of a sudden. Reaction formation is a very powerful thing in politics. The big difference is whether or not the Tea Party was more organic and bottom up, and this is more top down. But we'll see that as it evolves.

[06:25:12] What do you think of these new polls? Trump at a new low. The Quinnipiac poll, respected outlet, 38 percent. The most stark partisan divide we've seen among Republicans. He's at over 80 percent approval. And among Democrats, he's at below 7 percent approval, a nice footnote in that one, David, just you know, with the current company. Media, more trustworthy than Trump in the poll, 52-37.

DRUCKER: All right. Now, that's a poll I don't trust. That's a little weird.

CUOMO: That's almost as bad as the tapper gig.

DRUCKER: Look, and I am the media so I'm talking about myself here.

Look, I think you really hit the nail on the head there when you are talking about the difference in how Republicans view Trump and how Democrats view Trump. His numbers are bad, and the polling is real. The question here is

how the polling is distributed. So if you go to California, if you go to New York, you go to a Democratic district in pick your state, Trump's numbers are probably historically bad with members of the opposite party.

But with Republicans, he is still holding strong, and so the question for 2018, and this also deals with what I think are very real, is very real energy at these town hall meetings is, are these voters in places where they can make a difference in the 2018 elections. Because look, even a Republican district will have a couple hundred thousand people that vote against the Republican that are basically Democrats or independents who lean Democrat.

But if you still have more Republicans in that district and those Republicans are still happy with Donald Trump, which they are, then you're not going to see a change in 2018. But if you see Republicans and independents who lean to the right start to move against the president, then you have something to talk about.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for talking with us this morning.

CUOMO: All right. It is one thing for Democrats to say that they don't like or agree with the president. It's another thing for them to be able to beat them. And that's what we saw here in Atlanta last night. The eight candidates who want to be the DNC chair, they went at it in a debate. How to reform their party, how to take on Trump. Who came out on top? You decide. We'll give you the highlights, next.