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North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb; President Trump marking a national day of prayer for victims of the catastrophic floods in Texas and Louisiana; President Obama left a private letter for President Trump; White House now says Tuesday will be the day we learn the fate of DACA; NFL player J. J. Watts fund- raising efforts to help victims of hurricane Harvey has now passed the $18 million mark; Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 3, 2017 - 19:00   ET



[19:00:00] JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Any threat to the United States or its territories including Guam or our allies will be met with a massive military response, a response both effective and overwhelming. We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely, North Korea. But as I said, we have many options to do so.


ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: It was in the early hours this morning that North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. One that can be loaded on to an intercontinental ballistic missile, it claims. Whatever it was, it sent shock waves across the region, literally triggering a magnitude 6.3 earthquake and packing eight times the power of the bomb that fell on Hiroshima according to one group of experts.

Just a short time ago, President Trump reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to protection its allies in a call with the Japanese prime minister as South Korea, meantime, takes the step of conducting live fire missile drills.

We have a team of reporters and analysts covering the nuclear standoff and the increasing tensions on the Korean peninsula.

I want to begin with CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon because Barbara, that statement we just heard from defense secretary Mattis was both extraordinary and very carefully worded.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Ana. Extraordinary because it was him out there in front of TV cameras standing at his side, of course, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs - General Dunford, the chief military adviser to the President of the United States. Neither of those men particularly cared for appearing in television news cameras. So the fact that they came out was very noteworthy.

The message, very detailed and pretty specific saying that the U.S. would support its allies' iron-clad commitment that the U.S. would, if threatened, if attacked the U.S., its allies and Guam that it would respond with massive military power.

But what does this all mean? This is still the key question because we have heard this before. The military options, none of them are good, we all know that. Any attack on North Korea could lead them to a very quick counterattack on Seoul leading to tens of thousands of people being killed. It would be brutal. It would be ugly. But yet, still making the case that there is a military option.

And the reason is according to people who follow this, officials that we talk to, they need to convince Kim Jong-un that he cannot survive if he was to attack. That's the key. Make him believe that his regime, not the North Korean people, but his regime would be at risk. He is all about survival. The hope is if they can convince him that he can't survive, it could lead to diplomacy.

CABRERA: We have heard from experts that the development of the nuclear program is some kind of insurance policy Kim is enforcing here.

Barbara, I want you to stay with me as I bring in CNN international correspondent Ian Lee. He is joining us from Seoul, South Korea.

And Ian, we learned South Korea is now responding to Pyongyang. And I want to know more about these drills they are conducting. What can they tell us?

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ana, early this morning here in South Korea, the military carried out two drills. The first was testing ballistic missiles that would be used to go in the infrastructure in the event of a war. The other test that was carried out was by F-15s. They were testing long-range air to surface missiles. A strong response to that North Korean nuclear test.

We also though heard from President Trump who had criticized the South Korean President Moon Jae-in saying that he hasn't had a tough response. And in that tweet he said South Korea is finding as I have told them that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work. They will only understand one thing.

And you know, Ana, in the beginning, President Moon did come out with the softer approach to North Korea saying that he wanted diplomacy and dialogue. But he inherited a different world, one with a defiant North Korea, defiant with our nuclear program and the United States with President Trump who was talking tough.

So now we are seeing this two-pronged approach by the South Koreans. One, they are conducting more military exercises. They say they are going to work closer with the United States. They also have called for the most advanced U.S. strategic military assets. And they haven't specified what that exactly mean. But they want closer military cooperation with more exercises than on the other hand continue to isolate North Korea diplomatically and economically through the international community - Ana. CABRERA: Barbara, there is still this issue of confirming that this

test is what North Korea says it was. I know the U.S. does have some ability to do some testing to try to find out exactly what it was, but there has been some kind of a snag as they were sending these sniffer jets. What more can you tell us about that?

[19:05:05] STARR: Well, one of the typical ways they do this is the U.S. military has plains with very classified sensors onboard that basically collect air samples. They have to wait a couple after a tests for those - that radioactive material to rise from the earth and get into the airstream and they come into international airspace and try and collect samples.

One of the wrinkles here right now is international sources monitors that we have been talking to tell us they calculate right now the winds are to the north from this underground test site. And that would take any radioactive cloud over China and Russia. Very difficult to get into that airspace.

CABRERA: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, Ian Lee in Seoul, thank you both.

Joining me now is CNN military analyst and former commanding general of the U.S. army forces in Europe Lieutenant general Mark Hertling. And also with us, retired army colonel and former Pentagon spokesman Steve Warren and Jennifer Ruben, a conservative columnist for "the Washington Post."

General Hertling, how worried are you and how worried should we all be that North Korea might actually have the ability to attach a hydrogen bomb to an intercontinental ballistic missile.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, they have said they can do it, Ana. And that's of critical importance. And we have also seen because as Barbara just said, various seismic arrays that are measured the size of the force of this bomb from Norway, all of the way to Japan. There are seismic monitors that say, yes, this was a big one. But that doesn't necessarily mean they can put it on a missile. Although, that's what they are aiming for. Make no mistake about that.

But it's much more difficult to have a nuclear weapon on the tip of an intercontinental ballistic missile because they haven't tested them the way they need to test them. Yes, I am very concerned. I think all of the national security apparatus is concerned that they continue to advance their program. But I think again, it is just that Kim Jong-un continuing to make threats and trying to get his face on the world stage.

CABRERA: Colonel, Secretary Mattis' statement seemed to be carefully worded as a former spokesman for the Pentagon and someone who used to help craft these messages. What stood out to you?

COL. STEVE WARREN, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it was a very carefully worded message and he used a very good balance of some carrot and some stick. He reassured our allies, South Korea, Japan and others that we were with them and that our commitment to them in his words was iron clad. He also threatened the North Koreans, but he only threatened them so far. He talked about overwhelming response and overwhelming force. But he is very careful to say that we are not interested in the annihilation of North Korea. So I think they spent a lot of time thinking about exactly how to calibrate this message so that as Barb Starr said earlier that the North Korean leader himself may well feel threatened. But perhaps the North Korean people, whether or not they hear this message, we won't know. But this isn't for the North Korean people. It's for the leadership.

CABRERA: Jennifer, the President's last tweet about North Korea this morning reads the United States is considering in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea. We know China is its economic driver for North Korea. It's also our biggest trading partner here in America. So is that a viable option?

JENNIFER RUBIN, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: No, it's not. And it's unfortunate that the President has gotten into the habit of making these over the top, ridiculous, empty threats because what he is doing is losing credibility, and not establishing it. No one believes what he says when he says something like that. So why should the North Koreans believe him when he says anything else.

So if he would stop making ridiculous promises or even getting in front of the cameras, that would be a start. We saw that today with general Mattis - former general Mattis, now secretary of defense Mattis.

The other thing that he could do would be to avoid picking a fight of all times with our ally South Korea. Not only is he promising to pull out of a trade deal, why would do it now is beyond me. But he is also accusing them, as we have said earlier, of appeasement.

That just warms the heart of the North Koreans because they see us (INAUDIBLE), they see us separating from our allies so that's not the way to go about it either. So I think the President needs to get a whole lot more discipline if we are going to get through this.

CABRERA: General, how is the President potentially backed himself into the corner here with, first the fire and fury remarks? We remember from a few weeks ago. Now this new threat to end trade that doesn't really seem like a realistic option.

HERTLING: We have said from the beginning, Ana, that this is all about controlling the tempo. In basketball terms, controlling the clock. You, we, the United States have the ability to actually control the tempo on all of these operations. And by having blustering remarks, it just puts the initiative on the part of the other side, Kim Jong-un.

The United States is going to need many, many allies for this fight. Not only is it continuing to insult North Korea and bluster toward North Korea. But the insult as Jennifer just said to our allies, not just South Korea but to a degree, Japan and also to China and also Russia are involved in this. They were all members of the six-party talks when we were talking to North Korea. Diplomacy has got to come first.

I think Steve would join me in saying this is not a military fight we want. As the secretary said earlier, we'll take it on if North Korea would threaten the United States. But we have to get diplomacy out front on this first very first in order to - and try to camp this down.

And like Jennifer just said, we are allowing others to take the initiative especially North Korea when someone is blustery or brash or insulting toward not only our enemy, but our allies.

[19:10:49] CABRERA: Let me ask about another tweet that the President put out as you have guys both have talked about South Korea, you talked about the importance of diplomacy here. And he writes this morning, South Korea is finding as I have told them that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work. They only understand one thing. What is that one thing, colonel?

WARREN: Well, the President clearly wanted to finish that and they only understand one thing and that is power or force or strength or something along those things. And I think Jennifer and general Hertling both are right on the money when they talk about the damage that it can do if we start speaking about our friends and allies right now. What the North Koreans would like to do is drive a wedge into the U.S.-South Korean alliance and drive a wedge into the Japanese alliance.

And so what we want to do is be very careful about how we word everything from tweets to more official statements because we risk helping the North Koreans drive that wedge. What we saw from secretary Mattis today was, in my view, a nice example of more statesmanship which is really what's required here. And statesmanship, you know, that's that blending of the military, the diplomatic, the economic, all of the different types of power that we in America can bring to bear to a problem. Blending all of that together, calm, cool, collected, measured statements from the secretary of defense, this is the type of statesmanship that we need to see right now.

CABRERA: Jennifer, the President has talked to some of our allies. We know he spoke with the Japanese prime minister. He has tweeted at China. He said that China is trying to help by having little success. Remember, just a month ago, he said he was very disappointed in China. And he said they do quote "nothing for us with North Korea. N Just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem."

So which is it? Is China helping? Are they not helping? Are we going to end trade? Are we not going to add trade? Do you find there say clear sense of where this President is going at this point?

RUBIN: There certainly is not a clear sense. And we are not going to end trade with China that would have precipitated an international monetary and a financial crisis of huge dimensions.

Part of the problem here is that the President has no idea that there is a language of diplomacy that when he speaks, believe it or not, people do take him seriously. It's not a real estate deal where he is just trying to bluff a bank into giving him more money or bluff a competitor to stop bargaining against him. This really matters.

CABRERA: Do you think he is bluffing here?

RUBIN: I think in large part what he says is a bluff. We are not going to cut off trade with China. We are not going to cut off trade with everyone who does business with North Korea. And that's dangerous because then it becomes a question of what is he bluffing about and what has he done?

And I would add one thing, Ana, that is very important. We haven't touched on it. And that is we have decimated our state department. We have a secretary of state who is trying for whatever reason, I think, to shrink, to almost delegitimize his own department. We don't have a South Korean ambassador. We don't have an assistant secretary for the near east. He said we are apparently with his own department. And now is the time where we could use some experience, diplomatic hands or we could use some voices, some people on the ground in South Korea to talk to the government there when the President says something like this. So we are really putting a stumbling block in front of ourselves. We are making ourselves less effective in the international, diplomatic realm.

CABRERA: Got to leave it there. Jennifer Rubin, lieutenant general Mark Hertling and Colonel Steve Warren. Thank you all.

Coming up, the emotional moment when a Houston flood victim is reunited with the man who rescued her.


[19:18:40] CABRERA: Welcome back. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Turning now to the long recovery after hurricane Harvey's destruction. President Trump marking a national day of prayer for victims of the catastrophic floods in Texas and Louisiana. The President and the first lady attending church services this morning in downtown Washington as more Texans return to flood-damaged homes and started clearing out the massive piles of debris.

Houston's mayor says 95 percent of their city is now dry. That's the good news. But there is a long way to go.

Let's get right to Rosa Flores in Houston.

Rosa, tell us more about Houston's recovery efforts today.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, that water is receding. People are starting to get back into their homes and take all of their soaked items and putting them in the curb.

But take a look at Buffalo bayou right now. It is still way over its banks. It's still a raging river. That area where you see those light lamps, those are actually part of a running trail that right now is still under water. Now, according to authorities about 36,000 rescues happened. But that doesn't count all of the good Samaritans that tried to help their neighbors. Well, we met up with one woman who had an impromptu reunion with a man who rescued her. Take a look.


[19:20:03] EVELYN HAWKINS, RESCUED BY NEIGHBOR: I was right across the street.


HAWKINS: Those are the people who came and got me out of the water. My son couldn't come get me. They don't even know how to speak English, but they came and got me. And I want to thank them because I called for help and they couldn't get to me. But that young man said don't worry, mommy, I got you. He didn't know me. He didn't know my name. I didn't even know his name. He pushed me on the walker from here all of the way to (INAUDIBLE), five blocks in the water way up to his neck. He had on my neck at the same time. This is my hero right here. This is my hero.


HAWKINS: Thank you so much. Because you didn't have to do it, but you did, and I appreciate you so much, and -


HAWKINS: And when I fell in the water his baby say, I'm so sorry, she's 4 years old. Mommy, we didn't want to hurt you. So I want to thank them for looking out for me and it took -- they brought me to my pastor's house. That was the only way I was going to get out of this water.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He says that everyone is family. It doesn't matter what race you are. He says that everyone is family.


FLORES: These are photos taken by Rivera's family at the height of the storm. That's how high the water was in that area. Now I should also add, Ana, that Javier was not only saving Miss Evelyn, he also had his pregnant wife and his three daughters with him -- Ana.


Rosa, what a touching story. Thank you so much for sharing with us. And keeping those people in our thoughts and prayers is so important right now as they try to get back on track with everything. Thank you again.

Coming up, a congratulations and some advice. In his final moments in the oval office, President Obama left a private letter for President Trump and we now know what it said word for word. That's next.


[19:26:47] CABRERA: It was an iconic moment during the final minutes of President Obama's time in office. A camera catching him as he slipped a handwritten letter for Donald Trump into the resolute desk, addressed to Mr. President. Two days later, President Trump spoke about that letter.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just went to the oval office and found this beautiful letter from President Obama. It was really very nice of him to do that. And we will cherish that. And we will keep that. And we won't even tell the press what's in that letter.


CABRERA: Well, now, for the first time CNN has an exclusive look at the contents of that special letter. And it reads in part,

Dear Mr. President, congratulations on a remarkable run. Millions have placed their hopes in you and all of us. Regardless of party should hope for expanded prosperity and security during your tenure. This is a unique office without a clear blueprint for success, so I don't know any advice from me will be particular helpful. Still let me offer a few reflections from the past eight years.

First, we both been blessed in different ways with great good fortune. Not everyone is so lucky. It is up to us to do everything we can to build more ladders of success for every child and family that is willing to work hard. Second, American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It is up to us through action and example to sustain the international order that's expanded steadily since the end of the cold war and upon which our own wealth and safety depends.

I want to bring in CNN Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

Doug, this couldn't have been an easy letter for President Obama to write. What was your impression?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: No. It couldn't have been easy at all. I mean, after all, Donald Trump is the original kind of godfather of the birther movement. Saying that Obama wasn't born in the United States, and then Barack Obama had to watch the most brutal political campaign in recent memory and Hillary Clinton getting pillared and defamed by Donald Trump. But he wanted here to show that there has to be a sense of continuity from administration to administration. This tradition of hitting a letter, and I think it is a tradition now that really was implemented by George Herbert Walker Bush after he lost to Bill Clinton back in 1992. And you see President Obama trying to say open handedly I am here to help you. If you need me, I'll do anything possible to make you a success. CABRERA: And in another party of the letter, he goes on to say we are

just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties that our fore bearers fought and bled for. What do you make, Douglas, of the fact that President Obama felt the need to write that?

BRINKLEY: WELL, you know, I used to meet with President Trump, a group of historians Robert (INAUDIBLE) and myself, a few of us at the White House. And he would always talk about being a chapter in history that's not about me. That it's really about the continuity of American governance and you feel that in this letter. You feel a little bit of the awe that he had of, you know, the government agencies.

Unfortunately, this letter has kind of dissolved in the sense the spirit of it once Donald Trump started trying to repeal and replace the affordable care act, going after dreamers and pulling out of the Paris climate accord and of course, famously claiming that Barack Obama was sick and that he tried to wiretap him in the Trump tower which we know is bogus. So when you pull back from this historians are going to talk about what a gracious letter President Obama wrote and how it may have helped Donald Trump kind of get into the saddle for his first week in office but the deterioration of their relationship since then.

[19:30:44] CABRERA: It's kind of ironic that we are talking about this letter that we are just now getting a look at. On the same day, we are also talking about the nuclear test in North Korea because you will recall President Obama warned President Trump that North Korea would be his gravest global challenge. And in the past we know it's been pretty common for Presidents to call on their predecessors in times of crisis even if they don't like them personally. But these two, as far as we know, haven't spoken since inauguration day. Do you think President Trump is putting himself at a disadvantage by not reaching out?

BRINKLEY: Absolutely. And it is -- I'm glad you mentioned North Korea because that really is President Obama's big concern. I personally, was waiting for the contents of this letter to leak out, so I'm glad it is out now. But I thought it was probably about North Korea. And that that was what is the most dangerous for the last North Korea is not in it. But yes. I mean, Donald Trump would be reaching out to Jimmy Carter just about the Middle East, to George W. Bush to talk about what is going in in Africa, to Barack Obama about his impressions of North Korea.

Why not? Why not try to expand there your wise-man pool, but that's not who Donald Trump is. He constantly wants to create a ragged edge on things and he operates through chaos and disharmony. He wants to be the star of the moment. He doesn't want to seem to the public like he needs to ask somebody like Barack Obama for advice, particularly when everyday he is trying to dismantle Obama's legacy.

So this is a fizzle, the relationship between these two. But the letter reminds us of what a class act President Barack Obama really is.

CABRERA: He had some harsh words for the current President there. You don't think the President, President Trump doesn't have the best interest of this country in mind, though, do you?

BRINKLEY: I think he is limited in his ability to get advice from others. He has to be, you know, the bull who carries his own China shop around him. He has to be front and center. I mean, this has been talked about for months now. So that doesn't allow him to do equal billing with another President. Otherwise, she would have been meeting and talking to President Trump. He has got the offer there. Why wouldn't you talk to President Obama about the dreamers and what is going to go down this week? Why wouldn't you listen more clearly to the advice about climate change?

I mean, some Presidents, you know, have just an inability to want to deal with people that preceded them. And I see that there is no, you know, Bush 41 does not like Donald Trump. George W. Bush doesn't care for him. Jimmy Carter doesn't care for him. Barack Obama knows it's a disaster going on. None of the former Presidents are very keen to Donald Trump because he doesn't operate in the spirit of that letter where you have to support our government agencies. You don't make -- mock people at state department or the justice department or FBI. Donald Trump admitted he came in to drain the swamp. And in his mind, all of these ex-Presidents are swamp creatures.

CABRERA: Douglas Brinkley, thank you, as always.

BRINKLEY: Thank you.

CABRERA: Coming up, the President teases a decision on DACA with the fate of 800,000 at stake. Is the dream about to be over for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children?



[19:38:08] TRUMP: We love the dreamers. We love everybody. Thank you very much. Thank you.


CABRERA: The White House now says Tuesday will be the day we learn the fate of DACA, the Obama-era program designed to protect so-called dreamers. It gives temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children essentially allowing them to work and go to college if they pass background checks and maintain a clean record.

Now, if the President decides to end this program, nearly 800,000 could face deportation. People like Bruna Distinto, a 22-year-old college senior who came to the United States from Bolivia when she was six. She says she is worried about her future.

There is also Emmanuel Diaz. He came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was just two. And he is studying business economics. He is holding down two jobs just to make tuition payments. Without work, he may not be able to finish school.

And then there's Angel Oaxaca Rivas also from Mexico. He arrived here in the U.S. when he was four. He has two younger sisters who are both born here. And I first spoke to him three years ago about what the DACA program meant for him.


ANGEL OAXACA RIVAS, AWAITING TRUMP'S DACA DECISION: We gave up our family to be a part of a bigger family here. And sometimes that's hard. But now we are a little more included. It's a good feeling.


CABRERA: Angel is joining me now.

RIVAS: We know the White House is going to make this decision on DACA this Tuesday, Angel. How are you feeling right now?

On my end it's pretty nerve-racking, to say the least. It's been a lot of stories and a lot of communities that come out in support -- in support of DACA, and a very -- a very small minority of people that are against it for reasons that I can't understand.

[19:40:02] CABRERA: First of all, congratulations on graduating from college. You just got this great education. What is next for you? What are your goals right now?

RIVAS: Thank you, first of all. You know, it's the first time in -- I want to say something, like, 12 years that I have no set plans. I'm in the same spot that most college graduates end up after school. I have a lot of ambition in the field of neuroscience and I want to get into psychology, but it's up in the air especially because of the news that happened, like, during the summer with the DACA announcements and the threats that have been made on the DACA program. It would change my plans a lot for what I want to do going forward and where I want to be able to work especially.

CABRERA: So what do you see happening to you if President Trump decides to end DACA?

RIVAS: To me, personally, I don't know. It's -- I've always been raised to not think about the difficulties that might be because you might not enjoy the things at the moment and then you'll focus too much on the negativity you are going through and not be able to respond the right way. I'm waiting until Tuesday to think about that.

CABRERA: What do you tell those people who say DACA is a form of amnesty and people who didn't go through the process to get legal citizenship don't have a right to be in the United States?

RIVAS: I don't think it's a form of amnesty at all because at the same time it's not something that was ever a choice for me to do. Amnesty implies that there was an action committed that is being forgiven or something as being a law that is going to be ignored in the future. I didn't break a law. I was 4 years old and we are getting in the car and I get in the car and it's just a longer car ride than I thought it was.

CABRERA: Yes. You know the President ran on his hard line immigration stance. Can you understand why he is under pressure from his base to make good on his promises?

RIVAS: I don't think he is under pressure from any of his base. I think he has far-right pressure from a very, very far-right pressure on him. But I think the pressure that's coming from I think that number -- that the ten U.S. state attorneys that are putting that pressure on him unnecessarily because for all that I have seen, the DACA program has been beneficial to mostly the country. It's been beneficial for the country and the recipients of DACA in so many ways.

CABRERA: Their parents have been living in the shadows all these years. And I remember when we spoke after President Obama took that executive action to help the parents of dreamers. And I remember, how hopeful you were. We showed that clip of yours. You are so emotional. Obviously, that was never realized. How scared is your family right now?

RIVAS: My parents don't really show me how scared they are. They are not made in that way. And it is smart because it is myself and my two younger sisters. And my parents know too real the threat that comes from being able to possibly be separated from a family. It's only been in the last few years that I have been able to see some of those moments where they break character a little bit in front of my siblings and myself. They are not worried for anyone, but me right now because they know that this program is for me and they are good parents.

CABRERA: Well, Angel Oaxaca Rivas, good luck to you. Let's will stay in touch. And we will see what happens this week.

RIVAS: Awesome. Thank you very much, Ana. Take care.

CABRERA: You too.

Coming up, the great communicator in his own words, a sneak peek at the CNN film offering an unprecedented look inside the Reagan presidency.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[19:48:43] CABRERA: For a man who was once a prolific actor it was a defining role, leader of the free world. The brand-new CNN film "the Reagan show" uses largely unseen footage to capture the power and charisma of America's 40th President. Here is a sneak peek.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, boy. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not for me, honey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There we go. There we go. I have an idea for another picture. Just one more. I've got the chain saw. No, and you are blocking me off. Stop -- don't just stand there. You are supposed to be saying no, I'm not going to start this off.


CABRERA: How fun is that.

Joining meme now is the co-director of "the Reagan show," Pancho Velez.

Thank you so much, Pacho, for joining us. You know, this film really explores a Reagan as sot of a median master. What do you think it was that made him so effective?

[19:50:13] PANCHO VELEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, THE REAGAN SHOW: I mean, his time in Hollywood. He spent years and years perfecting his craft. And so when he, you know, when he came to the presidency, he was coming with 40 years of experience in front of the camera.

CABRERA: He was a master showman in that regard.

VELEZ: Yes, absolutely.

CABRERA: We saw Nancy Reagan on the other hand, when she was on the horse there and even after that, she was not amused. She seemed so uncomfortable in that photo op. What was her relationship like with the press?

VELEZ: I mean, she was much more weary of the press and much more concerned that she would appear in some way -- that she would be made fun of in some way. She was concerned about her, somehow like much more concerned about her self-image than President Reagan was I think in many ways.

CABRERA: He also had, again, all of that experience as an actor. When he wrote, when he was asked about his time in the White House and whether being an actor was impactful in helping him excuse his job as President. And he wrote quote "there have been times in this office when I wondered how you could do it? How could you do the job if you hadn't been an actor?

VELEZ: Sure.

CABRERA: Were there two sides of him? The one you saw on TV? The one behind the scenes?

VELEZ: I mean, watching all of the footage to make the film, I was struck by how much he was the same behind the camera as in front of it or when the camera is turned off. He would still be performing. He would just be sort of a slightly different performance. One performance was out to the public and the other was for the folks in the room. But he was always on. And that was just an important - I mean, this part of his character was a love of joking with people and pleasing them and entertaining. That was important to him.

CABRERA: Do you see any parallels with how Ronald Reagan and what you learned through this project utilized the media and what we see today in this tournament administration with President Trump?

VELEZ: So, I feel like Reagan approached the presidency as if it were a Hollywood movie. His sort of template for the job and for the role was that of a hero in Hollywood saving the day in the third act as he does in his dealings with Gorbachev around the INF treaty. Trump's template is much more of a sort of reality TV template. He is -- with Trump I always feel like the question is who is going to get voted out of the White House this week, you know.

CABRERA: Yes. There have been some comparison to the show "the Apprentice".

VELEZ: Sure.

CABRERA: As you reflect back, we were discussing, you haven't taken on so many projects of this nature in particular. What stands out to you?

VELEZ: Wow. What stands out to me? You know, I was really -- I came to the project because I started to see -- I started to feel that politics was increasingly being treated as a form of entertainment, or as a kind of spectacle and this was a sort of larger structural trend. And I wanted to know more about the roots of that, where did that start, why did people feel that was OK to treat politics like a game show or like a television show.

CABRERA: And did you learn the answer?

VELEZ: I think so. Or at least I learned more about a particular moment where during which we saw a very successful performance which also had real political -- had a political success attached to it. And so, nowadays it created a sense that politics, that performance could create political gains.

CABRERA: Got you.

Well, Pacho Velez, we really look forward to watching the show. Tonight you can catch the CNN film, "the Reagan Show." It's actually tomorrow night, forgive me, at 9:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.

We will be right back.


[19:59:13] CABRERA: NFL player J. J. Watts fund-raising efforts to help victims of hurricane Harvey has now passed the $18 million mark. And he is now hoping to reach a $20 million goal. The defensive end for the Houston Texans revealed today that he, his teammates, their family, volunteers were all distributing this, 10 semi-trucks worth of food, water, clothing and cleaning supplies. And the most important part he says is this was all donated. It did not even come out of that fund. Watts says plans to work with organizations and to use those donated funds to rebuild the city of Houston.

Very cool. That does it for me. Up next it's "the Nineties. The one about TV."

I'm Ana Cabrera. Thank you for being here. Have a great night and a great week.