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Trump: U.S. Could Act on North Korea Threat; Trump to Meet with Chinese President at Mar-a-Lago; Senate Heads Toward Nuclear Showdown Over Gorsuch. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 3, 2017 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A critical week for President Trump starts today.

[05:58:38] NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: We need to see definitive actions by China condemning North Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard not to interpret Donald Trump's statements as a warning.

ASH CARTER, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: If it comes to the necessity to protect ourselves, we've always had all options on the table.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Wherever the Russian evidence takes us in terms of the Trump campaign is where we'll go.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: I will tell people whenever they see the president use the word "fake," it ought to set off alarm bells.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed. How that happens depends on our Democratic friends.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Mitch calls it a filibuster. We call it the 60-vote standard.


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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United Statesand around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Monday, April 3, 6 a.m. here in New York, and up first, President Trump facing the most critical week of international diplomacy yet. And he's already being provocative ahead of this big meeting with the Chinese president. Would the U.S. act alone on North Korea? Can Trump threats get China to do more?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So the military threat from Pyongyang clearly at the top of the president's agenda when he hosts China. Today, President Trump meets with Egypt's president and later this week with Jordan's king to discuss the war against ISIS.

All of this as the showdown over the president's Supreme Court nominee heats up with a vote this week.

It's day 74 of the Trump presidency. We have it all covered for you, so let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House.

Hi, Joe.


The president meeting with the leaders of three nations this week as this new administration takes some of the most important steps yet on the world stage.

Meanwhile, playing in the background, questions of collusion involving the administration in the campaign and the Russia investigation.


JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump kicking off a critical week of high-profile diplomatic talks, hosting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi at the White House today ahead of a sit-down with King Abdullah of Jordan on Wednesday.

On Thursday and Friday, President Trump will host Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time at his Mar-a-Lago resort for arguably the most important diplomatic meetings of the president's tenure thus far.

A key point of contention: North Korea's nuclear ambitions. President Trump offering a vague but head-turning assessment to "The Financial Times," saying he may act unilaterally, quote, "If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will."

The president tweeting last week that he expects this high-profile meeting with China will be difficult, particularly after all of his tough talk during the campaign.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't continue to allow China to rape our country, and that's what they're doing.

China is responsible for nearly half of our entire trade deficit.

JOHNS: The president's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, expected to play a key role in the two days of meetings. Kushner rapidly becoming the president's foreign policy point man.

All of these diplomatic meetings come as the cloud of Russia continues to hangover the Trump administration, the president continuing to stand behind his unfounded wiretapping claim, insisting he does not regret any of his tweets, while attempting to downplay the connections between campaign advisors and Russia as "fake news."

SCHIFF: I would tell people whenever they see the president use the word "fake," it ought to set off alarm bells. JOHNS: The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee telling

CNN he's treating the immunity request from Trump's fired national security advisor, Michael Flynn, with healthy skepticism.

As Senator John McCain calls the request unusual and continues to push for special investigation.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Every time we turn around, another shoe drops from this centipede. If we're really going to get to the bottom of these things, it's got to be done in a bipartisan fashion.


JOHNS: The White House also sending signals that the president will not press issues related to human rights violations in his meetings with China and Egypt. That would be a huge departure from the way the Obama administration handled these issues.

Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: All right, Joe.

So President Trump is going to put China on notice, supposedly, over North Korea's nuclear program. How will tough talk work ahead of the high-stakes meeting with China's president this week?

CNN's Will Ripley has reported extensively from inside North Korea. He joins us now from Beijing with reaction.

We're told the meeting will be at Mar-a-Lago later this week but will not involve golf, at least not for China's president, right?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, because he's actually banned all government officials from playing golf here in China and shut down a number of golf courses. He's almost waged a war against the sport here. So an interesting backdrop.

They certainly do have a lot on their agenda, Chris. This interview with President Trump, where he said the United States will take care of North Korea with or without China, Chinese officials not taking the bait on that, at least in their public statements. Overnight, the ministry of foreign affairs said that there was a conversation that happened between Secretary of State Tillerson and China's top diplomat, queuing up this meeting, talking about its importance but not even mentioning the subject of North Korea.

Of course, China blames the United States for escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. thinks that China has a lot of economic leverage that it's not using.

What could the U.S. actually do in North Korea? Well, it's certainly limited without China's participation, Chris, because any sanctions, for them to really be effective, China would need to enforce them. If there was some sort of diplomatic engagement directly with the U.S. in North Korea, as President Trump hinted on the campaign trail, that would certainly be unprecedented. The other option -- and again, the president's comments very cryptic -- a preemptive military strike. That is certainly something that would cause a lot of problems for China and not something that they want to see happen.

CAMEROTA: Yes, lots of problems for lots of people. Will, thank you very much for that reporting.

Let's discuss it with our panel. We want to bring in CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News, Errol Louis; CNN political analyst and senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner," David Drucker; and CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich. Great to see all of you on this Monday.

OK. Let's me read a little bit more from this excerpt for "The Financial Times," where President Trump made this, you know, quite noteworthy interview. He says, "China has great influence over North Korea, and China will either decide to help us with North Korea or they won't. And if they do that, if they do, that will be very good for China; and if they don't, it won't be good for anyone." Errol, where does this leave diplomacy?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's a sort of characteristically bold statement from the president, but of course, the reality is not quite so simple. It's not just about whether or not China wants to help the United States.

China has a 900-mile border with North Korea. China has North Korea as virtually an economic subsidiary of China. Seventy percent of their economy is related to China. So they don't have the option of just walking away and letting the U.S. do whatever it wants. They are -- they're deeply invested. They don't want a refugee crisis. They don't want a failed state. So they're going to prop up North Korea in some way, shape or form, no matter what. And nothing the president says is going to changes that.

CUOMO: So David, as we look at what the state of play is, this "Financial Times" interview that the president did is getting a lot of talk about what he said. We haven't heard him talk about foreign affairs this way that often. Still early in the administration.

This is about economic activity. And what about, about $7 billion between North Korea and China. It's significant. And it's about what happens if China doesn't like what you say, because Americans have to remember they hold more paper, more debt, financial instruments from the U.S. government than anyone else in the world. So what's the plus/minus here?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think for China, this is all about real politic. And they are trying to carve out a sphere of influence in the Asian Pacific, where we have been on our heels. This was true under President Obama, and I think that the Trump administration is trying to figure out how to counter this.

And that gets us to the North Korea issue, which is this. Why does China want to solve a problem that keeps us off balance and keeps us needing them? Especially when they don't want to make our life easier so that maybe we might be able to focus on them building illegal islands in the South China Seas so they can control the shipping lanes and displace us. So that China really has no motivation at all to do anything about this.

And our military options are complicated that Seoul is just over the border from North Korea. And we always have to worry about a military strike in response that could hit tens of millions of civilians in South Korea. And that is a major problem.

So I just -- this strikes me as the president trying to do something different, because his three predecessors failed to win on this North Korea issue. And so I don't think we should dismiss a change of strategy out of hand, but his options are limited. And as Errol mentioned, he's found out on the domestic side it's easy to talk tough and assume that everybody in Washington was stupid until he got there. But these are some real issues that don't have a lot of easy answers.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Jackie.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I mean they have long had smart people trying to solve them from both sides of the political aisle and many different foreign policy backgrounds. So I don't disagree with David or Errol on this one in terms of the president does have a habit of talking very tough, and then we see him have to pull back later. And I wonder if this is going to be another case of that.

CUOMO: First time that we've ever seen him deal with somebody who's stronger than he is? Again, you can't underestimate the ability of the Chinese to say, "You know what? Let's float some of this paper that we have. Let's just put it on the market and see what happens." I mean, they could --again, people will argue they wouldn't do that; they need the U.S. economy stronger than anybody, because they hold all this paper. But this is the first time we'll see him talk to somebody, using muscle, who's pretty muscular themselves.

LOUIS: The U.S. is the dominant super power in the world. It's not the only superpower in the world. China is not to be trifled with. It's actually very interesting and a little disappointing to hear that the U.S. may be sort of discarding one of the stronger cards in our hand, which is human rights, that we have an open society.

CUOMO: He's not going to talk about it.

LOUIS: You know, I mean, even just as a point of leverage, one would hope that he would go in sort of not discarding one of the major strengths that he has, sitting down with the Chinese leader.

CAMEROTA: So David, obviously, the go-it-alone strategy perked up a lot of ears. The former defense secretary, Ash Carter, was on the Sunday shows this weekend and just tried to lay out a scenario of what that would look like or mean. So watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CARTER: If it comes to the necessity to protect ourselves, we've always had all options on the table. I wouldn't take any off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: a Preemptive strike we're talking about.

CARTER: In 1994, I worked on preemptive strike plan, which we did not need to carry out at that time on the Yongbyon research facility. We have those options. We shouldn't take them off the table.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And how do you think North Korea would respond?

CARTER: To a...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A preemptive strike on a launch pad, say. It's quite possible as they would -- the consequence of that launch they attempted invasion of South Korea.


CAMEROTA: OK. It's dire. I mean, if you play it all out.

DRUCKER: Well, and the North Korean regime is so unpredictable. They don't follow the usual sort of normal course of international diplomacy. I think Ash Carter laid out our risks there.

What we can say, though, is that we tried to go through China and have them sort of be a part of a multilateral effort. We've tried to pay off the North Koreans, essentially for years. None of it has worked. They keep building up their nuclear program. They keep threatening the United States.

And so I think that we have to explore other options, and we have to try to send a message to them that this may not be a survivable event for them. In that respect, I think the Trump administration has to be given latitude to try to do something different. Nothing else has worked under Republicans and Democrats. Ash Carter laid out there the dilemma of a military strike and anything that really could rub this kid who's running this country the wrong way.

CUOMO: So what do you think? Do you think that having these big meetings this week will at least politically shift focus off the Russia investigation, or do you think that you have the Senate intel carrying the ball right now? You have, obviously, Representative Schiff is saying that everything that's going on in the White House is to distract. But what do you think the practical effect is this week?

LOUIS: As a practical matter, it would be a great thing is -- both for the White House and, frankly, for the country if the Russia investigations could proceed on their own separate track and the White House could go about conducting the public business. And specifically making good on whatever he's going to do as far as China policy.

The sabre rattling is actually kind of alarming. One would hope that they would have the ability to get focused on it and not get distracted by tweets and Russia investigations. Again, the Congress is sort of moving forward with that. But you know, when we see the president spending as much time as he's had to spend on all of these old allegations. The problems that he himself made with the reckless tweet about the former president.

You -- you can't have, in a world where you've got sort of a crazy person. You've got what could be a failed state. You've got what could be a refugee crisis. You know, that's really the great fear in North Korea, is that you'll have tens of thousands of people streaming into China, destabilizing the entire peninsula. You can't have all of this stuff. This is why it's so important for this administration to announce its policies clearly, resolve the Russia issue as quickly as it possibly can, and bring some stability to the situation.


KUCINICH: And it...

CAMEROTA: Go ahead.

KUCINICH: No, I was going to say, but it's also -- it's not like this is an old problem that keeps being old. There's new information about the Russia issue, I feel like, every week. Be it what Nunes did. It feels -- it may be a week ago; it may have been two weeks ago at this point.

But last week you had -- last week you had Michael Flynn's disclosure reports, in addition to him asking for immunity. He failed to disclose payments from Russian Television and perhaps some speeches that he gave for Russian companies. So the fact that this new information keeps on coming forward, why aren't they just being transparent if it's going to come out anyway?

CUOMO: But isn't it mostly him, thought, still? I mean, I hear you on the disclosure thing. But that was a preliminary report. I don't know that they have Flynn on hiding information.

But it was what Trump did.

KUCINICH: Doesn't have high interest, but...

CUOMO: He brought it up again with that tweet. You know, he brought...


CUOMO: ... up the tweet again this weekend: "It's the same fake news media that said there's no path to victory for Trump that is now pushing the phony Russia story. A total scam."

He just put gas on the fire by once again classifying it in a way that is demonstrably false. How much of it is just on him?

KUCINICH: On Trump himself?


KUCINICH: Absolutely. CUOMO: It's not about the Flynn disclosure. It's the tweet.

KUCINICH: No, but here's the thing. No, but here's the -- I'm just saying that's another layer to this. That's another reason to talk about this even more. And if it was the first time Flynn had -- had seemingly concealed something, maybe I'd give that to you. But the whole issue with him saying he talked about sanctions. He didn't talk about sanctions. This is yet another thing that -- another, I guess, log on the fire there.

But yes, this is Trump's fault. I mean, the whole wiretapping thing, yes, it's a problem of his own making that has continued to spiral into this larger issue.

CAMEROTA: All right. Panel, thank you very much. We'll have many more questions for you. It's going to be a very busy news week.

CUOMO: All right. The Senate is heading toward a nuclear showdown before the full vote later this week. The Senate Judiciary Committee is going to vote in a matter of hours, we're told. Will they advance the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court? Probably so. But then what? That's the big question.

We have CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live from Capitol Hill with more. Answer, please.


Of course. Well, answers, answers, answers. Not many answers here. A lot of suspense. The showdown really very much in full swing here over what could be President Trump's most significant achievement: getting Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, on the Supreme Court. And both sides, Chris, jockeying over the weekend for power, leaning in if you will, as we approach the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. That in just four hours.

This is going to set the stage for three days, full days of debate on the Senate floor. And how and when that debate ends is critical. The Democrats are ready for endless debate, the filibuster. Republicans need 60 to cut it off. There are 52, a majority. They need eight Democrats to join them on that.

[06:10:10] But we have heard from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who says, yes, they are ready for the nuclear option, to change that threshold from 60 to 51 by any means to get the up or down vote for Gorsuch.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week. How that happens really depends on our Democratic friends. How many of them are willing to oppose closure on a partisan basis to kill a Supreme Court nominee.

SCHUMER: When Gorsuch refused to answer the most rudimentary questions in the hearings, after there were many doubts about them to begin with, there was a seismic change in my caucus. And it's highly, highly unlikely that he'll get 60.


MALVEAUX: So here's the state of play. All Republicans so far, of course, going for Gorsuch. Then you have three Democrats who also say that they will support him. This happened on Sunday. One of those coming on board: moderate senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana joining senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, as well as Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. And of course, we'll begin looking at the filibuster and how that all plays out.

CAMEROTA: All right. Suzanne, thank you very much.

And coming up, we will have more on the Gorsuch confirmation. Which senators should we be keeping a very close eye on. Our experts tell us next.


[06:20:19] CUOMO: All right. Well, something's going to happen with Judge Gorsuch today.

CAMEROTA: That we can...

CUOMO: The Senate Judiciary Committee is going to a vote. In all likelihood, they will advance the nomination of Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch to the full Senate. Because you've got more Republicans on than Democrats on that committee. It's going to happen.

But the list of Democrats who could plan to filibuster is continuing to grow. You've got Democrats and Republicans preparing for what's being called a nuclear showdown.

Let's bring back the panel to discuss this nuclearity and whether or not it is worth it. Errol Louis, David Drucker and Jackie Kucinich.

I make fun of the word, Errol, because I think that it's got a little bit much too much hype. All right? But that is the state of play. If that if this happens, you change the filibuster culture, you change the Senate, they'll be just like that nasty House. How real is that?

JOHNS: It's a real -- it's a real possibility. I mean, keep in mind, this is book ends to what was already sort of radical action when it comes to Supreme Court nominees. The refusal to even consider to give a hearing to Merrick Garland was without precedent. And so, having taken that step, the Republican majority looks like they're going to sort of take the next step, which is to sort of change the rules possibly forever and have a narrow partisan vote to confirm Supreme Court nominees. Something that hasn't been done before, something that sort of traditionalists in the Senate don't want to see happen. But that's the politics of the moment. That's where we are.

CAMEROTA: David, this does all lead back to Merrick Garland. But when we have Democrats on the program, we say to them, "So this is political payback." I mean, they said as much. But they say now, "No, no, this is not political payback. This is that Gorsuch is just too corporate friendly. His policies are off base." That's the new talking point for why they would do this.

DRUCKER: Yes, well, look, they can try and paint this any way they want. But this all gets back to, for Republicans who run the chamber, Harry Reid, the majority leader at the time, breaking the rules to change the rules, what we call nuclear option.

And I was there when they did it. A lot of us were. And Republicans were very, very angry about it. Now, Democrats say they don't have a right to be angry. They had -- held up Obama's judicial nominees, executive branch nominees and we have no choice. But that's not how Republicans viewed it.

And when you look at Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader who is orchestrating this, I think what you need to understand about him is he is not prone to political hyperbole. He is a very deliberate actor, very strategic actor. He immediately upon Antonin Scalia's death, decided that Merrick Garland was not even going to get a hearing. That was his decision. He is not going to follow that up by not making sure that Neil Gorsuch ends up on the court.

So when he says one way or the other, Neil Gorsuch is going to end up on the Supreme Court, you can be assured that the votes are there for the Republicans now to finish the job with this nuclear option and get him there. That's exactly what's going to happen.

CUOMO: You talk about political payback. It was McConnell who, as soon as Reid changed the rules, said essentially, "You will rue the day that you did this."

Now there is a little bit of a larger debate here. This isn't another law. You put somebody on the Supreme Court, they're there for a very long time, especially if it's Gorsuch. He's a young, vibrant man. And that's why they say that in the Senate, they had a higher standard. That you used to need 60. Because it wasn't enough to just get a thin majority. This was too big a deal. Does that theory still have legs, Jackie?

KUCINICH: I'm sorry. The theory of whether this is a big deal or not?

CUOMO: Too big? You need to have 60. You know, this has to be more than just a slim majority vote. Supreme Court matters too much to get rid of that tradition.

KUCINICH: This is -- I mean, when you're -- Mitch McConnell is also an institutionalist. This isn't necessarily something he would do if he wasn't pressed to.

And there is a larger question if this is the right fight for Democrats. They might have another vacancy on the Supreme Court coming up. This right now is replacing someone who was a conservative justice. A conservative for a conservative.

The next person who might retire from the Supreme Court would be a liberal, most likely. That would change the balance of the court. That is the fight that Democrats -- that's going to be a very, very big deal, should that happen during Donald Trump's term.

So the fact that they're going after Neil Gorsuch is raising some concern even within the Democratic Party. You're seeing someone like Michael Bennett really have to weigh this and try to make that argument behind closed doors that maybe this isn't the fight that they want right now.

CAMEROTA: Errol, let's talk about health care. The president has vowed to fight another day on this. In fact, he told "The Financial Times," "I don't lose. I don't like to lose. We're going to have great health care in this country. And you know, on his side, you could say that was just the opening. What happened in those days where the health care bill so quickly, you know, went down, he does see that as just kind of an opening salvo.

[06:25:17] LOUIS: Well, it is very like Trump to keep playing until he wins. Right? So when he says, I don't lose, its, "OK, fine." You know, the game is over, and it looks like there's a big "L" up there. He says, "Well, you know what? The game is not over. Let's keep it going."

CAMEROTA: And these days it's not over health care, because the Republicans say they're going to go back to the drawing board, too. And Democrats say they'll live to fight another day.

LOUIS: Yes. Some of this has to do with the president pushing the Republicans in Congress to come up with something very, very quickly, as opposed to moving at light speed on something that could take two years. But he went even faster than light speed, and we saw what happened.

There's -- look, there's two possibilities. One is that he takes the easy route and calls it sort of a win. Even if all they really do is sort of defund a lot of programs, maybe shrink some of the Medicaid expansion, rebrand it, call it something else and then just move on.

If he wants to do something real, though, I think ironically, the option that he's got is sort of to change the politics of how he governs. In other words, not let the Freedom Caucus dictate everything that comes out. Not trying to do it without any help from Democrats at all. He's got to really sort of figure out his governing coalition and how it's going to work. If he tries that, that's a much harder sort of a task, both politically and certainly economically when it comes to actually doing the health care. But one of those two things could get him a win.

CUOMO: Right. I mean, but just for the sake of reality for a second, yes, Donald Trump says, "I don't lose." He does lose. He's lost in monumental in his personal life and now in his political life. He also has comeback. I think that's probably a better point for him to make. I mean, nobody has lost in finance and real estate development that he did twice in his career. But he came back. And I think that's what we're going to see now with the president, is how does he come back from what happened?

Because that Trumpcare was a failure, and he has the Freedom Caucus. Here's his problem, with the simple solution that Errol laid out. They are more dug in than they were before. They feel good about themselves. You know this. You talk to these men and women all the time. They're not -- they don't need a quick fix.

DRUCKER: Look, they took the plunge, right? And the thinking was that the Freedom Caucus members come from districts that like Trump the most. And they do, but these guys took the plunge, and they live to tell about it. There's no reason for them to back off now.

And now you have the president threatening to work with Democrats, which normally wouldn't be a bad threat, except Democrats will never help him govern, especially if it means dismantling the Affordable Care Act.

So if he wants to reverse course and gamble that he can get some Republican votes to keep and fix and strengthen the Affordable Care Act, good luck. One of the reasons nothing has been done is because Republicans couldn't go to their voters and explain to them why they helped Obamacare live. And that's been a big problem in terms of fixing health care when you're looking at compromise.

One side refuses to repeal it. The other side refuses to do anything but.

CAMEROTA: All right. We'll leave it there. Jackie, we owe you one. Thank you. Thank you very much, panel.

All right. We have to get to the other news right now, because there are massive mudslides and flash flooding, and it has led to death and destruction in Colombia. So we have the latest on the rescues and the devastation there for you.