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Trump Says Gas Attack Changed His View Of Syria; Trump Summit With Chinese President Xi; Ambassador Haley Blasts Assad, Russia, U.N. Action; Trump Removes Steve Bannon From NSC. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired April 6, 2017 - 05:30   ET



[05:30:30] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump changing his view on Syria following a deadly chemical attack. He's taking on Assad but letting his U.N. ambassador talk tough on Russia. U.S. foreign policy under the microscope as the Chinese president heads to the U.S., the most important global relationship.

Welcome back to EARLY START, I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. It is exactly 31 minutes past the hour, and the president pivoting on Syria. President Trump facing his first major foreign policy test and responding with outrage to a chemical weapon attack in Syria that killed scores of civilians. The president now signaling a major change in his Syria policy in the wake of that attack. As recently as last week, this administration said ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was no longer the U.S. priority.

BRIGGS: But at a Rose Garden news conference, President Trump blamed the attack on Assad, condemning it as heinous and he hinted the U.S. might take action against Assad.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much. I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me -- big impact. That was a horrible, horrible thing and I've been watching it and seeing it, and it doesn't get any worse than that. It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies -- babies -- little babies -- that crossed many, many lines beyond the red line. Many, many lines.


BRIGGS: The president was also asked about an earlier White House statement that blamed the attack, in part, on President Obama. President Trump said the responsibility is now his and he'll "carry it very proudly." Of President Obama's failure to resolve the Syria problem, Mr. Trump said it was a great missed opportunity.

The Syrian attack is not the president's only foreign policy priority today. He's also set to host Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar- a-Lago estate. With North Korea's missile launch and the president's long history of tough talk about China is the backdrop for Xi's massively impactful visit. For more on what we can expect of this U.S.-China summit, let's bring in CNN's Matt Rivers in Beijing. Matt, good morning to you. Of that tough talk in the campaign, do we expect a more muted message from the president today?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're not really sure what's going to happen behind closed doors. We know we've seen a much more muted president since he took office compared to the Donald Trump we saw on the campaign trail using words like China was raping the U.S. economically. That is not something that we've heard from the administration. Frankly, they've walked back a lot of the threats that candidate Trump made. Things like import tariffs and labeling China a currency manipulator.

I think the number one agenda topic for this meeting is going to be North Korea. Given what we've seen -- continued provocations from North Korea -- the Chinese and the Americans agree that the weapons program being developed in Pyongyang is a problem. They disagree very strongly on the best way to deal with it. The United States thinks that China should be using its economic leverage to get Pyongyang to scale back. China thinks the United States should be sitting down at the negotiating table and directly negotiating with the Kim Jong Un regime. How those two sides are able to work through those differences could very well shape the future of this ongoing crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

Then, of course, you have trade. I mean, what the president decides to do. Does he decide to go back to some of those threats that he made on the campaign trail and how will the Chinese respond if the United States throws up those kind of protectionist trade barriers moving forward?

And one final note here guys, one good photo op that might take place. A Chinese official here in Beijing telling us that both sides are negotiating for what could perhaps be a limited joint press conference given between both sides. That is something we rarely see the Chinese president do. It could make for a very interesting viewing when these two men meet for the first time later today down in Florida -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes, stylistically, two very different world leaders. Matt, thank you.

ROMANS: Yes. Let's bring in CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, live from London. And I want to get to that important bilateral meeting in a moment but first, we can just update our viewers on this serious situation. We have a new death toll, sadly, in the Syria chemical weapons attack. Eighty-six now confirmed dead and there are, of course, fears that that number will continue to rise as people --

BRIGGS: Twenty-six of them children.

[05:35:00] ROMANS: Twenty-six of them children. It's just horrific. And, Christiane, you know, the president moved by this, using very strong words yesterday about this and really pivoting. After seven years of horror for the Syrian people, this president says he has changed his mind. What could the policy response be? What could he do?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly, the whole world is waiting and watching to see whether there will be a policy response because the rhetoric from the Rose Garden, from the U.N. Security Council, from Secretary of State Tillerson, from Vice President Mike Pence, all last night, in what looked like sort of coordinated administration messaging, was very, very strong.

And for those who have been watching previous escalations or previous policy maneuvers in past years, the kind of language is the kind of rhetorical language that is used before some kind of generally punitive military action is taken. We do not know whether this administration will do that but, certainly, President Trump and those other officials who I mentioned have come out very, very strong against this very, very severe violation of international law.

And here, in Europe, you know, newspapers -- of course, they are in the United States -- are emblazoned with the pictures of these children --


AMANPOUR: -- and they call them Assad's children and this is how he chose to start the seventh year of this war. And not only that, he sat down and he gave an interview which has just been published, to a Croatian interviewer, apparently not once mentioning President Trump -- maybe it was conducted before -- not once mentioning the chemical attack, but insisting that there was no option but to complete victory. He still thinks that there is a lot of fight in him and that he's going to keep, you know, waging this war against the Syrian people to total victory. Those were his words.

And right now, there are peace negotiations -- indirect peace talks in Europe -- and Assad bluntly says that there is nothing we can do. We're going to say nothing. We can have no accommodation with our opponent, so he's basically saying I am going to carry on. And we know that he's been conducting these chemical attacks for a long time, mostly chlorine attacks but in 2013 it was a sarin attack. And most of the evidence --most of the experts believe that this was just recently sarin perhaps mixed with chlorine gas but definitely a nerve agent, given the effect and the immediate asphyxiation, suffocation, and death of so many people.

BRIGGS: Of course, the backdrop is Russia's relationship with the Assad regime and the support of Assad. And though the president didn't say much, if anything, about Russia in that Rose Garden news conference, Nikki Haley certainly did. Let's play her dire words about Russia.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Russia cannot escape responsibility for this. In fact, if Russia had been fulfilling its responsibility, there would not even be any chemical weapons left for the Syrian regime to use. Assad has no incentive to stop using chemical weapons as long as Russia continues to protect his regime from consequences.


BRIGGS: Now, the president said to Glenn Thrush of "The New York Times," Christiane, "I think it's a sad day for Russia," adding that, "it's very disappointing," their role in all of this. What can, what will the president do to stop Russia from assisting the Assad regime?

AMANPOUR: Well look, those are already new words that raised President Trump's personal ante towards the Russians. I mean, he hasn't said that kind of thing, really, before and that's quite an important development. The question is what will that lead to? You know, the Russian Foreign Ministry responded to talk about what was going on there and to the U.N. Security Council debate by saying look, President Assad is the legitimate president of Syria and we support them. What is the American position? So that is the Russian position. They've been saying that for seven years now and these kinds of verbal jousting sessions in the U.N. Security Council are not new.

The question is will there be a change after this really heinous escalation of President Assad's war against his own people. Again, children, women, and civilians -- no fighters according to all the first responders who were on the ground. This was -- these were civilians. And the Russians don't even buy the fact that Assad actually -- his aircraft would have launched this attack. They say it was an accidental attack or an attack on a different facility that led to this, but most of the world believes that it was an airstrike by the Assad regime that did this.

So what to do? The question is whether they can either convince Russia that they have to holdthe line at least in the face of a chemical weapons attack -- remember, a weapons of mass destruction attack -- or take their own punitive limited action. Try to get a consensus, international, amongst their allies that this actually was Assad who conducted this, and then try to get a consensus probably just with their own allies -- they won't get a Security Council resolution --

[05:40:05] ROMANS: Right.

AMANPOUR: -- to take limited, punitive action to at least disable some of the runways, stop the planes from flying, stop the ability of these barrel bombs filled with poison gas to be delivered against civilians inside Syria.

ROMANS: It's really a foreign policy test for this president this week on Syria, on North Korea, and sitting down across the table from President Xi. Everyone wondering if President Trump can hold his own against President Xi, who is trying to become a world leader on climate change, on trade, on, you know, being the grown-up around the world in an interesting way. The president backed off of some of that really sharp rhetoric -- the 35 percent tariffs and using just the crudest sexual violence terms to talk about what he says China is doing to the U.S. What do you think -- what do you think the stakes are in this meeting today?

AMANPOUR: Massive. Most people believe that there's no more important relationship than that between the president of China and the President of the United States. If affects not just the Asia Pacific region but in terms of trade and economy, basically the whole world -- your two countries and the rest in between.

So the whole world is looking at that which is one other reason why the response by the United States and its allies to what's happened in Syria, this violation of international norms, is going to be so important in terms of convincing China and North Korea that the U.S. is serious about North Korea not threatening the United States with intercontinental ballistic missiles that can be, you know, mounted with nuclear warheads, which is what North Korea is heading towards. Right now it can threaten U.S. allies and U.S. bases in Japan and South Korea.

So there has to be, according to all the experts, both Republican experts and Democratic experts -- secretaries of -- cabinet secretaries and various others who work for different administrations say look, what's happening now is not working. Outsourcing this to China or the six-party talks is not working. There are two different and colliding views on what to do. So many people are saying you might just have to negotiate directly -- with allies, but directly -- and have a united front. There has to be united front between China and the United States on the issue of North Korea. Otherwise, it's going to be very difficult to see where this goes.

BRIGGS: All eyes around the globe on Mar-a-Lago in this massively impactful meeting. Christiane, we really appreciate you being on with us today.

ROMANS: Thanks, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

BRIGGS: Thank you. A surprising move at the National Security Council. The president's top strategist Steve Bannon is out. What happened here and why this matters, next.


[05:46:55] ROMANS: All right. President Trump's biggest target on trade is China and today he sits down and tries to break the ice with that country's leader. The president's main issue is this, the trade deficit with China. He looks at these numbers, a $310 billion trade deficit, and says the U.S. is losing and China is rolling over the U.S., using worse terms than that. It's -- one-half of the total U.S. trade deficit is China. It's really five times the deficit with Mexico.

Trump does have a point. America buys a lot more from China than it sells to China and that puts China in a stronger position. On some levels, there's no question China's not playing fair when it comes to trade. American companies say their products are stolen and copied. There are trade barriers put up to hold categories of American goods. China, for years, kept its currency cheap to benefit its products over U.S. goods to the detriment of millions of U.S. jobs.

But is the trade deficit the best way to measure who's winning or losing? Maybe not -- here's why. A growing trade deficit could also signal that the U.S. economy is growing and consumers are buying more -- the power of the American purse. It could signal that China is slowing and people there are buying less from the U.S.

The other big hurdle for President Trump will be that promise to bring jobs back. He says he's going to bring those factory jobs back from China. If the president pressures companies not to import from China the companies will likely find suppliers elsewhere, experts say. Vietnam and Indonesia are really attractive, cheap labor markets right now. Those markets are becoming more attractive as costs in China rise. A lot of different levers the president can push on here, and then there's North Korea hanging over all of it, too.

BRIGGS: And just adding to the intrigue of the next two days at Mar- a-Lago. Meanwhile, President Trump's political guru, Steve Bannon, seeing his sphere of influence shrink rather considerably at the White House. The president removing his chief strategist from the National Security Council. The shakeup amounting to a demotion for Bannon, said to be orchestrated by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Bannon, though, not completely out of the mix. He was at an NSC meeting last night but could be on the outside of a new power structure in the White House. We get more now from CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, as foreign policy challenges are testing this Trump presidency unlike they have in the first 11 weeks in office, there is suddenly a shakeup in the National Security Council. Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist who is a part of that principals committee named in the early days of this administration, was suddenly, on Wednesday, removed from that principals committee.

Now, this is saying that Gen. H.R. McMaster, the security -- National Security adviser here at the White House, is exerting his influence. Steve Bannon taken off that principals committee and two other people put back on, returning back to the traditional structure here of the National Security Council. Dan Coats, the director National Intelligence, and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are returning to the principals committee of the National Security Council. Steve Bannon stepping aside here.

Now this, again, is a -- seen as a major shakeup because Steve Bannon, largely one of the most influential advisers inside this White House with a portfolio spanning from domestic affairs to foreign policy, will still be involved, of course. But by not having a seat at the table, which was very unusual at the time, it certainly is giving more power to the National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. So a bit of inside baseball staff changing here but so significant that Steve Bannon, we are told, having a more diminishedrole now and the new National Security adviser empowered again -- Christine and Dave.


[05:50:27] ROMANS: All right, Jeff Zeleny. Always in the first 100 days there all this drama over who's in, who's out, where's the power? I mean, that is normal in an administration but Steven Bannon's such an important ally of this president.

BRIGGS: I mean, they call him the brain.


BRIGGS: This is going to be a fascinating evolution here.

ROMANS: All right. Pepsi is canning its controversial ad --

BRIGGS: That's good stuff.

ROMANS: -- but not before the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. --

BRIGGS: You crushed it.

ROMANS: She weighed in on this spot. Her powerful pushback when we get a check on CNN Money Stream, next. I crushed it.


[05:55:05] ROMANS: In a bygone era this might have been our lead story. Today it's not, but it's no less important. History is about to unfold in the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sets the wheels in motion this morning to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch by rewriting the rules. Republicans won't have the 60 votes needed to stop a Democratic filibuster so McConnell is expected to trigger the so-called nuclear option with a roll call vote declaring only 51 votes are needed to stop a filibuster. If all goes according to plan a full Senate confirmation vote is expected tomorrow.

BRIGGS: A group of student journalists at a Kansas high school did their homework. Now, their incoming principal is out of a job. The students at Pittsburg High School set out to do a profile on their new principal, Amy Robertson, for the school newspaper, but their interview led to questions about her credentials, specifically about the universities where she got her masters and doctorate degrees. But just days after the article was published, Robertson resigned. The school's journalism adviser says she's proud of her students who worked very hard to uncover the truth. Journalism, not dead.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning for you, folks. Dow futures pointing slightly lower. S&P 500 futures dipping as well. Stock markets in Europe fell. Look at London -- a little bit of trouble there. Shares in Asia closing with losses overnight. The president's meeting with Chinese president Xi has investors on edge. There's also Friday's jobs report coming up here.

Check out the wild day for stocks yesterday. OK, so the Dow shot up 200 points at the open thanks to an upbeat report on private sector hiring, but then the average fell -- then it fell after the Federal Reserve minutes came out. Those showed some members of the Central Bank feel stock prices are quite high at the moment. That took the air out of the balloon. It was the combination of two that worried investors.

Another solid jobs reports tomorrow also may give the Fed cover to raise interest rates more quickly this year. Wall Street now has sort of a love-hate relationship with Janet Yellen and the Fed. The low interest rate environment helped boost stocks for years but they may have thought the Fed fell behind the curve and should have been raising interest rates a little more quickly.

OK, speaking of moving quickly, Pepsi is pulling that ad featuring Kendall Jenner that sparked a whole lot of controversy. It takes a lot to unite the internet.

BRIGGS: It did it.

ROMANS: The internet was united. In this spot, the model joins a group of protestors and offers a Pepsi to a police officer. A Twitter storm ensued. Pepsi says it clearly missed the mark. It apologizes now for the ad. Pepsi also apologized to Kendall Jenner for putting her in this position. This is after initially saying they were proud of this ad.

This is one of the most powerful takedowns on the internet where there were millions of powerful takedowns. Bernice King, a daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. -- she was among those who commented on the tone-deaf nature of this ad. She shared a picture of her father, tweeting, "If only daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi."


ROMANS: I honestly had never seen something so universally panned as that ad.

BRIGGS: But to that point, a digital marketing company, Amaby (ph), studied this. They said 77 percent of the digital content centered on one phrase.


BRIGGS: Tone-deaf.

ROMANS: Tone-deaf?

BRIGGS: Seventy-seven percent.


BRIGGS: Perhaps Kendall Jenner should join the NSC with a can of Pepsi -- no?

ROMANS: No. no. OK, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now. No -- (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When you kill innocent children, that crosses many, many lines.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: This would never have been possible had they not had the cover Putin has given them.

HALEY: How many more children have to die before Russia cares?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: North Korea's capacity is increasing. You have to communicate your willingness to take action.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Be strong. Don't let China continue to take advantage of us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the national security adviser thinks things will go better when Mr. Bannon returns to a more appropriate role.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not illegal to be able to use information that's gathered officially for political purposes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What has gone on here was lawful, appropriate, and pretty routine.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, April 6th, 6:00 here in New York.

Up first, President Trump's "America First" policy facing several major tests on the world stage. The president now says the chemical attack in Syria "crossed a lot of lines" after he saw images of children choking on gas. So what action will the U.S. take?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That's the question. What will the tough talk lead to? That same question looms over Trump's biggest world leader meeting yet. In just hours he's going to sit down with China's president. What will he be able to get done on trade and the big question will be North Korea. How will those two men agree on a response to North Korea's aggressions?

A busy day on day 77 of the Trump presidency. We have it all covered.