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New Sanctions Toughest Yet on North Korea; Mike Pence Pushes Back on Report of a 2020 Bid; Curbing the Influence of Money in Politics; Trump's Approval Ratings at All-Time Low; CNN Goes to the Heart of the Opioid Crisis; How Trump Almost Became President in "Sharknado 3"; Dow Tops 22,000 as Earnings Take Center Stage. Aired 6- 7p ET

Aired August 6, 2017 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Right now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in the Philippines at a gathering of Asian Foreign ministers. He has also met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, for the first time since the U.S. leveled new economic sanctions against his country and has been just one day since this moment when U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley and other members of the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted in a slate of tough economic sanctions against North Korea.

Now North Korea's Foreign minister was actually at that summit in the Philippines, in the same room with Rex Tillerson this weekend. No word just yet on whether the two diplomats will formally meet. That's not expected to happen. We don't even know if they'll speak to each other even. But these new sanctions against North Korea are the strongest ever. A direct response to Pyongyang's continued ICBM tests and other U.N. rules violations.

The sanctions go after North Korea's money, cutting exports and limiting business and banking deals with other countries. Now after the vote, just yesterday, I spoke with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Watch.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: North Korea now has to look at the rest of the world and see that they're all telling them to stop this reckless activity and they need to respond to that, and they need to respond in a good way.

We want to see peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. We want to see responsibility come back in.


CABRERA: With me now to talk about more about this, CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott, international correspondent Alexandra Field, international security analyst and former CIA head of Russia operations, Steve Hall.

First to Seoul and Alex. Any reaction yet from the North on these harsh new economic sanctions?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a threat in a state-run newspaper, Ana, that the U.S. will sink into a sea of unimaginable fire if the United States continues its, quote- unquote, "hostile policy" toward North Korea.

That's a fairly typical response, frankly, from North Korea. It's the kind of thing we routinely see published by their state-run news outlets. At the same time we have to wait and see if they will respond in a more bold way, perhaps not if, but when.

This is a regime that has launched at least 12 different ballistic missiles tests since the start of the year. It's also a regime that has said the two recent launches were a direct response to extreme sanctions from the U.S., and also stepped-up military pressure.

So the Chinese Foreign minister is at this point calling for a calm response from North Korea. There was a conversation that took place just this weekend at a diplomatic meeting where the Chinese Foreign minister was able to speak to the North Korean Foreign Ministry. That was the message that he passed along.

China, of course, had to get behind these very tough sanctions in order for this to get through the U.N. Security Council. That happened after some weeks of negotiation. We do know, obviously, that in recent weeks, while China and the U.S. say they share the same goal of diffusing the crisis on the North Korean Peninsula, they've differed in the best approach for achieving that.

What we're hearing now again from the region is the Chinese Foreign minister saying that these sanctions were necessary, but that the end goal here for China remains getting everyone to the table for negotiation which they feel is the only way to begin to get to denuclearization -- Ana.

CABRERA: Elise, I want to ask you a little bit more about China's role in all of this because in the past China reduced exports of coal to North Korea in response to missile tests. But as President Trump pointed out in a tweet just this past week, on Wednesday, trade between the two has continued, between China and North Korea. It's surged, in fact, up 37 percent, I believe, in the past, little bit.

So Rex Tillerson, of course, is at that Asia summit right now. What can he do to keep China's position aggressive against North Korea?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, Anna, it's the carrot-and-stick approach. And Secretary Tillerson met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang today in Manila at that ASEAN forum.

I think it's a little bit, as Alex said, trying to get the Chinese on board. And I think credit does go to Nikki Haley at the U.N. and also Secretary Tillerson for getting China to sign on. I mean, these resolutions are never easy to get China to sign on, especially when it comes to sanctions. And as we said, these are the toughest so far.

But I think it's also, you know, implicit, and President Trump has made no bones about this, that if China does not cooperate, the U.S. is going to pass secondary sanctions on Chinese banks, on Chinese individuals that are doing business with North Korea. And President Trump could get tough on trade against China.

I think we were expecting some kind of announcement this week that President Trump is going to ask the U.S. trade representative to launch an investigation against what he thought were unfair Chinese trade practices. And it looks like they held off to get this Chinese cooperation. So I think that that is always going to be a kind of threat in the U.S. hands, as they do try to seek this diplomatic solution.

CABRERA: Now it wasn't just China, but it was also Russia who joined the U.S. to pass these new sanctions in this unanimous vote. We know that the relationship between the U.S. and Russia is very fragile right now.

[18:05:03] In fact the president tweeting, "Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time and very dangerous low just this past week."

Steve Hall, you have said that you're suspicious of Russia's decision to vote for these sanctions against North Korea. Why?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, suspicion might be a little strong, Ana, but it's probably not far off either. I mean, if you compare the role that, for example, China plays in this, which is a significant role, and you compare that to the role that Russia plays, which is a much smaller role, you have to ask why Russia decided not to, you know, get in the way or veto this.

It is a significant diplomatic accomplishment, I would argue, but you have to remember that, although it's tempting to think of this as hey, maybe this is one of those overlaps where U.S. interests and Russian interests actually do link up, the real Russian interest here vis-a- vis North Korea I think is simply that Russia can play the role that it always covets in that of international relations which is being a great power like the United States or like China.

That's what it really wants to do. And so that's why it has sort of inserted itself in this whole process. And that's really, really important to them from a foreign policy perspective.

CABRERA: So put a value on Rex Tillerson's challenge, the Secretary of State, in terms of the diplomacy when it comes to Russia right now. President Trump tweets relations that are at an all-time low, there's the new U.S. sanctions against Russia, there's the expulsion as we know of American diplomats, that's in the process of happening in Russia right now.

But you point out there's the common goal, like keeping pressure on North Korea. Do you see any changes in U.S.-Russia relations in the short term?

HALL: Not really in the short term because I think Russia's goals in and of themselves have not changed. And certainly, of course, President Trump's comment was that -- was to lie -- or to lay at the feet of Congress the actual, you know, nature in relationships between the United States and Russia. But you know, there were some interesting things that happened during the recent meetings between Lavrov and Secretary Tillerson. The nomination of a sort of an official channel to discuss things like Ukraine, for example, where you have a former ambassador -- the former ambassador, Mr. Volker, who was now going to meet with his counterpart, Surkov, to discuss Ukraine, that's an important thing.

So there are some things that can be moved forward on with regard to the Russians. But you always have to keep in the back of your mind, why are the Russians doing this. They are not unhappy with how things are going in the Ukraine. They're not really unhappy with how things are going on the Korean Peninsula. It's all about keeping Russia in the important role that it's used for itself on the international stage.

CABRERA: Elise, how much has the special counsel investigation coloring Russia-U.S. relations right now? It's obviously big news here in the United States, but is it impacting the diplomatic world?

LABOTT: I think it's the elephant in the room, Ana. And even though Secretary Tillerson and Foreign Minister Lavrov are talking about North Korea, there are certainly some irritants in terms of the U.S. beefing up its defenses in the region with that THAAD missile system. There is some tension on Ukraine. They want to work together on Syria.

I think that these -- these investigations and all of the rhetoric and all of the discussion about Russia and its meddling in the U.S. election cannot color the relationship and the interaction between these two leaders. And that's why Secretary Tillerson and Foreign Minister Lavrov have agreed to try and get rid of some of the underbrush in their relationship.

And I think some of these things, like those diplomatic compounds, like some of these sanctions are, you know, one he's talking about. If you remember, Secretary Tillerson didn't want those sanctions against Russia because he said that it would hurt his, quote, "flexibility" in negotiating on other things. So as long as you have this hanging over the White House like a cloud, it can't but help hurt diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Russia.

And I think that it's going to be really hard for these two countries to improve relations in a significant way until this is behind them.

CABRERA: Elise, Steve, Alexandra, thank you all.

And still ahead this hour, Pence 2020? A new report suggests the vice president's aggressive political schedule, his fundraising might be a hint he's eyeing a White House run to be president. His response, though, is scathing.

Plus, stop the spending. A pair of politicians, one Republican, one Democrat, have an out-of-the box proposition. Cut back on how much is spent on campaign advertising. I'll ask them how they'll get backed on. And later, that time Donald Trump wanted to play the president in

"Sharknado 3."


[18:13:46] CABRERA: Vice President Mike Pence is trying to bat down this "New York Times" report suggesting that he may be positioning himself for a 2020 presidential run should Trump not seek a second term. But Pence blasted this report with an official statement, and I quote, "Today's article in the 'New York Times' is disgraceful and offensive. My entire team will continue to focus all our efforts to advance the president's agenda and see him reelected in 2020. Any suggestion otherwise is both laughable and absurd."

Let's talk it over with the "Washington Examiner" senior congressional correspondent, David Drucker, and CNN's politics reporter Eugene Scott.

So, David, it's not the denial here that's surprising I guess from the vice president. It's some of the language that he uses, how he's so strong in calling it disgraceful, absurd, laughable. What does that signal to you?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the vice president just like everybody else who works in the White House or in the West Wing is always performing for an audience of one. And so this is clearly meant to send a message to President Trump that in no way is the story correct. So maybe the story is not correct in terms of how the very capable reporters have laid out this case. But I think it's very plausible.

But I think the vice president took it a little bit too far, if you will, in protesting. But I understand why he did.

[18:15:02] In my discussions with people close to the vice president, what they have said is that given the fact that the president really is not of the Republican Party, despite the fact that he was nominated and elected as a Republican president, what they've started to do is lay out an architecture for raising money and supporting people down ballot in a way that Trump really wasn't ready to do, in that by starting a leadership PAC as opposed to a super PAC where they cannot raise unlimited amounts of money --

CABRERA: So the leadership PAC is what Pence going for?

DRUCKER: Correct. And a lot of that is really to fund the travel that is required and especially when you're flying around on Air Force Two and all the security that's required for that. They've set up this fund so that they can support Republicans down ballot and support the travel that the vice president is going to do that the writers in the story again capably pointed out all that is happening.

I think this all gets back, though, at the end of the day, the fact that the vice president right now is weak, that there's a lot of distrust between Republicans on Capitol Hill and President Trump. And Vice President Pence in my discussions with Republicans on the Hill is always the biggest thing that they talk about in terms of what they like about the West Wing.

CABRERA: That's what I wanted to ask you about, Eugene, is it possible that this rumor that's out there is really just wishful thinking on behalf of more establishment Republicans who maybe have grievances with the president himself?

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: I regularly talk to Republican voters who would like to see Mike Pence have a more prominent role in this administration or at the top of the ticket in 2020, because he is from the establishment, he is vetted and trusted in ways that the current president was not because he was so new to politics. And they believe that many of the problems and challenges that exist right now, they perhaps would not have with Mike Pence.

One reason I also think that Pence pushed back so hard and so aggressively is that this White House can't afford any more tension within the house, right? There are so many people in the White House who appear not to be on Team Trump, which is why we see the type of aggression taken with the leaks. And so I think Pence was perhaps saying, President, I am on your side for now.

CABRERA: So one guy who's been on the president's side, has been very loyal to him, but is not inside the White House, is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The president happens to be in New Jersey this weekend as we speak. But Chris Christie was on our show with Jake Tapper this morning in the "STATE OF THE UNION."

Here's what he had to say about the meeting in Trump Tower last summer between Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, a number of Russians, including that Russian lawyer that's become so infamous. Watch.