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Trump to Address the Nation Tomorrow on Afghanistan; North Korea Warns of "Merciless Strike" at Any Time; Trump Disbands Business Councils After CEOs Flee; Backlash Pours in Over Trump's Charlottesville Response; Spiritual Leaders on Trump's Rhetoric Post- Charlottesville; American's Gearing Up to Watch Historic Event. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired August 27, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:00:36] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Hello and thanks very much for joining us. I'm Jim Sciutto in today for Fredricka Whitfield.
And we are following the breaking news today. We just learned moments ago that President Trump will address our nation's troops and the American people tomorrow night at 9 Eastern from Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, just across the river from Washington. He'll provide an update on the path forward for America's engagement in Afghanistan and the region there in South Asia.
Let's go now to CNN's Boris Sanchez.
Boris, do we have a sense of where the president is going here? What decision he's made? More troops, fewer troops? What's the strategy?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No indication just yet, Jim. We're actually just learning about this a few moments ago, the president is going to speak to the nation at 9 p.m. tomorrow from Fort Meyer in Virginia. He actually tweeted about a final decision on the strategy in Afghanistan just yesterday saying that after important meetings with top military brass they had finally come to a decision.
However, the implications are very broad. There could be a surge as suggested by some like Senator John McCain of Arizona or we could see a complete withdrawal, perhaps shifting of responsibilities in Afghanistan to a private organization as a former chief strategist at the White House Steve Bannon at one point suggested.
So far there's been no indication from the White House. Secretary of Defense James Mattis was actually asked about this. Listen to what he said, Jim.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I was not willing to make significant troop (INAUDIBLE) until we made certain what was the strategy, what was the commitment going in. In that regard, the president has made the decision as he said. He wants to be the one to announce it to the American people so I'll stand silent until then -- until that point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Yes. Mattis is saying that he is allowing the president to explain it to the American people. Again, we don't know exactly what the president is going to explain. This has been the longest war in American history, Jim. Shortly after the events of September 11th, the United States went into Afghanistan and it has been quite a situation there ever since, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Boris Sanchez there with the president.
Let's discuss now the president's upcoming speech. His options with my panel, Ron Brownstein, he's a CNN senior political analyst, senior editor for the Atlantic, Steven Moore, CNN senior economic analyst, former economic advisor to the Trump campaign, Basil Smikle, he is the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party. Also with us, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona.
Colonel, I'm going to start with you, if I can here. What options does the president have on Afghanistan?
RET. LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think his only option is what level of American troops are going to be there. I don't think we are going to see any kind of withdrawal. I think the question is, are we going to insert U.S. combat forces back into Afghanistan?
Right now, we've got a very small cadre into the counter insurgency role doing that. The primary mission of the U.S. forces there is this train, advice, and assist.
I think we may see a shift away from that and more focus on actual U.S. combat operations because we got to knock down this ISIS group that's operating southeast of Jalalabad on the Pakistani border. Following that, then we'll see where he wants to go with the rest of it. Like everyone else looking forward to an articulation of some real policy now.
SCIUTTO: Now to be clear, though, the main role is been train and assist, those forces have often gone outside the wire as they say when there's been a specific terror threat. So they've been doing offense (INAUDIBLE) the question is do they expand that?
Ron Brownstein, well, one thing that's interesting about this, it's not unlike -- I mean, you want almost even say it's identical to the decision that Barack Obama faced early in his term which was to send more troops there, how many, for how long, et cetera. It's interesting to see President Trump facing similar decisions to President Obama very early in his term.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And Jim, and even kind of more dramatic parallel is that from the nationalist right President Trump was probably even more critical than Barack Obama of American intervention in the Mideast, you know. He essentially said that we had spent trillions of dollars in Afghanistan and Iraq and had very -- essentially nothing to show for it. And we would have been better off spending that money at home.
[16:05:00] And it is -- this entire process on Afghanistan I think is indicative of the tug of war he has faced particularly on the foreign policy and trade side of the America first nationalism that he ran on. He has held to significant parts of it even, you know, and is likely to even with Steve Bannon gone (INAUDIBLE) the Transpacific trade, you know, deal and so forth as renegotiating NAFTA. But in other ways he has been pulled toward a much more conventional Republican position. And I'm guessing we are going to see something that sort of splits that difference here in his announcement tomorrow.
SCIUTTO: Stephen Moore, I know you're an economic advisor. But you did -- you spent time with President Trump. Does he want to send more troops to Afghanistan?
STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST: No, he doesn't. And this is -- I mean, I think Ron nailed it that, you know, you've got a division within the Republican Party right now, within the White House and about, you know, as Ron said traditionally the Republicans have been the tough on terrorism party and yet Donald Trump I think, he once described Afghanistan as a stupid war. And so, I think there is an internal conflict, the fact that Steve Bannon is gone and his voice isn't going to be as heavily influential as it was before. You know suggests that maybe we will see, you know, an infusion of some troops. But it's not something I don't think that Donald Trump wants to do.
SCIUTTO: Would that be then in your view an abandonment of that -- you know, his campaign promises, right. I mean, Steve Bannon as he was leaving was saying that the Trump presidency as we campaigned, he said, is over. Would this be a sign -- would that be a sign -- listen, that's Steve Bannon who was fired by the president but, you know, the question I'm asking.
MOORE: Yes, I do. And look, I do think Trump has to be true to his promises that he made in the campaign. But it's also true when you have international situations that change, the president has to be adaptable to those changes. So we have had, you know, ISIS insurgencies in Afghanistan that we all want to push back. And I think Trump could make the case if he wanted to that this is necessary if he does send more troops to push back on the terrorism threat.
SCIUTTO: Basil Smikle, let me ask you this question. You obviously supported a different candidate in the presidential election, a Democratic candidate. If the tables were turned and if it was Hillary Clinton who had to make this decision, what would you want a Democratic president to do? Send more troops? Is the U.S. losing the war, does it need more resources, fewer resources?
BASIL SMIKLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW YORK STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: You know, that's an interesting question because I even saw just a moment ago that President Trump could add another 4,000 troops to the 8,400 that are there. And so I think the real answer to the question is, do we have a real strategy going in and a real strategy coming out. And are you making a case to the American people for why we need to sort of make this new surge.
To be honest with you, I do think that Barack Obama in the surge that he articulated to -- the reason for the surge that he articulated to the American people I think there was some wariness. But I do think that a lot of voters felt comfortable in his leadership. The issue now is, are we -- are voters very really comfortable with Donald Trump's leadership? Are they comfortable with the rationale that he may provide tomorrow night for this surge, for potential to this increase in troops in the region?
How is it connected to North Korea? How is it connected to what's happened that we saw the other day in Barcelona? So I think a lot of it doesn't necessarily come down to the strategy. I think it really comes down to a question of trust in the leadership of this president.
SCIUTTO: Well, Rick Francona, again, a lot of this year because we haven't heard the president's decision, if it's a few thousand troops, I mean, that would be a fraction of the surge that President Obama ordered which was tens of thousands of troops gradually to have a timeline on it. It got a lot of criticism for injecting the forces and putting a kind of a sell by date on when they would leave. But what military difference would a few thousand troops make in a battlefield that the U.S. has struggled with for some 16 years?
FRANCONA: Well, if he sends a small number of troops he'll send them to a specific area. I think what we might see is him commit to go after this ISIS-Khorasan group down in the southeast part of the country. And he put U.S. combat forces on the ground for that while at the same time maybe beefing up the train and assist mission elsewhere. But I think if we send more or additional U.S. combat forces in there, I think it's going to be very limited and it's going to have a limited scale.
I don't think you're going to hear a withdrawal date though. I think we've learned the lesson about putting timelines on our withdrawals.
MOORE: Although, I think, you know, Jim, that -- as a conservative I would say, look, if you have to do this, do it. But I think the American people would want an exit strategy as well. And --
SCIUTTO: An exit strategy was the -- that's what Obama (INAUDIBLE).
MOORE: I think there's just weariness. I mean, this has been a 16, as you describe, the longest war in American history. So people want to know we're not going to have troops there another 16 years.
SCIUTTO: On the backs of a tiny portion of the population. One percent, if that, both the service members and their families who bear the deaths, the injuries, the separations, et cetera.
[16:10:09] Ron Brownstein, from a political perspective, and I'm just going to ask you to look at this straight as a political analyst. How does the American public respond to that, more troops going to -- and again, these are ifs at this point. More troops going to America's longest war, it will inevitably lead we know the nature of that conflict to more deaths, sadly more injuries, more losses, more financial costs? How does the American public view that today.
BROWNSTEIN: I think there are two separate questions. And we are learning to one of them before. The first one is, by now, I think the American public overwhelmingly believes there is no answer to Afghanistan. There is no stabilizing of Afghanistan, the only question. And because of that, their instinct is less than more American involvement always.
But there is genuine concern about terrorism. And I do think that if the president can make the case that this is becoming a safe haven for ISIS to launch attacks against Europe and the U.S., that there will be time limited support for that. But there is the second issue which we were talking about just a minute ago, which is the level of support for the president himself. I wrote on cnn.com a couple weeks ago, if you compare his approval rating to other presidents during moments of international tension. And then I was thinking about North Korea, going all the way back to the Cuban missile crisis, he's far lower than anyone's been.
We saw those new numbers out today. And the three states that delivered in the presidency, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania where his approval rating was far below his vote. And particularly, if you look at those non-college whites in those three states, in each state, he was at least 20 points below his vote. Which I think kind of explodes the idea that there has been no erosion in his base.
So there are really two separate issues here. I think on the merits there would be some tolerance on the terrorist aside for the -- from the public for a deployment of limited scope. But the president is operating on a shorter leash, on a narrower ledge, however you want to define it than other presidents has been because there has such widespread doubt about his leadership.
SCIUTTO: It is much harder to send young American men and women to die when you have approval rating at that level and also confidence to the extent that that's a measure of confidence.
I want to move on to another topic because the words of the Republican senator who was once considered a vice presidential choice for Donald Trump, Bob Corker, earlier this week mentioning the word stability, questioning Donald Trump's stability as a leader. Echoed today by Democrat perhaps less surprising, Adam Schiff. Listen to his comments this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I certainly think that there is an issue with the President's capability. There are some attribute of his character that makes him seemingly incapable of introspection and a broad understanding of what the country really needs. And I think it's a question that people are asking, you know, what is going on with this president. What can explain this kind of behavior?
(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: Before we go because we don't have much time, I want to ask Basil and I want to ask Stephen Moore for their reaction to that question.
Basil, starting with you. Do you have questions about the president's stability as a person, as a man, as a president and as a leader?
SMIKLE: I always say this, I'm not a pastor so I can't see into his heart. But I have a lot of questions about his stability and the choices that he's made as the leader of the free world (INAUDIBLE) purpose is. The racial enmity that we saw, for example, throughout his careers as a real estate mogul and during the campaign last year. It doesn't necessarily end because Steve Bannon is no longer in the White House. I expect to see a lot more of that unfortunately, even with the departure of Steve Bannon.
And again, it goes into this conversation about Afghanistan. How much do the American people really have confidence in his leadership? And that's an open question. And I don't think he's done anything in my opinion to put people at ease and to sway some of those concerns.
SCIUTTO: Stephen Moore, drilling down on that more explosive question, the president's stability. You know him well. Do you have question for that?
MOORE: Well, look, on this issue whether Americans have confidence in his leadership, I mean, this election was about the economy and jobs, and those are exploding right now.
SCIUTTO: But I am asking question --.
MOORE: I know, I know but I'm just saying that, you know, in terms of his job's performance, I think you're going to see a pick up because the economy is doing so much better. Now, there were -- I must have read six or seven articles in the major newspapers today, all wondering whether Republicans in Congress will stick with Trump. And I want to address that for just one second.
Republicans have to stick with Trump. They have to hang together here or the party will hang separately. And if -- that's why, you know, I have been working on (INAUDIBLE) this tax cut which will be the big issue of debate. They got to get that passed.
SCIUTTO: That's a nice pivot. But Bob Corker, a Republican, of Foreign Relations Committee raised the question of the president's stability. The president may very well send more American service members, young men and women to die in Afghanistan. Do you have questions about the stability?
[16:15:02] MOORE: No, none whatsoever. And in fact, the American people knew what they were getting when they elected Donald Trump. And look, I have been on the road for the last couple weeks. I was in California, I was in New York, I was in Illinois. And you know, when I'm talking to the conservatives, they are -- Ron, I don't see an erosion base, I really don't. (CROSSTALK)
SCIUTTO: One at a time, guys.
BROWNSTEIN: I know he has that anecdotal debate but I just can say --
SCIUTTO: Final word, Ron.
BROWNSTEIN: -- in that polling today, in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, at least one fifth of the people who voted for Donald Trump said they were embarrassed by his conduct as president. His approval rating among non-college whites is at least 20 points lower than his vote in all three states. Among college whites, he's at least 17 points lower.
Somebody is getting off the train, maybe not the hardest of the hardcore, but you do not get approval ratings in the mid-30s in three states that you won if everybody is still wrapping their arms around you.
SCIUTTO: We need to be fair. Guys, we're going to have to leave it there.
Ron Brownstein, Basil Smikle, Colonel Rick Francona, Stephen Moore with me here in Washington. Please stay with us.
And still ahead, North Korea now threatening a merciless strike saying the U.S. is quote pouring gasoline on fire ahead of a top coming military drills starting just a couple of hours with South Korea. The details ahead.
[16:20:24] SCIUTTO: Another ominous threat from North Korea today, this time Pyongyang saying it is ready to, quote, mercilessly strike at any time. The warning comes as the U.S. and South Korea prepare just a few short hours for joint military exercises. North Korea says those exercises are reckless, warning that they are bringing the two countries closer to nuclear war.
Global Affairs Correspondent Elise Labott joins me now here in Washington.
So Elise, there had been some suggestion, might we say from Russia and China about pushing these off as a concession to North Korea. But, I mean, we're a couple hours away, they're going to go forward.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, and the U.S. had said it was a nonstarter. It didn't want to reward North Korea's bad behavior by giving them this concession. But, you know, isn't it kind of -- I don't know if it's coincidence or what it is, but there's always an uptick in activity with North Korea and a lot of flying of rhetoric around, you know, a couple weeks before these exercises and then North Korea always says that this is, you know, pouring gasoline on the fire, and then there's always the question of whether the U.S. is going to go ahead with these exercises or not. And, you know what Defense Secretary Mattis said today is, North Korea knows these are defensive, they're not invading. These have been long term exercises going on for decades and we're going to go ahead.
SCIUTTO: It's interesting though to define ourselves back and really the similar kind of game, a very dangerous tennis you might say but the rhetoric goes back and forth. The exercises are threatened, they go forward, missiles get launched. I mean, we haven't seen a real change in the general state of the threat from North Korea, have we in the Trump administration?
LABOTT: Not in terms of, you know, what North Korea is actually doing, you know, staying pretty true to course with the missile tests, there's the nuclear test. But what's different now is, you know, is the threat from North Korea because of this growing missile and nuclear program, and the idea they could have been able to kind of master the delivery systems. That's where the real threat is.
Now whether Kim Jong-un who said he likely to -- more likely to use them or not, we don't know. But certainly, you know, everyone -- the consensus is that he knows that this would be suicidal if he were to launch a preemptive strike against the United States. And on the other side, you know, you have had Defense Secretary Mattis and others say, you know, a preemptive strike on the North Koreans would be, you know, catastrophic.
And so you kind of have this, you know, mutually assured destruction, if you will, certainly a strike on the U.S. wouldn't be a suicidal for the U.S. But certainly, neither side wants to ramp it up to actually action I think.
SCIUTTO: Well, no question. The big question is, as the Trump administration, does it have a strategy for changing this interminable march of North Korea toward being a true nuclear power?
Elise Labott, thanks very much.
There's more ahead on the NEWSROOM right after this short break.
[16:27:43] SCIUTTO: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says he's not going anywhere. Mnuchin made the statement responding to an open letter from nearly 300 of his former classmates at Yale. Part of that letter said, quote, we call upon you as our friend, our classmate, and as a fellow American to resign in protest of President Trump's support of Nazism and white supremacy. We know you are better than this. And we are counting on you to do the right thing.
While Mnuchin says he will address those concerns, President Trump said he is ending his plans for an advisory council on infrastructure tweeting out that he would rather disband two other business councils rather than to pressure executives to stick around. At least eight prominent CEOs have now stepped down after Trump blamed both sides for the violence in Charlottesville last weekend. We're back now with Stephen Moore. He is a CNN senior economics analyst and he is former senior economic advisor to the Trump campaign.
So Stephen, you know, the U.S. got its businessman as president, Donald Trump on the campaign repeatedly advertised, boasted about his ties with prominent businessmen, I'm going to get them on board, and they're abandoning him now.
MOORE: So let me first address this issue by Yale and Steve Mnuchin. I mean, for people at Yale to be taking this kind of moral high ground when you got a university that's essentially squelched free speech and conservatives don't have a voice at Yale anymore. I mean, really, that's a little bit worse for people at Yale to be saying this.
MOORE: Because this is related to this. These are the people who say, oh, anybody associated with Donald Trump should be -- should resign. So we shouldn't have anybody working for him, I guess. But on this issue --
SCIUTTO: I mean, as these CEOs resign, they didn't say anybody working for Trump, they said --
MOORE: No, I'm talking about Mnuchin issue.
SCIUTTO: The CEOS, they specifically referenced to Charlottesville.
MOORE: Yes, exactly.
So let me say this. First of all, I was part of Trump's economic advisory council with a lot of these businessmen during the campaign. And these were people who actually were supporters of Trump. One of the problems I think Trump made, and I warned the White House of this, is that a lot of those people, if not most of the people on those business councils, especially the high-tech people, they were against Trump, they were for Hillary Clinton. They were not big fans of Trump.
Some of them were never for Trump. So, I warned that any time there was any, you know, opportunity to embarrass Trump that they would do that and they would run for the high grass, and that's what they did.
[16:30:07] Is this harmful to Trump?
SCIUTTO: So you're saying that all these CEOs left to embarrass Trump?
MOORE: I'm saying that they didn't stick with him at this first sign of trouble. I mean, that's what I anticipated would happen.
SCIUTTO: Could this be -- is this the first sign of trouble? I mean, in their statements they made heartfelt cases. And again, it's their position it's not ours but they have a right to their position. They made heartfelt statements about his comments on Charlottesville not reflecting American values.
MOORE: Well, I think look, these companies and these CEOs -- the CEOs have to reflect what's best for their companies. And they were under pressure from the voice of directors, for customers. And so, they probably -- look, every man and woman on those councils made their own personal decision. I'm not going to judge them for that. I'm simply saying that, you know, the other interesting thing is if you look at these companies, my goodness, look at what has happened to the stocks.
I mean, the stock market has been on this huge role. He has done a lot for these companies. And I guess no good deed goes unpunished.
SCIUTTO: But let me ask you, what does this say about the president's ability to work with the business community? He was supposed to be the businessman in the White House.
MOORE: Good question, I was hoping you'd ask that because look, you know, I -- having been on some of these economic councils. I can't tell you how many CEO's of companies have called me and said I'll join, you know. If these people are getting off, I'll join.
So, what I -- if I were Donald Trump, I'd say, look, put people who are loyal to you, who want to advance your economic agenda. Have a new economic council, but of people like Harold Hamm for example, the great president of Continental, I talked to him last week. He said, look, I want to represent Donald Trump. I still believe in his agenda.
These people were put on the agenda to help Trump figure out how to create jobs and how to reduce impediments to growth. And, you know, look, the economy is doing a lot better. This story keeps getting bigger.
SCIUTTO: On that point, are you saying that the president then made a mistake to disband the councils? All of them, entirely --
MOORE: No, I think at this point he probably had to. I don't think he had any other or else, you know, the pressure on those who remained probably would have be insupportable. He had to probably disband these things.
What I'm saying is, you know, Donald Trump, if you're listening, have a new economic council, put people who were with you during the campaign, some of the great, you know, economic leaders of this country and business leaders and get advice from them about how to steer this economy in the right direction.
SCIUTTO: So only CEO's, he should only work with CEO's who support him politically?
MOORE: Well, look, I don't want to speak for them but I know, you know, for example Fred Smith of FedEx. I don't know what his attitude is about what Trump said about Charlottesville but he has expressed a lot of optimism and a lot of support for what Trump wants to do with the economy with respect to tax cuts and deregulation. Now, Fred Smith is one of the great CEOs and entrepreneurs of our -- of the 20th century so, there's a guy who has a lot of stature and I would like to see somebody like Fred Smith (INAUDIBLE).
SCIUTTO: Let me say this, this final question. Is it possible that the mistake here is not made by the CEOs but by the president and his comments about Charlottesville?
MOORE: Yes, I think he did make a mistake in the way he made those comments. I don't think Donald Trump is a racist. I know he's not a racist. I've said this point many times when I would go to the Trump rallies around the country during the campaign. Jim, you would be surprised how many blacks and Hispanics would show up there.
Trump has to find a way to reach out to black Americans and tell them, I'm with you, I care about you, you know, I want to combat racism. And one of the things, you know, I wrote a column this week on this, you know, black unemployment is down under Trump. He's creating 50 percent more jobs per month than Barack Obama did. But yes, he has to be much more sensitive to these concerns. And he didn't come off that way, and he dug himself into this hole.
SCIUTTO: Stephen Moore, thanks very much for taking the time this weekend.
We'll have much more ahead in the Newsroom but first, meet this week's CNN Hero. Michelle Allen couldn't stand the idea of terminally-ill dogs dying alone in shelters. So she dedicated her life to making sure they experience lots of love before they pass.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE ALLEN, CNN HERO: This (INAUDIBLE) is in our home, and when I say in our home, in every single room of our house. This is the last stop for these dogs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey Lucy, come on, sweetie.
ALLEN: I don't want them missing on anything because they didn't get adopted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: For more on Michelle or to nominate a hero of your own, visit cnnheroes.com. And we'll be right back.
[16:38:38] SCIUTTO: President Donald Trump will address our nation's troops and the American public tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern Time from Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia. He'll provide an update on the path forward for America's engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia.
CNN's Pentagon Reporter Ryan Browne joins us now on the phone.
Ryan, we do not know yet what decision the president has made here, but can you give us a rough sense of the options on the table that his military leaders have presented him with for Afghanistan including increases in troop numbers?
RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, that's right Jim. In fact, you know, going back all the way to -- way back in February, the commander of U.S forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, requested a few thousand additional troops to kind of help turn the tide and break the stalemate in Afghanistan. So, you know, the military has sought additional troops for Afghanistan for some period of time now.
Again, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis addressing the Afghan strategy review, do not provide much insight into what options the president actually opted for, but he said he had been saying for weeks that all options were on the table including a full withdrawal. We heard some proposals that were put out by Erik Prince, the former CEO and founder of Blackwater that would use military contractors. You know, that proposal had been pushed by some element in the administration we're told.
[16:40:02] However, the secretary of defense did not tip his hand one way or another on this. And of course the option that most people think that had been kind of being pushed forward by the military had been some additional troops to provide more advice and support for the Afghan National Military as it fights the Taliban and associated terror groups in the region.
But again, still, you know, the Pentagon saying very much still that all options were on the table as late as last week. So again, very much interesting to see what the president's strategy he will roll out on Monday night.
SCIUTTO: Nothing, just to be clear here, nothing in the order on the table of tens of thousands of additional troops sent in as President Obama did for instance during his Afghan surge? You're talking that the options are small -- the most likely options considered a small increase if that's the way that the president has decided to go.
BROWNE (via telephone): That's right. I think, you know, the number I think that we've heard the most from sources, about 3,000 to 5,000 troops. Like you said, a far cry from the 30,000 troops that President Obama sent to Afghanistan in his first year of office. This would be a very marginal increase. Mostly advisers we believe that would kind of embed with local units to be able to call in air support, things of that nature.
But not a real major departure from the current task that's been strategy being pursued in Afghanistan. And that troop increases as we said -- talked about, had been requested all the way back in February by the commander in Afghanistan. So, you know, this would be a small adjustment as opposed to a major strategic level shift if that were indeed the option that is pursued.
SCIUTTO: Ryan Browne covers the Pentagon for us. Thanks very much.
To be clear, CNN will of course cover the president's comments live tomorrow at 9:00 Eastern Time. A decision expected on U.S. strategy and U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.
More on the NEWSROOM right after this break.
SCIUTTO: The events of Charlottesville last weekend caused racial, religious, and cultural tensions to flair creating an explosive climate throughout the country, one that still lingers. President Trump received a wave of backlash after delivering mixed messages on who was to blame for the violence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides.
I watched this very closely, much more closely than you people watched it, and you had a group on one side that was bad.
[16:45:03] And you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that. But I'll say it right now.
I think there's blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there's blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it and you don't have any doubt about it either. And -- and if you reported it accurately, you would say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest the removal of that statue.
TRUMP: Excuse me, excuse me. They didn't put themselves in (INAUDIBLE) and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: With me now are three religious leaders, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Imam Daayiee Abdullah, and Reverend Susan Johnson Cook. I want to thank all of you for coming. I feel like we need voices from across the spectrum.
There's a big appetite for voices from across the spectrum just looking for a positive message here, a way forward. I'm just curious, after these events of the past week, which frankly still linger, I'm curious, what are the messages each of you is delivering to your congregations in terms of finding a way forward?
Rabbi, if we could begin with you.
RABBI RICK JACOBS, PRESIDENT, UNION FOR REFORM JUDAISM: Sure. First of all, I just returned yesterday from Charlottesville where I had the opportunity to be with our congregation in Charlottesville over the Sabbath. And to tell you, they're traumatized is to say the obvious, but they're very clear that what happened last weekend was in a sense a moral eclipse. When the president of the United States was unable to distinguish between right and wrong, between love and hate, between racism and unity. And what is distressing is that if you can't have that moral clarity, you can't actually discern the very complicated issues. So, the message that I was able to share this Friday night to this community, one of the oldest synagogues in Virginia, was that actually people of faith know what it means to have a view, a moral view of the universe. And we're not confused between racism and love.
And the religious leadership of that community stood together, stood together with love and clarity and light in the midst of that moral eclipse and was able to convey what actually is the way forward. We have to be clear that demonic hate expressed by the KKK and neo-Nazis. They marched right around the synagogue during their Sabbath's prayers last week. They were chanting anti-Semitic slogans.
Those are sounds and sights that will not fade quickly from their sights but also from all of ours. So we are called for moral discernment and we must discern, and then we must stand together and understand that white supremacy isn't just a horrific rally in Charlottesville. It's embedded in the very policies in much of our government. You think about voter suppression, it is a form of white supremacy.
So we've got real work to do and people of faith don't need to only pray, not to only study biblical text but we need to actually raise our voices with love and clarity and we hope the president of the United States will be able to be the moral leader. Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address called upon America to be in touch with the better angels of their nature. That's what a president is supposed to say, that's what he's supposed to call out in all of us, to bring those better angels so that we could be the country that we are meant to be.
SCIUTTO: Reverend Cook, if I could ask you, it was striking to many today that Senator Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican senator today questioned the president's moral authority in his words. And I wonder if you share that concern.
REV. SUSAN JOHNSON COOK, FORMER AMBASSADOR AT LARGE FOR INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: I share very much. He's not alone in those thoughts whatsoever. You know, when you look at the civil rights movement, it was born in the black church so as African- American we've been insulted. He says there were bad people on both sides, we say there's bad leadership at this time.
But you asked us what we're preaching. I'm in Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York, and ecumenical gathering of people from every denomination, Jewish and Christians across the board, and when I talked today as a black Baptist woman about Jewish women who took a stand from what was rightfully theirs and you know, they were peacefully protesting. And we have that right as Americans to do that.
As a faith leader, what we try to do is bring conciliation, that people across the aisles from every perspective of life have the right to speak and they also have the right to be heard. We need leadership that's not going to be insightful in terms of inciting riots, but insightful in terms of going deeper and understanding the meaning of leadership for a nation that's indivisible, one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.
SCIUTTO: Imam Abdulah, if I could ask you, because of course, Muslims had been sadly an early target of the president during the campaign.
[16:50:06] Discussions of keeping Muslim out of the country, ending Muslim immigration, the attacks on the father of -- a Gold Star father as well, and some of that animus has continued in the president's public comments since he entered the White House.
How do you speak to your congregations in a way that -- listen, I imagine it's easy to find anger and resentment and disappointment. How do you speak to them about a way forward?
IMAM DAAYIEE ABDULLAH, LIGHT OF REFORM MOSQUE: I've been looking at this and explaining that because Muslims come both from those who are domestic or many are of race here and natives like Americans more particularly but then also those who have been immigrants. That the real issue here is that we have to accept the framework that this is terrorism, that this event that happened last week and -- was that -- it was a form of terrorism. And that terrorism takes place all over the world. So, we're having our American form of terrorism but Muslims, no matter where they are, they're attacked by other forms of terrorism in their own place, of their countries of origin, as well as here.
And so it's important for them to understand that, that's not the only thing to show anger as you said a moment ago. But they have to understand that is building coalitions with other religious groups and with other types of movements as the way we move forward. So that we are in unity together to make certain that all of our human rights are being taken care of, and that the authorities themselves understand that to try to separate us is the wrong way to do things and to make certain that we can work together so that we can all prosper here.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this question.
ABDULLAH: So I think part of the problem --
SCIUTTO: Sorry, complete your thought, I don't want to interrupt you.
COOK: I was going to say I totally agree.
ABDULLAHL: I'm just basically saying that the way that -- I'm sorry, the way that he was -- the president was saying the things that there were good people on both sides. Yes, that may be true to a certain extent, but the vast majority of the people, there were people who were opposing those who wanted to have a particular point of view. And so I think that he was misguided in making that statement.
SCIUTTO: Well, let me ask you this before -- well, we don't have a lot of time, before we go because when I talk to friends and family, there's a lot of curiosity out there about what can I do. What can an individual do to improve the discourse, just the state of emotion in this country? And I wonder before I go, and I'll start with you, Rabbi, Reverend, Imam, one thing that you say to your congregations that they could do to improve the atmosphere, to make a difference, a small difference, but to make a difference.
Rabbi, I'll begin with you?
JACOBS: Sure. I think the key is not to return hate for hate. Return love and strength and justice, the opposite of hate is love. And we as faith communities actually do that every day, to care for one another, to stand with faith leaders like my colleagues on this segment, to stand loud and clear in the public square. And when there's an absence of moral clarity coming from the leader of this great country, we must be those voices and we can.
And every day we can be those forces for light. And I just would give the beautiful image in the Torah reading from yesterday from the Bible, Deuteronomy. There are two mountains, Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Mount Gerizim is covered with green, it's lush. Mount Ebal is desolate and barren.
And the Bible says one is blessing, one is curse. Distinguish between the curse and the blessing, between love and hate. That's what we do every day.
And when we do it with more backbone, more love, we start to reshape the public square. And we do what God called us to do, which is to be agents of love and justice in a world that sometimes is darkened by hate, but the light will ultimately prevail.
SCIUTTO: OK, we're short on time but Reverend, I'll give you and then the Imam a quick thought for what folks at home can do to make a difference.
COOK: Very much so. We, as faith leaders have to join together as congregants, we must continue to walk together and work while it's still day and witness. And yesterday I wrote a letter that was published in the Huff Post to Heather's mother, Susan, from Susan to Susan. I think we have to remember that a life was lost in the midst of all this. And to not just keep going but to understand we have sympathy and empathy and to be the void where our president isn't acting right, then we must be that voice and fill that void.
SCIUTTO: Imam, you get the final word?
ABDULLAH: OK. Well, I think that the process is education. And the way that you get to educate people is to meet them halfway and find a way in which you can talk and find our similarities. And from there we can re-educate them to understand that we are similar in so many ways, that our differences are really a blessing so that we can see the full spectrum of what our human natures are being.
[16:55:05] SCIUTTO: Well listen, we can only hope that voices like yours are elevated. I appreciate you all taking the time today and let's hope folks out there were listening. I certainly was listening.
COOK: Thank you for having us.
JACOBS: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Enjoy your weekend.
ABDULLAH: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: More ahead in the NEWSROOM just after this short break.
SCIUTTO: Americans are gearing up for Monday's once in a century total eclipse of the sun. CNN has cruised, spread far and wide along the path of the eclipse through the country. Miguel Marquez is joining us from one of the places in this path in Portland, Oregon.
Miguel what do people need to know before watching this? One, to catch it all as much as they can but also to protect themselves.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the biggest thing is on any day but certainly on a day where you want to stare at the sun, do not stare directly at the sun, unless you have solar filters either on binoculars. I was actually staring at the sun with this thing a little while ago. And you can actually see sunspots on it, or you have protective glasses.
These are what protective glasses look like that will protect you from the sun. That's what sunglasses look like. Let me show you the difference.
Those you can sort of see through, those are regular sunglasses. The protective glasses for the eclipse they look like reflective glasses, but you cannot see a thing unless literally you're staring directly at the sun.
At 9:05 Eastern Time it will start to eclipse here on the Pacific. It will race through 12 different states. At some points that shadow, that 70 mile wide shadow of the moon crossing the U.S. will race at about 4,500 miles an hour. It will slow down at certain points as it catches, as the sun catches up to the moon.
But it's going to be packed, the path of totality will be -- where all those millions of people are packing into to see that two minutes or so, two and a half minutes or so of totality of the corona and the moon completely blocking the sun. The last time we had a coast to coast total eclipse like this in the U.S., 1918. The First World War was just winding down and Woodrow Wilson was president.
SCIUTTO: Yes, you were in high school then I think as I remember. But the -- I saw -- I'm sharing because about 20 years ago I saw a full eclipse. I was living in Asia at the time and it's eerie. It's sort of other worldly.
You get this kind of light that seems sort of end of days, not quite night time, but certainly not daytime. It's pretty remarkable.
MARQUEZ: It is an incredible moment. I saw one in Mexico many years ago, standing on a pyramid, on an indigenous pyramid there. There were drums, the people get so excited. It is absolutely bizarre.
The birds start to quiet down, the animals start to act like it's getting to be night time. The stars come out in the middle of the day. It is amazing. And millions of people are going to be watching it. It's going to be cool.
SCIUTTO: Well, you're lucky to be there, right, in the middle of the path. We'll certainly be watching you from there. Miguel Marquez, up there in Portland, Oregon. He's one of many reporters and crews we have spread throughout the country to catch this really, really once in a lifetime event.
Thanks for watching so much this afternoon. I'm Jim Sciutto. Be sure to stick around with CNN as we prepare to hear from the president tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern Time expecting a decision on Afghan troop levels right here on CNN.
You can watch it, but for now, CNN NEWSROOM continues with Ana Cabrera
ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, you are in the CNN NEWSROOM. Thank you for joining me. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.
And we begin with a major announcement from the White House.
Tomorrow night at 9, President Trump will address the nation and the troops to reveal a new strategy in Afghanistan.
Now, this major address comes as brand new polling reveals the president is underwater in some key states that propelled him to the White House.
In Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, take a look, his approval rating doesn't even top 36 percent. This is according to a new survey taken after the Charlottesville and the violence there.
Hoping to boost support, the president is holding a campaign-style rally in Phoenix, Arizona, this Tuesday even though local officials are warning against it. The city's mayor has asked the president to cancel this event out of fear it could lead to violence. And at least one lawmaker agrees.