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President Trump to Address Joint Session of Congress; Calls Continue for Investigation into Trump Campaign's Possible Contacts with Russia; Interview with Senator Angus; Interview with Congressman Steve King of Iowa. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 28, 2017 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Obama is behind it because he people are certainly behind some of the leaks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sean Spicer launching a random check of staffers' phones.

TRUMP: I would have handled it differently, but Sean handles it his own way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The investigation is just beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still don't have any evidence of them talking to Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are the Republicans in Congress afraid of?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We have a picture of the Statue of Liberty there. Good morning, everyone, welcome to your NEW DAY. President Trump is just hours away from him speech before a joint session of Congress to lay out his vision for the American people. The White House says the president will be more optimistic and he will offer real solutions and specifics. Can the president sell Congress on his budget and his health care plans?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: This is a big night for the president. It's a chance for a restart, and he has to make the sell of his presidency thus far. But he also seems to be getting in his own way, blaming Barack Obama for the damaging leaks plaguing his White House and for being behind what we are seeing at the town halls. All this as lawmakers spar over investigating the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia. To think we are just 40 days in to the Trump presidency.

Let's begin our coverage with senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns live at the White House. I don't think it's hype. I think this is the real deal tonight. It's a reset. He's got both sides of Congress there and he has to make the pitch to the people and to them. JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Chris, it is

definitely an opportunity for this president to, among other things, make an unfiltered message to the American public. But his most important audience will certainly be in the room with him. Republican Congressional leaders have been urging the president to put some meat on the bones, essentially to give some specifics about what he wants to do this year. And the question is the extent to which the president will be able to do that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: The White House says President Trump's speech will layout an optimistic vision and bold agenda. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle looking for the president to outline specifics on many of the campaign promises that got him elected.

TRUMP: This budget will be a public safety and national security budget.

JOHNS: The president unveiling his budget outline Monday which aims to boost defense spending by $54 billion.

TRUMP: We are going to spend a lot more money on military. We really have to. We have no choice. And a lot of people think it's a tremendous amount of money. It could be actually $30 million -- $30 billion more than that.

JOHNS: While slashing other government departments, like the EPA and State Department, with a big focus on cutting foreign aid.

TRUMP: We are going to do more with less and make the government lean.

JOHNS: Democrats say the government faces an uphill, nearly impossible battle.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VERMONT: The priorities they are pushing are way out of touch.

JOHNS: President Trump's budget outline doesn't touch Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which puts him on the odds with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who wants Congress to tackle entitlement programs. The president also facing mounting pressure to deliver specifics on how he will repeal and replace Obamacare. But Mr. Trump now admits it's unbelievably complex.

TRUMP: Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.

JOHNS: Meanwhile President Trump is pointing the finger at his predecessor, without evidence, for White House leaks.

TRUMP: I think that President Obama is behind it because his people certainly are behind it.

JOHNS: And for scenes like this --

CROWD: Do your job!

JOHNS: -- at town halls for Republican lawmakers across the country.

TRUMP: I also understand that's politics. And in terms of him being behind things, that's politics. And it will probably continue.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: And there is also going to be a warm-up event for tonight, a very interesting moment given the back and forth between the president and news media. They will have lunch with the anchors of the major television networks and also representatives of some of the smaller networks as well. Alisyn and Chris?

CUOMO: All right, Joe, appreciate it. Meantime lawmakers trying to put some bridge over this political divide when it comes to Congressional investigations of the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia. The House Intelligence Committee agreeing on the scope of what they will investigate.

So let's start there. We've got CNN's Sunlen Serfaty live on Capitol Hill with more. What do we know?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Chris. The investigation up here on Capitol Hill is starting to come together. You have members of the House Intelligence Committee who have signed off on a plan to look at any potential contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. But going into this, there is a fundamental divide. You have the top Republican on the committee and the top Democrat on the committee both looking into this probe and leading the probe. Will they go into it with contradictory views with what they found so far?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says there's no evidence that contacts between President Trump's campaign and Russia during the 2016 race.

[08:05:07] REP. DEVIN NUNES, (R) CALIFORNIA: Right now I don't have any evidence that would -- of any phone calls.

SERFATY: But the top Democrat on that committee, Adam Schiff, calls that premature.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA: We have I think reached no conclusion, nor could we in terms of issues of collusion because we have not called in a single witness or reviewed a single document on that issue as of yet.

SERFATY: One thing the committee agrees upon, investigating any connection between Trump's campaign and Russian officials and leaks coming from government and intelligence officials.

NUNES: No one is focusing on major leaks that have occurred here. We can't run a government like this. SERFATY: As calls grow for an independent prosecutor to investigate

potential ties to Russia.

SCHIFF: If we get to a point where there is a criminal referral, then yes, I think the attorney general has to recuse himself.

SERFATY: Republican Congressman and Trump supporter, Darrell Issa, joining those who say Jeff Sessions can't lead the probe.

REP. DARRELL ISSA, (R) CALIFORNIA: You're going to need to use the special prosecutors statute.

SERFATY: Issa doubling down in a new statement, saying, quote, "Right now we have speculation and assumptions but not clarity and fact. Any review conducted must have the full confidence of the American people." The president dismissing questions about a special prosecutor.

TRUMP: I haven't called Russia in 10 years.

SERFATY: A bizarre response considering Mr. Trump spoke to Russian president Vladimir Putin just a few weeks ago.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: How many people have to say that there is nothing there before you realize there's nothing there?

SERFATY: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer zealously defending the president. Spicer even leading the White House crackdown on internal leaks. Sources telling CNN that the president signed off on checking aides' cell phone to make certain they weren't texting reporters or using encrypted apps during an emergency meeting last week. But Spicer denied the president was involved in that decision.

TRUMP: I would have handled it differently than Sean, but Sean handles it his way, and I'm OK with it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: An Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking out for the first time about those calls for him to recuse himself in the Russia probe, Sessions telling reporters, quote, "I will recuse myself from anything I should recuse myself from," Alisyn, offering no more specifics or anything definite beyond that.

OK, Sunlen, thank you very much for sharing those developments with us.

Joining us now is independent senator Angus King of Maine. He serves on the select committee on intelligence and the armed services committee. Good morning, Senator.

SEN. ANGUS KING, (I) MAINE: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: What are you listening for tonight in President Trump's address before Congress? KING: Well, I think what I would like to see, and obviously you have

been talking about specifics and optimism, I think I would like to see the president acknowledge that there's a whole half of the country that didn't vote for him and that it's time to start bringing people together. It's time to start annunciating a positive vision, because there's a lot of anxiety, there's a lot of anger, there's a lot of people really concerned about the direction of the administration.

And I would like to see a little bridge building tonight. I think it's a great opportunity for him to do that. And then, of course, all the other things your commentators have been talking about, some optimism, some specifics about programs. But to me the big opportunity, and you guys have been using the word "reset," this is an opportunity to reset in a positive and more inclusive direction, because we just can't keep running as really two separate countries.

CAMEROTA: This is a big moment, and this is certainly a chance for President Trump to lay out a different vision than what we have seen so far. He's also going to give some specifics, as we understand it, certainly about his budget. So let me put some of those up for our viewers.

Here are the things -- the places he plans to increase in the budget. So defense spending, a boost of $54 billion. He would like to spend more money on law enforcement. He said he would like to spend more money on infrastructure. Here's some of the things that he plans to cut -- foreign aid to other, in other words, the State Department budget. We know that he is not a huge fan of the Environmental Protection Agency. He plans to cut some of their budget and other nondefense federal agencies. Will Congress go along with a budget like that, senator?

KING: I think you have to put it in context. The president proposes, the Congress disposes, and there's always a negotiation. And I think this should be viewed as a kind of opening bid. By the way, the $54 million, actually it's about an $18 billion increase over the last budget that Barack Obama submitted, so as John McCain pointed out, it's not a gigantic increase in defense. It's significant.

But the thing that bothers me a little, and I'm not surprised by it, is you are talking about $54 billion in cuts in other places, very unspecified. I can tell you from dealing with budgets it's easy to talk about generalities. When you get into the specifics, it's hard.

[08:10:00] The things about foreign aid, I talk to my constituents. They say cut foreign aid. Everybody has the impressions it's a great big number. It's about I think one percent of the budget. It's a relatively small number. And as James Mattis once said, if you don't do foreign aid you have to buy me more ammunition, because it's a lot cheaper to prevent a war than it is to fight a war.

So we will have to see how that goes. You're going to have Lindsay Graham on CNN tomorrow night. He's a big advocate of both the military and the State Department, what is called soft power, because a lot can be done to prevent confrontations through diplomatic means. So we'll see what the actual numbers are. The EPA, when you talk about cutting the EPA, a lot of EPA numbers goes to the states. So you can be talking about simply shifting expenses from the federal government to the states when you're talking about severely cutting the EPA.

CAMEROTA: President Trump just sat down with our friends over at FOX and he spelled out how the math is going to work in his mind. Let me play this for you, senator.

KING: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you cut all the money from EPA and all the money from State, that's about $50 billion?

TRUMP: I think the money is going to come from a revved up economy. You look at the numbers we were doing, we were probably a GDP of a little more than one percent. And if I can get that up to three or maybe more, we have a whole different ballgame. It's a whole different ballgame. And that's what we are looking to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Senator, what do you think of that explanation? If he can get the GDP up to three percent, then the money flows in?

KING: That's absolutely true, but there's no causal connection necessarily between what he is proposing to do and increases in the GDP. Increasing defense spending, for example, isn't going to increase GDP. There's always, growth is one of the important ways to get out of this. The question is, are the policies being annunciated going to contribute to economic growth? And I think the president is going to find that moving the GDP growth upward is a lot harder than it sounds.

What we have to be careful with is what George H. W. Bush 30 years ago called voodoo economics, which is just cut taxes and everything is going to be great, the economy is going to grow and it will pay for itself. That has never proven to work. And so I think we just need to be careful. I want to see the numbers work, not a promise of, well, maybe growth is going to make it pay off a couple years from now. And so that's the way to analyze that particular way of approaching this.

CAMEROTA: Senator, I want to ask you about the investigations going on in Congress into the alleged ties between team Trump and Russia. You are on the select committee on intelligence. I want to ask you about your chairman, Richard Burr, whether or not you believe given what he said publicly whether he is capable of doing a fair and independent, thorough investigation into whether or not these ties existed between the Trump campaign and Russia?

KING: Well, as you know, he apparently took a call from the White House and interceded with some media people last week, at the end of last week. And I'm really disturbed by that. I have not had a chance to talk to him about it personally, so I don't really know all the facts and circumstances, so I'm going to be reluctant to categorically judge. But it did really concern me now.

Now, I have talked to several Republican members of the committee, several Democratic members of the committee, and I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus that we have got to do this straight up. We've got to it fairly. We've got to do it effectively. And it's got to be thorough and it's got to be credible. I'm concerned about what the Chairman Burr did. I don't think it was appropriate based on what I know now. But I believe the committee -- and by the way, the committee is very carefully balanced. It's eight Republicans, six Democrats, and me, so if there's a one-vote swing. So the chairman can't really control it. And I know, as I say, I talked to two or three Republicans yesterday. They are absolutely committed. I talked to Marco Rubio. He said I'm not going to be part of a whitewash and I'm not going to be part of a witch hunt, and I thought that was a pretty good way to put it.

CAMEROTA: OK, Senator Angus King, thank you very much for joining us on NEW DAY.

KING: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Stay with CNN for President Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress tonight. We have live coverage beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, so big night. Can President Trump sell Congress on his budget plan? This is his vision for the country. This is the moment where we see the talk become action. But there are challenges within his own party. Republican congressman Steve King, a deficit hawk, is going to talk about what conservatives need to go along with the president's plan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:18:54] CUOMO: Big night, high stakes. The president finally going to sell his vision for the country as policy to a joint session of Congress, and to you. This is a big speech for the president.

He is seeking an increase in $54 billion in defense spending and he is going to make cuts to the EPA, to the State Department, to foreign investment as well to pay for it. Will that be enough? Will it get past his own party, let alone all of Congress?

Joining us now is Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa. He serves on the Judiciary Committee.

And you are a deficit hawk for sure, and ordinarily, a plan like this is something that you would meet with a grumpy face, big tax cut, big spending on military, maybe an infrastructure plan behind it, it does not add up to deficit savings.

What do you say?

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: Well, the first thing is that the military spending needs to happen. It has been the victim of sequestration for a number of years, and our national readiness is not there, and you've watched around the world as the Chinese have pushed against us on one side and the Russian pushed us against on the other side, they don't respect us and that needs to be rebuilt.

[08:20:03] So, the question becomes then, how do we do that? How do we fund it? The president stepped up and said he's going to put some decent cuts, some decent-sized cuts into a couple of departments, state and EPA. EPA in particular pleases me. I'm not as confident about the foreign policy side of this because we've got some aid, we need to get some countries that we need to restore back into the American envelope.

And then, they're talking about how we get to balance, I want to hear him speak to us and say, Congress, will you pass a balanced budget amendment to our Constitution? And we have (ph) to hear -- I'd like to hear him say he would encourage that and support that and I would like to hear our speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, in the aftermath say, let's go with that balanced budget amendment.

CUOMO: So, you've got a smile on your face. I'm taking that as optimism, that even though there's going to be a big tax cut, which might make paying for this other spending difficult to show, at least on paper, you're open to it?

KING: Well, I'm open to the tax cut, yes, and I supported the Bush tax cuts more than a decade ago, and they do stimulate growth. But, you know, I look at the tax proposals that are coming out there and I'm a little uneasy about that, the border adjustment, I need to look at how those numbers will come out. That makes me uneasy.

I would a lot rather see this president do something strong and bold and just embrace the fair tax, abolish the IRS, that's been weaponized, and untax all of the poor in America. We have the most aggressive tax system with the payroll tax. We can abolish all of that, and completely untax the poor, and the people living at twice the poverty level will pay half the tax rate of the people, the wealthy people.

I think that would be -- and, by the way, that border adjusts everything and gives us a 28 percent marketing advantage off of products that are made in the United States when they are competing with products made overseas. It does everything good that we want to do with the tax policy. We just don't have Donald Trump embracing the fair tax yet.

CUOMO: Once we get the specifics of it, we'll talk about the economics of when tax cuts drive growth and when they do not. But for today, let's just talk about what we might see. On the ACA, you also have reservations. Why?

KING: Well, as I'm watching -- what we have is essentially a leaked document that has come out that we are talking about.

CUOMO: Right.

KING: And so, a lot of that is not hard facts, I presume. But I want a full, 100 percent, repeal of Obamacare. I don't want any of it left behind.

CUOMO: Why not?

KING: Because, first of all, I don't want to be four or five or ten years from now watching as a new Democrat majority starts to reconstruct it all over again. I think it's been repudiated completely. And if you have something built on a bad foundation, you don't go back down and build on that foundation.

CUOMO: Why is it a bad foundation if you have 20 plus million people covered that you would not have had before, and you have rates going up, but not by any more than was expected and by more than they were going up in the previous administration? Why call it a disaster? Isn't that hyperbole?

KING: Well, first, of those 20-plus million that are insured that were not before Obamacare, that's about a seven year grind to get there, and 10.8 million of them are on Medicaid, which has been expanded. And how many would we have that are insured today if they'd we allow people to buy a catastrophic plan, which has essentially been as outlawed by Obamacare?

But, Chris, you know the central thing for me on this, is that the federal government has taken over the management of our health, our skin and everything inside of it, and the free people that are the recipients of a God-given liberty, and that is a foundation for American vigor, have had our health taken over by the federal government. That steps on American liberty and it just diminishes the vitality of our country.

I want people to have their own set of responsibilities, choosing the health insurance policy that they want if it's catastrophic --

CUOMO: Yes, that sounds great, as long as you are like young and healthy. The problem is, is how did we get to the point where you needed to have the government step in? Pre-existing conditions, people who weren't that healthy, and young people who didn't have the money and couldn't be on their parents' care anymore, the indigent who didn't make the income to pay for heir own private policies. They were all being left behind.

And you're going to have to figure out whether or not you're OK leaving them behind again because access to care is not coverage, and as you heard from the governors coming out of their meetings where they heard from policy experts and from Dr. Price, the Republican proposals right now will leave people without coverage, and are you OK with that?

KING: But, Chris, coverage is not even access to care, the converse of that statement you made.

CUOMO: What does that mean?

KING: Well, you can have coverage, you can have a Cadillac plan, but if they won't take your policy, if you are on Medicare that's not being honored, if you're on Medicaid that's not being honored, or if they won't accept your policy, then you don't have coverage.

CUOMO: Who is they? If you have coverage from a company then you're getting care. What do you mean if they don't accept the policy? How does that work?

KING: We know, today under the ACA as you call it, and that one-third of the counties have one choice.

[08:25:03] CUOMO: Right.

KING: Two-thirds of the counties have two choices, and the rest of them have more than two choices.

So, you are sitting there with one choice of a policy that is mandated by the federal government, and we're down to the place now where is that coverage, where you have to go to certain places where they will honor that policy? That's -- I want to see people make their own decisions.

I had my Obamacare was cancelled on me, September 28, the letter was dated, and they canceled me out as of December 31st of last year, and I had roughly 90 days to find a new policy, my choices were one. That's not free enterprise, that's not competition.

That doesn't give you an opportunity to keep your doctor or the policy you want, and neither does it let us save for our own health care costs into the future which requires an expansion of HSAs, and we need to couple them with catastrophic plans. That's the most important component of this.

Plus, today, we're going to markup the bill that allows for selling the insurance across state lines, the amendment of the McCarran- Ferguson Act that's offered by Paul Gosar of Arizona, that will be a big step in the right direction. We have needed to do that for a long time.

This Congress has known that for 20 years. We're finally acting on it today.

CUOMO: All right. Congressman, let's see what the details are. You know, health care is complicated, but this fundamental question of will people be left behind or will people be able to get care, it's a fundamental one, we'll take it on again.

Always appreciate you making the case, especially before a big night like this, president's speech tonight.

KING: Thank you, Chris. I look forward to the next time.

CUOMO: All right. Congressman King from Iowa, thank you very much.

Quick programming note: CNN is going to host a town hall tomorrow with Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham. Dana Bash is going to be moderating this conversation. Key issues facing the nation. When? Tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: So, what does President Trump need to say tonight when he addresses Congress? We're going to get the bottom line from David Gregory, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)