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Report: Jon Huntsman, Trump's Pick for Ambassador to Russia; U.S. Marines Join Battle Against ISIS in Syria; Border Crossings Are Down 40 Percent. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 9, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] MICHELE KOSINSKI: CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: He must have a very good reason for doing so and the Trump administration does gain a few things from this choice.

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Trump's choice for ambassador to Russia, is the latest player in one of the U.S.' most complicated relationships. But Huntsman only months ago, after the release of the "Access Hollywood" tape of Donald Trump saying lewd things about women called for Trump to drop out, telling "The Salt Lake City Tribune" the campaign had become a race to the bottom at such a critical time for our nation and for so many have tried to be respectful of a primary vote, it's time for Governor Pence to lead the ticket. Huntsman himself ran for president in 2012 after President Obama appointed Huntsman ambassador to China. Back then it

was Trump who slammed him by tweet. "Jon Huntsman called to see me. I said no. He gave away our country to China." Also, calling him weak, lightweight and easy pickings.

Huntsman in January offered a much friendlier tone.


JON HUNTSMAN, FORMER UTAH GOVERNOR: We talked by phone. We've exchanged thoughts and ideas. I congratulated him on the race. And I wished him the best of success. And I really do hope that he is successful, because I've got two boys serving in the military of the United States. We all want the best for our country, particularly during tumultuous times.


KOSINSKI: Now Trump has looked past the criticism that has brought down others. Like Elliott Abrams nixed as deputy secretary of state. In Huntsman, the Trump white house gained someone with respected foreign policy chops who served as head of the Atlantic Council that criticized Vladimir Putin calling on Trump to stand up to him. And Trump manages what might be a favor for his staunch supporter, Orrin Hatch in Utah. Huntsman who once interned for Hatch was rumored to be a fierce contender for that seat.

THOMAS BURR, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: Back in 2009, Jon Huntsman was rumored as a possible opponent for President Obama. What did President Obama do? He named Jon Huntsman the ambassador to China. The joke at the time was keep your friends close and your enemies in China. The President needs Senator Orrin Hatch who's head of the finance committee. He's going to be intricate in the health care and tax reform.

KOSINSKI: Hatch has helped him get his cabinet picks approved. As the longest serving senator, his seat might just be safe. Huntsman gets a big job and Trump gets his ambassador to help him deal with Putin. So, if Huntsman is confirmed and does become ambassador to Russia, you also have to question how much will his own views and his own experience come into play when so much of foreign policy seems to be directed and very closely held within the white house. Brooke.

BALDWIN: Michelle, thank you so much. Michelle Kosinski at state for us.

Coming up next, U.S. Marines arrive in northern Syria, bringing artillery for U.S.-backed forces there. We'll talk live to the former U.S. ambassador to Syria to find out what this fight means against ISIS, how significant this is. Stars and stripes waving high in Syria.


BALDWIN: U.S. Marines have just arrived in Syria ahead of a crucial battle against ISIS. These Marines are there to help U.S.-backed forces on a mission to retake the city ultimately of Raqqa. Raqqa the effective capital city for ISIS militants. The pentagon is not confirming the marine deployment because of security concerns, so we don't actually know how many Marines are in Syria or their exact location. Joining me now, former U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, welcome.

ROBERT FORD, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: Thank you. Nice to be with you.

BALDWIN: You know, we're seeing some pictures, and let's just call them U.S. forces there on the ground in Syria waving the stars and stripes. From what I read from a pentagon spokesperson saying that the presence of even the flag is very deliberate for visibility reasons. What do you make of that?

FORD: Well, the U.S. forces in Iraq have two components and they have two missions.

BALDWIN: I'm sorry in Iraq or Syria?

FORD: Sorry, in Syria, excuse me. First, there are U.S. Special Forces operating in Syria, and they have been there for a long time. They have been there for more than a year. They are working against the Islamic State in coordination with Syrian Kurdish fighters and a growing force of Syrian Arab fighters. They work, for example, these American special operations forces with the American Air Force which is bombing targets, Islamic State targets in Syria. That's been going on for a long time. That's not new.

[15:40:00] The marine deployment of artillery by contrast is new, and that would be an expansion of the mission so that now we're going to provide not just calm pa -- combat air support along with special advisers on the ground but now we're going to be firing artillery as well.

Now, there's a second mission which the Americans have also started and just in the past week and that's the pictures you're talking about with the American flag. The defense department announced at the beginning of this week that there would be some special operations forces deployed not against the Islamic State, but rather as peace keepers between warring Syrian factions in the city of Menagh up close to the Syrian-Turkish border. Not against the Islamic State but as peace keepers. That's a new and very different mission.

BALDWIN: What about, Ambassador Ford, though, the actual presence of warring Syrian factions in the city of Menagh up close to the Syrian- Turkish border. Not against the Islamic State but as peace keepers. That's a new and very different mission.

FORD: Well, so far during the two years and more that we've had U.S. forces in combat in Syria, we've only suffered one killed in action, one American service member killed. That was last November. These artillery units I don't think will be up on the very front lines. Artillery is normally stationed back behind and so is a little more distanced from ISIS fighters, but of course they will be targets if ISIS with infiltrate suicide bombers or something through. For sure they would like to get close to those American Marines. I actually think the forces deployed on the peacekeeping mission up in Menagh are --

BALDWIN: How so?

FORD: They're in the middle of four different warring armies, Syrian government, Syrian Kurds, Turkish army and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels. They're all fighting each other. You're going to put Americans into the middle of that. For example, today there are reports that Turkish artillery was shelling those Syrian Kurds and shelling those Syrian army positions. The Americans are very close to where that shelling is happening. They won't target the Americans, but an errant shell, a misplaced location, bad things can happen.

BALDWIN: Former U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, thank you so much, sir, I appreciate it.

FORD: My pleasure.

Obviously, we wish those men and women the very best.

Coming up next, illegal border crossings drop 40 percent in the last month between Mexico and the United States. The Trump administration is taking credit. Should they?


BALDWIN: President Trump's tough talk could be having a serious effect on immigration. According to these latest statistics just released by the customs and border control officials, illegal crossings from Mexico into the U.S. were down 40 percent last month. 40. That is actually a staggering reversal on a 17-year upward trend. Joining me now from the Woodrow Wilson International Center is Chris Wilson, deputy director at their Mexico Institute. So, Chris, nice to have you on. You know, listen, it may be impossible to actually know whether or not the Trump rhetoric is tied to the numbers going down, but is that the sense you're getting?

CHRIS WILSON, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, MEXICO INSTITUTE, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: Thanks for having me on. I do think that it's tied to the rhetoric. But the question for me is whether or not this is a permanent change or a temporary one? We saw the numbers of apprehensions go up last fall and through the winter during a time of year where that's not usually happening. Usually at that time of year the numbers are going down, so I think that was also related to the elections. There were people that were crossing the border, trying to get across into the United States, before Donald Trump took office, before new border security measures were put in place.

To a certain extent, it's natural there would be a decline afterwards, that demand for migration was moved up and so now there could be a lull. The real question is two months from now, do we move back to the regular amount or are we in a permanently different situation because of the change in rhetoric and really more importantly the change in policy, because that's the only thing that could have a lasting effect on decision making.

BALDWIN: That's a great point. We also heard from DHS saying that there is a corresponding increase in the amount of smugglers who are being used and they're able to increase their prices to take people to the border. Do you attribute that to maybe the increased security right now?

WILSON: Again, just as you said at the outset, we only have sort of one month of new data, of new stories of what's going on, so we should all be cautious with our interpretations. But we've seen a several year process of smuggling prices going up so we're definitely at a period in which increased border security, you know, may have -- any time it's harder for migrants to cross the border, they rely more on smugglers to make their way across and smugglers, therefore, can charge greater prices. The greater question is are smugglers at the root of this as well?

[15:50:00] They advertise their services to potential migrants so they could use the presidency of Donald Trump as a selling point ahead of his inauguration saying to potential migrants you need to make a move now. If you're going to make a move in the next six months, now is the time to do it. So, they play an important role in communicating real information but also communicating false information, and so we'll have to watch how that plays out as well.

BALDWIN: Maybe it's the smugglers optimizing their, quote, business practices, right, ahead of knowing how the President would come down on illegal immigration. We'll find out as you point out. Too early to know. Chris Wilson from the Woodrow Wilson Center, thank you very, very much.

Coming up next here, as President Trump makes a hard sell for the Republican health care plan, we'll take you live to Knoxville, Tennessee, where a major insurer is about to pull out of the Obamacare exchange. A look at whether this new bill would help people there at the risk of losing their coverage altogether. But first, check out this one-of-a-kind experience CNN's Chris Moody found in Salt Lake City if you are ever passing through.


CHRIS MOODY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Salt Lake City, Utah, the world headquarters of the Mormon Church and a thriving business city that serves as a gateway to just a 35-minute drive will take you to one of the greatest thrills of your life. The Utah Olympic Park was built for the winter Olympics in 2002 and it's still used today as a training center for athletes. What makes it truly special, this is one of just two places in the United States where a normal person like me can ride an actual bob sled.

CARL REPKE, BOB SLEDDER: You want to kiss my egg? All right, here we go.

It's hard to think you're a bob sledder when you watch on TV. The reality is you can do these things here at the park.

MOODY: Carl REPKE is a winter Olympian who has been at this for more than 20 years.

REPKE: It's neat to go down the track 60 miles, 70 miles on the bob sled. We're doing the driving. All we want you to do is have fun.

MOODY: This isn't for the faint of heart. The turns alone can reach up to 5 G's. And this bob sled runs year-round. In the summer, they just add wheels.

REPKE: I think the biggest thing of all is to want to bring home a story. It's not that the snow was the greatest snow in the world and we have the ski. The first thing that comes out is they took a bob sled ride. Forever and ever we've got arm chair quarterbacks saying that's not the way to go through curve 12 when they're watching the Olympic games. Someone is going to say, how do you know? Because I rode the bob sled.

MOODY: That was awesome.



BALDWIN: You talk to some of the funniest people they tell you the best material comes from their everyday home life. This father-son comedy power house Carl and Rob Reiner lived that philosophy. I actually got to go to Carl Reiner's home in L.A., sit down with him and between them you have legendary shows like Dick Van Dyke, When Harry Met Sally, I could go on. I learned that laughter and politics really is just in their DNA.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ROB REINER, COMEDIAN: The funniest people in the world came into this house. People have asked me a million times what it was like growing up in a household where there was Mel Brooks and there's -- Norman Lear, just the funniest people in the world. I said, well, you don't know as a kid, you're growing up, you don't know that's your reality.

CARL REINER, COMEDIAN: I was trying to think of when he was very, very young, four, five and six years old, when Mel and I would be kidding around in the living room he would sit on the steps and listen and laugh. We didn't understand how this kid knew what he was thinking about. Matter of fact, when he was 12 years old or 13 or 15 he threw in a joke we still use.

BALDWIN: I was staying up late last night rewatching scenes from when harry met sally which I've seen 18 times at least.

Rob Reiner: Really?

BALDWIN: Oh, yes. The scene when she's faking the orgasm, I'll have what you're having, your wife, do you think that would be seen as tame now?

ROB REINER: You know, yes, probably. If you look at cable television and all the shows that are on.

BALDWIN: Of course.

CARL REINER: The people are doing more than faking orgasms. They're having actual, whatever they do. I don't know what it is because --

BALDWIN: Taking this off, doing this and that.

CARL REINER: And they use the f word freely. Bill Maher can't use two words without saying it. Makes it okay.

ROB REINER: Now if you're a political satirist, your act is written for you. There's a lunatic in the white house.

BALDWIN: Do you think anything should be off limits for when they're poking fun at the President?




ROB REINER: Because nothing is off limits for him. I mean, the guy, he makes fun of handicapped people. He talks about what he's going to do to women. I mean, nothing is off limits for him so why should anything be off limits for the comedian? Nothing should be off limits for comedians anyway.

CARL REINER: Nobody has ever attacked a President the way this guy is being attacked because no President deserves it. They've said we don't like Obama's Obamacare, but they couldn't attack him for being a person. He's not a person, he's a pig.

BALDWIN: Are you up late on Saturday night?

ROB REINER: Melissa McCarthy knocked it out of the park. Aside from the fact she was brilliantly funny and the makeup was incredible, she looked just like Sean Spicer. I loved the fact that Trump was upset that Sean was being played by a woman. So now we're trying to get Rosie O'Donnell to play Steve Bannon. I'd love to see a woman play Trump, Meryl Streep or whatever.

CARL REINER: In the history of our country, we've never had the citizenry go after the President like in this vein because he deserves it. No other President -- I mean, there were anti-Bushes, there were anti-Nixons. Not this way.

ROB REINER: I've never seen anything like it.

BALDWIN: Huge thank you to the refiners. By the way, Carl Reiner turning 95 years young this month. Do not miss our CNN series, "The History of Comedy", 10:00 p.m. eastern pacific only here on CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.