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Trump Signals Shift on Wall Funding to Avoid Shutdown; Ivanka Trump Attends Women's Conference in Berlin. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 25, 2017 - 07:00   ET

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


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It seems to include a big cut in the corporate tax rate. And how are you going to pay for that cut? What will it mean for you. We'll get after that this morning. A lot at stake on day 96 of the Trump presidency.

[07:00:13] Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House. Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.

You could say this is a show of flexibility here at the White House. Perhaps the president showing his negotiating skills.

But taking the border wall off the table, at least for now, was starting to look like the only option, given the fact that the president and congressional Republicans had made, avoiding making a government shutdown a priority.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump signaling a willingness to drop his demand for Congress to include a down payment for his border wall in this week's must-pass spending bill.

SPICER: We feel very confident the government is not going to shut down.

JOHNS: The president now telling conservative journalists he is open to delaying wall funding until September's budget negotiations, just hours after touting the importance of a wall on Twitter.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling the decision good for the country as skeptical Republicans also welcome the shift.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm for a wall where it makes sense. A 200-mile wall doesn't make a whole lot of sense. There's not a big appetite for that.

JOHNS: The administration continuing to insist that, ultimately, Mexico will foot the bill for the wall.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why has there been a discussion about shutting down the government over paying for the wall? Isn't Mexico supposed to pay for the wall? SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think, Jim, the

president has made very clear that initially, we needed to get the funding going. And there will be several mechanisms to make sure that that happens.

JOHNS: But the president is trying to deliver on one of his key campaign promises, proposing to slash the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent. He will unveil details of a tax cut plan tomorrow, setting up a potential clash with Republicans concerned about the impact these cuts will have on increasing the deficit.

MNUCHIN: The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth.

JOHNS: The administration arguing that the sweeping cuts, which go beyond a plan put forth by House Speaker Ryan will pay for themselves, a theory economists don't buy.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration hitting five Canadian companies with stiff tariffs of up to 24 percent on lumber shipped into the U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross saying, "It has been a bad week for U.S./Canada trade relations," stoking fears about a future trade war with America's second largest trading partner.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: On the foreign policy side the administration continues to watch North Korea. There was a big artillery drill there overnight. The president telling conservative journalists last evening he's not so sure Kim Jong-un is as tough as he says he is. The entire United States Senate is expected here at the White House complex tomorrow for an unprecedented briefing on North Korea -- Chris and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK. Thank you very much, Joe. Let's discuss today's big stories with our panel.

We have Chris Cillizza -- he's a reporter and editor-at-large for CNN politics; host of CNN's "Smerconish" and CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish; and A.B. Stoddard, associate editor and columnist for Real Clear Politics. Great to have all of you here.

Chris, what are you watching for this week in terms of this budget bill, this spending bill, and the border wall?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Well, Donald Trump, I think, has blinked. I don't think it's terribly surprising that that's the case. But look, last week it was we need this $1.4 billion to fund the border wall, and now it's, "Well, we can get it in September."

Now, the truth of the matter, Alisyn, is that that $1.4 billion was never going to make it into a spending bill that averts shutting down the government. Democrats would be universally opposed. And I think you'd have some trouble among conservative Republicans concerned about debt and deficit.

So this is a pragmatic move by someone who is ultimately a pragmatic dealmaker. I don't think we should be terribly surprised. But I do think we should note that in the standoff, this first major bout of brinksmanship between Congress and the White House, the president blinked.

CUOMO: A.B., Trump gets a lot of credit for being a deal maker. We haven't seen him make a single deal yet. The wall is another example of it, and then we've seen the ones come after in corporate tax, is the next one on the table. How big a deal is it that he's not getting what he wants on these things?

STODDARD: Well, A, he's an over promiser. So during the campaign, everything was going to be easy. Everything would happen quickly. The best health care for nothing and on and on.

CUOMO: Mexico paying.

STODDARD: And Mexico paying for the wall. These things are not going to turn out to be the way he described. But then you get into this other thing that we were talking about in the last hour, which is whether he overreaches in his opening gambit to get a negotiation, a strategy -- as attack, excuse me, that will help him later.

We haven't seen that, you know, bear fruit yet. So he's, you know, he's -- the thing with the taxes is he really has taken Republicans by surprise. They didn't want to come out once again with something that would shock their members. They really wanted to sort of work behind closed doors the way that they've been doing now on this new health care bill, kin of keep it under wraps, so that it doesn't become an explosion.

[07:05:14] And it's the way that -- that he pops off and just says "We're going to do this now" or "I'm going to walk away from this now" that really actually throws much more wrenches into this process beyond the details that he doesn't like to pay attention to, really, much anyway.

CAMEROTA: So Michael, is this a negotiating tactic or a capitulation?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, HOST, "SMERCONISH": I think it's a necessary negotiating tactic. The big picture issue is this. We're headed towards Saturday. It's the 100th day of the Trump presidency with very little legislative accomplishment. And the common denominator between these two issues, the wall issue and tax cut issue is the fact that Republicans can't keep their own houses in order.

There hasn't been, as far as I know, a government shutdown when one party has controlled the White House and both houses of Congress under these new spending rules. It's not the Democrats who are causing him fits. It's the fiscal prudence and fiscal conservatism within the Freedom Caucus and other affiliated groups that won't let him do what he wants to do with regard to health care, with regard to the tax cut or with regard to the wall. So that's the story, as I see it.

CUOMO: So Cillizza, let's put up Tax Policy Center on the business tax cut. I mean, look, every time have you a tax cut, deficit hawks are going to say, "How are you going to pay for it?" Right? Because a tax cut means less money into the government. You can have a straight-line analysis here.

But the underpinning of it that we're hearing from Mulvaney is going to be the toughest sell. Growth, if you help businesses, all ships rise with the tide. This has been said since Reagan called it trickle-down. Do you think that will be saleable to Congress and to the base?

CILLIZZA: To the base is -- is a more tough question, Chris, just because I think the base remains quite loyal to Donald Trump. But to Congress, no.

You know, look, this is a big problem. Basically, what you're seeing on the wall and on the tax cut is Donald Trump and his administration saying, "Hey, trust me. We're going to take care of this later."

So Mexico is going pay for the wall, but we need to allocate $1.4 billion.

We're going to -- don't worry about the deficit that will be caused by these tax cuts. The economy is going to grow so much you're not even going to think about it.

I mean, it's not impossible that that happens, but it also is not the kind of thing that members of Congress who are very committed on the Republican side to trying to cleave down the debt and deficit are just going to sign onto.

At least I would say members of Congress that existed in the Republican Party over the last several decades, has Trump fundamentally altered what it means to be a conservative as it relates to fiscal sanity, sort of fiscal conservatism? I don't think he has. But this corporate tax cut is going to -- and his tax program more broadly is going to put it to the test.

CUOMO: And that corporate tax thing, we don't know if it means small businesses or just big "C" corporations, and that's the main hiring engine in our economy, is small businesses.

CAMEROTA: How do you think it's playing?

STODDARD: Well, like I said, they really need to sit down, because they haven't resolved health care. Until they sort of abandon it or resolve it, it's the monkey wrench on their -- I mean, it's really a weight on their shoulders. And so until they figure out what they get from that, are they abandoning it and going onto tax reform? Are they going to talk -- right.

CAMEROTA: Talked to Congressman...

STODDARD: It's hard to move on. Just yesterday the House Ways and Means Committee tweeted out something about a study showing how much growth would result from the House Republican tax reform plan, and that included the border adjustment tax.

Guess what? Trump's plan that we're supposed to hear about tomorrow doesn't include it. They are at loggerheads still. And so is 15 percent going to happen? Is anything going to happen? I wouldn't put my money on it until I see real language, until they get rid of all the sacred cows, until people start coming together.

There is so much moneyed interest that's going to come in and fight every single carve-out that they're trying to get rid of. And it's a long battle. It's why it takes 30 years to come back to the table on this issue. So am I confident that they're just going to get this done, even in 2017? No.

CUOMO: Smerconish, let me ask you about everybody's talking 100 days, what's the right metric for it, it doesn't matter at all. Do you think the -- a good metric for 100 days is how many positions haven't been filled yet? You know, there's the growing narrative about whether or not the president is well-served by those around him.

What about the fact that so many of the positions that he needs are still vacant? Five hundred and fifty-six key positions, 470 no nominee; only 22 confirmed. You know, who's going to do all the work of all these proposals?

SMERCONISH: Well, I do think it's an embarrassment at 100 days, particularly when you remember, Chris, all the conversation a month, maybe six weeks ago when Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives on the job and he says all the U.S. attorneys need to tender their letter of resignation, which by the way, was well within his rights.

[07:10:09] But you would have thought that, if they were going to call for the resignations of all the chief law enforcement officers across the country, that it meant that they had candidates ready to go. And they clearly don't. And they can't point this at the Democrats and say, "Well, you're not giving us approval." They haven't found individuals. And for many of these jobs -- I used to have one many, many years ago -- they don't require any Senate approval.

CAMEROTA: Let's end on what we call a kicker, Chris Cillizza. This is...

CUOMO: In the teeth.

CILLIZZA: That sound great, thanks.

CAMEROTA: This is just a little example of some Trump humor for you. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank Ambassador Nikki Haley for her outstanding leadership and for acting as my personal envoy on the Security Council. She's doing a good job.

Now, does everybody like Nikki? Otherwise she can easily be replaced. We won't do that. I promise, we won't do that. She's doing a fantastic job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: That is some vintage President Trump right there. He takes an insta-focus group. Everybody like her? All right. She can stay.

CILLIZZA: And he -- I mean, honestly, we've heard stories like this, Alisyn, where he's walking around at Mar-a-Lago and he will ask the guests, like, "Hey, did you see what I did with 'X'?" I mean, that's just -- he does -- he did...

CUOMO: Did you see that great ad for Mar-a-Lago on the website?

CILLIZZA: This is something -- this is something he has a tendency to do. He would be at campaign rallies, and he'd be like, did you see that speech last night? Did you like it? I mean, some of that is because he wants people to applaud for him. But there is this constant temperature taking that he seems to require.

CAMEROTA: There you go.

Panel, thank you very much. Great to talk to all of you.

So Ivanka Trump is in Berlin. This is her first official overseas trip as a White House adviser. The first daughter was invited by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to attend a women's empowerment summit. And CNN's Kate Bennett is traveling with Ivanka. She joins us live from Berlin.

Give us the headlines, Kate.

KATE BENNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

You know, Ivanka Trump actually came in through the back door here today. Angela Merkel came in through the front. And Ivanka is right now currently on this panel at the W-20 women's summit, where they're discussing among other issues women in the workplace, women's empowerment, gender equality. She's on a panel with Christine Lagarde of the IMF and Queen Maxine of the Netherlands, also the finance minister of Canada.

So this is a very important big global stage for Ivanka Trump. Really her first time representing her father's administration officially abroad. She was invited by Angela Merkel to attend this event back in March when Merkel visited the White House. And she is, again, dipping her feet into policy.

Obviously, it's not her first time as a business leader being abroad, but it is her first time representing her father. The German newspaper yesterday here in Berlin called her the first whisperer and questioned whether she might be the conduit to her father's ear and whether she can bend and perhaps be helpful to world leaders such as Angela Merkel moving forward in the administration.

However, back home there was a recent poll that said 61 percent of Americans disapprove of the role that Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, have in the White House, being advisers to her father and father-in-law. Later today, getting back to Germany she will visit Siemens Academy and then pay her respects to a Holocaust memorial. And a big day for Ivanka Trump.

Back to you guys.

CAMEROTA: Kate, thanks.

CUOMO: Check in with us. Let us know what happens.

All right. So Trump's border wall may not stand in the way of a budget deal, but the question remains, is it going to happen? And if so, who's going to pay for it. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, former member of the Trump transition team, joins us next.

CAMEROTA: Plus, how do President Trump's voters feel about some of his shifting positions?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, he had a change of opinion. He changed his mind.

CAMEROTA: And you're comfortable with that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: OK. The answer coming up on part three of our voter panel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: OK. Ready? We will build a wall.

Who's going to pay for the wall?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mexico.

TRUMP: Who?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mexico.

TRUMP: OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: The president getting a more receptive audience there at that rally than he is from Congress right now. The wall seems to be off the table for now. And efforts to avoid a shutdown.

So when CNN's Jim Acosta asked the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, the big question, well, who's going to pay for that wall ultimately, here's what Spicer said?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why has there been a discussion about shutting down the government over paying for the wall? Isn't Mexico supposed to pay for the wall?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think, Jim, the president has made very clear that initially, we needed to get the funding going. There's several mechanisms to make sure that that happens. That funding piece will happen in due time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: All right. So the question alone is what's going to happen. And could the government wind up shutting down over this or over anything?

Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee is here. She was vice chair of the Trump transition team.

It's good to see you.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: Good to see you.

CUOMO: So we have a few things to kick through. Let's go from least important, arguably, to most important.

This Mar-a-Lago being on the State Department website, is that just a clear no-go, shouldn't have happened?

BLACKBURN: It shouldn't have happened, and it ought to come down.

CUOMO: And in terms of accountability, the White House says they didn't know. Do you accept that? And if so, still, where is the accountability, especially in light of these concerns about conflicts that the president and his family has with government.

BLACKBURN: There should be a statement to provide some clarity as to how that happened. But that's the kind of thing that should not happen. And if it did get posted, take it down immediately.

CUOMO: So critics who say it's proof that Trump can't separate himself from his business. He's going to make money off the presidency.

[07:20:14] BLACKBURN: I think there again, if this was put up by someone, it needs to come down. And there needs to be that clarity brought to the issue that no, indeed, it was a mistake, and it's down.

CUOMO: So that's Mar-a-Lago. But as a window into the larger conflict issue, where is your level of concern? You know, we have the calendars up of how often he goes there. And in truth, the president can go wherever he wants. But he does pick his own properties. We do know he's raised the membership fee of Mar-a-Lago 100 percent, from $100 to $200,000. So he's making money off these visits. Is that OK? BLACKBURN: I think what you have to look at is the compliance that

the Government Ethics Office requires and makes certain that every "I" is dotted, every "T" is crossed and that he is in compliance, just as all federal employees and elected officials are in compliance. That's the important thing to do. And they're the ones that are going to say if he is or is not in compliance and will more or less be the referee on that situation.

CUOMO: So we'll have to wait and see if the O.G. decides to do anything about it.

BLACKBURN: That's right.

CUOMO: I haven't seen it. There is an outside lawsuit but nothing in House as of yet. The wall.

BLACKBURN: Yes.

CUOMO: Is this the death knell for the wall? Like Pete Sessions we had on yesterday. He said, "I always saw the wall as an analogy for making the border safer. The president takes every opportunity to say, 'No, no, no. I mean a wall'." But now it looks like there's no wall, at least in this pass? What do you think?

BLACKBURN: Most people, what I hear from people who are concerned about the security on the southern border is that, yes, it can be fencing. It can be the wall. It can be surveillance, and it needs to be a combination.

But the most interesting thing to me is the reason for wanting the wall has really changed over the last couple of years. You go into New Hampshire where the opioid crisis is rampant. They want it to stem the flow of drugs into the communities.

You talk to other communities, they will say, you need to increase that surveillance because of gangs and stop some of the movement of gangs. Some of my friends that work in slavery and sex trafficking say, "Let's get this wall and the surveillance in place to end this and stem this flow of sex trafficking into the country."

So interestingly enough, as the discussion around the wall has taken place, there are so many different groups for different reasons, whether it's drugs, whether it's gangs, whether it's human trafficking that are saying do something to put some security and some accountability on that border.

And our Border Patrol will tell you, if there was something that was consistent that people knew was going to be in place, it would help them...

CUOMO: Right.

BLACKBURN: ... just as the border crossings are down 70 percent since January. What they want is some certainty and some stability in that region. CUOMO: Well, it's interesting. That statistic, we can talk about the

trends they've been going down for a while. We've been net negative in terms of people going to come into the country, period, let alone illegally.

But it kind of makes a different point. Trump with his mouth may have made people come into the country less. And that argument goes to why people say you don't need the wall. First of all, you do have a lot of fencing. You do have a lot of restriction physically in a lot of places. And there's a lot of redundancy.

BLACKBURN: Sure.

CUOMO: You're going to build a wall behind the fence? Then you have people like Lindsey Graham, who will say, "Are you going to build it over the mountains, about 2,200 square miles of places that you can't physically get past. That's something else."

But you get to what people really want to stop those things. Most experts will tell you, you're not stopping drugs from coming across the border with a wall, because most of it's tunneled through or taken otherwise through the legitimate crossings.

BLACKBURN: This is why you want surveillance. And...

CUOMO: Right. But he's not talking surveillance. He's talking about the wall. I'm not arguing your surveillance point or other border security measures. But if you go to New Hampshire, I promise you, I was just there this weekend. They're not asking for a wall. They're asking for help. Trump promised them help. A lot of them voted for Trump for that help. That has not come yet. It's not about...

BLACKBURN: The cause with the opioids and the heroin is the trafficking. So they want that dealt with. Ad then you're exactly right. They want to see the bill. The 21st century terrorist bill we passed last year and President Obama signed into law in December.

They want that implemented, because there is a pathway in there for dealing with mental health and with the drug crisis. And you're exactly right on that. They want HHS to move forward with some of the framework around that.

And I agree, we're all anxious to see that done. We want our mental health professionals, our law enforcement professionals to have what they need, the health care professionals, to be able to address the opioid crisis.

[07:25:03] What we also want is to make certain that we are working with Border Patrol inappropriate surveillance ways...

CUOMO: Sure.

BLACKBURN: ... in order to stem that flow and to stop that entry of those items, that illegal entry into our country.

CUOMO: Absolutely. So you wind up at the same point, though. Where you want these things to happen. Maybe it's not about a wall. Maybe it's about these other things. Fine. Then you get to the payment place. Do you think it's time to drop the ruse that Mexico is going to pay for this wall?

BLACKBURN: I think there are ways Mexico can pay for this wall?

CUOMO: How?

BLACKBURN: And when you look at our relationship with them in different areas. So I think it's not the primary issue at this point. The primary issue should be how do we address illegal entry of individuals and products?

CUOMO: That's not how the president has defined the issue. He says, "I'm going to build a wall. Mexico is going to pay for it. Just front me the money." Nobody buys it.

BLACKBURN: Congress is going to -- Congress is going to work through how we address this.

CUOMO: Not the Mexico part. Congress has no interest in finding out how to get Mexico to pay for it. You know that.

BLACKBURN: The president can propose, Congress will dispose, and as we work through our budget issues, we will work through this in the -- in the appropriate way. Of course, we're concerned about deficit and debt in the long-term, so we're going to do this in a fiscally responsible way.

The American people are depending on us to get this fiscal house in order and to address the issues that they care deeply about, the drugs, human trafficking, fighting the gangs that are affecting local communities. And to do this in a fiscally responsible manner, and we'll get it done.

CUOMO: Marsha Blackburn, thank you for coming to see us in this visit to New York.

BLACKBURN: Thank you.

CUOMO: Good to have you.

Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, Chris, what is the latest on Russia? Well, senators are expressing frustration with their own investigation into Russia's election meddling. We will speak with a member of the intel committee about what's wrong. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)