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Trump Faces Backlash Over Legal Immigration Plan; White House Admits Trump Didn't Get Calls from Mexico, Boy Scouts. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 3, 2017 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think the economy would be well-served by cutting the number of immigrants in half.

[05:57:11] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't understand why anybody who wants a pro-growth effort in America to oppose this.

STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE POLICY ADVISOR: Members of Congress, they can either vote with the interests of U.S. citizens and U.S. workers, or they can vote against their interests.

SEN. DIANNE WEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I don't think it will pass the Senate. And I will do everything I can to prevent it from passing.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even the president of Mexico called me.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They were direct conversations.

SANDERS: I wouldn't say it was a lie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He continues to do things like this that cut at the core of his credibility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump lashing out at Congress after reluctantly signing the Russia sanctions bill.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: President Putin has done something that nobody else in America could do: unite the Congress.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, August 3, 6 a.m. here in New York and here is our starting line.

President Trump proposes a merit-based system favoring English speakers, sharply reducing family-based immigration. Critics say this plan could slow economic growth, keeping out badly needed low-wage workers, and make it likely that Americans like me and your favorite next to me would not exist.

President Trump signed the bill that puts sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea, but he doesn't like parts of it, saying he did it for the sake of national unity.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I'd exist, but I'd be living in Rome.

CUOMO: Who knows, though? People would not have made it in.

CAMEROTA: Good point.

President Trump's credibility is in question again over some apparently made-up phone calls. The White House admits that Mexico's president and the Boy Scouts never called the president, though the president said they did. Now they say those conversations were in person.

Amid all this, there's a new national poll to tell you about that has President Trump's approval rating hitting a new low of just 33 percent as the president heads to West Virginia tonight for another campaign- style rally.

We have it all covered for you. Let's begin with CNN's Sara Murray. She is live at the White House.

Hi, Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

Well, it's pretty clear the president is making a play to shore up his base. One other thing that might make his base happy: chief of staff John Kelly, CNN has learned, called Jeff Sessions earlier this week, one of Trump's earliest supporters, assured him his job is safe.

This as Trump makes other moves, including unveiling this immigration policy that would drastically rewrite the way the U.S. organizes its legal immigration system.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump endorsing proposed legislation to slash illegal immigration in half over the next decade and shift the country to a so-called merit-based system.

TRUMP: This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families, and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy.

MURRAY: The rollout of the bill accompanied by a combative press briefing. Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller facing off with CNN's Jim Acosta about whether the policy is in line with American values.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The Statue of Liberty says, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." It doesn't say anything about speaking English. MILLER: The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty enlightening the

world. It's a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you're referring to was added later, is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.

MURRAY: A line of questioning that quickly turned personal.

ACOSTA: This whole notion of well, they could learn -- you know, they have to learn English before they get in the United States. Are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?

MILLER: It shows your cosmopolitan bias. And I just want to say...

ACOSTA: It sounds like you're trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country.

MILLER: That is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant and foolish things you've ever said. And for you, that's still a really -- the notion that you think that this is a racist bill is so wrong.

MURRAY: The controversial plan also sparking fierce debate in Congress.

GRAHAM: To take all the green cards and put them in one end of the economy is just, I think, ill-advised; and I can't support that.

MURRAY: The growing rift between President Trump and his own party also on display Wednesday when the president reluctantly signed the Russia sanctions bill away from the cameras before slamming Congress's veto-proof bill as seriously flawed and unconstitutional, claiming that he can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.

Senator John McCain striking back, noting, "I hope the president will be as vocal about Russia's aggressive behavior as he was about his concerns with this legislation."

It comes as the president's approval numbers hit a new low; and mounting credibility issues are straining his political capital. The White House conceding that two phone calls the president recently touted with the president of Mexico and the Boy Scouts actually never happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Specifically said that he received a phone call from the president of Mexico...

SANDERS: They were actually direct -- they were direct conversations, not actual phone calls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So he lied? He didn't receive that call?

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

MURRAY: As for the president's claim that the Boy Scouts called to tell him last week's appearance was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, the press secretary said this.

SANDERS: Multiple members of the Boy Scout leadership, following his speech there that day congratulated him, praised him and offered quite -- I'm looking for the word -- quite powerful compliments following his speech. And those were what those references were about.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, of course, the Boy Scouts denied that there was any kind of phone call congratulating President Trump. And in fact, their leadership apologized after the event that Trump spoke at for inserting political rhetoric into what was supposed to be an apolitical event.

But looking forward, not backward, two things we'll be watching here at the White House today. One, President Trump's 11 a.m. meeting with H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser. This as President Trump weighs what to do on Afghanistan policy.

And then, later tonight, back to West Virginia for yet another political rally, playing to the base yet again there.

Back to you guys.

CUOMO: Sara, appreciate it.

Let's bring in the panel. CNN political analysts Karoun Demirjian, David Drucker and John Avlon. Who makes the cut under the new merit- based criteria? Whose people would have still gotten in? Camerota and I would be crushing grapes somewhere if we even existed.

CAMEROTA: I know.

CUOMO: The Avlons make it? The Demirjians? Drucker?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I'm out.

CUOMO: All of us. So what does that tell us about the merit-based system and what it would mean to the fundamentals? Do we have sound of what happened with Jim Acosta and Stephen Miller last night? Because this became an argument about the fundamental premise of the promise of this country. Listen to how it played out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: What you're proposing, what the president is proposing here does not sound like it's in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration. The Statue of Liberty says, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Doesn't say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer.

Aren't you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you're telling them you have to speak English? Can't people learn how to speak English when they get here? MILLER: Well, first of all, right now it's a requirement to be

naturalized you have to speak English. So the notion that speaking English wouldn't be a part of immigration systems would be actually very ahistorical.

Secondly, I don't want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty enlightening the world. It's a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you're referring to was added later. It was not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[06:05:02] CUOMO: All right. John Avlon, what do you make -- first of all, they're -- speaking English is not a sole criterion for getting in here.

CAMEROTA: It's not even a requirement. There are actually exceptions.

CUOMO: Yes. There are -- there are exceptions. Is there?

CAMEROTA: To be a citizen.

CUOMO: There are exceptions. But that's not the real issue. How do you see this?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think first of all, this is a flip-flop by the president and by longstanding Republican policy, where the argument has always been, we're going to get really tough on illegal immigration, but we're going to expand legal immigration, because it's the right thing to do. I understand that perspective.

And we should be able to have a debate about immigration in this country without people, you know, calling each other racist and talk about the role of assimilation. But what this does is truly ahistorical.

Look, if all of us here, as you pointed out, if an unskilled immigrant who didn't speak English was blocked, my family wouldn't be here. Your family wouldn't be here. Apparently everyone on the panel today, and I think that speaks to the real genius of America.

And so you want to be real careful about throwing up roadblocks if we're still going to be a beacon of freedom.

CAMEROTA: But President Trump would be happy if all of us weren't here today. I just want to point out, Karoun, that is -- that is a goal actually.

So I mean, what the problem, I think, with this policy is, is that it's not data-driven; it's not fact-based. I mean, the facts are that immigrants have an impressive track record when it comes to entrepreneurial spirit, when it comes to employing people. They actually do better than their -- than native-born -- meaning immigrants are something like 13 percent of the country. But they are 20 percent of all the entrepreneurs in the country.

Here's just a few statistics. So it just -- it flies in the face of the facts of what they contribute, Karoun.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Assuming all the people that are contributing are the ones coming in with, you know, very, very deep trust funds and bank accounts that can just immediately start spending on -- you know, hiring American citizens for jobs, is -- is a flawed understanding of how things have worked in this country.

It also just -- I mean, so it doesn't make -- it sits in a strange moral place for a lot of people, because so many people in this country have living relatives, ancestors that came, not being able to speak English, learned it potentially before they got naturalized. But that gives you a five-year gap, still,

And it also just doesn't make economic sense for right now. It's kind of interesting how, you know, we paint this as something that's, you know, to please the base. And it very well may please Trump's base, but it has not sat well with the Republican Party. They are not comfortable with this. This would be an economic shock to the system of many, many states. And you saw a lot of -- a lot of Republicans who are pretty conservative say, "No, we can't do this."

And again, remember this. We're talking about legal immigration when we're talking about changing these standards which a lot of people, actually, a lot of Republicans believe certain categories of legal immigration should be increased, not decreased. This is not the illegal immigration conversation that we seem to hear much more cohesion around. This is legal immigrants, and it hits a real nerve, both in a personal sense and an economic sense for a lot of people.

CUOMO: Look, "The Washington Post" survey of 18 economists in July found that 89 percent believe it's a bad idea for Trump to curb immigration to the United States.

The jobs that many of the low-skilled labor immigrants fill are ones that Americans will not, the existing labor pool. It's just supply and demand.

David Drucker, though, there is something else. Stephen Miller used the word "ahistorical," referring to ahistoricism. That's about the flouting of traditions. That's not what Acosta was doing; that's what Stephen Miller was doing.

His brush-aside of the Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus" poem, saying, you know, "That was added later." One, of course it was added later. The pedestal that they're on was added later. It was a fund-raising effort to have a pedestal under the statue that the French have given us.

But he also wanted to wave away the signature promise of this country. Who is America if it is not inviting the desperate to its shores?

DRUCKER: Look, I think that what Stephen Miller reflected was one of the things that fueled President Trump's campaign, one of the reasons he was elected president. There are a lot of people in the country that don't feel like the immigration rules are working for them. They look at it as unfair, and so the administration is trying to fulfill one of its campaign promises to do something about it.

One, I do not think they have to flout longstanding U.S. tradition and our embrace of immigrants, though not always as smooth as we would like to think, if we go back to the early 20th Century all the way through World War II, it was a very rocky embrace at times of immigrants, even though going back to the 19th Century all the way through the 20th Century, it has been a part of America's character.

I think the second thing to understand here, is that there are not the votes for this thing to pass in Congress. And this is not simply a 60-votes issue where eight Democrats can stand in the way of getting anything done. There are a lot of Republicans, even though this bill was introduced by two Republicans, one from Georgia, one from Arkansas, Ron Johnson from Wisconsin took some issues with it yesterday, Lindsey Graham from South Carolina. Abd there are a whole host of Republicans in the House and the Senate that look at immigration differently, even though they are sympathetic to some of the goals of what this legislation would try to do.

[06:10:04] AVLON: But what is the point, then, for the White House to push this yesterday? Yes, it's -- it's a hobby horse. But the headlines are terrible for an administration and a political movement that says, "We've always been misinterpreted as being anti-immigrant. That's not what we're saying about cracking down on illegal."

Also, to do it on the week they had billed American Dream Week, there is a cruel irony to that which one can only assume is intentional. Because one of the only people paying attention to White House theme weeks are people who work in the White House. You know, that is really worth considering. What good is done? How does it live up to our best traditions? And how does it really connect to economic concerns rather than identity politics concerns?

CAMEROTA: Karoun, there's a new poll that we should tell people about this morning. It's a Quinnipiac that finds a new low for President Trump. He's at a 33 percent approval rating at the moment. That's down from June of 40 percent. His approval rate obviously has gone up to 61 percent. Your thoughts?

Well, I mean, those numbers are across the country, and I'm sure they split differently when you break it up party to party, which matters more for kind of, you know, Trump's political prognosis.

But it's a reflection of the fact that he's had an extremely difficult six months. There were a whole bunch of campaign promises that we were supposed to see, by his promise, come to fruition by now. What we've seen is things just continue to hit the skids.

I mean, the health care did not work. We're still waiting on seeing what's going to happen with tax reform, there's been all kinds of political squabbling. And just the cloud over the Russia investigation hanging over the administration. And, you know, the two victories they can point to right now are a Supreme Court justice, OK. And Trump has been pointing to this Russia sanctions bill, which his administration was lobbying against and he just came out and said he didn't like, even when he signed it.

So it's not a great track record right now. And I think that kind of is reflected in those numbers.

CUOMO: David Drucker, what do you think their take is on why their numbers are low?

DRUCKER: Well, I think they recognize that the White House has been running very chaotically without any direction, without any cohesion, and it makes the president look like he doesn't know what he's doing and can't do the job. I think that's why they brought in General Kelly to right the ship. I think that's why, at least initially for the time being, the president has empowered Kelly to bring order to the White House, to serve as the gatekeeper to the Oval Office and why we've seen him reassure Jeff Sessions that he's not going anywhere, because that did not sit well.

And so I think they're trying to make changes. Look, this is what Donald Trump always does. He gets himself into trouble. He gets himself into more trouble. He's on the verge of falling off a cliff that he'll never be able to recover from. And then he rights the ship. He brings in somebody new, and then the pattern starts all over again.

I think the key part of that poll, by the way, that Quinnipiac poll, his approval with Republicans in that poll is down to 76 percent. One of the things that's been saving this president is that he's been really low with his numbers nationally, but with Republicans, he's been pretty solid. And if he continues along the route that he was on last week, he's going to end up in trouble with his own party, and then he's in real trouble.

AVLON: The real headline from this poll is Trump's support among non- college educated whites is down to 43 percent.

CUOMO: He got two out of three of those voters during the election. He was sort of about 67 percent of that vote.

AVLON: That is a huge problem for the White House. It's not about optics. It's about something bigger than that. And that's the number the White House will be looking at.

CAMEROTA: Panel, stick around. We have many more issues to cover.

CUOMO: So Anthony Scaramucci is going to be back in the news in a big way. How? Tomorrow, he is holding an online event through, I believe, Facebook Live, but he's going to use Periscope and some other broadcast media, to get out his message directly to you and to take your questions about why he left, why he was there, and how he believes he is being maligned in terms of describing his character.

CAMEROTA: That will be very interesting.

Mario Cantone, who had a brief moment as impersonating Anthony Scaramucci, tweeted overnight, "I thought it was over. Oh, my God. Two weeks ago I was very relaxed."

CUOMO: But he also has to be very excited. Because he's going to get another at-bat here. Because there's no question that tonight on the show, Comedy Central's "The President Show," Cantone is going to be back on it. And with Scaramucci doing this online event tomorrow, who knows what that breeds?

CAMEROTA: Stretch it out as long as possible, Mario.

Meanwhile, the president, it turns out, of Mexico, did not call President Trump to praise him. And neither did the Boy Scouts, they say. But President Trump insists that they did tell him -- give him these messages. So what does this say about his credibility? We discuss next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:18:28] CAMEROTA: Two phone calls President Trump bragged about apparently never happened. The first, Mr. Trump claimed, came from the head of the Boy Scouts, who he claimed says that Mr. Trump's speech was, quote, "The greatest that was ever made to them." And then the second call was supposedly with the president of Mexico about border policies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Even the president of Mexico called me. They said their southern border, very few people are coming, because they know they're not going to get through our border, which is the ultimate compliment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: But now the White House admits neither of those calls ever happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He specifically said that he received a phone call from the president of Mexico...

SANDERS: They were actually direct -- they were direct conversations, not actual phone calls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So he lied? He didn't receive phone calls?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: The place -- the part that's missing is where you then say...

[DOING JON LOVITZ IMITATION] "Yes, that's the ticket. It was a direct conversation. He came to me face-to-face. It was me and all the Boy Scouts." CAMEROTA: Morgan Fairchild.

CUOMO: [DOING JON LOVITZ IMITATION] "If you people covered more of my rallies, you'd see these things."

CAMEROTA: I have to bring in the panel now. Let's bring back John Avlon, Karoun Demirjian and CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd.

CUOMO: Got Phil smiling. You know it's a good line if you get that sourpuss smiling.

CAMEROTA: Wow. John...

AVLON: Yes.

CAMEROTA: ... as funny as the John Lovitz retake is, phone call in person, who cares? What's the distinction?

[06:20:02] AVLON: Look, I think the distinction is, is that the White House got to admit things directly out of the president's mouth are not true. And if he's lying about something small, that's an indication of where we are with this presidency in credibility. It's the canary in the coal mine.

And then, of course, there's also the fact that this -- these comments line up with a pattern the president has, which is saying that "People have been coming up to me and saying at very high levels that it was the greatest speech ever given. Right? Gettysburg Address, some people have its fans, but I'm pretty sure my speech to Congress or in Poland was better received than that.:

And of course, that just strains credulity. And you've got a pattern of the president saying that people are coming and talking about personal angers. Everyone talking about John Podesta's e-mails, allegedly. Or they're coming up to him and saying it was the greatest speech ever given. Those things straining credulity from a common- sense standpoint. So you've got lying about small things and then kind of a fluff rate doesn't rise to the level of reality.

CUOMO: It's what the president used to refer to, Karoun, as truthful hyperbole. In "The Art of the Deal" he wrote, or somebody wrote with him that "People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration."

Except it isn't. And hence the Latin phrase, "falsus in uno, falsus in tuto." If somebody lies to you about something, you must now be suspicious of everything they say. And that becomes contagious when you're evaluating what comes out of the White House. Does it not?

DEMIRJIAN: First of all, once you start lying about small things, you can sometimes forget where that line is between the small thing and the big thing. Right?

And one of the issues here with this one in particular is the fact that the Boy Scouts came out and said, "We're really sorry about that speech, that it went into a political arena that it shouldn't have gone into." So the idea that at the same time, they're privately telling Trump that, "Oh, no, it was the greatest speech then ever heard" is -- strains credulity, as you said.

So, yes, it's a -- it's smaller examples can lead to a bigger problem, but also, this has not been an isolated example of the president. He has stretched the truth or made facts up. We've even heard the line "alternative facts" come out of people that are close to him. I mean, this is not an isolated circumstance, and so it just kind of fits a pattern that's now making him seem like he's less credible than more credible, if this continues.

CAMEROTA: Phil, you can feel free to weigh in on the president's credibility, or we can move on to the policy that the president signed, and that was that Congress did send him the bill about sanctions against Russia for their meddling in the U.S. The president signed it, but he did so reluctantly. And he said here, "The bill remains seriously flawed, particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch's authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking. By limiting the executive's flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people and will drive China, Russia and North Korea much closer together."

Your thoughts on his statement?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: So what of that do you believe? Let me link that to the previous conversation about ability and make this real. Some people might laugh about the alleged conversations over the phone with the Boy Scouts and Mexico. This is not a laughing matter, despite the fact that I was laughing earlier.

Let me give you a reason why. Let's take the Iran nuclear deal. The president has had serious questions in his staff about the Iran nuclear deal. He's in a different place than his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

If we go down the path and the White House under President Trump comes out and starts talking about Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal and the president says, "I don't think he's in compliance," what do we say about that? Do we say it's true? Do we say he's faking intelligence?

One quick fact her, Alisyn. I think this increases the significance of the cabinet. The secretary of state, the secretary of defense, we've already seen this on Russian meddling when the intel guys have been out saying basically the president is wrong. We saw this from Jim Comey when he had to come out and say nobody bugged Trump Tower. This is going to increase pressure on cabinet members to come out in public over time when the president talks about things like the Iran nuclear deal and say, "Hey, the boss man, he made that stuff up; it ain't true."

CUOMO: Also, look, you have a couple of different problems that emerge here. One is, it was a direct conversation? Prove it. You know, you're so tightly scheduled with the president, so much is recorded. And...

CAMEROTA: But we haven't heard from people saying that it's not yet. We've heard them saying, "We didn't make a phone call." We haven't heard from the Boy Scouts or Pena Nieto saying, "No, I didn't have that..."

CUOMO: Well, we've heard from both parties not owning the substance of that conversation. Why wouldn't they have drawn the distinction and be, like, "I don't know about the phone call, but yes, our president said this," or "Yes, our Boy Scout leader said that"? So that's your first one.

But also, there's something else here that will certainly happen. You will get an immediate divide on the basis of this reporting, and -- because President Trump, his White House is not the first to make a market of mendacity. Right? Politicians are often loose with the truth. They spin. We understand that. But that doesn't make what they're doing, John Avlon, OK. The fact that President Obama or some other president may have also stretched the truth doesn't mean that his stretching of it is, therefore, OK.

[06:25:00] AVLON: No, and engaging the what about as a sort of, you know, CYA in a political sense doesn't -- isn't sufficient.

You know, what the problem is, is the pattern, is the willingness to lie about small things and big, and the recognition that whatever Trump scales is, as a master marketer, as a hype man. When you're president of the United States, words matter.

And Phil's example is great, because all of a sudden words you're using casually, are they official position of the United States? Does that come from intel? It causes confusion among our allies. It diminishes American leadership and presidential leadership.

And the point about the cabinet standing up is key, not only because, I think, cabinet members have been playing a game of contain the president. But because increasingly, you're seeing when the president makes a statement that seems like policy, members of the government say, "We're not going to see it as of official policy until the proper channels are used?" That's fascinating. That's different. That's a recognition there's a real problem.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for all this.

We should mention that ahead on NEW DAY we will talk about all of this with various senators. We have Jeff Flake, Todd Young, Tim Kaine and Heidi Heitkamp for you.

CUOMO: All right. So another story for you, two people killed by a gas explosion at a Minnesota school. Investigators say they know how it happened, and it matters, next.

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