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Trump Unfazed by Furor Over Charlottesville Comments; Majority of Americans Feel Trump's Charlottesville Response Not Strong Enough; Interview with Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA). Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 17, 2017 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bigots that were in Charlottesville, they want to tear us apart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Time for my colleagues to start putting country before party.

CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST: A sense is developing in the military that Donald Trump is unfit to be the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- (INAUDIBLE) and dealing with what is a world leader.

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.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Out of something terrible comes a beautiful show of love and unity.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: She put her body on the line in front of white supremacists and gave her life.

SUSAN BRO, HEATHER HEYER'S MOTHER: They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her.


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

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Poppy Harlow joining me. Good to have you this week.


CUOMO: A community coming together, hundreds turning out in Charlottesville singing songs of hope. Listen.


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: This was an impromptu candlelight vigil honoring Heather Heyer at the very location where hate groups marched with torches and Nazi signs just days ago.

The escalating crisis over President Trump's response has the president fighting back this morning denying his own words, his moral equivocation that hate groups and those protesting them shared responsibility.

HARLOW: And the revolt against President Trump's response is growing louder and louder from former Republican presidents and CEOs to the president's own military generals. And that is rare and stunning and notable.

But Republicans in Congress largely avoiding attacking the president by name, and this comes as the president, we are told, remains defiant and without regret over his defense of white supremacists.

We have it all covered for you. Let's go to our Jeff Zeleny in Bridgewater, New Jersey, where the president is. And Jeff, that's your reporting. That is -- that is from people that have been with the president in the last 24 hours.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. That's correct. They're saying no regret. And we are seeing that play out in real time again this morning. The president back at Bedminster, his golf course and resort, tweeting this morning.

You get the sense this is going to be a heavy day for the president, on Twitter at least. He is directly going after one of those Republicans in tweets just sent out earlier this morning.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, was one of the ones who directly confronted the president, so the president fought back this morning with these tweets, saying, "Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there's no [SIC] moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists and people like Ms. Heyer," he went on to say. "Such a disgusting lie. He just can't forget his election trouncing. The people of South Carolina will remember. All that is coming as the president is increasingly sensitive, isolated from Republicans, but also business leaders.


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, 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 to 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: You know, 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, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I stand with the president, and I stand by those words.

[07:05:03] ZELENY: Vice President Pence, who is abruptly cutting his international trip short to return to the U.S., 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.


ZELENY: Well, the president is taking aim at more Republicans this morning. In a tweet out just a few moments ago, going after Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, who has also been critical of this president.

He said this. Let's read it. He said, "Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake. Jeff Flake, who is weak on borders, crime and a non-factor in the Senate. He's toxic."

Well, clearly, the president has Arizona on his mind. He announced last night he's planning to do a campaign-style rally next week in Phoenix, likely to have Jeff Flake's Republican opinion point at his side. She's been a major Trump supporter.

Now, all this is coming as the mayor of Phoenix, a Democrat, last night sent out a statement urging the president, asking the president not to come to Phoenix in the wake of Charlottesville. He asked him to delay that rally. I think the sign of this tweet this morning, Chris and Poppy, is a sign that the president will be in Phoenix.

CUOMO: All right, Jeff. Appreciate the reporting.

Let's bring in our panel: CNN political commentator Errol Louis; CNN political director David Chalian; and CNN political analyst David Gregory.

David Gregory, do we think, for all the ugliness here, we may also have a moment of clarity? Do we now know where President Trump's head is, that he is all in with his base, so much so that, of course, he'll attack us for reporting his own words? That's easy, we know about that. Going after Graham, going after Flake. He needs these two men to get his agenda passed. He might need these two men to save him from any kind of political test of his legitimacy that comes up.


CUOMO: He needs the votes. And yet, he is attacking them in deference to his base.

GREGORY: I think this is a moment of clarity. I think even by Trump's standards, we've reached an extraordinary time in this young presidency where there are real questions about President Trump's judgment, his temperament and his fitness to lead as president of the United States.

I'm not sure the moment of clarity is about any particular label, although what is significant about the past few days is that white supremacists think they have an ally in the White House. That is reprehensible, and it's because of his conduct.

I also think part of what makes this moment extraordinary is, look around. Whether it's business leaders in America; military, the head of our -- the heads of our military branches; members of the president's own party, former President Bush and his father, former President Bush, speaking out against this president. He is increasingly isolated and ever more immature, lashing out at members of his own party.

This isn't leadership. He's not governing. He's simply lashing out at everyone around him. He's got a dysfunctional White House staff and a kind of paralyzed agenda, as I can see. So it's bad for the country. It's certainly bad for him politically, bad for his party.

And it's not clear where he maneuvers now, because everything he tries to do to rehabilitate himself or the conduct of his presidency, he gets in the way of.

HARLOW: He can blame and point fingers at, David Chalian, whomever he would like. That is his right as an American and as the president. However, he needs to listen to the words of the people that are embracing them.

We're going to have the reporter on in just a few minutes, that incredible "VICE" reporter who was in the midst of all this. OK? On CNN last night she was asked, "What are the white supremacists saying about the president's response to all this?"

And they say they love it. The president continues to exceed the expectations of the white nationalists. One texted me last night and said, "My God, I love this man. He really has my back."

Those are voices that the president does not seem to be hearing, David Chalian.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It doesn't seem to bother him at all that those voices are out there and that those folks can take comfort, they feel they can take comfort in what President Trump says.

Let's be clear about what he's doing now this morning, obviously. He is desperate for an enemy. Everything David Gregory just said, completely true, but I would just say that questions about his character, his temperament, his fitness for the job, the majority of Americans had questions about that last November in the election.

[07:10:09] What he had last November that he didn't have now as president is an opponent who he is running against. And so that's what this lashing out is on Twitter. He is desperate to get back into a place. like he did with Little Marco or Crooked Hillary or Lyin' Ted and form opponents here so he can find a way to build back up.

This is -- this is almost like Donald Trump paint by numbers. He is rocked by the coverage. He then leaks out word that there's no regret, no turning back at all, no apologies whatsoever. And then he starts lashing out to find opponents to try to begin to gather some support among his core.

CUOMO: So --

GREGORY: I would just add to that, while I think that's true, he had Hillary Clinton as an opponent. He has the media now. He has anybody, all comers, essentially.

But I think people who supported Trump were willing to forgive these character questions, thinking, yes, that's a lot of noise, but he's going to get in here and change things, and he'll be able to govern. Now I think it's a new set of questions.

CUOMO: David, I think you're spot on.

Errol, I mean, look, he's taking out the people he needs to get the agenda going. Lindsey Graham is wired any way you look at it. Jeff Flake, as we know, is one of the main mechanics in there. And you may disagree within your own party, but you don't handle it this way.

And we're seeing something else. In the aftermath of what he said about Charlottesville, the people who are backing him, at least in social media, and we did a good study of it there, and certainly, the president is responsive to it. They are almost, to a person, saying one thing: "Well, yes, KKK is bad but what about Antifa? What about BLM? You know, isn't that the left's version?" That's what the president was pandering to.

This notion they had when he first got elected, DJT 100, become popular at 100 percent, everybody's president. Those hopes seem to have been abandoned, which means Steve Bannon can't be going anywhere any time soon.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's right. I don't think Steve Bannon is going anywhere. There's this extraordinary interview that Bob Kuttner got.


LOUIS: That's going to be news today.

But look, the reality is we keep talking about the president's agenda and whether or not he's going to be able to accomplish it. The uncomfortable truth is that what we saw at that chaotic press conference in the lobby of Trump Tower, that is the president's agenda. For a lot of people, that's what he's delivering. They care about that more than they care about jobs, more than they care about the economy, more than they care about America's standing in the world or making America great.

For them, the sight of a combative president taking on enemies, inventing enemies if possible, if necessary, sort of being vulgar and disdainful, shattering all of the norms of political discourse, that's the payoff for a lot of -- for a certain number of his voters. It's a -- it's a depressing truth of the Trump presidency. The fact that he's chosen to do that is a leadership vacuum, because the president is not just supposed to be pandering. He's supposed to be doing certain things.

HARLOW: Here's one lens into how Americans are feeling about all this this morning. There's this new Marist poll out on how the president's reaction to Charlottesville was.

Now, 52 percent of Americans, David Gregory, say not strong enough. Over -- a little over a quarter of Americans do say strong enough. I should note: this was taken Monday and Tuesday, so some of the respondents wouldn't have seen that Monday -- Tuesday afternoon, rather, press conference that the president gave that was so stunning and remarkable, where he doubled down on this moral equivalency.

But still, do those numbers surprise you?

GREGORY: Well, it's a snapshot in one particular time without some of the consequences of him shifting his position and going back to his original moral equivocations. I don't think that's as important as the larger point about what's happening here.

What Errol just said about Donald Trump is filling a vacuum right now in the country for people who support him, who feel alienated, who feel outside of the political system.

But he also had support of tried and true Republicans who kind of came home, because they opposed Hillary Clinton, because they didn't like what was happening in Washington. So that you're seeing kind of filleted up a little bit, where Republican support is getting much softer. It hasn't collapsed, but it's getting softer.

The bigger challenge, I think, for the establishment of both parties is to begin to deal with some of these questions that are dividing Americans so sharply -- ideological questions, social questions -- and not let Donald Trump or not let the fringy elements of his support, like these supremacists, dictate that conversation, whether it's about race, or national memory, about, you know, the Confederacy. We have to have a broader conversation that is not led by these forces.

CUOMO: Well, except David Chalian, the reason that I say this is a moment of clarity is that clearly that's what the president has decided to do, whether because of Bannon and similar advisers or his own head and heart telling them, "Look, we've got a third. Let's lock in that third, and let's hope the independents will swing our way, because they hate what we're inventing as a deep state and that the institutions there that we're fighting against are the real enemy; and we'll be OK."

[07:15:11] It has to be the play. Otherwise, what he'd be doing now is political suicide.

CHALIAN: I agree with you that that's the play, Chris. And actually, I don't think that that just got revealed with his nonsensical moral equivalency this week. I think that has been revealed in the way he's governed for seven months.

I constantly challenge folks to point to something the president has done in his first seven months that seemed geared at garnering a majority of the American support behind it, pointing -- pointing to something and then taking a majority of the country following him, as leaders tend to do. I think you'd be hard pressed to find something in his administration in the first seven months that has been geared that way.

And when you -- I just want to -- one other point about the tweets this morning. You're talking about Graham being central to getting stuff done or Flake. I don't know what he's talking about Flake is a non-factor. Does he not understand how the United States Senate works? He just lost his health care bill by one vote. Each one of those senators gets one vote.

HARLOW: Thank you.

GREGORY: That's why he's so destructive. He's gotten to this point of being so personally destructive, as well as destructive to the party, that he's taking on the leader of Republicans. He lost health care, and now he's got one big area left, which is tax reform that people expected him to come through on.

CUOMO: I wonder what this means about General Kelly. And again, I don't mean to ascribe any blame. He's the chief of staff. He's not the president of the United States. But the whole hope had been that he'd come in with his discipline and the respect that the president had for him as a military officer...

HARLOW: Turn the page.

CUOMO: -- and he'd be able to enforce some message discipline. We haven't seen it.

So up next, we're going to talk to the one Republican lawmaker who is willing to come on the show today to discuss the president's response to Charlottesville. What does he think of the president going all in against all opponents? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [07:20:56] CUOMO: The president is doing what he does most, if not best, which is attacking his opponents. Now that includes members of his own party.

In a series of tweets, the president has called out Senator Lindsey Graham, moments later slamming Senator Jeff Flake, two men who he needs, not just to empower his agenda, but he needs their votes in any political eventuality.

The GOP left to pick up the pieces after the president's incendiary moral equivocation between hate groups and those who oppose them in Charlottesville.

We invited all 52 Republican senators to come on the show. None accepted. We did get a Republican congressman, though, who wants to come on and talk about the state of health care and the state of our political dialogue. And you're looking at him: Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania joining us now.

Congressman, thank you for stepping up.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: Please, let's deal with some of the dialogue that's hitting us over the head, and then let's get into the latest on where we stand with health care and these all-important stabilizing payments.

First, what do you say to the president of the United States going after Lindsey Graham, going after Jeff Flake, going after anybody who says that he said something wrong about Charlottesville?

DENT: Well, I think it's important for the president to step back and reflect and get into some introspection here for a moment. You know, when the -- when the leaders of our top military officials, when they stand up and more or less rebuke the president with their statements yesterday. When these corporate CEOs all feel they have to withdraw from the Manufacturing Council. And by the way, I know Ken Frazier well of Merck. He's from Philadelphia, raised by a father who is a janitor. And he's -- and I have Merck employees in my district, my neighbors. And, you know, he didn't do that lightly. He's a good man.

I think, you know, the president ought to step back and think about this, that these people were obviously very moved. So, you know, and we get into this issue of moral equivalency.

You know, I always point out, when you see people in Charlottesville, you know, doing the "seig heil" and making these Nazi references, you know, our country fought against Nazi Germany. We allied ourselves not only with the British and the Canadians and other Western nations, but with Soviet Russia. We aligned ourselves with a country whose ideology we detest. And even Winston Churchill said that if the devil had invaded Hell that he would at least make a favorable reference to -- if Hitler had invaded hell, then he would make a favorable reference to the devil on the floor of the House of Commons. I mean, so I think we have to put it in that kind of perspective, that

we just simply cannot tolerate this type of white supremacist behavior or activity. It was clear they were down there in Charlottesville to instigate a fight based on the videos that I had seen. So I think that's the message, that it's time to reflect and introspect.

Jeff Flake, by the way, I think you mentioned him. He's a good friend of mine. Jeff is a very principled man. And by the way, he's one of the most good-natured people I have ever met in Congress. And I just want to say that about him. And I don't think it's a good thing to be attacking U.S. senators whose votes you need on important agenda items.

CUOMO: What about the fact that you're not seeing more GOP elected officials coming out and saying and doing what you're doing right now? I get party loyalty. I get fear, frankly, or adherence to the hopes for an agenda, and that is a motivation making you go soft against the president.

But on something like this, where you now have the president courting a part of the country that wants to believe that there is a left versus right race war, and that it's OK to pander to the right side of that, what do you say to the other elected officials down there in D.C. with you who haven't spoken out?

DENT: Well, I think a number of my colleagues have spoken out. But I simply say, is that at times like this we simply need to do the right thing. We must, as the party of Abraham Lincoln, we have to stand up and oppose this type of racism that we have seen coming out of Charlottesville...

[06:25:05] CUOMO: But don't you have to address the president the way you are right now? Shouldn't these senators -- I mean, we have a list of the people who have spoken out against him. You're on that list. But there are many more who have not; who have not said, "Mr. President, what you said was wrong and here's why I believe that. And here's what the right thing is."

This isn't a policy debate. This is about moral agency and standing firm about what matters in America.

DENT: Well, this issue is, I think, a real challenge for the president for a variety of reasons. You know, during the campaign, obviously, he made a number of incendiary comments about Mexicans, Muslims, you know, the Indiana judge. There was that David Duke debacle during the campaign. And -- and because of those previous statements, I think that has, you know, made issues like Charlottesville even more treacherous for the president. Because now there's a heightened expectation that the president come out very forcefully and denounce this. And...

CUOMO: It's pretty easy to do, Charlie, isn't it?

DENT: On Monday...

CUOMO: How hard is it to come out and say the KKK is all about hate. And while other groups who sometimes protest against them, and protest against other things, some of them may have criminal elements, some of them may do criminal things from time to time, the KKK is all about hate. How hard is that to say?

DENT: Well, it's not. I mean, it's not -- it's not very hard to denounce neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. My district -- the end of my district is about 40 miles from Gettysburg. So you know, believe me, it's not hard to denounce...

CUOMO: You know the issue, and that's why you've said it in such a clear way. So we're waiting for others to do the same.

Now, to the business of the state and what matters. One of the big issues on health care is stabilizing the markets. Depending on the market, there are lots of reasons, and it's complicated, about why they're destabilized, why people are leaving, why they don't have enough choice. One of the components are the matching payments, the support payments from the federal government.

The president's mere suggestion that he might not follow through with those, to the extent that he could stop them, shook a lot of providers and made them think about raising their rates. What are you going to do about that?

DENT: Well, Chris, I'm part of a group of folks in Congress called the Problem Solvers Caucus. We have come up with a bipartisan plan, 43 members, Republican and Democrat, and we have put down, we have set down about four or five items that we would address.

One, we would guarantee the cost-sharing reduction payments through the appropriations process to bring stability. We also would establish a stabilization fund. These are two things that were very important to the Democrats. But we also as Republicans acknowledge that we are going to have to deal with these cost sharing payments.

As Republicans, we get relief on the employer mandate, so it would be repealed for employers under -- fewer than 500 employees. Would repeal the medical device tax, and we also provide for state innovation that already is allowed for in the law.

So there's things here that we think will do a lot to stabilize the individual health insurance market, and frankly, Republicans and Democrats can each walk away feeling like they -- they won here.

CUOMO: Well, Charlie, I'll tell you what. As you saw we did with Senator Johnson, you want to come on and show your proposal and show why you think it works and make the case to the American people, you're welcome here on NEW DAY to do it. We take the policy discussion very seriously.

DENT: Well, thank you, Chris. I really appreciate this opportunity.

CUOMO: All right. And thank you for speaking truth to power here this morning, as well. It's a big moment in this country. Thank you for meeting it. Be well.

DENT: Thank you.

CUOMO: Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. She went on the front lines, reporting in the middle of the violence in Charlottesville. Now the correspondent from "VICE News" who told this whole story in this incredible documentary, was embedded with these white supremacists. What she is hearing from them about the president having their back, they think. Next.