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Trump Meeting with China's President in Florida; Trump-China Summit Days after Missile Launched; Trump Considering Action in Syria; Nunes Temporarily Steps Aside; Senate GOP Ends Filibuster. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired April 6, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Now for photos.

Our special coverage continues right now right here on CNN.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, you are watching CNN.

We're going to stay up on these live pictures here. We have just even the leader of China, President Xi, his wife, other dignitaries just deplane. They have arrived officially in Palm Beach, Florida, along the red carpet, before they are swept off to President Trump's club, Mar-a-Lago, where they will be holding talks, incredibly important conversations over the course of the next couple of days.

I'm sorry, control room, talk to me one more time.

Secretary of State, yes, Rex Tillerson greeting him.

If you're wondering where President Trump is, I can tell you that he will be en route to Florida momentarily. So we'll have those live pictures of that arrival next. But the first to arrive here is the president of China, President Xi.

Let's go to Jeremy Diamond, who covers the White House for us.

And, Jeremy Diamond, you're somewhere in Florida. I think I can tell by the flora and fauna behind you. But let's talk about - let's talk about these pictures. U.S. military, you know, formal greeting before he is swept away. Can you tell me, why do they - why are they in Florida instead of the White House?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, you know, it's interesting. There was a lot of back and forth over who invited who to Mar-a-Lago versus the White House. The president's aides have said that the president decided to invite President Xi to Mar-a-Lago. But really what's going to be interesting here during these meetings is how much ground they have to cover. And that's something that they can do whether it's at Mar-a-Lago or at the White House, of course.

This is going to be President Trump's first opportunity to really tackle the bold campaign promises he made with regards to rebalancing the trading relationship between the United States and China. Of course, that's something that President Trump has railed against for years, even before launching his presidential campaign. And now he gets his first opportunity to try and make some inroads on that. So they're going to be discussing that issue.

But the question is whether all of that will be overshadowed by the increasing urgency of the situation in North Korea. The president's - a senior White House official telling reporters just a couple days ago that the clock has now run out on North Korea. And, as we know, a couple hours after that, the North Koreans actually fired yet another ballistic missile. And so this is, of course, sending alarm bells ringing in Washington.

President Trump has made it very clear that President Xi of China will be crucial in terms of using China's leverage on North Korea to try and get them to de-escalate and stop their advances in their nuclear program. So that's going to be at the top of the agenda. And, of course coming, as President Trump has warned, that if the Chinese do not help, it's not going to be good for anyone is what he said and the U.S. will have to go it alone. Unclear exactly what that action could be, but President Trump has made it clear that all options remain on the table.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about some of the ups and downs ahead of this meeting. I've got a couple of voices standing by.

Jonathan Adelman, let me just begin with you as we stay on these pictures here. I mean at one point candidate Trump said, and I'm quoting him, "we can't continue to allow China to rape our country." Not to mention, you know, when he picked up the phone and called the leader of Taiwan, which certainly was not something that China would have wanted President Trump to do. What do you think President Xi is thinking going into this meeting? Do you think he has an understanding of the president?

JONATHAN ADELMAN, ADVISED STATE DEPARTMENT & PENTAGON ON CHINA: No. I think he sees that President Trump has gone back and forth on a number of issues. He just did it on Syria, where he said, well, we can have Bashar al Assad in power. Now, after the gas attack, killed over 80 people, innocent people, suddenly he's much more radical. And also he doesn't have a background in foreign affairs and certainly not beyond what he would have as a businessman, a background with regard to the Chinese. So this is all kind of going back and forth and the State Department, the majority of senior leaders in the State Department, their posts are either empty or held only by temporary people. So he doesn't have a lot of people to really help him on his side.

BALDWIN: Right. In addition to that, Rana Foroohar is with me.

And, you know, here you have the leaders of the world's two biggest economies meeting.


BALDWIN: Just, again, going back - I was reading through the other comments that candidate Trump had made about China and he had talked about how he had promised to stop the theft of American jobs by China. He acknowledged recently that this meeting will be a difficult one. What do you think - what tone should President Trump take? FOROOHAR: What tone to take? Always the difficult decision. Well,

first, the facts. Yes, China has taken some U.S. jobs. No question about it. But it's really responsible only for about a third of the manufacturing job losses over the last few years. Technical disruption has actually played a bigger role in a lot of ways, in terms of what the manufacturing sector in the U.S. is doing and why jobs are going away.

[14:05:08] The currency manipulation issue is an interesting one because it's true that China has manipulated its currency over the last few decades to keep prices lower.


FOROOHAR: That makes their export goods more competitive on the global market. But, actually, in recent months and years, they've been having to prop the currency up because a lot of Chinese are trying to take money out of the country because they're worried about economic instability and political instability there. So it's not actually a great moment to be taking the sort of really tough guy tone with China.

I think it would be a savvy moment to say, all right, China, you want to be a leader on the global stage, you want to play a bigger role, you want respect, step up, be part of our institutions, you know, help out with various conflicts. Let's have China give rather than be put on a defensive position, which never works well also in China with the Chinese. They get very nationalistic.

BALDWIN: So that's one huge piece of the conversation.

General Hertling, you're with us as well. We have to talk about North Koreans because this is another huge piece of it. We know that North Koreans have tested more than 20 missiles alone this year. That's the most they've ever done. They keep trying to be provocative. As we've been reporting, they tested, you know, one this week. You and I were talking 24 hours ago and you were talking about, you wouldn't be surprised if they dared launch another while Xi was in Florida. How much interest would China have in helping the U.S. with regard to North Korea?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, that's the interest point, Brooke. You know, the entire U.S. population is watching this visit and saying, what are they going to do about North Korea? And Mr. Trump has stoked people saying, I'm going to get them to fix North Korea. That's probably not in the top three of what China is interested in. They're interested in Taiwan relations. They're interested in what's going on in the South and the East China Sea. They're wondering what's going to happen with TPP and the very move that, as you just mentioned, that the difference in what Mr. Trump said yesterday about Syria. China and Russia are the two people that voted down the U.N. resolution on condemning Syria the last time around.

So all of these things are at the forefront of the Chinese interests. And just going in to any kind of negotiation or an engagement with another government's primary official, thinking only of your side is not a good thing. You've got to determine what they're looking for and how you come to a meeting of the mind. And I think as we kind of ramp this up saying, hey, it's all going to be about getting China to take care of North Korea, that's not one of their major interests. They might be able to help, but they're going to want a little tit for tat on this issue. And some of those things are both economic and security the way they see it, not the way we see it.


Well, we saw the - President Xi now officially in Florida. We're waiting for President Trump's arrival. And that will happen within this hour. And we'll take that live.

Let's pivot to Syria because this is the other breaking news headline today that President Trump may be about to retaliate for the just atrocious crimes committed by the Syrian president against his own people. We are now getting word that President Trump has told some members of Congress that he is considering U.S. military action in Syria.

So, Barbara Starr is our point person on this, our Pentagon correspondent. And, of course, we have the rest of our voices on the panel who will weigh in, in just a moment.

But, Barbara, first to you. What else did this source say about the president's plans?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think we have to be very cautious here, Brooke. We do not know that the president has made a decision. All indications are at this point he has not. But he is letting it be known around Washington that he's considering it, that he's thinking about it.

So what do we know? Well, we know that the U.S. military always has options that it can pull off the shelf to deal with a crisis like this. They've known about the chemical weapons capability of Assad for months, if not years, so they're ready to deal with it if the president gives the go ahead. There's sort of two potential, realistic options on the table, something quite limited, perhaps striking the air field where the aircraft who conducted that deadly strike took off from, or you could do a wider operation. You could try and take out all of Assad's chemical capability. That means helicopters, artillery, rockets, the barrel bombs, the storage, the manufacturing facilities.

You know, but there's a practical limitation. The Russians are in Syria. And if you're going to strike a number of targets, you're going to want to make sure that the Russians are not there. Nobody's looking for a wider war at this point. So I think, you know, to, you know, indeed we will have to wait and see what, if anything, the president decides and which way he wants to go. Something very limited, sending a message to Assad, or something much more significant.


BALDWIN: So - Barbara, thank you so much. General Hertling, you heard, you know, some of the options here. From your perspective, what do you think the most effective, you know, footprint would be?

[14:10:04] HERTLING: Well, I don't know, Brooke. Here's the question, what's the end state? What is Mr. Trump trying to do? Is this a retaliatory strike? If so, the U.S. military can certainly do that in pinprick operations on certain targets. Sure, very easy to do. Is it a more strategic targeting where you get multiple targets? Then it becomes a little bit tougher but you can still do it.

But, again, it comes back to the question, what are you trying to achieve? The military can do just about anything the politicians tell us to do. But the question becomes, what is the politics by other means that we're attempting to achieve here. This war - this civil war on Syria has been going on for five years. Yes, there's been some certain mistakes in all of this, but because of this ramping up of one photo with chemical strikes, which was horrific, now suddenly that takes priority over five years of bombing hospitals and civilian populations with the same kind of barrel bombs where tens of thousands have been killed. And suddenly I hear a lot of members of Congress saying, we need to go in and strike right now? To what end?

I'm a military guy. If you're going to send me in there, you'd better give me a mission and tell me what to do. And that, unfortunately, is not coming clear. It's just - the passion of striking seems to have overwhelmed many in Washington today. And what I'd say is, we've seen this movie before where you're talking about regime change. If there is not someone there to take over the regime, it's not good. If you're just doing retaliatory strikes, you look weak. And it probably is not going to affect Assad's potential given that he has both Russian and Iranian allies fighting alongside of him. And there is a huge potential for this to ramp into a bigger war. If that's the - if that's the end state, then, OK, but we better know what we're getting into before we get into it.

BALDWIN: It's an excellent point. And what about Russia? Jonathan, let me just pose that question to you because listening to Ambassador Haley yesterday at the U.N., and I'm paraphrasing her, at one point she said, you know, how many more children have to die before Russia dos something? But then when I listen to President Trump standing alongside King Abdullah in the Rose Garden yesterday, you know, as he was blaming Assad, he mentioned not once Russia. And, again, this is a president with a 35 percent approval rating, Quinnipiac poll out yesterday. What do you think?

ADELMAN: Well, I think several things are clear. One is that people are rarely asking, what is the view of all of these things and these options from the viewpoint of Vladimir Putin? Because Syria has been a great victory for the Russians. And piled on top of their victories, of course, in the left bank of Ukraine and in Crimea and also in Georgia in 2008. So he might be able to tolerate some very limited action.

But if it's the - the second option, which is what we just heard about, which is a much more vigorous action, it will push the Russians to say, we have got to retaliate, not necessarily against the allied forces, but maybe in order to demonstrate that Russia remains the number two power in the world today. And I think that's a major problem because if you look at Donald Trump, back in the fall he was very pro-Russian, we can get along with Russia. Now he's switching to, he's very anti-Russian. The Russians are undoubtedly puzzled about where is the real Donald Trump, which also many Americans are.

But I think it's critical that we take into account that for Russia and then secondarily, and lesser but still important as just mentioned, Iran, that for them this has been a great victory and they cannot be seen from their perspective, not our perspective, their perspective, to have won these great victories. And so we are really going to be in a difficult position if we set - argue that if the rhetoric is loud and triumphant, but pushes the Russians and the Iranians to take measures that we certainly don't want to see them take. So -

BALDWIN: Sure. Sure and -

ADELMAN: And it's difficult when the president doesn't have any history with -


ADELMAN: You know, outside of business with the Russians.

BALDWIN: And many of these senior positions, I think as you pointed out a moment ago, still have not been filled. And pointing out that the backdrop of all of this would be still this ongoing investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russians.

Gentlemen, thank you so much. We're going to leave it there.

Right now we've been watching and waiting for Air Force One to land in Florida ahead of this massive meeting with President Xi of China.

Two other stories we're following for you on this Thursday, the U.S. Senate invoking the so-called nuclear option, making this an historic rules change in the U.S. Senate, clearing the path for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. The question is, will this forever change Congress and bipartisanship as we know it?

Also, an abrupt about face. After resisting to recuse himself, today, the chairman of the House Intel Committee, Devin Nunes, announcing he will step aside from his committee's investigation into Russia's meddling into the 2016 election.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:19:02] BALDWIN: Welcome back to breaking news here on CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

A huge development on Capitol Hill. The embattled chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, is now stepping aside, at least temporarily, from this investigation into Russian meddling of the U.S. election and any sort of ties between the Russians and the Trump campaign. This comes just about two weeks after his secret meeting over at the White House regarding surveillance issue. A meeting that raised questions about where the Republican chairman's loyalties lie.

The backlash effectively forcing that committee to breakdown, but now the House Ethics Committee confirms it is investigating him. House Speaker Paul Ryan said this just a short while ago.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: First of all, Devin Nunes has earned my trust over many years for his integrity and his dedication to the critical work that the intelligence community does to keep Americans safe. He continues to have that trust. And I know he is eager to demonstrate to the ethics committee that he has followed all proper guidelines and laws.

In the meantime, it is clear that this process would be a distraction to the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference in our election. So Chairman Nunes has offered to step aside as the lead Republican on this particular probe, and I fully support his decision.


[14:20:17] BALDWIN: Manu Raju is all over this there for us on Capitol Hill.

Why the sudden change?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, he came under enormous pressure, Brooke, no doubt about it, from that decision for him to go brief the White House a couple of weeks ago on that surveillance information and not disclosing how he got that information, later revealed that he learned about it on White House grounds, did not brief his committee about it beforehand, later briefed the president. It all looked like he was a bit too cozy with the White House at a time when they're looking into Russia and those alleged contacts with the Trump campaign. And that came right before also his decision to abruptly cancel a public hearing in which it would probably show some more of those alleged contacts and alleged coordination. And the question was, did he cancel it to help the White House?

Now, that led to all those calls for a recusal from Democrats and Nunes dug in during those calls for recusal, telling me repeatedly that he is not going to go anywhere. Democrats can say whatever they want, but he's not going to go anywhere. But the decision by the House Ethics Committee to open this investigation was really a final straw, a sign of the enormous pressure that he was bound to face. Nunes clearly got wind that the announcement was coming today in light of the concern that he may have revealed some classified information when he discussed whether or not any of those Trump communications were picked up incidentally. Now, Brooke, also we're - it's unclear whether or not Paul Ryan urged

Nunes to step aside. I asked Paul Ryan at that press conference, did you want Nunes to step aside? He did not answer that question. And his office has not said explicitly, other than they met last night and that Speaker Ryan supports Chairman Nunes' decision. But, Brooke, now this decision paves the way for this investigation to proceed under the leadership of Congressman Mike Conaway, a Republican from Texas, who's going to lead this investigation. Democrats say that they believe they can work together with Conaway to produce a bipartisan result. We'll see if we can get on track now, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We'll see. Manu, thank you so much on Chairman Nunes.

Meantime, on the Senate side, historic change on Capitol Hill today. The Senate Republicans nuked a Democratic filibuster over the contentious nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Republicans invoking the so-called nuclear option so that the judge can be confirmed with a simple majority. A finally tally to change the rules, 55-45. Here was the majority leader moments before today's vote.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: We need to restore the norms and traditions of the Senate and get past this unprecedented partisan filibuster. Therefore, I raise the point of order that the vote on cloture under the precedent set on November 1, 2013, is a majority vote on all nominations.


BALDWIN: Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill for us on this. I mean I keep thinking of Senator McCain calling the people who'd want to do this idiots and I think he said numskulls. But clearly enough Republicans, you know, wanted to change the rules forever.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And among them, Senator John McCain, which really kind of underscores the stakes here, at least as it was viewed by the Republicans that are in the majority. This is a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land. In terms of policy matters, things that matter, ideologically to your party, there's no more important perhaps nomination that actually exists here. And what we saw was Republicans understanding that Democrats simply weren't going to let this through. They had enough votes to block it, to just essentially stop debate on this, decided to change the rules.

Now, there are a lot of finger pointing back and forth, Brooke, who started this, did Democrats start it when they changed the rules in 2013? Did Republicans, when they were blockading? Nobody's hands are clean here, but I think one of the biggest concerns is what this means going forward. And that's what Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, had to kind of take a look at. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: In a post nuclear world, if the Senate and the presidency are in the hands of the same party, there's no incentive to even speak to the Senate minority. That's a recipe for more conflict and bad blood between the parties, not less. The cooling saucer of the Senate will get considerably hotter.


MATTINGLY: And, Brooke, that was a reference - basically the House, which operates on majority rule, is always known to move hot, move fast, send things over here where the Senate traditionally slows it down, operates in a bipartisan way and tries to find consensus that kind of best reflects the country.

Now, it's important to note, this change - this rule change today did not change the rules on legislation. So it will still require 60 votes, which means at least eight Democrats for Republicans to move anything forward legislatively. But, as you know, the nomination for Supreme Court justice from here on out, until the rules are changed again, will only take a simple majority and you think about the calculation, regardless of party, if they know they only need 51 votes to move somebody through, it's pretty clear that that selection would most likely be more ideological, and that's, frankly, just the place we've found ourselves in given the contentious relationship that both parties have right now on Capitol Hill, Brooke.

[14:25:23] BALDWIN: Still, as you all keep pointing out, even with the legislative 60 vote threshold, it's a slippery slope indeed.

Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.

That vote is supposed to happen tomorrow. He'll be watching it for us.

Still ahead, we're waiting for President Trump's arrival any moment down in Palm Beach, Florida, where he will meet the president of China face-to-face, have those meetings for the next couple of days. We'll bring that to you.

Also ahead, more on our breaking news. White House retaliation. Sources telling CNN President Trump is discussing options for U.S. military action in Syria. We'll take you live to the Syrian border, next.