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Trump to Address Joint Session of Congress Tonight; Trump Signs Bill to Review EPA Water Regulation, 2 Bills Promoting Women's' Careers; Trump Signs Executive Order to Help Black Colleges, Universities. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 28, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This official says the Obamacare act is a disaster, and says it will be repealed and replaced. It'll take some time. The secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price got a lot of opportunity to come up with something, so they're pretty confident that some of the disagreements emerging among Republicans in the House and Senate can be resolved. It, quote, "Will be so wonderful I think we can do it. It will be great if everyone can work together." And the hope is that Democrats will join in this process as well.

Third headline I want to get to involves North Korea right now. The senior administration official saying North Korea right now represents probably the greatest national security threat to the United States, referring to Kim Jong-Un, the North Korean leader. He may be crazy. He may be very strategic, still unclear. But this official says he can't have a nuclear capability, we got to do something. Now what is that something? One of the options is working with China which has a great deal of leverage over North Korea to see if they can do something, this official says the Chinese do have power over North Korea.

And the official also confirmed that Kim Jong-Un was responsible for the assassination in Kuala Lumpur of his half-brother, Kim Jong-Nam. So North Korea emerging right now as potential the gravest national security threat to the U.S.

Three big headlines emerging from this background briefing in advance, Brianna, of the president's address before a joint session of Congress later tonight.

[14:35:46] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, just to revisit, you said that his comprehensive immigration bill that he wants would include a path to legal status, not citizenship though, right?

BLITZER: That's correct. It's still a work in progress, would not necessarily lead to a pathway of immediate citizenship, but a lot of the undocumented immigrants in the United States would have a path so some sort of legal status where they wouldn't have to worry about working in the United States, paying taxes but not necessarily becoming citizens. He thinks there's an opportunity this official says the president believes, according to this official, that he might be able to get Democrats and Republicans to consider this. Once again, just to reiterate it's not necessarily going to be in his speech tonight but the president we're told is thinking about even including a reference to some sort of new legislation that would deal with comprehensive immigration reform.

KEILAR: All right. Wolf Blitzer with some big headlines from the White House.

Thank you so much.

Joining me now to discuss is South Carolina Republican Congressman Mark Sanford. He is also a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining me?

REP. MARK SANFORD, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: I think you just heard Wolf Blitzer reporting that. That according to a senior administration official, President Trump would like a comprehensive immigration plan that would not include a pathway to citizenship, but a pathway to legal status. What do you and some of the members of the House Freedom Caucus think about that?

SANFORD: Well, this is breaking news, so I haven't had a chance to discuss that.


KEILAR: I guess the concept of a pathway to legal status. Because some Republicans say that is - that's amnesty.

SANFORD: It's a long way from what we talked about in the campaign. He talked about you got to leave and we can come back and begin conversations. One, it's a long way from what he talked about in the campaign. Two, I think the devil will be in the details. Is this a work permit program we're talking about where you have legal status because of a work permit? I think that's one debate. If it's seen as amnesty, rewarding people who broke the law in crossing the southern border, I think there will be problems in Congress.

KEILAR: One of the headlines is he weighs maybe mentioning a plan or a desire for this plan tonight during his address to the joint session is to assure Dreamers, young people who are brought to the U.S., are undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. at a young age, really know no other home, that they're OK, they shouldn't worry, what do you think about that?

SANFORD: I think the White House has telegraphed that that's their position. I think there's a consensus in the House and Senate in holding the same position. I think that's sort of a point of non- debate. It may be discussed in his speech tonight but I don't think there's going to be change in the way of politics as it relates to dreamers.

KEILAR: It's the pathway to status that would be of much more concern the you and Republicans.

SANFORD: Correct. KEILAR: You have introduced a proposal to overhaul Obamacare, and

tell me a little about this. One of the things you said is maybe we will repeal Obamacare but maybe not in its entirety, maybe repeal but not replace. It's essential we do both. You are already seeing a schism between Republicans from what they consider a very difficult challenge.

[14:35:35] SANFORD: No question. And the president telegraphed when he said this is a lot more difficult than I thought. It indeed is complex and it creates the political energy we saw in town halls last week. People feel passionately about their health care and what comes next.

That having been said, for instance, in South Carolina, premiums went up last year. We went from three carriers down to one. And something has to change. It's hurting a lot of small businesses. So, Senator Paul and I introduce a bill moving us more toward a free-market system. And if you hold the bull down that's what it does. It does have bells and whistles, but makes some awfully significant changes as well.

KEILAR: So the bells and whistles are that kids can stay on their parents plans until 26. The protections for pre-existing conditions.

SANFORD: Correct.

KEILAR: And how is this with House Speaker Paul Ryan's proposal that you would like to see and do you support that?

SANFORD: I think many conservatives have a problem with thus for what leadership is proposing and the new entitlement. But that involves about 25 million people. What we're talking about here is a new entitlement that would entail somewhere between 40 and 50 million people in America and one that is not means tested. So, I think there are some legitimate questions from the conservative end on what this new program would look like, are there new taxes? Apparently, there are. An expansion to Medicaid that hurts states that chose not to expand their programs? I think there are a number of big questions out there on that plan.

KEILAR: What about the crux of the Obamacare which is a tax credit for people who cannot afford health care, and based on income, they would be getting assistance based on health insurance?

SANFORD: Part of that is premised on continues to provide employment and health care.


KEILAR: So you want to do away basically with the entire employer- provided health insurance system. You know there's going to be major opposition to that. Is that even realistic?

SANFORD: There is. But think about this. It was in 1948, as part of the wage and price controls of World War II, that employment and health care became linked. You think about your auto insurance, your home insurance, they're not linked to your employment. It's that anomaly of history that's created a real distortion in the market place.

KEILAR: What do you say to a family who says, that's nice, I don't really care about 1947 and this whole idea. You're talking about different kind of insurance. I want my insurance.

SANFORD: And you would get it. And we would want your insurance to follow you. And people are saying I hate my boss, I want to leave my job, but I got to stay there because my benefits are tied to my employment. We're trying to create portability with regard to the way health insurance works.

KEILAR: One more question. When you're talking about how really the kind of insurance plans you would provide, you're saying young people they don't have that many ailments, they don't need a plan that is required to have all of these provisions, but isn't that how you offset the cost of older less healthy individuals. How do you do this?

SANFORD: It would be the case, if young people signed up, but what we've seen to the tune of young people, is they said, I don't need all that stuff, I'm not signing up. So we say the, quote, "essential benefits" numerated by government, why don't people decide what's essential to them. Let them come up with a simpler plan that they pick from the buffet and, as they get older, they can add to it. But if you did that, you, for the first time, create an affordable insurance. Our plan essential allows, makes legal affordable insurance that not the case now with essential benefits enumerated in the Affordable Care Act.

KEILAR: I covered Obamacare. I'm having all kind of deja vu about this.

Congressman Mark Sanford, really appreciate it.

SANFORD: Good to see you. Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: I do want to show you tape of president signing an order about water regulation as. Take a look.




[14:40:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. We love West Virginia. Thank you.

This was just handed to me. Make counties great again. Take a look.


Hold that for me.

Well, thank you everybody. I appreciate you being here. Thank you very much.

First of all, I want to congratulate Scott Pruitt.


TRUMP: It's going to be done in a very environmental and positive environmental way I will tell you that, but create millions of jobs, so many jobs are delayed so many years it's unfair to everybody.

So I want to congratulate Scott.

I want to thank everyone here today. We have a great group of farmers, home builders and county commissioners, all representing, standing alongside of me.

Also, Jim Inhofe, who's been so terrific in so many ways. So, I want to thank Jim.

And also, the leadership of the Senate, on this issue, a great friend of mine, John Barrasso.

EPA's so-called Waters of the United States rules is one of the worst examples of federal regulation and it has truly run amok. It's one of the rules most strongly opposed by farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers all across our lands. It's prohibiting them from being allowed to do what they're supposed to be doing. It's been a disaster. The Clean Waters Act says that the EPA is regulate navigable waters that affect interstate commerce, but a few years ago, the EPA decided that can mean nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer's land or any place else that they decide, right?


TRUMP: It was a massive power grab. The EPA regulators were putting people out of jobs by the hundreds of thousands. And regulations and permits started treating our wonderful small farmers and small businesses as if they were a major industrial polluter. They treated them horribly, horribly.

If you want to build a new home, for example, you have to worry about getting hit with a huge fine if you fill in as much as a puddle just a puddle on your lot. I've seen it. In fact, when it was first shown to me, I said you're kidding around you? But they weren't kidding.

In one case in Wyoming, a rancher was fined $37,000 a day by the EPA for digging a small watering hole for his cattle. His land.

These abuses were and are why such incredible opposition to this rule from the hundreds of organizations took place in all 50 states. It's a horrible, horrible rule. Has sort of nice name but everything else is bad.


I've been hearing about it for years and years. I didn't know I would necessarily be in this position to do something about it but have been hearing about it for years.

With today's executive order, I'm directing EPA to take action, paving the way for the elimination for this very destructive horrible rule.

So, I want to thank everybody for being here.

And I will sign wherever I'm supposed to sign. There we are.

Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President.


TRUMP: So how important is this?


UNIDENTIIED MALE: The farmers, the ranchers, the rural land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is putting people back to work for a strong and healthy economy.

TRUMP: And I tell you, you have the right man in Scott Pruitt.




KEILAR: President Trump there signing an order to review water regulations set by the Obama administration to make sure they are more economically friendly, just hours before tonight's big address to a joint session of Congress.

He also signed two bills aimed at promoting women's careers. Let's watch.


TRUMP: Today, I'm signing two bills that promote women entering and leaving the STEM field, science, technology, engineering and math. Currently, only one in four women who gets a STEM degree is working in a stem job, which is not fair and not even smart for the people that aren't taking advantage of it. It's unacceptable. We have so many American women who have these degrees, but yet, not being employed in these fields. So that's going to change rapidly. Protecting women with stem degrees, and all Americans with STEM degrees. Very important. But it also means you have to crackdown on offshoring, because the offshoring is a tremendous problem that displaces many of our best American workers, and brains, the brain power.

[14:45:22] So I want to thank you all for being here.

Vice President Pence always felt very strongly about this issue and I appreciate that very much.

And I'm going to sign this right now.

And I want to congratulate everybody in the room.

And we have to sign it today. I know we have a lot of things coming on, but if we don't sign this one and the next one today, we have to start the process all over again, right?



TRUMP: So that's why we're here.

OK. Well, thank you very much.

Thank you very much.


TRUMP: Thank you very much.


TRUMP: We look forward to it. We look forward to it.


OK, I think we all know what this is, even though somebody took my notes.



TRUMP: But, this is the second bill that we're signing. And that's the H.R. 321, the Inspire Women Act. And ensures that the existing NASA programs recruit women to STEM-related jobs and aerospace careers. We're going to go heavy into the situation, so women will be a big, big part of it.

H.R. 255 the Promote Women in Entrepreneurship Act, enables the National Science Foundation to support women and mentors of which there are many researchers and scientists bringing their discoveries to the world and creating new ways to improve people's lives. So important.

We need policies that help support women in the work force and that's really very much going to be addressed by my administration over the years, and to get more and more of these bills coming out. And address the barriers faced by female entrepreneurs and those in STEM fields. We want American women who graduate from college with STEM degrees to get STEM jobs to support their families and these American women live out the American dream, which they are so qualified to live out. So again, I want to thank you all for being here. Fantastic, this is so important. Thank you all is for being here very much.

Thank you, folks.

Thank you all very much. I appreciate it.



TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody.





KEILAR: And you are looking at tape there of President Trump who just signed two bills related to women's careers promoting female entrepreneurships surrounded by his wife, Melania Trump, and other officials. And caught a glimpse of Kevin McCarthy there supporting him as he signed those two bills.

We also have new tape in of President Trump signing an executive order that has to do with historically black colleges and universities. Let's watch.


TRUMP: OK? So, this is historically black colleges and universities executive order. Very important to all of us. This group has been fantastic, many of which we were with yesterday, and really developed something very special.

So thank you. Thank you all for being here.

Thank you, Mr. Vice president, also, Mike, for being here.

It's a very important moment, and a moment that means a great deal to me. This month has been a wonderful opportunity to celebrate African- American history and to begin working together to create a better future for African-Americans and universities and colleges and everything that is African-American. Today, we're taking action to help make that future happen and that future better. Historically black colleges and universities are incredibly important institutions woven into the fabric of our history just about like no other.

Church is very important, right?


[14:50:30] TRUMP: Colleges and universities. Come here. My defenders.


Education has the power to uplift. It has the power to transform. And perhaps most important, education has the power to create greater equality and justice in our lives. That's why today I'm thrilled to be signing an executive order to recognize the importance of historically black college and universities. Very important. They play such an important role in achieving progress for African- Americans and in our nation's march for justice. HBCUS have been pillars of the African-American community more than 150 years. Amazing. And a grand and enduring symbol of America at its absolute best.

And I congratulate you all to say that.


TRUMP: With this executive order, we will make HBCUS a priority in the White House, an absolute priority in the White House.



TRUMP: A lot of groups will be angry they're not a priority. But that's OK.


And we will pledge our support to you, our mission and our shared vision and education and opportunity to all of our people.

And so, I just want to congratulate -- these are very, very special people surrounding me. You have done an amazing job. It's not easy. Nothing is easy.


TRUMP: But you've done an amazing job.

And I just want to congratulate you on behalf of our country.


TRUMP: And I'm going to sign this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir.

TRUMP: This is really fantastic.

There it is.


TRUMP: Congratulations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Thank you all.



KEILAR: I want to bring in Walter Kimbraugh, president of Dillard University, one of the university presidents invited to the White House.

You were inside of the room as cameras started flashing and you had this photo-op with President Trump. I want to talk about that, but first, the executive order. Is it something that is substantive or symbolic?

WALTER KIMBRAUGH, PRESIDENT, DILLARD UNIVERSITY: I think this is really the first step largely symbolic. So the main purpose was to take the White House initiative on HSBUS so it raises the profiles to better align some of the resources of the federal government. So, good first step but there's still a lot that has to be done.

KEILAR: And to a point you had a chance to talk about what has to be done. You were invited with forei14 other presidents, there's one photo causing a stir, with Kellyanne Conway, you look at it and your beef is something entirely different. Tell us, because you had the photo-op, but in the end, it didn't really mean that you got to exchange ideas?

KIMBRAUGH: Right. We had a marvelous idea to have a listening session where about 15 of us would have a chance to talk with new secretary of education, and agencies including OMB to talk about the needs, my focus was to talk about the Pell Grant, we talked about more resources for scholarships and for title three programs so lots of things to talk about but then it was all a sudden we have the opportunity to go to the oval office and I really wanted to spend time about educating about the HBCUS and so we kind of got rushed.

KEILAR: You wrote something on medium so that you could voice what you want today that wanted to talk about. You said you were talking about raising the maximum Pell Grant because the purchasing power has hit a low over decade. You want it indexed for inflation.


[14:55:13] KEILAR: So this is your chance to talk about why the Pell Grant in your view is so important to students at Dillard University and also historically black colleges and universities?

KIMBRAUGH: So we're at the anniversary of President Reagan, it was shifted that education is not a private funding but a -- we're at the 40 year low for the purchasing power of the federal Pell Grant at the same time we're seeing historic growth, black college graduates have 31 percent more debt. KEILAR: And most students need Pell Grants.

KIMBRAUGH: I'm 80 percent Pell Grant. So, when that doesn't keep up, students go into debt and everyone talks about this debt crisis, which I agree, but we defunded education so much that we have to have the federal government say let's invest in Pell Grants so they don't have to be paid back, so these students can get out and move on with their careers.

KEILAR: Walter, Kimbraugh, thank you so much for being with us.

KIMBRAUGH: Thank you.

KEILAR: More on our breaking news. Three big headlines on immigration, Obamacare, and also what he thinks is the greatest threat to America right now.

This is CNN's special live coverage.


KEILAR: We are live from Capitol Hill where lawmakers are getting ready to see the president in person and primetime. The president will give his address to a joint session of Congress.

Right now, we have breaking details on multiple fronts. The president believes North Korea is the greatest national security threat. This is what a senior administration official is telling us.

Also, saying that the president would like to see a compromised immigration bill.

And this official also revealing that an agreement on a plan to replace Obamacare is close.

We will get into all of this.

I want to turn to CNN's Sara Murray at the White House.

Sara, his aides say it will be optimistic, rally Americas toward a hopeful future, and maybe mention some of those things I just talked about the break headlines.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOSUE CORRESPONDENT: I think that's a safe bet, Brianna. I think, before this afternoon, we certainly knew that in some way the president would talk about immigration. We also expect him to focus on national security and focus on creating economic opportunity. But --