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President Trump Continues Aggressive Talk on North Korea. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 10, 2017 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: What did you make of all of that?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think the president's not backing down.

He tried to make the case, as my colleagues were saying, that everyone is on the sort of same page, although I noticed, while he could describe how robust General Mattis was, he was a little vague about Secretary Tillerson, and sort of wandered off when he was trying to say what Secretary Tillerson said.

I think this -- you know, this is a president who made the case that he is saying things that his predecessor refused to say, and that there is nothing wrong with it.

And I think that, you know, the fact that he is meeting with national security advisers, you know, makes it clear that everything is on the table here, as Sara was saying, and I think that he hasn't backed off one ounce, and wants to make that clear to North Korea.

BALDWIN: All right.

Elise Labott and Chris Cillizza here with me in New York.

And so, Elise, you know, watching you react, just listening to the president, and so you agree with Jeff Zeleny that even though, yes, he's not backing off, or he is doubling down, you think he is clarifying? How do you mean?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I do think -- I think he's clarifying.

I mean, look, with the fire and fury, he said, if North Korea threatens us again, they better watch it, you know, we will unleash our fire.

BALDWIN: Everyone's kind of like, what does that mean?

LABOTT: What does that mean? Because North Korea makes threats on a daily basis, and most times you just kind of roll your eyes and say, yes, that's a lot of rhetoric, but they don't mean it.

And so for him to lay out that red line, that's one thing. Today, he said, if North Korea is thinking about attacking us, about attacking our allies, don't, because we will, in a sense, annihilate you.

And that's what I think -- you know, after that fire and fury comment, that's what Secretary Tillerson and Jim Mattis were trying to do in different ways. Now, when they say everyone's kind of singing off the same page, they're all in the same band, but they just can't get the kind of, you know, harmony together that they want.

What they're trying to do is walk back that threat and say, look, the president needs to give a very tough message. Let North Korea know that we're ready. Our defenses are ready. And we could think about a preemptive strike if they go too far.

But I think the problem is, you know, this rhetoric is escalating, escalating, and there's always room for miscalculation. You know, President Trump will say that these are considered words, but every word in diplomacy so important. And he thinks that, you know, he's being unpredictable.

Kim Jong-un -- you know, that will keep Kim Jong-un off guard. I don't think President Trump knows how unpredictable Kim Jong-un is.

BALDWIN: Does anyone know? Does anyone actually know?

LABOTT: He may not attack the United States. He may just lob a couple of missiles at South Korea, not do a ton of damage, but spiral this whole thing out of control.

So, I think, really, there is an effort by this administration to, A, cool the temperature, and, B, be very clear to North Korea about what the red lines are, which the president didn't do originally.

BALDWIN: Do you feel the temperature is on the downgrade?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: He didn't say fire and fury, I mean, so, you know, and the likes of which you have never seen.


BALDWIN: Maybe he said the fire and fury wasn't tough enough?

CILLIZZA: Yes, but he didn't say fire and fury again.

BALDWIN: So, that's...


CILLIZZA: I think you're dealing -- I think he generally -- yes, I'm sure he knew he would get questions about this. Yes, I'm sure he thought of what he would say.


CILLIZZA: Do I think he has a very specific plan on what he would say? No. No. I mean, he never does. So, I'm not sure that this would be any different. He likes speaking extemporaneously. He trusts his own gut instincts.

And he doesn't ever apologize. That makes him very common among politicians. They never apologize. But it feels to me sort of like, oh, Kim Jong-un said what? You can give him this one, you know, and...

LABOTT: Yes, that's right.

CILLIZZA: While that may satisfy Donald Trump, I don't know that that functions as a policy, or to Elise's point, misunderstandings occur all the time when you're being careful with your words diplomatically, right?

LABOTT: That's right.

CILLIZZA: This certainly makes me think misunderstandings are even more possible now.

And when we say misunderstandings, this isn't about like, oh, hey, Brooke, you and I, we were supposed to meet on 59th Street, and I went to 58th Street Starbucks.


CILLIZZA: There's massive politically, policy, world complications that go with this misunderstanding, which is why the words have to be careful.

LABOTT: He's also falling for, you know, Kim Jong-un's bait. For years, the North Koreans used this fiery rhetoric. I mean, some things they have said about U.S. officials, I won't even repeat on this family program.

So, I mean, there's North Korean threats and then there's North Korea missile launches. There's North Korean nuclear tests. And everybody says don't listen to Donald Trump's tweets. Look at what he does.


I think the president, you know, needs to kind of not listen so much to these crazy statements that come out of North Korean state media and look at what the North Korean regime does.

CILLIZZA: Our job is not to match them rhetoric for rhetoric.

BALDWIN: Tit for tat, right.

CILLIZZA: That's a losing game for us, giving what Kim Jong-un is willing to say.


Let me just bring more voices in.

Let me go back to Washington, Jake Tapper listening in to the president there. Your reaction to what we just heard?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Well, first of all, I think it's intriguing the president thinks that, as he said, it's about time someone stuck up for the people of our country.

This is obviously the showdown with -- North Korea and the pending nuclear weapons threat from North Korea has been a problem that military leaders and presidents have been facing for decades, obviously, each of them failing in their own way, whether Barack Obama, George W. Bush or Bill Clinton.

But it's not as though they're doing it their way was not trying to stick up for the country. Obviously, it's not particularly new to observe the President Trump thinks that bellicosity represents strengths and saying things that sound muscular represents strength.

There is an alternative view of what the best approach would be. Senator John McCain, who's the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, yesterday said that it might be better to follow the advice of Teddy Roosevelt and speak softly and carry a big stick.

Obviously, the United States, with the most powerful military in the world, has that big stick. And there are those who think that what's going on right now is President Trump is kind of pushing Kim Jong-un into a corner, and what's important is that Kim Jong-un be given a choice, not be put into a corner, and the choice being either going on the road he's going on or back off, but there needs to be some sort of exit, some sort of off-ramp for him, because, obviously, pursuing this path is leading to the showdown.

So, the idea that maybe the words need to be stronger than fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen, you heard a reporter shout out, what could that possibly be? What would possibly be stronger than fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen?

And the president said, we will see, we will see.

But it's obviously a pretty stark statement. And we're told that it was ad-libbed by President Trump.


TAPPER: And this is probably a period, at least according to experts on showdowns with North Korea, when people should be choosing their words very carefully and not speaking extemporaneously.

BALDWIN: But the bellicosity of his language is mirroring what we have heard from Pyongyang. And to hear it from the State Department, that is the language that Kim Jong-un understands.

And, quite frankly, having just sat down with six Trump supporters, you know, that is the kind of language that translates for them. That is why they want this man in the White House. TAPPER: Yes. And here's the thing on that. I know it's important

that the media, especially because the media as a whole and in general and as a stereotype missed the Trump phenomenon last year in many instances. And I think it's important obviously that people in the media pay attention to what Trump supporters want.

But international diplomacy and international relations, this is not something that is important what the base thinks of it. It's important what -- how it's playing out overseas and ultimately what the net result will be.

So, frankly, as much -- as important as it is that the people in the media and the people in Washington understand what all sectors of the electorate think about different issues, including the Trump base, it's frankly irrelevant.

This is about how Kim Jong-un and how the Japanese and how the South Koreans and how the American service members and their families in South Korea and Japan and Guam, how they are receiving these words and how the threat ultimately -- what ultimately happens with North Korea.

BALDWIN: What about this interview that Sebastian Gorka did with the BBC, this Trump adviser, who I know you have interviewed, this line? "The idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical."

He's essentially saying he's out of his lane and we should just be listening to the defense secretary, General Mattis.

What did you make of that?

TAPPER: Obviously, I thought it was -- in any other White House or administration, it would be unusual, but in a White House like this one, in which there's so much infighting, when you have Steve Bannon vs. H.R. McMaster, where now you have Sebastian Gorka trying to undermine the words of the secretary of state, the secretary of state who indubitably has much higher security clearance than the former Breitbart editor Sebastian Gorka, it's bizarre.

Normally, people don't try to undermine their own secretary of state, especially when he is trying to -- if one assumes that there is some sort of strategy going on here, Secretary Tillerson is the -- quote, unquote -- "good cop."


He is the one trying to provide the off-ramp for Kim Jong-un, whereas President Trump and even Defense Secretary Mattis are being a lot stronger in their words. I don't know why anybody at the White House would be trying to undermine or undercut the secretary of state.

It's just a bizarre turn of events. But, again, this is a White House and an administration where there is so much infighting out in the open, I guess it's par for the course.

BALDWIN: Since I have you, and we're listening to the president, you know, the other big piece of news made was his comments on the Senate majority leader, right? We have seen the tweets.

And we have them, guys, toss them up on screen of just the last 24 hours of how the president has characterized Mitch McConnell and his inability to follow through on his seven-year promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

So, to here the president today, you know, doesn't understand why it's taking them so long, asked whether the Senate majority leader should resign. And he said, "See if he can get repeal and replace done, and then ask me. Then ask me."

Again, another, Jake, another Republican who the president is publicly criticizing. Is that working out for him?

TAPPER: Well, it's interesting.

It's not unlike President Trump. I mean, there are people who he needs. Chinese President Xi is possibly an even more important example, who he has taken to Twitter to publicly dismiss or berate.

I think that obviously there are a lot of people who are conservative Republicans, not even necessarily Trump supporters, who are very disappointed by the fact that, despite the fact that they have passed repeal Obamacare bills for years, that Republicans did not have any sort of plan.

So it's not as though, I think, it's an invalid criticism. That said, it's not just Mitch McConnell's fault. He's not the only one that owns it. I have been talking to a number of Republicans in town since the bill went down, and there's not one person who thinks President Trump was helpful in terms of getting the bill passed.

There were private conversations he had with individual members of the House and Senate in which he did not demonstrate any expertise about the bill, where his salesmanship qualities that obviously got him very far in the business world were lacking, where he was not able to turn them.

We know that he had a conversation with Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. And not only was he not able to convince her to vote for the bill. It apparently was something of a testy and unproductive conversation.

So, yes, Mitch McConnell owns the defeat of the Trumpcare bill, the failure to repeal and replace. But President Trump, as I understand it from Republicans on Capitol Hill, he wasn't particularly helpful either.

And when you have approval ratings in the 30s, that's also not really helpful for Republicans who are trying to think about what's going to happen to them in 2018 or 2020.

BALDWIN: Chris Cillizza, to you.

Yes, his approval ratings are low, but Congress' are even lower. And if you Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, who is married to the Senate majority leader, and your boss is throwing shade on your husband, #awkward.

But, to you, you wrote a whole piece on how the president is picking a dumb fight, to quote you.


And this was before -- right. Thank you, Brooke. Thanks. I don't like to quote myself.

This was before this latest -- it was before both of the tweets today and this latest remark about McConnell, which, essentially -- and Jake is right. Sometimes, we get out of -- I think we forget, because there's so much stuff like this happening. We forget to -- this is the president of the United States suggesting that maybe the Senate majority leader of his party should maybe step down at some point in the future if he doesn't get enough done, and ask me later.

It's classic Trump. Like, stay tuned for the next episode. What a cliffhanger.



CILLIZZA: It is remarkable that he would not do it once, not do it twice, not do it three times. This is the fourth time, three things on Twitter and now this, in 24 hours in which Donald Trump is trying to goad Mitch McConnell.

LABOTT: After the whole Sessions debacle.

CILLIZZA: Right, and this is after Jeff Sessions, in which he basically did the same thing.

BALDWIN: What's his play? Obviously, he would think he needs Mitch McConnell to get something done through a Republican-controlled House and Senate.

CILLIZZA: You would think it. He does, yes.

BALDWIN: But if you're thinking, I don't know, listen, I can't channel the president, but, you know, could his play be -- again, I go back to these Trump supporters. I think it's important to listen to everyone.

And they were saying to me the other day they kept referring to the Republicans on Capitol Hill as useless, and it's not on the president, it's on these Republicans, and maybe this is the way, the president speaking to the base.


If nothing goes through, he can say, see, I can throw my hands up because they didn't get it done.

CILLIZZA: OK, a couple things. That's uniquely possible, uniquely possible.

One, the base of Trump supporters are never not going to be with him. In a fight between Donald Trump and anyone else, including Mitch McConnell, they're going to choose Donald Trump. So, sure, that's a possibility.


CILLIZZA: At the same time, I'm not sure it gets him anything he doesn't already have. So, strategically, I don't get that.


CILLIZZA: Two, I think we have a tendency -- Jake mentioned this -- we have a tendency, because all the polling, all the conventional wisdom, all the money, all the organization, all the message, everything suggested Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and Donald Trump won.

We have a tendency -- we -- I will put myself in this -- we in the political press, have a tendency to say he's playing 37-dimensional chess. He's got a plan. He's got a board somewhere where he's got all these moves worked out. The words fire and fury was on purpose.

I would suggest, you know, after 200 days, it is at least as likely that he's playing zero-dimensional chess, that he just says and does stuff. Why did he hit Mitch McConnell? Because Mitch McConnell annoyed him when he made arguments earlier this week.

BALDWIN: Like, don't read too much into it. It's just how he felt. And he just tweeted.


Well, Mitch McConnell made comments about him that he didn't like, which was, well, the president doesn't totally understand how the legislative process works. He's new to it.

Donald Trump does not that like. And, therefore, he's reacting. I think sometimes we make -- we overcompensate to assume there's a broad, grand strategy.

BALDWIN: OK. OK. Fair point. Fair point.

In case you missed, let me just -- we're re-racking. I guess we don't re-rack anymore in the digital age. I'm so old-school TV. We're going to replay the sound bite with the president making the news on Mitch McConnell. Here he was.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I say very simply, where is repeal and replace?

Now I want tax reform and tax cuts. We're going to reduce taxes for the people. We pay more tax than anybody in the world. And we're going to reduce taxes. So, I say tax cuts, tax reform. And I want a very big infrastructure bill, where we're working on that very hard already. And we can do that.

And we may even get bipartisan on infrastructure. But we want to have it. But I said, Mitch, get to work, and let's get it done.

They should have had this last one done. They lost by one vote. For a thing like that to happen is a disgrace. And, frankly, it shouldn't have happened. That, I can tell you. It shouldn't have happened.

QUESTION: Should Senator McConnell consider stepping down as majority leader? There are some conservative analysts, including Sean Hannity, who says it's time for him to retire.

TRUMP: Well, I will tell you what. If he doesn't get repeal and replace done, and if he doesn't get taxes done, meaning cuts and reform, and if he doesn't get a very easy one to get done, infrastructure, if he doesn't get them done, then you can ask me that question.


BALDWIN: Gloria, how will -- how will Republicans react to that kind of public shaming of their leader?

BORGER: Well, look, they're not going to well, because, honestly, you know, this was an immaculate conception here, the problem.

And I think that, as Jake was saying earlier, there are a lot of Republicans who are -- were saying that this president needed to get more involved on the get-go on the substance and the issues involved, and the reasons that people like Murkowski and Collins and in the end McCain weren't going to be for this bill and why the governors, the Republican governors, were complaining about this bill, so that he has some ownership of this failure.

But he is pushing it all to the leader, as Donald Trump always does, because he is never to blame for any problem. The reason this may work for him politically -- and you were saying this earlier, Brooke, from your interviews with Trump supporters -- is that when you look at our poll that came out today, among Republicans, the president is twice as popular as Republican leaders in the Congress, twice as popular.


BORGER: So, there's no hell to pay for him if he's criticizing Mitch McConnell with his base.

Where it causes him trouble is with his base in the Congress, those people, because if they believe he doesn't have their backs, as many of those folks believe, then he creates more problems for himself and they're not -- you know, they're not going to like this.

And don't forget, Mitch McConnell isn't the only Republican he's criticized. He's tweeted about a half-a-dozen or more of them, including threatening Senator Heller with his job, right? So, I do think that helps his base, hurts him gets things done.

BALDWIN: Heller, Murkowski, Collins, Sasse, McCain.


BALDWIN: Am I missing anyone?

CILLIZZA: Sessions.

BORGER: Sessions, yes, Cabinet member.



BALDWIN: Well, you're right. Well, one senator, right. No, we're keeping score on that.


BALDWIN: Gloria, thank you so much.

You know, on all this breaking news, in the midst of this working vacation with the president there, stepping out there in Bedminster, New Jersey, making news both on the Senate majority leader and also on North Korea, doubling down.

In case you missed it, roll it.


TRUMP: Frankly, the people who were questioning that statement, was it too tough, maybe it wasn't tough enough. They have been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years. And it's about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries.

So, if anything, maybe that statement wasn't tough enough. And we're backed by 100 percent by our military. We're backed by everybody. And we're backed by many other leaders. And I noticed that many senators and others today came out very much in favor of what I said.

But, if anything, that statement may not be tough enough. They have been negotiating now for 25 years. Look at Clinton. He folded on the negotiations. He was weak and ineffective. You look what happened with Bush, you look what happened with Obama. Obama, he didn't even want to talk about it.

But I talk. It's about time. Somebody has to do it. North Korea does anything in terms of even thinking about attack of anybody that we love or we represent or our allies or us, they can be very, very nervous, I will tell you what. And they should be very nervous.


BALDWIN: OK. CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson watching all of this

from your perch there in London.

I understand you made an interesting observation about how President Trump mentioned, in all of this on North Korea, China and Russia.


There was kind of some almost joined-up diplomatic thinking. And I don't want to step out of line with what Ryan was saying a short while ago, that he thinks the president's playing zero-dimensional chess.

He may be. This may simply be the calculations of a businessman with a business mind-set. And I think President Trump laid that out, that he knows that he needs China and Russia later.

But I think, you know, there was a sense that he sees, again, to get stuff done, to get what he wants done on North Korea, he is going to need China, and he is going to continue to need Russia.

But I think he also telegraphed for us what he really thinks. He thinks that the U.N. sanctions, that he's very grateful to China and Russia for helping for that, you know, 15-0 vote in the U.N. Security Council resolution to get that unanimous vote for these tougher sanctions on North Korea, that he says he doesn't think that it's going to work.

I think what he's doing here is telegraphing that he thinks it is going to come to a situation where he will have to ratchet up and perhaps meet his rhetoric here. You get the sense that maybe his mind is partly made up. Yes, we will do the sanctions, because that's what everyone says we must do. We have got to keep everyone on board. We need to keep China. We need to keep Russia in our corner, because we're going to need them to push harder. But, actually, I don't think that's going to work.

And I think he's telegraphing there that the fire and fury, his mind seems to be at that point, because he had no trouble going back to that same point again today.

BALDWIN: Well, he did say, though, that he didn't think recent sanctions would work. He talked about the past several decades and how nothing has been done.

And I think his phrase was, well, with regard to maybe what he's thinking or telegraphing, somebody has to do it.

Let me ask you about your opinion piece, Nic, about Kim Jong-un and how he's thinking about what happened to Moammar Gadhafi.


And, I mean, look, back in the mid-2000s, I was meeting here in London with some of Gadhafi's top advisers and his son, Saif Gadhafi. I got to know them pretty well during that period. So, come the Arab Spring, 2011 -- and this is after Moammar Gadhafi

has decided to give up his nuclear weapons to be rehabilitated into the international community, close relationships with the British government, helping the United States and the British on counterterrorism, giving up his own sort of terrorist leanings and supportings -- that when the push was coming to shove, was NATO going to come out against Gadhafi or not, when I was talking to his son and his advisers, they could not believe that the West would go against Moammar Gadhafi, because they thought they had trust, because they thought they'd done what the West wanted.

So, if you're Kim right now sitting there looking at Gadhafi's experience, you have to be thinking, how am I going to trust the West? Gadhafi did what they wanted. He handed over his weapons programs. But when push came to shove, no one supported him.

So, I think, you know, when he is sitting there making his analysis, that's part of the picture. The other part of the picture has got to be what happened to Gadhafi after he gave up the weapons, after he trusted.


ROBERTSON: He was killed by his own people. That's got to be going through Kim's mind as well.


So, the Gadhafi experience is not one that's going to work well in Kim's mind for coming to the table to talk.

BALDWIN: Can still see the pictures of the golden gun.

Nic Robertson, thank you. We will read your op-ed, Appreciate you.

Quick break. More on the breaking news in three minutes.


TRUMP: Frankly, the people who were questioning that statement, was it too tough, maybe it wasn't tough enough. They have been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years. And it's about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries.

So, if anything, maybe that statement wasn't tough enough. And we're backed by 100 percent by our military. We're backed by everybody. And we're backed by many other leaders. And I noticed that many senators and others today came out very much in favor of what I said.