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White House Says Corker Questioning Trump's Stability Is Outrageous; "Duck Dynasty" Star on Race and Trump; Elian Gonzalez Speaks Ahead of New CNN Film. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired August 24, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not supporting the agenda. It's about him not supporting Trump personally so he's putting this sort of personal feelings over the politics.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: And agenda. Go ahead, Chris.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: First of all, Kirsten is exactly right about that, getting in the way of smart politics is to prop up Jeff Flake because guess what? Jeff flake has a better chance of winning reelection than Kelly Ward, the state senator who would be running if she beat flake in a primary. But that's not what Trump does. To your team metaphor, he's not a team player. Never has been. He's a solo performer. That's true of his entire life. Whether it's business -- he's not someone who's had a huge number of business -- friends in the business world. He always mentions carl but that's not him.

He's someone who, sort of celebrity world, he's surrounded himself with who? His family, essentially. He has a very tight knit circle of people but he's not a guy who's like, how can I help Dean Heller have a better chance of getting reelected. That is not a thought that goes through his mind. He is a soloist. He is not a guy who thinks, how can I sacrifice here or there what exactly what I want in order to sort of move the ball down the field. That's not -- it's never been him. And I always remind people of this when they're like, I wonder if Donald Trump's going to change. He's a 71-year-old man who's had lots of success in his life. He's not going to change.

BALDWIN: It begs the question, how can you be a team player and be the president of the United States? But that's for another conversation when we continue our chat about big checks, Chris Cillizza.

CILLIZZA: I'm ready.

To my ladies to the right, thank you so much. I want to stay on this. More on the White House's blistering response to Republican Senator Bob Corker. I've got Paul Begala, Ken Cuccinelli. That's next.



SEN. BOB CORKER, (R), TENNESSEE: The president has not yet -- has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Comments from Senator Bob Corker, I'm sure you've seen them, over a week ago saying the president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. He also said that he's not sure that the president understands the character of this nation. Do you have any response to that from a Republican senator?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that's a ridiculous and outrageous claim and doesn't dignify a response from this podium.


BALDWIN: Blistering response from the White House to those questioning the president's stability and competence, including members of his own party. I want to bring in Ken Cuccinelli, CNN legal commentator and president of the Senate Conservatives Fund and Paul Begala, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist. Welcome to both of you. Ken, I'd love to start with you. I don't know if you know Bob Corker personally. I know his comments really created some ripples and you can understand how the White House would be so disgusted and had wouldn't want to respond to that.

But still it's my -- again, he's someone who was on the short list for state department. This is not someone who flies off the handle. Those words meant something to him. What do you make of how the White House is responding.

KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: True, first of all, what you called the nonresponse response is an accurate characterization and I think it was appropriate for the White House. When you watch Bob Corker say this, put yourself in the kitchen of the average Tennessean, this looks unbelievably elitist and presumptuous and this is not going to play well in Tennessee, nor should it. This is an inside the beltway type of comment. In the senate club, this may make sense as they all grab their snuff.

But you know, this really looks elitist for a guy whose primary legislative accomplishment that he's going to be known for going into 2018 is the Iran deal. I mean, this is not a guy who can tick off his base. And you know, you mentioned some of the people that President Trump has attacked. You mentioned McConnell, Murkowski, Flake, McCain, Heller, these are all people who have not just defied the Republican grassroots, they have turned on the Republican and conservative grassroots and that's who the president has gone after.

So, to say that separates him from the Republican party, in fact, that's where the base of the Republican party is, and I don't just mean some piece of it. Overwhelmingly, the Republican base is mad at all those senators. Look at Mitch McConnell's favorability rating just in Kentucky. It's like 18 percent and it's 9 percent nationally. It's laughably low. It almost doesn't -- he's almost to the margin of error with zero.

BALDWIN: So, OK, I'm listening to you and it sounds like in a sense, if this is appearing elitist to folks in their Tennessee kitchens, that could, in the end, help the president and certainly be great for his base. Paul Begala, I mean, how do you respond to that?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I just want to -- the Republican on Republican violence to continue. By which I'm being rhetorical.

BALDWIN: You think it's a good thing for Dems?

BEGALA: I think everything Ken said was music to my ears except this. It was not elitist. Bob Corker was a businessman in Chattanooga, you've been there, it's a great town. It's not exactly elitist. Let me draw a contrast. It would be elitist if he was bragging about his Valentino shoes and his Tom Ford purse or whatever the hell the cabinet secretary's wife was doing the other day. That's elitism and that's the Trump administration.

You're right, though, fundamentally. You're right fundamentally that this is likely to hurt Corker politically so why is he doing it? The rarest thing in Washington, political courage. He's doing it because he means it. Because he really is worried the president's unstable, and since he made that comment, the president has proved Corker right. The president -- you saw it this week. He was unhinged. He is unstable. And he's obviously incompetent.

[15:40:00] We've passed the August recess without a major piece of legislation through, that's demonstrably true. Whether is unstable is a subjective but when one the most serious, sober members of your party where President Trump won overwhelmingly. When he said that its not for his political gain. You are right, it is going to hurt him politically. He's saying it because he loves this country and he's really scared to death that the man whose fingers are on the nuclear codes is unstable.

CUCCINELLI: We can agree to disagree but let's talk about incompetence. You talk about legislation and things getting through. Compare Mitch McConnell and of course Bob Corker's part of that leadership team with Harry Reid, not Donald Trump, to Barack Obama, but to Harry Reid. Harry Reid had a 60-vote threshold when then- senator Obama became President Obama, got far more of the nominees through, got far more judges through. He's processing more work. Harry Reid destroyed Mitch McConnell in the competency category. Mitch McConnell has built up this false image of this strategic genius, and he comes out and says to the president, you know, your expectations are just too high. And he thinks he's right. Meaning, McConnell thinks he's right about that.

BEGALA: Harry Reid is ten times the leader that Mitch McConnell is. But here's my question. I won't be cute. I was going to be snarky. This is a real question. When George W. Bush and his team wanted to get rid of Trent Lott, who I thought was a fine Republican leader, they couped him quietly, effectively, it was really a knifing, and they installed from Tennessee Bill Frist who was then a senator. Who's Trump's alternative? What's his goal? Does he have a strategy here? Bush had a strategy here. He wanted to get rid of his majority leader, he got it done, and I thought it was a little mean but it was very effective. What is Trump trying to do.? Who's he want to replace McConnell with?

CUCCINELLI: Well, of course there hasn't been any show of that, and I'm not sure picking a candidate with the senate caucus the way it operates is necessarily a good thing. I remember a friend of mine who I was regularly at odds with in my state senate caucus when I ran for attorney general, he said, Ken, I'll support you, I'll oppose you, whatever helps the most. And you know, with a lot of the people who would be swing votes in a leadership contest in that caucus, it is not necessarily the right play for the president to step out and boldly say, this person should be the next senate leader, but it is clear that there needs to be a new and different senate leader. The current one is failing terribly.

BEGALA: Bush didn't say it publicly, but he had a strategy. I believe that this president has no strategy.

BALDWIN: That's the question.

BEGALA: He's a nihilist and a narcissist and he's flailing.

BALDWIN: Hang on, hand on, the fact that we heard the White House again referring to Republicans in congress as "they," how does that benefit? What is the strategy? What is the strategy in referring to the they instead of the overall we, as in we're all on the same team and we all want to win.

CUCCINELLI: Right. Well, and of course sometimes it's we and sometimes it's they when they agree, it's we, when they don't, it's they. I think you might be putting a little too much weight on a pronoun there, but look, they're at odds with the leadership, particularly in the senate, right now, actually, almost exclusively in public with the senate. And we have a tough month coming up. Are we just going to blow the roof off the debt ceiling, are they going to do the usual government compromise? You get more of what you want and I get more of what I want. And we're going to put our children and grandchildren farther in debt. I don't think that's a good path for America. But it is --

BALDWIN: What's your snap assessment of what September looks like?

CUCCINELLI: Let me finish this one sentence. But it is McConnell's plan. He wants to back up to the deadline because then he uses the panic and the desperation of government shutdown to get what he wants which is great big hardly reviewed and barely accountable budget bill.

BALDWIN: So how do you foresee -- what does September look like? Last question to Ken.

CUCCINELLI: I think there will be some make nice, at least public make nice, but if they can't -- if the congressional leadership doesn't go down a constructive path, that at least keeps the president reasonably comfortable that they're going to be productive, including funding the border wall, which all of the Republicans currently in the senate voted for and did Chuck Schumer and did Dianne Feinstein.

[15:45:00] Eighty people voted for that bill. I think they'll stay together. If the Republican leadership starts caving on these sorts of things, then the president is going to dig in his heels. That is his personality. It's what he does. I do not agree with Paul that the president is unhinged. I believe he's impetuous. I mean, we can see that on Twitter.

BEGALA: That's an elitist word, Ken.

CUCCINELLI: There's a big difference between the two. There's a big difference between the two.

BALDWIN: Gentlemen, thank you so much. Paul and Ken, appreciate both of you today.

Coming up, President Trump has called it the ultimate deal, brokering peace in the Middle East. Moments ago, the president's son in law and senior adviser Jared Kushner had a huge, huge meeting.

Plus, her husband was an ardent Trump supporter but "Duck Dynasty" star Korie Robertson is now speaking out about her feelings toward the president, her candid interview next.


BALDWIN: The of the stars of the hit reality show "Duck Dynasty" says it is time for President Trump to get out of fight mode and start unifying the country. Korie Robertson's husband was a vocal supporter of Trump during the campaign, even speaking at the Republican convention. She is also a mom of six children, one of them biracial. In the wake of Charlottesville, she is speaking out to CNN's special correspondent Jamie Gangel about the controversial remarks made by the president. Also, she's talking about why she decided to retweet former President Obama's response to the deadly attack.


KORIE ROBERSTON, STAR, "DUCK DYNASTY": I retweeted it because I think it kind of felt like goodness was kind of winning the day on social media. To see something that was like positive and that was sets truth. It just felt like light was winning. I'm going to retweet that as well.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Really? Your husband was one of the early supporters of Donald Trump, and you have publicly said that there were a lot of family discussions during the campaign, what were you concerned about?

[15:50:00] ROBERTSON: It was a stressful time. I think our whole country felt that. You know, and there's probably a lot of husbands and wives, you know, arguing around the dinner table. And we certainly had plenty and Willie was outspoken about Trump from the beginning, and I was not.

GANGEL: In the end, can I ask you, did you vote for Donald Trump?

ROBERTSON: You can ask me that. I will say, I did not make that decision until the day of the election. I really, really struggled with it. It was a very hard decision for me, and in the end, I did. I chose to mainly because of Hillary Clinton's views on abortion. So, I think that, you know, in the end, a lot of people made the choice because they felt like the other wasn't the right candidate. Rather than that we had a really great choice.

GANGEL: You didn't think Donald Trump was a really great choice?


GANGEL: Because?

ROBERTSON: Because I don't think he's leading our country to a place like unity. I think he's in fight mode and he still is in fight mode. And I'm like, you won. Like, you won the election. Get out of fight mode and let's get into like peace and unifying people.

GANGEL: Talk to me about Charlottesville. When you watched it, how did you react?

ROBERTSON: I get emotional about it because it was so sad for me to see that amount of hate being spewed out of people. And it was like, you know, you see these people. And these are just men that look like your neighbors, standing there and just spewing this amount of hate for other people because of their skin color or their nationality or any of that. And so, counter to Jesus' teachings and the way we're supposed to be.

GANGEL: So, then president Trump comes out and it's not hard to say the right thing, but he doesn't do it. What does that say about Donald Trump that --


GANGEL: He seems to be so reluctant?

ROBERTSON: Yes. I don't know. You know. It was, it was shocking and scary the fact that it didn't feel like he was willing to call them out.

GANGEL: You don't think there is a moral equivalency between the two sides?

ROBERTSON: Absolutely not. And I think that, you know, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt on what he meant to say, then when he came back and he started saying that there were good people on both sides and all of that. That's when it got even more shocking to me because I was like, I don't know how you can say there are good people that are marching with torches and, you know, shouting Nazi slogans, wearing Hitler shirts. Spewing all amount of hate. If there's a good person that showed up there, they would leave whenever they saw what was happening. You know, so I just -- that floored me. And I don't really understand that. I really can't defend him in any way on that.

GANGEL: So, fans of Duck Dynasty know that you have six children, three are adopted. And one of them is biracial.


GANGEL: Part African American, Willie Jr., and that Rebecca is from Taiwan. How do you say to them we voted for this guy?

ROBERTSON: Yes. Well, I will say this, if we had thought for one second that Donald Trump was racist in any way, we wouldn't have ever voted for him. So, I will say that. That wasn't -- that was not, we did not believe that he was at all. And I'm not saying that Donald Trump is a racist that the point, but -- the words he is using is somehow identifying with that, that group. And somehow, they are thinking that he is accepting them. They think that he is, you know, speaking on their behalf in some way.

[15:55:00] GANGEL: If you could send a message to Donald Trump right now, what would it be about the way he's handled this?

ROBERTSON: You know, say you were wrong, and stop fighting. You know, I just feel like, it's exhausting. Like why are you still fighting? What are you trying to prove that the point? Let's come together and be a leader that unifies. That brings people together. And that's, I think, what we need right now.

GANGEL: Would you vote for him again?

ROBERTSON: Well, I think we'll just wait and see if that, that becomes an issue. I don't know if I can answer that right now.


BALDWIN: Wow. Korie speaking from the heart. Jamie thank you so much for sitting down with her. Seen, I mean to hear -- she obviously was so emotional talking about Charlottesville. We've had this debate about confederate statues.

GANGEL: Right. So, she believes they should come down.

BALDWIN: She does.

GANGEL: That's the first time she's spoken out. She said to me, it's important to remember our history so that we don't repeat it, but we don't need to revere it. She thinks they absolutely should come down. There is no place in that family for confederate flags. She has never liked that. Some people think because Willie wears that flag, that's an American flag. It's not the confederate flag. She feels very strongly about it. It's over.

BALDWIN: Thank you very much.

GANGEL: Thank you.

BALDWIN: We'll look for more of your interview on Jamie, appreciate it.

It was a worldwide obsession. A little Cuban boy caught in a bitter international custody Battle during a time of hostility between the U.S. and the Castro

government. Eventually, Elian Gonzalez would be returned to Cuba in this Pulitzer Prize winning photograph. Everyone remembers this. It caught the moment armed federal agents grabbed him from the arms of a family in Florida and sent him back to his father. And now, 17 years later, there is a new CNN documentary, it airs tonight, CNN's Patrick Oppman talks with a now 23-year-old Elian Gonzalez.


PATRICK OPPMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What do you think your life had been life if you had stayed in the United States?

ELIAN GONZALEZ, CUBAN BOY CAUGHT IN CUSTODY BATTLE, NOW 23: I think I would have become a poster boy for that group of Cubans in Miami that tries to destroy the revolution that try to make Cuba look bad. I would have been used in that way, maybe I would have become an actor on TV or maybe I would have more money than I have here with more comforts, but I wouldn't have my family. I wouldn't have the tranquility I have in Cuba.


BALDWIN: Yes. With me now, Tim Golden, the director of the CNN film. "Elian." We all remember in the moments in '99, everything else, to bring it forward now, 17 years later, why tell his story now?

TIM GOLDEN, CO-DIRECTOR, "ELIAN": Well, I think it was an extraordinary story that so many people remember and younger people probably don't, but it was --

BALDWIN: It gripped the nation.

GOLDEN: It really did.

BALDWIN: It did.

GOLDEN: And then you had the 2000 election campaign and the Florida recount in 9/11, and it just went away. Nobody had ever gone back or taken it apart and revisited it. We felt like it was just a defining moment in the story of Cuba and the United States and in the Cuban story. The fight between Castro and the Cuban Americans here.

BALDWIN: How do you tell it? Obviously showing the fight, showing the perspective from both sides. Push/pull.

GOLDEN: Yes, I think we had the view from the beginning that you, you had to tell the story with a respect and a sense of humanity of people on both sides. Or you couldn't tell the story fully. You wouldn't be able to understand how strong the passions were on both sides. You know, for both Cubans in Cuba and for Cuban Americans, Elian was an incredible symbol, they thought, of everything that they had experienced. The suffering on the Cuban American side of this little boy who goes off into the sea with his mother, and on the Castro side, you know, the links, the terrible lengths that the Cuban Americans would go to get back at him.

[16:00:00] BALDWIN: What's he doing now? GOLDEN: Elian has graduated from universities, graduated from the

military academy. He's a little bit like Prince Harry. He's sort of -- he's kind of a dignitary in waiting. I think he's going to commit himself to working on behalf of the revolution in the next phase. Whatever that may bring.

BALDWIN: Does he want to come back or see the relatives, see the family?

GOLDEN: I think he very much does. I think he feels connected, you know, you have to imagine, he's lived this extraordinary experience since returning to Cuba at the age of six through the memories of all the people who have surrounded him. So, I think he's, he's obviously a celebrity there, but he's deeply curious about his family here and he had no contact with the family he might have had in Miami.

BALDWIN: Probably, you wonder what he remembers of that time at six. I'm sure it's all in the doc. Tim, thank you so much. Let me remind all of you, "Elian" premiers tonight at 10:00 eastern time. Do not miss it. I'm Brooke Baldwin. "The Lead" with Jake Tapper starts now.