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Trump Slams NFL Players; National Anthem Protests Grow; Trump Defends his Criticism of NFL; NFL Teams Respond To Trump With Protest And Solidarity; GOP Revises Latest Health Care Plan To Target Key Votes. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 25, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Trump's campaign against NFL players who kneel for the national anthem. On a critical week for health care reform and tax reform and crises underway from Puerto Rico to North Korea, the president says, important meetings taking place today, but his first pronouncement of the morning, a shout-out. Let me read it. Quote, so proud of Nascar and its supporters and fans. They won't put up with disrespecting our country and our flag. They say it loud and clear.

Six minutes later, from the president, many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday, which was a small percentage of the total. These are fans who demand respect for our flag.

And then, quote, the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our country, flag and national anthem. The NFL must respect this.

This is what happened at NFL games across the country, as you saw them play out yesterday, not only here, but also overseas in London where players on every team locked arms, took knees in silent defiance of a vocal provocation from President Trump Friday night in Alabama.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, get that son of a bitch off the field right now? Out. He's fired. He's fired!


HARLOW: All right, let's begin our coverage this morning. We have Andy Scholes from CNN Sports. We have Joe Johns at the White House.

So, Joe, to the politics first. This seemed to sort of come out of nowhere on Friday night in Alabama. And then it just ballooned over the weekend. What are you hearing?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly just really plays very well to the president's base, if you think about it. And the fact of the matter is, the president has been hammering away at this issue for a while off and on. He's taken credit for being at least partly responsible for the fact that Colin Kaepernick doesn't have a job. Kaepernick, of course, the NFL quarterback who started all of this by kneeling when the "Star- Spangled Banner" was played.

But over the weekend, the president took it to a whole new level, complaining about athletes who make millions of dollars, trying to put pressure on the NFL and the owners to force the players to stand up during the national anthem. And the president even took it to the level of the NBA, going after Steph Curry, the player out on the West Coast who had balked at the idea of coming to visit the White House. The president disinvited Steph Curry.

Now, the question, of course, because this is the very same president who, in fact, did not -- did not speak as roughly or harshly, if you will, about Charlottesville and the actions there involving white nationalists, white supremacists, the question, of course, whether this has to do with race. The president says, absolutely not. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's very disrespectful to our flag and to our country. So I certainly think the owners should do something about it.

This has nothing to do with race. I've never said anything about race. This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.


JOHNS: So the president reiterated those very same points on Twitter in a tweet this morning. But it is, Poppy, I think a little hard to see how race isn't at least somehow involved simply because the players who have been doing this say they're doing it to put a highlight on racial injustice in the United States.

Back to you.

HARLOW: Indeed. Joe Johns at the White House. Thank you very much for that.

We'll get into all of it with our panel.

Before that, though, let's go to CNN's Andy Scholes with more on the NFL reaction.

Andy, there are seven different team owners across this country that donated to President Trump's campaign, have supported him. Some big names like Bob Kraft, a big supporter, former NFL Coach Rex Ryan, but none of them came out in support of the president on this one.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. And it was clear that owners, players, on every team across the country, had a plan on how they were going to show that they were unified after President Trump's comments. You know, as we showed, some players took a knee, some sat on the bench, many locked arms during the national anthem. And for the first time we saw owners from teams around the league, some, like you said, who donated to President Trump's campaign, standing arm in arm with their players during the anthem, showing that they had their backs. And after the games yesterday, players around the league explaining why they decided to do a show of unity.


JULIUS PEPPERS, CAROLINA PANTHERS: I felt like he attacked my brothers -- my brothers in the league. So I felt like it was appropriate to stand up with them and stay in the locker room.

There's only a few times in a man's life where you have a chance to stand up for something that you believe in and make a statement. So today I thought that was that chance and I took it.

TOM BRADY, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: No matter what anyone says, you know, I'm going to have a positive outlook. And certainly with my teammates, I believe that, you know, love is the greatest thing we have that overcomes a lot of things.

[09:05:02] LESEAN MCCOY, BUFFALO BILLS: I can't stand, you know, and support something where our leader of this country is -- is acting like a jerk, you know, angry and upset about NFL players protesting in a peaceful manner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mess with one, you mess with us all. Don't nobody is divided in this. We was in unity. We want to stand for something. Just telling you right now, this man is not welcome here.


SCHOLES: Now, the Steelers, Titans and Seahawks all deciding to remain in the locker rooms during the national anthems yesterday. All the players except for one of the Steeler. Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger. He did three tours in Afghanistan after graduating from West Point. He stood in the tunnel alone with his hand on his heart.

So, Poppy, while the Steelers as a team decided that they were going to remain in the locker room and not come out for the anthem, Villanueva decided against that and found it more important to be on the field by himself.

HARLOW: Look, everyone having their own voice heard and displayed in a their own way. Andy Scholes, this is certainly a big moment for the country. Thank you very much.

Just moments go, the president took to Twitter again. He tweeted just this hash tag, standforouranthem.

Let's talk about all of it. "USA Today" columnist, CNN sports analyst Christine Brennan is here. CNN consultant and political commentator John Thomas joins us. Former Minnesota Vikings player Chris Kluwe is with us. Also former ESPN executive and author of "Say It Loud," Roxanne Jones.

Christine, let me get to you because yesterday on this network you said right now the NFL has a louder megaphone than the president. Make the case.


You know, we know the president, over the many months, has picked on all kinds of people. Well, this is a group that actually has power to fight back. And all these players, of course, have Twitter accounts and they have large followings.

And it's not just blue state America that follows these players and loves them. It's red states, too. And they're very popular. And, of course, sports is a national conversation that brings in a whole different demographic. So fans who -- hey, I like that guy. I cheer for that player. Now the president is attacking him or the perception? I think that's why we're seeing such a -- a fight back from the NFL and a successful weekend. I mean if you want to say winners and losers, if we're talking sports this weekend, the NFL players and the solidarity, the knees, taking knees, whatever they did, they won the weekend and the president lost the weekend.

HARLOW: John, let me take your temperatures on that, because many people are comparing the language that the president used in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville to the language he used about these NFL players who do take a knee during the anthem. Let's first listen to how the president spoke about those players on Friday night.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag, to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now? Out. He's fired. He's fired!


HARLOW: All right, and here's what he said in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, pointing repeatedly to both sides. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I do think there's blame -- yes, I think there's blame on both sides. You look at -- 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.


HARLOW: Harsher language used about the NFL players. Many arguing this morning, John, than about neo-Nazis and white supremacists who incited violence and took a life, the life of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. How do you see it?

JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't necessarily think that's a fair comparison. First of all, that's a -- that's a five- second sound clip. When the president has condemned --

HARLOW: They're actually both about 15 seconds. And they reflect accurately what the president said.

THOMAS: OK. OK, Poppy, but the president spoke on multiple occasions about Charlottesville, condemning and disavowing the KKK. He went as far as he needed to on that Charlottesville issue. But the president also said it was either this morning or last night that this NFL issue has nothing to do with race. This is about American pride.

See, Poppy, when I go to a Cowboys game, my favorite part of every game is, even though I know many people in that stadium and viewers across America have differing perspectives and don't think America's perfect, while the national anthem is playing, we come together in a moment of solidarity, because we're all Americans and we take that moment. And Donald Trump is saying, it's just not the place to dissent in that moment in time.

Chris Kluwe, to you. On the Vikings, you know, I went back to my home state. I interviewed you in the midst of all of this, being so outspoken about number of social issues. You've talked about believing that you were no longer signed to a team as a result of how outspoken you were on these social issues and what can be divisive issues. What do you make of all of this as it plays out?

CHRIS KLUWE, FORMER PUNTER, MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Well, I think that the players are trying to resist a would-be fascist dictator. I mean you look at Trump's responses and you look at the way he talks about these two different issues and it is very clear, he expects a slavish devotion to the state above all else, which is a hallmark of fascism.

[09:10:13] And I really think that we as a country need to examine what his proxies are saying in interviews like this about, this is American pride. You know, that's something that you'd expect to hear out of Nazi Germany. American pride isn't about asking and not thinking. It's about asking yourself, is the country holding up its end of the social contract? And right now for many, many black Americans, the country's not holding up its end of the social contract and something needs to be done.

HARLOW: Roxanne, thoughts on that?

ROXANNE JONES, FORMER VP, ESPN: I agree 100 percent with what was just said. I -- first of all, American pride is getting up every day, going to work, being a teacher, you know, serving your country in any way that you can. So the NFL athletes, President Trump has no -- they don't own American pride. We are all proud of this country.

Our country is divided and President Trump is trying further to divide it. He doesn't have to say it's about race. He's a master marketer. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a duck. And right now Donald is being a duck. He's being irresponsible and he's not helping our country heal.

And yesterday I think that freedom won. Donald Trump lost. The NFL won. Ratings actually went up yesterday. Ratings were going down. And I think they went up because Americans were so disappointed in Donald Trump trying to take away our constitutional right to dissent in this country, which is how we were birthed, that they were disgusted and wanted to tune in.

I tuned in to see exactly how the NFL was going to respond to this threat that is the president of the United States. He is a threat to all of our freedom. And so I think we won yesterday. I don't care how many tweets he put out, he lost. And he will lose. He will lose this fight to divide our country.

HARLOW: All right, so the president has not given any interview on this, but members of his team, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin came on the air talking about it. Also Marc Short, his legislative director, went on "Meet the Press" yesterday. Here's how he defended the president. Listen.


MARC SHORT< WHITE HOUSE LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR: Well, I think the reality is that there are coaches, high school coaches, across America today who are punished for leading their players in prayer. And yet when an NFL player take as knee, somehow that player is presumed to be a martyr for a social cause.


HARLOW: So, Roxanne, that's the defense. That's the other side of your argument. What do you make of that?

JONES: Well, I discount it completely. Actually, athletes have been praying on the field from pee-wee football to the NFL forever. Nobody is against that. No -- who is against that?

I covered the NFL for many years and went to (INAUDIBLE). I myself am a Christian. You know, you will always have naysayers, but I think it's that argument, it really doesn't hold water, you know? It's a weak defense.

And -- but the issue is, police brutality -- the protests started because of police violence against black (INAUDIBLE) young people and it's now turned -- and our right to say, hey, these things aren't right. We can watch FaceBook almost every day and see someone being shot and killed by police. We need to ask questions about that. We need to ask questions.

HARLOW: So, John, you know, a lot of the folks, big names, big players in the NFL who are close friends of the president, Rex Ryan, Bob Kraft. I mean, Tom Brady just came out and said, I certainly disagree with what he, the president, said. I thought it was divisive. He seems to have no allies even amongst some of those closest to him in the league on this one.

THOMAS: Well, I think there are two dynamics in play. First of all, I understand why the owners, I guess, would stand behind their team, because in a sense they don't want to have riots from within their own ranks. They really were left with no choice on that issue.

On the other hand, you know, and I -- HARLOW: Wait, so you think, John -- John -- John, are you saying, and my voice is hoarse, so, excuse me, but are you saying that you think that these coaches and these owners don't actually believe what they're saying but are trying to prevent a quote, in your words, riot within their own ranks?

THOMAS: Yes. I mean I would imagine that not all of the owners feel the same way that Bob Kraft does, but they're put in this position to back their own teammates.

HARLOW: I have a list of all of the owners and none of them have stood up for the president.

THOMAS: Sure. Like I said, because if they did stand up for the president, they run the risk of having their employees --

HARLOW: How do you know that? But how do you know that?

THOMAS: How do I know -- how do I know that, Poppy? Because --

HARLOW: I didn't bring you on this show to say I imagine.

THOMAS: Well, I'm -- I'm all --

HARLOW: I'm asking you, do you know definitively or can you just go off the facts that each and every one of their statements say we stand behind our players and not the president?

THOMAS: Well, Poppy, I just -- I -- I know the -- I know the political position that these team owners are put in. I also know that over 200 members of the NFL took a knee. So that, to me, if I'm a businessman, I'm a business owner, I'm going to say, I've got to keep my employees in line and don't want them rioting, so I'm going to stand with them.

[09:15:05] But you know what's amazing to me, Poppy, is how all of these millionaire and billionaire owners that we're supposed to feel sorry for them that they don't have the right during the national anthem to speak.

Look at Lebron James Twitter followers, just 500,000 Twitter followers short of Donald Trump. If you feel strongly politically, make a statement, do so by all means. The president is saying just not during the national anthem.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Chris Kluwe, you are someone who made a statement during the season on and off the field. Respond to what John said?

CHRIS KLUWE, FORMER PUNTER, MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Yes. I think it's particularly rich that someone who inherited millions if not billions of dollars from his father is going to tell other people when they can and cannot protest.

HARLOW: He didn't inherit billions of dollars.

KLUWE: When his entire job is to be a servant to the American people. The American people are speaking. It is his job to listen. So far, he has shown no willingness whatsoever to listen. So maybe President Trump should look in the mirror first, before telling other people what they can do.

HARLOW: Christine Brennan, final thought.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: This is certainly not going away. We can see that and if you want to look at who started this, it was started Friday night by Donald Trump. The whole issue of kneeling, Poppy, Colin Kaepernick, who, by the way, peacefully was kneeling and also has given $1 million to charity for those who want to say bad things about Kaepernick.

He certainly walked the walk. It was dying down. This was story really going away. Although Charlottesville and Trump's dreadful response to that did -- have picked up a little bit, but it was basically going away until Trump started it.

And my sense is that we'll continue to see people on all sides of the political divide coming together against Donald Trump on this one.

HARLOW: I'm glad you're all here this morning to talk about it. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

We have a lot ahead this hour. Out with the old travel ban, as it runs out of time. The new travel restrictions are in. The White House ramps up its crackdown and Republicans revise their latest Obamacare repeal efforts to win over holdouts, but is it enough at the 11th hour?

Also, the president's influence put to the test in hours in Alabama. What this Senate race could mean for Republicans across the country in the primaries to come?



HARLOW: So the White House this morning unveiling new travel restrictions for citizens of eight different countries. On that list, Chad, Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. It also targets non- Muslim majority nations. People including North Korea and Venezuela.

These are new rules that are set to take effect October 18th replacing a key part of the Trump administration's controversial travel ban that expired yesterday because it was only six months. The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on the ban's legality, the original ban legality next month.

Meantime, the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, getting a makeover a little bit of one. Will it be enough, though, to win over enough Republican senators to get this thing passed?

The revised Graham/Cassidy legislation is on Capitol Hill. The changes to the bill give more funding to states like Alaska and Maine, where the senators, you know, were holdouts. So, will that change their mind?

Our national political reporter, M.J. Lee is on Capitol Hill. The president seems optimistic. His words on Sunday, yesterday, eventually we will win, whether it's now or later, not exactly a ringing endorsement that they will get this thing through before September 30th?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: That's right, Poppy. I mean, at this point in time, it is going to take something of a political miracle to get this bill through the Senate. The revisions that we saw to Graham/Cassidy last night, those revisions that he said were specifically aimed at trying to win over some of these undecided Senate Republicans, as you mentioned.

More funding would go towards states like Alaska and Maine. It's clear why that increase was added. It is to try to win over folks like Lisa Murkowski or Susan Collins. There is also just to give you a sense of how specifically tailored some of these languages.

There is a provision that offers protections for coverage for Alaska natives. Now Lisa Murkowski has made clear that this group, this population has a set of unique health needs and that she wants to make sure that those people are protected.

And then there's also another provision that is aimed at winning over conservatives like Mike Lee and Ted Cruz, giving more states essentially more flexibility to set these insurance regulations.

Now just to give you a reminder of where things stand and how tough this vote count is looking. Remember, Senators John McCain and Rand Paul two people that have already said they will not vote for this bill, and very, very hard to see either of them changing their minds.

McCain has raised a big fuss about the process that has been used to get this bill through the Senate. Rand Paul, meanwhile, has basically said he doesn't like that the facts that these Obamacare subsidies are being turned into block grants.

That is the basic tenant of this new bill. So, hard to see him changing his mind and the political reality here, Poppy, this week, is that time is literally running out. This vehicle that Senate Republicans are using to try to get this bill through the Senate, it runs out at the end of this week.

That means that Mitch McConnell really has a couple of days to go through the process of figuring out whether he has the votes and then decide if he's actually going to hold a vote. Remember back in July, he, of course, has brought this bill up, an earlier and different version of this bill up for vote and it failed.

Now later in the day I will quickly mention that we are on the lookout for a CBO analysis, but that is not going to have a ton of information, including coverage numbers. So unclear if a lot of these Senate Republicans that Mitch McConnell's asking to take a political gambit, if enough of them are going to do so. HARLOW: Right. Namely, how many millions of Americans will or won't be covered under this thing, and if they vote before that number comes out which is likely, then where are they left? A political gamble they're taking as you say. M.J. thank you for the reporting.

[09:25:06] So, ahead for us, outsider versus insider. The Senate race that is set to send a pretty big message to the entire Republican Party. We'll take you there, next.


HARLOW: All right. We are hours away from the polls opening in Alabama, and it is an all-out push. The vice president down there stumping for incumbent Luther Strange, who President Trump is also backing, but former chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, not so much. He is standing behind Roy Moore, the opposing candidate, and rooting against the president's man.

Joining me to discuss, CNN political analyst and White House reporter for the "Washington Post," Abby Phillip, and CNN political commentator and senior columnist for the "Daily Beast," Matt Lewis.

Abby, so this tips Bannon against the president. Moore seems so much more, if you will, like the President Trump choice but instead he went the establishment route. There is a lot of reporting you've done on how the White House and the team sort of gotten behind Luther Strange. He made an interesting --