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Trump's Speech Tonight; Trump to Embrace Republican's Plan; Obama behind Leaks; Lawmakers Warned to Behave; Briefing about Trump's Speech. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 28, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:09] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar coming to you live from Capitol Hill for CNN's special coverage of the president's first address to Congress. For a man who spent decades in the center of the spotlight, President Trump will have, in just hours now, his biggest moment yet since his inauguration. And he'll lay out his plan for the nation in primetime and before a joint session of Congress. Will he succeed in restarting a turbulent presidency. The president gave a preview earlier. He mentioned some familiar topics, but also admitted he could do a better job communicating.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All I can do is speak from the heart and say what I want to do. We have a really terrific, I believe, health care plan coming out. We have to understand, Obamacare has been a disaster. We're coming out with a health care plan that I think will be terrific. It will be very inclusive. And I think it's going to do really what people are wanting it to do. But I'll be talking about that. I'll be talking about the military. I'll be talking about the border. And remember this, on the border, and throughout our country, we're getting the bad ones out, the bad people, gang members, drug lords, in some cases murders, we're getting them out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has that not ben communicated? Do you think that that has not been communicated effectively?

TRUMP: I don't think so. No, I don't think it's been. Maybe it's my fault.


KEILAR: Let me turn now to CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray.

So, Sara, the president's aides are telling CNN that this is going to be an optimistic speech. What more are you hearing?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. And we know that as late as yesterday the president was still sort of tweaking it, still putting finishing touches on it, that he's been working along with his speech writing team to craft this address. It is certainly a very big moment for him, not only to address the American public - remember, this is a guy who firmly believes he is his own best messenger, but also to address members of his party, members of the Democratic Party, and lay out what's really in his agenda going forward.

Now, we know there's going to be a national security component. We know he's going to talk about how he's going to create economic opportunity. But the thing that has Republicans especially on The Hill on their toes is this question of just how much detail he's going to serve up, particularly when it comes to health care. They've made it clear that this is going to be their first big ticket agenda item, but we really haven't seen this president lay out specifics of how he wants this repeal and replace process to go. There are plenty in the leadership team over on The Hill who would to see the president come out, wrap his arms around the House Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare and frankly give members a little bit of air cover to move forward on this. But it's just not clear if he's going to delve deep into specifics.

And the same is true on tax reform, Briana. We have seen the president say over and over again that health care reform has to come first before you move to taxes, but there's still a big question there of what a Trump tax reform plan would look like, whether he's going to embrace this border adjustment tax. We just don't know at this point if he's going to delve into those details or give sort of that same kind of 10,000 foot speech that we've heard from him in the past.

KEILAR: Yes, we'll be looking for those details. Sara Murray, thank you so much for that report.

And we're now hearing from sources that when it comes to Obamacare, the president and Republican leaders are trying to get on the same page, but don't tell that to some rank and file Republicans in the House who have already come out to say they are ready for a fight.

For more on this, I want to bring in CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly.

Phil, what are you hearing about this discord?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's important to note, Brianna, the idea that House Republican leadership and the administration are on the same page is not a small thing. If you think about the senior advisers to President Trump, many of them have none or limited government experience coming into this. So the learning curve was steep. And really House Republicans were kind of leading the way, walking them through this process.

I'm told the relationship has evolved and, as you said, it's kind of a hand in glove type of scenario right now, but that doesn't mean there's an easy pathway forward. And that's because inside the House Republican conference, there are very clear splits right now on the most conservative side. You have the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the two kind of most conservative groups kind of incorporate almost 170 of the 240 plus Republican members of the House saying they are opposed to the leaked drafts that they've seen of the Republican Obamacare repeal proposal up to this point.

Now, what does that mean? When I talked to Republican leadership aides, they say a couple things. First, the main tenants of that plan, while they have shifted since the leak draft came out, are going to remain the same. They are going to have refundable tax credits. They are going to repeal the individual mandate. They're going to rely heavily on health savings accounts and risk pools as they move forward.

But they recognize right now that as they move forward with this plan, they need to get their members in line. And this is really when it comes to what Sara was talking about with the president. If he and his team are as close to House Republican leadership as House Republican leadership seem to think they are, they need a robust endorsement if not tonight then very clearly over the next couple of weeks. We haven't even started the legislative process up here on Capitol Hill yet, Brianna. And to see these splits is certainly worrisome. I think the big key right now is, what happens if President Trump calls up the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus or calls up the chairman of the Republican Study Committee and says, hey, I understand your concerns, but it's time to get behind what Speaker Ryan has laid out. Will that change thing? You talk to Republican leadership aides, they say it will, and that's exactly why they want the president to get into the game now, tonight, in his speech, and in his remarks and endorsements going forward, Brianna.

[14:05:33] KEILAR: All right, Phil Mattingly here on The Hill, thank you so much.

And I want to take a closer look now on this deep divide that we are seeing here. Joining me now we have Ed O'Keefe, political reporter for "The Washington Post," and Todd Gillman, Washington bureau chief for "The Dallas Morning News."

So, Todd, you're hearing about this divide between Republicans when it comes to things like Obamacare and also other issues and just really getting started. What are you expecting to hear from President Trump that could maybe nudge them in a direction toward consensus?

TODD GILLMAN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS": Well, I'm going to be listening to hear whether he is trying to scare people or unify people and his - the way he got to where he is and where his comfort zone is to try to build up the base to put pressure on fellow Republicans to kind of come at it from a different angle. And I don't think that he's going to lay out really detailed legislative proposals here, but he's going to try to put pressure to fellow Republicans to say, you better come on board with me. There's a lot of difference between Trump and most Republicans in Congress on certain things, trade, the border wall. We're hearing a lot of discord. Health care, you know, the details, there are a lot of differences, and he's going to have to make them feel heat from back home.

KEILAR: Governing is very difficult. It's so much harder than campaigning. One of the ways that Donald Trump campaigned and something that we heard in his inaugural speech was talking about I guess you could say the challenges facing the U.S. He cast that in somewhat negative terms during his inaugural address.


KEILAR: And now we're hearing that he's going to be more optimistic. What do you think?

O'KEEFE: Well, that's a bit of a - a bit of whiplash from him and I'd be curious to see how he sets that, especially amid reports now that they're considering slashing the budget at the State Department so considerably and there's opposition up here to that.

KEILAR: Lindsey Graham.

O'KEEFE: Exactly.

KEILAR: He has - he has said, if you slash the State Department budget, as I'm - I'm seeing that it's being discussed, it's going to be dead on arrival, that (INAUDIBLE).

O'KEEFE: Right. And for a Republican senator to say that, to essentially threaten to hold up the legislation, that shows you that they're going to have to work around it. And given that so many military leaders have spoken out about maintaining or growing the State Department budget, one would think other Republicans would follow (INAUDIBLE).

So Todd's right, he's got a lot of work to do when it comes to bringing his own party together, let - to set aside Democrats who are going to try to be dramatic and somehow display opposition tonight. We have not seen this side of Donald Trump yet. This is a speech tonight. This isn't necessarily a sales pitch to his party. He has a speak to the broader nation and the world. But he has a big challenge ahead of him on Obamacare, on tax reform, on all these other issues, and we haven't seen whether or not he's capable of that yet.

KEILAR: Todd, this is a huge opportunity for President Trump. Do you get the sense that he and his aides close to him are really focused on that and are trying to seize this?

GILLMAN: I think so. I think that he has been well prepped to stay on script to the extent that he possibly can. They've scrubbed this. They've sanitized it. He's going to try to stay on message. He understands that, as Ed said, this is a huge audience, probably his biggest one yet, and if he can present a vision of presidency that is maybe a little more serious and has some gravitas, that could turn around some skepticism.

O'KEEFE: Todd, how dare you dispute that it's his biggest audience yet. There's no question it will be his biggest audience.

GILLMAN: Oh, of course it will. Of course.

O'KEEFE: That's what he always says.

GILLMAN: There's lines already around the place (ph).

KEILAR: Well, let's - there actually are not. I just want to - I just want to fact check that.


KEILAR: I want to listen to Donald Trump. He actually spoke earlier today being a little bit introspective and grading himself on how he's performed so far. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now in terms of achievement, I think I'd give myself an A because I think I've done great things but I don't think I've - I and my people, I don't think we've explained it well enough to the American public. 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 a C+.

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

TRUMP: Well, maybe I change it during the speech.


KEILAR: That sentiment of not explaining it well enough to the American people gives me so much deja vu to something President Obama said about not communicating things effectively.

O'KEEFE: Especially when it came to Obamacare.

KEILAR: That's right.

O'KEEFE: Yes. No, it's fascinating to hear him say that. I mean mark the date and time, that was probably the most humble he's been, at least on camera.

GILLMAN: I was going to say, it's very presidential. This is standard presidential pattern is to say -


[14:10:01] GILLMAN: If only people understood me better, they would like me more.

KEILAR: He was actually pretty forthcoming when it came to grading himself. I mean this is an area that characteristically, even if presidents maybe have a thought about what they could improve on, they are loathe to share that publicly.


O'KEEFE: And he did it. And he did it. And, you know, look, if he's talking about keeping promises, he's certainly done that. He has shaken up the immigration system. He's preparing to slash the size and scope of the federal government. He's working on a tax reform plan, on Obamacare. He's had a slate of executive orders that pleased his base and infuriated everyone else. He's kept his promises. But I think everyone at the White House would agree, the messaging's been a little tricky.

KEILAR: But immigration, his budget, Obamacare, and all of these things he's running into difficulties with his own party right off the bat, maybe not completely surprising. I remember covering here the passage of Obamacare and it was quite a tedious process for Democrats, as governing is, but is he - what are his prospects for actually pushing through on these three different fronts?

GILLMAN: Well, look it turns out that governing is not as simplistic as it sounds like it would be to somebody who has never been in politics before. He has come into Washington with this very aggressive agenda. He has smashed up against the rocks of the entrenched establishment in both parties. And just the bureaucracy and the amount of time that it takes to get things through Congress. And let's look at border security as a good example. The Republican base loved his message of more secure border, but it turns out that Texas Republicans, we hear from them all the time, a wall makes no sense. This is a waste of billions of dollars. It's not going to be effective. So both on the substance and the politics of it, Trump has had a tough set of lessons.

KEILAR: Todd Gillman, Ed O'Keefe, thank you so much to both of you.

And just some new reporting, some breaking news into CNN that we have coming from our Jeff Zeleny over at the White House, Donald Trump, tonight, during his address to a joint session of Congress, is going to be addressing threats to Jewish sites all over the country, an uptick that we have seen recently. He has come under fire at certain points for not being vociferous enough about some of these things and he is going to addressing that. We will be looking ahead for more information on his other objectives this evening as well.

And next I'm going to speak live with a Republican who say no to his own party's Obamacare replacement plan. We will hear his reasons on that.

Plus, President Trump says he knowns who's to blame for the leaks and rowdy town halls, his predecessor, former President Obama. We will discuss.

And the president responds to the father of the Navy SEAL killed during a raid in Yemen. The father calls the operation "stupid" and he is demanding answers. We'll have the president's response ahead.


[14:16:57] KEILAR: President Trump, today, blaming his predecessor for two major disruptions during his first month in office, wild protests following Republican town halls across the country and leaks exposing what's happening behind the scenes at the White House. Here is what President Trump said this morning about former President Obama.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we talk about President Obama. It turns out his organization seems to be doing a lot of the organizing some of the protest that a lot of these Republicans are seeing around the country and against you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe President Obama's behind it? And if he is, is that a violation of the - the so-called unsaid president's code?

TRUMP: No, I think he is behind it. I also think it's politics. That's the way it is. His people are certainly behind it. And some of the leaks possibly come from that group. You know, some of the leaks, which are really very serious leaks because they're very bad in terms of national security.



KEILAR: Joining me now to discuss, David Urban, CNN political commentator and former Trump campaign strategist. And also here, Brill Press, he is the author of the book "Buyer's Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down."

Welcome to both of you.

And, Bill, to you first. I mean what do you make of that accusation? Now the question was, his organization is behind this, which actually is not true, but the president felt that President Obama's people are behind this.

BILL PRESS, HOST, "THE BILL PRESS SHOW": I think it's hilarious, I really do, first of all, for Donald Trump to be blaming the leaks that are coming from the White House on either President Obama or his organization or left over people. You know, President Kennedy once said that the White House is unique and it's the only vessel that leaks from the top. And I think we know where these leaks are coming from.

Here's my theory, David -


PRESS: And David can respond. You look at these leaks. Who have they hurt? They've hurt Reince Priebus. They've hurt Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, not Steve Bannon. Maybe Steve Bannon is the source of the leaks.

URBAN: No. No, no, no. No, no, no, I disagree. And I think if you play - I think Bill's conflating two issues. You talk about what the president said earlier about the protests at these town meetings - town hall meetings where - where organized by - organizing for (INAUDIBLE) OFA, as well as Indivisible, two groups that are directly tied to the president, and then there's the talk about the leaks, which are leaking the classified information.

KEILAR: But, I mean, so are you - but are you - can I just ask -

URBAN: Sure.

PRESS: I'll come back to the town halls.

KEILAR: So do you - do you think that he is instructing people to do this?

URBAN: No, I think that folks who are directly tied to President Obama have a great - obviously have a great incentive to disrupt this current administration. They lost. They're not happy about it. They lost. And so they're showing up at town hall meeting and they're disrupting. So that's one issue.

The second issue is on leaks, which are real. The folks in "The New York Times," people leaked classified information. And whether that's people directly tied to the Obama administration or that's - whether that's Clapper or whether that's somebody else, that's to be determined and those things were - those things were definitely hurt.

PRESS: Well, first of all - all right, why does Sean Spicer collected the cell phones from everybody in his unit, because he thinks the leaks are coming from the White House.

[14:20:3] I want to come back to the - to these protests. Look, these - I can tell you, these are organic. These are the people who are not happy with the Trump agenda.

Now, of course, and I think it's very rich, by the way, that the Republicans, with all the Tea Party protests in 2009, organized by all the Koch brothers associations, are now whining that Democrats are organizing town halls.

KEILAR: Well, look, may I weigh in on this -

URBAN: Sure.

KEILAR: Because I covered those town halls back in 2009.


KEILAR: And we have a number of reporters who have been covering these town halls. I mean I was there on the ground in 2009 and while there might be a lot of signage that you would see provided by maybe Koch associated groups, that was very real, that feeling, and -

URBAN: I disagree, Brianna. I disagree.

KEILAR: But I would say, David, the same with this.

PRESS: And these are real. They are real.

KEILAR: I mean we have - there are - there's certainly some organizing, but they're - most of the people there are there of their own volition.

URBAN: Yes, listen - in Pennsylvania - in Pennsylvania, a state which I know a little bit about, I've had folks reaching out to me, sending me all the materials that are sent to them by Indivisible and other groups urging them to show up, telling them what to do, where to sit, how to -

PRESS: Well, wait a minute. There is nothing wrong -


PRESS: I will - I will acknowledge,,, -

URBAN: Right.

PRESS: These are all helping people -

URBAN: And they're all tied to the Obama administration.

PRESS: Are telling them,, they're all telling them where the town halls are taking place, what time to show up, and these people are coming because they are hurt by Obamacare - their families will be hurt by the repeal of Obamacare.

URBAN: But that's all the president said. The president said groups that are tied to President Obama -

PRESS: That's right.

URBAN: Are helping organize it. I don't think there's anything outlandish about that at all.

KEILAR: Let - I want to ask you about if we're perhaps going to - there's a concern that we could be seeing some rowdy behavior, even in the chamber tonight, to that end. You've had leaders on both sides of the aisle say to their members, look, you need to be respectful. You need to behave yourselves. What do you make of that?

URBAN: Well, I mean, listen, I hope that, you know, it's the chamber, right? It's - so it's traditionally a very solemn occasion. And I hope we don't see that. I hope people are respectful. If you don't want to show up, don't show up. If you - you don't think like Maxine Waters doesn't want to participate, just don't show up. So I hope there's not any - any unseemly behavior tonight.

PRESS: No, I would echo that. I would hope the Joe Wilson days are behind us once and for all. That happened once in history. It was disgusting. And I hope everyone - everyone should respect and listen to what the president has to say tonight. I think it's going to be a very unusual night because if you look at it, half of the audience in front of him don't like him, the other half don't trust him, and that's just -

URBAN: Oh, that's - that's not - that's not fair, Bill.

PRESS: That's just - wait - that's just talking about the Republican in the hall.

URBAN: That's totally not fair. Come on. That's not fair. PRESS: Not even mentioning the Democrats.

URBAN: That's not fair, Press. I think we'll see - I think - tune in, I think you're going to see a great speech filled with optimism and a vision for America that the American people bought during this election. We're going to see reduced - reduced government intervention on business. The stock market loves this president. America's clearly - this is a vision of optimism.

PRESS: We're going to see another campaign speech tonight, I believe, and that's going to be - that's what President Trump does. That's all he can do. He'll brag about how big his electoral vote was and he'll attack the media. We are the enemy of the people.

KEILAR: We will see who is right. You guys are very fun together, though. David Urban, Bill Press, thank you so much to both of you.

URBAN: OK, great. Thanks for having us.

PRESS: Thanks, Brianna.

URBAN: Thank you.

KEILAR: And, next, CNN's own Wolf Blitzer just got out of a meeting at the White House. We're going to talk to Wolf about it next.


[14:27:30] KEILAR: Wolf Blitzer joining us now live from the White House where he and other anchors just had a briefing with a senior White House official.

Wolf, tell us, I know that you've learned some pretty interesting things about what is happening there at the White House.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Very interesting. And three big headlines emerging from this background briefing that we had, Brianna.

The first one involves what would be a comprehensive immigration bill. We're now told that the president is seriously thinking of introducing legislation. This would be the first time in about 30 years since the Reagan administration. He thinks that a comprehensive immigration bill might be able to get through the Congress. He says it would - it would require a softening on all sides, this administration official says. It would not necessarily lead to any immediate pathway to citizenship, but it would potentially lead to legal status for undocumented immigrants here in the United States, where they would be able to work, thy would be able to have a job, they would pay taxes, they wouldn't have to worry about getting kicked out of the United States, no necessarily leading to citizenship right away, no path to citizenship, but legal status. That's significant.

He also, this official, suggested that the dreamers, the children who were brought here as young kids, who have basically been raised here in the United States, they really don't have much to worry about. They will be allowed to say. He says it's a very sad situation, this official says. They will be just fine.

Now, we're told by this official that the president is thinking of even including a reference to this new immigration bill that he's considering in his speech tonight before a joint session of Congress, although that has not yet been firmly decided, thinking about it right now, but it may be time for a new comprehensive immigration to be - bill to come forward and to work together, Republicans and Democrats, to see if something can be done. The last time, Brianna, as you remember, that so-called gang of eight, it failed, but maybe there was an opportunity, this official says, this time.

[14:29:36] A second headline emerging from this background briefing involves Obamacare. The official says it's very complex finding some - a new replacement for Obamacare, but the official also says it's very soluble. The current situation, the Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, this official says, is a disaster. It doesn't work. The official flatly says it will be repealed an replaced. It's going to take some time. The new secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, has got a lot of opportunities right now to come up with something. He knows a lot about it. So they're pretty confident that some of the disagreements that are emerging --