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AT THIS HOUR

Sources: White House Circulates Plan To Tout Achievements; Trump's Border Wall At Center Of Looming Government Shutdown; Soon: Obama's First Public Remarks Since Leaving Office; How Will Obama Walk Line On Criticism Of Trump?; North Korea Threatens To "Sink" U.S. Carrier With Strike. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 24, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Bermon. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, John and Poppy. Hello, everyone. I am Kate Bolduan. Here we go, the 14th Monday of the Trump presidency, also known as the home stretch of President Trump's first 100 days in office.

With this first grading period fast approaching, the White House may be in cram mode at the moment, pushing for another go at health care reform. Add to that tax reform and a huge deadline, don't forget, approaching to avoid the government shutting down by the end of this week.

And the president is not done there. He's also dealing with North Korea. He's also meeting with Argentina's president and will be signing a slew of executive orders all this week.

That also means break time is over for Congress. They have to pass that spending bill by Friday or the government goes dark. A big week with a lot to talk about and a lot of many parts as it always is, when they finally get back to town.

Let's begin right now with CNN's Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill. Finally, activity behind you after a couple weeks, Phil. It was so quiet! They're all heading back to town. They need to avoid this government shutdown. You've been kind of telegraphing where the positions have been leading into this week, but what are you hearing at this moment?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, the big, open question, Kate, remains the same, and that is, where is the White House, and specifically, where are they on wall funding? That border wall the president basically said he had to have throughout the campaign. Will the White House go to the mat in a battle for that?

I can tell you what's going on behind the scenes with both House and Senate Republicans and Democrats that are working on drafting that funding bill. They have been working under the premise that the wall funding will be out. Why is that? Because Democrats will be needed to pass this bill. Definitely in the Senate and most likely in the House as well, and Democrats have made very clear, Kate, they will not be voting on anything that funds any portion of that wall.

So, they've been moving forward, progressing. They believe they can get there. If they can't, they're willing to agree on a short-term measure so that Friday deadline gets extended a little bit to keep hammering out that deal, but the wild card remains, does the White House demand that wall funding?

If they do -- and we've heard kind of mixed messages from them on this -- if they do, that means a shutdown threat is for real. I can tell you, when you talk to senior leaders in both the Senate and the House on the Republican side of things, they want no part of that right now. They want to fund the government and fight on the wall later -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And by a short-term spending gap, if they need it, they mean really short, like a week, right?

MATTINGLY: Yes. Basically, look, they've been working behind the scenes, the appropriators on this issue have been working on a bipartisan basis for weeks right now. This is a very complicated and lengthy process, hundreds of pages to kind of figure out how to finalize funding for various government programs.

They are continuing to work towards that, even though this wall issue is still standing out there. If they don't quite get there, they will have a short-term extension just to make sure they can finalize everything, dot the I's, cross the T's, things of that nature right now.

They are not planning on a shutdown up here, but if they do feel like a short-term extension is needed to finalize that language, they will do that by the end of the week -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, stand by to stand by. Phil Mattingly, great to see you. Thank you so much.

Let me bring in right now CNN political director, David Chalian. So, they're back to work and you're up here. Let's talk about it, David. So, when it comes to this week and when you layout everything that the White House is putting out there, they're definitely packing his schedule this week.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No doubt.

BOLDUAN: That is for sure. And he's got a lot of deadlines that he's up against. As Chris Cilizza put it, if there is a turnaround for this White House, it begins this week. Why is that?

CHALIAN: Well, I guess we could say that every week, actually, because they do want to turn some things around, there's no doubt. This is why I think that week that health care went down was so consequential.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

CHALIAN: Because once that went south for them, it sort of cemented what these 100 days were going to be lacking, and that is a big legislative accomplishment.

And you're right, they're flooding the zone this week trying to get the president out there, very active, get him out in the public eye, sign a lot of executive orders, show action and cap it off with that big rally in Harrisburg at the end of the week, Kate.

But what they know they're not going to have are, you know, a travel ban that somehow gets out of the courts, where it's held up, or health care repeal and replace that they really wanted to see by this time.

BOLDUAN: It's important that you bring up health care, because that is such a big part of it, or is it not? Because it depends on who you talk to, especially what you heard over the weekend. The president no longer believes in the 100-day standard, or definitely is trying to say that it is ridiculous. His budget director, Mick Mulvaney, over the weekend making very clear -- well, talking a lot about the 100 days and what it actually means. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: What I think folks don't realize is that we've signed more legislation into law in the first 100 days than anybody in the last 50 years. You add Justice Gorsuch, no president has ever had a Supreme Court justice confirmed in the 100 days, and we're talking about historic accomplishments by this administration in the first 100 days, but all anybody wants to talk about is health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: There are a couple of things to this, but the last bit right there gets directly at what you're talking about. Mulvaney saying that there is a whole lot that they've gotten done, but the only thing anyone ever wants to talk about now is health care. But the White House only wanted to talk about health care for a while and made a strategic decision to do that.

CHALIAN: And how about making Mick Mulvaney a spokesperson on it? I mean, that was the last time I think that Americans sort of tuned in to this guy, the budget director. He was out there every day pushing to get health care reform passed, now talking somewhat submissively.

You heard the president's tweet about a ridiculous standard. Obviously, that's not what he really believes, because look at his schedule this week, look at what his aides like Mick Mulvaney are saying. Everyone is prepared with their 100 days talking points. They know that this metric is one that we are going to be consumed by and one of his predecessors were judged by.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right, and the other part of what Mulvaney is talking about there when he is talking about executive orders, they are signing more executive orders than any previous administration in the last 50 years. It strikes me, though, that this is the same Donald Trump that slammed President Obama more than once for basically an abuse of executive actions. I mean, should we take from this now that they were comfortable defining success through executive order?

CHALIAN: Well, there is no doubt that that is going to be part of their metrics of success for this first 100 days. That they believe is a bucket of action that they get to claim credit for.

You know, Donald Trump did slam the president for executive orders, but he also foreshadowed where we were going to be now, because in the middle of the campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire, he said I am -- President Obama opened the door for this.

I'm going to use executive orders now that he led the way on it, but I'm going to use them for my priorities and for what he considered to be better things. So, he did indicate that he was going to use his pen this way.

BOLDUAN: That's a very good point. Let's talk about the polls. A couple polls coming out over the weekend that -- I want to get your take on it. He's facing the worst approval rating in the modern era, and we can throw up the numbers so everyone can see them for comparison. But also importantly, you've got 96 percent of people who said that they voted for Donald Trump, said they would do it again. What's your take on this?

CHALIAN: Yes. Well, that first chart you said there is the clear, basic metric, right?

BOLDUAN: Yes.

CHALIAN: He's at the bottom of the list of all the presidents in the modern area that polling goes back to. That's certainly not going to make him happy. He can take away that his base is with him. I think this is the story of the Trump first 100 days.

Remember, we had the same conversation of him being at the lowest level on inauguration day of his recent predecessors when he entered. So, he entered at that low level, he got no honeymoon, was a president without a honeymoon, and he's done absolutely nothing to grow beyond his base.

The NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, he's at 30 percent approval among independents. He's done nothing to grow beyond his base, who are still fervently with him.

But if you're not going to grow beyond that, you're not going to be a leader that's taking a majority of Americans along with your positions and you going to have a hard time getting your agenda through Congress. I think that's what we've seen in these first 100 days.

BOLDUAN: We'll see how he takes that. Great to see you. Thanks so much, David.

All right, coming up for us a short time from now, former President Obama going to be making his first public remarks since -- first public remarks since leaving the White House. What will he say? Will there be any criticism for his successor? We're going to bring it to you live.

Plus, a grave warning from the head of Homeland Security. Secretary John Kelly says the president will be dealing with a nuclear North Korea with missiles capable of reaching the United States by the end of his first term. Details on that ahead.

And the president still an executive producer at heart, it appears. Why a conversation about his relationship with voters and lawmakers turned to TV ratings. That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:12:12]

BOLDUAN: All right, former President Barack Obama is back from vacation. He will be speaking for the first time publicly today since leaving office in just a short while. He's in his hometown of Chicago. I think we're looking at the motorcade getting ready for him outside maybe of his residence.

The event today is aimed at promoting civic engagement, and you can be sure folks will be listening very closely and intently to what his message is, maybe trying to read between the lines, if you will. We will bring it to you live when it begins.

CNN White House correspondent, Athena Jones, is at the University of Chicago for this appearance. Hey there, Athena. So give us a preview of what's expected. What do we know about this?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. Well, as you said, this is being billed as a conversation on civic engagement and community organizing, and it is in many ways a return to the president's roots.

He began working as a community organizer here in Chicago in his mid- 20s, and he's made it very clear in his exit interviews and some of his last press conferences that this would be a top priority of his post-presidency.

He's talked a lot about the need to develop young leaders, develop new voices in politics on every level. And so, we expect the setup here to be he's going to be speaking on stage, joined by six young leaders.

One is a high school student. Four are college students. One has graduated from college. He'll deliver brief remarks about why he's here --

BOLDUAN: And Athena, as you're talking, I want you to continue, we are seeing President Obama. He's now getting into his motorcade. You can see him leaving and he's getting into his car right now. Please continue as we're watching this.

JONES: Sure. So, he'll be here any minute. He'll be giving brief remarks, then it will be more of a conversation. He'll ask questions of those on stage with him. They'll ask questions of him. They won't be taking questions from the audience, so it's not so much of a town hall, but more of a forum.

I can tell you some 300 or so students from local universities have been invited. And we're likely to hear the president touch on the importance of civic and community engagement, the importance of young leaders' development.

But also we could hear him talk about other areas of interest to him, the Affordable Care Act, foreign policy, climate change. The big question, though, is whether the president will take any digs at his successor, President Trump.

I'm told not to expect him to directly confront Trump on policy issues, but that doesn't mean he's going to shy away from talking about things that matter to him, and we know there is a long list of disagreements between the current president and the former president.

So, if he's asked about, say the possibility that the U.S. could withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, he may decline to get involved in the politics part of that discussion but would still talk about the importance of remaining in that agreement -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, that's a great preview, Athena. And as Athena was talking, we were watching the former president -- looks like he was about to get into his car, but it looks he went to speak with some residents who were waiting by the barricades.

[15:15:05]Of course, you see a couple of people taking selfies, which is basically all we do these days. We'll be bringing you that event as it happens live. Athena, thank you so much for bringing that preview.

As we continue to watch these pictures, the former president will be heading to the University of Chicago. I bring in right now CNN presidential historian, Tim Neftali, a former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. Great to see you, Tim.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Nice to be here, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So what do you think of -- I've got a lot of questions for you on this. What do you think of the setting for his first kind of -- for his first public remarks? He's in his hometown. And as Athena's laying out, he's going to be speaking with students and talking about getting back to his roots, civic engagement, and community organizing. What do you think about it?

NAFTALI: Well, there's a lot of pressure on President Obama, not only his supporters, but people who might not have voted for President Obama but are disappointed in President Trump may want him to become a symbol of some kind of opposition to the current president.

And that would be a violation of the president's -- the way in which president as do business. What's really interesting is to see how President Obama, former President Obama, navigates the shoals of this challenging period. President Trump violated the rules of the club by attacking --

BOLDUAN: Violated the rules of the club.

NAFTALI: -- by attacking, personally attacking his predecessor when he went after Obama for allegedly -- and of course, he didn't -- for allegedly wiretapping Trump Tower. You just don't do that, OK?

I don't think that President Obama is going to respond. He's going to be above it all, but a lot of his supporters and many people would like him to respond, but he won't.

So, the challenge for him is to keep the message -- keep on message, which is, if you don't like what's going on in the United States, participate, get involved, change things at every level.

BOLDUAN: What then do you think that with the different pressures and expectations and his own personal goals of what he wants to do and accomplish in his post presidency, and on the unusual front, has many years ahead to do that, what do you think this speech today -- I don't know if some folks are trying to read into the timing.

A lot of people say he's not paying attention to the 100-day countdown, so it has nothing to do with it. What do you think this says about how he would like to shape his post presidency era?

NAFTALI: Well, because he's so young, he has in front of him, one would imagine and hope perhaps 40 years of post-presidency life. He's got not just the legacy of the eight years in power, he can also do a lot of good for a lot of people out of power.

And so, he's not just thinking about Trump. He's thinking about the future of the Obama Foundation, the Obama team, whatever he and his team want to do.

So, I suspect that he will be forward-looking. I suspect in the Q&A, you will hear him talk about the Affordable Care Act and how many Americans are now realizing how much they really need it and want it --

BOLDUAN: As a legacy item for him.

NAFTALI: And that's a legacy item for him. I think you'll also see him talk about the growing response to extremism. He may even mention what's going on in France. There are a lot of things happening which are good news for people who are concerned about extreme rhetoric and the lack of civility in our politics.

BOLDUAN: Tim, one thing kind of not on the policy front, but how do presidents often describe this period of time, just directly after they leave office, when they for the first time kind of re-entry private life?

NAFTALI: Well, George W. Bush famously said that Barack Obama deserved his silence. Now, George W. Bush, did not leave a popular president, but even those who left popular, like Dwight Eisenhower, they realize that they shouldn't speak publicly for a while. Ultimately, Dwight Eisenhower, by the way, it's a myth that he didn't attack John F. Kennedy. He attacked his domestic policies all the time, but it took about a year and a half.

And so, this period, think of it for the former president -- the new person should be in a honeymoon. Now, that's not true now. They come in, and they're politicians. Why attack someone in their honeymoon?

You're more interested in people having a good view of you. You don't want people to think of you as a poor loser, as someone who's not happy to have given up power. It's much better to be silent.

And what's different now, A, is that President Trump attacked President Obama, and B, President Trump is very unpopular. So, these are two unprecedented moments, and for that reason, Barack Obama has a lot of pressure on him right now.

BOLDUAN: And all the more reason that we'll be watching very closely when the former president makes his first public remarks in just a few minutes. Great to see you, Tim. Thank you.

NAFTALI: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, state-run media in North Korea vowing to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier as America's homeland security chief issues a disturbing warning about the North's capability of hitting the United States. We're live at the State Department with more.

Plus, the new head of the Democratic National Committee has quite the potty mouth. Why Tom Perez is being criticized now for his word choice and who was in the audience and whether it's a new strategy now in the Trump era. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:24:33]

BOLDUAN: The North Koreans say they're ready to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier. A state-run newspaper put this out on Sunday. I'll read you one portion. "Our revolutionary armed forces are ready to combat to sink nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike." This also comes as news of a U.S. citizen has been detained in the country as he was trying to fly out of Pyongyang.

Joining me now from the State Department to discuss, CNN senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski with more. Michelle, what is the view from the State Department right now on what's the rhetoric coming from North Korea and how they're responding?

[11:25:06]MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, we've seen a couple of statements. They don't want to get too much into this American detained in North Korea, even though that's, again, another escalation.

So, they're acknowledging that, that it's a serious situation, but because of privacy concerns, they can't get into details. We are going to have a briefing later today, so they'll be able to tell us really as much as they can under those constraints.

But on everything else North Korea has been doing, including this new threat to sink a U.S. ship, they've put out a statement that was kind of interesting, especially given the U.S. rhetoric that we've heard lately.

I mean, things like no option is off the table, open talk about a military option, talk of the U.S. potentially going it alone. The statement that the State Department put out was pretty restrained, actually emphasizing the need for international cooperation and continued sanctions.

In fact, that's what they presented really the solution being to North Korea's continued threats. There was no mention in this statement of those other options, including a military one. And we also heard from the Department of Homeland Security secretary on the nature of this threat. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you feel that the homeland is safe from a North Korean missile, or you know, any other coming towards the continental U.S.?

JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, it depends on who -- I mean, clearly, there are countries on the planet that have a lot of nuclear weapons that would overwhelm any defense that we would deploy, Russia as an example.

But the minute -- I would tell you, Dana, the minute North Korea gets a missile that could reach the United States and put a weapon on that missile, a nuclear weapon, the instant that happens, this country is at grave risk.

BASH: How far away do you think that is?

KELLY: I think Mr. Trump will be dealing with this in real terms before he starts his second term.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: And of course, the U.S. has been trying to get China to put more pressure on North Korea and we've seen some efforts. We've heard China make stronger statements and make some moves that they haven't in the past, but overall, the U.S. can't really say a whole lot about China doing something large scale in the immediate term.

That the most that U.S. officials have been able to say is that they believe China is committed. They're seeing them take an approach toward doing more, but it's going to take some time.

And it was interesting now to hear the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, talking about this on morning shows. She was asked, well, what about the possibility that China puts out there?

If they convince North Korea to stop its nuclear tests, then in return, the U.S. will stop its military operations and its practices with South Korea, something that China feels threatened by, kind of a quid pro quo there.

But she says, no, the U.S. will not do that because those operations with South Korea are so important right now given the North Korean threat -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Michelle, great to see you. Thanks so much, keeping your eye on that for us.

Coming up for us, President Trump touting his big TV ratings, saying he's even given CBS the biggest audience since 9/11. Those were his words. And says in also talking about ratings, in another interview or another publication saying Sean Spicer is a ratings magnet. We're going to discuss the president's TV obsession.

Plus, soon, former President Barack Obama will make his first public remarks since the election. Will he take on President Trump? What's his message? We're going to bring you there live from Chicago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)