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Trump Faces Major Tests With North Korea And Syria; White House Pushes For New Health Care Plan; GOP Leaders Work to Revive Health Care Bill. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 5, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:05] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I don't know, Jeanne. Need a robot to put your deodorant on?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: You could just unfollow. You could just do that if you --

CAMEROTA: Not as creative.

CUOMO: Or as time consuming.

CAMEROTA: There you go. Time for CNN NEWSROOM with Poppy Harlow and John Berman. Good morning, guys.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, guys. Thanks so much. We've got a lot of news, so let's get right to it.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Catastrophe and crisis, children dying and missiles flying. The White House facing its most urgent foreign policy challenges yet. Will the President move beyond blame? He has key meetings today.

BERMAN: Deal or no deal? Or no deal? Republicans claim progress and a revised health care plan. Enough progress to cancel a vacation? The Magic 8 Ball says, don't count on it.

Plus, Senate Democrats pull an all-nighter to fight Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch, a move which won them less sleep and no movement to stop the nuclear option.

All right. The breaking news this morning, it was a chemical attack and now Turkey says it has seen the evidence. The attack in Syria left dozens dead, including children. And now, across the border, Turkish officials say they believe chemical weapons were used.

HARLOW: So our teams just went inside of Syria, crossing the border from Turkey into Syria, after the attack and are now at the border in Turkey. Let's go to Ben Wedeman who is there.

Ben, what can you tell us as we show video that, I should remind our viewers, is incredibly hard to see?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, to start off with, actually, we didn't go inside Syria. We are just on the border. But we do know that, for instance, the Turkish Health Minister said that the symptoms of the victims that Turkish doctors have treated point in the direction of the use of chemical weapons.

They say they are going to pass their findings to the World Health Organization. And, in fact, just minutes ago, we saw the Turkish Emergency and Disaster Relief Organization sending through the gates behind me, from Turkey into Syria, a mobile lab to check on, to gather further evidence and information on this attack that took place yesterday morning at about 6:30 a.m. local time.

Now, we did get an opportunity to speak with some of the victims of that attack in the nearby state hospital. One of them was a 13-year- old boy who told us that, at 6:30 in the morning, he heard explosions outside. He said he ran to the roof of his home, and he saw that one of the explosions happened right outside his grandfather's house.

He ran across the street, ran inside the house, and found his grandfather slumped over, lifeless. He said he looked like he had strangled or asphyxiated. And moments later, he went outside to scream for help from the neighbors. And at that point, he said, I suddenly felt dizzy, fainted, and then he woke up hours later naked in a Turkish hospital.

His grandmother, also, is in a Turkish hospital, and she said that not only did she lose her husband but several other members of the family.

In total, it's not clear how many people died officially. We're hearing that the death toll was 70. However, we just spoke minutes ago to a representative of a Turkish medical relief organization that operates inside Syria, and the numbers they are giving us are more than a hundred. They say more than 450 people were affected by this gas attack.

We know that about 30 have been treated in Turkish hospitals. However, at least two of them have died as a result. And there are many, many more inside Syria who are receiving treatment in hospitals that all too often have been hit by Syrian regime airstrikes. Poppy, John.

HARLOW: And, Ben, many people might be asking this morning, what happened to the 2014 agreement with the Assad regime to dispose of all chemical weapons inside Syria? How could this happen?

WEDEMAN: Well, the Syrian regime, for its part, is denying that they possess any chemical weapons or that they ever use them. But that's obviously in contravention to the facts that we've been able to get out of Syria.

The Syrian regime is saying that, in fact, that what their airplane struck yesterday morning was some sort of workshop warehouse where Syrian jihadists were keeping chemical weapons, were making chemical substances. Obviously, where the truth lies often in Syria is very difficult to determine.

[09:05:02] But clearly, the Syrian government, despite the fact that, yes, it claims that it has rid of chemical weapons, I don't think you will find too many takers for that argument -- Poppy. HARLOW: Ben Wedeman, thank you so much. And all of these is

happening as the President faces another foreign policy test ahead of today's meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan. The Trump team now responding to another defiant missile launch by North Korea.

America's top diplomat responding with just 23 words. Among the words that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used, "The U.S. has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."

Our Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson is in Seoul and our Michelle Kosinski is at the State Department.

Michelle, let's begin with you. Any sense of why, essentially, the Trump team is giving the silent treatment to North Korea at this point?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: That is the question today. It's obviously open to interpretation. We have heard nothing from the State Department in terms of clarification.

I think as soon as that statement went out, we knew to expect it. We knew it was coming. But I don't think anybody expected 23 words and phrased the way it was.

I think, you know, the interpretation could be, well, are they saying that the time for words is over and now is the time for action? Are they saying, you know, we're going to have to wait on this and just be quiet for a while?

So, of course, you turn to the State Department and ask, what did you mean by this exactly? And what we're hearing from officials is they're letting that statement stand. They're offering no clarification on it. Now, today, we may hear much more, and we're going to hear from the President in this press conference, of course, with the Jordanian King this afternoon.

BERMAN: You know, Ivan Watson, you're standing by in Seoul, obviously, which got a keen interest in what's going on there. What's the view from South Korea right now as you are getting this mixed response from the administration? Obviously, Rex Tillerson not saying much. On the other hand, the administration saying very clearly all options are on the table, indicating, hinting, that even perhaps the military option.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, South Korea and the other key U.S. ally here in the region, Japan, they both put out statements that effectively came down to hand ringing, you know, saying this can't be tolerated.

This is a contravention of United Nation Security Council resolutions for North Korea to fire yet another missile. And they're right, they've broken a rule by doing this. This was a medium range ballistic missile identified KN-15.

And the timing is so suspect here, John, because the last time North Korea fired one of these missiles was in mid-February when President Trump was sitting down with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the golf resort Mar-a-Lago in Florida. So it's hard not to interpret this as a deliberate signal just one day before Trump sits down with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, again at Mar-a-Lago.

What's curious here is that China, North Korea's biggest trading partner, came out with a statement calling for restraint and also insisting that there is no linkage, whatsoever, between this missile launch today and the U.S./Chinese summit that's supposed to take place tomorrow, John.

BERMAN: All right, Ivan Watson in Seoul and Michelle Kosinski, thanks so much. I want to talk about this now with our panel.

We're joined by David Rohde, CNN global affairs analyst, national security investigations editor for Reuters; Alex Burn, CNN political analyst, national political reporter for "The New York Times"; and Kimberly Dozier, CNN global affairs analyst and national security correspondent for "The Daily Beast."

Kimberly, let me start with you. At the beginning of the week, the Trump administration basically announced that regime change in Syria was no longer a goal. They said, basically, it's up to the people of Syria if Assad comes or goes. The very next day, a chemical weapons attack in Syria. Is there any connection between those two things?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY BEAST: And now they're furiously denying that there could be any connection between those things, even though it's being seen as Assad taking Tillerson's statements as a green light to act as he needs to.

What I'm hearing is that what they're hoping to try to do is use this incident to somehow pressure Russia and Iran into putting pressure on Assad, to use it as a sort of a way to drive a wedge between the two. And when they have meetings with Russian officials, directly to say either you make him heel or you make him go. But at this point, that's a wish, a hope. They don't know how they're going to get there.

HARLOW: It's an important point, Kimberly, because Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did come out additionally and say, we call on Russia and Iran yet again to exercise their influence over the Syrian regime.

David, to you, though, the official word from President Trump is this, "Heinous actions by Bashar al-Assad's regime are a consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution." Is this the time for finger pointing, for looking backwards, for blaming your predecessor?

[09:10:07] DAVID ROHDE, NATIONAL SECURITY INVESTIGATIONS EDITOR, THOMSON REUTERS: Well, you know, look, President Trump sort of ran on kind of an isolationist platform and won the election. But on the other hand, he's President now. It's time for leadership, so I'm not sure blaming Obama will help him politically.

And the broader sort of dilemma for Trump is that he promised that he was going to be strong, and rivals and these regimes are going to respect United States. But at the same time, he constantly said he would not intervene militarily in these countries. You can't have both.

You know, he's being tested by North Korea. He's being tested by Assad. How is he going to respond? And you have to have a credible threat of military force. So this is a big week and a big moment for President Trump.

BERMAN: That's right. No matter what the Obama administration did, it does not affect what the Trump administration does right now. There is a chemical weapons attack in Syria. Children are dying. What are you going to do about it, Mr. Current President of the United States?

Alex Burns, to you, also, you have this criticism from President Trump now which flies in the face of what candidate Trump said and citizen Trump said of President Obama during this crisis. He basically said not once, but twice. He said that the President, President Obama, should not attack Syria.

I'll read you one of the tweets, "Do not attack Syria. There's no upside and tremendous downside. Save your powder for another day," it says. Another example of Donald Trump having it two ways or trying to.

ALEX BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Absolutely. This is one of the few areas, actually, where candidate Trump and citizen Trump has been relatively consistent over time, that he's not terribly interested in having the United States commit its military or financial resources to solve problems that he sees as, basically, other people's problems.

But, you know, now he's running up against the reality that there are certain expectations that the American people have of the person in their presidency, and there are, certainly, expectations that the world has of the United States. And if he wants to go out and defend, to use David's term, his more isolationist instinct, now is the time to do that. And that's going to be a tough sales job in a way that it might not have been during the campaign.

HARLOW: Let's remember, it's also on Congress, who did not even put up for a vote the authorization of the use of military force. So that was then, this is now. What happens now?

I mean, at the same time, Kimberly, you've got this administration confronting, what do we do on North Korea after this latest provocation? A senior White House official is saying to reporters last night the clock has run out, all options are on the table. Tillerson, you know, we have no further comment. It's confusing to say the least. Is it harmful to have these mixed messages to North Korea or better to confuse them?

DOZIER: Well, the other people who are listening are the leaders in Beijing, and this could be a message to them. Again, put pressure on your North Korean ally to stop this provocative behavior, or we're going to have to do something like a limited strike on one of their facilities.

What you risk with a limited strike, of course, is the blow back against the thousands of U.S. troops and their Korean allies based just south of North Korean border. So you're weighing this. You've got to see what Beijing does, what sort of signal it sends.

But also, the moment I heard that statement last night, of course, I started calling all of my Pentagon contacts saying, all right, what are you guys being asked to do because that is a signal or a hint to the world that we're considering a military strike.

BERMAN: And we don't know really at this point what they're being asked to do, but there seems to be two paths here. One, prepare for any kind of possible response. And, David Rohde, number two, don't go after Kim Jong-un publicly.

It seems as if the U.S. administration now is trying to treat the North Korean leader like a petulant child. Just ignore him. You don't want to give him the satisfaction of having him feel like he's provoked you in anyway.

ROHDE: That's true, and you can mention that probably to China. But, you know, you need to have serious leverage here, and I think there's a clock ticking. I mean, there's this threat of military force that could hang in the air for weeks or months, but as Ivan Watson mentioned earlier, this is the second time they fired a missile right before a major meeting between President Trump and a foreign leader. So, you know, we either have to use military force, you know, at some point for that threat to be credible.

HARLOW: Right. And their ability is getting stronger and stronger, going from liquid fuel to solid fuel. You know, it's only a matter of time, the experts are saying, before they have an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach, you know, the likes of Seattle.

But, Alex, when it comes to China, you've got the President saying to the F.T. over the weekend, we can go it alone and deal with North Korea if China is not going to play ball. And then you have the General who heads up U.S. strategic command that oversees the nuclear arsenal saying, quote, "Any solution to the Korea problem has to involve China." Is that problematic that these two men are clearly not on the same page?

[09:14:52] BURNS: Well, the comment from sort of the military side of this is much closer to what Trump has always said up to this point as a candidate and as a person preparing for the American presidency, that his plan for dealing with North Korea has also been, you know, get the Chinese folks in the room, and I'll tell them to, you know, get them to knock it off. Right? And that's what this weekend is going to be a test of.

And I think, you know, to some extent, you can interpret his comments to the F.T. as a sort of classic Donald Trump negotiating position with China, that if we are not prepared to do whatever we want, then why would they meet us halfway? JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Look, I think this is a key week in differentiating between campaigning and governing domestically and in the international stage because Donald Trump has said a lot of things over time about foreign policy and now he's in a position to do things where he has to do things.

And he's got to prove that he will take the appropriate action I think to the American people. We don't know what he's going to do on Syria. All this talk in flirting with Russia over the last several months and years. To what end if you can't get Russia to take action in Syria.

BURNS: And it's a test of this sort of broader political story that Trump has told the American people, which is that most of the problems that the United States has in the world can be chalked up to the fecklessness of an individual leader. If you had someone with a different kind of character and different outlook in a job, things would be really different and we're about to find out.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Kimberly, just to put a button on it and I'm glad John brought up Syria again because how critical is any sort of solution for these people living this nightmare in Syria? How critical is Russia complying? Because you heard Dmitry Peskov, the mouthpiece for the kremlin coming out and saying today we support the Assad regime wholeheartedly. Can the U.S., can anyone do it without Russia being on board?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think Russia has to be on board, and the fact that they're already backing the Syrian line that this chemical attack was the result of attacking militants shows that they may be well on the way to vetoing any resolution out of the of the U.N. Security Council condemning Syria. So it is going to be very tough to bring Assad to heel. I really don't see a neat solution to this with Moscow on the side of the coalition.

HARLOW: All right, Kimberly, thank you. David Rhode, Alex Burns, we appreciate it very much. We have a lot ahead this hour. Will the Easter bunny have to wait? Recess just days away. And the Republicans say they're close to a health care compromise, is it any time to leave Washington?

BERMAN: Plus Democratic all-nighter, one senator standing up for hours and hours and hours against Neil Gorsuch, standing up against the judge and frankly reality because the Senate just days away from going nuclear.

And then the "O'Reilly Factor" faces the money factor, in with the scandal, out with the advertisers, how long can a show survive?



HARLOW: This morning a little bit of health care deva vu, if you will, the White House not giving up on reaching a deal. The vice president putting in hours on the Hill to prove it.

BERMAN: The chair of the House Freedom Caucus says even he might be willing to cancel Easter vacation to get a deal done.


REPRESENTATIVE MARK MEADOWS (R), FREEDOM CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: There is a concern on my part that if we're making real progress that going home sends the wrong message, and, you know, it is certainly important that if we're close to a deal that we should, you know, work it out over the next few days to make sure that we get here, even if it means we have to cancel a few plans to get that done.


BERMAN: All right. Joining us now Republican Congressman Rodney Davis in Illinois, a member of the Tuesday Morning Group, a group of the more moderate Republicans in the Republican House Caucus. They have been involved in some of these negotiations.

Congressman, good morning. Have you personally been involved with meetings with the administration on this subject and do you believe you are closer to a deal?

REPRESENTATIVE RODNEY DAVIS (R), MEMBER, TUESDAY MORNING GROUP: Well, good morning. Thanks for having me on. And the answer to that is yes. We have been engaged. We have to give the vice president, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and also my colleagues like Mark Meadows, who you just heard from a lot of credit for sitting down and let's try to work out a good compromise, a principal compromise that's going to give all Americans access to affordable and accessible health care.

HARLOW: All right. So you say all Americans access to affordable health care. One of the things your fellow Republicans on the Freedom Caucus want and is getting them closer to a yes is basically an elimination or the state's rights to opt out of this community rating.

That would essentially gut the protection for pre-existing conditions because it would mean that really sick people could have to pay a whole lot more for insurance. Can you live with that? Is that something you're comfortable with voting yes in the final draft?

DAVIS: Well, there is no final draft. That's why we are talking --

HARLOW: But that's my question, Congressman. If it's in there because it sounds like it's going to take that to get some of these Freedom Caucus members to yes, could you vote yes on that?

DAVIS: Well, I'm not going to speculate on what will or will not be in the final piece of legislation. What I can tell you is as the husband of a cancer survivor, pre-existing conditions and making sure that families that are going through the same thing that my family went through 17 years ago don't have to worry about getting coverage and also having to reach a lifetime cap.

These are essential parts of what I have campaigned on and what some of the folks that I serve with really care about the most. So we'll see what that final bill looks like and then I'll give you a comment on whether or not I'm going to support it. BERMAN: Let me ask you this in a different way, do you believe that the community rating is essential to protecting people with pre- existing conditions?

DAVIS: Well, what I can tell you is when we talk about community rating we talk about essential health benefits. Many states right now have more stringent health benefits than the federal government requires. However --

BERMAN: But some don't, Congressman. Some don't, and we're talking about you -- OK, go ahead.

DAVIS: Some do like my home state of Illinois. But I wouldn't speculate that those essential health benefits are going to go away at this point. There is discussions going on.

[09:25:08]And what we're doing is we're trying to talk between many different groups, many different priorities and I've really got to commend the White House and Vice President Pence and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and their team for really working together and sitting us down in a room to find out where we could find common ground.

Frankly, after a very long meeting last night and meetings the day before, there are areas that we are agreeing on and there are going to be some we don't and we'll see what the final bill looks like.

HARLOW: Do you think the president deserves some credit here on his deal making ability? Yes, the first deal failed, but it seems a bit like he scared a bunch of Republicans saying, all right, forget you. I'll work with the Democrats. Did that get you guys rallied and into action?

DAVIS: I'm very impressed with the president's willingness to make sure that the White House and the White House team and the vice president and even himself have been able throughout this entire health care debate.

As a matter of fact, I spent two meetings a few weeks ago before the first bill was pulled and the president was clearly supportive of our efforts, and that's why I want to give him credit and his administration credit for getting us together again.

Because although that was something that I was not expecting to see when the bill was pulled, I think it's a good marker and good movement to show that we can come together and govern. That's what I was sent here to do by my constituents.

BERMAN: Where has the discussion moved to closer to where you are? You were supportive. You would have voted for the original bill had it come up for a vote. But there were members in the Tuesday Group that would not because they were concerned about essential benefits and other things. Where has it moved closer to those concerns, Congressman?

DAVIS: Well, first off, I don't speak for the Tuesday Group. I speak for me. But there are some areas in debates and discussions in ensuring that states are going to be able to insure high-risk patients. Those are the types of issues we've found some common ground. Again, we're in a discussion stage. The fact we're all sitting together in a room I think is imperative to note that that's the way that we come to success throughout the legislative process out here in Washington.

HARLOW: All right. Take a look at this Gallup poll on how Americans feel about Obamacare. Right now 55 percent approve of Obamacare. When you dig into the numbers, 40 percent want to keep the law but make significant changes, 30 percent want it to be repealed and 26 percent want to keep it as it is.

So the headline there, more and more people approve of it. But you only have 26 percent of people who want it as is. Are you concerned at all about something that looks like almost a full repeal with more than half of Americans supportive of it?

DAVIS: Well, remember, a lot of the rhetoric is semantics. When we talk about repeals and replacing, that's essentially a fix. I've passed laws to actually fix Obamacare in the past. We've got unanimous support, Democrat support to do things like hire more veterans, you know.

I passed a law that actually had the requirement of the 50 employee or less, the employer mandate would not apply to veterans who are getting health care through the VA or DOD, therefore, incentivizing small businesses to hire veterans.

These are solutions that have happened even during a divided government in a politically charged time. We're all working to fix the problems in our health care delivery system that Obamacare has created. It is a fact.

We have 31 million people in this country who can't afford to use the coverage that they have under the existing law. Twenty nine million people still choose not to get insurance. That is not success, which is why we have to come together to get a better system that's going to help all Americans, and that's what we're trying to do.

BERMAN: You are going to vote this week, Congressman?

DAVIS: I don't know. I'm not going to speculate on that. But if we could come to an agreement, maybe it will happen.

HARLOW: All right. Congressman Rodney Davis of Illinois, thank you.

DAVIS: Thank you.

HARLOW: Still to come for us, Democrats digging in a last ditch effort on the Senate floor. You are looking at pictures of how they are trying to fight the president's Supreme Court pick. More on that ahead.