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President Trump Criticizes GOP Senators on Twitter; Analysts Examine President Trump's Popularity with Republican Base; Trump Denies Morally Equating Hate Groups & Protesters. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 17, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Let's begin our coverage with Jeff Zeleny in Bridgewater, New Jersey, where the president is today. And Jeff, that's your reporting, that despite all of this he is defiant and standing his ground.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. He is defiant, standing his ground, and this morning firing back at some of those Republicans who directly confronted the president. Not surprising there isn't anything on the president's public schedule today. We're not expected to see him or be able to ask him about this. But he is having and making his views known and clear on Twitter this morning, starting by going after Senator Lindsey Graham, a familiar foe of this president, a Republican of South Carolina who called out the president rather forcefully yesterday.

This is what President Trump tweeted this morning of Lindsey Graham. He said "Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there's a moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists." He goes on to say "And people like Ms. Heyer. Such a disgusting lie," the president said. "He just can't forget this election trouncing. The people of South Carolina will remember."

And then not long after that, the president also going after Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, also a Republican who took issue with the president's comments earlier this week. The president tweeted this. "Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake. Jeff Flake is weak on borders, crime, and a non-factor in the Senate. He's toxic."

Well, that toxic Republican senator actually voted for President Trump's health care bill. That toxic Republican senator is one of the Republican senators who are needed to enact the president's agenda here.

So going forward, the reason that this matters, the reason that so many White House aides are shocked and dismayed by this is not because the president has picked another fight. It's because seven months into his presidency, the president's agenda is on the line here. Indeed, tax reform, indeed raising the debt ceiling. So when they come back to Washington in September, all this fight will suddenly become very real. And the legislative agenda is imperiled because of this fight.

But Chris and Poppy, so far, at least, the president limiting his outrage to those senators. What I'm watching for today is to see if he goes after any of those CEOs who also took the great public effort at distancing themselves from this businessman president.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The CEOs, Jeff, at least they stepped up. Yes, they come back in September, down in D.C., but can they wait that long? Don't these GOP elected at least have to stand up and say whether they support the president and what he said about Charlottesville or they oppose. It is time could be counted.

Let's bring in our panel, CNN political analyst Josh Green, CNN contributor J.D. Vance, and senior political writer of "FiveThirthyEight" Perry Bacon. Josh, so is it a fair assumption that the president is now making it clear that he is all in with the base, and the idea that Steve Bannon could be on his way out is nonsensical because that is his conduit to the same base. He's going to eschew Graham and Flake, he needs to get his agenda going, he's going to go against his own, clearly he's got one strategy, and that's to go hard at the right.

JOSH GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Trump is always thinking about his base. And he's also not thinking ahead to his legislative agenda, clearly, or he wouldn't be doing what he did the other day. But I think we saw Trump's true feelings about this the first time he came out and gave a statement about many sides were to blame. He had a kind of forced march out to walk that back a little bit. And as always happens with Trump, it didn't last. His true feelings came out. He was angry.

And even though he had a lot of a advisers and politicians saying don't do this, don't give full vent to your emotion, he had Steve Bannon saying you have got to connect with the base. This isn't fair. They're attacking you unfairly. If there's one thing we know motivates Trump it's the idea that he's being attacked unfairly by the media.

HARLOW: So J.D. Vance, to you, there is just a stunning cover. And I hope you can see return, because this is "The Economist," OK. This is not some liberal publication that always attacks the president. I mean, this is "The Economist" with the president with a bull horn that if you turn it the other way, a KKK symbol, a hood that everyone knows this morning. You're take?

J.D. VANCE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's a pretty striking cover. Especially coming from a center right magazine like "The Economist." But one thing I will say, and this is purely just me observing talking to friends and family on the ground, is that this is an issue where there's a really misalignment of expectations and impressions between Trump's base and the media, and really the elites of both parties.

I think that what the president realizes is that the people who are really solidly behind him don't quite get what all the kerfuffle is about. And as somebody who thought that the president should have chosen his words much better and should have come out more strongly against the white supremacists in Charlottesville, I even, myself, am a little perplexed by the real misalignment between how the president's base and how the media feels about this story. It's pretty striking.

[08:05:00] HARLOW: It's interesting coming from J.D. Vance, who is born in Kentucky, and Brynn did that great piece last hour of all those voters in Kentucky who said I don't get what this is all about.

CUOMO: There is no question, Perry, there is a part of white America that believes they have been underserved, that political correctness has defined them out. It's affected their job base. It's affected their cultural identity. There's no question about that and there's no question the president is playing that. The problem with the political strategy, let's put right and wrong to the side for a second, is that you have a lot more people in this country who will see the KKK as a symbol that they absolutely reject and never want to hear any kind of relativism argument ever made about them morally or otherwise. Speak to that part.

PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, "FIVETHIRTYEIGHT": Right, I think there's two different issues here. One is talking about the KKK, neo-Nazis that has almost no support from anybody is my impression. But I think if you look at the polling, for example. If you ask people should Confederate monuments be taken down is a core issue we're talking about here is, you find majority of Republicans say no in a lot of surveys.

When you ask people do whites face lots of discrimination in this country, you find a lot of Republicans say yes, they do, almost as much as blacks or Muslims do. So when you look at the actual data, Trump is tapping into something, and he's speaking to something in terms of the idea these monuments should be able to stay up and we're erasing our history. These are not arguments I agree with. They're arguments that are certainly shared by people in his base who think this issue maybe overdone a little bit in terms of taking down the monuments.

I think he's, A, saying what he already things in the sense of what Donald Trump believes, and, b, he still has an 80 percent approval rating among Republicans. So it's not surprising to me that Mitch McConnell is not criticizing of what Trump is doing because Trump is speaking to values a lot of Republicans have, and a lot Republicans trust Trump more than Mitch McConnell.

HARLOW: Amazing though, given the door the president opened for Mitch McConnell to go hard on him last week, not just attacking McConnell over and over again.

So there's a brand new CBS poll out this morning. This is how Americans feel about the president's response to Charlottesville -- 34 percent approve, 54 percent -- 55 percent disapprove. And then when asked is the president's description of who's to blame accurate, 35 percent say it's accurate and 55 percent say that it is inaccurate. Josh Green, those are interesting numbers, because as Chris is pointing out, it's right to his base, the mid 30 percent. And I guess I'm surprised by the numbers from what we're reading on social media, what people are telling us that it's only about 55 percent that disapprove. GREEN: Not only that. The number that jumps out to me is by more

than a three to one margin Republicans approve of Trump's actions. That is in staggering contrast to the reaction that we've seen on the media, among Democrats, among independent voters, and frankly among politicians in the Republican Party. As is so often the case, I think Trump has a better feel for where his base is than other people do, the media and his own party. That doesn't mean it's right. What he said I think was morally deficient in all sorts of ways, but clearly this is not something that's causing a problem for him with Republican voters.

CUOMO: Here's the problem with what he's doing right now, morality aside. I hate to say that, because, really, morality should lead in this. But let's just be terribly pragmatic. J.D., what he's doing right now is compromising his ability to deliver for the same base that he's delivering with, with his words right now. Let's say there's this broad disconnect between the working class people I know who went for Trump and a lot of rich people I know who went for Trump, and the ones you know down there in the south. Fine. But what any all want is business to be freed up. Better wages. Not just more jobs, health care they can afford. And by going after Graham and Flake and picking fights with everybody, we see what it's done, right? He's built no consensus. He's got nothing done that isn't a signature away by the next president of getting rid of.

VANCE: So there are two things to keep in mind. One, when the president calls out by name these senators on Twitter, what he's effectively doing is saying get in line, and because he has such high approval ratings, I think that's going to be pretty effective politically.

But over the long time, Chris, you're absolutely right that if you want to really sustain and accomplish lasting reforms, you can't just do it with about 80 percent of the Republican Party. You've really got to get to 50, 55 percent of the entire country. And that's where we're seeing the president fall short right now. You saw it in health care reform. We see it right now. We should be talking of course about tax reform or about infrastructure, but we're still four or five days later talking about this Charlottesville protest, the terrorist attack and the president's response to it.

[08:10:00] If we weren't talking about the president's response to it, we may be actually getting something done as Republicans on the policy front, and we're just not doing that. And I think to connect the morality to the politics of this is that eventually if you don't accomplish something, you're going to pay the price. These culture war battles may not affect Trump's approval among the base in the short term, but four years from now we're looking back and saying we didn't reform health care, we didn't really grow wages or jobs, that's the sort of thing that's really going to matter not just morally but politically, too.

HARLOW: So, to you, Perry, and to J.D.'s point about the president saying get in line and he's still got high marks among Republicans so that may be effective, he also has to, Perry, you're a numbers guy at "FiveThirtyEight." He's got to do the math and he's got to realize as our David Chalian noted last hour that he lost health care by a vote, right? That he is so close on some of these things you can't afford to fully alienate a Lindsey Graham or a Jeff Flake or a John McCain, can you?

BACON: One thing I would say about that is I think it's generally true that it's a problem for Trump to irritate fellow Republicans. That said, the agenda we're talking about on Capitol Hill, repealing Obamacare, changing tax policy, for example, building the wall, a lot of things we're talking about on Capitol Hill are really -- that's the Republicans Senate agenda as much as it is Donald Trump's agenda. I would argue Donald Trump's agenda is often like calling the media fake news is probably Donald Trump's agenda more than really policy is. I don't see Jeff Flake not voting for Obamacare repeal, which he just voted for, or not voting for tax reform because of what Trump said because Jeff Flake is a conservative. So are most of the members in the Congress are conservative people. And a lot of bills they are writing are basically bills they are for and they want Donald Trump to sign.

I think what is really going on here is that Donald Trump's is distracting from the Republican Congress's agenda, and if he would stop tweeting and stop behaving the way he is they'd get more done. It's not really Donald Trump's agenda. I would argue the Congress and the Republicans are driving the agenda and he is stopping that from happening.

CUOMO: Perry has to be right. You know why, the confirmation is the silence. The reason you're not seeing more GOP people come out is because his moral equivocation is because they prefer to get their agenda through and they need the president to do it.

So the president, we're told, has no regrets about his controversial Charlottesville comments, and now he is attacking his own party. Will the growing turmoil hurt his agenda? That's the question we just teed up in this panel. We'll answer it next.


[08:16:16] HARLOW: President Trump this morning denying that he gave any moral equivalency to white supremacists in Charlottesville with those protesting them and all that stand for.

Except, here's the problem with that argument, Mr. President, those were your own words.

It comes as the president steps up attacks on senators from his own party.

Joining us now, Michael Eric Dyson, professor and author of "Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White House", and also, Brunell Donald-Kyei, the former vice chair of diversity outreach for the National Diversity Coalition for Trump.

It is very nice to have you both here on a very important morning once again. Professor, let me begin with you, because this morning, the president

remains unapologetic. The word is from our reporting, no resignations are expected from those close to him at the White House. You have Republicans in Congress largely in hiding at least when it comes to actually out this president by name. So, is this president -- and a lot of, by the way, pretty high approval still among Republicans, over 80 percent. Is he getting a pass?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, AUTHOR, "TEARS WE CANNOT STOP: A SERMON TO WHITE AMERICA": I think so. I mean, the reality is, is that people are complicit with this president who has refused to acknowledge that he has done an extraordinarily awful thing here. So, in typical fashion, he is defensive, he is attacking his own people, his own party, perhaps even his own staff members, as opposed to acknowledging like any mature adult would do, I made a mistake. Let me then clarify what I did.

HARLOW: Except that's how he ran and won.

DYSON: Absolutely right. But it doesn't make it right. It makes it effective, but now, the efficacy of it is being challenged because he is now amplifying some of the most heinous bigotry that we've seen manifest in this country in a long while and at the top of the food chain.

HARLOW: Speaking of amplifying, guys, in the control room, can we pull up the cover of "The Economist", because I want you both to be able to see, and, Brunell, let me know if you can't see this, but this is the new cover of "The Economist", which is hardly, you know, leftist rag.

I mean, this is a center right publication with the president holding a bullhorn that is a hood, a KKK hood. Brunell, Chris just did this interview with Elle, the reporter from "Vice" who was embedded, you know, with the white supremacists down in Charlottesville, and here's what she said about how those white supremacists are reacting to how the president has responded to all of this. Listen.


ELLE REEVE, VICE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: They love him. They love him. I mean this is one of the only groups in America where Trump is routinely exceeding expectations. When he said that -- when he essentially defended him -- one texted me saying God bless this man. He truly does have our backs.


HARLOW: Now, you said on this program this week you hate everything that they stand for. But how do you square the two when these guys are saying we love what the president is saying about us.

BRUNELL DONALD-KYEI, FORMER VICE CHAIR, NATIONAL DIVERSITY COALITION FOR TRUMP: Well, I'll square it like this. These people are a miniscule mall petty part of your population. They do not reflect the entirety of our nation. And I'll say that our president is -- there are a lot of people who are happy with what our president is doing as far as our economy, immigration, jobs.


HARLOW: Not what I'm talking about though. Let's stick on this issue that is about the morality of this country.


HARLOW: All right? About that issue. Your response is?

DONALD-KYEI: Well, I'll tell you this. That what's going on in the country, it's been a morality problem in the country for a long time. This didn't just come with the President Donald J. Trump.

These people who are now being magnified in the media as if they are a core support of Donald Trump is not true. Donald Trump was put in office by people across the spectrum, different religions, people who were sick and tired of the politicians.

HARLOW: But isn't that further dividing us?


[08:20:01] HARLOW: Brunell, I take your point that this has been a consistent problem in America. That's not the question. The question is, is the president unifying the country? Has he said one word that did not further divide the country after Charlottesville?

DONALD-KYEI: Yes. I believe that he has said plenty words that of no division. Basically what he said is what matters is the red, white and blue.


HARLOW: That's not what he said. That's not what he said. Professor --


DONALD-KYEI: He said that in his speeches.

HARLOW: Facts matter. His words matter so much.


HARLOW: And his words, professor, were both sides, on many sides on many sides.


HARLOW: Both sides were to blame.

DYSON: Of course, and this equivalency between white supremacists, bigots, neo-Nazis and people who are protesting is what the man said himself. Despite what Sister Brunell is trying to argue here, his words condemn him. He has an inability to acknowledge his faults, then he goes forward to deny what he did and then, when people like Ms. Brunell speak about it, they're complicit in the very mendacity, the very lying, the very inability to tell the truth as America is made off.

DONALD-KYEI: Absolutely not complicit at all.

DYSON: And the man's words himself condemn him and you're trying to talk about red, white and blue when he was talking about.

DONALD-KYEI: Yes. The colors that matter in this nation. I'm tired- --

HARLOW: Let's her answer.


DYSON: He was talking about white supremacy and bigotry, reinforcing the kind of hate that we see in this nation.

HARLOW: Brunell?

DONALD-KYEI: We are tired of the division. This nation wants to heal. All the races want to heal. The majority of us who love this country and the freedom that (INAUDIBLE). We are tired of the bickering back and forth.

The president said there was problems on all sides. Imagine, your fellow journalist had urine and feces thrown on top of them and nobody's condemned that. No one said that, and that wasn't the white supremacists. That was antifa throwing --


HARLOW: Hold on. All right, Brunell, no one is depending throwing urine et cetera. But there is a strong difference between people fighting for equality and people fighting for wiping out people off of this earth.

DONALD-KYEI: They all had weapons down there. You know that.


HARLOW: Brunell, who killed Heather Heyer? Who killed Heather Heyer?

DONALD-KYEI: Yes. Somebody died --

HARLOW: No. Who killed Heather Heyer? A white supremacist.


HARLOW: Where is the equivalency in that?

DONALD-KYEI: I didn't say it was right.

HARLOW: Where's the equivalency though? You're saying they both had weapons. DONALD-KYEI: They were armed. They didn't come to just protest.

They came armed, as well so counter protest.


DYSON: If this -- hold on, you've been talking, Brunell. Brunell, if you can be just as outraged at the kind of white supremacy, bigotry that's manifest here as here own intemperate remarks in --

DONALD-KYEI: I am outraged. Outraged.

DYSON: -- regard to trying to exaggerate what happened down there with a few people. What about the routine excretion of feces rhetorically in tweets every morning about 5:30 in the morning? This president is incapable of restraint --

DONALD-KYEI: We're talking about actual feces and urine on people.


DYSON: Talking about that actual bombardment of rhetorical nastiness unleashed upon the American people. That's what this president does every day, the inability to acknowledge what he is doing, the inability to tell the truth about what's happening here and your stunning inability to tell the truth fundamentally, you look you're complicit in the very lying that's going on in this nation.

DONALD-KYEI: You know what, the race baiting has to stop. Our children need jobs. They don't need you to race bait, sir.


HARLOW: Guys, I want everyone to hear your argument. One at a time.

DONALD-KYEI: Help the nation. You're not helping. You're race baiting.

HARLOW: Hold on.


DONALD-KYEI: They're dying.

HARLOW: Brunell, how is the president helping in this right now?

DONALD-KYEI: What I'll tell you -- he's got a million new jobs in the economy. He's busy working these NAFTA deals that we -- that our poor and middle class can have jobs.

DYSON: As long as he brings jobs, he can be a racist? As long as he brings jobs he can make an equivalency --


DYSON: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. She's been talking. I've been kind. DONALD-KYEI: If you let me finish. I'd like to complete my

statement. When Donald Trump, before he ran for office, he was given money to all these politicians, blacks, whites, all of them. He wasn't a racist then. He didn't become one until they knew he was going to win in a election when the American people stood up.

DYSON: May I respond?


DONALD-KYEI: Ask Al Sharpton. Ask Reverend Jackson. He gave them money when nobody would give them money.

HARLOW: Your voices are very important for everyone to hear. So I want them to hear them professor, your response.

DYSON: He was a race baiter when he was going after Barack Obama as an illegitimate citizen of the United States of America. He was a race baiter when he led the birther movement. He was a race baiter when he talked about Mexicans --

[08:25:01] DONALD-KYEI: That was Hillary Clinton.

HARLOW: Hold on, Brunell.

DYSON: He was a race baiter when he was from the very beginning so the amplification of his bigotry is no surprise, but nonetheless, disparaging and dispiriting and if Brunell would wake up and smell the coffee with no cream --

DONALD-KYEI: The hate in your voice is a form of bigotry, too.

DYSON: -- she would see the unvarnished hatred that has been revealed.

HARLOW: Burnell, you just questioned --

DONALD-KYEI: I hear the hatred in your voice.


HARLOW: Brunell, hold on. Let me get my question --

DYSON: Not at all. Passion. Passion. Intelligence with passion.

DONALD-KYEI: Hatred is dividing the nation.


HARLOW: Guys, we have plenty of time, but I'm not going to continue this if you don't let me ask a question, OK?

Brunell, you just questioned a fact the professor made --

DONALD-KYEI: Yes, ma'am. HARLOW: -- which is this president Trump as civilian Trump, before he was a candidate, time and time again with no basis in fact questioned where President Obama was born and what religion he ascribed to. That is on President Trump and President Trump alone. You said Hillary Clinton, back that up.

DONALD-KYEI: Yes. Yes, of course. We know the news came out that Hillary Clinton's camp started that birther and --


HARLOW: That's not true. That's not true.

DONALD-KYEI: That's true and you can do --


HARLOW: What was one e-mail question circulated years and years ago. I can play for you back to back to back to back, the times the president went on the national media before he was running, and he said over and over again, something's up with that birth certificates, where was he born? What religion is he? That's on President Trump, is it not?

DYSON: Absolutely. The bigotocracy is deeply entrenched in America.


DYSON: You can be a black person.

DONALD-KYEI: The hypocrisy is on both sides, sir.


DYSON: The lesson we learned today, white supremacy has no preference of a skin.

DONALD-KYEI: If I may respond?

HARLOW: Please?

DONALD-KYEI: The bigotry and hatred is on both sides. That's with the GOP as well as the Democratic Party. There's so many anger and hatred and jealousy because this president actually stood up for the nation and won against elites who are used to living off the backs of the people.

The hatred and the vitriol is this way because the Democratic Party didn't win. And so, what I'm going to say is this. We have got to take our nation back. We got to get rid of this hate.


HARLOW: Brunell, respectfully, you just said the hatred is this way because of the Democrats. Are you saying that the KKK and the white supremacists went and carried out this horror that is a national tragedy in Charlottesville because of Democrats?

DONALD-KYEI: What I'm telling you is that the hatred and vitriol of the white supremacists that's been decades and decades. And it has not -- it didn't just I come about because Donald Trump became president.

HARLOW: That's not what we're saying.


DONALD-KYEI: They were doing this in the former president.

HARLOW: I'm asking about the way he responded. When you come out and you say that it is both sides just like the president did.


HARLOW: That is putting them on the same ground.


HARLOW: That is saying that people that want -- want individuals like you and the professor off this planet, are on the same ground as those who are fighting against everything that stands for. Help our viewers understand that.


DYSON: She can't. She has no words.

DONALD-KYEI: Excuse me, sir. I've been talking.

DYSON: You've been talking all along, I haven't been able to get a word in edgewise.

DONALD-KYEI: Hey, she asked me a question. You need to talk to the moderator.


DYSON: The internalization of self-hatred spoken loudly amplified.


DONALD-KYEI: You are absolutely false. You are a race baiter, sir. And our young people need jobs. They don't hate. You need you to go to the table.


DONALD-KYEI: Talk to the president. And help get jobs. They need jobs. They're hurting.


DYSON: Ma'am, all I'm telling you, I'm teaching, writing, preaching, I got a lot of jobs.

DONALD-KYEI: They're on the corner. They're in the prison. They're in the morgue. We're talking about today.

HARLOW: Brunell, Professor, you will both --

DONALD-KYEI: Our young people need help.

HARLOW: You will both be back together.


HARLOW: You will both be back together. We're going to leave it there. Thank you very much.

DYSON: Bless you.

DONALD-KYEI: God bless you and God bless America.

DYSON: Oh, Lord.

CUOMO: Look, we certainly need the blessing right now. This is a difficult moment for the country. You've got white supremacy groups pouring into the Charlottesville from all over the country. These weren't Charlottesville haters. The people who came out against them were largely from that village.

But what insight can we get from a former skinhead? Not a current one who's just going to come on to espouse empty hate, but a man who used to work to get KKK members to disavow the Klan. That's what he does now. He used to believe. Now, he tries to get people not to. What does he say? Next.