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Trump Holds Press Conference on Health Care Bill; Trump Says Disappointed in Attorney General; Trump Says Time Will Tell What Becomes of A.G. Sessions. Aired 3:30-4p ET
Aired July 25, 2017 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:30:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With the support of Iran the organization is also fueling a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. Hezbollah likes to portray itself as a defender of Lebanese interests, but it's very clear that its true interests are those of itself and its sponsor, Iran. I have repeatedly emphasized that Syria's neighbors in the Middle East must take responsibility for helping Syrian refugees until they can return home and rebuild their country.
The Lebanese people have led the way, accepting more Syrian refugees per capita than any other nation. It's not even close. I want to thank the prime minister and the Lebanese people for giving shelter to those victimized by ISIS, the Assad regime and their supporters and sponsors, and pledge our continued support to Lebanon. Since the start of the Syrian crisis, the United States has helped Lebanon support Syrian refugees with clean water, food, shelter, and health care.
Our approach, supporting the humanitarian needs of displaced Syrian citizens, as close to their home country as possible, is the best way to help most people. America's proud to stand with those who have the courage to stand up to terrorism and take responsibility for affairs in their own region. The reliance and resilience of the Lebanese people in the face of war and terror is extraordinary. We honor the citizens of Lebanon who are working to secure a future of peace, stability, and prosperity for their children.
Mr. Prime Minister, I'm grateful that you're here today. It's a big day in our country because of the vote that you just heard about. We stood and watched the results on television before coming out, and you found it very interesting, I hope.
Yes, I did.
TRUMP: And very important. I look forward to working with you to strengthen our partnership and the enduring friendship between the American and Lebanese peoples. Thank you very much. Mr. Prime minister.
SAAD HARIRI, PRIME MINISTER, LEBANON: Thank you. Good afternoon. I had the honor and pleasure and the pleasure to hold a very good meeting with President Trump. I appreciate his leadership and the United States leadership in the world today. We discussed the situation in our region and the efforts we in Lebanon are making to safeguard our political and economic stability while combatting terrorism. I thank President Trump for his support to our army and security agencies as well as his support to maintaining peace and stability along our southern border.
Where our government is committed to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 as well as all resolutions. We also discussed the pressures Lebanon is facing as a result of 1.5 million Syrian displaced in our country. I outlined to the president -- to President Trump my government vision for dealing with this crisis with the support of the international community. We also discussed economic prospects in Lebanon and our government's effort to jump start inclusive economic growth with a particular emphasis on job creation.
[15:35:00] I thank President Trump and the United States of America for their support to the Lebanese people, striving to keep their country a model of moderation, dialogue, coexistence, and Democratic governance in our region. Thank you.
TRUMP: Thank you very much. Margaret Talev, please.
MARGARET TALEV, REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Thank you.
TRUMP: Hello, Margaret.
TALEV: Hi, Mr. President. Mr. Prime Minister, I'll have a question for you also in just a second if you'll bear with me. You spoke earlier today in "The Wall Street journal," we've all seen those comments but I think everybody here probably is hoping that you could talk a little bit more about this. You have called your attorney general beleaguered. You have criticized his decision to recuse himself on the Russia matters. And your kind of catch phrase or motto before the White House was "you're fired" so, I'm wondering whether you'll talk to us a little bit about whether you've lost confidence in Jeff Sessions, whether you want him to resign on his own, whether you're prepared to fire him if he doesn't, and why you're sort of letting him twist in the wind rather than just making the call for him. Thank you.
TRUMP: I don't think I am doing that, but I am disappointed in the attorney general. He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have, quite simply, picked somebody else. So, I think that's a bad thing, not for the president but for the presidency. I think it's unfair to the presidency, and that's the way I feel. Thank you.
TALEV: Thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, could you tell us what you think about the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar? Would you like to see resident Trump increase the pressure on the Saudi coalition to ease the blockade and Mr. President, if you can give us any more of your thinking ongoing forward with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
TRUMP: You don't give up. That's OK.
HARIRI: Thank you. I think there is an effort by the Kuwaitis, they're leading this effort. I think -- and I think they made some progress. We believe that dialogue is the best way in improving this relationship between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I believe that maybe the United States also could help in this -- in solving this issue in the gulf.
REPORTER: I have one question for the president and also for prime minister. Congress introduced additional sanctions against Hezbollah last week. What is your position towards these sanctions and on the role of Hezbollah is playing in the region and the Syria?
TRUMP: I'll be making my position very clear over the next 24 hours. We're going to see what is exactly taking place. I have meetings with some of my very expert military representatives and others, so I'll be making that decision very shortly.
REPORTER: And about his role in Syria and the region.
TRUMP: Whose role?
REPORTER: Hezbollah's role.
TRUMP: I'll be talking about that tomorrow.
REPORTER: Prime Minister. (speaking foreign language)
HARIRI: (speaking foreign language)
TRUMP: Blake Berman. Thank you. Hello, Blake.
BLAKE BERMAN, FOX BUSINESS POLITICAL REPORTER: President Trump, hello. Thank you. Indulge us here for a second just to pick up where Margaret off. The American people, I think, would like to know, do you feel that the attorney general should indeed stay -- do you intend on firing -- why should he remain as the attorney general? And secondly, on a separate topic, with the health care vote that just came about, is there still a long ways to go?
[15:40:00] At what point do you feel that Republicans, if they can't get something done, should just say you know what, we gave it a go, let's move on to tax reform instead? Thank you.
TRUMP: I want the attorney general to be much tougher on the leaks from intelligence agencies, which are leaking like rarely have they ever leaked before at a very important level. These are intelligence agencies. We cannot have that happen. You know many of my views in addition to that, but I think that's one of the very important things that they have to get on with. I told you before, I'm very disappointed with the attorney general but we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.
On health care, I'm extremely happy that we got this vote. This is -- they say, if you look historically, this is the tough vote to get. Now we're all going to sit together and come up with something that's really spectacular. We have a lot of options and a lot of great options and the Republican senators really went out there. It's not easy when you have 52 senators and you have a block of 48 voting against you, no matter what it is, no matter how good it sounds, it's very hard to get the kind of numbers that we got. We ended up with 51 votes, 51 to whatever. I don't know what it is. So, we had two Republicans that went against us, which is very sad, I think. It's very, very sad for them. But I'm very, very happy with the result.
I believe now we will, over the next week or two, come up with a plan that's going to be really, really wonderful for the American people. Obamacare is a disaster. It's failing in every front. It's too expensive. It gives horrible coverage. It was gotten by a lie. 28 times, it was a lie, you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan, all lies. And the people are sick of it. And we're going to come up with a great health care that satisfies the needs of the people that we serve, which is the people of the United States.
I will say, and I said it right at the beginning, health care is always difficult, because you have to weed a very, very narrow path, like a quarter of an inch wide, right down the middle, and if you go a little bit too far right, you lose three people on the left. And if you go a little bit too far left, you lose five people on the right. It is a very, very complex and difficult task, but it's something I actually know quite a bit about. I want to just thank some of the Republican senators who were really fantastic in getting this here. Particularly John McCain for making the trip. But I think you're going to have a great health care. This is the beginning of the end for the disaster known as Obamacare. Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Mr. President -- Mr. President, how can the United States help Lebanon cope with a massive number of refugees of Syrian refugees and is there a way you can help facilitate the refugees' return to their home country?
TRUMP: Well, we are helping, and one of the things that we have made tremendous strides at is getting rid of ISIS. We have generals that don't like to talk. They like to do. And we were with General Mattis last night, and the success they've had against ISIS is extraordinary. We've made more progress in the last four or five months than previous, really, I could say, the previous administration made in eight years. And then we have to see what we have to see. But I will tell you, ISIS in Syria, ISIS in Iraq, ISIS in other locations, we have made tremendous strides. Our military is an incredible fighting force, and as you know, I let the commanders on the ground do what they had to do.
Before, they used to have to call in this beautiful house and speak to people that didn't know what was happening, where they were, what locations, practically, probably, never heard of the countries they were talking about or the towns. I let the generals do what they had to do. And we have made tremendous plans. We were discussing it just before. We have made tremendous gains with respect to is in Syria, Iraq, and other places.
[15:45:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about Bashar Al Assad? Syria? TRUMP: I'm not a fan of Assad. OK?
He will tell you that because we hit 58 out of 58 -- or you could even say 59 out of 59 when we launched the tomahawk missiles. I'm not a fan of Assad. I certainly think that what he's done to that country and to humanity is horrible. So, I have been saying that for a long time. I am not somebody that will stand by and let him get away with what he tried to do, and he did it a number of times.
When President Obama drew the red line in the sand, and then he should have crossed that red line, because some horrible acts against humanity took place, including gas, and the killing through gases. That was a bad day for this country. And I'd go it a step further, that had President Obama gone across that line and done what he should have done, I don't believe you'd have Russia, and I don't believe you'd have Iran anywhere near the extent and maybe not at all in Syria today. OK? Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President. Mr. President. (speaking foreign language)
HARIRI: (speaking foreign language)
TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it. Thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, that's a wrap. You can add a couple more adjectives to the way in which the president of the United States has described his own cabinet member, the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions. You know, publicly, we heard him talking in "The New York Times" interview. He's irked with him. Because he, being Jeff Sessions, chose to recuse himself in the wake of the Russia investigation and you heard the president there say he wished he would have told him that, although I think we can question some of the timeline of that in a second. And also, he's tweeted publicly that -- calling him beleaguered, said he has a weak position and then just repeated that he feels disappointed in the A.G. and said he wants an A.G. who is tougher and time will tell. David Chalian, are we just, again, in unprecedented territory here.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And he rejected the notion that he's just leaving his A.G. twisting in the wind. I don't know how you get more twisting in the wind than, only time will tell about his future. I don't understand how he could disagree with that characterization. Brooke, I really do think this is much larger than just Jeff Sessions. What the president -- when he says he wants a tougher attorney general, what he is disappointed in, what he himself has expressed, as you just noted, starting with that "The New York Times" interview, and what we had learned in reporting before, is that Sessions recused himself from the investigation into the president and into the president's campaign about Russia contacts.
The fact that he is disappointed that the top law enforcement officer in the land has chosen after looking at his own record that he would not be an impartial person in that role and able to work on that case in any way because of his work during the Trump campaign, the fact that the president thinks that's a factor that should be perhaps resulting in, if not his firing, his resignation from the job, shows that that is a president who does not respect the kind of independence that law enforcement officials, the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, the acting FBI director, the special prosecutor, all have come in under withering attack from this president because he doesn't believe that they should have some kind of independence as they are overseeing the organizations that are actually investigating the president.
BALDWIN: Right. But all these law enforcers coming under attack and this is the law enforcement candidate for the presidential race in 2016.
[15:50:00] Gloria, go ahead.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Brooke, I mean, the president went out of his way to say that it wasn't -- not only was it not good for the president, but he went out of his way to say it wasn't good for the presidency. And to David's point, it actually was good for the presidency. Because what you -- you know, in recusing himself, what Jeff Sessions was obviously doing was adhering to the rule of law and saying that, you know, admitting, I don't work for the president. I work for the American public. And there has to be no conflict of interest whatsoever.
But the president today tried to sort of insinuate that it was actually the opposite, that this wasn't good for the presidency. And you've had people, Republicans, including Mitch McConnell just within the last hour, say that Jeff Sessions did the right thing. And I think what the president is facing right now is a backlash that seems to be growing among Republicans in the senate who are defending Jeff Sessions and conservatives out in the country who feel that Jeff Sessions represents them on a lot of issues, including the all- important issue of immigration. And so, I do believe he's starting to feel a little backlash. Whether that will affect him or not, who knows. He still made it clear that he feels the guy shouldn't be there. But he refused to come and say, you're fired.
BALDWIN: Go ahead, Jim.
JAMES SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I was just going to reflect on what both David and Gloria said. Remember, when the president fired James Comey, we had initially a cover story in effect delivered not just by the president but the deputy attorney general and the White House that this was about Comey's handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation. That of course, disappeared into the ether when the president himself said it was about Russia and his handling of the Russia investigation. With Sessions, right out of the box, the president this is about his handling of the Russia investigation. It comes back to him, because he and his associates, at least part of the investigation or somehow related to the investigation. There is no cover story, there is no smokescreen here.
He's disappointed in his attorney general because he, in his view, and the implication that he didn't make this investigation go away. That's remarkable, and as Gloria said, this is about the rule of law. The attorney general is meant to be, though he is an appointee of the president, is supposed to run the justice department independent of the house interest. It is a remarkable admission from the president, from the podium in the Rose Garden that is what this is all about.
BALDWIN: I've got Jeff Toobin patiently waiting, and Jeff, I just want to bring you in. We were discussing, is this really about Jeff Sessions or is this really about Bob Mueller?
JEFF TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's probably about both. I think the president's irritation, anger, disgust with Jeff Sessions is real. Now, whether it's justified is the subject we're discussing here, but I don't think there is any question that there is real antagonism between the president and his attorney general. What is unprecedented is a president of the United States continuing to disparage his attorney general without firing him. I mean, we have had cabinet officers fired by presidents, but if you're not going to fire --
BALDWIN: Flap out there in the breeze, berating him.
TOOBIN: Right, I've never seen it. Yet again we are saying about the Trump presidency something like, this has never happened before, where we have this constant criticism of someone without firing him. Getting to your point about Mueller. It is also true that the --
BALDWIN: Connect the dots for me. People don't understand.
TOOBIN: The rage that the president feels against Sessions comes from the fact that he blames him for setting in motion the process that led to the appointment of Robert Mueller. And the Mueller investigation is really what Trump is wanting. The question is how can Trump get rid of Mueller? The answer is he can't do it directly. He has to do it through the justice department. If he fires Sessions, that responsibility would fall to Rod Rosenstein. Rod Rosenstein is in charge of the Mueller investigation.
BALDWIN: But he could quit.
TOOBIN: He could quit.
[15:55:00] Then the responsibility would go to Rachel Brand, who is the associate attorney general. She could quit, too. I think both of those are entirely possible if they're directed to fire Mueller. At that point, frankly, I'm not exactly sure what would happen, because I don't believe there are other people confirmed by the senate in the order of succession. There could be an acting attorney general put in. It would be a constitutional crisis, but that is one possibility for where we're heading.
BALDWIN: Ken Cuccinelli, loyal Trump supporter, former A.G., first of all, why do you think the president is doing this and stopping short of firing him, and two, if you were in Sessions' shoes, would you resign?
KEN CUCCINELLI, LOYAL TRUMP SUPPORTER, FORMER A.G.: Jumping to number two, no way. And back to your number one, I think this is just Trump's way. I think a lot of us are uncomfortable with this part of his way of dealing with -- I almost said senator Sessions -- with Attorney General Sessions who, you know, has made it very clear, look, I'm going to keep showing up, I'm going to keep doing my job, and he is doing that.
I mean, all the evidence is that he continues to do that. I think out in America, I think a lot of people kind of wonder about the Mueller investigation, especially when it does start to appear to go farther afield. But in the long run, as far as the collusion goes, I think his conclusion is going to be there wasn't any collusion. And if we get to the end of this cycle and that's what Mueller says, that's an awfully easy housecleaning effort from a PR standpoint if you're the Trump team.
So, you know, they ought to just let this thing roll through, they ought to give him the documents, they ought to do those kinds of things. Having said that, when Mueller starts poking around on non- Russia-related family finances in Trump world, I can definitely see why they get uncomfortable with that.
BALDWIN: Not putting the cart ahead of the horse, we don't know what they'll conclude. We've heard Jared Kushner say to reporters, no collusion on my behalf or anyone to his knowledge in the campaign, but we need to let justice play out, not just on Capitol Hill but the special investigation on behalf of Bob Mueller. So, Jeff was just outlining the line to which you could lead to a Mueller firing. That's a major if. You say let Mueller do his job and see what plays out. Just want to make sure I am hearing you correctly.
CUCCINELLI: Right, and the regulation under which he was appointed, because there is no independent counsel law any longer, says that he can only be fired for good cause. Now, people could argue, of course, over what is good cause, but it is not just at the will of the attorney general or the second -- the deputy attorney general or the president, it requires some element of good cause if that's ever going to happen. Or, of course, the end of the investigation, which strikes me as the easier path, frankly, for all concerned.
BALDWIN: Asha Rangappa. A Former FBI lawyer, do you think, as one of our guests outlined how the president has railed on sort of the top law enforcers in this country. Do you think the president just doesn't understand the boundaries between the executive branch and justice?
ASHA RANGAPPA, FORMER FBI LAWYER: Well, at this point it's been explained to him, I imagine, many, many times. I think that he just doesn't like it. And, you know, this is -- people kept saying, well, he's going to run the government like a business. You actually can't run the government like a business. It doesn't work well that way and you just can't fire people and make things go away, and that's especially true for the department of justice and the FBI which have been politically independent.
So, I think he's having trouble just dealing with that fact, and I think he's now been advised by his attorneys, I hope, that if he continues this, you know, mad firing spree that it's going to start increasing his own legal issues with regard to charges of potential obstruction of justice. Especially since, as it's been pointed out, he's made his intentions behind that very clear. So, I think that he's not someone who is used to being stuck and he's a little bit stuck.
BALDWIN: Let me ask all of you to stand by because a lot of this Sessions news is leaking in the house, some of these Republican senators have been feeling, especially how they cast some of their votes up on Capitol Hill on this vote to proceed with open debate on health care. Dana Bash, you are in the chamber at the moment with Senator John McCain.
[16:00:00] The standing ovation, the strength he displayed and the humor. What was that like to be in there?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it was about an hour plus of drama that -- we've seen a lot of drama around here, certainly, in my decade-plus covering congress, almost two decades. But the combination of the legislative drama layered over the human drama with John McCain was like nothing I remember, maybe since Ted Kennedy came back to vote on Obamacare. But even in that time, you know, Ted Kennedy, they have the same disease, unfortunately, the same brain cancer, but he was already in decline, much more so than John McCain was today.
There is no question that McCain had the entire room, all of his colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, you could hear a pin drop. And one thing that really struck me was beyond that, I was in the gallery, is watching his wife Cindy who was in the visitors' gallery in the front row. She was the only one there holding a tissue, and just pushing back tears trying really hard not to cry. Not so much during his speech, but beforehand, and I'm not sure because I was in the chamber where we don't have access to tv, how much we were able to see. But at the end of the health care vote when john McCain came in and the whole place erupted in applause, he was standing at his desk for a pretty long time, greeting his colleagues. Republican after Republican, Democrat after Democrat giving him hugs, shaking his hand.
It was really -- you know, you could see that McCain clearly wanted to be here, he wanted this moment, he wanted to be able to say what he said in this speech, but he's not that comfortable with kind of what he knew was happening. A lot of people saying they weren't sure how long they were going to have him around. The fact that came after a vote on health care with not one vote to spare where you saw senators like the majority leader, you know, practically twisting an arm of Ron Johnson right before that vote was just a sight to behold, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Extraordinary standing ovation when he came in, and the vote, I am going to thank you right now. And thank all of you for watching, we are going to continue on in Washington, special coverage continues with Jake Tapper.