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Report: Trump Approves Russia Sanctions; White House Says Merit-Based Immigration Protects U.S. Workers; Trump Seeks to Sue Colleges Over Affirmative Action for Discrimination Against White Student. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired August 2, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: For the word -- quite powerful compliments.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the president specifically said that he received a phone call.

SANDERS: They were direct conversations, not phone calls.


SANDERS: It wouldn't say it was a lie. That's pretty bold accusation. It's -- the conversations took place. They just simply didn't take place over a phone call. He had them in person.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, if I could ask a couple of questions about Russia. Dmitiry Medvedev. the prime minister has weighed in on the president's signing of the sanctions, saying that this proves that the Trump administration is, quote, utterly powerless and ends hopes for better ties. What's the White House response to that?

SANDERS: Look, this morning, the president signed the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. The president favors tough measures to punish and deter the bad behavior of the rogue regimes in Iran and North Korea and he also sent a clear signal that we won't tolerate interference in our democratic process by Russia. The bill was improved but congress has encroached on the power of the presidency and he signed it in the interest of national unity. We've been very clear that we support tough sanctions on all three of those countries. We continue to do so. And that has certainly not changed, and I think that was reflected in the statements today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the finer aspects of the bill and the findings that stated that Russia did, in fact, try to interfere in the U.S. election. In the president's statement on this signing statement, he did not quibble with that. Is that an indication that he does accept the finding that Russia interfered in our election?

SANDERS: The president's already said that himself directly at the press conference in Poland. He doesn't dispute the fact that Russia was and he said that in Nice that I believe you were present for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One more, you said on Monday that when you had something to say about the Russian action on 755 diplomats, you would say something about it. Do you have anything to say about it today?

SANDERS: No, I don't, but when I do, I'll let you know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did President Trump speak with Russia's President Vladimir Putin prior to signing the bill or at all today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's definitive. That's confirmed. Let me just ask you something about North Korea. General McCaffrey said that, I think at some point, we are clearly going to take dramatic action short of war against North Korea. Can you respond to that? Do you think that's an accurate characterization? Can you tell us where the administration's thinking is right now when it comes to taking some type of military action against North Korea to stop its provocations?

SANDERS: As I've said many times before, we're not going to broadcast our actions and we're keeping all options on the table.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll ask you the question I was going to ask Stephen. The president said in an "Economist" interview in May, he was asked whether he supports cutting the number of immigrants who can come here legally, and he said no. This bill today that he supports would cut the number of green cards issued by half. So, when did the president have a change of heart on this issue?

SANDERS: I'd have to see the specific reference, but I know that the president has talked pretty frequently about merit-based immigration reform, not just on the campaign trail but he's been talking about this for years, and I can't comment on a story I haven't seen specifically.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lead to the reduction of total green card, so does he have a separate opinion about the number of green cards?

SANDERS: I think Stephen spoke pretty extensively on that and I don't have anything to add beyond that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president, in signing this sanctions bill today, issued a signing statement, and in that signing statement, he said that the bill significantly flawed. He said that there are provisions in this bill that are clearly unconstitutional. Why would he sign this bill if he felt so strongly that this bill inhibits his ability to act as the commander in chief and to carry out his duties as president?

SANDERS: I think I spoke on this already, but primarily because the president favors tough measures to punish and deter the bad behavior of the rogue regimes in Iran and North Korea, and he also sent a clear signal that we won't tolerate interference in our Democratic process by Russia. I also said that he signed it in the interest of national unity, and again, in support of -- there's no question that there isn't support for the principles of the bill. It's maybe just some of the process piece. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he also send a signal in signing this

particular legislation that if another bill comes before his desk, that he also finds significantly flawed, and clearly unconstitutional, that he'd sign that legislation as well?

SANDERS: I'm not going to speak about a hypothetical bill that we don't know and doesn't exist and whether or not the president's going to sign it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clear up some confusion. There were almost simultaneously two signing statements that went out. They had slightly different language. Did you intend to send both out?

SANDERS: It was actually one signing statement and one press statement so that's the difference. One's more of a legal document that goes with the executive secretary and the other one's a press document. So that's the difference.

[15:35:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to bring up some unfinished business. When you were named press secretary, because there was so much focus on the other announcement, that you only had a chance to talk about the job in one question. So, I wanted to give you a chance to answer two questions that all of your predecessors have faced. The first one is, what is your overall approach to the job, especially in terms of balancing whether you're serving the president or serving the public. And secondly, do you see any circumstances where it's appropriate to lie from the podium?

SANDERS: I'll take the second one first. Absolutely not. I don't think it's appropriate to lie from the podium or any other place. On the first question, I think that the balance, my job is to communicate the president's agenda, the president's message and answer your questions on that as best that I can, as honestly as I can, and as transparent as I can possibly be at any given moment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Following up on the question about the position, what exactly is Sean Spicer's role in this administration at this point? And how much longer do you expect him to stay on staff? And then something on the signing statement.

SANDERS: As he said, I believe it was, gosh, a week or so ago, the days all kind of run together now, but he was going to stay on in a transition process through august and nothing has changed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So that's not because of Anthony Scaramucci leaving?

SANDERS: No, nothing's changed at this point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the signing statement, one of the things it said was it would drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together, these sanctions. Can you elaborate on that? Because yesterday you suggested that China was both an ally and a partner.

SANDERS: I don't have anything to comment beyond the signing statement itself. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On DHS, should we expect a nomination when

congress comes back and the second question is, lots of lawmakers, Republicans on the hill and the business community have been concerned that the president won't stay focused on tax reform, this is something they really want him to talk about, and you've just introduced immigration. You've got health care still hanging. Is the president going to focus on all of those issues in the weeks ahead going into September or does he really want to showcase just one or two things?

SANDERS: As we've said many times before, we can walk and chew gum at the same time and we can work on a multitude of issues at the same time. In terms of the DHS appointment, I don't have any personnel announcements at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This morning, New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, took a shot at Tom Homan, the head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. On June 28, right from that podium, Mr. Homan said, and I quote, most law enforcement officials in cities work with us but many don't in the largest cities. And that's where criminal aliens and criminal gangs flourish. End of quote. The mayor this morning said he's wrong about that, that kind of rhetoric is not helpful and he added that police officers keep the streets safe irrespective of immigration status and do so all the time. Your response to the mayor and his charge against someone who is mentioned frequently to be the next secretary of homeland security?

SANDERS: Look, I think Tom has served our country well. He's been active in law enforcement, and I would certainly trust his opinion very confidently -- a lot of confidence in him and his ability, having been in a multitude of different positions within law enforcement, and been able to see it in a lot of different places, not just one location like the mayor, so I would certainly defer to Tom on this issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, then you would -- you trust him more than you would the mayor on that issue?

SANDERS: I think that's pretty safe to say. Jim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Jeff Flake, in a political magazine article, said the president was -- he suggested the president was a carnival barker and had eroded conservatism. Is the president still thinking of helping to fund a $10 million challenge against Senator Flake and does he have any response to Senator Flake's comments?

SANDERS: I'm not sure about any potential funding of a campaign, but I think that senator flake would serve his constituents much better if he was less focused on writing a book and attacking the president and writing legislation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two American soldiers were killed today in Afghanistan. It's nine on the year. Does the president know about this and does he feel any sense of urgency to implement a new plan?

SANDERS: I can't comment on that at this time but I'll keep you posted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did President Trump feel pressured into signing the Russia sanctions bill.

[15:40:00] SANDERS: No, as I've said, the president supports putting pressure on these three countries in particular, and so he supports the principle of it and wanted to take action in that course.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Follow-up. You were asked yesterday whether the president would weigh in on this question of cost sharing payments. Can you put this to bed? Will the administration continue making cost sharing payments or not?

SANDERS: The CSR payments are bailing out at this point, a failed law that the president wants to repeal and replace. Since last year's campaign, the president has been clear that Obamacare is a failed law. He's working with his staff and his cabinet to consider the issues raised by the CSR payments, and without congress fulfilling its promise to American voters in repealing and replacing Obamacare, insurers will continue to flee this failing system. We need real reform that actually lowers cost and provides more choice for Americans and we'll keep you posted when we have a final announcement on that. Thanks so much, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the president call the White House a dump?

BALDWIN: All right, wow. That was, first the fiery exchange, especially with our own Jim Acosta there and Stephen Miller, deputy there at the White House and then of course followed by a number of topics with Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a lot of questions on this Russia sanctions bill, also imposing sanctions on North Korea and Iran.

But before we get to that, I think we should start with this immigration policy, this proposal from the White House today that would essentially make the immigration policy, they're hoping to reduce legal immigration by 50 percent, proposing this merit-based or skill-based workers program. So, let me begin with Margaret Talev, who is a White House correspondent, and beginning with you, this is all about, and also the fact that it was Stephen Miller delivering the message, you know, playing to the base 100 percent, but on the face of it, yes, his base supporters would love this and this is a campaign promise, but would this actually get the support necessary from Republicans in congress?

MARGARET TALEV, White House Correspondent, Bloomberg News: Brooke, this is, as you know, all immigration proposals are controversial proposals in the U.S. congress, and this is definitely no exception. You're right to note the timing. We're heading into the august recess. Everyone from members of congress to President Trump has got to reach their constituents and show them they're doing stuff they care about. That's what this does for now. But look, they saw it on health care reform.

The tax legislation has to take front and center when they come back after the recess and there is one senator who once again will be crucial to all of this. It is one senator John McCain. As you know, he played a pivotal role in the health care debate and John McCain, as we all know, undergoing cancer treatment right now and a champion of immigration reform that moves in the opposite direction. So, I think this would certainly be an uphill climb, but President Trump is putting it out there.

BALDWIN: Stay with me, everyone. We now have a microphone on Jim Acosta. My CNN colleague and also a Cuban-American. I know your back story. But perhaps Stephen Miller was not aware when the whole back and forth of the green card. Jim, your questions were about being surprised that you would have to speak English to come here. What the heck did you make of that exchange?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can be Cuban and cosmopolitan, Brooke. I don't know what to tell you. I think when the White House has to resort to insulting reporters in that fashion -- and we've seen this time and again throughout the course of this administration, they're just really not advancing a terribly powerful argument. When somebody who is steeped in immigration policy knowledge like Stephen Miller is, he worked for Jeff Sessions for many years. They're very much on the anti-illegal immigration footing, you know, in terms of what their policy beliefs are.

And some critics say they are very much anti-legal immigration and what you're seeing from this policy proposal today here at the White House, when they put in the policy proposal, Brooke, that there's this preference for people who speak English coming into the country, my question simply was, well, you know, what about what our statue of liberty tells us? We've welcomed generations of Americans over the course of our history, many of those people, whether they came from Ireland or Germany or other parts of the world, Latin America, you know, in recent times, those people don't always speak English.

And so why is it that the White House is advancing a policy proposal that has this sort of English language speaking preference. You heard Stephen Miller say, well, when you're naturalized, you have to speak English.

[15:45:00] Yes, when you're naturalized, you're at the very end of the immigration process and so I was simply trying to press him on some of those questions as to whether this sort of goes against this tradition of immigration in this country that we bring in all types of people, not necessarily people who are highly skilled who can -- who are computer programmers who speak fluent English.

There are people we bring into this country from all walks of life, from all income levels, from all language speaking abilities, because we're the United States of America. You know, I mentioned my father, my father came here three weeks before the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. He was 11 years old, didn't speak any English. He tells me the story about how a teacher at his school in Virginia sat down with him and patiently taught him English as he was growing up here in northern Virginia. You know, I think this goes back to a problem that this White House has. Remember when the president launched his campaign for president, he referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals. And that bias against Latino immigrants has just sort of infected the president, some of his top officials who deal with this issue of immigration throughout that entire time period, and I think you saw some of that spill out in the briefing room today.

BALDWIN: Let me just remind everyone, we cited this as well, from the statue of liberty, this was precisely your original point. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Jim, you know, you brought up illegal immigration but this whole proposal is about the goal of cutting legal immigration by 50 percent. Do you think it goes anywhere or does it just fire up the base?

ACOSTA: You heard Stephen Miller say in his comments here, well, this is very popular in certain battle grounds states and so on, and so they do feel, and keep in mind, when you go back, I covered this campaign, Brooke, you covered it as well, we were out there on the campaign trail in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, that blue wall that President Trump is very proud of the fact that he cracked on election night. There are people in those states who feel as though they've been displaced unfairly, economically in this country, and of course it is going to be a very powerful message if you have the president of the United States constantly blaming immigrants coming into this country for taking people's jobs away. And does the president come out and say that emphatically and does he say it overtly?

No, but when you hear the president make some of the comments that he makes about immigrants during the course of the campaign, talking about deportation forces and when you see Stephen Miller, a policy adviser to the president, talking about an English language preference for people coming into this country, it is a wink, it is a dog whistle to certain parts of this country that they are going to be looking at the racial and ethnic flow of immigrants coming into this country. I just think that's undeniable so I just wanted to remind him, this is what the statue of liberty says. We bring in people from all walks of life. It's what makes America great. It was already great because of immigrants in this country.

BALDWIN: Jim Acosta, thank you so much. We were talking and then as we were listening to Jim and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, thinking of the why, why -- let me step back a step and say that they are making good on a promise on immigration. This is something that candidate Trump championed day in and day out on the trail so for your Trump supporters out there, this is great news. Why is this happening now, in addition to that, the affirmative action story out of the "The New York Times," Sarah Huckabee Sanders says it's incorrect. Why now?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEAR POLITICS: A few different things. First of all, you look at what happened last week with the failed health care bill in the senate, that was a major campaign promise as well, undelivered. You have this tension between Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions who Stephen Miller used to work for. A very hard liner on immigration. Trump's connection to the really conservative policy aspect of the base, that tension has created some issues. Going back to kind of these principles of the base, principles of the campaign, it's a way for Donald Trump to show, look, I'm going without congress. I don't care what they're doing. This is my priority. The thing is, with this kind of piece, you need support from congress.

This is a piece of legislation, and as Margaret alluded to earlier, reports -- support among Republicans, this is an issue that kind of divides the party in some respects on immigration, and there could be a way in a broader package, perhaps, to try to kind of needle Democrats from the Wisconsins, the Michigans, elsewhere who are up for reelection in 2018 with this worker issue.

[15:50:00] The interesting thing, though, as we've been watching Democrats, they haven't crossed the line. They haven't been fearful of this president on policy. They haven't had any political incentive to work with him on other things, so I don't see them doing that now.

BALDWIN: Let me add, as we're thinking about the base and the core support among Republicans versus maybe more moderate Republicans, we saw this tweet, I'm going to come to you on this. Senator Lindsey Graham said in his home state, the number one industry is agricultural tourism -- South Carolina, number one industry is agricultural tourism. Number two, if proposal were to become law, devastating to South Carolina economy which relies on this immigrant workforce. Anne, thoughts on that.

ANNE GEARAN, STAFF WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I mean, I think clearly, there's a tension here that this White House proposal for legislation doesn't address, which is, you know, what is both legal and illegal, and it is largely to fill jobs that go unfilled or less than fully filled otherwise. It's interesting that Steven Miller was premising the whole idea of this legislative proposal on the idea that it would serve under-employed and low education, low wage American workers as there was a question in the briefing on this, and there is a fundamental question whether that is factually true. There are studies that absolutely do not support that in addition to the few that he appeared to cite that do. And, I mean, I think what Graham is referring to there are largely is the whole idea that you've got to have a large, mobile work force that isn't going to be paid a great deal in order to serve both the agriculture and the tourism industry.


GEARAN: And he's saying, look, somehow or other, we have to have people to do these jobs.

BALDWIN: So, he needs a congressional support there. Where he unquestionably got congressional support was in this Russian sanctions bill which he apparently signed into law today. We heard the president earlier today call it flawed. You know, this was something that was veto-proof, and it seems to me, Admiral Kirby, that this is something -- we talk about the different branches of government, and you have to listen to the legislative branch because they have a say, and this encroaches on the power of the president. What do you make of that and why this seemingly took so long?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, RETIRED: You talked about support from congress on this. He obviously would consider it unwelcome support. This is not a bill that I think he was all that interested in signing for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which you talked about the impingement on some of his executive authority. I want to believe, Brooke, that the reason it took several days to sign this was because he had his lawyers poring over these authorities and what it meant so he could make a legal case for why the bill is flawed in that regard.

I sure as heck don't want to think that he was delaying signing it because he was concerned about slapping these sanctions on Putin. I have said for many days that I'm disappointed that he won't criticize Putin directly and Russia while everybody else does, but if he signed this bill, to me that was proof enough in my mind that he actually was willing to hold Russia accountable. I'm glad he signed it. I understand the concern over his executive authority, and I hope that's really the limit of his concerns over this, and then we can move past all this and continue to hold Putin accountable.

BALDWIN: Tim O'Brien, what do you think? You've written the book on the man.

TIM O'BRIEN. AUTHOR, "TRUMPNATION, THE ART OF BEING DONALD": I think the Russia question is an interesting one because that is the background music to everything that's happening now. The investigation that's hung over the administration. I think the time of the bill comes at a time of efforts of this White House to shore up the base, divert people's attention to what the real issues are, and I think to ultimately roll the dice. John McCain is rearing his head again in this administration. They'll need him to get this bill through. They're probably not going to get him. He's a senator from Arizona. Like Lindsey Graham, you have migrant workers coming in and out of that state that the state economy relies upon. I think it's a very strange choice for this White House to put Steven Miller out front again. He's a controversial person --

BALDWIN: He's the Bannon branch.

[15:55:00] O'BRIEN: Remember, some of the first missteps this administration took was the executive order on banning migration from mostly Muslin countries and Steven Miller was the flag bearer for that, I think, very flawed executive order. And now they're bringing him out again at a time when the administration has had enormous upheaval in the west wing. They've been unable to get Obamacare repealed. They should be focusing on tax reform, which is another one of the things important to their base, and they throw this sort of bomb into the middle of the dialogue. It's not tied to legislation. They're actually going to be able to get through the congress, so why? I think the answer to the why is they're playing politics.

BALDWIN: Kaitlyn hit on that, totally.

O'BRIEN: I think it explains a lot.

HUEY-BURNS: To your point it's August 2nd right now. This is -- we talk about tax reform. I've covered the immigration bill in congress several years ago. There is very little appetite among members of congress to take up the divisive issue of immigration at this point in time when they want to figure out things on health care, on fixing the markets and on tax reform.

O'BRIEN: They just old him let's move off of Obamacare. Let's move toward tax reform and then, bam, they dropped immigration.

BALDWIN: What about his affirmative action story, let me just move on. We have five more minutes before we turn this thing over to Washington. I want to make sure we have this conversation. Because listening to the White House Press Secretary, she was pressing back on the "The New York Times" that the Trump administration may be getting ready to take on affirmative action in colleges. So here is the exchange and we'll talk.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president think white applicants to college are the victims of discrimination?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of that opinion at all. I haven't had that conversation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you explain why the justice department civil rights division is devoting limited time for resources?

SANDERS: Quite an accusatory question but I'd be happy to respond. "The New York Times" article is based on un-corroborative influences

from a leak of internal personnel posting in a violation of policy, and while the White House does not confirm or deny the existence of potential violations, the department of justice will always review potential violation on the basis of any race.


BALDWIN: Let me bring in a few voices on this. Joe E. Jackson, Brenda Shum director of the Educational Opportunities Project for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Linda Chavez, chairwoman for the Center for Equal Opportunity, she has led this conservative movement in opposition to affirmative action for more than 30 years. Welcome to all of you. I have four minutes and I know we need more time on this super-important topic, but Linda, you welcome this approach, from what I understand? Tell me why and do you think there is an anti-white bias in college admissions?

LINDA CHAVEZ, CHAIRWOMAN, CENTER FOR EQUAL OPPORTUNITY: Well, the question of racial preferences is not about anti-white bias. In fact, my organization has done studies of this for the last 20 years, and what we find is the group most discriminated against on the basis of racial preference are not whites but Asian Americans and occasionally some Hispanics have some disadvantages as well. What is unfortunate is that this administration likes to throw dog whistles, does try to racialize everything, so naturally it's going to raise the hackles of everybody.

My preference is that these programs serve as a disadvantage to those students whom they're intended to help. They result in mismatching of students, students are rewarded with lower grades and test scores and put in situations where they're less likely to graduate, their GPAs are lower. For 20 years we've done more than two dozen studies of racial admissions policies, and my concern is more about the black and Hispanic students who will incur greater debt and be less likely to graduate as a result of these policies and Asian students who also are kept out because of them.

BALDWIN: Brenda, how do you see it?

BRENDA SHUM, DIRECTOR OF THE EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES PROJECT FOR THE LAWYERS COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER LAW: This move by the department of justice to assemble a team that intends to investigate and challenge race-based admissions simply perpetuates this myth that such policies are -- constitute impermissible race-based discrimination, and that's simply not true. I believe that, to the contrary, the supreme court just as recently as June of last year clearly decided that such admissions policies are constitutional. And this action represents the next step in what we believe to be an aggressive and strategic campaign to roll back the civil rights protections of a number of historically disadvantaged students, including trans youth, women and girls, and of course students of color.

I think that it's inappropriate for this department of justice to imply that the civil rights division has not historically investigated, adequately investigated, legitimate complaints of race- based discrimination, and there are many within the Asian-American community which are wholly supportive of affirmative action policies and recognize that this is a politicized attempt to drive a wedge within the community of students of color.

BALDWIN: We have 40 seconds left on the show. Is it time for Joe E., guys? Why are we heading over early? OK. Joe E. Jackson, my most profound of apologies to you. Let's go to "The Lead."