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Poll: Trump Approval Rating Sinks To New Low; Trump Tweet: Russia Story Is "Fake News"; Is Trump Presidency Being Shaped By Fox News?; Trump Tweet: Dems "Made Up" Russia Story. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 20, 2017 - 06:30   ET

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


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[06:31:22]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Now this morning, North Korea touting a, quote, "great leap forward" in its missile program. That claim backed up today by South's Korea's Defense Ministry, which warn that Pyongyang's latest rocket engine test showed, quote, "meaningful progress." The test of the high thrust engine coming just as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Beijing meeting with China's president at the end of his first visit to Asia.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: In Tennessee, we have a manhunt underway for a former teacher suspected of kidnapping one of his students. The 50- year-old Tad Cummins and 15-year-old, Elizabeth Thomas, were last spotted in Decatur, Alabama a week ago. Police say Cummins is armed and the girl could be in imminent danger. They are thought to be traveling in a silver Nissan Rogue, Tennessee plates. Cummins was suspended from his job last month for alleged inappropriate contact with Thomas.

HARLOW: Heightened security at the White House following a pair of incidents over the weekend. Police detained one man at a checkpoint Saturday night after he claimed to have a bomb in his vehicle. Earlier that day the Secret Service arrested an unarmed man who went into an unauthorized area. President Trump was in Florida at the time. This security scare all happened a little more than a week after a man breeched the White House fence and remained undetected for 16 minutes.

CUOMO: All right, so Republicans are still odds over their health care replacement plan. We're hearing a lot from the speaker about how they really moved it and change it and they're really getting people on board now. Is that true?

And are the polls accurately reflecting what has been just a devastating start for our president? Let's give it to the panel next.

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[06:36:55]

CUOMO: All right, so we are now two months into the Trump presidency and his approval ratings are not good, according to the latest Gallup tracking polls. If you look at it on a day-to-day basis, we keep seeing these dips for the president after he gets himself in trouble by saying things that are impossible to prove because they are not true, 37 percent approved of the job president is doing, 58 percent say they disapprove.

This comes as the president's agenda is once again stalled in Congress and in the courts. What is Trump going to do to turn things around? We keep hearing about the need for a win. When does he get this win that we need that will turn his fate?

Ron Brownstein, A.B. Stoddard, David Drucker, they're here to answer that question. What is it, Professor Brownstein, that is driving the numbers this way. You point this out all the time. With Republicans very, very strong. Still Democrats unprecedentedly weak. Is this just a so what or is there proof that he needs a change of fate?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, he won the election with 46 percent of the vote. His initial approval rating in Gallup was 45 percent. The first president ever to start his presidency with support from less than half of the country.

He has governed in a way on his agenda, which has been aimed overwhelmingly at his core voters and so he failed to expand and then even within that core as I said, about a quarter of the people that voted for him doubted he had the personal qualifications for the job and he has more reason to deepen it than conclusion than to reassess it.

And that's where you end up where you are, whether it's 37 in Gallup or in the low 40s in other polls. Both of those are kind of an unprecedented set of numbers. There had never been a president this low below 50 this quick into his presidency.

And if you look at the history of midterm elections in modern politics, the single most important number is the presidential approval number and if you're one of those 23 Republicans in a district that Hillary Clinton carried in the House, primarily white collar districts, at a time when his approval rating among college educated whites is well under 40 percent, you simply can't ignore these number numbers.

HARLOW: All right, so as the president gears up for a huge week, probably his biggest week, and could get a win with Gorsuch, he is completely changing the narrative with this tweet. He just tweeted moments ago, "James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence POTUS colluded with Russia. This story is fake news and everyone knows it." This just hours ahead of the hearing with Comey on the Hill, NSA Director Mike Rogers as well. What's the strategy here? Why that tweet?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, I think he should be tweeting about health care, but it's probably a way to dance away from the wiretapping. It will be an embarrassing day when Director Comey said and they'll make him say it several times that there's no wiretap of Trump Tower, there's no wiretap, there no FISA warrant, there's no evidence, there is no roof, end of story. And so I think he's trying to make this hearing a Russia collusion hearing.

HARLOW: Isn't he betting that Comey is going to say definitively no collusion as well?

STODDARD: I think he's hoping, but we can't be certain that that's going to be the case. It's true that Obama's acting CIA director, Mike Murell (ph) and Clapper have both said that and that's great for Trump.

[06:40:08]But we can't be sure, again, that Clapper -- excuse me that Director Comey is going to say we have concluded this investigation. It's completely complete and there has been no --

CUOMO: He could do that on the surveillance. So we took a look, there's nothing there. There's nothing more to review, but he's not going to say that on the Russia question. Something that's interesting here, again, it's a tweet. It's 140 characters.

And we know that these are more spontaneous than they are calculated very often, but nobody ever talked about whether it goes to Trump. He says POTUS colluded with Russia. I don't know why. He put himself in the mix.

Nobody has ever pointed to him even to ask a question. This is about his guys that he's had with constant contacts according to our sources and what that could mean. Nobody has ever fingered to POTUS before except for Trump himself.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, but they have suggested that Trump specifically colluded with Russia and that's why he's been so soft on Vladimir Putin. Look, what I thought was interesting about that is I think it was James Clapper who also said there was no wiretap of Trump by the last administration.

So Clapper's credibility maybe matters to Trump or maybe he saw something on television that we haven't been able to see yet because we're busy here. And that might explain this tweet, you know, a lot.

CUOMO: It explains why he's had such a rough first two months also. You have to know when not to speak in that position, Ron Brownstein, to let others do the speaking for you and to allow inertia to take effect where things fill the gap for the media. He doesn't do it well. He's trying to create the action and it's been biting him consistently through two months that he can't believe have gone the way he wanted.

BROWNSTEIN: Chris, I think that's exactly right. I mean, he has made himself the center of every (inaudible) in this presidency. Interestingly health care is one where he has at points held back one step of reserve and that's going to be a fascinating moment this week.

Because, you know, the history of, as David and I think A.B. both know well, I mean, since Republicans took over Congress in 1995, where there is the Newt Gingrich era, the Tom Delay era or the John Boehner era, the history is they almost always get whatever the bill is out of the House after all the grumbling from conservatives. They usually find a way to pass it through the House often by moving into the right and I think that is going to be what happens this week as well and then all of a sudden, we're going to be in a very clarified situation where the only thing standing between roughly 25 million people according to the Congressional Budget Office losing their health care.

(Inaudible) doubling is going to be a hand full of Republican centrists in the Senate who have indicated problems with this bill particularly in the states that expanded Medicaid and you do wonder whether we're going to see a louder campaign against it than we have seen so far.

For example, all those key medical interests that have opposed it have not done very much except the American Hospital Association just began ads yesterday.

HARLOW: Right. We have to leave it there, but you do have 26 now, according to CNN's whip count, 26 lawmakers, 26 Republicans in the House saying no or leaning no.

CUOMO: And Ryan keeps talking about how they fixed the bill, but we haven't seen any there "there."

HARLOW: We haven't seen any there "there." All right, stay with us. Did you watch basketball this weekend? A little bit. Duke flaming out in a weekend full of upsets in the NCAA tournament. The Sweet 16 is set. Details in the "Bleacher Report" next.

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[06:47:15]

CUOMO: We just a weekend that makes all the bracket people cry. March Madness now down to the Sweet 16 and they're not the teams that many expected. Coy Wire, give us the dits (ph).

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I got you, Chris. It was a huge upset because we have millions of people having Duke make it all the way to the finals, if not winning this thing like Vegas had them heading into the tournament. South Carolina gets them. They are heading to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1973 back when Nixon was president. Check out Coach Frank Martin getting his team ready before the game.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been like a little kid all day. I've never been good enough to play in a game like this. Why don't you guys break the ice for me?

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WIRE: Coach Frank Marsh's team heeded his words after shooting just 20 percent in the first half down by 10 at one point. South Carolina explodes for 65 points in the second half, the most ever given up by Mike Krzyzewski's Duke team.

They played in Greenville, which is only about 100 miles from the South Carolina campus. The fans were loud and rowdy just like the team was in the locker room afterwards. Check out the water works. They are celebrating. The game cox moving on to the next round.

Have to show you this, the wife of Wichita State Coach Greg Marshall, Lynn, she is there in white, apparently didn't take the shocker season ending loss to Kentucky all too well.

Security reportedly visited her three times for screaming some not safe for TV words and misbehaving and standing up on the bleachers and eventually was asked to leave the court area after the game.

And Wichita State reportedly declined to comment on it, saying, they weren't aware of the incident, but I think they are now. But I'm not at you, Ms. Lynn, I was kind of feeling the same way after my Duke Blue Devils, who I had going all the way to the finals got upset yesterday.

And Poppy, I know you have them in the finals too so you also feel the frustration.

HARLOW: I also pick Minnesota to win.

WIRE: I like that.

HARLOW: Coy Wire, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Back to politics next, is the Trump presidency somehow being shaped by Fox News? Our Brian Stelter not mincing his words, he calls Donald Trump the Fox News president. Find out why. He joins us next.

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[06:53:10]

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We said nothing. I didn't make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox. You shouldn't be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.

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HARLOW: You should be talking to Fox. Not me, the president. The president shifting blame saying that the information about alleged British involvement in so-called wiretapping at Trump Tower came from a Fox News contributor.

The Brits calling that baseball assertion utterly ridiculous, but it brings up a bigger question, is the cable network actually shaping the Trump presidency?

CNN's senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter is here and he calls Trump a Fox News president. He joins us along with CNN media analyst, Bill Carter to discuss. Good morning, Gentlemen.

Brian, great show yesterday digging into all of this. Make the case. This is the Fox News president. Aside from that claim there's a lot more there "there."

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we thought about him as a cable news president. That's definitely true. Consuming CNN and MSNBC and Fox all the time. Also a social media president, Trump up early this morning.

But I think something more specific is what we're seeing now a Fox News president because of the exchange about Napolitano, and all of the other ways Fox influences this White House. Hiring Fox staffers. Tweeting about Fox all the time. Consuming information from Fox and then sharing it with the public, sometimes misleading information.

There's this feedback that's very specific between Trump and Fox. He's also given five of his seven sit down TV interviews to Fox since taking office.

HARLOW: It is important to know some of the journalists at Fox have pushed back against this like Shep Smith on Friday.

STELTER: That's right. Sheppard Smith and Bret Baer at Fox on Friday said, listen, we know Judge Napolitano said this on the air. We don't have any proof. We don't have any evidence to back it up.

There's some big questions, though, for Fox about why was Napolitano on TV acting like a reporter saying this stuff? Why did he say he had Fox News sources confirming it? When in fact the news division did not have sources confirming it.

[06:55:05]It seems to be a completely false allegation, but it was repeated several times on Fox so Napolitano might be in some hot water over there. Fox is trying to get this to go away but, it's one of many examples of the president and his aides being influenced by Fox.

CUOMO: Look, just so that everybody confirms the obvious, when you base an opinion on a source that communicates acceptance of that source. You don't get to say I believe this and Poppy Harlow said it and Poppy was wrong, she said it. You believe it if you want to.

That's not the way truth telling works and I'm sure the president knows it and every once in a while he gets caught on it. Now we're seeing another instance of the president designing his own faith right now in real time on Twitter.

He has been tweeting this morning. He's obviously agitated about these questions about Russia. There's been two. First he said that Clapper and others stated there's no evidence that POTUS concluded with Russia. I don't remember the president himself being the focus of any speculation. It's been about contacts with his staff.

For some reason, Trump just put himself in the mix. Now his latest tweet, "The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College and lost."

Fairness to the president he finally got that last point right. He blew it out in the Electoral College. He didn't. It was the slimmest margins that we've had. But he is right, the Democrats did have a big advantage, but obviously he's trying to make the case for himself. Is he making yet another mistake?

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Yes. Because I mean, again he's relying on things that, look the Democratic defense with Russia started before the election. People talked about that campaign being influenced by the Russians before there was any vote. They didn't make it up.

And since then we've had all of these intelligence organizations coming out and saying the Russians hacked the election. It's not the Democrats doing it. It's the actual people that worked for him. They're not saying the Democrats made it up so he's again relying on this -- it's not -- let me blame somebody else.

CUOMO: Setting himself up for failure, Brian, that's the thing. There's a very good chance that James Comey could come out today and say what we have heard. Are there contacts that deserve review and investigation between staff members and Russian authorities or players? Yes.

Do we have proof that there was collusion in the hacking? No. Not at this point. He could say that but now the president just upped the ante in a way that he increased his chances that he gets a loss because Jim Comey could very easily say it's not about the Democrats. It's about what we are looking at and now he's exposed once again.

STELTER: But I think he is presenting a counter narrative. With these tweets right at the beginning of the day, he's giving a counter narrative to what we're about to see on cable news all day long.

CARTER: He wants the wiggle room before it starts. He wants to be able to say I told you this. If you hear this today don't believe it. It's actually the Democrats. He's always trying to set up his own defense before it happens.

HARLOW: He's not tweeting about what could be a win for him. He could have tweeted something sort of pretty bland.

CUOMO: He could have said, we're getting health care in order. He could have said a lot of things right.

BERMAN: Things are progressing well in health care. He could have said that. We lost a great journalist over the weekend. Jimmy Breslin (ph) died, a famed columnist here in New York. I was reading about him last night. Let's pull him up on the screen.

At one point he said rage is the only quality that has kept me or anybody I've ever studied writing columns for newspapers. And that reminded of this moment perhaps. And then also this lesson, you could only give people the lesson of how to climb stairs because there are no stories on the first floor. Anything you're looking for is four to five flights up. That's advice that he gave to young journalists. What does he teach us today about the importance?

STELTER: He talked about reporting not with his brain, but with his feet and going out and actually interviewing people and talking with people. He was a pioneering journalist, always focusing on the working class, on the little guy so to speak, and having those people in his heart.

CARTER: He also was phenomenal storyteller, I mean, that's what really was effective to me. I have a lot of Irish uncles that hang out at the bar and want to sit next to the best storyteller in the place and that was him. He was weaving these stories. Incredible characters and even if you didn't agree with them they were captured by it.

CUOMO: His absence is going to be felt. We need a Breslin right now for Democrats and Republicans. He's a guy that wrote what he knew and he's a loss to us in the media for sure, but even more to his boys and the remaining kids that he has and now without the name that shaped their lives more than anybody else. Our hearts go out to them. This is a big loss. Big loss.

HARLOW: Jimmy Breslin, thank you. Thank you both very much.

CUOMO: Thanks to all of you our international viewers for watching. For you "CNN NEWSROOM" is next. For our U.S. viewers, you have to stay with NEW DAY. This week is going to be the biggest potentially we have seen in this presidency. Let's get after it.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president doesn't go and physically wiretap somebody. If you take the president literally, it didn't happen.

CUOMO: James Comey's highly anticipate --