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President Trump Takes Working Vacation; Analysts Examine President's Recent Poll Numbers. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired August 7, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:00] LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You have to say, what are we attempting to achieve there. Is it the total reversal to the Afghan president and prime minister? Is it having General Nicholson, you know, it's been interesting, because General Nicholson has been in the news lately. He will do anything to advance the strategy if he knows what the strategy is, as opposed to just being told, keep doing things and win. That's not a good strategy that should be given by our political leaders. And as you mentioned the AUMF is certainly something that Congress should take on. Many of us have been saying that for many years.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So we'll see how the president responds. We'll see how these measures are taken up by Congress. We'll bring you good gentlemen back with your great minds to help understand the situation better. General Tata, thank you, as always. General Hertling, always a plus.
We're following a lot of news this morning, let's get after it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump spending his 200th day on the job on a working vacation as the vice president pushes back against a report he's positioning himself for 2020.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is complete fiction. That is complete fabrication.
Let's face it, I don't think that anybody should count anything out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's in president Trump's interests for Bob Mueller to continue this investigation to its conclusion.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been doing this for about a year now. And what is there to show for it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bob Mueller understands the specific scope of the investigation. It's not a fishing expedition.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was a gut punch to North Korea.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These resolutions are not going to change the Pyongyang.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to provide all options, and that includes a nuclear option.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CUOMO: Good morning, welcome to your NEW DAY. It's Monday, August 7th, 8:00 in the east. Alisyn is off. The one and only Brianna Kilar, Emmy-nominated, joining me this morning.
CUOMO: Don't laugh. That's a great honor.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you.
CUOMO: I'm actually very angry and jealous.
So President Trump laughing out at the media and the polls this morning in a series of tweets during his 17-day working, not a vacation, as he keeps telling us, at his golf club in New Jersey. The president clearly exercised watching NEW DAY this morning responding to coverage of his 200 day mark in the president.
KEILAR: Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence is slamming a "New York Times" report that says he's prepping for a presidential run in 2020 in Trump decides not to.
Let's begin our coverage with Joe Johns. He is live for us from Bridgewater, New Jersey. Joe?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Brianna. The president also tweeted that he's working hard from New Jersey this morning, while the White House is going through some badly needed renovations, although it's also clear, he's getting in some downtime, as well. This comes at a time the president is trying to get his policy agenda back on track, and playing down questions about his political future.
JOHNS: President Trump waking up on his 200th day in office at his golf club in New Jersey where he'll be spending the next two weeks on a, quote, "working vacation," while the White House undergoes renovations. The president stressing on Twitter that he will still be taking meetings and calls while spending time at his resort, while touting the successes of his first six months in office. This as vice president Mike Pence pushes back against a "New York Times" report that some systems have begun building 2020 shadow campaigns with Pence advisers allegedly signaling to party donors that he would plan to run from Trump did not. Pence contesting the story in a strongly-worded statement, calling the report, quote, "disgraceful and offensive," and dismissing as laughable and absurd that the suggestion that he isn't working solely for Trump's agenda and reelection.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: It is absolutely true that the president is getting ready for 2020 for reelection as vice president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So no concern he's setting up a shadow campaign?
CONWAY: Zero concern.
JOHNS: The report also cites a number of other Republicans allegedly weighing a 2020 bid as the president continues to grapple with record low numbers and an intensifying Russia investigation.
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The special counsel is subject to the rules and regulations of the department of justice, and we don't engage in fishing expeditions.
JOHNS: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein asserting that special counsel Robert Mueller can investigate any crimes within the scope of investigation during an interview on FOX News.
ROSENSTEIN: If it's something outside that scope, he needs to come to the acting attorney general, at this time, me, for permission to expand his investigation.
JOHNS: "The New York Times" reporting that Mueller's investigators have asked the White House for documents related to fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and possible payments from the Turkish government.
JOHNS: The president also tweeted just a little while ago something that appeared to be his own take on possible contenders for the White House in 2020. He says "The failing "New York Times" which has made every wrong prediction about me, including my big election win, apologized, it's totally inept."
[08:05:07] "The Times" has said it stands by its story. And, by the way, the president also tweeted he's going back to New York next week, which would be only the second time he's been in the city since he was inaugurated. Brianna and Chris, back to you.
CUOMO: And this is a little bit of an impressive show. Thank you to Joe Johns.
We're getting up towards close to a dozen tweets this morning. And I think there's two important points that we should make as we get into the panel. The first is it is a real blessing to have the president of the United States watching NEW DAY the way he does. It creates an urgency. It creates a relevance, and it creates an added benefit to you in the audience, because you're going to get the president's real time reactions to what's happening in the news.
The second point is, here's an often -- often a criticism of us, that we focus on certain things and we should focus on other things. Please take a look at the president's thread this morning. See what on day 200 of his presidency he has decided to make most important, because whatever the president says is the most important thing that is being discussed in government. That's just the way it is. The tone starts at the top. Look at the thread.
Let's discuss the choices the president has made and what 200 days marks for the American people in this presidency. We've got CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, and CNN political analysts David Drucker and Abby Phillip. Good to have you all here.
David Drucker, "Washington Examiner," looking at what the president has decided to do, a lot of his favorite pet projects, on day 200, this is what he has decided. Attack "The New York Times," say Russia is fake, the media is terrible, and then I heard someone criticize me, so I'm going to take them out this morning as best I can. Those are his decisions on day 200. What do they reflect?
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think they reflect the fact that one weekend into the John Kelly era, some things are not going to change. And I think that's what a lot of us have been watching for. Because the party -- because the White House has been in a state of chaos. It has had a lot of Republicans worried about this president's performance and ability to achieve things going forward, like tax reform after the health care reform debacle. And so I think a lot of people are watching to see if the president's performance and his governing style changes.
Now, look, I think what's important about the president's tweets, as much as it excites his base and, in a sense, keeps his base loyal, is that over time if the president doesn't rack up enough wins legislatively and achievements, there's a, number one, broader Republican base that doesn't like his style, doesn't like the tweets, but is sticking with him, because, given the alternatives, they want to give him more time and because they agree with his agenda.
I think the second thing is, and this gets to a lot of what we've been discussing this morning, is that there are a lot of Republicans who feel as though six months in, they're not happy. And this is Republicans on Capitol Hill. They don't believe that the president has been effective as a party leader. They feel like he has hung them out to try. They feel like every time something goes wrong, he's a million miles away from it. And it's making it harder for them to take a lot of these tough votes going forward when they feel like the guy with the bully pulpit, who is supposed to help make this all possible, doesn't have their back. And that's why we've seen so much distrust and backbiting among Republicans on the hill and President Trump.
And all of that is going to make it difficult for the president to achieve items on his agenda if he doesn't have a team behind him, and it's hard to have a team behind you when you're constantly badgering them.
KEILAR: And Abby, to that point, it seems as if the president at least understands that as much that he needs to be talking about the things -- the deliverables, really. And that's part of what he's tweeting about today, but he's also -- look at this. The Trump base is far bigger and stronger than ever before despite some phony, fake news polling. Look at rallies. He's taking on poll numbers even as he talks about record stock market, border security, military strength and jobs. It's almost as if he is doing the right thing and then he just totally undercuts himself.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's focused on poll numbers, partly because poll numbers are saying actually that his base is suffering. He has lost 10 percentage points among non-college- educated white voters in one month, which is a huge drop, and has had a demonstrable effect on his approval rating overall. And I think everything that Trump is doing at this moment, whether it's his Twitter feed, it's attacking his enemies, it's talking about the stock market, it's about the care and feeding of his base.
And that's all fine, but I think to Chris's point, when the president wakes up on a Monday morning in August and the first thing that he talks about is his poll numbers and attacking a sitting United States senator, that's being off-message. And there's virtually no one, John Kelly included, who believes that they can change that. That's a personality thing about this president. There's a lot of other focus going on about organizing the White House and restructuring it and making it work better so that Republicans and people in Washington can have more confidence that decisions are being made in a rational way.
[08:10:08] But the president's instincts to go after his enemies and to focus intensely on his base is not going to change, I think.
CUOMO: Ron Brownstein, make the case. Here's the president's argument -- they are small, but they are mighty. My base has an intensity, a love, a passion for purpose that outweighs even their numerical quotient, that they're not your 50 percent. You know, that they're worth 50 percent even though they're only 35 percent because of their intensity. They've never been stronger.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You can't repeal math, though, Chris. Yes, he does have an intense following. And as we've talked about before, one thing he is doing with increasing explicitness is basically equate himself with his base and argue that any attack on him is really an attempt to suppress them and to roll back the influence that they have grabbed in national politics, as he did in West Virginia last week. The problem is, you can't get elected president totally with your most ardent supporters. And math tells you he won 46 percent of the vote in 2016 and he's polling around 35, 37, 38 percent approval now, he has lost some of his base.
And in fact, in the Quinnipiac poll, for example, last week, his approval rating look whites without a college education, his best group, was about 25 points below his vote in 2016. And if you look at adults age 50 to 64, the percentage of those of people who say they strongly disapprove of his performance is double what it was when he took office. It is not a coincidence that those are two of the groups that would have been the biggest losers in what he spent the first six months trying to do, which is repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with the Republican alternative. It would have been very hard on lower income whites and older adults, most of them, two-thirds of whom, are white.
So there's a reality here that he has pursued policies particularly on the economic side that are very different than what he ran on. When he ran as different kind of Republican who explicitly said he would protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. And now I think what you've seen in the last couple of weeks is a very sharp turn toward cultural conservatism and populism on everything from cutting immigration to barring transgender soldiers as an explicit I think acknowledgement that he's got to find a way to shore up that base that he says is so indivisible.
KEILAR: David Drucker, one of the other things the president is tweeting about is this "New York times" article that talks about how the vice president is getting his ducks in a row for a potential run, maybe just in case, in 2020. And the vice president is hitting back. It's not just one of his staff members who responds, right. This is from the vice president, a statement, where he says "Today's article in "The New York Times" is disgraceful and offensive to me, my family, and our entire team. The allegations in this article are categorically false and represent just the latest attempt by the media to divide this administration. Whatever fake news may come our way, my entire team will continue our efforts to advance the president's agenda and see him reelected in 2020. Any suggestion otherwise is both laughable and absurd." Is this for an audience of one?
DRUCKER: An audience of one, capital "O." I think the reason why this story is possible is because as a Republican told me last week when we were discussing the sort of split between Republicans on the Hill and the White House, it's the president's party apparatus, but it's not the president's party. And so you have a lot of Republicans out there that don't feel like the president is fully invested in the success of the Republican Party.
And of course, a lot of voters, including a lot of Trump voters, would say, hey, that's good because we need to put party over country. We don't like the Republican Party all that much anyway. We feel like they've failed us, they've lied to us. And so we have a president that is sort of our avatar. He's beating them up the way we want them beaten up to get them into line.
The problem is if you're going to be successful at a national level, you need a strong party behind you. President Trump found that out. One of the reasons -- I mean, he deserves a lot, a lot of credit for his victory in 2016, but he relied a lot on the Republican National Committee, its fundraising apparatus, its voter turnout apparatus, because all of these things are necessary in politics, the midterm elections and presidential elections.
And so what we see then is when a party apparatus doesn't feel like the president or its leaders are invested in them, then they start to sort of freelance and prepare for a time in which the president may not be available to help them or may not be around because they already feel in some ways as though that is the case.
KEILAR: David, Abby and Ron, stand by for us. Ahead, the deputy attorney general says it's no fishing expedition, but how far can the special counsel, Robert Mueller, go with his investigation? We're going to discuss with former national intelligence director James Clapper, next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [08:13:24]
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: If he finds evidence of a crime that's within the scope of what Director Mueller and I have agreed is the appropriate scope of this investigation, he can. If it's something outside that scope, he needs to come to the acting attorney general, at this time, me, for permission to expand his investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: That's deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, pushing back against criticism that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his Russia investigation, is turning into a fishing expedition.
Rosenstein says that Mueller can investigate any crimes that he uncovers in the Russia probe, but he would need permission to expand beyond its scope.
Joining us now to talk more about this is CNN's new national security analyst, James Clapper. He was the director of National Intelligence under President Obama. Sir, thank you so much for being with us to lend your expertise on this.
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thanks for having me.
KEILAR: So, you hear him saying that, that he can take it anywhere, but then there's this step where if Mueller needs to go off in a different direction, because he finds some wrongdoing, then he has to go to the deputy AG and ask permission. How do you see that playing out?
CLAPPER: Well, I have -- first of all, I have the utmost faith and confidence in Bob Mueller, who served for 12 years, as director of the FBI. So, I think he -- he understands the ground rules very clearly.
And I think he recognizes the distinction between a valid pursuit of an investigation, particularly with a nexus to the Russian interference, versus a so-called fishing expedition.
[08:20:00] So, what the deputy attorney general has said, I think, comports exactly with my understanding of the way these things work. And Bob Mueller, of all people, clearly has a very clear understanding.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Now, your confidence is not shared by all indications by the president of the United States. He is suspicious of Mueller. He's suspicious of the process.
I would love your take on how difficult it is for an AG or an acting AG in this case, to say no, in a situation where a special counsel comes to them and says, I would like to investigate the following. Because I remember, I'm old enough to remember, Ken Starr going to Janet Reno, and Reno obviously Clinton's choice for AG, she put Star in there. He came to her, wanted to go in a radically different direction.
She said yes, because the political optics were so bad, if she were to stunt an investigation that was supposed to be independent. What's your take?
CLAPPER: Well, this is a different situation and a different cast of characters, but I think it points well taken in that the same pressures will be there. I mean, this is an investigatory process that obviously has huge political overtones.
So, I can't say or predict if, in fact, Bob goes to the deputy AG and asked to pursue a tangent, just, you know, what the reaction will be. I think it will be up to Bob to make the case for why that's necessary.
KEILAR: I know you're watching this situation in North Korea really heat up here and we've heard from the secretary of state. He's saying North Korea needs to stop testing. North Korea is saying, look, we're not going to negotiate our nuclear program.
And then we're hearing some very alarming words from General H.R. McMaster, the president's national security adviser. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How concerned should the American people be that we are actually on the brink of a war with North Korea?
LT. GENERAL H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I think -- I think it's impossible to overstate the danger associated with this. Right, I think it's impossible to overstate the danger associated with a rogue, brutal regime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: High stakes situation here. What does the Trump administration need to do?
CLAPPER: Well, in my view, in the end, I think we are going to have to find a way to dialogue with the North Koreans. I realize we have to keep the military option on the table to use the phrase, but I think, particularly a peremptory military operation against North Korea would be disastrous.
Because I believe the North Koreas would unleash all that artillery and rocketry they have lined up along the DMZ, and they would, as they have vowed many times, turn Seoul into a, quote, "sea of fire."
And I think if we were to peremptorily attack, their reaction would be reflexive. There would be no deliberation, they would just go at it, and of course, you're putting literally millions of lives at risk, since so much of the population of South Korea is concentrated in the northern part of the country.
So, I think the best we can hope for is to try to cap what they're doing and I would be for engaging with the North Koreans. When I visited there, I was blown away at the magnitude and the depth of the paranoia and the siege mentality that prevails in North Korea.
And you're sitting in Pyongyang and you're looking south, they find an overwhelming conventional military force with the Republic of Korea armed forces backed up, buttressed by the United States.
And so, I've advocated, I did so in Seoul, in the end of June, with due consideration and consultation, that we establish an intersection in Pyongyang, similar to what we had in Havana, Cuba, for decades, to deal with a government we didn't recognize.
Not as a reward for bad behavior, but to have a permanent residence, a diplomatic presence in Pyongyang, to gain a better insight and understanding of what's going on in North Korea, which is a huge problem for the intelligence community.
And maybe most important, as a conduit for information to get into North Korea. So, after I visited there, I found the palpable siege mentality and as we hype up the rhetoric, that just heightens their siege mentality. I would also say --
CUOMO: Go ahead, please.
CLAPPER: -- that I lived through the tree cutting incident in 1976. I was on active duty in the Air Force, as an intelligence officer, serving at Pacific Command headquarters.
And I found then the eminence of war feeling a lot more predominant then than the situation we have today, if that's any kind of a calming influence.
[08:25:02] CUOMO: So, that's one of the things that we've been wondering about this morning. This administration has gone out of its way to tee up this situation as demanding attention and urgency right now, and that gets a lot of accolades, politically.
You know, that the Trump administration is taking this on. But to what end, in your -- from your perspective, Mr. Clapper? Because if it's as difficult to create any real pressure on this regime, given part of what you're saying about the mentality there and the disposition of the leader, from all outward signs, how do you reconcile giving it more attention with finding a way to make some kind of progress?
CLAPPER: Well, there is -- there are no good options, as others have observed with North Korea. So, I do think a combination of carrots and sticks, so-called, is probably the right approach. So, the recent U.N. Security Council resolution, unanimously imposing or agreeing to impose more sanctions on North Korea is a good thing.
You have to do that at the same time, although, I do think we need to seriously reach out an attempt to dialogue with them. The last administration saw a pretty draconian set of sanctions in the form of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2270.
So, before we do high fives in the end zone with this latest resolution, the real test is, how the various countries involved comply with it. And most importantly, of course, as everyone recognizes, is China.
If China does, in fact, consistently and uniformly curtail its imports of North Korean goods, notably coal, that would have a big impact. But the Koreans have an amazing capacity to endure suffering. And so, I think we need to do that. That's a good thing.
And that certainly conveys an international message, but at the same time, I believe we need to reach out to them and seek dialogue. And as the first White House talking point I was issued, when I went there, was, you must denuclearize.
Well, they're not going to do that. That is just a nonstarter with the North Koreans. That's their ticket to survival. It's the only way they get attention and they want face and recognition.
KEILAR: And many would argue the ship has sailed on that now. James Clapper, thank you so much for joining us. We do appreciate it.
CLAPPER: Thanks for having me.
CUOMO: Yes. It's good to have you. He's going to be on now. Part of the family. We'll benefit greatly from his perspective, as will you.
So, what are we seeing a little bit down in Washington, D.C.? A show of bipartisanship. You have two Senate bills now aimed at protecting the special counsel from the presidential acts. We're going to speak to Democratic Senator Chris Coons about why this is a good idea, next.