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North Korea Calling Trump's Bluff?; Hurricane Relief Efforts Continue. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 30, 2017 - 16:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And this is a happy story coming to us from Houston, the reunion of a woman with the family pet. Just listen to how grateful she is.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's another leash. We saw that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. This is the last concern I would have. Thank you so much.


KEILAR: And Zoe happily reunited with her owner there in Houston just moments ago. We wanted to bring you that sweet moment coming to us from the devastated area there from Hurricane Harvey.

President Trump is outlining his hopes for tax reform as the White House plans another trip to the flood-ravaged Southern coast there.

My political panel is joining me now to talk about this.

Jen, on one hand, I wonder what you think, especially as a former top aide to President Obama. You want to juggle multiple priorities of course in the White House, and I remember hearing time and again that you can walk and chew gum at the same time from the Obama White House.

But you have Harvey still dumping more rain. The flooding, really, we're just in the middle of it there on the Gulf Coast. Should the White House have postponed this pivot to tax reform?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's a good question. I would say if I were advising them, I would say yes, because the president's focus should be on Harvey. He should be communicating mainly about Harvey.

What he is saying this week when Congress is not back is not changing the momentum for tax reform. Congress isn't even in Washington at this point in time.

KEILAR: What do you think, Alice? If Congress isn't here, is this something that he might have been better just waiting a few days, waiting a week or so for?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If he hadn't gone to Texas yesterday, I would say yes, postpone it.

But I think his going down to Texas yesterday and showing his support and reiterating that the federal government is here to help you, that was critical and reminding them that, look, we have the federal resources, state and local units all working together to get the help they need. And we're not going away.

This is going to be a long effort. But I think it is important to, as you say, walk and chew gum at the same time, and push some legislative agendas down the road and continue to get the message out there. It's good to talk about the tax cut, the corporate tax, but also today it was a good call to action for people watching, saying contact your members of Congress, let them know you support tax reform, because this is an important agenda for them to get passed.

KEILAR: Alice, the president led his comments, though, talking about the storm in what were empathetic terms for him for really the victims. He's focused a lot I think more on the recovery efforts, the response efforts, but he was talking very much on a more compassionate level today because he has had some criticism.

Do you think it's warranted?

STEWART: I think he showed yesterday by being there, he showed that he is committed and compassionate to the people there. Governor Abbott said, I know having talked with him at length on these issues, he is committed to seeing this through.

Glenn Thrush of "The New York Times" today said the president is normally one to skim the surface, rather than delve into it. He has really delved into what response is being given to the people of Texas and what can we continue to do? That right there is what the people need.

It's not about photo-ops. It's not about getting hugs. It's about getting the resources they need to rebuild their lives and get back on track.

KEILAR: Let's talk about his tax plan now.

And, Austan, you just heard Alice there talking about skimming the surface. I think arguably there could be some bipartisan agreement that that's really what the president did today with his remarks on this.

The short list of details that we do know include reducing the corporate tax rate, down from 35 percent to 15 percent. When you look at what was sort of a populist tone that he did take, is the plan as you know it in line with the rhetoric?

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, FORMER CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: No, of course not. Look, I would say two things. First, he doesn't have details. The

president has made clear he's not in command of the details of tax reform and he's not going to put them forward. This isn't a pivot. This is literally the fourth time the president has given a major address saying he wants us to have tax reform.

It's not a pivot. It's a sit and spin. If he's just going to keep stating that he wants to cut taxes by something like $6 trillion, somebody somewhere has got to say how they're going to pay for it. And thus far, no one has done so, and that's why they're stalled out.

KEILAR: Stephen.

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST: I worked with then- candidate Donald Trump in helping put this tax plan together.

Austan, he does know the details. He was very specific to Larry Kudlow and I and others who were working on this on exactly what he wanted to do. He always talked about wanting to cut the corporate tax rate because it's just uncompetitive.


I think all economists agree we can't go forward in a global economy with the highest business tax rate in the world. I just got back from Ireland about a year ago. Every other company is an American company that's moved to Ireland because their tax rate is one-third of what ours is.

But he also talked today, and whenever I met with him, about there's 26.5 million small businesses out there. He always said I want to make sure every small business man and woman get a tax cut, too.

And, Austan, I think his message is very simple. You can't have healthy jobs if you don't have healthy businesses.


KEILAR: Steve, can I ask you a question about that? Just because you have a lot of economists, Stephen, who have said this is not going to boost wages, it's not going to boost jobs.

So you're saying healthy corporations, healthy jobs, but some economists are saying, look, in the near term that's not actually what's going to happen.

MOORE: Look at the history of this. Look what happened under John F. Kennedy when we cut tax rates, under Reagan when we cut tax rates.

By the way, I think John F. Kennedy was a Democrat and he basically talked about how getting tax rates down and giving tax relief to people with great jobs, and, boy, did it happen in the '60s and the '80s.

I think there's pretty powerful evidence of that. Look, you just can't forward. I think, Austan, maybe you would even agree with this. we're at 40 percent and the rest of the world is at 20 percent. It just leads to companies leaving the United States. We just see this month after month.

GOOLSBEE: Let us return to reality, OK? The last time the country did this was when George Bush cut taxes for high-income people and big corporations, exactly like Donald Trump is proposing to do now.

Let's remember the GDP growth is fairly strong. The unemployment rate is very low, so how will we increase the growth rate? Will it increase to 6 percent?


MOORE: Hold on.

We just had a report that came out today that found the second quarter of GDP growth was 3 percent, which is a lot higher than what we had under Obama, which was 2 percent.

And another report that came out said so far this quarter we had 3.5 percent growth.


KEILAR: Stephen, I want to bring Alice in on this.

Stephen, after I have Jen respond to this as well, maybe you can weigh into this because this is a conservative. Ann Coulter, obviously, a pundit, responding to this piece, she said: "Oh, stop pretending this is about letting families keep more of their money. Half of Americans don't pay taxes. This is for Wall Street."

What do you think, Alice?

STEWART: It's not for Wall Street, and to Austan's point about not being any more details, when Wall Street does well with regard to businesses doing well, America does well.

Jobs are created. They are higher-paying jobs. To Austan's point, no specifics, if the president said today we're reducing the corporate tax rate down to 15, that's a pretty powerful specific and detail of what we're going to do.

When America pays a higher corporate tax rate than 35 other major economic countries, then that's a real problem. That sends jobs overseas. We need to become a jobs magnet here and not an outsourcer.


KEILAR: What do you say to that, Jen?


KEILAR: Hey, I want to give Jen a chance here.

(CROSSTALK) PSAKI: I will be probably pretty in line with Austan.

Most of what Alice are saying and Stephen are saying are things that President Obama said in State of the Union addresses. We called for tax reform multiple times. Everybody is for tax reform. It's like bunnies and ice cream.

The problem is how do you get it done and how do you pay for it and who are the winners and losers? And you can't lower the corporate tax rate to 15 percent and keep the tax rate at the same rate for middle- income Americans. That's where people are concerned on the Democratic side.

That's where many economists are concerned who will say that that's the way to raise GDP and help people who are...


KEILAR: I'm going to have to leave it there. We have much more to talk about ahead, you guys, so stand by for me.

But when it does come to North Korea, President Trump says talk is not the answer. So what is the strategy as North Korea threatens to point a missile at a U.S. territory? We will go live to Pyongyang next.



KEILAR: We're back now with our world lead.

Despite President Trump's scorched-earth rhetoric, North Korea may be calling his bluff. North Korea state media issuing a new threat that the intermediate-range ballistic missile that flew over Japan is just a preview of what's to come for the U.S. territory of Guam.

Meantime, President Trump is back to his tough talk mode, tweeting: "The U.S. has been talking to North Korea and paying them extortion money for 25 years. Talking is not the answer."

CNN's Will Ripley is in Pyongyang for us.

And you have actually spoken to North Korean officials there, Will. What do they say to you?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting, Brianna, because that's exactly what North Korean officials told us from the moment we arrived here, that the time for talk is over.

We asked people on the streets a couple of days ago. And they said, it's time for action. I asked what kind of action, and they said you can imagine what kind of action, the kind that their leader, Kim Jong- un, would order.

But the question really remains, if not talk, then what? Does the United States push for more sanctions? The seventh round was just passed, hasn't even taken effect yet, and then of course there's a military action, which pretty much all sides agree would be catastrophic.

But, meanwhile, the North Korean propaganda machine continues to turn out news developments in force. Here in Pyongyang, we went down to the central train station yesterday to watch the official announcement about the North Korean missile launch.

It was breaking news Pyongyang style. Bellicose rhetoric, lots of fanfare and one day late.


RIPLEY: We're approaching the top of the hour here in Pyongyang, and right now crowds are gathering outside the central train station. All eyes are on this big screen for what we're told will be a major announcement about the missile launch.

You may recognize the news reader making the announcement. Her name is Ri Chun-hee and she's essentially the face of North Korea State T.V. Every major event in this country, she's the one on television. She reads the official government announcement. North Korea launched an intermediate range ballistic missile, the Hwasong-12. This is the first time that many of these people are hearing about this because the government waited more than 24 hours after the missile launch to make their official announcement. Their Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, says more missile launches toward the Pacific will happen. This, he says, is just a prelude to future military options aimed at Guam.

Many people around the world are frightened when they see things like this. How does it make you feel?

I feel very proud of this brilliant achievement, he says. I've seen the launch and feel that our military is improving. I feel very proud to be Korean.

President Trump says launches like this shows that North Korea has contempt for its neighbors. What's your response?

We're simply acting in self-defense, he says. We shot one yesterday, we could shoot one today. Maybe tomorrow we'll shoot 10 more missiles. We have to do it to defend our country.

A lot of people in the outside world worry that your future will be much harder because your country does things like this. What would you like to tell them? She pauses as if she's searching for the right answer.

With our army and the leadership of Martial Kim Jong-un, she says, we can conquer any enemy.

Unsurprisingly, everyone we spoke to here said they are 100 percent behind their Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. They say launches like this won't leave their country isolated or impoverished, but in fact will make their country stronger. What else would they say?


RIPLEY: I've been to North Korea 14 times, and I have never heard anyone openly criticize their authoritarian government. You can probably imagine why Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: You certainly can. Will Ripley in Pyongyang for us. Thank you for that live report. My panel back with me now. So, Alice, President Trump tweets talk isn't working, but then you have the Defense Secretary striking a very different tone. Let's listen to Defense Secretary Mattis said.


JAMES MATTIS, UNITED STATES DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're never out of diplomatic solutions. We continue to work together and the minister and I share a responsibility to provide for the protection of our nations, our populations, and our interests.


KEILAR: He's there saying that alongside South Korea's Defense Minister, obviously with considerable interests in maintaining stability in the region. Those are very carefully thought-out words. What do you make of what are two strikingly different sentiments?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look at it this way. The President has said all along all options are on the table, even more so now. And that means, fire and fury, that means what Mattis is saying with regards to the path to dialogue is still on the table, so I think that it's important to understand that the message to North Korea is that we're looking at all possible options with regard to how to go about this. And I think will make a really important point in this piece. This not only shows contempt to the U.S., this is contempt in part of North Korea to all the United Nations of their failure to meet the minimal standards of international behavior. So this is an international problem, and I think the U.S. is correct to show the carrot and stick with regard to --

KEILAR: Do you think there's difference between saying all options are on the table and then to saying fire and fury, locked and loaded and really leaning into bellicose rhetoric?

STEWART: That -- all options are on the table. That means as we said, fire, fury, fighting, and dialogue. So I think it's important for North Korea to understand, we're not just putting all eggs in one basket, we're putting all options out there with regard to how to respond.

KEILAR: Saying talking isn't working -- I mean, North Korea is such a difficult problem, but when he says North Korea talking isn't working, does he have a point, Jen Psaki?

JEN PSAKI, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, first I think North Korea's capacity and the rhetoric has certainly increased -- escalated over the last seven to eight months. And when President Obama left and he had conversations with incoming President Trump, he said, this will be one of the biggest challenges you would face. But if you hear from not just Mattis but Tillerson and many past national security experts, they all say a diplomatic resolution is the only way to resolve this. We don't know where their facilities are. Even a military action wouldn't solve this crisis over the long term and there are significant consequences to it. His rhetoric is not helping the situation and it certainly isn't changing the behavior in North Korea, either.

[16:50:08] KEILAR: Let's turn now and talk about Russia because President Trump's longtime personal lawyer and the Executive Vice President of Trump organization Michael Cohen has told Congressional investigators he did pursue a hotel deal looking to build Trump Tower in Moscow, and this happening in late 2015, early 2016 in the heart of the election. And that Cohn had asked Vladimir Putin Spokesman and the top aide to help when this had stalled. Now, Cohen is saying that he talked to Trump about the deal three times. Listen to what Trump has said, though, about his business dealings with Russia.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I know nothing about the interworking of Russia. I don't -- I have no business, I have no loans from Russia.

I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we've stayed away.

I have nothing to do with Russia. I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever. I don't have property in Russia.


KEILAR: It seems like he's leaving some things out about the dealings that he pursued in Russia there, Alice.

STEWART: Clearly what his Attorney Michael Cohen said and what the President is saying is not consistent. They're -- two -- saying two different things. And this is yet another reason why I think it's really important for this administration to fully embrace this investigation, get all the information out there on the table so we can put this behind us. There's a lot of smoke surrounding Russia, and until we put it completely out, there is going to continue to be questions about this.

KEILAR: All right. Alice Stewart, Jen Psaki, thank you to both of you.

As the devastating scenes of Harvey unfold, the prominent Houston resident is warning that this wasn't a fluke. Why he says the storm only foreshadows, even more, extreme weather in the future?


[16:55:00] KEILAR: Welcome back. As Harvey continues to pummel the Gulf Coast, the Managing Editor of the Houston Chronicle is arguing the storm should mark a turning point in the fight against climate change. He writes, "It may not be too late to save the planet if we heed Harvey's hard lesson here in Texas, a proud state that doesn't like to be messed with. It could be the perfect place to start." But Trump has thus part shifted policies away from battling climate change raising concern within the scientific community. CNN's Rene Marsh has the story.


TRUMP: Our plan will end the EPA. We had a blizzard outside, there is no warming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a landmark event.


MUSTAFA ALI, FORMER ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: There's definitely a battle that's going on.

MARSH: Mustafa Ali says after 24 years at the EPA, he was one of the first career employees to resign in protest of the administration's anti-science approach.

What would make you give that up?

ALI: The lives of the communities where I come from, the lives that I served.

MARSH: And you felt that they were under jeopardy under this new administration?

ALI: I know they're in jeopardy.

MARSH: Joel Clement a Climate Scientist at the Interior Department says he was silenced after speaking about climate change.

JOEL CLEMENT, REASSIGNED SENIOR INTERIOR DEPARTMENT SCIENTIST: I was reassigned to an accounting office in the department.

MARSH: Interior said it moved him to create seasoned leaders with broad and diverse experience.

TERRY YOSIE, THE FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE EPA SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD: Every President since Franklin Roosevelt has had a science adviser except for this President.

MARSH: Terry Yosie is the former Director of the EPA Science Advisory Board under President Ronald Reagan.

YOSIE: They're trying to uproot accepted, settled, credible scientific principles and practices.

MARSH: And what's the risk in that?

YOSIE: We don't discover when the next Flint, Michigan drinking water contamination occurs. MARSH: At Trump's Agriculture Department, his nominee for Chief Scientist is a man with no science qualifications.


MARSH: Sam Clovis is a former conservative radio host. But federal law requires the President to nominate a distinguished scientist. The department's spokeswoman says, Clovis' doctorate in public administration makes qualified.

And internal e-mails at the Agriculture Department shows staff were told to avoid terms like climate change, and agency Web sites like the EPA, have even wiped away some references to climate change. Scott Pruitt, the man leading the EPA for years sued the agency challenging its environmental laws.


MARSH: Myron Ebell helped lay the groundwork for Trump's EPA and his exit from the Paris Climate Agreement.

EBELL: Economic prosperity will not only put more money in American workers' pockets, it will also improve their health and the quality of the environment.

MARSH: This month, the Trump administration shut down an independent study on health effects of a common mining technique and some corporate polluters are seeing fewer fines. The Trump administration has collected $12 million for violating anti-pollution laws. Previous presidents have each issued up to 36 million in fines in their first six months.


MARSH: CNN reached out to the White House for comment on this story but did not get a response. It is worth pointing out the President has repeatedly said he does want crystal clean water and clean air. Back to you.

KEILAR: Rene Marsh, thank you so much for that. That is it for THE LEAD, I'm Brianna Keilar in for Jake Tapper. "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Jim Sciutto in for Wolf Blitzer starts right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, in the deluge. Tropical Storm Harvey hammers communities near the Texas-Louisiana border.