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GOP Lawmakers Take Stock of Trump Speech; Interview with Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 1, 2017 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Thanks so much for joining us. A lot going on this morning. A speech that was abnormal in its normalcy out of the box because it was so in the box, shocking in its unshockingness, a speech that was so untypically un-Trumpian, that maybe we should have expected it all along.

Instead of the dark themes we heard in his inaugural address, the president instead spoke of unity, prosperity and a new chapter in American greatness.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we are witnessing today is the renewal of the American spirit. Think of the marvels we can achieve if we simply set free the dreams of our people, the time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us. I am asking all members of Congress to join me in dreaming big and bold and daring things for our country.


HARLOW: Many of the people who watched it last night liked it. In our CNN/ORC poll, 57 percent said they had a very positive reaction to the president's address; 69 percent said they thought the president's policies would indeed move this country in the right direction.

It was a Republican-leaning audience but, still, those are still pretty solid numbers, so good the White House is planning to hold back a little bit the announcement of their revised travel ban; let the executive branch have this moment, the administration not wanting to step on its own solid review.

Still, though, this was an address pretty lacking in details, in substance. And frankly, that's where the rubber meets the road. So let's begin with Joe Johns at the White House.

Good morning.


The president got very high marks for tone, for rhetoric and he even threw in a little bit of policy guidance for congressional Republicans on repealing and replacing ObamaCare for example.

He did tip his hat to congressional Republicans on the issue of tax credits to help pay for insurance as well as expanding health savings accounts.

But for the most part, he didn't give Republicans a whole lot of idea how to get there. Keeping it, as you said, mostly big picture. Listen.


TRUMP: Action is not a choice. It is a necessity. So I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding ObamaCare disaster with reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs and at the same time, provide better health care.

The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance and that is what we are going to do.


JOHNS: But what will likely be remembered as one of the emotional high points, perhaps the emotional high point of the speech, was when the president paid tribute to the widow of Navy SEAL William Ryan Owens, who was the first U.S. service member killed under the Trump administration. Listen.


TRUMP: Ryan died as he lived, a warrior and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation. Ryan's legacy is etched into eternity. Thank you.



JOHNS: This morning here at the White House, of course, attention is now turning to the very tough job of working the president's agenda through Capitol Hill. That means dealing with all the specifics. There is scheduled to be here at the White House a legislative strategy session.

Also the president having lunch with the leaders of the House and the Senate -- back to you.

BERMAN: Yes, those numbers do matter. And the president didn't offer many numbers or many of the specifics. Maybe he will today in that lunch.

Joe Johns, the White House, thanks so much.

One note we want to make here, the White House made the vice president available to every television network except CNN. We did extend an invitation. The White House did not respond. We do want to bring in Larry Sabato, --


BERMAN: -- director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics; Rebecca Berg, CNN political analyst, national political reporter for RealClearPolitics; and Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast."

Professor, first to you. Yesterday Donald Trump said he gave himself a C+ in terms of communicating his overall message to the American people so far. Last night's speech has received lots of positive reviews.

You think he was better than a C+?

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: He was better than a C+ last night. For another president, we would have called that a tough speech. For Donald Trump, it was gauzy. It exceeded expectations because it wasn't nearly as dark as the inaugural address and some other speeches and presentations he's given. And it lacked the bite of all of those nasty tweets. So I think that's progress.

As you noted, it didn't include much detail, didn't include guidance for Congress. I don't think it accomplished much on the bipartisan front, though that's also a result of Democrats not responding there in the hall.

So, yes, it's better. But let's remember, a speech is just a speech. This is a State of the Union speech, for all practical purposes. And they generally get positive reviews, mainly, as you noted, because the audience is heavily tilted to the party of the president delivering the address. That is not a random sample of the American public.

HARLOW: So, Rebecca Berg to you, whether or not this was his pivot, a word that I'm very worried about using, who knows, we used it all during the campaign, we won't know until we see how this all plays out.

Was it just a speech or was it more?

But I will say that there was in the specifics he did, give there was quite a departure from conservative orthodoxy. He said he wanted to spend a ton of money. He talked about a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, he doubled down on an ObamaCare plan and tax credits that have divided his own party. So that is actually some substance that we got that divides his party arguably more than it unites it?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We did. What's so interesting about this, Poppy, is that in spite of this, you're seeing Republicans kind of across the board responding positively to this speech, taking this sort of pep rally takeaway from it.

But you're absolutely right. Donald Trump did not espouse these sorts of traditional conservative policies and traditional conservative values. But for any of us who've paying attention throughout the course of his campaign, throughout the course of his young presidency, that shouldn't surprise anyone.

Because Donald Trump has never been a conservative. He's never really been ideological to begin with. So for him to take a middle of the road Republican policy approach in this speech, I think was interesting but not entirely surprising.

On the other hand, the tax credit issue in particular, Donald Trump deciding to use this speech to take a position on tax credits in the health care proposal that is coming out of Congress, that is very consequential in this health care fight that's unfolding.

We've seen Republicans on the conservative side of the spectrum on Capitol Hill, drawing a line in the sand this week, saying that they could not support a proposal that comprises tax credits. Now we're hearing directly from the president that that's the plan he's supporting. So that's very important.

BERMAN: At least he supports it right now. He seems to have moved every day on that. So we'll have to keep watching it.

Jackie, there's a phrase called damming someone with faint praise. I'm not sure of the reverse of that. It might be damning someone or praising someone with faint damning, which is what the Speaker -- Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi may have done in her statement about the speech.

She said the president's speech was "utterly disconnected from the cruel reality of his conduct."

When I read that, I read that as an admission that the speech may have been effective but I don't want you to pay attention to that. Pay attention to everything else he's done up until this point.

JACKIE KUCINICH, "THE DAILY BEAST": Well, to Larry's point, that's why this is just a speech. And for Donald Trump it was a very good speech. That said, there's already so much scar tissue built up between Democrats and Donald Trump between what he said just a couple of days ago, he was saying nasty things about Nancy Pelosi.

where he might need her down the line for this infrastructure project. Heck, he might need even Democrats probably aren't going to buy it but he might need them for this health care proposal that some Republicans are saying we can't vote for.

So while this was a good speech, legislating is something completely different. You have to reach out to the other side on some of these issues that, particularly very fiscally or very conservative Republicans are going to say absolutely not, I don't care if you're a good negotiator, I'm not going there.

So we'll see if he learns that lesson going forward and stops really hitting back at his critics because that's going to be his undoing if he continues to do that. HARLOW: But they are going to like his critics, many of them are going to like this trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. We're going to dig in later how that would be paid for later in the show.

But, Larry, to you, this is a moment -- I mean, we've seen the Twitter pictures in the White House when he came back and he was greeted by all --


HARLOW: -- his staff there applauding him. The administration is basking in this moment, no question.

How do they make the moment last?

Because if you look at Trump's Twitter feed, the president has not tweeted anything controversial in the past three days.

So couple that with his speech last night, is this a new page?

SABATO: Poppy, anybody who has followed Donald Trump knows this may be a new page and the page will be turned within 48 to 72 hours.

How do they make it last?

Somebody needs to seize that electronic device from which he tweets. Of course, that isn't going to happen. He'll be back on Twitter and he'll be attacking the enemy of the American public, the press, and attacking various and sundry other figures within a short period of time.

Also, what's really important about the speech is what wasn't in it, the details of legislation, the real guidance for the House of Representatives and the Senate as to how they're going to resolve all the fissures in their own caucuses because they certainly aren't going to get many Democratic votes for the vast majority of his proposals.

BERMAN: Where exactly is he on a tax plan, we didn't get that.

Rebecca, Poppy was talking about the fact that the staff was applauding the president when he came back. I actually read that as not praise but more of a please, please keep on doing this. Don't forget, they're trying to send messages to him as well. They want him to keep on track with this.

BERG: Right. So it makes perfect sense that they would be giving him positive reinforcement after this speech. Certainly Donald Trump, he understands politics. He clearly won this campaign against all odds. So he will see the reaction to this speech and I think take away that this was a good direction for him to be moving in.

But Donald Trump is still Donald Trump. He's still unpredictable. He's still, to an extent, unfiltered, as Larry suggested. So his staff, in spite of all their best intentions, are really working against the odds to rein Donald Trump in in the long term. But we'll see. Donald Trump might see the reaction to this speech and

realize, you know, maybe this is how you're supposed to act when you're president. Maybe this is the tone I should be taking moving forward.

We'll have to wait and see. But I think the challenge most immediately for his staff and for the staff and lawmakers on Capitol Hill is to really make something out of this, make something out of the wish list that Donald Trump gave us all last night and actually get some policy made.

And that is very challenging. It's an all hands on deck sort of situation. It's going to be a really big test of his administration's firepower at this point.

HARLOW: I would be remiss not to mention the moment that everyone was talking about as it was happening and then this morning and that is when he honored Navy SEAL William Ryan Owens and his widow, Corinne (ph), a more than two-minute standing ovation to her.

Van Jones, a CNN contributor, one of the harshest critics of this president, said that is the moment when he became president.

Jackie, how did you see that moment?

KUCINICH: The moment it happened, you knew that that was going to be what we'd be talking about this morning. And it was -- in a speech that really was -- while the tone was different, it was a very partisan -- there was a lot of partisan divides.

This was something you saw almost everyone in the gallery stand up and applaud because her sacrifice transcends party, creed, everything. You could see that right there in that room last night.

BERMAN: That's the type of thing the president should do. It's the type of thing the country should do, honoring those who were lost in service of the nation. And our hearts go out to that family for sure.

HARLOW: All right, guys, thank you very much, Larry, Rebecca, Jackie. Certainly a lot to get to this morning.

We have a lot ahead. The president might have pushed to unify the country last night but the reaction from Democrats in the audience, a different story. We'll talk to Democratic senator Edward Markey straight ahead.

Also a major shift on immigration. The president signaling he could give millions of undocumented immigrants legal status. He's really shifting here.

BERMAN: And then the president said that 94 million people are out of the labor force. That, my friends, is actually an absurd number. We'll explain why.



[09:18:26] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us. We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts, the bravery to express the hopes that stir our souls, and the confidence to turn those hopes and those dreams into action.


HARLOW: The Trump White House this morning basking in the glow of the president's well-received speech. It was a dramatic reversal in tones from the dark themes of earlier speeches, including his inaugural address. He'll call for a country, quote, "empowered by our aspirations."

BERMAN: Now, there were groans in the audience from some Democrats. Still, polls show that those who watched the speech out in the country, they largely liked it.

But what about the president's Republicans in the House there, the lawmakers, who will be key in getting his agenda passed?

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill.

You almost could sense a sigh of relief from Republicans on the Hill, Sunlen.


A big sigh of relief. Republicans in the first month of the Trump administration have really been forced into bobbing and weaving with every controversial Trump tweet, with every controversial Trump statement up here on Capitol Hill. So, there is a sense that the fact that President Trump was able to come up here last night and deliver more measured, more disciplined, more controlled and more presidential speech, that that certainly calms the nerves of many of these Republicans up here on Capitol Hill.

And that certainly does go a long way when you're looking at the rather ambitious legislative agenda the president has laid out, a sense that it has more chances of passing, that they certainly would potentially be able to tackle this more as a party.

[09:20:12] And one member coming out and saying point-blank this was the exact boost we need for our agenda right now. And certainly top on the list, mission critical number one is what they will do with Obamacare, such a critical juncture right now. And the sense coming from the speech from Republicans is that this could help get a lot of those wary conservatives on board who might be on the fence about this, right now many of whom just want to see the repeal, not the repeal and replace portion of this.

And Trump's words certainly went a long way. Even though he didn't embrace specific policies and details, he largely embraced the House plan. And that goes a long way in leading them and showing them the way up here on Capitol Hill. HARLOW: All right. Sunlen, thank you very much. Reporting for us

from the Hill. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: You know, we want to hear from Republicans. We have some tonight. A special CNN town hall, two Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, they are both very critical of President Trump. It will be part of a town hall moderated by Dana Bash. It airs at 9:00 Eastern, only right here on CNN.

HARLOW: All right. Still to come for us, a stunning shift on immigration for this president. Did he just signal he's open to a pathway for legalization? Maybe not part. But this was a reversal. We'll talk about where the country goes from here on that, next.


[09:25:40] HARLOW: So, the president's first address to a joint session of Congress was applauded by a number of people who watched it. Almost seven in ten Americans who watched it said they think it's leading the country in the right direction.

BERMAN: Notably not applauded by roughly I would say 42 percent of the people sitting in the room watching it.

HARLOW: And that's that.

BERMAN: Democrats looked quite gloomy.

HARLOW: They did indeed. So, we want to get more reaction to the president's congressional address from Democratic Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts.

Nice to have you here.

SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Thank you. Good morning.

HARLOW: All right. So, let's get your reaction to some of the headlines this morning. Let's pull them up.

"Wall Street Journal," Trump's speech to Congress marks a shift in tone.

"Politico" headline, "Trump tries on normal." I would add to that, a new tie. Did you notice that? No red tie.

And "New York Times," "Trump, in optimistic address, asks Congress to end trivial fights."

So, are those headlines right, Senator?

MARKEY: Well, the tone might have changed, but the description of these fights as being trivial, no. They're not trivial at all.

Last night, President Trump once again called for the destruction of the Affordable Care Act. That provides new health care coverage for 20 million Americans. That's not a trivial fight. That is huge. It's historic.

Last night, the president called for a tremendous increase in defense spending in our country. $54 billion, but he also called for a $54 billion cut in health care, in education, in the Environmental Protection Agency, protection for clean air and clean water and the $54 billion for defense spending, yes, we need funding for our fighting men and women.

But he's also calling for a massive increase in our nuclear weapons in our country. Nuclear weapons in a large way against health care, education and environment in our country. I think that's not trivial. That's a huge historic debate.

BERMAN: Again, the specifics here do matter. We do want to talk about them. But the tone is important here as well. Because a lot of people, critics, Democrats, have noted that the president has had an unusual caustic, dark tone in the past.

So, you do acknowledge that you did hear something different last night. And does that matter?

MARKEY: Well, it only matters if he just stops tweeting today, if he stops insulting people that he is going to be watching on television today who might disagree with him on issues. But there's no indication thus far that anything that he said on Monday is now going to be followed up on the next day with a permanent change in tone, in temperament, in how he deals with these issues.

Without a respectful engagement with all Americans, I'm just afraid that we're going to have a repetition syndrome where there's a constant reenactment and escalation of the divisions which already exist in our country largely created by the very divisive tone that he has adopted over the last year and a half.

HARLOW: Maybe, maybe not. It's been three days -- I know it's only three days -- since he's tweeted anything attacking anyone or controversial. We will see. You're right, we will see.

Let me ask you this -- on immigration, though, he came out and made some news, big news, telling our Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer, this on immigration, the time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides. Basically saying he could live with making some compromises on immigration, looking at a path towards legalization for some immigrants in this country.

What could you live with, and were you encouraged to hear that?

MARKEY: Well, the only details that we actually know about Donald Trump's immigration policy so far is that he wants to build a wall across our entire border, and he wants to hire 10,000 deportation officers that is sending a chill into the hearts of millions of immigrants in our country who have committed no crimes, who are no threat to our country, who are working every single day.

So, in the absence of details, the only thing we really know right now is the specific of 10,000 deportation officers. We await the details of what a plan might be that could get by a Republican right wing House of Representatives that so far has opposed any real meaningful comprehensive immigration policy.

BERMAN: And fair enough. He did not talk about a path to legalization last night when he was speaking before Congress. But he specifically did mention it to the television anchors, that it's something he discussed.