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Trump Unfazed by Furor Over Charlottesville Comments; Poll: 52% Say Trump's Response Not Strong Enough. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 17, 2017 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump defiant in the face of mounting criticism.

[05:59:28] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It wasn't business as usual today with the CEOs. Their support for him completely collapsed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His moral authority is gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are they going to do when the next rally happens?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: White supremacists are emboldened and Republicans are emasculated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you can't reprimand the president of the United States for giving aid and comfort to Nazis, I need you to exit stage right.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hundreds of people taking part in the vigil against hate and violence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Heather Heyer was the best that we had.

SUSAN BRO, HEATHER HEYER'S MOTHER: I'd rather have my child. But by golly, if I've got to give her up, we're going to make it count.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY, with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, August 17, 6 a.m. here in New York. Alisyn is off. Poppy Harlow by my side. Thank you for being here.


CUOMO: We need you this week.

Here's our starting line. Out of something terrible comes a beautiful show of love and unity.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): We all need somebody to lean on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): We all need somebody to lean on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): We all need somebody to lean on.


CUOMO: Hundreds gathering last night at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for an impromptu candlelight vigil at the very scene of Saturday's senseless attack, paying tribute to Heather Heyer, delivering a message of hope and peace.

This comes as the fallout only grows from President Trump's response, or lack thereof. Two former Republican presidents, four of the party's past nominees and the president's top military generals all united in forcefully denouncing hatred and bigotry, while President Trump dissolves two advisory councils after some of the nation's top CEOs revolt against him.

HARLOW: This is leaving Republicans to pick up the pieces and decide if they have the guts to call out the president by name. Few of them want to be in the position of defending him in the middle of this escalating political crisis, but why aren't most Republicans naming the president?

CNN has learned President Trump remains defiant and without regret, increasingly isolated. All this as Americans weigh in on the president's response to that racially motivated violence.

Let's begin our coverage this morning with our Jeff Zeleny in Bridgewater, New Jersey, where the president is today. And it's your reporting that he is defiant, isolated and without regret.


Those are the words from people who visited the president yesterday at Trump Tower. They said he is without regret and defiant. But he is back here now in Bedminster, spending more time at his golf club and resort. Coming two days after that raucous press conference. But he was unusually silent and out of sight yesterday. Today there are no events on his public schedule as this businessman president is increasingly isolated from business executives and his fellow Republicans.


ZELENY: President Trump defiant in the wake of a growing backlash over his combative response to deadly violence at a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jews will not replace us. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jews will not replace us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jews will not replace us.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there's blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it.

ZELENY: Two sources tell CNN the president is moving forward without regret, believing firmly that the media and East Coast elites are unfairly upset about his remarks.

TRUMP: What about the alt-left that came charging at the -- as you say, the alt-right. Do they have any semblance of guilt?

ZELENY: But the president's words have caused a major break between him and some of the nation's top business leaders. Three executives tell CNN that after the president's off-the-rails press conference on Thursday, CEOs serving on the president's strategic and policy forum decided the dissolve the group. But before they could make the announcement, the president acted first, tweeting that he is dismantling both his policy and manufacturing panels, despite boasting 24 hours earlier about having many business leaders to replace the CEOs who were distancing themselves from the White House.

The revolt doesn't stop there. Five armed services chiefs also countering their commander-in-chief with public condemnations of white supremacy on Twitter, although none mentioned President Trump by name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe that you can be a fine person and a white supremacist. They're mutually exclusive. Can't use them in the same line.

ZELENY: Many Republicans also denouncing the president's remarks, although the majority of the party and its leadership have not explicitly condemned Mr. Trump by name.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: The president speaks for himself.

ZELENY: Within the White House, many of the president's aides have privately expressed frustration, but there have been no resignations. And sources tell CNN it's a safe assumption, for now, nobody is stepping down.

Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, who is Jewish, is said to be disappointed and embarrassed, while the president's Jewish daughter and son-in-law have yet to comment.

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I stand with the president, and I stand by those words.

ZELENY: Vice President Pence, who is abruptly cutting his international trip short to return to the U.S. today, defending the president but declining to answer direct questions about his remarks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): This little light of mine...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): This little light of mine...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): This little light of mine...

ZELENY: The fallout comes as hundreds gathered for a peaceful march and candlelight vigil at the University of Virginia campus, the very site where white supremacists carried torches and Nazi flags that led to the violence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

ZELENY: The Charlottesville community coming together to heal and pay tribute to Heather Heyer, whose mother had this message for those who hate.

BRO: They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her.


[06:05:11] ZELENY: Now President Trump announced last night that he'd be holding a campaign-style rally next week in Phoenix. That prompted the mayor of Phoenix, a Democrat, to ask the president to not come to Phoenix in the wake of Charlottesville, asking him to delay that event. No word yet from the White House that they will do that. It is on the president's schedule next week. But as for today, an empty public schedule for this president -- Chris and Poppy.

CUOMO: All right, Jeff. Appreciate it.

Thank you very much. Let's bring in the panel: CNN political analysts John Avlon and Karoun Demirjian; and CNN political commentator Errol Louis.

Let's put up the graphic. Here are the Republicans who have called out the president by name, and by name matters, and calling this what it is matters. So you see them there. John McCain started it going with Marco Rubio. Senator Graham came out yesterday about this.

But the bigger number are those who are remaining silent. We contacted all 52 Republican GOP people, invited them on the show to get statements.

HARLOW: Senators, all of them.

CUOMO: Yes. Nothing. They didn't want to do it, even though the CEOs have come out now -- the irony of that, that CEOs have come out as the first line of moral rectitude to talk about what the president did here. Maybe the GOP will feel more comfortable coming out now. Karoun Demirjian, the president seems content to say, "I stand by my words, and it's just the media that's coming after me." But that's demonstrably false, and yet, we have seen a shyness by his own to come out and exert the leadership that they were expected to show.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We have. Those who have come out and specifically call out the president by name have not been shy about it at all, and they've been saying that there is an absolute moral compulsion for everybody to do the same.

But you've not seen the rest of the party, basically, in droves do this the same way. Many of them have made statements about where they stand generally about racism, about bigotry, about the groups, the neo-Nazis, KKK, white supremacists, but have shied away from using the president's name. And then there's, of course, those who haven't weighed in at all.

I don't think it's actually that ironic that CEOs would be the first line of people to come out about this. Because I mean, we're talking about the heads of major companies, many of which are public companies. They have shareholders to worry about. They can be kicked out by boards, if those shareholders don't think that they're actually responding to what the companies are supposed to be -- stand for, standing for. There are brands there that matter.

And yet, you know, for politicians, you could argue that, you know, well, they have to answer to voters, and that's a much more important audience. The Republicans that are in office have already aligned themselves, to a large extent, with President Trump and not because of issues like racism, but because of issues that have to do with the Republican agenda, and are wary of splitting themselves too far apart from the president, because they're concerned about the rest of that -- those issues and those matters that have yet to come up, like tax reform and health care debate that didn't get finished.

Now, we can argue about whether that is morally upstanding or not, that they'd be weighing those options at a moment like this, but that is a calculation that's going through their heads as they're deciding whether -- how much of a stand to take and how directly to call out the president by name when taking it.

HARLOW: There is someone, though, within the president's inner circle who is not only calling out the president by name, his actions, he's doing it on camera, and he's doing it on the president's property, at his golf course. Listen to the V.A. secretary.


DAVID SHULKIN, VETERAN AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I'm speaking out and I'm giving my personal opinions as an American and as a Jewish American. And for me in particular, I think in learning history that we know that staying silent on these issues is simply not acceptable.


HARLOW: John Avlon, he's telling the president, essentially, and the American people, "What you've done is not acceptable."

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and good for him. Look, he is a unique figure in the cabinet, because he's an Obama administration holdover.

HARLOW: Holdover, of course.

AVLON: That kind of thing is very unusual in this environment.

But I think it's also significant the V.A. secretary and the joint chiefs have all come out with their own statements that, at least implicitly, are taking a very strong stand. I say implicitly, because they're not calling out the president, because he's still commander in chief, but they're saying proactively that racism and hatred and bigotry...

CUOMO: They never get involved.

AVLON: Exactly. And that's -- that's a really -- I mean, look, you should -- you know, condemning a neo-Nazi should not be a chapter in profile in courage. This should be actually, like, baseline normal, you know, civic conversation. But in this context, these folks are standing up. And the fact they're doing it from a military and V.A. perspective is significant.

The fact that you had both President Bushes coming out and issuing that statement is significant. Because it's about -- what Donald Trump is doing is so outside the American experience for presidents that he needs to be called out by people who've got a deeper sense and record of civic service. And that's one of the things that's happening.

[06:10:01] CUOMO: But now, Errol, if nothing else, it is clear what the president's political plan is, that the idea that he would become expansive and become a president for all, that's been abandoned. And he is going to pander to this base no matter what it takes, no matter what the compromise, no matter how ugly.

LOUIS: That's right. He has decided to be the president of his base, as opposed to the president of the United States. Right?

The president traditionally is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. That's literally part of the job. We saw that the leadership of the armed forces wants to go in a different direction.

He's traditionally sort of a business leader. He claimed that as his background. Business leadership has walked away from him.

The political leadership seems to be, you know, unable to figure out what they stand for and where they want to go. They, too, have decided that, wherever that's going to be, it's not necessarily going to be side by side, shoulder to shoulder with this president.

So yes, he's made a decision. I think it's a fateful one. I personally think it's probably the wrong one, you know, because what we've seen here is really a vacuum. All of these leaders are stepping up, because they feel like the president has fallen back.

And then, you know, even as leader of the free world, that other sort of, you know, kind of ambiguous but very definite title that the president has, that's been abdicated. And so you have Theresa May and you have the German leadership stepping up and sort of saying what everyone thinks the president should have said.

But Donald Trump folds his arms, stamps his feet, decides he's right and he doesn't care and then invites all of us to say that, I guess that's the new normal. I guess the president doesn't command the armed forces and lead his party and serve as leader of the free world. And we have to decide whether that's OK with us.

HARLOW: Does the opposite of what he ran on and says he wanted, which was to be the strongest, to make America great again.

CUOMO: He's supposed to deal with the carnage instead of just causing it.

HARLOW: Exactly. Karoun, presidents -- former presidents are calling this out. Former presidents Bush, both of them, in this joint statement: "America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred in all forms." They went on to say they pray for Charlottesville and are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city's most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: 'We are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights.' We know these truths to be everlasting, because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country."

Your thoughts on that and then if we'll hear more from President Obama.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. I think it's very significant that both former presidents Bush did put out that statement. It just goes to show you that, again, there is a repudiation of this stance, even if it is not directly a repudiation that is calling out President Trump by name, of senior officials past and present that we do not usually hear weighing in on these things, out of deference and respect for the office of the presidency.

Now, Obama weighed in a few days ago, right when this was happening with that tweet, that was quoting Nelson Mandela. But he has kind of held back at this point. And it would be -- it's interesting to see that decision being made. I mean, you can kind of say, OK, that makes sense, because this is a mess that he does not even need to contribute to to make it more messy.

This right now is Trump's own -- he's getting plenty of criticisms from his own party. You haven't seen Democrats kind of pile on as much as the Republicans have. They're just kind of letting it happen. And letting...

HARLOW: He's the one who said, when he was leaving in his final days, "I will speak up when needed." Remember that?

DEMIRJIAN: Right, exactly. So the question is, you know, is this a question at which he's going to speak up now or is he going to wait a few days until kind of the intra-party cacophony has kind of had its, more of its run?

Obama could weigh in right now, but then he would almost, in a way, give -- shift the limelight away from Trump to Obama again. And maybe they don't want to do that right now, because right now, as long as those lights stay focused on Trump, it's not good for him.

CUOMO: Quick word, and then we've got to go.

AVLON: He -- Trump -- Obama has already weighed in via Twitter in the most liked and, I think, retweeted tweet in history, in a rebuke for this. And I think what you're hearing is that he's going to get more involved in the fall. But right now having Republican presidents stand up to Trump actually carries more political and moral weight.

HARLOW: Thank you all very much. You'll be back.

Also this morning, the American people, you are weighing in on President Trump's response to this violence, this hate in Charlottesville. There's a new national poll that sends a very strong message to the president. We'll have that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [06:17:54] HARLOW: So there's a new national poll this morning that shows how you Americans feel about President Trump's response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville. Fifty-two percent say the president's response was not strong enough. This is a new Marist poll. The president's approval ranking sinking to a new low, 35 percent. Important to note, though, this poll was taken Monday and part of Tuesday. So some people weighed in before the president held that stunning press conference and doubled down on those "both sides" comments.

Let's bring back in our panel, John Avlon, Errol Louis and Karoun Demirjian.

Abd Karoun, to you, I don't know what the numbers would be had this been taken Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday. What do you think?

DEMIRJIAN: I actually was looking at those numbers, and I was kind of surprised that, as much as there is definitely a split between the people that think that he was not strong enough and the people that think that he was giving a strong enough response, that that not strong enough number isn't higher, especially given the backlash of all the various people that we were just talking about in the last segment coming out and criticizing the president for his stance.

Now I mean, unless as you said, those numbers reflect the fact that the president did give a more scripted teleprompter, you know, driven comment, walking back or adding to what he's said on Saturday on Monday.

I also thought it was interesting, as you dig down into those poll numbers, there's a real -- a comfort level, actually, with some of these statues that was the trigger point for this particular episode in Charlottesville. And that the country is really divided and not sure what it thinks about leaving those up or taking it down.

Now granted, you know, that's just the touchstone for what this actually was, which was a show of these very racist and bigoted sentiments that came out on the streets of Charlottesville. But it's interesting to kind of see those numbers, because they definitely are a majority, but they're not a conclusive majority that's overwhelming.

CUOMO: But you know what? Karoun, that is the window into why we're seeing what we're seeing right now. There is a part of this country that is comfortable with the protection of these white extremists in light of this imbalance of what's right and wrong.

HARLOW: But over a quarter of the country?

CUOMO: Well, look, here is the thing that you have to project onto these numbers. Why is the president doing what he's doing? OK. Assuming sanity, why is he doing it?

[06:20:07] Because that gap that we see in the poll, John Avlon, which is that there are people -- not that they're white supremacists, but that they believe that the left gives undue protection to their own equivalent of the KKK, in their mind. As wrong-minded as that may be.

But there's a reason that the group that's supporting the president, at least on social media, has one voice, which is what about Antifa, or "Anteefa," or however you say it? What about the alt-left? There is this illusion of parity that he is playing to with people who want to believe that there's an equally opposite wrong that's ignored. That's the group he's playing to. That's his base.

AVLON: Right. Look, and the idea that both sides are equally wrong is very seductive for people who want to be fair minded, but let's be...

CUOMO: Not fair minded.

AVLON: People who want to be fair-minded in their self-conception. But there is no parity between -- there is no American leftist parallel to the KKK in the American experience. I'm sorry. We can talk about, you know, Europe in the early 20th Century and the interplay between communists and fascists, but that's not relevant to our experience.

You do have folks who live in the South who grow up sincerely believing that bumper sticker, "Heritage not Hate." But that requires a suspension of sort of empathetic imagination. And what we've got to do is have perspective on our history and have a deeper conversation. Because a lot of this is simply rallying around these symbols and not dealing with the fact that it's not simply American history. It's about trying to memorialize the lost cause, the myth of the lost cause after the fact, and whitewash the fact that these Confederate generals were not engaging in a project of national unity. These Confederate generals were people who led a traitorous rebellion designed to perpetuate slavery. And that moral clarity needs to be seen and understood. LOUIS: People don't know the history that they claim to be championing. Right? I mean, so you can go back and find in the 19th Century Frederick Douglass bitterly complaining about the monuments of Robert Lee as they were going up. You know, there was a big, vigorous national debate even at that time.

CUOMO: And as Poppy pointed out yesterday, when these went up, the turn of the century, the '50s and '60s.

HARLOW: The '50s and '60s. The context matters. What was being pushed and happening in this country. Jim Crow, civil rights, when these were erected. There was a reason they were erected, and it wasn't all, you know, at that time. It wasn't.

CUOMO: The president tweeting this morning.

AVLON: Oh, good.

CUOMO: "Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists." And there's a dot, dot, dot, because he's going to say something more.

But look, let's cut him off at the pass, Karoun. He did say it. When you say there is wrong on both sides...

HARLOW: Both sides.

CUOMO: ... I know what they're trying to sell now. We're all getting the phone calls from his supporters, saying, well, there was criminal activity on both sides. That's not what this was about, Karoun. Is that you're saying that the people who were there who opposed hate are the same as their -- the people there pandering hate. That's moral equivocation. That's wrong. That's what Lindsey Graham was talking about.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. And just because Trump did not use the phrase "There is a moral equivalency" does not mean that that wasn't, basically, the message of what he was saying, when he kept saying there's wrong on both sides or not reporting the other side was, you know, just as bad in all these different ways.

I actually think that probably Marco Rubio is the Republicans that countered that the best yesterday, or whenever it was that he put that stream of six different tweets, because he said, "Look, if you're espousing a platform of hate and bigotry, you justify the violence that's used against you to shut you down."

And that's basically saying there is a line in the sand here. You cannot say that just because there were, you know, aggressive things that were done by one side, that they weren't prompted by something that was much, much uglier and much, much worse.

AVLON: And you're talking about folks giving straight-arm salutes...

CUOMO: Right. AVLON: ... on the campus of UVA Friday night. This isn't subtle, folks. And let's not forget the senator the president is going after is from the great state of South Carolina, where the Civil War began.

So you know, for the president to try to call this out in this way, he's doubling down. He doesn't want to deal with the substance of what he said, and the very clear dog whistle. And as somebody said yesterday, the dog whistle -- not dog whistle, everybody hears it. You can't spin your weigh out of this one, folks. This is not subtle. This is deeply troubling, and everyone recognizes.

CUOMO: The rest of the tweet is, you know, "Publicity speaking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists and people like Ms. Heyer. Such a disgusting lie. He just can't forget his election trouncing." I don't know what he's talking about there.

HARLOW: The primaries.

CUOMO: OK. "The people of South Carolina will remember."

You know, look, you know what this is a call to? All you other GOP electeds out there in leadership. Are you going to let Lindsey Graham hang out there and get beaten up by the president, as if this is about him and an election, or are you going to stand up and echo what Lindsey Graham said and speak truth to power?

[06:25:04] AVLON: And don't forget this. In South Carolina, Tim Scott was on the ballot with Donald Trump this time, not Lindsey Graham. Tim Scott did better in the state of South Carolina than Donald Trump did.


AVLON: So that's a sign that there's more support for the Republican senators in North Korea than there is for the conservative populist president of the United States.

CUOMO: All right. Let's leave this here for now. Let's see what else the president has to say. But let's be clear: there was moral equivocation between these people who do nothing but breed hate and those who are opposing them.

So Heather Heyer, the president mentioned this morning, she has become a symbol of what this was really about for the opponents down there. You're looking at her mother, speaking out so powerfully despite her pain at a memorial service for her daughter. What she wants you to know about who her child was, what she was about and what the moral equivocation was that the president...


CUOMO: President Trump's supporters sounding off on his latest remarks, following that deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.