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Trump Proposes Sweeping Tax Cuts; White House Summons Lawmakers for North Korea Briefings; North Korea: Huge Drill 'Direct Response' to U.S. Aggression; Trump Proposes Sweeping Tax Cuts; New U.S. Stealth Fighter Jets Flying Near Russia. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 26, 2017 - 17:00   ET


TAPPER: I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer, right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Breaking the code. The Trump administration unveils the president's plan for drastic tax changes. The centerpiece, sharp reductions for businesses and individuals. What will it mean for the U.S. deficit?

Full Congress briefing. In an unusual move, senators are summoned to the White House for a briefing on North Korea as the country threatens nuclear war against the United States. House members are getting their own briefing right now up on Capitol Hill. What is the president's national security team telling them?

A direct response. A top North Korean official tells CNN that U.S. aggression prompted a massive drill underscoring the Kim regime's military might. We have an exclusive live update from inside North Korea this hour.

And stealth fighters. CNN gets exclusive access to the first ever forward deployment of the F-35, now taking part in training exercises with NATO allies in Eastern Europe. With growing tension between the U.S. and Russia, what message is it sending to Moscow?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, fast-moving developments of the Trump administration as the president closes in on his first 100 days in office. We're getting new details of an unusual briefing over at the White House, which summoned the entire U.S. Senate for an update on North Korea. A senior White House official tells CNN the purpose was to, quote, "communicate the seriousness of the threat."

We're also following the president's newly-unveiled tax plan. Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin calls it the biggest tax cut in U.S. history, with dramatic reductions for businesses and individuals. But the administration is offering few details about how it would be paid for.

And we also have an exclusive look at the first deployment of the Pentagon's new F-35 fighter jet. The stealth warplane is now taking part in training exercises with NATO partners on Russia's doorstep amid growing tension between Washington and Moscow.

We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman John Garamendi of the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by.

Let's go to the White House first, though. CNN's Jason Carroll is on the scene for us. Jason, the president wants lower taxes, fewer brackets and fewer deductions. Update our viewers.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, the treasury secretary says everyone's on board with that. The House and the Senate, but already there are grumblings from GOP lawmakers who say this tax proposal does not represent true tax reform.


CARROLL (voice-over): The Trump administration delivering an opening salvo in the debate over tax reform with a heavy emphasis on tax cuts.

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Under the Trump plan, we will have a massive tax cut for businesses and massive tax reform in simplification.

CARROLL: The outline put forward today by the administration includes slashing the top tax rate for businesses to 15 percent, lowering individual income tax rates and reducing the number of tax brackets from 7 to 3 and doubling the standard deduction.

MNUCHIN: We are going to eliminate on the personal side all tax deductions other than mortgage interest and charitable deductions.

CARROLL: The details generally reflect Trump's tax proposals during the campaign, but the framework could lead to an increase in the deficit, which would violate Trump's pledge during the campaign.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It will simplify the tax code. It will grow the American economy at a level that it hasn't seen for decades. And all of this does not add to our debt or our deficit.

CARROLL: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisting today the plan would be revenue neutral.

MNUCHIN: This will pay for itself with growth and with reduction of different deductions and closing loopholes.

CARROLL: The initial step today receiving a warm welcome by Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Paul Ryan pushing back on any talk the president is overstepping with the release of his outline.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), MAJORITY LEADER: We've been briefed on what they're going to do and it's basically along exactly the same lines that we want to go. So what -- we see this as progress being made, showing that we're moving and getting on the same page.

CARROLL: Behind the scenes, sources tell CNN the administration has irked GOP lawmakers by putting forward principles and not a full plan. Quote, "It's not tax reform, not even close," one senior GOP aide tells CNN.

[17:05:05] Democrats, meanwhile, were approaching the president's outline with a hefty dose of skepticism.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: We'll take a look at what they're proposing, but I can tell you this. If the president's plan is to give a massive tax break to the very wealthy in this country, a plan that will mostly benefit people and businesses like President Trump's, that won't pass muster with we Democrats.

CARROLL: The battle over taxes comes as Mr. Trump closes in on the 100-day mark of his presidency and is looking for progress on his key campaign promises, including health care and trade.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, would you like to see a health care vote by the end of this week?

TRUMP: Always.

CARROLL: Republican lawmakers appear set to make another run at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, circulating a proposal aimed at closing the gap between conservatives and moderates in the party.

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: You can lose 21 members and still get this passed, but the big block that we need to come over is the Freedom Caucus, and certainly, some indications are that that's moving in the right direction.

CARROLL: While the change did bring the conservative Freedom Caucus on board, the reaction from moderates was less than enthusiastic.

REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: This is a different twist, and I've got to re-examine it.


CARROLL: And Wolf, there is a question about whether or not the president himself would benefit from this tax proposal. He has not released his tax returns. The treasure secretary was asked about this repeatedly this afternoon. The treasury secretary said the president had no intention of releasing his tax returns. And when asked whether or not the president would benefit or not, he simply said he had no idea of knowing, simply because he had no access to those returns -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jason Carroll over at the White House, thank you.

Also breaking this hour, an unusual briefing on North Korea with the entire U.S. Senate summoned over to the White House. Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is joining us.

Jim, you're learning new information. Update us.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's a fair amount of skepticism among senators before this meeting as to why they were taking the entire U.S. Senate down the Hill to the White House for a very unusual briefing, and that skepticism seemed to be borne out, Democrats and Republicans saying no major revelation inside that briefing there, more an opportunity for the administration to convey its seriousness about the North Korea, and that is certainly true. Agreement among both parties that the level of tension now very high.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Today the White House taking the unusual step of bussing the entire U.S. Senate to the White House for a briefing on North Korea, signaling growing alarm about the threat from the nuclear state.

(on camera): You were inside. What was the revelation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No revelations. I think the White House wanted to convey to the Congress that they're serious about North Korea. They clearly are putting a lot of their cards on the table with China to try to get them to change their policy.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): The meetings led by the president's national security team: Defense Secretary James Mattis; Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.


SCIUTTO: The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific told lawmakers Wednesday that he's taking the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, at his word, that he's developing a missile capable of hitting the U.S.

HARRIS: We have to look at North Korea as if Kim Jong-un will do what he says.

SCIUTTO: In response, the U.S. is taking urgent steps.

HARRIS: My forces are ready to fight tonight if called on to do that.

SCIUTTO: Admiral Harris announced that a U.S. anti-missile system known as the THAAD will be operational in South Korea within days. The system intended to protect the South and Japan from a North Korean missile strike.

HARRIS: This week North Korea threatened Australia with a nuclear strike. A powerful reminder to the entire international community that North Korea's missiles point in every direction.

SCIUTTO: Admiral Harris took the blame for confusion about when the USS Carl Vinson will arrive in the region, this after President Trump touted its deployment last week. The carrier group, he assured lawmakers, is now nearby in the Philippines and ready to act if called upon.

HARRIS: As President Trump and secretary Mattis have made clear, all options are on the table. We want to bring Kim Jong-un to his senses, not to his knees.


SCIUTTO: Now, the senators CNN spoke with d not leave that briefing with the sense that the Trump administration is about to order a military strike on North Korea.

One option, we're told, they are considering by a senior administration official is putting North Korea back on the state sponsors of terrorism list. They were on it until 2008, taken off by the Bush administration as a concession when negotiations were under way to freeze North Korea's nuclear program.

That, Wolf, shows you how limited the options really are, that there aren't a lot of options on the table that have not been tried before. The challenge is how do they apply pressure to change North Korea's march towards a nuclear weapon? Wolf.

[17:10:05] BLITZER: All right. Jim Sciutto on Capitol Hill, thank you.

North Korea, as you know, is speaking out boldly about its latest military show of force. CNN's Will Ripley is in the North Korean capital on his 12th visit to the country, has an exclusive report for us. Will, the Kim regime staged a massive artillery drill as U.S. warships head to the region. What's the latest?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is all designed, of course, to project strength on the North Korean side. It's just after 5:30 in the morning here, so no official reaction yet to that unprecedented meeting of senators at the White House discussing the North Korean issue.

Also, no official reaction to the possibility of the White House placing this country back on that list of state sponsors of terrorism, something that would surely infuriate them. They would argue there's no reason to do it.

The U.S. would point to the murder of the North Korean leader's half- brother in Malaysia as a reason to potentially put them back on that list. But what we know for sure on the ground here, after speaking with a high-ranking North Korean official, given rare permission to speak to us about a variety of topics, is that this country is on guard and ready for anything that comes from the United States.


RIPLEY (voice-over): The North Korean army staging what it describes as its largest ever military drill. North Korea's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, is seen ordering a barrage of artillery fire, 300 long-range self-propelled guns, submarines, bombers, masses of soldiers, all of it a direct warning to the U.S. and President Trump, says a North Korean government official given rare authorization to speak to CNN.

"This exercise is a direct response to acts of aggression by the United States," says Sok Chol Won.

A dramatic show of force shown triumphantly on state TV, far less provocative than what many had been bracing for: North Korea's sixth nuclear test. A test the Trump administration warns would have grave consequences.

U.S. intelligence believes a nuclear test is no longer imminent, something North Korea won't confirm. Sok says the timing has nothing to do with mounting international pressure.

"The nuclear test is an important part of our continued efforts to strengthen our nuclear forces," he says.

(on camera): So are you saying that North Korea will conduct another nuclear test?

SOK CHOL WON, NORTH KOREAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL (through translator): "As long as America continues its hostile acts of aggression, we will never stop nuclear and missile tests."

RIPLEY (voice-over): I ask about the three Americans currently being held in North Korea, Tony Kim, Otto Warmbier, and Kim Dong Chul. Sok cannot provide specifics on their cases but says they're living under the same conditions as other North Korean prisoners, even though they're kept in separate facilities.

A recent U.N. human rights report accuses North Korea of arbitrary detention, torture, even executions, claiming people are thrown in prison camps without due process.

(on camera): A lot of defectors have claimed inhumane treatment of North Korean prisoners.

(voice-over): "I strongly deny any statements made by detectors," he says. "Those people are criminals who ran away. They're paid to lie and encouraged by the U.S. and their followers."

(on camera): These are accounts from hundreds of detectors, and North Korea refused to cooperate with the U.N. investigation. If your country has nothing to hide, why not let inspectors in to see for themselves?

(voice-over): "The U.N. wants to politicize the human rights issue, use it to interfere with our international affairs," he says. "Their reports are nothing but fiction."

Here, he says human rights means defending this socialist society and its supreme leader at any cost, even if it could trigger a nuclear war.


RIPLEY: Another thing they're watching very closely here are those military exercises happening in South Korea a short distance from the North Korean military drills. This was a huge show of force by the United States: 2,000 soldiers, fighter jets, tanks on the ground and a barrage of rocket fire. This is an attempt by the U.S. to show that when it comes to fire power, South Korea has the full backing of the U.S. military, which certainly has superior technology to what they have here in North Korea.

But what this does, is this kind of display motivates North Korea to push forward and develop that nuclear missile that could potentially go to the United States. The reason why they want an ICBM is because they feel once they have that kind of a weapon, that will be their ace in the hole to prevent what they feel is the imminent threat of invasion by American and South Korean forces -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will Ripley reporting exclusively for us from Pyongyang in North Korea. Will, thank you very, very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California joins us. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee. Congressman, thanks for joining us.

[17:15:02] REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you on a very, very bad subject. Very dangerous.

BLITZER: Very dangerous, indeed. The commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific, Senator -- Congressman, said he takes the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, at his word that he's developing a long- range nuclear missile capable of eventually hitting the United States. How soon do you believe that could happen?

GARAMENDI: We do not know. We know that it's not going to be imminent, that is in the very near future, but clearly, they're headed in that direction, and they're also miniaturizing their nuclear bombs so they could fit atop that missile.

So this is an ongoing threat, and it's a very real one. It is out there. The question is what to do about it. Do we accept the reality that that could happen, or do we engage in some way to back North Korea away from that program?

The report that just preceded this discussion really laid out very, very well some alternatives that are there. Is North Korea willing to back away if it is clear that the United States and South Korea are not going to invade the North Korean country?

That needs to be -- that's an opening for a discussion. The six-power agreement or discussions that were under way a couple of years ago, those should and could be restarted, and certainly, China plays a major and critical role, because they are, in fact, the economic endorser of North Korea.

BLITZER: Would you -- would you support, Congressman, U.S. military action in dealing with North Korea if -- if it's believed that Kim Jong-un's regime has the kind of long-range nuclear capability that could endanger the United States or U.S. allies even in the region?

GARAMENDI: No. No, because I don't think it's going to solve the problem. Clearly, North Korea would therefore continue to develop its nuclear weapons, and they would find another way to deliver a bomb.

Right now, use a fishing boat. They do have nuclear bombs. You could put it on a fishing boat and threaten any port city in the United States or anywhere else around the world. So those are the more likely things to occur.

Let's be aware that a war on the Korean Peninsula is a -- is an unmitigated disaster. It certainly would be for South Korea. Seoul, Korea, would be immediately attacked by thousands of those long-range artillery pieces that you saw just a few moments ago on your show; and they would rain instant death down upon Seoul, South Korea. And the United States and all of our military might could not stop all of it. We could certainly degrade it, but we wouldn't be able to stop all of it. So Seoul, South Korea, would be in serious jeopardy.

Beyond that, it would not ultimately succeed but probably convince the North Korean, Kim Jong-un, that he absolutely had to have that nuclear weapon in one form of delivery or in another.

BLITZER: Congressman, stand by. We have more to discuss. We've got to take a quick break. Much more right after this.


[17:22:32] BLITZER: Breaking news this hour. Details revealed of President Trump's tax proposals. He wants to slash tax rates for business and individuals while reducing the number of tax brackets from seven to three.

The president's plan also calls for doubling the standard deduction while eliminating most deductions other than mortgage, interest and charitable donations.

We're back with Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California. Congressman, do you see any Democrats supporting these rough outlines of the president's tax proposals?

GARAMENDI: I don't think so, not at the present time. Everybody wants tax reductions, but then again, what are you going to do about the deficit? It is said that his proposal would create at least $5 billion -- $5 trillion of deficit, so it's a real serious problem if you're concerned about the deficit.

Beyond that, it appears as though it will be the largest transfer of wealth ever from the working men and women of America to the super wealthy. You take a look at the tax rates that he's talking about. You take a look at the Affordable Care Act taxes, the 3.8 percent tax, which is really on the wealthy, that is a transfer from the Affordable Care Act subsidies to the super wealthy.

Beyond that, the elimination of the estate tax clearly is going to benefit half -- more than half of Trump's cabinet, who are billionaires with hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of dollars of property or assets that they own; and without an estate tax, it is big-time money for their children. So the Trump children are going to do very, very nicely with this.

So let's take a look at what is going on here. Businesses, will we actually see economic growth? That argument's been made over and over again starting with Ronald Reagan and actually before that with JFK. It is marginal at best.

But this country is doing very well. We are growing. We are in a position now, if we were to spend our money on infrastructure and making it in America, buying American, using our tax money to buy American products, I think we'd see our economy grow without this extraordinarily large increase in the deficit, $5 trillion or perhaps even more.

BLITZER: Well, these were just the rough outlines today. The details are going to be coming in the next few months. Congressman, as usual, thanks for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Always, thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, the new U.S. stealth fighter jet now flying at Russia's doorstep. We're about to get an exclusive look.

Plus, a provocation at sea. We're learning new details of a rather close encounter between an Iranian gun boat and a U.S. destroyer.


[17:29:28] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories amid President Trump's flurry of action as he approaches his 100th day in office. That would be Saturday.

Just today the president proposed major tax cuts, signed executive orders on education and federal lands, and joined a briefing for senators on the U.S. response to North Korea's growing military threat.

Let's bring in our experts. And Dana Bash, the tax cut proposals, big picture, sort of vague. There's a lot of details that remain to be discovered.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of details that remain. Look, the sort of top lines are -- are out there. It is probably, I don't think, I don't think, a big stretch to say it was pushed out as quickly as possible to get the top lines and get the headlines and get us talking about the beginning of this panel and elsewhere -- tax cuts before the 100-day mark.

[17:30:19] But look, I think that the question is whether that's short-term gain for long-term pain with regard to the people who actually have to make this legislation and help make it into law, the members of Congress and people in the president's own party, who are asking a lot of questions, don't have a lot of answers, not just with the way that the basic tax cut program will work, maybe tax reform -- maybe that's a little too strong. But most importantly, a lot of Republicans who promised over and over again to their constituents that they wouldn't add to the debt and the deficit wanting to know how is this going to be paid for? Is it going to be paid for?

And if not, whether they can sell and whether they can stomach the notion of trying to, you know, rely on old-school conservative philosophy that a tax cut will stimulate the economy. I'm not so sure that's really going to fly these days.

BLITZER: Because what they're saying, Chris Cillizza, eventually if there's enormous growth -- 3 percent, maybe 4 percent economic growth -- that will pay for all these taxes.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Right, it's the "trust me" approach to selling the plan, which if you had -- if a Democratic president said, "Well, just -- the economy is going to grow," there would be significant skepticism, to Dana's point, because you're going to have a massive amount of money that you're going to add to the deficit.

The issue here is you've basically got -- this is not the tax cut proposal, but this is essentially what you were given. Two pages of a document. That's not anything close to what will eventually look like as a piece of legislation. The devil -- got to mention this, the devil is in the details here.

Every little piece here and there will -- a member of Congress or a block of members of Congress will not like this. Some in the northeast, well, we don't like this one thing. We don't like this one thing. This is the problem with complex legislation. We saw it with health care. We're going to see it again with this. It alienates all different groups once you start fleshing it out. And that's not what they did today.

BLITZER: It hasn't been done for years, and there's a reason, because it's not easy. It's very -- it's very complicated. I got the sense, Rebecca, and you studied this closely, that he did this now, even though there's not a finished product, because he was getting some heat from his right wing, from conservatives: "Where are the tax cuts? You ran on that."

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. He's getting heat from all sides, Wolf, to show some progress, to show a win. We've been hearing that word a lot in the run-up to the 100-day mark, because this administration needs something to show for the 100 days that Donald Trump has been in office, and there's not very much aside from getting Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court.

In terms of legislative progress, there hasn't really been anything to point to. And so they want to show at least, if they can't show "We have accomplished 'X,' 'Y' and 'Z,'" they want to at least give, especially their supporters but also Americans more broadly, a preview of what will come later on.

And certainly, this sort of thing takes time. You couldn't expect tax reform or even health care reform to realistically be done within the first 100 days, so they're giving us a preview of what's next.

BLITZER: Yes. It was a pretty good preview, but we'll see what happens. The devil, as you say, in the details.

Amidst all of this, Phil Mudd, the White House invites all 100 U.S. senators to come over to the Executive Office Building, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House; go to the auditorium. They've sealed it off so it would be for classified information to brief them on North Korea. Then we have a separate briefing on Capitol Hill for all 435 members of the House of Representatives. When you were in the CIA, you used to do some of those briefings.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I did. This is not a briefing, Wolf. This is a political show.

Why do you bring 100 people over to the White House when you can bring five people down to the Senate to give the same briefing? There's a couple things going on.

No. 1, we're in the midst of a crisis, some of which is created. North Korea has had a ballistic missile and a nuclear program for years. In the last 90 days of a presidency, not a lot fundamental has changed. A couple things happening.

As we go into increased tensions, deploying the Navy to the area around North Korea, the White House wants to say, "We're talking to everybody."

The House and the Senate, they can't go back to their constituencies and say, "I didn't hear what the White House thinks."

But there's a more significant piece of this, and it is as you -- as you go down the road, you want everybody to remain on the table. You want everybody to say, "We're part of the team. We don't want to attack the president.

And he is the commander-in-chief, the man who launched missiles into Syria; the man who was responsible for the MOAB; the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan; the man who is the president of the United States in times of crises. That's what the White House is portraying.

BLITZER: Is it political theatre or it is substantive?

CILLIZZA: No, it's political theater. That's not unique to Donald Trump by the way. I mean, lots of presidents and politicians do things for political theatre.

[17:35:03] But to Phil's point, you have to always remember the seminal experience of the last decade and a half of Donald Trump's life is as a reality TV show producer and star. So yes, the idea of 100 senators getting in buses and coming up to his house so that he could brief them, albeit he wasn't there all that long...

BLITZER: He spent 10 or 15 minutes.

CILLIZZA: That's all done on purpose.

BLITZER: There was the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the national security adviser, the director of national intelligence. He showed up for maybe 10 or 15 minutes.

BASH: There are so many hours of my life that I will never get back, standing in hallways while people like Phil Mudd came up to the Hill and gave important briefings. But waiting for those briefings to end, that happened on Capitol Hill in secure locations, happen all the time.

Whether or not they were really fruitful, whether they gave information that these members didn't otherwise know, that's a different question. So the fact that they were brought to the White House, that was...

CILLIZZA: The same group is in the process of briefing the House, so clearly it can be done.

BLITZER: It's easier to bring over 100 senators than 435 representatives.


BERG: The symbolism here is that the White House wants to project to us and everyone else, is that Donald Trump is the one who is in control of this situation.

BLITZER: Stand by. We're getting more information on North Korea. Let's take a quick break. We'll assess the latest right after this.


[17:41:06] BLITZER: We're back with our experts. Reba berg, did the president blink on this negotiation to avert a government shutdown, the deadline Friday night?

BERG: Absolutely, Wolf. And here's the problem that the administration faced from the beginning.

The White House and congressional Republicans did not want to have to deal with a government shutdown, and yet they made a request with funding for the wall or any sort of border security funding, what have you, whether it's a metaphor or whether it's a physical wall. They made a request that Democrats were never going to accept. That equals a shutdown.

So they weren't prepared to shoot the hostage, if you will. And they needed to be in a situation like this or they shouldn't have created this drama for themselves in the first place. And I think the question that really still hasn't been answered is why did they start this conversation, if they weren't willing to go all the way?

BLITZER: Let's ask Dana. Why did they?

BASH: Because they were hoping that they could win the conversation. BLITZER: The Democrats were never going to vote for a funding bill

that included a down payment, $1.4 billion to start building that wall with Mexico.

BASH: The Democrats and even some Republicans were never going to pay for it. You're absolutely right.

But you know what? I don't think that -- I think if we've learned anything from these first 97 days, it's that the political reality, the reality, the practical reality where the votes are on Capitol Hill hasn't always stopped the White House from trying to push what the president wants to do. They wanted to do it.

Can I also just say that we should remember that we are talking about the potential for a government shutdown, funding the government? This is all a holdover from last year when Congress didn't do its work. We're not even talking about the fiscal year that we're -- where they have to actually be working on for the -- you know, for the next time.

I mean, they're doing their work from last time that's a holdover, and they actually have to start doing the funding for next year. It's such a mess. It's not a surprise. But I think we should remember that this is all based on the fact that Congress is not getting its work done.

BLITZER: We should also remember as we approach day 100, Chris, that the president is learning governing is not easy.

CILLIZZA: No. The thing that -- Dana touches on this. The thing that baffles me about Donald Trump is that, theoretically, if you elect someone like him with his background, he understands how leverage works in negotiation.

They had no leverage here. Rebecca makes that point. There's no -- there was no carrot and stick. They tried stick with no carrot. So, there was never the expectation this was going to work, because they had nothing to pressure people who didn't want to be for this in the first place.

BLITZER: Button this up.

MUDD: I think the president won here. I must be the outlier. Look, he goes into Congress, the first round on Affordable Care Act; he loses. He goes in with judges in federal court on immigration; he loses. He comes out of this as a deal maker, as a nonpolitical guy saying, "I win. I'm perfectly happy to compromise, and I will not shut down the government. I will come out of this..."

BASH: That's a pretty low bar.

MUDD: But -- but...

CILLIZZA: That is a low bar.

Maybe for today but to Dana's point, he wins now, on September 30th they have now promised on September 30 that border wall funding is going to be in it. Guess what? On September 30, the Democrats still aren't going to vote for border wall funding. And there could be fiscal conservatives won't be for it either.

BLITZER: Stand by. Everybody stand by. We're getting this exclusive report in the U.S. now. Using the world's most advanced fighter jet to send a message to Russia's Vladimir Putin. The military's new stealth fighter, the F-35, began flying in the skies of eastern Europe right near the Russian border.

Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen had exclusive access. Fred is now in London for us. Fred, tell us about this new jet and the new mission.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, and a lot of the NATO allies that the U.S. has are very concerned about some of Russia's posturing in eastern Europe, especially Russian fighters and bombers flying close to NATO air space.

So what the U.S. did is it took the F-35s and sent them on a training mission to the very air base that NATO uses to intercept those Russian bombers. We went along for the flight. Here's what we saw.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): America's newest weapon, the F-35, in the skies over Eastern Europe right where confrontations with Russia frequently happen. CNN was given exclusive access to the U.S. stealth combat jet's first ever forward deployment, training with allied air forces, essential experience for the crews, a pilot tells me.

MAJ. BRYAN BLACKBURN, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE: We're continuing to forward deploy and bolster our NATO allies. And so it's just all about inter-cooperation and just bolstering the NATO alliance.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): We rode along on a tanker plane refueling the F-35 as they transited to Estonia, a country right on the border with Russia and worried about Moscow's aggressive posture in recent years.

PLEITGEN (on camera): With the deployment of the F-35, the U.S. is sending a very clear message both to Russia but also to its partner nations that it's willing to put its newest and most advance asset into this area to make sure that its allies are safe.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Russia's Air Force is increasingly flying planes like the nuclear capable TU-95 bomber around this area. NATO jets often scrambling to intercept them. President Trump has only recently stopped calling the NATO alliance obsolete. Now, the F-35 deployment, another welcome sign of American commitment, Estonia's Defense Minister tells me.

MARGUS TSAHKNA, MINISTER OF DEFENCE, ESTONIA: This is very important, to send this message that this is the border of NATO. This is the eastern border of our allies. We are ready to protect them.

PLEITGEN: As part of this deployment, the F-35 crews get to know this contested air space and practice cooperation with other NATO air forces. As tensions with Moscow show no sign of easing, this plane could become a staple of NATO's eastern fringe.


PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, this visit certainly was a lot more than symbolic. The pilots there are saying it's very important for them to get to know the air space, for instance, how air traffic control works in that area, so that they can go and very quickly intercept planes that perhaps fly close to that air space.

Also very important for other NATO ally nations, to understand the capabilities of the F-35 and the many things that it brings to the table. But, of course, this is also very much a morale boost not just for Estonia, but a lot of the other countries there on NATO's eastern fringe, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Fred Pleitgen with that exclusive report for us. Thank you.

Coming up, we're getting new details about Iran's latest provocation of the U.S. military. An Iranian gunboat forced a U.S. destroyer to change course to avoid a possible collision.


[17:52:02] BLITZER: We're getting new information right now about Iran's latest and very dangerous provocation of the United States military. Brian Todd is joining us with details of the incident.

Tell us what happened, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, an armed fast-attack Iranian military boat confronted an American destroyer in the Persian Gulf causing the American vessel to veer off course. This is one of several recent provocations by the Iranians in the Gulf. And tonight, military officials and analysts are very worried about an escalation.


TODD (voice-over): An Iranian military vote, weapons manned and ready, confront an American destroyer in the Persian Gulf. A U.S. official tells CNN the Iranian vessel came within a thousand yards of the USS Mahan this week. The Americans fired a warning flair, but the Iranian fast-attack boat kept moving aggressively, forcing the Mahan to alter its course.

DR. MICHAEL CONNELL, DIRECTOR OF IRANIAN STUDIES PROGRAM, CENTER FOR NAVAL ANALYSES.: That is a very dangerous incident. And part of that has do with the fact that the U.S. Navy vessel doesn't know the intentions of what the Iranian vessel is up to. They don't know what the Iranian vessel is going to do.

TODD (voice-over): It's one of several dangerous episodes recently between Iranian vessels and American ships in the Persian Gulf. U.S. officials say there have been dozens of incidents where the Iranians, often piloting armed fast-attack speedboats, have acted unprofessionally. GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES CENTRAL COMMAND: Unsafe,

meaning that they put themselves or they potentially put our vessel and our crews at risk.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts say Iran even started to deploy so-called suicide boats. Pilotless vessels packed with explosives, operated by remote control, drones on the water. One struck a Saudi ship this year. And analysts say fighters in Yemen probably got it from Iran. They could target American ships.

CONNELL: The suicide boats pose a particularly potent threat in the Persian Gulf because of the confined operating space. These boats, they're small but they're larger than an anti-ship cruise missile. They pack a lot of explosives, so if they can get through a ship's security cordon, they could cause a lot of damage.

TODD (voice-over): This week, Saudi officials say they disabled and then detonated a remote control speedboat full of explosives that was headed for an oil platform.

In the Persian Gulf, many of the provocations don't come from Iran's regular Navy. Experts say they're often commanded by Admiral Ali Fadavi, head of the revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, known for being aggressive. The Iranians even built a mockup of a U.S. carrier to practice blowing it up.

MICHAEL RUBIN, RESIDENT SCHOLAR, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: The Iranians are very active right now in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Yemen. And according to the rhetoric, increasingly looking towards Bahrain, which is where the United States maintains its Fifth Fleet. So the Iranians are on the march, and they're almost becoming a colonial power in the region.


TODD: Now, analysts say if there is a military escalation with Iran and the U.S., one of the biggest worries is that Iran might strike at the U.S. asymmetrically using a terror group or one of its other proxy forces to launch an attack on American interests in the Middle East or elsewhere. Wolf, it is getting much more dangerous out in that region tonight.

[17:55:01] BLITZER: Yes, it certainly appears that. So what can U.S. forces do, Brian, to stop these kinds of provocations by Iran in the Persian Gulf?

TODD: Wolf, the military analysts we spoke to, who are very well briefed on these confrontations, say there is more the U.S. could do than often the American forces have allowed Iranians to just get away with this stuff. They say, through back channels, U.S. forces should communicate to the Iranians that there are going to be consequences to all of this.

And they could do what U.S. forces do off the Korean Peninsula. They could conduct live fire drills, really show American firepower, demonstrate to the Iranians what could be done if America is pushed too far. Analysts say they haven't done enough of that.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thank you. Brian Todd, reporting.

The breaking news coming up, the White House summons lawmakers to unusual briefings on North Korea. We're learning new details of what they were told.