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Trump Comments on Removing Statues; World Leaders Reject Trump's Remarks; Jared and Ivanka's Influence. Aired 9:30-10:00a

Aired August 17, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:33:53] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Moments ago, the breaking news, President Donald Trump endorsing the presence, the continued presence of confederate statues around the country. Let me read what he said here.

Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, who's next? Washington, Jefferson, so foolish.

Also, the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced.

And by beauty, I imagine he means the statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and one does wonder what he means buy the culture of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson being ripped apart. It is these types of statements that have been criticized by many, including Republican senators. And this morning the president lashed out against those Republican senators as well.

So, what does that mean now for the position Republicans are in. Joining me to discuss, Alex Conant, former communication director for Senator Marco Rubio and former RNC and White House spokesman Justin Sayfie, a Republican strategist and former communications director for Governor Jeb Bush.

[09:35:04] Both of you, gentlemen, have worked for people who actually have been very critical publicly of how the president has handled the aftermath of Charlottesville. I guess really there are two main subjects here now, what does this mean for the Republican party and what does this mean for the culture of your country now that the president has taken a stand on the confederacy.

Alex Conan, first to you. Attacking Republicans, like the president did this morning, Lindsey Graham endorsing the primary opponent of Jeff Flake, what are the implications there?

ALEX CONANT, SEN. MARCO RUBIO'S FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, it's just not helpful to anybody. It's not helpful to his agenda this fall. He's going to have to work with those Republican senators if he wants to pass big ticket items like tax reform.

Look, Jeff Flake strongly wants to (ph) support (ph) tax reform. He voted for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. He's one of the most conservative senators in the Senate. President Trump shouldn't be attacking him, he should be looking for ways to work with him on passing his agenda this fall. And then long-term, if you want to -- is it absolutely vital, absolutely vital to the future of Trump's presidency that Republicans maintain control of the House and the Senate next fall. And now he's spent more time attacking Republican senators up for re-election, Jeff Flake and Heller, than he's spent attacking Democrats up for re-election. It's just mindboggling strange and devoid of any real political strategy. If anything, it's just incredibly selfish and short sighted.

BERMAN: All right, Justin, you have the tough job here. Explain to me the politics of -- you know, I don't want to say endorsing the confederacy, because that's not what the president is doing here, but coming out so strongly in favor of the presence of these confederate monuments, coming out against their removal saying that it harms beauty and culture. This is something, you know, look, the Republican Party and Republicans like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have come out very strongly on this, that have struggled with for some time.

JUSTIN SAYFIE, GOP STRATEGIST: Well, yes. And when I worked for Governor Jeb Bush here in the state of Florida, Governor Bush, while he was governor, quietly removed a flag that was -- flew over Florida during the confederacy.

So, you know, these are issues that are very polarizing. They divide the country. They don't unite the country. You know, to me, having a debate about monuments and statues, it just doesn't register because we have so many problems in this country. We have too many people that are out of work. We have an opioid crisis in our country, especially here in south Florida. People are dying by the dozens every day.

We've got a lot of problems. We have the issue with North Korea, around the world with Iran now threatening to maybe -- or potentially start their nuclear program again. So when you think about all the problems in the world and all the problems we have in this country, to me, having a debate about statues, it just doesn't register. And I think and I hope that the Republicans in Congress take the opportunity and take advantage of the great power that the American people have given them and to do something with great purpose, to pass tax reform, to get the economy growing again, to create more jobs and to create more economic opportunity, especially in the areas of this country that need it.

BERMAN: It is interesting, though, Alex, because Steve Bannon, inside the White House, doesn't just agree with the president's statements on the confederate monuments, he thinks it's good politics. Again, you know, he said at "The New York Times," I'll just read the quote again, the Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got them. I want them to talk about racism every day. And he thinks it's good politics for the president. Is there an element of truth in that?

CONANT: Well, look, I think there's two arguments. There's Steve Bannon's argument, which is that all politics is essentially base politics, that is, you figure out ways to play to your base, animate your base, get your base more energized than the other side and you can be very successful. And that the culture wars long term have not been good for the Democratic Party because they've lost sight of the blue collar economic arguments that used to animate Democrats and that Donald Trump I think effectively stole from Hillary Clinton during the campaign last year. So I do think there is some validity to that argument.

However, to be a successful president, you need to be able to unite the country. You need to be able to grow your base. You cannot effectively govern when you're at 34, 35, 36 percent in the polls, as Donald Trump currently is.

And this sort of divisive rhetoric going into these very divisive debates is not going to improve his political standing. If anything, it will only further undermine it as the country becomes more divided. He needs to be a uniter and look for issues like, frankly, tax reform that could potentially unite Americans not seem to further divide us.

BERMAN: Interesting to see if that is where he heads next and gets off the statues.

Justin Sayfie, Alex Conant, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it, guys.

SAYFIE: Hey, good morning. Thanks you.

BERMAN: Could the president's official statements on Twitter, could they backfire? Watch our special report, "Twitter and Trump" tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern, that's only on CNN.

The frustrations with the president not just limited to Republicans, not just limited to the United States of America. Leaders around the globe speaking out. Will the president's comments make diplomacy harder?


[09:44:20] BERMAN: All right, the breaking news this morning, moments ago, the president came out against the removal of confederate statues all around the country, noting their beauty and what he calls the culture that they provide in the country, does not think that they should be ripped up.

Now in reaction to that type of sentiment over the last few days, a chorus of world leaders is blasting the president for his response, specifically to the Charlottesville violence. Officials from Europe to the Middle East weighing in are raising new questions about the president's ability to perform on the international stage.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen in Beirut with more on this fallout.



Yes, this certainly is becoming a diplomatic issue in many ways. Of course, one of America's strongest allies is the Brits. And British Prime Minister Theresa May originally said, look, this is all Donald Trump's own opinion. But now she came out with a stronger statement. Let's listen in.

[09:45:13] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I absolutely abhor the racism, the hatred and the violence that we've seen portrayed by these groups. I see no equivalence between those who profound (ph) fascist views and those who oppose them. And I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far right views wherever we hear them.


PLEITGEN: So it sounds like she's taking the president to task there, saying anybody in position of power needs to condemn this. Similar words from the Irish foreign minister who said, and I quote, the kinds of thinking that comes from white supremacists or white nationalists, or whatever you want to call them, whatever they call themselves, is the kind of thinking that Ireland condemns outright with no equivocation.

Now, you have that from several European allies saying similar things. Of course enemies of the U.S. also chiming in. In the form, for instance, of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He said, and I quote, if you really care, go fix racial discrimination and the disastrous violation of human rights for both whites and blacks in your own country. Mind your own business rather than meddling with other nations' affairs.

Of course, the Iranian supreme leader himself is an on the record Holocaust denier, so we need to take that with more than a grain of salt. But you certainly see a lot of very strong statements coming from all over the world, especially from allies in Europe, John.

BERMAN: All right, Fred Pleitgen. Important -- no, some important clarifications there as well. Great to see you, Fred. Thank you so much.

Again, the news this morning, President Trump going even further than he did in his public statements, now says the confederate monument the around the country should stay. You have to wonder what his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, think about that. They've been publicly silent over the last several days after the president's controversial new remarks on Charlottesville. So there are new questions this morning about just how influential they are inside the West Wing.


[09:51:29] BERMAN: All right, the breaking news this morning, moments ago, the president went even further than he did in his very controversial statement on Tuesday. Now he came out strongly against the removal of confederate statues in the United States. Among other things he says the beauty that is being taken out of cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced. Now, already, the president facing growing backlash over the comments

that very fine people were among the crowd of neo-Nazi's in Charlottesville and that both sides were to blame for the violence. A lot of people asking, where was Ivanka Trump, where was Jared Kushner, both of whom are Jewish, during these comments on the demonstration.

Well, where they were was on vacation in Vermont. And pretty silent amid most of the controversies.

Here with me to discuss, CNN White House reporter Kate Bennett and CNN contributor and writer for "Vanity Fair" Emily Jane Fox.

You know, Emily, so when bad things or controversial things happen in and around the White House, it seems like Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are gone. When health care failed in the House in March, they were in Aspen. During the fallout over Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails they were in Sun Valley, Idaho. After Charlottesville, they are in Vermont. You know, coincidence?

EMILY JANE FOX, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there's a little bit of a chicken/egg situation here where you -- it's hard to say whether the scandal came first and then the vacation or the vacation and then the scandal. But there are two patterns that emerged in Jared and Ivanka's short White House history. The first is that when something bad happens, immediately there is a story from people close to them saying they tried really hard. They tried really hard to convince the president to moderate but, you know, the president is the president.

And the second is that they're not there. Whether it's a coincidence or not, I can't say. But it seems like a short two-day trip to Vermont is something that's easily postponable. This is an issue that is very close to their family. They have three Jewish children. Jared Kushner is a grandson of Holocaust survivors.

This trip probably could have waited. This is a very low moment in the president's short time in office and it feels like an odd time for his two senior advisers to be taking a trip to Vermont.

BERMAN: As you know, they're worth $740 million. They probably could have afforded even a full fare ticket back from Vermont.

FOX: I think so. Especially, you know, they drove on -- they flew on a Trump helicopter there. So they could have had --

BERMAN: They wouldn't even have had to pay full fare.

FOX: Exactly.

BERMAN: So, Kate Bennett, you know, as Emily notes, you know, they seem awfully anxious to get the notion that they're not around when these controversial things happen out there, but it does beg the question, even if they are there, you know, is the scope and breath of their influence, has it been overestimated all along?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I mean I think, as Emily says, a bit. I mean we can look at tangible examples of this where people sort of felt that Ivanka and perhaps Jared were these very influential Trump whispers type of people. But on issues from, you know, climate change to immigration to LGBT, clearly the agenda that was sort of hoped for that Ivanka Trump could be a more moderate voice has not worked. And as Emily said also, it sort of creates a scenario where, well, what does work? Where can it work? And stay behind the scenes, well they tried, isn't necessarily going to help them with this sort of reputation issue.

But it's also a challenge of just being this sort of unprecedented, I'm a daughter and I'm also a senior adviser. So the two must butt heads. And I would imagine that's a difficult position this weekend. And staying silent is going to have its own fallout for both of them.

[09:55:04] BERMAN: And, Emily, it's just -- this has got to hit close to home for Jared Kushner when you're dealing with marching neo-Nazi's shouting anti-Semitic slogans. I mean he is the descendant of, you know, Holocaust survivors.

FOX: This is something that I would imagine hits them both very, very close, not only because of Jared Kushner's family history, they have three children who are in Jewish day schools. I would imagine this is very difficult for them.

But at the same time, this is not new for the Trump presidency. This is, of course, a new low, but this is a theme that has been there since the campaign and throughout the White House and they still continue to stick by him.

BERMAN: All right, Emily Jane Fox, Kate Bennett, thanks so much for being with us.

The breaking news this morning, the president essentially saying keep the confederate statues. Tearing them down would be to rip apart U.S. culture. What culture, exactly, is he talking about? Reaction coming from around the country. Stay with us.


[10:00:05] BERMAN: All right, good morning, everyone. John Berman here.