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Bannon Out at National Security Council; President Trump Reacts to Syria Attack. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 5, 2017 - 15:00   ET



MARIO BURGOS, OWNER, BURGOS GROUP: There is no changing the fact that New Mexico is a border state. And so if there's going to be a border built in New Mexico, I would like to see New Mexico companies, both us as a general contractor, our subcontractors, the people that manufacture concrete, the folks that live here, work here, coach soccer here, they should be able to participate in building the wall.

And the truth is, if you can't beat them, bill them.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mario Burgos is not alone. Of the more than 600 contractors that have registered with the federal government to build the border wall, about 10 percent are Hispanic owned.

Boris Sanchez, CNN, along the U.S. border with Ciudad Juarez in New Mexico.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

We continue on this breaking news here. He says he is not the president of the world, rather telling union workers this week he's the president of the United States.

But, today, the world is watching as the White House faces its most urgent foreign policy challenges yet in Syria. An attack, an air attack, launching -- launch left dozens Syrians dead, including children. Some were gassed with chemicals as they slept.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations saying that the U.S. may need to get involved. And, today, at a news conference with the king of Jordan, King Abdullah, President Trump said his attack has changed his attitude towards Syria and the president, Bashar al-Assad.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this horrific attack. QUESTION: You have condemned the chemical attacks in Syria, but you

also appeared in your statement yesterday to pin some of the blame on the Obama administration. You're the president now. Do you feel like you bear responsibility for responding to the chemical attack? And does the chemical attack cross a red line for you?

D. TRUMP: Well, I think the Obama administration had a great opportunity to solve this crisis a long time ago when he said the red line in the sand.

And when he didn't cross that line after making the threat, I think that set us back a long ways, not only in Syria, because in many other parts of the world, because it was a blank threat.

I think it was something that was not one of our better days as a country. So, I do feel that, Julia. I feel it very strongly.

QUESTION: Do you feel you now have the responsibility to respond to the chemical attack?

D. TRUMP: I now have responsibility. And I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly.

QUESTION: Before I move on to the king, could I just ask you if the chemical attack crosses a red line for you?

D. TRUMP: It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal that people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line, many, many lines.


BALDWIN: Let's begin there at the White House with Jeff Zeleny, our senior White House correspondent.

Listening to the president, he's reacting like the world has to these images coming out of Syria. And clearly he's now changing his tone on Assad.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, that was so interesting, hearing the president really speak about this for the first time.

And he did say that those gruesome, grisly images there had a profound effect on him. The question is that was left unanswered at this press conference is, how does this translate into action? How does this translate into his foreign policy?

You know, we yet do not know what the Trump doctrine, if you will, will be here. And the president made no apologies for that actually at this press conference in the Rose Garden earlier this afternoon. Brooke, he said, look, I'm not going to announce my specific plans. We have seen leaders before in the past saying, well, you know, give you one month, two months, three months, talking about perhaps the Obama administration. He said, look, I'm not going to telegraph my plans. The question

here, though, what are the administration's plans and do they have them specifically?

Brooke, I was so struck by one word he did not use in his press conference today in the Rose Garden, and that was Russia. He did not specifically mention Russia at all, as his U.N. -- Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley did a couple of hours ago this morning speaking to the Security Council, when she made a rather dramatic presentation here and really, you know, had some sharp words for Russia.

Once again, this president has decided to not amplify those words and that is very interesting.

BALDWIN: I'm glad you pointed that out. Also, you know, file this under, you know, what will this look like as far as a Trump doctrine? North Korea has now fired this ballistic missile. This is just before the president is set to meet with President Xi Jinping of China.


What did he say? I know he didn't address that in the Q&A, but what has he said about the talks with the president and North Korea?

ZELENY: Well, Brooke, he certainly pointed out that this is one of the challenges that is waiting for him on his desk here.

And this is going to be a central part of his discussions beginning tomorrow at his retreat down in Florida at Mar-a-Lago with the Chinese president. And he said, look, he said, we have a big problem. We have somebody that is not doing the right thing. Presumably, that is Kim Jong-un who is not doing the right thing there.

But he did not repeat the words of a senior administration official who was giving a briefing yesterday on the trip who said this, Brooke. It was very stark, urgent terms. They said the clock has now run out with North Korea, all of the options are on the table here.

So the president intentionally holding back today obviously at this briefing. But make no mistake, North Korea, it is the most urgent challenge on his desk and it's increasingly becoming a plate full of foreign policy changes that will test any administration, certainly a young one -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Jeff, thank you at the White House.

Let's get into all of this.

Let me bring in CNN political commentator Jen Psaki, former White House spokeswoman under President Obama.

Nice to see you.


BALDWIN: CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, former CIA official, and with me, Dana Bash, CNN chief political correspondent.

Dana, my fellow lady in white, let me begin with you.

Listen, this is a massive -- all of these world issues dumped on the president's desk this week, huge test. Watching him in the Rose Garden, how do you think he did?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I thought it was a different Donald Trump, in that you could see that the fact that he is not just a guy sitting in Trump Tower tweeting about the latest world events, whether it's Syria or, you know, his favorite celebrities breaking up.

This is a guy who is the leader of the free world. And although, unfortunately, what happened is horrible and tragic and just impossible for us to wrap our minds around, using chemical attacks to kill children, innocent children, this kind of things with these different weapons has been going on for years and years.

And he clearly -- it's those images. Sometimes, you need that as president or anybody with that kind of responsibility realized, OK, this is my watch now. What we didn't hear -- and you just heard Jeff Zeleny say this and it's important to underscore -- is a policy and an idea to follow up on that. It's very complicated.

Jen Psaki can tell you that better than anybody how complicated it is to come up with a policy. But he has very -- I think the fact is you kind of saw a president realizing the weight of the office.And we certainly didn't hear that I think to that extent before today.

BALDWIN: Well, Jen, let me get to you.

First of all, President Trump threw your boss, President Obama, under the bus. When he was asked about crossing a red line, we heard Sean Spicer saying, well, look, what President Obama did. He did nothing, and again hearing President Trump today saying, I inherited a mess. The world is a mess, but said, you will see.

Let me just add this one little note that I think is important, because during that chemical attack in Syria in 2013, Donald Trump did tweet to President Obama: "President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your powder for another and more important day."

What can he do to not box himself in like President Obama did?

PSAKI: Well, first of all, I think that what we saw was Donald Trump going into his safe place, which is going into campaign mode and attacking Obama, Clinton, any Democrat that he can find.

I think that's what we saw today. He had a particularly unsophisticated summary of the situation in Syria. There have been -- it's been three-and-a-half years since Obama made -- decided not to move forward with military action in response to those chemical attacks in 2013. Since then, we have stuck a deal, a diplomatic deal and removed the declared chemical weapons from Syria. We struck that deal with Russia. We helped form an international

coalition to go after ISIL. There is a lot that happened. He also seemed surprised that the conflict in Syria is still ongoing.

So what struck me is that he made some comments that popped out because we haven't heard him say that, but we didn't hear him state or give an indication of what his policy would be. Is he suggesting that we take more military action and send tens and thousands of troops? Is he going to use his relationship with Russia?

So, we didn't really hear that in the press conference.


BALDWIN: OK, Phil Mudd, so Jen says unsophisticated at best. What did you think? What are his options?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, let me take a rare moment to be an optimist and echo Dana. I don't believe in optimism, but let me try it for a moment before I launch into it.


BALDWIN: Go for it.

MUDD: ... in terms of abject pessimism in just a moment.

I think do, and if you couple this with the Bannon move, which seems an odd coupling, you're starting to see some realism maybe seep into the White House.

As Dana suggested, in terms of the weight on the president's shoulders, I think the Bannon removal is an indication that ideologues who don't actually control decisions in terms of moving forces might be losing power. Maybe the president is becoming a realist.

That said, I doubt it. I'm tired of the lack of leadership. And on every issue, this guy who is supposed to lead us has to blame somebody. On health care, he's got to blame his own party and the Democrats. On immigration, he's got to blame the judiciary.

On the Russia story, he's got to blame the media. And on Syria, he's got to blame Obama. Excuse me. But when you get two-and-a-half months in, are you actually going to take responsibility and tell us where you are headed, or are you going to look in the rear-view mirror and tell us who you think was at fault, because, certainly, you weren't?

It's a little bit tiresome, Brooke.


As I'm listening to you, he talked to those union workers this week, and, Dana, he said, essentially, I don't want to be president of the world. I'm the president of the United States. He went on this America first mantra, motto. But how is that supposed to work out? BASH: Yes. That was the core of his campaign message vis-a-vis --

and really the only thing that he focused on vis-a-vis international policy on the campaign trail, that president after president has gotten into too many wars that are unwinnable, spending too much money, too much treasure abroad, when he should be focused at home.

And, of course, that was sort of encapsulated and summed up in his inaugural address. That was a continuation. However, I'm old enough to remember covering then candidate George W. Bush in 2000 who swore he would never do nation-building.

And then 9/11 happened and then the United States and with coalition forces went into Afghanistan and then he launched a strike on Iraq. And, you know, the rest is history. So I guess it's my way of giving an illustration of how things change when you're in the White House.

And that was something that I did think was noteworthy, that he actually expressed and he actually articulated that, even though he didn't have the policy to what he's going to change to, just his view of things.

BALDWIN: I mean, this is a president who, I'm looking for the number, I think it was 35 -- yes -- the latest poll number Quinnipiac out today approval rating sitting at 35 percent. And when you think of -- we have talked domestically about health care and the House Freedom Caucus.

You think about as he's talking about now Assad or dealing with Xi Jinping and talking about China and North Korea, how, Jen, does he -- why would those leaders want to listen to him with those sorts of numbers?

PSAKI: Well, I think that's a good question. There was some reporting that was particularly interesting on this about how Chinese leaders were looking at how the health care bill went down and that a president's loss of power, the inability to get legislation done, can really impact their power around the world.

It will be interesting to see. Look, I think when President Xi comes here, he's coming tomorrow. In all likelihood, there's already a statement that is being crafted about how they're going to work together, and he's just trying to survive this to send the message that he can have a good relationship with the United States.

So, you know, I think Donald Trump's power has diminished because of his inability to get things done at home. That matters on the global stage as well. And we will see that over the next couple of days.

BALDWIN: Jen and Phil and Dana, thank you all very much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, as we just mentioned here and Phil alluded to this, but the news today, Steve Bannon out. The chief strategist no longer has a seat at the table for the National Security Council -- why this happened, what this means for his influence generally within the West Wing. Also ahead, Vice President Mike Pence behind the scenes trying to

craft this new deal on health care, trying to craft this new deal on health care, trying to push this through, where the fate of repeal and replace as promised for six or seven years from the Republicans, where it stands right now. You're watching CNN.



BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

One of President Trump's top advisers removed from his position on the National Security Council. Sources telling CNN it was the president's decision to remove White House chief strategist Steve Bannon for a seat at the table, a position typically reserved for the upper echelon of the military.

Of course, he is a political operative. That had never been done before. While one source says Bannon's role on the council was always meant to be temporary, to -- quote, unquote -- "baby-sit" ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, other sources, though, saying, no, that's not entirely the case.

Let me bring in two ladies.

I have got CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks April Ryan, and with us, CNN national political reporter Maeve Reston.

So, ladies, nice to see both of you.

Maeve, explain this for me, because I know a source is telling CNN Steve Bannon can still attend any meeting and in all of the time that he was there, he only attended one principals meeting. So what's behind the change?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's important to remember that this was a very unorthodox choice by Trump.

And my reporting at the time and other of our colleagues was that Trump was not ready for the blowback that he was going to get for putting Bannon in this very important role, which, as you mentioned, is usually reserved for military and other high brass.

So, I think that, you know, it would be overplaying this to say that it's a shakeup. I think it's more of a course correction. Bannon has a huge portfolio within the White House. He's a very trusted adviser of President Trump.


He's done a lot of focus on domestic issues, particularly health care, in the last couple of weeks. And clearly this is a sign of the influence of the generals like McMaster rising on Trump, and with McMaster now being given the reins to put his own people on the council.

It is a course correction. I think that there's a possibility of kind of reading too much into it. I don't think Bannon is going anywhere any time soon.


RESTON: But a very interesting decision by Trump and one that tells us that some of these new voices in the White House, the McMasters and the Dina Powell of the world and Gary Cohn are starting to rise in influence around what had been a very tight circle.


April, quickly, what are you hearing on the Bannon move?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the way I understand it, many people in the intelligence community, when this president was president-elect, were very concerned with the fact that business would be at the table when issues of intelligence, national intelligence, security would be discussed.

So this is somewhat of a win for that community as they feel that they would not have a seat at the table, but now to move Bannon down a bit to let the people who know about the stakes around the world, the security issues, it does play into a course correction, as was said before.

But this president also, I believe, is starting to realize that the stakes are very high globally. Look what he just said about Syria today. He said it's his responsibility and he was also talking about North Korea. The stakes are very high and the players at the table have to know what the issues are, what the pitfalls will be and what the successes will be.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

Let's switch gears and talk about the showdown that we're all going to be covering at the end of the week with regard to Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump's Supreme Court pick. Right?

We know Democrats have enough votes to filibuster, but we have heard the promises from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to change Senate rules forever, go with this nuclear option requiring a simple majority for confirmation.

Here's the sound I want to play. This is from Republican Senator John McCain saying on this nuclear option plan, not a good idea. Roll the sound.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I would like to meet that idiot. I would like to meet that numbskull that would say that, that after 200 years, at least 100 years of this tradition where the Senate has functioned pretty well, they think it would be a good idea to blow it up.

No, whoever says that is a stupid idiot who has not been here and seen what I have been through and how we were able to avoid that on several occasions. And they're stupid. And they have deceived their voters because they're so stupid.


BALDWIN: Numbskulls, Maeve, and idiots, this is coming from a man who would know, who has been in the Senate a heck of a long time. Yes.

RESTON: This is really -- this is really, really personal for John McCain.

BALDWIN: Clearly.

RESTON: I remember from covering his presidential campaign in '08, like, he really believes in the traditions of the Senate, the idea -- you often hear that analogy of how the Senate is the saucer that cools down the House. Right?

And I think that for McCain he feels that this is really one of those sacrosanct Senate rules that should not be changed under any circumstances no matter what it takes.

The competing pressures here are that the White House really needs a win and they want Gorsuch confirmed. They think that the Democrats are being a party of no. They have made the point that they think this is a very qualified nominee, that there is no one -- they don't think that it should be about politics in this case.

And people like McCain and Lindsey Graham and others have voted for Democratic Supreme Court justices in the past. There's a big, interesting fight going on here about whether one nominee is really worth it.

BALDWIN: They need a win. And it would be the only win in the first 100 days just about.

Before I let you ladies go, Ivanka Trump, Ivanka Trump, April, she talked to CBS News. She's now of course gotten this official job, the high-paying job at the White House. Or, rather, she's not being paid. She's in one of the highest positions at the White House.

She had told Lesley Stahl on "60 Minutes" some months ago, no, I don't want to have a formal role in the West Wing. And now she obviously does. Here's what she told CBS.


IVANKA TRUMP, ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I would say not to conflate lack of public denouncement with silence. I think there are multiple ways to have your voice heard.

[15:25:03] Where I disagree with my father, he knows it and I express myself with

total candor. Where I agree, I fully lean in and support the agenda and hope that I can be an asset to him and make a positive impact.

But I respect the fact that he always listens. It's how he was in business. It's how he is as president.


BALDWIN: April, what do you know behind the scenes as she talks to her dad? What are you hearing?

RYAN: Well, sources very, very close to this White House are saying that Ivanka Trump, even though she is coming here and it raises a lot of eyebrows, she's the one that kind of keeps him on an even keel.

She's the one who can rein him in when others can't. He really looks to her. He really respects her mind and who she is as a person and woman. But really from what I'm hearing more so is that she is the one that can calm the savage beast. She's the one who can rein him in.

And it looks like it may be working. It hasn't been as interesting lately on Twitter.


BALDWIN: Interesting.

RYAN: In other ways. So, maybe her presence has really changed things.

BALDWIN: OK. I'm listening. Hang on. Hang on, Maeve, because I just got some information in my ear I just want to tell you about.

As we've been on TV, it's been explained to me that members of Congress are saying there will be no health care deal this week, which was significant, right, because they're going on this two-week Easter recess starting Thursday and Friday of this week. So, no dice on that. So, weekend travel not being affected, but this thing rolls on, Maeve.

RESTON: And I was hearing on the Hill last week that there was a lot of talk about this, but that's what it was, just talk, that there was not actual movement in votes that was going to allow there to be a deal before the work period.

That's not that surprising. But clearly the White House is still working on this, does not think that this is a done deal yet. And they are going to keep going with the meetings, as we have seen with Vice President Pence this week.

On Ivanka, I was just going to mention that a source had told me that they were in a meeting at the White House over the course of several hours and that Ivanka was there the entire time. And everybody in the room was happy that she was there because she kind of brought the temperature down.

So, that is the -- that's sort of the word on her in terms of the people that are around Trump.

BALDWIN: All right. Maeve, thank you. April, thank you.

April, welcome to the family.

RYAN: Thank you. I like being here.

RESTON: Welcome, April.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up next, President Trump calls that chemical gas attack in Syria, in a word, unacceptable. But what will he do in response? What about policy? What about action? We will talk live to a man who survived that deadly Syrian chemical weapons attack back in 2013, who he says -- why he says he's losing hope that the international community will ever act to stop Assad.