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Russian Bombers Fly Near Alaska for Fourth Time; Trump Slams 100-day Milestone Despite His Own Contract; Trump Looks for Big Wins on Health Care, Budget; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 21, 2017 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We are following breaking news this morning. For the fourth time in four days, Russian aircraft bombers are flying in Alaskan air space. The bombers entered the Alaskan Air Defense Zone about 700 nautical miles southwest of Anchorage. They proceeded then to fly into Canadian air defense space.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, it is not known at this time whether the U.S. Air Force dispatched any aircraft in response to this. Let's go to the Pentagon and bring in CNN's Ryan Browne with the details here.

Ryan, what are you learning?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, John, we're learning that these Russian aircraft did, indeed, enter the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone. And again, this in itself is not unusual. The military -- U.S. military performs this kind of operations as well. But what military officials are taking note of is that this is the fourth time in as many days. Previous to this, the last time Russian bombers approached the U.S. Western Defense Zone was in 2015, so it had been some time.

Rare to see so many events in such a short period of days. One U.S. Defense official telling me that this has to be strategic messaging, there's no other way about it, from Moscow. So, again, this is something that the military takes note of. It is international air space. Usually, military will send planes to intercept, to monitor the bomber activity. That's what happened in the first instance. The U.S. scrambled at 22s to intercept the Russian bombers.

And this is something that allows the Russian military to kind of gauge how long that takes. It's kind of an intelligence-gathering. They're using this to see how quickly the U.S. Air Force kind of responds to this Russian maneuver. So again, this happens from time to time. The U.S. does it itself, but U.S. Defense officials definitely taking note that this is happening so many times in such a short period -- John.

HARLOW: Four times in four days. Ryan Browne, thank you very much. I'll take it from here.

We're joined now by Juliette Kayyem. She is CNN national security analyst, former assistant secretary of Department of Homeland Security.

So what Ryan's hearing is strategic messaging from a senior there at the Pentagon. All right. So strategic messaging from Moscow, but to what end, Juliette?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: There are a couple of theories out there. I think the most plausible one that Ryan picked up on was they're just testing us, that they want to see how quick our defenses are, how often we react, and whether we will scramble in every instance. Now why are they doing this? This may just be a reaction to other events in the world. So think about what happened in Syria. We now know after our bombing in Syria, the Russians essentially helped the Syrians in terms of dispersing their aircraft throughout Syria, so there's no bull's eye for us, and this may just be a reaction to something that happened in Syria.

I'm not worried about this, I mean, in the sense that they're not entering U.S. air space. These things do happen, as Ryan said. What does -- what's disconcerting is we don't seem to have a reaction to it, a political reaction to it. In other words, if this is strategic messaging, I'd love to hear the secretary of Defense or secretary of State at this stage put Russia on notice.

BERMAN: What's the option there in terms of strategic messaging, Juliette? Because one thing you could do is ignore it, to say you are so insignificant, these moves you're making are so insignificant, we're not even going to mention them? And that in itself could be a response or something more muscular. What would that be?

KAYYEM: Well, the more muscular response would be simply to call it what it is. I mean, it's not like our silence is actually stopping Russia from doing it and it's not like Russia and the United States are the only two countries with an interest here. The air space there -- obviously, Canada has an interest, and there is a lot going on in that air space from other countries. So I think a stern statement from us that we are aware of it and that we will continue to scramble aircraft, if necessary, simply to put the Russians on notice. But us ignoring it doesn't seem to be stopping the Russians. It actually seems to be empowering them.

HARLOW: Also new this morning, very significant news that an American, an Egyptian American aid worker is now free and back on U.S. soil after she was held in an Egyptian prison in Cairo for three years. I mean, this is the doing of the Trump administration just weeks after the president met with the president of Egypt, al-Sisi, at the White House, something the Obama administration would not do, refused to do because of their human rights abuses.

This is very significant, Juliette, because he was criticized, the president, for not condemning Egypt's human rights abuses, but now this outcome. How do you see it?

KAYYEM: Yes, I mean, I think this is good news for her and the family and certainly a sort of tactical success for the Trump administration in that they wanted her out and her family out, but what it doesn't answer is what is the policy here? In other words, you can -- this is in some ways similar to Syria or the use of the MOAB, that there's these actions that seem, you know, appropriate and even many people would applaud them, certainly in this case with an American hostage.

[10:05:01] But how are they part of a bigger picture? In other words, are we now going to excuse or not have any statement about Egyptians -- Egypt's human rights policies? What's the greater Middle East strategy? Egypt is a huge part of that. And so we're just waiting to see. So I don't want to undermine the success here, obviously, a young woman getting out of an Egyptian prison, but I don't think it -- I don't think we should view it as an overall strategy, one that we're certainly waiting for regarding the Middle East.

BERMAN: All right, Juliette Kayyem, nice to have you with us this morning. Have a terrific weekend.

All right, new this morning, a new version of the number 100, the one that the president doesn't like. He now writes, "No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days -- and it has been a lot, including Supreme Court -- media will kill."

HARLOW: But that is so very different from what he said in October, his speech at Gettysburg. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will work with Congress to introduce the following broader legislative measures and fight for their passage within the first 100 days of my administration. Middle class tax relief and simplification act, the American infrastructure act, school choice and education opportunity act, the repeal and replace Obamacare act.


TRUMP: Fully repeal Obamacare and replace it with health savings accounts, and we can do that. Illegal immigration act. Fully funds the construction of a wall on our southern border. Don't worry about it.


HARLOW: All right. Many of those things still waiting on? Joe Johns is at the White House with more. He does not like 100 days anymore.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No, he certainly doesn't, and I can tell you, though, whatever he says then versus now, the fact of the matter is, there is not a lot for this administration to point to in terms of legislative success over the first 100 days. And at least on Capitol Hill, if they were to pass health care, it would mean some progress, moving in the right direction.

What they're telling us on Capitol Hill about the current health care proposal is that they may be able to pick up something like 18 to 20 conservatives that they didn't have the last time around when the bill failed in the House of Representatives, but the devil's always in the details. You've heard that before. And quite frankly, they still have to send around legislative language, which could happen today or tomorrow as well as have some type of a conference call tomorrow.

Now here's the problem. At the same time, on April 28th, the end of the 100 days, the Congress and the president have to worry about coming up with a spending bill to fund the government. If they don't do that, there could be a partial government shutdown. So you have two things working at the same time. The president was asked to prioritize just yesterday. Listen.


TRUMP: OK, I want to get both. Are you shocked to hear that? And we're doing very well on health care. We'll see what happens, but this is a great bill. This is a great plan. And this will be great health care. It's evolving. You know, there was never a give-up.

As far as keeping the government open, I think we want to keep the government open. Don't you agree? So, yes, I think we'll get both.


JONES: The White House wants money for the president's border wall included in the spending package. Democrats call that a nonstarter, and Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, has called the health care proposal a moral monstrosity. Back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Joe Johns for us at the White House, thanks so much.

So is there a deal now? Is there a sign -- some kind of Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare that will be voted on within the first 100 days?

CNN's MJ Lee here with the answer -- MJ.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, the White House would certainly like there to be a deal, and they are pushing for a vote to take place as early as next week, but I can tell you that a lot of the members and aides on Capitol Hill that we have been speaking to are very skeptical about this quick turnaround, especially because we have not yet seen legislative text. And I just need to, you know, emphasize this caveat that it is really virtually impossible to know whether House Republicans can get to the 216 votes until we have seen more details.

Now I can tell you having said all of that, the discussions between members of the Tuesday group and the Freedom Caucus have centered around essentially two big issues, one, whether or not states can opt out of these -- covering these requirements that are under Obamacare, including the so-called essential health care benefits, and then second, whether they can prevent insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.

[10:10:06] These are two goals that some experts would say are in tension with one another and I can tell you that the pre-existing conditions point is going to be a huge, huge sticking point for a lot of the members. This is what one member of the Tuesday group had to say in the last

hour of your show. Let's listen to that.


REP. RODNEY DAVIS (R), TUESDAY GROUP MEMBER: I'm not going to be for a plan that's going to allow for pre-existing conditions to not be covered. Waivers are going to be -- can be requested, but that doesn't mean that they're not think there are going to be, and they are very limited in this discussion. And if that becomes the discussion point, the key thing -- we lose sight over the fact that we are talking about covering pre-existing conditions.


LEE: Now House Republicans are expected to have a conference call tomorrow to discuss the legislative agenda. Health care is certainly to come up. And I can say, there will probably be a lot of mixed reactions to reviving something that was so divisive and failed in such a dramatic way just a month ago.

BERMAN: It was interesting from Rodney Davis. He hasn't seen the plan?

LEE: Right.

BERMAN: He doesn't know what's in the plan right now. And in fact, he's been in contact with both the White House and leadership. If he hasn't seen it, it's hard to know if there is an actual agreement that really does exist right now.

LEE: Right. And it's interesting that it does seem like at this point in time, it's the members of the Freedom Caucus that sound the most confident when it comes to reaching a deal that could win over some of the conservative members.

But, Poppy, as you were pointing out before, winning over conservative members probably means that you're going to lose, or at least risk losing a lot of the other members of the House conference.

HARLOW: They do not want another embarrassment. They don't want to get to the ninth hour and not be able to get the votes and have to pull this thing again.

LEE: Right, and especially on a week when the 100-day mark is coming up for President Trump.

HARLOW: Yes. Thank you, MJ. Have a good weekend.

Still to come for us, could the president's pricey border wall -- we're talking billion-plus here -- divide Republicans in the budget battle before the government could shut down?

BERMAN: "Some island in the Pacific." Those are the words of the attorney general of the United States. Now lawmakers from the Aloha State are firing back. We have some pictures right now from above the area that some have

called ground zero for climate change in America. Some residents there, though, not convinced by the science. Some pretty remarkable words from them coming up.


[10:16:29] HARLOW: President Trump used to love the 100-day mark. He promised big wins, multiple wins. He even has that 100-day contract with America. And he has gotten a lot done through executive order, but when it comes to legislation, no big wins. He did win, though, on his Supreme Court justice.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us now, Jason Miller, CNN political commentator, former Trump campaign senior communications adviser. Jennifer Psaki, CNN political commentator, former Obama White House communications director. And Ron Brownstein, CNN senior analyst and senior editor for "The Atlantic."

The juniors are happy to see all of you right now.

Jason Miller, first to you. Help us understand the number 100. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Because during the campaign, you know, then candidate Trump promised how much he would get done in the first 100 days, elect me because of what I'm going to do in the first 100 days. Yet now just moments ago he tweeted, "No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days -- and it has been a lot -- media will kill."

So it is important or is it a ridiculous standard?

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, John and Poppy, good morning and thank you very much for having me on. And before I go into the 100 days, I'd be remiss if I didn't say congratulations to the administration for helping to negotiate the release of these political prisoners from Egypt last night. An Egyptian American woman as well as her husband, relief workers, who were kept for three years.

Now with specific regard to the first 100 days, regardless of what folks say about, you know, is it arbitrary, is it not arbitrary, I think this administration has come out very strong right out of the gate. And you look at what really the key messages area, the key focus has really been, it's really back to this message of economic populism that the president has been talking about for the past 20 years.

We see these efforts to go after regulations that are killing businesses, focus on creating jobs. That's really been kind of the main takeaway. We constantly see the CEOs and the workers coming into the White House. The Supreme Court win was big and also I think helping to restore our place in the world.


BERMAN: But is it a ridiculous standard or not? Because now the president says it's a ridiculous standard and you seem to be saying, no, it's not.

MILLER: Well, I think there may be a little bit of work the reps here as far as lowering it, but he does have a very valid point in the fact that no matter how successful the president is in this first 100 days, most of the members in the media are going to say that it doesn't stack up to previous administrations, and that's just a fact. I don't think there's any way that you can get around that, but I think the administration made some really good progress.

It will be great if we can get a vote on health care next week. A lot of that's going to be up to the Freedom Caucus to get their acts together. This is really put up or shut up time, and I think that we have a great chance to pull off a vote. And look, even if the vote doesn't happen next week, if we have one in the week or after that, they're making good progress on it. They're going to get it done eventually.

HARLOW: Ron Brownstein, Jason Miller's assertion here is that this is, you know, a lot of good messaging and efforts by the administration, but aren't those just words if there isn't action? You can do executive order after executive order, but if you want something lasting, you've got to get legislation through.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that is the lesson. Legislation is more lasting, that it is, for example, more difficult for President Trump to overturn Obamacare than it is to overturn, for example, the clean power plant from President Obama, which was done through regulatory action.

Look, I think the basic distinction that you laid out is correct, there has been a lot of executive activity, some of it more, perhaps, you know, smoke than action, but some of it substantive and real in terms of reversing, particularly reversing regulatory decisions of the Obama administration.

[10:20:01] The legislative front has been much tougher. Republicans are struggling to govern with unified control of government. You're seeing what's in essence each faction of the party is exerting a veto power because largely because of their inability to bring in any Democrats and to give themselves any margin for error.

And the other thing that is true, is I think one thing that Jason didn't say is that yes, there has been at points the populist messaging, but there's been a lot of reversals from that. For example, not naming China a currency manipulator and saying explicitly we are sublimating our trade focus on China with cooperation on North Korea, the reconsideration of NATO.

There have been a number of issues where the more conventional, business-oriented Republican thinking has pulled President Trump away from some of the populist themes that he ran on during the campaign.

BERMAN: And Jen Psaki --

MILLER: What I would say --


BERMAN: One second, Jason. One second. I want to bring Jen into this conversation, who's been waiting very, very patiently.

Jen Psaki, you know, 100 days, ridiculous standard or not? And these 91 days, successful or not?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think 100 days may be an arbitrary number, but whether it's 80 or 120, the reason why people look at the first period of time of any administration is that that's the best opportunity to get things through Congress. There is excitement, there's newly elected members. At this point, Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House.

We had the same circumstance with controlling the House, the Senate and the White House early on. But when people are looking at the comparison, President Obama had already passed the TARP, he had already passed TARP, he had already passed the American Recovery Act. President Bush had gotten a few things done. So it's not a random comparison.

This is really a period of time where it's the most fruitful to get things done, the most likely to get things done, and it is a challenge for the Trump team that they don't have a big legislative policy item to point to.

HARLOW: So, Jason Miller, on that front, I mean, these things matter for a lot of reasons. I mean, these are promises that were made over and over again on the campaign trail. And yes, every politician makes promises they don't follow through with, but there were a number here, including repealing and replacing Obamacare on day one. And then I would just add to that this promise by the president after he asserted with no evidence that there were millions of Americans that voted fraudulently, that he would set up, led by Vice President Pence, this commission to look into it.

According to a senior White House official last night, the formation of a Pence commission, quote, "has not been a topic of a lot of conversation in the White House." I know you worked on the campaign and in the transition, but does it bother you?

MILLER: Well, I'm glad actually to hear on that final front because what the president and the administration should be focusing on is exactly what they have been. We were talking about the economy, as we talk about the tax plan that I know that Secretary Mnuchin and Gary Cohn are working hard on, as well as this infrastructure plan, which there's a good chance that comes later in the year, maybe even at the beginning of next year, but look, I think the administration will get the wins this year with repealing and replacing Obamacare as well as passing a comprehensive tax reform that really cuts taxes both for the middle class and for corporate America.

HARLOW: You're saying you're glad they're not looking into this voter fraud claim? Is that what you just said? Is that the reason?

MILLER: Well, yes, I'm glad that there -- well, I'm glad that I haven't seen much news on it. I'm hearing about it the exact same way that you are, but I'm glad that hasn't been a front-burner issue, because quite frankly, the issues that elected the president were the economy and keeping us safe and as long as they stay focused on that, they're going to do well.

BERMAN: Let's talk quickly about the efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, Ron Brownstein. Only 36 percent of American voters say the Republican Congress should try again to repeal, 60 percent say no. So what's the rush here, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I mean, they're kind of caught, right? Because it was one of the most marquee promises during the campaign. The onus that their base really want them to do. But the bill itself, 17 percent of the public supported it. In particular, it imposed some of the biggest price increases and coverage decline on voters who are -- on communities that are now the core of the Republican coalition, particularly older workers between 45 and 64 would have lost the most under it.

Going back at this and taking -- allowing states to remove, effectively, the guarantee of pre-existing conditions being covered further hurts voters who are at the core of the Republican coalition. And I still think this is the central problem they face. Sure, historically, you can get a bill through the House by moving it to the right. They may be able to do that again. They've been doing it for 20 years since they took over, but are they going to leave it in a position where it has a realistic chance of getting through the Senate, particularly with senators from states that expanded Medicaid? That is a much tougher puzzle to solve.

HARLOW: Jen, final thought?

PSAKI: Look, I think we know very little about this bill. We'll know more in the next 24 to 48 hours, but what we've seen is it has some of the major problems that held back not just Democrats but moderate Republicans, people from this Tuesday group. The essential benefits package allowing states to opt out of it. It still has the Medicaid cuts. These are significant problems that prevented this from passing last time, so I don't see how that changes the dynamic in the House and certainly not in the Senate.

HARLOW: My -- the president sounds hopeful. We'll see, guys. Thank you all very much, Jason, Jen and Ron. Have a great weekend.

[10:25:04] Still to come for us, officials in Hawaii firing back this morning at Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he says -- well, he's shocked that a judge on a, quote, "island in the Pacific" could block the president's travel ban.


BERMAN: Aloha. Welcome back. Backlash this morning after the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, seemed to dismiss Hawaii as a, quote, "island in the Pacific." The context here, he was talking about President Trump's travel ban held up in part by a judge in Hawaii. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and --