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U.S. on North Korea: All Option Table; Suspected Chemical Attack in Syria; McConnell Starts Clock on Nuclear Option; Romo Retires, Joins CBS Broadcast Booth. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 5, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Hours after a stern warning from the White House, North Korea launches what is believed to be another missile. What options are on the table? And what's behind the terse response from the secretary of state?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And there's seething anger around the world after a suspected chemical attack in Syria that killed dozens. Who is blaming whom and why is the White House blaming the previous administration.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: It's a heavy morning. A busy heavy morning of news today.

I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, April 5th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

The White House facing renewed threats on two fronts this morning from two of the world's serious trouble spots. A new missile launch from North Korea and a suspected chemical attack targeting civilians in Syria.

First, North Korea which fired a big projectile into the waters off its coast. The U.S. believes it was most likely a ballistic missile. This just ahead of President Trump's Florida summit with President Xi.

BRIGGS: Mr. Trump's top agenda item for the meeting is persuading China to curb Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. The launch came just moments after a senior White House official issued a dire warning about North Korea's nuclear program declaring, quote, "the clock has run out, all options are on table."

For the latest, we want to bring in CNN's Matt Rivers live for us in Beijing.

Matt, any reaction from Beijing on this yet and how does this launch differ from those we've seen recently?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pretty standard response this afternoon from the Chinese saying that the launch clearly violates U.N. sanctions, U.N. resolutions that were put on the table by the United Nations, of course. And that the Chinese rejected the notion this launch had anything to do with the upcoming summit between Presidents Trump and Xi scheduled for later this week.

This launch, according to U.S. and South Korean defense officials was an intermediate-range ballistic missile. The second one launch by the North Koreans this year. And it differs than what we saw last year because of the way these missiles are being launched. There's progress being made according to defense officials because these missiles use solid fuel. That allows them to launch from the back of a truck. That makes them mobile, that makes them easier to be hidden and that it makes them harder to track because they can be launched with much shorter notice.

Progress certainly being made. However, we should note this is not an intercontinental ballistic missile. It can't reach the United States. And this was not a nuclear test, which is something that we have been expecting given satellite imagery that shows activity at North Korean nuclear test sites. So, an interesting launch nonetheless, but not as serious as some were expecting.

BRIGGS: Matt, typically, we have to paraphrase the U.S. reaction to this type of things. Not in this case. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying in full, "North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment." All of 23 words for this reaction. What do you make of that?

RIVERS: Well, it's a very different response from this administration, compared to what we've heard from previous administrations. But the Trump administration has said they want to do things differently. I asked one expert here in Beijing about it earlier today and told me, look, this might be the administration's way of not taking the bait. The North Koreans have done this kind of a test before. It's not as serious as an ICBM or a nuclear test. And so, maybe they don't want to take the bait and give the North Koreans the attention they want.

Two senior U.S. officials told CNN that this short response wasn't meant to be provocative. It was just meant to send a signal that every time North Korea does something, it's not going to merit an equal response from the Trump administration. Now, that said, this is a vague response. It doesn't give any details about what the Trump administration wants to do about North Korea. And to some people watching, what could be the most tense situation in the world, guys, that's very troubling.

BRIGGS: That on the heels of President Trump telling the "Financial Times", if China won't do something about North Korea, we will go it alone. Well, so much to get to. We'll check in with you in about a half hour.

ROMANS: Yes, Matt Rivers, thanks.

Now, to Syria, where a suspected chemical weapon attack killed at least 70 people, many of them children. The pictures we're showing are incredibly difficult to look at, but CNN wants to show them so the world knows what's happening now in Syria. Overnight, Russia backed up Syria's claim that rebels are responsible,

that they had some sort of manufacturing facility for chemical weapons that were hit in an air strike. Global leaders, though, are blaming the Assad regime. The U.N. Security Council takes up the massacre in an emergency session today.

For the latest on what happened, I want to bring in CNN's Muhammad Lila from Istanbul, Turkey.

Bring us up to speed about conditions on the ground and who is to blame here?

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, the latest numbers on the ground are that at least 70 people were killed. More than 100 people wounded. The death toll is expected to go up slightly simply because of the nature of this horrific attack. You know, those images are difficult to watch. They're heartbreaking, especially when you look at innocent young children dying in such a horrific fashion like that.

But it's important for the rest of the world to see what's going on. Now, this morning, Russia's defense ministry put out a statement that basically clarifies the Russian position on what happened.

[05:05:06] They acknowledge that Syrian air strikes did target that town. But they say they targeted a weapons munition depot, a storage facility where there were some chemical weapons already on site and as a result those Syrian airstrikes, those chemical weapons were released into the air.

And what we have right now effectively is everybody seemingly wanting to blame somebody else. The rebels on the ground blame the Syrian government. They say the Syrian government dropped chemical weapons on the this town. The Russians and Syrian say, no, it was an ordinary air strike and air strike targeted chemical weapons that were already there.

Then, you have a lot of Western leaders, for example, the U.K., France, United States, a lot of top politicians in the United States blaming the Assad regime. And then, of course, you have the Trump administration that says what happened was an outrage, but the Trump administration actually blaming the Obama administration for not taking a hard enough line. So, this is a case of everybody wanting to pass the buck.

But I think we're going to see some movement this morning with an emergency meeting at the U.N. Security Council where there's already talk of a draft resolution that would hold the government of Syria responsible for what happened and implement some sort of monitoring procedure to make sure that innocent civilians don't die in such a gruesome fashion ever again.

ROMANS: And just when you look at Mosul recently, you look at the province, you look at all of these places in Iraq and Syria, it's been tragic, the number of civilian deaths even in the last three months or so in a seven-year war. Muhammad Lila, thank you so much for that.

BRIGGS: All right. So, let's bring in Zach Wolf. He's our managing editor of CNN politics digital, live in Washington for this morning.

Good morning, Zach.

This is a major foreign policy test for the president on two different fronts. Let's start on Syria and look back on what President Trump has said about that red line about Assad and chemical weapons. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Another humiliation came when President Obama drew a red line in Syria and the whole world knew it meant absolutely nothing.

This was started by President Obama when he didn't go in and do the job when he should have, when he drew the line in the sand which was an artificial line.

Obama draws the line in the sand. It was laughed at all over the world what happened.


BRIGGS: So what is the U.S. policy on Syria, on the Assad regime?

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL, MANAGING EDITOR: You know, it's interesting, you played some clips there from the campaign and that's something that Donald Trump on this issue can't seem to get over. We heard, you know, more yesterday about the Obama administration's policy.

Well, you know, now, it's the Trump administration's policy and he needs to figure out a way to move forward and figure out exactly what his policy is going to be. They sort of danced around at the same time condemning the attack but saying that the land has changed, the landscape has changed, suggesting this idea of a red line is no longer there.

So, this is a real test for the Trump administration particularly on Syria, where these horrible things are happening. And we're going to have to see how they evolve to respond to it.

ROMANS: You know, how they evolve to respond to it. We know that earlier this week, the White House position was that, you know, getting rid of Bashar al Assad is the job of the people of that country, not our job. And that is a big change in outlook from this administration. And then this attack happens.

WOLF: Yes. I mean, the previous administration, their stated goal was that Assad had to go as a part of any deal. Now, this is where, you know, you have to start thinking also about the outlook towards Russia. They have a different outlook. The new administration is much kinder towards Russia. So, that's something else to consider in the calculus.

BRIGGS: And another front, the foreign policy test of North Korea, and their latest launch and Rex Tillerson issues a 23-word statement essentially saying, Zach, we have no real comment. Do we have any real idea what the U.S. posturing might be when they meet with President Xi at Mar-a-Lago?

WOLF: Yes, I think they want China to be a part of any sort of solution. China is, of course, the major power in that region and closest to North Korea. North Korea I think probably wants validation from the United States.


WOLF: So, you know, those two things are certainly at play there. But I think it's also interesting that on the one hand, on Syria, you have the Trump administration criticizing a red line. And on the other side, in North Korea, it wasn't the Rex Tillerson statement but the sort of, you know, guidance from senior administration officials is that this has to stop, is that they are going to play with an increasingly harder line against North Korea. You have different attacks happening in those different situations.

BRIGGS: The clock had run out, according to a senior White House official.

[05:10:01] ROMANS: The clock has run out and we've spoken enough about North Korea.

There's also this idea, some experts say that Kim Jong-un, he feeds off the response from the rest of the world. The missile program and nuclear program is all about getting more attention and more fame for this 33-year-old leader. Maybe the United States decided we won't talk about him any more in public.

WOLF: Yes, certainly. I mean, we heard Matt say something similar a minute ago. I think that's probably something that could be very intentional on the case with that strange Rex Tillerson statement. On the other hand they didn't really state that. It was just kind of a innocuous statement that left people to draw their own conclusions. So, I guess depending how you look at the statement, you can read different things into it.

BRIGGS: And in a broader context, how major is this week as a test for President Trump? We'll ask you that in about 30 minutes. Zach Wolf, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. The Senate majority leader ready to end debate on Neil Gorsuch's nomination tomorrow. Democrats right now at this very moment for hours doing what they can to stop him, 5:11:00 a.m. in the East. And that, my friend, is Senator Jeff Merkley still talking.


[05:15:25] ROMANS: The president speaking at a CEO town hall, says bankers around the country are petrified and he is going to do something to change that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The regulators are running the banks. So, we're going to do a very major hair cut on Dodd-Frank. We want strong restrictions. We want strong regulation. But not regulation that makes it impossible for the banks to loan to people that are going to create jobs.


ROMANS: Now, Dodd-Frank is a law passed after the financial crisis. The president frequently rips it as overbearing and unneeded. Really interesting that he says these bankers are petrified. Their stocks are at all time highs. In some cases, they never have been making more money. But the president says they're petrified because of these regulations.

One of America's top bankers also speaking out about the president and his plans at a separate event yesterday. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon says, quote, "When you get on the airplane, you better be rooting for the success of the pilot. I am a patriot. I will do what I can to help the United States of America. That includes helping whoever is president."

And Dimon says he received a lot of complaints for joining the president's CEO advisory council.

BRIGGS: To the notion that the record bank profits despite Dodd-Frank have those regulations really taken hold yet? I guess that's what I --

ROMANS: Some have, some haven't. And what you hear from banks they have a chilling effect on banks and lending. And the president has -- he's rolling back all kinds of regulations.

BRIGGS: But they are still planning for those regulations, not necessarily implementing them.

ROMANS: The president has -- he has signaled that he will gut those regulations.


All right. Well, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell starting the clock on the nuclear option on the showdown over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Right now, Democrats have the 41 votes they need to filibuster or block a full vote on the Gorsuch nomination.

Senator McConnell has now scheduled a vote for Thursday to test that filibuster if Democrats hold the line. McConnell plans to delayer filibusters of Supreme Court nominees can be stopped with 51 votes instead of 60.

ROMANS: McConnell needs a majority of the Senate's support to make that happen. So, Vice President Mike Pence will be standing by to break a potential tie. If not all 52 Senate Republicans support the nuclear option. A full Senate vote is expected Friday.

BRIGGS: And here we go. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat, the senator still going on the Senate floor, 5:17 a.m. Eastern Time. He started at 4:00. How is he going? And how are those people --

ROMANS: Four p.m. yesterday.

BRIGGS: Four p.m. -- how are people around him still sitting up? I guess the lady in the back is leaning against the wall. She hasn't fallen over. But they continue to make a stand over Neil Gorsuch.

ROMANS: Coffee.

BRIGGS: A stunning prediction from an influential Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman Castro telling CNN some key players in the Trump camp could be in for big trouble with their contacts with Russia. Castro's comments coming after Democrats were briefed on intelligence reports that their embattled Chairman Devin Nunes reviewed at the White House two weeks ago.

Listen to Congressman Castro sounding an ominous warning for the Trump administration.


REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: My impression is I wouldn't be surprised after all this is said and done that some people end in jail.


BRIGGS: Rhetoric reaching a new level on Tuesday.

ROMANS: I'll say. That's quite a charge.

We're told the House Intel Committee has agreed to call FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers back to testify again. But no date, Dave, has been scheduled.

BRIGGS: All right. To sports, Tony Romo turning in his spikes for a mike. Hines Ward has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report". A stunner from Big D.


[05:23:28] ROMANS: All right. Quarterback Tony Romo trading in his cleats for a microphone. Romo is released by the Cowboys and now, he's headed to the broadcast booth.

BRIGGS: Oh, fans in Houston and Denver bombed out. Our Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward.

Hines, you know a little something about American football to broadcasting.

ROMANS: Yes. BRIGGS: Did this surprise you?

HINES WARD, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: No, not surprised at all. I know a little something about it, Dave. But it's not easy for everyone to make the jump from the field to the broadcast booth. But I'm sure Tony Romo will be a natural. He had offers to play this season instead becoming a lead analyst for CBS was too good to pass up.


TONY ROMO, NEW NFL LEAD ANALYST FOR CBS: There's no part of me that wants to play. You know, right now, I'm completely 100 percent committed to CBS. And I understand that know you're always giving yourself a little wiggle room stuff, but I just don't really envision that being a scenario. I'm choosing CBS over playing football, and that's what I'm doing right now.


WARD: Now, Tony will replace Bill Simms, the CBS number one color commentator. Yesterday, he posted this pic wearing a CBS jacket saying it's time to start dressing up.

Rory McIlroy fielding questions at the Masters yesterday. He was asked about his much talk about round of golf that he played in February with President Trump, saying that he has second thoughts on whether he'd do it again.


RORY MCILROY, 4-TIME MAJOR WINNER: I spent time in President Trump's company before. And, you know, that does not mean that I agree with everything that he says. Actually, the opposite.

[05:25:00] I felt I would have been making more of a statement if I had to turn it down. You know, it was a tough place to put in. It was a round of golf and nothing more. And, you know, would I do it again? After the backlash I received, I would think twice about it.


WARD: Rory is still looking for his first green jacket, first-round of the Masters starts tomorrow.

And, finally, guys, Cardinal Stevens Piscotty had a night to forget against the Cubs last night. Bottom of the fifth, he's hit in the right elbow and goes to first. Then just minutes later, he tries to steal second, gets hit on the left elbow. Then he tries to score home from third base. He gets hit in the helmet. He gets hit in the helmet right there.

That's the third time he got hit in one inning, rough inning for him. He had to leave the game and will under go more tests today. The thing about it, Dave, all that for nothing. The Cards lost to the Cubbies 2-1. BRIGGS: Ooh, man. Look, he's a warrior, he scored the run.

Hopefully doing just fine this morning.

ROMANS: I know baseball players are superstitious. He's going to burn those socks and will not wear that socks again, right?

WARD: No question about it.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Hines.

WARD: All right.

BRIGGS: Elsewhere, two global crises drawing two unusual responses from the Trump administration. How the White House and State Department reacted to the latest trouble in Syria and North Korea, next.