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Fresh Off Unity Calls Trump Launches Twitter Attacks; Interview with Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta; Harvey Now Category One Hurricane, Gaining Strength. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 24, 2017 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:00] BALDWIN: Do not miss it. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts now.


But why would the U.S. government have to shut down if Mexico's paying for the wall?

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump with a fresh Twitter thrashing of the people he needs most in Washington. Could an internal Republican civil war force the federal government to close up shop?

It just keeps getting stronger, Hurricane Harvey closing in on land with enough rain to make NOAA shudder.

Plus crashes at sea. A non-combat casualties. A deadly and alarming trend appearing this summer at our armed forces. Are 14 years of two wars wearing down our military?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We're going to begin with the "Politics Lead."

Fresh off his multiple calls for unity and healing yesterday saying we are one people with one home and one great flag, and it's time to heal the wounds that have divided this nation, President Trump this morning re-tweeted this image of himself eclipsing President Obama. He attacked congressional Republicans and Democrats. He referred to the Fourth Estate as fake news, and he began the process of banning transgender Americans from serving in the military.

CNN's Sara Murray starts us off today from the White House.


SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump taking to Twitter to get several things off his chest today. First, going after Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell for not attaching controversial debt ceiling legislation to a popular VA bill which just passed for easy approval.

"They didn't do it, so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up as usual on debt ceiling approval. Could have been so easy. Now a mess."

Congress has until the end of September to raise the debt ceiling or potentially cause the U.S. to default on its debt. But CNN has learned it was the House Republican Freedom Caucus that scuttled attempts to tie that legislation together. Not GOP leadership.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says she's confident Congress will raise the debt limit in time.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: It's our job to inform Congress of the debt ceiling and it's their job to raise it. And Congress and the previous administration have obligated trillions in spending and we need to make sure we pay our debts.

MURRAY: The president also up in the ante in his ongoing feud with McConnell for failing to pass the Obamacare repeal legislation last month. Tweeting, "The only problem I have with McConnell is that after hearing repeal and replace for seven years, he failed. That should never have happened."

Their relationship soured after a tense phone call following the health care vote. But Trump also complained that the majority leader wasn't doing enough to protect the president in the various Russia investigations.

For his part, McConnell is still refusing to publicly address the feud, saying, the Senate is a tough place to get things done.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), SENATE MAJORITY: I'm often asked what is being the majority leader of the Senate like? The best answer I've been able to think of it is it's a little bit like being a grounds keeper at a cemetery. Everybody's under you, but nobody's listening.

MURRAY: It's unclear if the president's strategy of attacking Congress will pay off since he needs them to push through his agenda.

TRUMP: I have a message for Congress tonight. Your job is to represent American families, American people, American workers. It's your job. And for our friends in the Senate, oh boy.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He's not the first president to use the bully pulpit to try to push the country in a particular direction or to keep his base on board.


MURRAY: Now none of this is going to make it easier to get the president's agenda done. There are things that Congress has to do when they get back in town, like raising the debt ceiling, like passing a budget, but the president has also made it very clear he wants to see tax reform done as soon as they get back.

The White House says they still hope to have more details on that next week. We will see when members of Congress get back in town how willing they are to work side by side with the president -- Jake.

TRUMP: All right. Sara Murray, thank you so much.

Joining me now to talk about this all, former secretary of Defense under President Obama, Leon Panetta.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for coming on the show.


TRUMP: So this week, the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, questions the president's fitness for the job. Senator Bob Corker, a Republican, said that the president hasn't demonstrated the stability or competence to do the job.

This afternoon on the Corker comments, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Corker's comments were outrageous and they wouldn't even dignify it from the podium.

Do you think questioning the president's competence and stability is outrageous?

PANETTA: Well, it's obviously press secretary for the president has to come back with that kind of response.

[16:05:06] I think that that's pretty much what press secretaries have to do when there's criticism coming regarding the competence and stability in the Oval Office. Having said that, you know, the reality is -- and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jim Clapper and for Bob Corker. I think they're both patriots. They both care about this country.

They've raised concerns that a lot of people have about, you know, whether or not this president really understands what being president is all about and whether or not he can govern this country with a degree of good judgment and competence. Those are -- those are real issues that I think have to be raised and have to be debated.

TAPPER: Do you share those concerns?

PANETTA: There's no question that there's a lot of concern about whether or not this president really understands what governing is all about. I mean, I wish he would just take the time to look at past presidents and what it takes to really govern this country.

You know, past presidents who've been successful have focused on the priorities that they want to accomplish for this country, they've been willing to reach out to this country and unify it behind those priorities. They've been working -- they will work with the leadership in the Congress to work with them to get those priorities adopted. They'll present legislation to the Congress and they'll work to try to get members to vote for that legislation.

That's what governing is all about. That's what FDR did, it's what LBJ did. It's what Ronald Reagan did. And this president on the other hand kind of rejects that and takes the approach of governing by chaos. Governing by pitting one group after another, by blaming one side or the other, by using kind of outrageous comments like shutting down the federal government over a wall.

I mean, those are the tactics that create chaos and very frankly it doesn't work very well when it comes to governing our country.

TAPPER: There's a poll out yesterday from Quinnipiac that shows about seven in 10 Americans do not think the president is level-headed, just to define level-headed, that means rational or showing sound judgment.

You are a former secretary of Defense, a former CIA director, you know how important the job of president is and how much power is in the hand of commander-in-chief. Do you think president Trump is up to the task? Do you think he's level-headed?

PANETTA: Well, you know, there are a lot of people who have worked with Donald Trump in the past who recognize the kind of tactics that he uses, but at the same time think that deep down there is some kind of rational for what he's trying to do.

You know -- I think he takes the basic approach he did when he was a developer in New York, which is basically to try to bully people, to criticize them and to somehow, by doing that, force them to do what he wants to do. That's the tactic he used then, it's the tactic he used when he ran for election, and now he's trying to use that same tactic as president.

He thinks that if he can criticize people, if he can blame them, if he can undermine them, that somehow as a result of that, they will respond to whatever he wants them to do. It's not working. And that raises a lot of concern about whether this president, as president, is going to get anything done, you know, that this country needs in order to be able to be a strong America.

TAPPER: After General John Kelly was appointed President Trump's new chief of staff, you wrote an op-ed about when you became chief of staff to President Bill Clinton in 1994, which was also a fairly chaotic White House at the time, although for many different reasons, and you wrote, quote, "Too little discipline, competing centers of power, a weak chain of command, haphazard access to the Oval Office, leaks, and a lack of focus on a unified message or priorities were what the two White Houses had in common."

How do you think John Kelly's doing so far?

PANETTA: Well, John Kelly is somebody that I respect a lot. He was my military aid when I was secretary of Defense. And he is -- he's a good Marine. And he cares about the country. I think he's done a pretty good job in trying to establish better discipline within the White House staff, establish a strong chain of command so that you don't have a lot of people running into the Oval Office around him.

I think he's done a pretty good job trying to establish that. He's obviously -- he doesn't have Bannon around. He doesn't have Scaramucci around. So he's trying to get some clear-headed people working for him in the White House.

[16:10:12] I think the biggest problem he has frankly is with his principal. I had a president, President Clinton, who was willing to work with me in trying to establish better discipline. He wanted to do that. He wanted to learn what was important in terms of being able to be a good president of the United States.

I think the real question is whether or not this president really wants to learn, really wants to discipline himself so he can be a good president. That's the problem that John Kelly's dealing with.

TAPPER: All right. Secretary Panetta, stick around. We'll be right back.


[16:15:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with our politics lead and more with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Mr. Secretary, "The Wall Street Journal's" reporting that the White House is about to send guidance to the Pentagon about transgender service members after the president tweeted that they would no longer be allowed in the military. The president could order Defense Secretary Mattis to have transgender people who are already serving forced out of the armed forces.

You've been critical of President Trump on this issue. But in context, there was a ban on transgender serving openly when you were secretary of defense, right?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: At the time, but there were a lot of transgender soldiers that were in fact serving.

TAPPER: What do you think about what the actions are that President Trump is taking where service members who are currently in service, currently serving could be kicked out and that future recruits who are transgender could be blocked?

PANETTA: I think it's -- I think it really is a damaging step in terms of the morale of our military.

Look, we have the strongest military in the world. And it's because we allow everyone to be able to serve this country as a soldier. I mean, that's important.

You know, we did away with barriers that prevented people from being able to join the military. We did it for women. We did it for gays. We now have transgender soldiers that are there.

If they meet the qualifications of being a good soldier, they ought to be able to serve, particularly those who are out there now putting their lives on the line for this country, and serving as part of our military. We ought not just to throw these people out of the military just because there's some kind of label attached to them that the president has assigned politically. That's just, that's just the wrong thing to do both for our military power as well as frankly the moral authority of this country.

TAPPER: Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, thank you so much. Always good to see you, sir.

PANETTA: Good to talk with you, Jake.

TAPPER: Bracing for the worst. Hurricane Harvey is now barreling towards the United States and expected to make landfall as a category three hurricane. The areas in its path coming up next.


[16:21:27] TAPPER: We're back with breaking news in the national lead.

Hurricane Harvey is gaining strength and posing a major threat to the Gulf Coast. Harvey is on track to be a monster category three or higher storm by the time it makes landfall in the next 36 to 48 hours. Hurricane watches and warnings stretch across the Texas coast. The governor there declared a state of disaster in 30 counties. But cities as far east as New Orleans are also bracing for impact and getting emergency resources in place.

Let's get right to meteorologist Tom Sater.

Tom, moments ago the mayor of Corpus Christi order voluntary evacuations. When do you think Harvey will make landfall and who is in its path?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Jake, right now, the earliest landfall could be at midnight tomorrow night. It looks more and more like it may be during the dark, wee hours into Saturday morning, but the colors of red and blue here, over 16 million people. And you're talking about the path and red is the hurricane warning. And yes, it does look like more Corpus Christi could be ground zero, but this is going to be a larger storm by the time it reaches the coast. And blue are tropical storm warnings, well inland from Houston to Austin to San Antonio.

We're about 300 miles away from the coastline, if it gets to category three status, that'll be considered a major hurricane. Its been 12 years, Jake, since the U.S. anywhere has had a landfall of a major hurricane. The problem is not once it makes landfall, it's kind of a double-edged sword. Yes, category three, but the other edge of the sword, Jake, we do not have any major steering currents here. So, the computer models just becomes this bird's nest, which means it will meander around possibly for days dropping unbelievable amounts of rainfall.

TAPPER: And Harvey making landfall obviously, one concern, how long might it linger and thus cause even greater problems?

SATER: Well, believe it or not, some of these models bring it offshore and back in for a second land fall. If it makes landfall after -- let's take a look at the models. If it makes landfall let's say after midnight on Friday, I wouldn't be surprised, Jake, if this thing sits around until Tuesday or Wednesday in purple is over 10 inches, white is over 20. That's a widespread area. So, not only you're going to have power outages. You're going to have

six, seven feet of water in some of the streets for a large population of southeastern Texas.

TAPPER: All right. Tom Sater, thank you so much.

So far this year, there have been more than 40 non-combat-related deaths in the U.S. Armed Forces. So what is happening? And just how ready is America's military?

Stick around.


[16:28:18] TAPPER: We're back with our world lead. And it starts with a tragic one.

U.S. sailors missing from the USS John S. McCain are now presumed dead. The Pentagon has signaled, with the Navy suspending search and rescue efforts and now focusing on recovering the bodies.

Earlier today, the remains of Kenneth Aaron Smith who died in the collision have been found. The young sailor from New Jersey was just 22 years old.

An unbearable wait continues for the families of the nine still missing, including missing, including 31-year-old Charles Nathan Findley, 39-year-old Abraham Lopez, Kevin Sayer Bushell, a 26-year-old from Maryland. Jacob Daniel Drake, just 21 years old from Ohio, 23- year-old Timothy Thomas Eckels Jr., Corey George Ingram age 28, 26- year-old Dustin Louis Doyon, 20-year-old John Henry Hoagland III, whose mom told CNN that he loved being in the Navy. And lastly, Logan Stephen Palmer, 23-year-old sailor from Illinois.

We send our thoughts and prayers to the families of these young men.

With the USS McCain tragedy, more than 40 U.S. service members have been killed or are presumed dead in major non-combat accidents just in the last few months. Some of them died right here in the United States.

The recent tragedies are sparking questions now about what's going on? Is it our equipment? Our weapons? Are we providing sufficient training?

CNN's Diane Gallagher takes a closer look.


CYNTHIA KIMBALL, MOTHER OF MISSING SAILOR JOHN HOAGLAND: That's not supposed to happen. You just don't, you don't think it's going to happen to your, to your child.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Her son John Hoagland, one of the ten presumed dead in the USS John S. McCain collision. Cynthia Kimball is yet another grieving military mother this summer, whose child was killed in a non-combat accident. In just five of the major accidents since May, more than 40 service men and women have died.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I think it's probably approaching a readiness crisis.