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Trump Faces Backlash Over Legal Immigration Plan; Poll: Trump's Approval Rating Falls to 33 Percent. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 3, 2017 - 07:00   ET

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


SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: As you pointed out, he's headed to West Virginia tonight. His new chief of staff, John Kelly, also made a call to Jeff Sessions, a favorite of conservatives to say, hey, look, your job is safe, all of this on top of this new immigration plan the president threw his support behind yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[07:00:20] MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump endorsing proposed legislation to slash legal 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.

STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE POLICY ADVISOR: 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.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: 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...

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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, the Boy Scouts have denied that any actual -- actual phone call commending the president on his speech. And in fact, the leadership of that organization apologized after the president spoke to the group, saying he politicized what was supposed to be a non- political event.

Back to you guys.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Sara, thank you very much. Let's discuss all this with our panel. We want to bring in CNN senior

political analyst Ron Brownstein, CNN political director David Chalian and Politico.com senior Washington correspondent Anna Palmer. Great to see all of you.

Ron, let's dive into the numbers and get into the nitty-gritty of these numbers. I know that's your specialty. So tell us, what jumps out at you? Here's the headline. His approval rating is now at its lowest. It has gone down from 40 percent in June to now 33 percent.

But there's all sorts of other interesting nuggets in here. What do you see?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. The Quinnipiac poll is at the low end of what we have seen, but they're all moving in the same direction, and they're all in the same ball park.

And what's striking, Alisyn, here, is not only the overall deterioration, but the deterioration among the groups that have been central to his victory in 2016 and his electoral commission. In the Quinnipiac poll, he is net negative among non-college whites, the group that gave him a higher share of their vote that they gave to any candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1994.

And he's also net negative among older Americans, who were the -- you know, and when you look at both of those groups, what you see is a significant increase in the strong disapproval which, I think, is what is coming up on the screen.

[07:05:02] Look at people from 50 to 64. When he took office in January in the Quinnipiac poll, 28 percent of them strongly disapproved of his presidency.

Now that has doubled to 55 percent among the non-college whites, up to 43 percent strongly disapproving and an increase of over 50 percent from where he started. It is probably not a coincidence. If those were the two groups that would have been among the biggest losers in all of the Republican health care plans, which are really tough on older working adults, two-thirds of everybody in the country, 45 to 64 is white.

And I think it is also, Alisyn, not a coincidence that, as you see this decline after the health care debate, that the president has moved right over the past two weeks on so many social issues, from transgenders serving in the military to the speech on police brutality Friday to yesterday's double feature of the 50 percent cut in legal immigration and the revelation that the Justice Department is looking at attacking affirmative action.

I think this is an attempt to restore, on cultural grounds, voters that he has been drifting away from him on economic grounds.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So David Chalian, if that is the what, the raw scores on the numbers. What is the why? What do you think that the analysis that comes out of this says as to why the president is seeing this softening and support? DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I

actually don't think this is very difficult. When you don't get stuff done, the country doesn't seem to be pleased with your job. I mean, I think it's quite simple. When you are the president and a Republican and you control the House and the Senate and you're in the Oval Office and this is a long time coming, that you want all of those levels of power and you're unable to actually deliver, you're going to get bad marks.

I completely agree with what Ron is saying about what we've seen in this last week to ten days, sort of the Bannon strategy I would argue here. It's like the push to make sure you rekindle the base.

One of the other numbers inside this poll that I think is going to set off real alarm bells in the White House is the support among Republicans. He's at 76 percent approval among his own party. That's a danger sign. That is getting down to a place where Republican leaders are going to be quite concerned if that number keeps going down about just how much of a weight he might be on the party going into next year's midterms.

CAMEROTA: Anna, look, David is right, obviously, about legislation not having been passed, but Chris just wrapped up a segment with an "Atlantic" writer about all of the things that the president has accomplished quietly, maybe behind the scenes. These are in terms of executive orders. These are in terms of sort of rolling back some environmental regulations. This is getting out of Paris. This is border crossings being down.

So I hear all the time from his supporters that they think that he is getting a lot of stuff done. I'm wondering how Washington is responding to that.

ANNA PALMER, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO.COM: Certainly -- I saw that piece, as well. He's done stuff in terms of the executive orders and thrown some red meat to the base here, as David was just saying.

But I actually think in the capital, there is growing concern, particularly among Republican leaders, about what this means for 2018. Lawmakers are nothing if focused on their own self-preservation in terms of re-election. And as much as Donald Trump continues to do things that they don't feel are going to help them get elected, I think you're going to see those start to part ways, whether that's on Russian sanctions and how he's approaching Russia, whether that's on his new immigration law.

You saw, you know, Lindsey Graham and others are very concerned about this. And really, what they want to know is when is tax reform going to happen? When is some of these things that, you know, President Trump promised, infrastructure reform, that they can bring back to their base, their voters and say, "Look, we did get something done. You should reelect me. Put me back in office in 2018."

CUOMO: Ron, how big a deal are the personal numbers? I've never seen a 62, "No, you're not honest," number before in a major poll. Does this resonate, or is the Don still Teflon when it comes to that assessment?

BROWNSTEIN: Look, I never thought he was Teflon. I mean, you know, the only time you see the 62 number or something like it was the person he was running against in 2016, Hillary Clinton. And in many ways, I think what we are seeing now is Donald Trump against -- standing next to himself as opposed to standing next to someone that the public had substantial doubts about.

When you look at the weakness in these numbers, particularly among college-educated white voters, for instance. He is much lower than a Republican president usually is. This may be a more accurate reflection of his natural waterline with those voters when you take away the backdrop of their concerns about Hillary Clinton.

Let me just add one last point. You know, historically, as David knows, political strategists look at strong approval and strong disapproval as a gauge of who is likely to vote in the midterm. At this point, the share of Americans, a majority of Americans say they strongly disapprove of Trump's performance in office. It's more than double the share that strongly approve. That number has been going down.

I mean, the tension here is that historically, Republican constituencies vote more in the midterm, older whites than Democratic constituents in minorities and young people. But those Democratic landing constituencies are extremely negative on Trump. And whether that changes the historic turnout patterns will probably be the critical issue to determine which side is holding the House after 2018.

[07:10:05] CAMEROTA: OK, David. Let's move from polls to policies. So there are two senators, at least, Senator David Purdue and Tom Cotton, who had proposed this immigration overhaul that would slash legal immigration over the next decade by 50 percent, and the White House supports it.

Now, there's also all sorts of senators who say that it -- this would cripple their states. So does this stand a snowball's chance in hell?

CHALIAN: Well, it will certainly stand a snowball's chance in hell in generating a lot of conversation. Getting legislation to the president's desk for him to sign on this seems like a remote possibility to me at the moment with the way things are stacked up in Congress.

But I -- but what you're going to see here is also again, not unlike a little bit of what we saw in health care. You're going to start seeing divides within the Republican Party, within the majority party here. You just saw Lindsey Graham in Sara Murray's piece there. There's sort of the, you know, business wing of the Republican Party and the more, let's say, Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, to Ron's point about those non-college whites.

I mean, this -- this kind of proposal can really enliven the core base of Trump's support in many ways. This speaks to some of their most heartfelt concerns about economic pressure on them and their families, their neighbors. So it's not that this is going to be rejected out of hand. It's not that this may even be politically smart for the president to go down this road in terms of enlivening that base of support for him.

But it is going -- it is something that divides his own party, which is why I think it's very difficult to see it actually getting to the president's desk.

CUOMO: Anna, do you think that this is about the numbers? Because we know that economists who were surveyed by "The Washington Post" don't think it would help the economy. We know what the data reveals. We know that the jobs that most of these immigrants take are ones that Americans will not take. And if you talk to the growers and the service industry, these lower-skilled jobs, they're jobs where they need them to fill.

You ask Donald Trump, he just made a request to hire more foreign workers, and they were not I.T. specialists. So we know what the data is about. So is this another pitch to the base, questioning the promise of America, questioning, you know, our diversity as our strength and defining or redefining who we want to be in this country?

PALMER: I think two things are at play here. One, I think this is not surprising that Donald Trump came out this way. This is something he campaigned on heavily during his presidential election.

And I think the second point is this is another way in Washington -- as David pointed out, it's very unlikely this actually happens in Congress, that they're going to get a bill to his desk for him to sign. This is another point for him to say Washington doesn't work. I'm making my promises. I'm trying to get things done. And once again, we need to drain the swamp. Washington is broken.

BROWNSTEIN: Chris...

CAMEROTA: Very quickly.

BROWNSTEIN: One thing. Yes, I mean, leaning inside the question of what it means for American values, even in the interest of Trump voters, this is very questionable policy. You know, 80 percent of today's seniors are white.

We are adding 40 more million seniors over the next roughly 30 years. The rejections are under this bill. The net growth in the workforce would be zero, which means we'd be asking the work today's -- the workforce to support 40 million more seniors, which would translate into higher Social Security or Medicare taxes. 80 percent of today's seniors are white; they are voting Republican. If you limit immigration to this extent, you put more pressure, more strain on the programs they rely on now and in the future.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right. So Arizona Senator Jeff Flake is under fire for calling out President Trump. He's also receiving praise with some fellow Republicans. Why did he speak out, and what does it mean for his own political future? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:17:49] CUOMO: We're starting to see a change. For a long time the GOP, the elected officials in that party have been quiet. They haven't spoken out, no matter what the president has said or done. But now we do hear some speaking out.

More importantly, we see others working together with the other party, the Democrats, for bipartisan solutions on issues like health care. Now, some of the harshest criticism towards the White House is coming from Republican Senator Jeff Flake. He's got a new book out. And the White House is criticizing him for attacking the president. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: 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 passing legislation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Senator Flake is the author of "conscience of a conservative." He joins us now.

Senator, good to have you on the show. What do you make of the response from the White House?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: You know, this book is about the state of conservatism. It includes a discussion of this president that starts much before, during our time before this administration came in.

So you know, members of Congress are not rubber stamps. Sometimes I agree with the president. Sometimes I don't.

CUOMO: Well, what do you make of the idea that, if you take on the president on any level, you must expect to be attacked? Are you comfortable with that? Do you think that's the right dynamic? Will it quiet your criticism?

FLAKE: There's always back and forth. But I should note that when I came to Congress in 2001, I opposed President Bush's first initiative, No Child Left Behind. And then the prescription drug benefit I opposed.

But I still get along with President Bush, and we still work together. President Trump, I think, named a great Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch. And he does -- he's done very good things on regulatory policy. But there's some things that I think are not conservative. And that's what the book is about. And some of that has to do not with policy, but with demeanor and comportment and some of the things that the president has said.

We in the Senate have to work across the aisle. The rules require us to. We need 60 votes for just about anything, and we can't do that. If we continue to ascribe the worst motives to our opponents or call them names, it just -- it doesn't work; and it doesn't allow us to pass conservative legislation if we do that.

[06:20:05] CUOMO: Why do you think we're seeing this change now? Not just you, but we are seeing other Republicans speak out. When the president says something that's outrageous or unusually insulting, we're hearing more about it. Because for a long time -- we're still not hearing it from McConnell or from Ryan. You're not hearing it from the leadership. You are hearing it from others. Why the shift?

FLAKE: Well, I think what we want as conservatives, we want to enact conservative policy. And it's increasingly difficult to do, if you know, like I said, if we just blame the other side and call them clowns or losers.

And that just doesn't work when you work with the other side to pass legislation. It's very difficult in the Senate, like I said, to move any legislation unless it's bipartisan or you have some support, and we can't do that if we continue to blame the other side and not work with them at all.

CUOMO: The president blames you guys specifically for not getting health care passed. He puts it on you. It was your promise to repeal and replace. He inherited it. And you guys couldn't get the vote done, even though you have the numbers.

What do you make of the responsibility and the accountability for the president in this health care process?

FLAKE: Well, the big burden is on the House and the Senate. We're the ones that have the -- you know, we're supposed to vote it out. So I think a lot of that blame is certainly appropriate. It's a lot easier when you work with the administration on something and when you have a good working relationship.

That hasn't been quite as close or as good as we'd like it to be, but it is the Congress's responsibility. It's the president's responsibility to sign legislation or reject it.

CUOMO: What do you make of the immigration bill proposal. Let me ask you something. Would the Flakes have made the cut?

FLAKE: You know, what I've done -- I participated in the bipartisan immigration reform bill a couple of years ago. We did move a lot of the family-based visas to so-called merit-based visas. I think it's appropriate to make that kind of shift.

Having said that, we still left a good number of family-based visas and didn't cut the overall numbers. So while I agree that we ought to move in the direction that some other countries moved in like Australia and Canada in terms of merit-based visas. The overall number cut, I think, this would cut it to about half of our current legal immigration, just isn't the right direction for the economy.

CUOMO: Right. Well, you have -- you have two different issues here. You have a values issue which matters. And that's why I was asking you the question about your ancestry, which I'll get back to.

And then you have the economic one. Low-skilled labor matters. The jobs, supply and demand suggests heavily. The jobs that the immigrants get are the jobs that Americans don't want, won't do. You talk to your growers, your pickers. You talked to Donald Trump, who just asked to hire more foreign workers in one of his service businesses.

That's what they're doing. They're not stealing American jobs. That's, you know, to suggest that's the basis of this policy is inaccurate. Is it not?

FLAKE: Right. We know very well in Arizona, in particular, the value of migrant labor. I grew up on a ranch in Snowflake, Arizona. I talk about it a lot in the book. I grew up working next to migrant labor.

And I always felt that they were making America better, and we are better off because of their hard work. And so I've been very supportive of immigration reform that first secures the border, and if we have interior enforcement, but that we have a humane and generous mechanism for those who have crossed the border illegally simply to support their family and haven't committed criminal acts other than crossing the border. And then also to have robust temporary worker programs to allow us to have the labor that we need to benefit our economy.

So I very much agree that we are far better off because of migrant labor. And also, I have a chapter in there about some doctors that saved my father-in-law. They came from majority Muslim countries, that under the current travel ban, you know, they probably wouldn't be here. And so I think we ought to look -- and as Republicans, I hope that we are always welcoming of immigrants.

CUOMO: Well, but so what do you make of the notion of the president's senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, brushing aside "The New Colossus" poem and the words as being added on later to the Statue of Liberty, as if "huddled masses and those yearning to be free," that that's not really a core principle for America's invitation to the world. Do you believe that?

FLAKE: I believe, and my book is a lot about traditional conservatism along the lines of Ronald Reagan, his second inaugural address where we talked about what he saw America as, you know, the shining city on the hill, and that if we obviously couldn't have open borders, we shouldn't have, but we should have doors that swing wide for those that want to come here.

CUOMO: Right.

[07:25:08] FLAKE: And that's the kind of America that I think we have had and that we should have in the future.

CUOMO: Well, Senator, I appreciate you coming on. About the book, it will be interesting to see what the spirit of cooperation and what the spirit of pushback and checking power in the executive yields. What do you see coming on the horizon? Do you think we'll see some

proposals on health care, maybe even bipartisan ones that move health care in the right direction, making it better where it is now weak?

FLAKE: You know, I wanted to keep the reform alive. In Arizona this morning, more than 200,000 Arizonans will wake up without health care. They paid the fine, but they can't afford a policy. We desperately need reforms that will help them out.

But we've reached the limits of what we can do as one party. I think last week demonstrated that. And so we're going to be working across the aisle. The committees will start to work and, hopefully, we'll have a product that we can actually sign that will make the situation better.

CUOMO: Now, we know, Senator, you know, you were at the shooting at the baseball practice. We remember your bravery after that.

Do you think that changed anything, reminded people of the fragility of life, what really matters down there in Washington, on just a human level, what you talk about in terms of comportment and decency?

FLAKE: I sure hope so. I just remember thinking, as soon as the firing started, when he was spraying gunfire all over the field, I remember looking at the dugout and seeing, you know, the gravel pitch up as the bullets were hitting it. And for some reason, I just had the thought that seemed to last a while, like, us? You know, why? Why here?

And I talk about in the book how a -- how a gunman can look out on a field of a bunch of middle-aged members of Congress playing baseball and see the enemy. It just -- it doesn't say good things about where we are as a country and that we've come to such a point that we -- there's such vitriol that these kind of things can happen.

CUOMO: Look, there's no question. It's a terrible way to get a reminder that our interdependence, our interconnectedness is our strength, and that what separates us is nothing compared to what holds us together. But thank God you survived. We've talked to Mo Brooks about the same thing, the bravery that day. And hopefully, it does serve as a reminder to listen to our better angels.

Senator Flake, thank you very much for being with us. Good luck with the book.

FLAKE: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. So coming up in our next hour, we're going to be joined by senators Todd Young, Tim Kaine and Heidi Heitkamp. We're going to get their take on what may change, what needs to happen in Washington to get things done for you -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris. President Trump is backing some big changes to the U.S. immigration policy. The White House calls it pro-American. Critics say it will hurt the country. A debate you don't want to miss next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)