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President Trump's Plan to Afghanistan; Speaker Paul Hesitates to Press President Trump. Aired 10:30-11p ET

Aired August 21, 2017 - 22:30   ET


[22:40:00] DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: Jake, thank you very much. It was a great town hall with the House Speaker Paul Ryan. A lot to discuss on this busy news night. We'll analyze it all.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon. Thanks for sticking with us.

And we've got a lot of breaking news for you. President Trump speaks to the nation about the war in Afghanistan, vowing America will fight to win, but refusing to reveal numbers of troops or timetables. Our military experts on what America's new strategy is, they'll talk, they'll join us.

And in our live town hall that you just saw, the speaker, House Speaker Paul Ryan, says the president, in his words, messed up, with his shocking comments about neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville.

So let's bring in the panel. Let's discuss now. CNN political commentator Jason Miller is here, he's a former Trump senior communications adviser. Political commentator Ana Navarro here as well. Former Congressman Steve Israel, also a CNN political commentator. Cliff May, founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. And senior political analyst Mark Preston.

So we've got a lot of very smart, knowledgeable people to join us tonight. Mark, I'm going to start with you. The town hall just wrapped up. You heard it. You are there. The House speaker was criticized for not calling President Trump out by name for his response to Charlottesville. What did we hear from him tonight?

MARK PRESTON, POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR, CNN: Well, couple things, Don, he certainly tried to clean up the fact that he hasn't been as vocal using President Trump's name when condemning him for the remarks. We also learned that Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, spoke to Donald Trump on Monday morning.

Now, if you recall the timeline here, there was a statement that was released by the White House on a Saturday. It wasn't very forceful enough. By Monday, we saw President Trump address the remarks.

Paul Ryan told us here tonight on CNN that he had spoken to the president that morning and that he was very pleased with those remarks. Then comes Tuesday and then, of course, we know how everything went after that. The wheels went off the bus.

Paul Ryan said, as you said that it was messed up. His response to the Charlottesville comments. He also said that he did not agree to a sense -- he was asked a question by one of the audience members, one of his constituents about a resolution now that's in Congress, would he agree to censor President Trump? He said no because this is not a political issue in a sense that it's a partisan issue, it's not republican/democrat. He said it's an issue that as a country, we need to come together on.

In regards to tweeting, per se, couple things we heard from House speaker tonight, one is, he said do I wish there was a little less tweeting? Of course, I do. He also said that it's incumbent upon -- it's also incumbent upon parents, though, to keep an eye on them whether they're watching a lot of television or whether they're on any of these social media networks when he was asked about bullying by the president.

He said, listen, as parents we need to keep an eye on our kids.

Now, in terms of policy, there was a bit of policy discussed tonight in regards to tax reform. He said he thinks it will be easier to get tax reform through than it was to try to pass Obamacare and then when asked about Obamacare, he really kind of hit the ball back toward the United States Senate. He said, look, in the United States House, we passed the bill, now it's the Senate's turn. Don?

LEMON: We've got a lot to talk about. We're going to talk about that. We want to talk about Afghanistan, talk about our town hall, obviously. Talk about these poll numbers.

Jason, I want to get your reaction to speaker, the House Speaker Paul Ryan. He said Trump was talking about Charlottesville, was morally ambiguous. What do you think about that?

JASON MILLER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, look, I think that the president, I very much liked his comments tonight. I like the fact that he addressed bigotry and hate right off the top on his speech.

As I said earlier last week, I liked his comments on Monday. I thought that Tuesday he got off track, but I think coming back with some of this tweets over the weekend, what he said tonight especially the line that he used tonight about having the courage to heal our divisions within.

That's a very powerful line that he had in his speech this evening and I think the president really showed what kind of leader he can be, not just with the tone and the approach he took, but also as we'll get into a little bit more, the overall approach to foreign policy.

I think we've seen a lot of maturity from his and as a leader, being able to step back to take a broader look at this, take a look at all of South Asia as a theater and coming up with a strategy.

LEMON: So you heard, you heard what Mark said, less tweeting. He wasn't happy about what he said as -- which was a question that I asked. But you like better what he says on the teleprompter than rather than what he's saying off the cuff which may be I think what Americans think is in his own heart. Because when he reads the teleprompter, you know, people say it

doesn't sound like Trump. He doesn't really mean it, he's just reading something someone else wrote for him. What do you say to that?

MILLER: Well, I mean these are fundamentally President Trump's words, when he gets up there, what he was saying tonight, or what he was saying last Tuesday, or what he was saying on Monday. But again, I think, you know, one of the things with Speaker Ryan, I think this is where you take a look at what President Trump says and his remarks, a standard President Trump speech, versus, say, a town hall from Speaker Ryan. You see the difference between the two.

[22:45:01] Speaker Ryan did a very good job tonight of going through and answering specific questions. But the thing that didn't come through that we do see from a leader like President Trump is a very clear, consistent vision.

With President Trump, we see him talking about jobs. We see him talking about the economy. And most every answer will come back to these points. It's a very clear and consistent message.

I think part of the problem with Speaker Ryan, and this is, I mean, sometimes we see that disconnect between the White House and Capitol Hill is there doesn't seem to be that ideological core, or really that driving force on the hill. Look, September is going to be big.

LEMON: You mean from the House speaker no ideological you said.

MILLER: We don't see the same ideological core or the drive that we do from the agenda items that we have coming from the White House. September is going to be big. The speaker's going to need to start moving on tax reform, he's going to need to start -- we have a debt ceiling issue coming through. He's got his work cut out for him.


LEMON: He's going to need the president to stick to the teleprompter in order to keep the focus on that, because otherwise he'll be distracted with...


MILLER: We're going to need -- we're going to need the House to get moving on tax reform. I wish we had already been able to check the box and gotten it all the way through unless we go to the Senate on Obamacare, but you know, we weren't able to get that done.

LEMON: Ana, I want to get your reaction but first I want you to listen to the House Speaker Paul Ryan. Watch this.


PAUL RYAN, UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I thought his speech on Monday was pitch perfect. Then the next day, I think it was in New York on infrastructure press conference in answer to a question, I think he made comments that were much more morally ambiguous. Much more confusing. And I do think he could have done better. I think he need to do better.

I actually think what he did two days ago in commending the peaceful protest against the hate in Boston was a good start. I think just what I heard, I don't know, 25 minutes ago, was exactly what a president needs to say, what we needed to hear.

So I do believe that he messed up in his comments on Tuesday when it sounded like a moral equivocation or at the very least moral ambiguity.

JAKE TAPPER, HOST, CNN: I think the issue that Eric was expressing is the reluctance to criticize President Trump for specifically saying things like very fine people were marching in that rally that had Swastikas and anti-Semitic chants and...


... there were not any very fine people in that rally.

RYAN: That's right. That's right. That's right.


TAPPER: And it wasn't morally ambiguous. It was morally wrong.

RYAN: Yes.

TAPPER: What the president said.

RYAN: And so, look.


Let me just add to what you just said. I have a hard time believing if you're standing in a crowd to protest something and you see, you know, all these anti-Semitic slogans and the high Hitler's and the Swastikas that you're good with that and you're a good person.

TAPPER: Right.

RYAN: You're not a good person if you're there. That's just so very clear.


LEMON: Ana, you've been begging republicans, your own party, to grow a spine, stand up to the president especially after Charlottesville. You excoriated members of your party for looking the other way.

Do you think -- I mean, Jake seemed a lot stronger than Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan never said that, you know, in his comments except for tonight and that didn't mention the president, mention his name. Did he go far enough tonight, you think?

ANA NAVARRO, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Let me tell you, Don, this is hard for me. And it's hard for me because I've known Paul Ryan, I know and love his wife, Jana. I know Paul Ryan is a very good father, a very good husband, a very good son, a very good family man and a man who's got very high morals. Really.

And so it's disappointing to not hear him be more forceful. And I realize that he's trying to strike this balance between the person he is, his own principles, his own convictions, his own behavior, and cutting the president of his party slack.

Giving him more chances and trying to strike the balance by criticizing what he said without criticizing the man who said it.

And so, you know, I think it's cringe worthy because had anybody else said it, I'm pretty sure Paul would be much more forceful. He's at some point putting his position as speaker above his own brand, his own principles and his own core.

And for somebody like me, who knows him, who's liked him, who knows what his actual values are, not the ones he's projecting and bending like a pretzel to try to articulate, it's somewhat painful to see that Paul cannot be more forceful, cannot be himself. The Paul I see there is the political Paul.

Now, that being said, I give Paul a lot of credit because this is his second CNN town hall and he has taken very tough questions at both. I remember the first one where he took a very tough emotional question from a dreamer, a DREAM Act kid.

[22:50:03] You know, in this place, again, he took very tough questions. He takes them all. He excels at the policy questions. These where he has got to reconcile the Paul Ryan I know with Speaker Paul Ryan, willing to fudge a little bit on Donald Trump and not condemn what is condemnable, for me, is a little painful.

LEMON: Yes. Cliff, I got to ask you then. With a]Ana having said that, if this kind of moral clarity was so essential and he needed to follow up and add to what Jake said, why did the speaker feel comfortable waiting six full days to address what the president did in.

CLIFF MAY, PRESIDENT, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Well, I can't speak for Paul Ryan. I think when he talked about the moral equivocation or the moral ambiguity which more of the point, he was suggesting something else.

Look, I think the president is somebody who should listen to his advisers and should have his words filtered so that his proper meaning gets across. If for example, he was saying not that there was anybody good in the Nazi or KKK march, there isn't, but that there are some people who are don't want to see George Washington's statue pulled down, don't want to see Franklin Roosevelt's statue pulled down, don't want to see Abraham Lincoln's statue pulled and vandalized as happened in Chicago over the past few days, those are not bad people.

I think he may not have known all of that or communicated all of that effectively. That's why he should have people working with him so that he gives a speech like he did tonight about Afghanistan where it's pretty clear what he means to say.

I disagree with those who think what the president is trying to say is that there is some good Nazis and some good Klansmen. I don't think he meant that, just as I don't think he thinks there are good Al Qaeda, I don't think he thinks there are good Taliban. I think he needs to be clearer in his communications.

I think he lost an opportunity because as Paul Ryan said on Monday, he was very clear. On Tuesday when he was impromptu, I think he left a lot of room for ambiguity. People can interpret as you have and has Ana has. Not quite as I have. And I think that is unfortunate because he blew an opportunity.

LEMON: But Cliff, if you were -- if you were going to a rally and let's say you were upset with a statue coming down and you saw people with Nazi symbols and saying anti-Semitic and racist things, would you continue to stay there and support it?

MAY: No, Don.

LEMON: Do you think very fine people were among the crowds there?

MAY: Look, I think people get confused. I think you or I clearly would walk away from those kinds of people. I would also walk away from antifa. They hold up signs saying more dead cops. Google that and you'll see that. They are also supremacist, they are also people who support violence and utilize violence.

They didn't kill anybody that weekend but then they had another time. They have attacked people in the past. I would also walk away from an antifa rally. And I would ask, don't you think that's also correct to walk away from them, as well.

LEMON: Well, the president did say he thought there were very fine people on both sides. And if there are...


MAY: I think what he meant by that, and maybe I'm wrong, is he meant there are people who think that a statute of a Confederate general, of Robert E. Lee should come down, that's a legitimate position. And there are people who think it's part of our history and perhaps should stay up. That's a legitimate position.

But nobody who is a neo-Nazi, nobody who is a skin ahead, nobody as a Klansman, or nobody who's within antifa in my vision is somebody who is a reasonable person or good person. Those are people who are full of hate. I kind of think that's what he intended to say. I don't think he stated it clearly.


LEMON: But you're not making that same -- it sounds like you're just for clarity, you're not making the same moral equivalences for antifa and the neo-Nazi folks who are out there, the neo-Nazi racists.

MAY: I'm not...

LEMON: One is they're fighting the fascism and whether their tactics are right, you know, we can debate that.

MAY: Yes.

LEMON: But they're not on the same level, are they?

MAY: You know, the Soviets, the Soviet communists for a while thought fascist. That did not make them good people. They killed a lot of people, too. Antifa is full of anarchists and communists and they are not good people.

Now if you want to say who is worse, yes, I guess at this point, there's no question the neo-Nazis are worse. But that doesn't make antifa are good guys because they dislike people that you and I dislike. I hope we can agree upon that.

LEMON: Ana, you want to respond to what he said?

NAVARRO: Look, I think I just -- you know, I don't understand how anybody can be in the presence of such hate and not be part of that hate. I don't know how you can be in a march, a protest that to me looked like a KKK march except without the hoods.

You know, something and I've been thinking about this protest in Charlottesville, this KKK march without the hood, and there's something that made me so sad about it and that I think we have not discussed enough on TV. How young most of the participants were.

[22:54:56] A lot of times when we see old footage of KKK marches, it's kind of, you know, old bitter people blaming their lack of success in life to other people. But to see this very young generation in Charlottesville, it's heartbreaking because it tells you that it's an entirely new generation of hate, of racism of bigotry.


MAY: Ana, can I just say...

NAVARRO: And that to me was so heartbreaking.

MAY: Yes. Can I just say we agree on that? Absolutely agree. But the young people who join antifa the people who call themselves anarchists and communists, the people who say we're going to shut down those whose speech we disapprove, we are going to restrict the rights of those we disapprove of, surely you can say a word to condemn them, as well on this show. Can you not?

NAVARRO: Sure. Listen, I condemn anybody that tries to trample on any other American's rights.

MAY: OK, good.

NAVARRO: I condemn anybody that tries to divide us. And that includes the President of the United States. LEMON: Yes.

MAY: OK. I'd like to hear you address antifa specifically, but we could want to...


LEMON: It sounds -- but it sounds like you're making a case...


LEMON: ... you're making a case better than the president of the United States made the case. And I think that he didn't really say, you know, he addressed the people, the protesters. He wasn't talking about, you know, when he said there are very fine people on both sides, he wasn't talking about the people supposedly who were there for the statues. Go on, Steve.

MAY: Listen, I do think you're right. That's why we talk about the moral ambiguity and equivocation and why if he bungled an opportunity to make clear that hatred from the far left or right, he does not support either one.

What we need in this country is to support American values, freedom of speech for everybody regardless of race, creed or color. That's where he should be because I think -- I think that's what he actually believes.

LEMON: Steve, go ahead. Steve has been sitting by patiently.

ISRAEL: Yes. Look, thank you. It's hard for a New Yorker to sit by and be patient. Look, what we're hearing tonight is a reflection of the deflection. This is not about antifa. I condemn them. I disagree with them. This isn't about them, Don.

This is about a group of neo-Nazi who's marched past a synagogue with torch lights and assault weapons. And every time we hear that if you're going to condemn one, you should condemn the other. That's not what this is about.

It is about those groups that marched filled with hate, violence and venom. And that's what we should be focusing on, not these distractions and this continued deflection.

What we saw tonight, by the way, was a president who was a uniter when he reads from a teleprompter but seems to be a divider when he speaks from the heart. I would hope that he will be more consistent with the words that are written for him as we go forward.

MAY: And we should focus on Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Islamic republican of Iran.

ISRAEL: Agree.

MAY: Because those are the one who are saying death to America.

LEMON: Yes. Steve?

ISRAEL: Don't disagree with you at all.

MAY: That's good.

ISRAEL: We ought to talk about Afghanistan.

MAY: I got to say it's great to find common ground. One thing I notice about the Paul Ryan, the very well done town hall that CNN did with Paul Ryan, is people were having a civil debate. There's not enough of that in this country. Instead you have what you have in Charlottesville. You have people pulling down statues. You have people shouting out...


LEMON: But Cliff, with all due respect it sounds like the President of the United States should be listening to your advice because he's the one, I mean, he's a big part of the divide, the separation. He may say that he wants people to come together but his words reflect something else.

NAVARRO: And Don, it's so important that we are able...


MAY: I think he did -- look, I totally agree that he did not do this. let me just say this, Ana, I let you go. I just respond to Don. Don, if you're saying that he did a bad job on Tuesday, particularly on Tuesday when he was impromptu and he said whatever popped into his mind, I totally agree with you.


LEMON: I didn't by the way, think as an American, I didn't think it was necessary for him to bring that into the Afghanistan speech tonight, as well.

MAY: I totally...

LEMON: I didn't think he should have brought Charlottesville into that. If he wanted to speak to the nation about Charlottesville and his comments, he should have spoken to the nation about Charlottesville and not -- and not muddled it by putting it into a speech about Afghanistan. That's what I thought as an American.

MAY: Listen, your advice, my advice, Ana's advice, perhaps he's sitting there and listening to all of it and maybe will take the best of it.

LEMON: Go ahead, Ana.

NAVARRO: First of all, I think it was fine for him to bring up Charlottesville because the country needs to hear more from him because he has bungled it so, he has screwed it up. He hasn't messed it up. He has been a complete and absolute failure. How hard can it be to condemn neo-Nazi for God's sakes?

This is not complicated math. This is something that should be morally simple. It is not moral ambiguity. It is moral deficiency, it is lacking morality. But I think it is really important that we all agree that it is just as much of a priority to condemn foreign terrorism as it is to condemn domestic terrorism.

ISRAEL: Agree.

NAVARRO: Both want to destroy America. Both want to destroy American values. Both are costing American lives. Both are instilling fear and terror in American citizens. And we cannot allow that.

[23:00:00] So, that's what I want from the President of the United States. A very strong, unequivocal, condemnation of terrorists, foreign and domestic.

LEMON: Yes. Well, Ana, I mean, I hate to disagree with you but not so much. Because I think that...