Return to Transcripts main page


More than 40 Companies Pull Ads from Bill O'Reilly's Show; Trump's 'America First' Policy Faces Major Tests; Interview with Sen. Ron Johnson. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 6, 2017 - 07:00   ET


STELTER: -- company do they want FOX to be? What kind of company do they want FOX to be? A lot of advertisers speaking out because, increasingly, these big companies are trying to be more conscious, trying to have more social responsibility.

[07:00:11] CAMEROTA: Gentlemen...

STELTER: What kind of company will FOX be?

CAMEROTA: Good question to end on. Thank you both very much.

CUOMO: To our international viewers, thank you for watching us. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" is next. For our U.S. viewers, we have big developments. There's a huge meeting today between China and the United States. Let's get after it.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The world has an obligation to protect the people of Syria.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If Russia has the influence in Syria that it claims to have, we need to see them use it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The world is waiting for him to lead.

TRUMP: We have a big problem. That's called the country of North Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a real test for the president.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I believe Susan Rice abused the system, and she did it for political purposes.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: We are not going to let the White House distract us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president removing Steve Bannon from the National Security Council.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's three months? It seems like it's been three years. American foreign policy has to be consistent.


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

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. President Donald Trump's "America first" policy is going to be put to the test with several international controversies. The president now says the chemical attack in Syria, quote, "crossed a lot of lines" after he saw the images of children choking on that gas. The question is what will the U.S. do?

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, President Trump will meet with China's president just a few hours from now. How will the two men respond to North Korea's aggression?

Again, it's a very busy day. It is day 77 of the Trump presidency. We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House.

Good morning, Joe.


A defining moment for the Trump administration. As a candidate, Trump railed against China and its trade policies and promised a win at the negotiation table. Today, as he comes face-to-face with the leader of China, for sure, trade issues will be on the table. But these two world leaders will have a lot more to worry about.


TRUMP: These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated.

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump confronting multiple international crises during a week of high-stakes diplomacy, including today's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

TRUMP: My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.

JOHNS: The president opening the door to greater action in Syria in the wake of the horrific chemical attack perpetrated, the U.S. says, by President Bashar al-Assad against his own people.

TRUMP: When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, that crosses many, many lines. I do change, and I am flexible. And I'm proud of that flexibility. And I will tell you, that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me.

JOHNS: A significant shift for a president who, in the past, has advocated against intervention in Syria after similar attacks.

TRUMP (via phone): Now we're supposed to get involved with Syria. I would say stay out.

JOHNS: And fought for a ban on Syrian refugees. TRUMP (on camera): I'm putting the people on notice that are coming

here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win -- if I win, they're going back.

JOHNS: United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley warning that the U.S. may take unilateral action if other countries fail to respond.

HALEY: When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.

JOHNS: A starkly different tone from her comments just days ago when she told reporters, "Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out." Those comments and others from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prompting bipartisan rebuke.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: The remarks that we were no longer going to go after Assad as one of our major policies, I believe caused Assad to do what he did.

RUBIO (via phone): I don't think it's a coincidence that a few days later we see this.

JOHNS: Ambassador Haley now slamming Russia for supporting the Assad regime.

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

JOHNS: As President Trump also condemns the Kremlin, but in much lighter terms, telling "The New York Times," "I think it's a very sad day for Russia, because they're aligned."

North Korea's latest ballistic missile launch presenting another major test for Trump when he meets with the Chinese president today.

TRUMP: We have a big problem. We have somebody that is not doing the right thing.

JOHNS: China's role in confronting North Korea's nuclear threat certain to be a main point of conversation during the two-day summit, which the president has acknowledged will be difficult, particularly after his routine criticism of China on the campaign trail.

[06:05:12] TRUMP: We can't continue to allow China to rape our country. And that's what they're doing.


JOHNS: The visit of the Chinese president to Mar-a-Lago today assures that this administration will be moving quickly beyond the upheaval that occurred just yesterday with the removal of the president's powerful and controversial aide, Steve Bannon, from the principals committee of the National Security Council -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Joe. A lot of questions about what that means,, but we stick with breaking news. We have developments in Syria. Russia just said what happened there is a monstrous crime. Now,

that's a small shift from their initial position, which was just blanket support for the Assad regime. They still won't say what happened. Turkey's justice minister is going further. They're saying they've done autopsies, and the results definitely show that chemical weapons were used in the attack. Eighty-six people so far known to have been killed. Many more injured. That's the reality of what's going on in Syria.

We have images of the aftermath. Yes, they are disturbing, but they are also the truth. Emergency workers took more than 30 victims of the attack to Turkey, where three of those victims have since lost their lives. Some of those killed included young children. Turkey blames Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's regime for carrying out the attack.

CAMEROTA: How will President Trump deal with these international crises? Let's discuss with our panel. We have Gordon Chang, columnist for "The Daily Beast"; Chris Cillizza, reporter and editor at large for CNN Politics; and David Sanger, national security correspondent for "The New York Times."

David, let's talk about Syria. The president had a belated response to the images, the sickening images of the aftermath of the chemical attack. But once he saw the images, I mean, he admits as much, how much it impacted him and that that is what has turned his point of view to now thinking that something has to change in Syria and something has to be done. Where is he? How do you interpret the president's latest words?

DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, it's a little hard to interpret, Alisyn. The president tends to react to what he sees. He reacts emotionally. I think the emotion has been what we've all felt. Huge horror. What we've seen now, we've had that huge horror now for five years since this all began and, certainly, through the chemical weapons attacks.

The question now for the president, I think, is threefold. First of all, can he get the Russians to actually intervene and stop this in a way that President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry could not? That's going to be part of the task for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who's going to Moscow next week, previously scheduled.

In what will really be the administration's first face-to-face encounter with Vladimir Putin. The second big question is can the United States define and can Mr. Trump define what his objectives are? What he certainly didn't do at the press conference yesterday. Does he want to intervene and protect the population, sort of the old responsibility to protect concepts that came up in the early days of the Obama administration?

Does he want to try to change the regime? And so far, he has not described that. I'm not sure they figured that out. And I think the third question is, for a president who argued so strenuously during his campaign and even before he was running, that the United States should stay out. Is he actually willing to risk American lives to go into what is a

huge humanitarian crisis for us, but not a strategically vital crisis for us?

CUOMO: Cillizza, what do you make of the change in attitude from Congress? As we should remember that President Obama, once he got straight with what crossed the line and what didn't. He went pretty heavy into thinking that military action should be taken. He got rebuffed by Congress. Both sides of the party saying the American people didn't want it. They didn't have the resolve. This time Congress is chirping about saying there should be a menu of options, and they're laying it out. Both parties. Could that make a difference?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: Yes, it could make a difference. I mean, ultimately, I think what President Trump decides to do, and David makes the point, rhetoric does not equal policy. Now, you're not required to have immediately -- you have a visceral reaction to that. And I think that's what you saw with Donald Trump -- I think it's the difference between media candidate and seeing these things in the abstract and being the president and dealing with them in the specific.

But he has to decide what to do here. I think what is difficult is when you see these images. There's a 24-, 48-, 72-hour period at which people are outraged. People say we have to do something. And unfortunately, we've seen this before.

[07:10:05] David makes this point. This is not new. We've seen this before. Within weeks, the resolve politically starts to fade, because we lack the geopolitical concern. It's a humanitarian issue. That starts to fade.

Other resolve starts to fade. Things -- other things happen in the world. Our attention span moves on. And that's the question here, is how much does Donald Trump care? Yes, he's clearly actually, I think, genuinely affected -- I don't know how you couldn't be -- genuinely affected by the images he's seeing out of Syria. But what does he do about it? Does he act soon? Or does he sort of lose momentum and go on to other things and move on? Which sadly is the blueprint of the practice that we've seen over the past few years.

CAMEROTA: Yes, Gordon, let's talk about another crisis erupting. North Korea. So the president has said recently North Korea is China's baby. I think that's what he -- the language he used. In other words, it's their problem. Well, today it is front and center as the president of China comes. And what do you expect to see from this first meeting?

GORDON CHANG, COLUMNIST, "THE DAILY BEAST": We don't expect to see too much, I think, in terms of substance. The White House on Tuesday said that there was going to be this framework that we're going to establish with China. And that really means that they're kicking the can down the road.

The real problem is that North Korea is our problem. Because within four years, they'll be able to mate a nuclear warhead to a long-range missile that will be able to hit the lower 48 states. So that is a U.S. concern. And I think that that's going to drive concern about China's assistance to North Korea. Not just military assistance, but you know, things like the ballistic missile program. Nuclear weapons program, where North Korea is getting help from China.

CUOMO: But they're in denial about that. Right? The Chinese said that they're not helping them. And we've talked before on this show about how you believe that's just not true. What is the risk of bait and switch, where Trump is going into this meeting probably as a top priority politically is a win.

China can offer that with nothing to do with North Korea. David Sanger made a great point earlier in the show. They can offer investment. We can put a lot of money into the United States. That's a win in Trump's eyes.

CHANG: It certainly is, I think, because Trump said things, it creates reality for him. Yes, you know, rhetoric is not policy, but rhetoric has consequences, and when Trump and other people have talked about how China's assistance in North Korea is hurting the United States, that creates a dynamic that has to be considered down the road.

So I'm concerned that what you've got is Trump talking about the clock running out on North Korea. And you know, that's not only a threat to use force. That's an imminent threat.

And also, you've got the threat about Syria. Nikki Haley talking about the U.S. acting alone. Trump saying crossing lines. And the thing that concerns me is that the adversaries on both sides in Syria and North Korea have linkages among themselves, which means that this problem can spread from one side of Asia to the other.

CAMEROTA: One more question, Gordon. In terms of China, we keep hearing, you know, maybe the U.S. doesn't have leverage. China has all sorts of an agenda to not -- you know, to take kid gloves' approach with North Korea. Why don't they have a vested interest in stopping the craziness in stopping North Korea? Particularly since we've also heard they don't want a refugee crisis on their hands from people pouring in from North Korea.

CHANG: The Chinese have a long-term interest in North Korea. And North Korea, on a long-term basis, poses more of a threat to China than to us. But on a short-term basis, North Korea is very advantageous for China. Because every time North Korea does something provocative, you know, we become distracted. We don't talk about other issues: South China Sea, Taiwan. Predatory trade policies.

And also, we then go to Beijing and ask for their cooperation. And that endlessly creates bargaining chips with the Chinese. So on the short-term basis, and that's how leaders in China think. This is really good for China.

CUOMO: David Sanger, to the subject of your piece this morning, the pivot that we're seeing. So the president watches cable news a lot. We all know that. He sees these images. Anybody with a heart is going to be affected by them.

And now there's different talk than decidedly what had been said just days earlier about Syria. Could the same thing happen during these two days with the Chinese leader?

SANGER: It could. You know, I think where we're headed in Syria and Russia is something more akin to kind of traditional American policies, certainly with Russia. And I think you could see that happen in China's case, as well.

In the case of China, though, you have a new leader in President Trump going up against a now fairly seasoned leader in President Xi. And I think that Gordon had it exactly right when he made the point that, to President Xi, North Korea is useful as a buffer, a distraction away from the trade issues and away from the South China Sea.

[06:15:04] What's that mean that President Trump has got to get done? He has to try to lay out to President Xi as convincingly as he can, that the cost to China of letting this problem fester is going to be high. And that means that he's going to have to describe how the United States will deploy more than just the missile defense that's currently being installed in South Korea and that China would be surrounded by a lot more U.S. military, a lot more missile defense, which the Chinese really hate.

And the question is can he be convincing on that? I think the other interesting question is for President Trump to decide. I doubt he'll raise this exclusively with President Xi. He says we reported last month there is a very large U.S. covert program underway to try to sabotage the North Korean missile program program, using cyber and electronic means.

I think one of the big questions is, does President Trump have the confidence that that program gives us the protection that we need. There's a lot of reason to suggest it may not.

CAMEROTA: Chris Cillizza, last word.

CILLIZZA: I would say that this is a week that President Trump has been tested. He says he's flexible. He's now going into a meeting with the country that he condemned more than any other on the campaign trail. That "rape" quote I had forgotten about that you guys played earlier.

I'm just interested. This is the person who has built his campaign and his presidency on the idea that he can make the best deals, that he can sit in a room with adversaries and make deals other people can't. At some point on health care, we saw domestically on health care, that not work out. He was not able to convince the Freedom Caucus and moderates.

Let's see if, in foreign policy, he can do some more.

CUOMO: A window into how extreme Trump's comments have been that Cillizza forgot. That he said China is raping the United States. CAMEROTA: There you go. Panel, thank you very much for all the expertise. How is President Trump's reversal on Syria playing out in the Republican Party? We'll ask Senator Ron Johnson when he joins us next.



RUBIO (via phone): It's concerning that the secretary of state 72 hours ago or last Friday said, you know, that the future is up to the people of -- in Syria what happens with Assad. In essence, almost nodding to the idea that Assad was going to get to stay in some capacity. I don't think it's a coincidence that a few days later we see this.


CUOMO: Members of the president's own party kid of saying, welcome to reality to President Trump when it comes to Syria. And now new questions about how he will handle the crisis in -- crisis in Syria. The president says that seeing the images on television of the kids and the people who were killed by what's believed to be a noxious gas attack changed his thinking on the situation.

So what do Republicans want him to do next?

Joining us now, Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, governmental affairs. You've got a big hearing coming up today. I want to talk about that. But what's your take on this emerging international crisis? This latest chemical attack has brought Syria back into sharp focus.

You heard Rubio. Do you share his reality on this? That it is time for the U.S. to do more? That saying Assad is safe and not our concern was a mistake?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Good morning, Chris.

First of all, that is not how I interpreted the secretary's comments. But the reality in Syria is horrible, and it's been horrible for quite some time. I never believed that they got rid of all of their chemical weapons. They've been using for sure chlorine, you know, sarin gas.

But I think what Secretary Tillerson was probably talking about is the reality that, because of the inaction of the previous administration and world community, Assad and Russia and Hezbollah and Iran, you know, it basically solidified their position. Certainly, the western part of Syria. That's not going to change anytime real soon. And from my standpoint, what we need to do is focus on the next step. We need to defeat ISIS.

Now we've got to start asking some questions. What is -- what's the primary ground force that's going to defeat ISIS in Raqqah? Who's going to hold that ground? I think once we do that, it changes the conditions on the ground, and we can -- we can begin putting pressure on the Assad regime.

But right now, I'm not sure what the Trump administration's reaction is going to be. After the last chemical attack, I spoke with then- U.N. Ambassador Powell. My counsel to her was strike soon. Do it now. Don't wait. I will certainly back you up. Unfortunately, they didn't do that. They waited. They dithered, came to Congress. It was way too late at that point in time.

You don't seem to like what you're going to do, you act. But what we have to do is we have to defeat ISIS. That's got to be our first success, our first action.

CUOMO: All right. But this attack that we're dealing with right now isn't about ISIS, except that it, in fact, emboldens them, because it empowers their case that everybody's trying to kill them and that ISIS is their only salvation. Putting that to the side, I'm talking about what Senator Rubio said. He said -- saying that Assad is safe was a mistake. Now you seem to be suggesting that you would be in favor of doing something?

JOHNSON: I don't believe that's what Secretary Tillerson was really talking about.

CUOMO: It's not Secretary Tillerson. I'm talking about Senator Rubio. Senator Rubio said it.

JOHNSON: I realize I don't believe Secretary Tillerson was saying Assad is going to be safe long-term. I don't see how somebody who has slaughtered 500,000 of his own citizens is going to stay as a leader of that country, long term. Short-term, because we have done very little, they've solidified their position.

That's why I'm saying our first step has got to be defeat ISIS, yes. Utilize this chemical attack, this latest outrage. This is an affront to humanity. But I think slaughtering half a million people using barrel bombs, precision bombs that have targeted, you know, convoys that are there, humanitarian convoys, hospitals, that's also an affront, as well.

And yet the world, the previous administration did nothing.

CUOMO: Do you think something should be done now?

JOHNSON: Yes, we need to defeat ISIS. If we -- when we take out ISIS in Raqqah, it's going to be really kind of a two-fer. We eliminate that caliphate. We end the inspiration, at least the massive inspiration that ISIS has had by existing, and we change the conditions on the ground in Syria, which means we can act and we can try and stabilize the situation there, as well.

CUOMO: They are two different things, though. But Assad is not attacking ISIS. He's attacking people that he believes are political opponents to him. And similarly, Russia, which some people in the U.S. government belief is in there to fight ISIS, they're not bombing ISIS targets either in the name. They're bombing Assad's enemies.

How do you deal with what just happened to those kids and people on the ground by attacking ISIS? They're different fights?

JOHNSON: I don't want to telegraph what the administration might do. But I will support actions against the Assad regime. What I'm just saying what is probably most effective right now.

Our next step is really substantive. This is actually going to change conditions on the ground. Defeat ISIS. Hold that ground, and that will give us much bigger leverage as we move forward. Pinprick strikes right now, we could declare no-fly zones. We can probably enforce them.

More difficult to do it now than it would have been prior to Russia entering the fray and putting in better surface-to-air missiles. So things have gotten so much more complex, because we failed to act. You can start acting. The substantive thing we do right now is get that coalition willing to defeat ISIS and hold that ground, and it changes the equation on the ground.

CUOMO: All right. And you've also made a point that national security should be our priority. Protecting the homeland. Yesterday, you had a big hearing about this with DHS Secretary Kelly. Tell us, what do you think came out of that that the American people need to understand?

JOHNSON: Well, first of all, there is a great deal of consensus that, first, that our border is not secure. And my ranking member Senator Claire McCaskill in the hearing before that colleague said she is not aware of any senator that isn't committed to securing the border. There's our starting point. That is our area of agreement. Now we have to start filling in the details.

I think Secretary Kelly was very appropriate in terms of his all of the above options in terms of manpower, technology, barriers where they're needed in the right spots. Priority building of those barriers. We're going to approach this, I think, in very level-headed fashion, a very effective fashion. But we're all committed. I think Democrats and Republicans, we have to be committed to securing our border.

CUOMO: One of the headlines that came out of it, I want your take on it. Which was Kelly saying we're not going to have a wall from sea to shining sea. We're going to use drones. We're going to use other things. Now, that will be interpreted as a contradiction of what President Trump has promised.

What's your take on it?

JOHNSON: I've always thought the wall was a metaphor for securing the border. And I think it's just been incredibly important. This president, finally, we have an administration that has committed themselves to securing the border in whatever shape and form that takes. And yes, we do need better barriers. We need better fencing. We've had Border Patrol deputies and chiefs telling us fencing works. We need more of it.

We're going to do this in a very thoughtful manner. Secretary Kelly is undergoing the study right now. And we'll do this in a prioritized way, step by step, build new barriers where we need to, introducing technology and building our manpower force. Fixing personnel problems so we can actually hire the people we need to keep our border secure.

CUOMO: Senator Ron Johnson, I appreciate it. I've never heard the president refer to it as a metaphor. But you make a reasonable case for why it should be that way. Thank you for being on NEW DAY, as always.

JOHNSON: Have a great morning.

CUOMO: All right. Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, Chris. Does President Trump have a plan for Syria? What do Democrats think about it? We get the next side -- the other side next.