Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR

Trump's Credibility Takes Big Hit In Rough New Polls; Divided Team To Meet With Trump Over Fate Of Climate Deal; GOP Senator Booed For Defending Trump Over Tax Returns; Trump Sounds Off ON "Disaster" Dem In Georgia Race; Dems Fight To Flip Old Seat Of Tom Price, Newt Gingrich; Search Expands Nationwide For Facebook Suspect. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired April 18, 2017 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:03]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Just moments from now, the secretary of homeland security expected to talk about the greatest threats facing the United States right now, including America being a prime target for radicalized fighters from Syria and Iraq. We're going to monitor that and bring you the news when it happens.

We're also watching the White House. President Trump getting ready to leave for Wisconsin. He's pushing his campaign promise to bring back American jobs, and he's also set to sign an executive order the White House is calling buy American, hire American.

The order would make it more difficult to hire foreign workers. To make his point, the president will be touring a factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin. So, while the president tries to make good on a campaign promise, new polls show fewer Americans believe he can do just that.

Take a look here from Gallup. In early February, 62 percent of Americans said the president keeps his promises. Today that number has dropped to 45 percent.

For more on this, let me bring CNN political director, David Chalian. The important number there, David, is the minus 17, a 17-point drop from February on that question of will he keep his promises. That seems like a problem.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: You think? Yes, no doubt, that is a significant drop, Kate. And you know, part of what I think we're seeing here is that here was somebody who ran as somebody who was going to blow up Washington, change the way things are done.

And even if you didn't really like Donald Trump or you thought he was brash, you did think he was going to get in there and knock heads, and maybe you rolled the dice with him because he wasn't sort of a traditional politician, but you really thought he was going to change things.

You haven't seen much action. We have not seen anything get through legislatively that is of huge significance. His travel ban hung up in the court. So, what you've seen a lot more of is spaces.

And I think if you're trying to measure somebody on whether or not they're delivering on their promises and you haven't seen the actual action taking place, that's why you see that big swing.

I think people are realizing he's a little bit more sort of subject to the rules of Washington than he would like to admit.

BOLDUAN: A little bit more politician than even he would probably like to admit. On top of this, the president has lost ground in five other areas, in areas like is he strong, is he a strong and decisive leader, and can he bring change.

This gets exactly to what you're talking about right there. You might not like him. You might not have trusted him, but those are the areas that he had positive marks in the campaign. Is this all wrapped into one thing? What's behind this?

CHALIAN: I do. I think it's wrapped up in the inability to sort of stand in the Rose Garden, if you will, with the checklist of, hey, we've repealed and replaced Obamacare, I put my travel ban into place, it's working brilliantly, we're safer.

You know, go down the list. I've put up the border wall. Whatever it is, he hasn't been able to sort of hold that kind of victory lap of a ceremony to convince the American people that he is accomplishing all of the things he set out to do.

Instead, he has been thwarted in many of these big initiatives, and I think that that, in addition to sort of the addiction to Twitter, not changing his style, the things that make some folks uncomfortable.

In addition to that, I think that's why you get these numbers that show him sort of down from where he was in February. Listen, Kate, you know this is a president that really has not had a honeymoon.

That's different than what we've seen from recent predecessors from him. There is usually a honeymoon period. It's usually when the president has the most juice to get stuff going.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

CHALIAN: And he did not have that from the get-go, and I think we're seeing the results of that.

BOLDUAN: And when the president even will say, he'll ignore the poll numbers or tout the ones that are only good for him, we know that he cares very deeply about poll numbers. So, these numbers should be sending -- I do wonder how they're being received by the president right now. Great to see you, David. Thank you.

CHALIAN: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, so, while the president hits the road, his staff will be fighting it out, apparently, behind closed doors, debating whether to stick with or ditch a multination climate change agreement agreed to by President Obama. To say the least, Trump's team is divided.

CNN's national politics reporter, M.J. Lee is joining me now for all the details. OK, M.J., lay it out. What's at stake and what are they fighting about and where are the camps here?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, this is a potentially hugely consequential debate that is expected to take place at the White House today over the question of whether the United States should remain a part of the Paris Climate Change Accord.

And as with so many of the big debates that we've seen unfold in the White House, we are seeing a big divide among some of Trump's top advisers. In the one camp are the advisers who believe that the U.S. should stay as a part of the agreement.

Those advisers include Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. On the other camp are the advisers who believe the U.S. should leave the agreement. That includes Steve Bannon, Trump's top adviser, as well as the EPA Director, Scott Pruitt.

Now, Tillerson in particular has been very publicly vocal about this issue, saying that it is important for the United States diplomatically to remain a part of this deal.

[11:05:10]That it's important for the U.S. to have a seat at the table in certain international negotiations and talks. Now, all of this is complicated by the fact that Trump's own rhetoric on this issue has evolved over the last couple of months.

Remember that during the campaign, Kate, we heard Trump say we should simply cancel this agreement. Now closer to Election Day, Trump has sort of tempered that rhetoric, saying that he wants to look at this matter more carefully.

Now, all of this, of course, coming as over the last few months Trump has had to confront the realities of governing and some of his campaign promises. He has flipped on everything from NATO to whether China is a currency manipulator, to his views on the export-import bank.

So, this debate today over whether the U.S. should stay a part of the Paris Climate Change Accord will be another test of whether or not President Trump can keep one of his big campaign promises -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Or add it to the list of things that he's reversed on. Either way, let's see what we get. Great to see you, M.J. Thanks for laying it out for us.

Let's talk about this right now. With me now, our CNN political analysts, Kirstin Powers, a "USA Today" columnist, and Alex Burns, the national political reporter for "The New York Times."

M.J. Lee lays it out in perfect fashion what exactly we're looking at, and as M.J. was talking about the president's view has seemed to evolve in the campaign. A quick walk down memory lane, you love these walks. This is May 26th, 2016. Here's President Trump. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We're going to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop -- unbelievable, and stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: I mean, the president seems pretty clear. Then Candidate Trump seemed pretty clear on what his view was. The White House is now going to have this, like, face-off. I've got a lot of visions in my head of what it's going to look like in that room. What's changed, though?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he was as unambiguous about the climate change agreement as he was about China being a currency manipulator, right, and not only has he reversed himself on that issue, but he says quite emphatically, that he hasn't reversed himself on that issue, the circumstances are around him have changed.

BOLDUAN: The issues have evolved.

BURNS: Right. I didn't change, the rest of the world changed around me.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

BURNS: And that's clearly not true, but having said that, you know, his circumstances have changed enormously, and I think, you know, we've seen this with a number of presidents, although not necessarily in quite so stark a fashion.

Where it's one thing to pledge drastic change on the campaign trail, it's another thing to then come into office and find yourself confronting real national security crises, multiple national security crises, but especially a situation in North Korea, where he does need to have an active and positive and close relationship with China.

And suddenly, presidents start to appreciate stability and they start to appreciate the value of continuity with the sorts of agreements and relationships that were already in place when they took office.

BOLDUAN: President Trump you see in more stark fashion, but as every candidate that becomes president does realize the difference of campaigning than to governing. It's a wildly different game. I mean, that's like the least obvious thing -- I mean, the most obvious thing I could lay out.

But this is what strikes me about this climate change kind of face-off or meeting that they're having at the White House. There are internal debates on probably every topic that a president is taking on, that happen every day in the White House.

Why, then, are they leaking out that the various camps are going to get together behind closed doors on this issue to then make a recommendation to the president for him to then make a final decision? I find that fascinating.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I don't know, although I have to say, I don't think in most White Houses there would be these kinds of debates, right? I mean, certainly in the Obama White House there was no, do we think that climate change is real or do we not?

You have two camps that are actually disagreeing on a pretty fundamental question. It's pretty amazing. And I think that another thing that I think has changed with President Trump, he has different advisers now.

So, he was really completely dependent on a certain group of people who pretty much thought the same way. And Bannon had an outsized influence sort of in shaping how he thought about things.

And now he has other people like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who's actually saying, no, we need to not pull out from this accord because we need to maintain our influence in the world stage, which is something that's very important to Trump now.

I think it's an area that he's really starting to realize that, look, he actually was almost uniformly praised for the missile strikes, even by allies around the world.

And so, he's looking at that and he's probably thinking, hmm, this person's -- these people have been giving me some pretty good advice, and Steve Bannon over here was giving me advice that led me to getting into a lot of trouble around the travel ban and didn't do very well on Obamacare. So, I think he's starting to listen to different voices.

BOLDUAN: We'll see kind of what voice reigns supreme --

POWERS: Right.

BOLDUAN: -- then the president announces his position on this. It is tax day. We are all very aware of this today.

[11:10:08]And the conversation, this has led Democrats to take this moment to bring up once again the president's tax returns and everyone's desire to see the president's tax returns that he hasn't released.

This issue has now also followed members of Congress all the way home back to their districts where they're having to answer questions about this. Senator Tom Cotton in Arkansas got an earful. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: As far as I'm aware, the president says he's still under audit, and he says -- during the campaign. Hillary Clinton and her campaign repeatedly criticized President Trump -- and he won despite all that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: That is something. I mean, that's what -- I mean, a lot of lawmakers are facing a lot of strong opinions back in their districts. Good on him for at least having a town hall and not avoiding it. I will hand him that.

When it comes to the president's tax returns, how much is this going to, at least politically, not legislatively, enter into a tax reform debate? I can't get a real sense. It sounds like Democrats may want to have this enter the conversation. Chuck Schumer kind of hinting at it. But do we really -- to use David Chalian's words here, do they have any juice on this front?

BURNS: I think it's maybe the easiest of cheap shots to take at the president's tax reform agenda, right? Even if had you had released his tax returns, you'd be hearing Democrats say, our billionaire president will be cutting his own taxes, right?

And actually, we saw certainly in the 2012 election, that was a pretty effective line of attack against Mitt Romney, and it's just sort of any time tax policy enters into the conversation, it's really just an invitation to the opposition party to go there.

What's more significant I think than the fact that the Democrats are kind of at it again, is that you know, Tom Cotton and people like him are getting that reaction back home.

And you've heard other members of Congress. You heard I think Mike Hoffman of Colorado last week saying, yes, the president -- every president should release his tax returns.

I don't know that that pressure ever adds up to President Trump changing his decision and putting his own financial information out there, but it does sort of affect the atmosphere in Congress --

BOLDUAN: There was something like a dozen Republicans who are calling for the president to release his taxes. I mean, maybe it's one of -- does that enter into the area of an easy win for them because they know he'll never release it, so they can say whatever they want about it?

POWERS: I guess so. It's also just kind of indefensible. I mean --

BOLDUAN: To not release.

POWERS: Yes. I think it's one of these things where just, the only conclusion you can come to is that there's something in there that's harmful to him, right? Because --

BOLDUAN: I don't think it helps the narrative if there's nothing there "there" if he doesn't release.

POWERS: If it wasn't harmful to him, then he would release it. And the idea that, oh, everyone's going to go on this spree of going through his taxes and just make life miserable for him, well, OK, every candidate has kind of had to live through that and most of them have survived it, so why would he not be able to survive it? BURNS: And that's really where advisers to the president have increasingly gone in defending the decision. This audit thing, clearly a political fig leaf for really a long time. His 2016 taxes are not under audit, if they haven't been filed yet, right? So, that's not an excuse not to release them.

So, I think what you hear in that town hall footage and increasingly from members of Congress is, look, we all know this is a political choice and that they don't necessarily need to play along with that.

BOLDUAN: Stand by for more on that. Great to see you, guys. Thanks so much.

Coming up for us, the balance of power in Congress hanging in the balance. Too much? Did I go too far? Maybe. Not if you look, though, at all of the muscle and money weighing in on a special election race in Georgia right now. Voting under way right now. Is it the first real verdict of the Trump presidency?

Plus, he's the world leader who just gave himself sweeping executive powers, and President Trump just called and congratulated him. The outcry, ahead.

And on the very day Ivanka Trump had dinner with the Chinese president, the country's government gave her company a big break. Coincidence or conflict of interest? New questions ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:17:49]

BOLDUAN: Georgia, Georgia, Georgia. The national political landscape doesn't typically hinge on this southern state, but it could today. A heated battle for a congressional seat. Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, has put up millions in an attempt to turn the deep red state a little more blue, and the president of the United States, for one, is taking notice, slamming Ossoff on Twitter. He also released a last- minute robocall that went out last night. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT TRUMP (voice-over): If you don't vote tomorrow, Ossoff will raise your taxes, destroy your health care, and flood our country with illegal immigrants.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: CNN's Jason Carroll has been watching how things are going there in Georgia. Joining me now from Atlanta. So, Jason, it's election day. What are you seeing on the ground at this moment?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm seeing a lot of nervousness on the part of a number of GOP insiders who are worried about -- I mean, I know you say Georgia, Georgia, Georgia. It's really Ossoff, Ossoff, Ossoff. Jon Ossoff is a political novice. He is the outsider, Kate. You know, he is the one that's really getting under the skin of Republicans here.

I mean, this is a Republican district, right? I mean, it's been reliably Republican for decades. And this is the man who has managed to get Democrats to coalesce around him by making this election a referendum on Trump.

Trump himself barely carried this district in November, just by 1 percent. But having said that, he is still weighing in and having his voice heard and Ossoff, in true form, is responding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON OSSOFF (D), GEORGIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I appreciate the president's interest. It sounds like he's misinformed about my priorities. If he wants to learn a little bit more about my priorities, he can visit the website online at electjon.com, and learn where I really stand on the issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: So, what Ossoff is hoping to do, Kate, he's hoping to avoid a runoff by taking more than 50 percent of the vote here. That's still going to be a tall order. You've got people like Karen Handel, the former Georgia secretary of state, and people like Bob Gray, who actually hired some of Trump's state workers to work on his campaign. Both of these GOP candidates say there is no way Ossoff is going to pull out a win here -- Kate.

[11:20:04]BOLDUAN: Today's the first step and then we'll see what happens after that. Do they go to the runoff in June? TBD. Great to see you, Jason. Thank you so much.

Let's talk about this. CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cilizza is with me now. So Chris, you say that Donald Trump is making this special election all about him. Genius or crazy?

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, that's a great question, Kate. I think that this is -- and you never know with Donald Trump, whether it's something he saw on TV or actual strategy -- but I'm going to but this in the actual strategy camp because I think the trend in the last five or six days is a little bit away from Jon Ossoff getting to 50 percent.

So, I think what Donald Trump is doing here is he's put out five tweets, I think in the last 36 hours, although I haven't checked my phone in the last three minutes. It's possible there's another one.

But he's trying to associate himself with the idea of Ossoff not making 50 percent, that he can say, well, they thought he was going to do it, and he didn't do it because I came in and made clear to my voters that he would be bad for the country.

I'm not totally sure that that credit will be entirely warranted. I think Ossoff was starting to fade away from 50 percent before Donald Trump got himself involved, but I think that's what he's up to, at least. BOLDUAN: But what happens then between now and June, if there is this runoff, right, for the final vote? I mean, Trump only carried the district by what, like 1.5 percent.

CILIZZA: That's right.

BOLDUAN: Does the Republican who emerges today on top, do they -- would that person even want the president's help with that kind of past?

CILIZZA: Well, Republicans would breathe a big sigh of relief if they got it to the June runoff, because that would mean their nightmare scenario, Ossoff winning today with over 50 percent, would have been avoided. I think they have a much better chance of winning, almost regardless of who the Republican nominee is in that June runoff. Kate, you're right, Trump didn't win the district by a lot, but it is a Republican district.

BOLDUAN: Right.

CILIZZA: Newt Gingrich held a bunch of this area, Mitt Romney won it by 23 points. If someone like Karen Handel, who is a statewide elected official, has run for the Senate a few times, very establishment Republican. If she makes it into the runoff, my guess is that establishment Republican versus Democrat in that district, establishment Republican wins almost every time.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating. Can't wait to see how it goes today. Great to see you, Chris. Thanks, man.

CILIZZA: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, President Trump congratulating the leader of a country for a move that many say makes said country less of a democracy. Former secretary of defense joins me live with his take.

And as the nationwide manhunt keeps up for the Facebook murder suspect, the victim's family with a truly remarkable message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One thing I do want to say is I forgive him because we're all sinners.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:27:11]

BOLDUAN: A nationwide manhunt heating up now for a suspect accused of killing an elderly man and posting the horrible video on Facebook. Steve Stephens has not been seen since 74-year-old Robert Godwin was shot and killed in Cleveland Sunday.

Police say they've searched dozens of locations in the city and still have come up with nothing. Tips have come from as far away as Texas and still no sign. Police say they believe Stephens targeted Godwin at random.

Godwin was a father of 10, a grandfather of 14. Speaking to CNN, his family says they are devastated but already willing to forgive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBBY MILLER, ROBERT GODWIN SR.'S SON: It's just, it's a hole in my heart right now. It's a hole in my heart right now. But one thing I do want to say is I forgive him, because we're all sinners, and we need to share blood of Jesus Christ to save us. And I'm so grateful for that. So, if you're out there, if you're listening, turn yourself in. You've done enough damage. Just turn yourself in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Joining me now for the very latest on the search for Stephens is former assistant director of the U.S. Marshal Service, Art Roderick. Art, thanks so much for coming in.

ART RODERICK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We're now entering the second full day of this manhunt and still nothing, and nothing in this man's background to lead anyone to believe, as far as we know, that he's trained in evading law enforcement like this. What does this tell you?

RODERICK: Well, I mean, I think it's interesting that this individual was completely active on Facebook, on social media. I mean, the whole incident behind this crime is very bizarre, that he posted this right away on Facebook. And now, all of a sudden, we hear nothing over the past couple of days.

And there's really -- I've been talking to my law enforcement colleagues out in Ohio, and there appears to be really no active leads, which leads me to believe -- I mean, one of the conclusions you can come to is either he's hold up somewhere hiding in some abandoned house someplace, or he's gone ahead and committed suicide.

When you look at the totality of these circumstances, obviously, this was a crime he didn't want to get away with. He posted it on Facebook. He narrated how he selected Mr. Godwin. It's all horrible crime.

And to me, this was not something he was going to walk away from. So, there's a very good possibility that he's out there in a home somewhere and he's committed suicide.

BOLDUAN: What then do you make of the family's truly extraordinary response to this? I mean, they're still grieving the death of their father and their grandfather, and they're already saying that they forgive this man who is still on the run. I mean, does that -- in your experience, does that have any impact on a suspect?

RODERICK: I mean, when you listen to the impassioned pleas from the family to turn himself in, I mean, that to me -- it's very extraordinary. You don't see that ever. And I think it's a testament to Mr. Godwin and the faith that he instilled --