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President Trump's First Speech to Congress; Boehner: Republicans Never Agreed on ObamaCare; Syrian Doctors Describe Last Weeks in Aleppo; Trump Links Obama to White House Leaks Protests; Battling A Modern Menace

Aired February 28, 2017 - 14:00:00   ET


[14:00:13] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, President Trump gives his first speech to Congress. Can he calm the chaos that's overshadowed

his first 40 days? David Axelrod will know. As chief White House strategist, he guided President Obama through many such speeches.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's the advantage of this speech tonight. He has an unfiltered 40 million or so Americans

watching. And they will get his message the way he wants to deliver it.

AMANPOUR: Also ahead, they bore witness to the horrors in Syria, and now they're in Washington to tell the world what they saw. We meet the

extraordinary doctors from Aleppo vowing to keep Syria in the spotlight.

Plus, the truth behind the lies. The Ukrainian T.V show that only reports fake news.

AMANPOUR: Good evening everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

Forty days on the job and looking for light at the end of a tunnel of turmoil. President Donald Trump will try to reset tonight in his first

speech to Congress. He promised a big, fast moving agenda upon taking office. He immediately pulled out of the Pacific trade deal, and launched

a draconian immigration crackdown.

But on other big promises, he's hit a bit of a brick wall. Republicans have wanted to kill ObamaCare since it was enacted seven years ago. But it

turns out they can't agree on how to do it. Which, even the president seems to acknowledge


DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: We have come up with a solution that's really, really -- I think very good. Now I have to tell you, it's

an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.


AMANPOUR: So what that solution is? Nobody yet quite knows. But the President will announce a hefty 10 percent increase in military spending.

And in turn, slash other areas of government like the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and Foreign Aid.

Now more than 120 retired generals and admirals signed a letter on Monday, pushing back on proposed cuts to diplomacy and development aid. They

quoted Trump's own defense secretary, General James Mattis, who in 2013 said, quote, If you don't fully fund the State Department, then I need to

buy more ammunition.

Now CNN's Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod, joined me a short time ago. He was President Obama's, chief strategist throughout his time

in office, and he's guided many of speech to Congress. Though perhaps, not one balanced on quite such a high wire.


David Axelrod, welcome to the program.

AXELROD: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: So the President is about to speak. He comes at this with historic lows. Only 44 percent according to latest polls approve of the

job he's doing. Do you believe that he can actually turn that perception around with this speech tonight?

AXELROD: Well, look, it's the biggest audience that he's going to have in a long while. I mean, these speeches, these joint speeches to Congress are

generally opportunities to reset. When President Obama made these speeches, he was able to lift his numbers, and I'm sure that's what the

Trump administration is hoping for now.

AMANPOUR: Yes, his own people in Congress, and not necessarily, you know, following the leader. Tell me what the biggest split is between they and


AXELROD: Well, there are numbers. One is how to proceed on the Affordable Care Act. There isn't unanimity of opinion on how to do it. And what the

Republicans in Congress and the White house are discovering is that if you move carelessly on this, you could have a political rebellion on your


It turns out that the Affordable Care Act has been most effective in the States that Trump carried in the election. They were the biggest

beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act. And now members are confronting this in Town Hall meetings and other settings. And there's nervousness

about how to proceed. So that's one area.

Another is on Medicare and social security. The president has been steadfast in his commitment not to touch Medicare and social security but

he has ambitious spending plans in other areas. And if you don't go to the largest source of money which is Medicare and social security, it makes it

harder to fund the other commitments that he wants to fund. Defense Spending, tax cuts, ultimately infrastructure.

[14:05:05] So, that's a source of concern to Republicans in the Congress. So there are a lot of issues that really are impediments to him moving

forward on many major fronts.

AMANPOUR: Can I just play to you something that the former speaker, John Boehner said precisely about health care. And you know that even President

Trump himself has said that, 'Oh, boy, who knew that health care was so complicated?' I see you smiling because you have obviously been through

that with the president.

AXELROD: Well, if he had only asked, I would have told him.

AMANPOUR: Well, guess what, he may --

AXELROD: I think most people knew.

AMANPOUR: -- he may have asked his own party, his former speaker of the house. This is what John Boehner said recently.

JOHN BOEHNER, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: In the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever one time agreed on

what a health care proposal should look like. Not once. And all of this happy talk that went on in November and December and January, about repeal,

repeal, repeal. Yeah, we'll do replace, replace. I started laughing because if you pass repeal without replace, first anything that happens is

your fault.

AMANPOUR: So that's pretty dramatic. I mean, he pretty much says it as it is.

AXELROD: Yes. Well, that speaks to the joys of retirement. I think John Boehner is enjoying his new life. But he's certainly telling the truth as

well about health care.

You know, Republicans for the last six years, three elections cycles have campaigned on repealing the Affordable Care Act. But now they're like the

dogs who caught the car, and they don't know quite what to do about it because the complexity of it is very clear. And they have made a point of

saying we're going to keep all those features of the health care law that you like, and we're just going to take away the ones that you don't like.

And it turns out, you need all of it to make it work. And there's no suitable replacement without dispossessing millions of Americans who have

benefited from the law and got insurance from the law. So they are stalled at the moment.

AMANPOUR: I want to play you also a little bit of what President Trump has said in his Fox News interview about his own achievement so far.

TRUMP: I think I get an "A" in terms of what I've actually done. But in terms of messaging, I'd give myself a "C" or "C+."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, how are you going to change that then?

TRUMP: We'll maybe I'll change it during the speech.

AMANPOUR: So going back to our first question, he's only giving himself a C or a C+ in terms of messaging. But is it just messaging David because --

look, I want to ask you, you know, these really serious questions. There seems to be a disconnect between the way the president sees the world and

especially America and the way it actually is.

Claiming the murder rate is the highest it's been in 47 years when actually it's the lowest it's been in decades. Claiming the border is wide open

when actually illegal border crossing rate a 40-year low. Claiming terror suspects, or immigrants or refugees, in fact as we know most of them are

committed by U.S. citizens or residents. You know, I guess it's raising the bar, raising expectations, and then kind of being left out there to try

to fulfill these outside promises.

AXELROD: Well, I think it's not raising the bar, it's raising fear. You know, Franklin Roosevelt in his first inaugural address, said 'the only

thing we have to fear is fear itself'. And the president's message seems to be, be very afraid. And I am the answer to your fear. I am the answer

to this dystopia that I am describing. And so, yes, there is a disconnect between reality and his rhetoric. And I think what was surprising about

that interview though is that he was willing to give himself a less than stellar grade on anything.

That's the advantage of this speech tonight. He has an unfiltered 40 million or so Americans watching and they will get his message the way he

wants to deliver it. And a lot of it is going to be about the things that he feels he's accomplished.

AMANPOUR: And the world will be watching as well but, it is a dangerous world. The rise of China, the rise of Russian adversarial politics. And

yes, one can see the military budget perhaps needing to be ramped up.

But even General Mattis, years ago, has said that you cut the State Department, and you cut foreign aid and things like that, in other words,

cut diplomacy, and you're going to have to give me more ammunition. In other words, there is the likelihood of more war. That's a very, very

tricky needle to thread there. Raising defense and reducing dramatically the State Department.

AXELROD: Well, and it's the box that he's painted himself into. The corner he's painted himself into because if you say there are large areas

of the budget I'm not going to touch, then you have to get it all from a relatively small block of discretionary spending in which the State

Department sits. And so, yes, he's talking about deep, deep cuts, perhaps 30 percent in foreign aid and support for the diplomatic core.

[14:10:02] And it's interesting that the generals are the ones who are speaking out against it. A lot of retired generals today are speaking out

against it. As you point out, General Mattis has been very firm on this in the past. I will say this Christiane, in my soundings of Congress and on

both sides since that story broke on the budget, there is very little appetite for this.

The notion that this is going to go through as proposed here seems very, very slim to none as far as I'm concerned. And the reason is that people

understand that diplomacy actually matters. Soft power is important if you're talking about preserving security.

AMANPOUR: That's absolutely fascinating. And just lastly, these attacks on Jewish cemeteries, Jewish community centers, and also two Indians who

were killed, apparently, allegedly mistaken for Iranians. The person wanted to shoot Iranians apparently.

You've been at the pinnacle of power before. These are very delicate times. What do you attribute that to, and how does it end?

AXELROD: Well, look, the president has a huge megaphone. And if you're, if you're intent on stirring fear and if you're intent on mining

resentments between people, you're going to reap a very bitter harvest and we're seeing that now. Once you release the virus of hate, it travels

rapidly. And it touches a lot of communities. And so, you know, this is a big problem and the White House has not been very aggressive in pushing

back. They have established a climate here that is very, very dangerous.

One thing I want to say on behalf of the U.S. though, as chilling as the story was of the shooting of those two gentlemen, there are also were

stories that in that same scene, in that tavern, there were patrons. Once this shooter was thrown out before he came back with a gun, there were

people who approached these gentlemen, wanted to buy them drinks and talk to them and apologize for his behavior. Once he came in and shot them,

there was a young man who gave chase and was shot three times himself because he said, "I don't want to see him kill other people."

So there were stories that were inspiring and encouraging even within that tragedy. And that reflects this country as well.

AMANPOUR: Incredibly important note to end on. David Axelrod, thank you very much indeed.

AXELROD: Always good to be with you. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: Some difficult times inside and outside the United States. And unintended consequence of Trump's travel ban, snatching the microphone away

from those who would highlight atrocities in those seven banned Muslim countries. Like the war crimes happening in Syria.

When we come back, I speak to a Syrian couple, both doctors with compelling testimony who finally made it out with their horrifying stories. That's



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. At the U.N., Russia and China have again vetoed any sanctions on the Syrian regime for the repeated use of

chemical weapons on civilians. Now, the U.N. and the international chemical weapons watchdog had concluded that Syrian forces were indeed

behind three attacks in 2014 and 2015.

[14:15:05] My next guests have witnessed the effect on some of the victims. Dr. Farida and her husband Dr. Abdulkhalek, treated them in besieged

Eastern Aleppo. But their facilities were attacked many times, and they managed to flee. They've dodged the Trump travel ban, and they're now in

Washington to testify about these atrocities. And they're wearing face masks, as you can see, to hide their identities back home.

Both of you, welcome to the program. Let me first start by asking you how worried you are about who might see you and recognize you back home, and

why your testimony might put you in danger? Dr. Farida?


DR. FARIDA, SYRIAN AMERICAN MEDICAL SOCIETY DOCTOR: We are afraid for our relatives in Syria.

AMANPOUR: You're afraid for your relatives?


AMANPOUR: And sorry Dr. Abdulkhalek, I interrupted you. But what might happen, do you think?

ABDULKHALEK: If they discover our identity, they will maybe capture us or maybe capture one of our family to put them in jail, and maybe we will be

in great danger.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you because you are talking about really the worst kinds of weapons. Dr. Farida, did you treat -- well, I said you did.

Describe the patients who came to your hospital and you said, you know, there were chemical attacks, and you treated victims. Describe and explain

that for me.

FARIDA: When we were at my hospital, my hospital was M2, there was -- we are making some operations and there was a chemical attack with chlorine

gas. Its smell was very obvious and we have to evacuate the patients from the hospital. And one of the nurses with asthma has to put some oxygen

because she was going to suffocate because of the chemical attack. This was in M2.

And another attack was on M3 hospital. When we were in the basement, because it was safer for us to be at the basement, another chlorine attack

with a bombing barrel and there was one patient who was giving birth in the hospital, and we take her between that rubbles and chemical smell. And we

put some masks on our faces, and some water, and we go -- we fled on the hospital, take her to another hospital.

And there was three men with us, are going to die because there was no oxygen in the hospital. So we get them another medications to make them

better. But it was not working very good because there was no oxygen.

AMANPOUR: So you're describing really horrible tales of when you were trying to do a C-section, trying to help give birth, and there was chemical

attacks with those barrel bombs on the hospital. Dr. Abdulkhalek, what did you see and how sure are you about these chemical attacks? And what do you

want to tell Americans now while you're there?

ABDULKHALEK: Yes. In the 10th of December and the 11th of December, I were in -- I was in of the hospital of M3. We smell that obvious smell of

chlorine and we rushed to the inner room in that hospital. The hospital as Dr. Farida said in the basement, it was in the basement to be more safer.

So we rushed to the inner room, and the smell was getting bigger and bigger. And we closed all the doors, and we put a blanket on the door, and

we make some water over the blanket to avoid of that smell.

And there were a pregnant woman with her husband, and we had to make a cesarean, so we called ambulance from outside. And we put some masks and

some water over the masks to evacuate this patient and her relatives out of that hospital.

AMANPOUR: So you are going to visit the State Department, and I believe you're going to New York to talk to people at the U.N. What is your key

message? What is it that you want to tell them?

[14:20:06] ABDULKHALEK: All the people over the world must gather together to protect the medical, medical facilities from getting attacked with

bombing or with rockets or was -- with chemical weapons. All the world was watching Aleppo when she was dying day after day, until they took all over

Aleppo. Until the regime and Russia may control all over Aleppo.

AMANPOUR: And Dr. Farida, eventually -- I mean, you stayed there until the bitter end. You were among the last doctors there. Eventually, you had to

leave. Can you tell me how difficult it was to get out of Eastern Aleppo?

DR. FARIDA: Aleppo is my home so it was very hard. As if you take my heart out of my body. I can't, I can't imagine that I have one day to get

out of my hospital or my house. My hospital and my staff was like my family. So we are now separated from each other because no hospital now

will make us together again.

Now, everyone is working alone. I think in everywhere happened in the world, there is no monster could target the hospitals or the schools. In

Aleppo, the regime is always targeting schools and hospitals. They want just to eliminate life in Aleppo. So he could take it, because he

destroyed the schools and destroyed the hospitals. So he diminished the life. So we -- the fighters and everyone has to go out of Aleppo.


FARIDA: So he can finish Aleppo.

AMANPOUR: Yes, indeed, it's a very sad story. And I want to ask you finally, ABDULKHALEK, you know, President Trump has imposed these bans,

certainly, against Syrian refugees and many other people in seven different countries.


AMANPOUR: And President Assad said he agreed with that ban, and that it would help fight terrorism. How did you manage to get out? And what is

your view of that ban?

ABDULKHALEK: Of course there are -- there were many troubles to get American visa but our organization make a lot of work to make that happen.

We couldn't make the visa by ourselves because they refused the first time and the second time. And the third time, they agreed to give us a U.S.

visa for six months.

FARIDA: But there is a thing, our daughter is still there. So they didn't give us the visa until they -- until the --

ABDULKHALEK: Make a condition.

FARIDA: -- our daughter is still there, so we are going back to -- for our daughter.

AMANPOUR: Wow. So the Americans said you had to leave your daughter.

FARIDA: Yes. My daughter is there.

AMANPOUR: Oh, dear. Well, I hope you get reunited and I hope you manage to tell your story to powerful people in the United States. Dr. Farida,

ABDULKHALEK, thank you for being with us.

In meantime in Washington, in the annals of fake news, President Trump issued this whopper today, accusing the former President Obama of being

behind the leaks from the current White House and the angry protests at the town hall meetings around the country.


TRUMP: No I think President Obama is behind it because his people are certainly behind it.


AMANPOUR: President produced no evidence for this. And one of his people is David Axelrod and I asked David Axelrod about it and he told me that it

was a preposterous claim. Now, you remember the real trouble caused by flat-out fake news during the U.S. election. For instance, the pizza

pedophile lie. One believer fired a gun into that place.

Well, imagine attacking fake news head-on. In Ukraine, they have been doing it for years, and we find out how. Next.


[14:26:26] AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we imagine the news channel that only reports fake news, focusing on events that never took place. Long

before fake news entered the modern lexicon, Ukraine had been at war with it ever since Russia and its Crimea invaded Eastern Ukraine three years

ago. A Kiev-based media organization called "StopFake" emerged to target the epidemic of lies.


CHRISTI ANNE HOFLAND, ANCHOR, STOPFAKE NEWS: This week's disinformation menu brings you the following. Poroshenko calls for ending Russian

sanctions. Is turkey building a new caliphate for Crimean Tatars in Southern Ukraine? Kyiv to cull stray dogs for Eurovision song contest.

So, let's get to the details.


AMANPOUR: StopFake performs what it calls truth or top sees, tackling the phenomenon head-on. They've called it investigative journalism with a

twist. And they examine each falsehood and in a reversal of the usual fare, they lay out what didn't happen in Ukraine that week.

It was started by professors, graduates, and students from Kiev's journalism school and has been quickly joined by professional journalists,

editors, translators, and others. The organization now says it disseminates material debunking fake news in 10 languages. And you just

heard English just then.

And on their website, they even have their own "how to" guide for catching out the fakes in a world that is now full of them. And that is really good


That's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us anytime online at and follow me on Facebook

and Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.