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Interview with Representative Tom Reed; North Korea Backs Down from Guam Threat; Voters Hit Polls in Fight for Sessions' Senate Seat; Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 15, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:30:03] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, can you explain why you did not condemn those hate groups by name over the weekend?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They've been condemned. They have been condemned.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: "They have been condemned." The president seemed pleased with his do-over but not everyone's satisfied with his response in the violence in Charlottesville. This is what he returned home to, protests at Trump Tower where the president is right now working at this moment.

With us is Republican Congressman Tom Reed from New York.

Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. I want to ask you about the reaction from some CEOs. Three chiefs of industry, from Merck, from Intel and from Under Armour, have quit various presidential councils over the last 24 hours in reaction to what the president said or did not say over the weekend.

You know, you worked as a lawyer in central New York for many big businesses over the years. What message do you think these companies are sending?

REP. TOM REED (R-NY), WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: Well, you know, obviously that's an individual choice those CEOs made. But I've always been a fan of it. If you're going to influence the agenda, you have to be at the table, you have to be talking, you have to be in the room and pitching your vision as to how you want to go forward, and so obviously they chose to leave that table.

From my perspective, they've lost an opportunity to influence the agenda they way they want to push the country forward.

BERMAN: So you think it's a mistake?

REED: I think it is a mistake. I understand the reasons they articulate, the protest, but, you know, you can protest or you can be part of the effort to change the culture. And that's what I try to do in Washington with the stuff we're working on.

BERMAN: And I do want to talk to you about the Problem Solvers Caucus coming up because I'm a little bit obsessed with that. But a few more matters I want to get to first. The president's approval rating, approval is a misnomer in this case because it really is more of a disapproval rating. 34 percent approve, 61 percent disapprove.

You've been in politics for a few years. Would you be pleased with those numbers, Congressman?

REED: Well, obviously polls are what they are. And obviously those numbers are numbers that you don't want to see. But at the end of the day --

BERMAN: They stink.


REED: The polls change.

BERMAN: They stink. Those are awful poll numbers, right?


REED: Well, you know, but it's different across the country. Every area of the country has pockets of support. And at the end of the day, it's up to the people. The polls that matter are the polls when people go to the voting booth. And what we've seen happen over the years is polls can be wrong at times and we'll see how this changes as we go forward.

BERMAN: OK. What does the president need to do to turn those numbers around?

REED: Well, you know, I think what the president offers is a great opportunity to disrupt Washington, D.C. And he needs to always put the American people first which I know he does in talking with him. His interest are moving the agenda for the American people to have a job, to get back to work and to empower themselves to control their own destiny. If he does that, I think those poll numbers will be a fact -- a footnote of history.

BERMAN: What does the phrase or the term alt-right mean to you?

REED: You know, I'm not -- I don't participate in that movement, that group. I note it's a label that's given to extremists, then folks that are ultra in their beliefs and ultra conservative. And from my perspective alt-right is a label that is out there to try to describe what I believe is an extremist movement on both the right and the left. There's an alt-right movement to the left as you've seen across the country.

Our country has become very polarized. It's time to unite as Americans. That's the voice I'm trying to bring to Washington, D.C. and going forward. BERMAN: When the president -- you know, again, I hate talking about

Twitter nonstop but when the president re-tweets messages from members of the alt-right or -- and let me just ask this difficult question. The president mused this morning and is considering pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona who's been convicted of contempt of court. But Sheriff Arpaio, among other things, is someone who helped fuel the birther movement.

Are these moves -- are these actions you approve of?

REED: Well, you know, obviously with the sheriff, he's a law and order guy. I respect that. I support our law enforcement and I know the sheriff's been very outspoken in his beliefs of law and order. And so I can see that pardon happening. And that's the discretion of the president.

But at the end of day, what we need to do is stop the identity politics. We need to identify ourselves as Americans. We're in this all together. And the more that we can unite the voice of Americans, and we can have leadership that demonstrates that rather than try to divide us with identity politics we're going to be stronger as a nation and solve the problems we face which are huge.

BERMAN: All right. He may be law and order, Sheriff Arpaio, but he was convicted of contempt of court. That is the crime that he would be pardoned of which is separate than being a law and order person.

But, Congressman, I do want to talk to you about the Problem Solvers Caucus because maybe you are the hope of America with this caucus right now. What are the biggest challenges you're facing in gaining momentum with this group?

This is a group of Republican and Democratic members in the House trying to come together and do things.

REED: John, I so appreciate you bringing up Problem Solvers Caucus. I do believe it's the last great hope of Washington, D.C. to give bipartisan folks. Democrats, Republicans, who look into each other, we're good people. We're trying to serve our constituents by solving their problems for them but we have an ideology and we have a philosophy that we bring to the table but we still respect each other.

[09:35:07] And this group is gaining momentum because I think that's what the American people want. I know I'm frustrated with the leadership out of Washington, D.C. I want to see us unite as Americans and solve problems. And this is where the division of identity politics, I think, is our biggest obstacle of being successful because people are making millions of dollars on this division.

And it's all about political posturing and political power grabbing. Enough of that. It's time to put the American people first.

BERMAN: You've got a Noah's ark rule, this group, right? You won't let a Republican join unless a Democratic member join as well.

What are your numbers right now in the House?

REED: We're 43. You know, we're a little off in Noah's ark. We're at 43 so we're looking for additional members. And I'll tell you, over the last two weeks we've had much interest with both sides of people who want to join us because they see what we're doing. We're changing the culture, we're breaking the gridlock of Washington, D.C. And that's what it's going to take.

BERMAN: Congressman Tom Reed of New York, great to have you with us. Thank you so much for your time. And good luck with the Noah's ark thing.

REED: Thanks. Appreciate it so much, John.

BERMAN: All right. Kim Jong-un blinks and North Korea backs down from its plans to fire missiles toward Guam.


[09:40:41] BERMAN: All right. This morning North Korea appears to be backing down from the ongoing standoff. Leader Kim Jong-un says he has finished reviewing a plan to fire missiles at Guam and will wait for the, quote, "foolish Yankees" to act. That is after Defense Secretary James Mattis declared it's game on if North Korea fires on U.S. territory.

So the question now, though, is it game over for the North Korean regime?

CNN correspondent Anna Coren live in Seoul, South Korea right now.

What is the message North Korea is sending, Anna?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's interesting, isn't it, John? I'd have to say, we're seeing a ratcheting down of tensions here on the Korean Peninsula, at least today. That message out of North Korea's KCNA in which Kim Jong-un said that those plans to strike Guam on hold for now to, as you say, see what the foolish and "stupid Yankees" do, quote-unquote.

I think it's fair to say that he's probably done what he said he would do which was review the plan as of mid--August, the plan put together by his generals to strike towards Guam, U.S. territory with several military bases, using four missiles with nuclear warheads.

Perhaps he is heading the warnings of the U.S. president but more recently the Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as you said. If North Korea strikes a U.S. territory, it is game on. But obviously Kim Jong-un waiting to see what happens. That is in reference to the war games. Those joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States which take place as of next week. They always antagonize North Korea and no doubt, John, they certainly will do so this coming week.

Now, it's interesting, today marks Liberation Day across the entire peninsula, the 72nd anniversary of the end of the Japanese occupation here. And so South Korean's leader, President Moon Jae-in, he said that there will be no war on the peninsula. He is going to do everything in his power to make sure there is no second Korean War, John.

BERMAN: Our Ana Coren for us in Seoul. Thanks so much, Anna.

Joining me now, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, CNN military analyst and also former commanding general for Europe and the 7th Army.

General, thanks so much for being with us. Did Kim Jong-un just blink?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: As he does every year, John, yes. He does. He did. With Korea, if you want a new story, read an old book. This is the same kind of thing that happens every single year, and frankly, about this time.

The Republic of Korea and the U.S. and all the other allies are about to conduct an exercise that starts on the 21st of August. They do this every year. It's called (INAUDIBLE) Freedom Guardian. And every year right before that exercise the North Korean leader normally revs up his rhetoric like he's done.

Unfortunately this year it was taken to a new level because of the back and forth between the two leaders. He did blink. He always blinks, but we haven't seen the end of this yet. We're going to see a whole lot more after the exercise is over.

And by the way, when you're talking about this exercise, currently there are about 10,000 or 15,000 more military personnel on the South Korean Peninsula than there normally has so this is a horrible time for Kin Jong-un to think about starting a war.

BERMAN: Obviously over the last 10 days, General, there's been a whole lot of analysis about what President Trump has said. The U.S. locked and loaded to go after the North Korean regime and he was criticized for those comments on some fronts, but since he said them, China has issued new stronger sanctions than before on many North Korean imports, And as you just put it, or I put it and you agreed, Kim Jong-un blinked and backed off some of his threats.

So is it possible that some of the president's amped up rhetoric worked?

HERTLING: It is very possible. And I give great kudos to both the secretary of state and secretary of defense for camping it down primarily in that op-ed that they wrote together, something that's never been done before. So yes, there was a great deal of scurry and reaction to making things better, but truthfully, John, it didn't have to happen in the first place to the extreme that it did that caused everybody in the United States and in Guam to worry about the potential for nuclear attack. So, yes, he did blink.

[09:45:02] Yes, the president's action may have caused this. But the question keeps coming back to, was it necessary? That's where I'm going with this, because we know the actions of the North Korean leader and we control the tempo on this. We didn't in this particular situation.

BERMAN: Interesting. You're basically saying he would have blinked anyway.

I want to change subjects here to the idea that the president, again, stated on Twitter and has since said out loud that he would like to ban any and all transgender people from the military. The Defense Secretary James Mattis said something very interesting yesterday. He says we are going to study the issue and the policy, he says, ultimately is going to address whether or not transgenders, as he puts it, can serve under what conditions.

That's very different than what the commander-in-chief said. The commander-in-chief said no, they're out. And then the Defense secretary says nah, we're still studying it. Maybe not.

HERTLING: He said even more than that, John. It was interesting because I looked at Secretary Mattis's words and they were brilliant. Because he not only said they were going to study it and look at it some more, he also said I've taken some military planners and sent them over to the White House to maybe help them give us our orders. That's an old trick within the military whenever you feel like the higher headquarters just doesn't understand, you normally send some of your planners to shape the plan that you're going to get.

I think that's what Secretary Mattis has done is the way he's always done business in shaping his higher headquarters and leading up. So I think we're a long way from having a policy. And it's the right thing to do because we have about 6,000 or 7,000 as we know transgenders serving in the various military forces. That's a lot of very skilled people are patriots and want to serve their country.

BERMAN: Interesting, you're saying a military man perhaps showing off his political skill at shaping this policy.

General Hertling, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

HERTLING: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: All right. So just how far does a presidential endorsement go?

It is Election Day in one key state and there is a very interesting race right now that might tell us something about the president. It might tell us a whole lot about Republican politics.


[09:51:38] BERMAN: All right, political junkies, a very big day. Alabama voters hit the polls for a special primary election to fill the Senate seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This is a heated, fascinating race.

Three Republican candidates leading here. Two of them, the top two, likely head to a run off. And of course, Alabama is a state that President Trump holds near and dear. CNN's Victor Blackwell joins us now live from Pelham, Alabama, where

the voting is on -- Victor.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, John, this race could really hang on two big endorsements, one from the president of the United States, the other from groups affiliated with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. And Senator Luther Strange who was appointed to the seat as a placeholder about six months ago, he has both of them.

Now let's first talk about the president's endorsement. A robo call went out for Senator Strange overnight. There have been some tweets of support. That is a boom for Strange because he and his other frontrunners in this race, Congressman Mo Brooks and Judge Roy Moore, they have been working for months to prove who is the truest Trump diehard.

Why? Well, although the president's approval rating across the country is at an all-time low, among Republicans in Alabama, the president is at near 90 percent. So that support is big. The other endorsement Strange has from these groups affiliated with Mitch McConnell, hundreds of thousands of dollars for ads on his behalf that could hurt Strange because first there was the failure to pass a repeal of Obamacare. And that offended voters in this state. I've been here several times talking to them.

Second, the president has been going -- has been attacking Mitch McConnell for several weeks, so that could hurt him as well.

Also, why does Mitch McConnell support Luther Strange? Because Moore and Brooks have been saying this.