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Tempers Flares as Some Lawmakers Side-Step Questions; GOP Lawmaker Cites Giffords in Worries About Safety During Town Halls; Mixed Messages on U.S. Trade with Mexico; Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Example of it, that there's a serious problem with foreign infiltration into the last election and frankly elections before that. And until we get more information about it, everyone who is trying to sort of make it all go away, make the press stop talking about it, you know, make the FBI chase leaks and not chase the truth, I think we're going to have more and more of a scandal. It ends up making things worse and not better. That was one of the lessons from Watergate.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let me get to some other news because we're also continuing to see these town halls where angry crowds are sounding off on their lawmakers, these lawmakers continuing to get an earful at these town halls across the country. Constituents saying they're fed up, they're hungry for change. Last night no different.

There was, though, this surprise moment, guys, last night in Pace, Florida. This is at a town hall for Congressman Matt Gaetz. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, or not, will you call for the release of President Trump's income tax returns?



REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: I think if you'll hear me out, you'll like the answer. Let me say right here, right now, absolutely Donald Trump should release his tax returns.


HARLOW: All right. Maria Cardona, to you, just a reminder, he's not the only Republican who has called for Donald Trump to release his tax returns. Others have including Donald Trump's former campaign manager and his counselor, Kellyanne Conway. Here is what she said last spring.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: So I want to ask you about this alliance between you first, Kellyanne, between John Kasich and Ted Cruz. This alliance, shall we say, that Donald Trump is calling collusion. Is this fair game? Are they playing by the rules here.


LEMON: Are they playing by the rules here?

CONWAY: Absolutely. Completely transparent. Donald Trump's tax returns aren't. I'd like to see those being transparent.


HARLOW: Maria Cardona, she also called for Donald Trump's tax returns. Did that surprise you, that moment? Was that the political pressure of all these town halls pushing this Republican congressman to say -- you know, you and I agree, I support the president, but he should release them?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it certainly is the kind of pressure that you're seeing now, a bunch of the GOP lawmakers are going through during these town halls. It didn't surprise me all that much because frankly it's easy for Republicans to say, sure, Donald Trump should release his tax returns because it doesn't matter. Nothing that they say is going to make Donald Trump release his tax returns. They've already said that they're not going to release his tax returns. So frankly it was kind of no skin off of the congressman's back to say that.

HARLOW: Another thing making headlines is what former House Speaker John Boehner said last night. And I want to pose this to you, Dana, about the promise from this president and from some many other Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare. But here's what Boehner said is the reality.


JOHN BOEHNER (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: All this happy talk that went on in November and December and January about repeal, repeal, repeal. Yes, we'll do replace, replace. I started laughing because if you pass repeal without replace, first, anything that happens is your fault. You broke it. But most of the Affordable Care Act, the framework is going to stay there. But I shouldn't call it repeal and replace because that's not what's going to happen. Basically they're going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it.


HARLOW: Repeal and replace not going to happen. More conservative box around it. Dana, is Boehner right?

DANA LOESCH, NRA SPOKESWOMAN: Yes. Boehner never really wanted Obamacare repealed and replaced to begin with. And I'll tell you what, if that doesn't happen, you know, all the town halls that you're seeing right now that's a lot of it is being fueled by the Town Hall Project with some very interesting origins and address shares, but they're going to actually see organic grassroots people back in those town halls. I was one of the original Tea Partiers that was out there way back when. And that's what everyone used to criticize --


HARLOW: It looks a lot like what you guys -- it looks a lot like what you guys were doing. But that's not my question to you.

LOESCH: In a way -- yes.

HARLOW: My question to you is did Republicans and did this president over-promise on Obamacare?


LOESCH: But we weren't put out there by the Town Hall Project. It was done by Hillary staffers.

HARLOW: Did they over promise on Obamacare?

LOESCH: Yes. I hope they didn't. Really, I look at it like this, Mike Pence gave the -- gave a really great speech yesterday at CPAC. And he said, look, this is happening. Obamacare is going to be repealed and replaced. I wished -- I will say this, I wish that lawmakers would say simply, we're going to gut it and this is what we're going to do. We're going to give you something that's portable, something that you can compete with, something that we're going to have high risk pools. We're going to make it to where your insurance, you can take it with you. It's not dependent upon your job, wherever you work. And it's something that you're going to be able to afford.

That's the language that I wish they would say. Instead of that phrase. I'm tired of hearing that phrase, what does it mean?


LOESCH: But I will say this. I'll end with this. If they don't, they will see.

[09:35:03] They will see conservatives, they will see Republicans, they will see a lot of people on the American right in those town halls holding them accountable for not fulfilling that promise, although I don't see how they can't do it with -- because Trump's promised it.

HARLOW: You're already seeing a lot of that anger play out.

Guys, thank you very much. A lot to get to this morning. Errol Louis, Maria Cardona and Dana Loesch.

Still to come for us, this.

Those protests raging on. The latest fiery exchanges at those town halls and backlash building over lawmakers refusing to meet face-to- face, some of them refusing to meet face-to-face with their constituents. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:40:01] HARLOW: Angry crowds continuing to pack town halls and unleash fury at some of their representatives. Tempers flaring certainly last night in Arizona as voters demanded answers from Representative Martha McSally.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are not answering our questions. Just answer our questions --


REP. MARTHA MCSALLY (R), ARIZONA: You may not like the answers that I'm giving you.



HARLOW: Our Deborah Feyerick attended one of these town halls. She is live for us in Covington, Kentucky, with more. What was it like, Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you -- look, there's a lot of fear, there's a lot of uncertainty. There's great concern that for the people at these rallies, at these town halls, that all the gains they feel they made over the last eight years are all going to be wiped out and wiped out quickly. But on the other side, as you heard there, the Republican lawmakers feel that whatever answer they give is not going to be the right answer because the country now sort of shifting in a different direction.

So what we see going on at these town halls is a lot of people speaking out, voicing their concerns. But there are some lawmakers that are simply not doing these town halls. What they're doing is they're doing sort of virtual remote town halls where they're not showing up. Others are basically having private luncheons where rallies are taking place outside. And we were at one of those rallies yesterday where Senate leader Mitch McConnell -- majority leader Mitch McConnell basically had a ticketed luncheon only.

Now at that luncheon it was very friendly, he got a standing ovation, a lot of laughs. But there were two people who paid to get in to make sure that what they had to say was heard.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: It's pretty clear what they're protesting and that's the outcome of last year's election.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, we're not protesting the election. We're protesting right to work. We are protesting losing our health care. We are protesting Russian interference in the White House. We are protesting the fact that to get in front of you we have to pay dollars. Why won't you hold a town hall with your constituents? We want to hear from you. We want to talk to you.

MCCONNELL: Yes. Was somebody else invited to speak? I kind of miss it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please come face-to-face with your constituents and stop this --


FEYERICK: Now Senator McConnell dismissed the people who were at the rally as remnants of Kentucky's failed Democratic Party.

But, Poppy, there were teachers, there were horse farm owners, there were moms and kids and families. And so they're speaking out because they feel it's important, and they may not be able to change the outcome of the election, but hopefully they can perhaps at least have their concerns shared in the halls of Washington's power -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Deborah Feyerick reporting from Covington, Kentucky, this morning. Deb, thank you very much.

Still to come for us, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords has a message for lawmakers skipping out on those town halls. He words, show some courage.


[09:47:22] HARLOW: A pretty stunning response from a Republican lawmaker. Louie Gohmert as he faces new criticism from Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. This exchange started when Gohmert cited Giffords' shooting as justification for him not holding a town hall.

Gohmert writing, "The House sergeant-at-arms advised us after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot at a public appearance that civilian attendees at congressional public events stand the most chance of being harmed or killed."

Giffords' response to that? "I was shot on a Saturday morning, by Monday morning my offices were open to the public. To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this, have some courage, face your constituents. Hold town halls."

Well, Gohmert is now responding to that. Our Manu Raju is live in Washington with all the details on his response.

So what is he saying after she made that comment?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's pushing back. Now Louie Gohmert, one of the more conservative members of the House, someone who has battled his Republican leadership, but also Democrats as well, and also pushing back at someone who is widely revered after she had survived the 2011 near assassination attempt after holding that constituent meeting in Arizona.

Now Gohmert speaking to a local east Texas station saying that Gabby, that I cared so much about before the shooting would never have minimized the death of people that day at that horrible event that changed her life forever and caused us to lose her from Congress. Of course, referring to the six people who were killed during that mass shooting in Arizona.

Now this comes as Democrats are pushing Republicans who are skipping these town hall meetings to actually take questions from their constituents at a time when the Republicans are moving an aggressive agenda through Congress and trying to repeal and replace Obamacare. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, saying this to our Erin Burnett last night.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: If you don't have the guts to face your constituents, then you shouldn't be in the United States Congress. And if you need police at the meetings, that's fine. Have police at the meetings. Have security at the meetings, but don't use that as an excuse to run away from your constituents. Answer the question that your constituents have.


RAJU: Now, Poppy, all this comes to a head in the coming weeks. Behind the scenes, House and Senate leaders are trying to cut a deal to repeal and replace Obamacare. They got cut up with a bill that they could be vote on in the House as soon as March. The question, though, is are there the votes, and will those more moderate members feel the pressure from some of their constituents in those districts, particularly the districts that supported Hillary Clinton -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely. And they're going to face some tougher questions. I think now given what John Boehner said about, you know, they can't really fully replace and repeal Obamacare.

[09:50:07] Manu Raju on the Hill, thank you very much.

Still to come for us, the largest gathering of conservatives are about to hear from the president at CPAC. We'll bring that to you live but next President Trump calls our trade relationship with Mexico unbelievably bad. But his Homeland Security chief says not exactly.


[09:55:46] HARLOW: More conflicting perspective within the Trump White House this week. Just yesterday meeting with manufacturing CEOs, President Trump calls trade deals with Mexico, quote, "unbelievably bad." But at the same day while in Mexico the Homeland Security chief John Kelly praised them.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With Mexico we have $70 bill in deficits. Trade deficits. And it's unsustainable. We're not going to let it happen. We can't let it happen.

JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The relationship between the United States and Mexico is among I believe the most critical in the world. This dynamic trade relationship has also helped create millions of jobs on both sides of the border. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Our senior economics analyst Stephen Moore is here, he served as a senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign.

Really diametrically opposed views. Who is right? Secretary Kelly or the president when it comes to trade with Mexico?

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST: Hi, Poppy, well, happy Friday. I'm going to try to square the circle and say they're both right.


HARLOW: You can't do that on this program. You've got to say it straight. Come on.

MOORE: Look, I think that -- first of all, I think that Donald Trump is right that there are problems with our trade arrangements with Mexico, that those trade deficits that you mentioned are a problem for many American companies and Mexico has to do a better job I think of opening up their markets to American manufacturing products and agriculture products and so on.

By the way, I'm a fan of NAFTA. I don't agree with Donald Trump on that, but I think on balance NAFTA has been a great thing for Mexico and a good thing for the U.S. But, you know, the -- you know, the trade representative was right that security -- from a security standpoint, Poppy, one of the most important national security concerns of America should not be necessarily what's happening in the Middle East, and Russia, and China, and all these other places on the globe, but what's happening to our southern neighbor. And we want to make sure that they maintain their position as strong and stable. That's in America's interests for sure. And so I think that both of them have a point.

HARLOW: Well, look, you've said, though, just last week, Steve Moore, I'm quoting you, "On trade I think he's playing with fire." And we both know the studies inside and out.


HARLOW: Many of them show millions of U.S. jobs exist because of trade with Mexico. I'm not writing off the fact that 800,000 jobs at least have been lost to Mexico because of NAFTA. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says six million jobs exist in this country because of this trade. Does the president need to back down on this?

MOORE: Well, again, first of all, there's no question that trade with Mexico and Canada has been a positive thing for all three countries, no question about that. And, you know, it's interesting that Donald Trump was meeting with manufacturers yesterday. You know, a lot of Americans don't realize that almost a quarter of everything we manufacture in the United States is exported abroad. So manufacturers actually benefit from some of these trade agreements. But again, I do think that Mexico needs to do a better job of opening

up their markets to American products, just so that we don't have a trade war with Mexico.

HARLOW: Right.

MOORE: And also, Poppy, I want to get this out because it's important. I do not favor a tariff against Mexico.

HARLOW: Right.

MOORE: I think that would be bad for American consumers, it would be bad for our relationship with our southern neighbor.

HARLOW: Almost every economist says it's going to throw us into a trade war. The last time we saw that in the 1930s, it was a disaster. Just listen --

MOORE: Yes, right. Exactly.

HARLOW: I want you to respond to what former Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, said, really issuing a warning to this administration yesterday with our Christiane Amanpour.


FELIPE CALDERON, FORMER MEXICAN PRESIDENT: The United States could not take for granted my country in terms related with, for instance, sharing intelligence. National security of the American people relies a lot in the cooperation of the Mexican side. If the United States wants to fight with Mexico cooperating, well, we don't see a more cooperative attitude coming from the American government, we don't need to cooperate.

And yes, we can lose a lot, but the Americans can lose a lot. And they need to understand, don't take Mexico for granted.


HARLOW: Is he right with that message, don't take Mexico for granted, Mr. Trump?

MOORE: Partly he is, but I don't think this idea of kind of challenging Trump head on is necessarily good strategy for Mexico because, you know, we've learned that Donald Trump is a counterpuncher, right? You punch him and he's going to punch a little back. So I'm not so sure that's the right approach for the Mexican government to take. I think we need to have a greater cooperation with the two countries, no question about it.