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North Korea: Trump Declared War; Protests on Capitol Hill Over Republican Efforts to Change Health Care; Trump vs. NFL. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 25, 2017 - 15:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Pamela Brown, in for Brooke Baldwin.

The White House today in damage control once again, it seems, this time after President Trump triples down on his attack on the NFL, blasting players who kneel during the anthem as -- quote -- "SOBs" and urging team owners to fire them.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was pressed on the president's comments moments ago.


QUESTION: Did the president go too far in referring to these players as SOBs who should be fired?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that it's always appropriate for the president of the United States to defend our flag, to defend the national anthem, and to defend the men and women who fought and died to defend it.

QUESTION: Does the president believe that there are very fine people who kneeled yesterday watching those games, or are they all SOBs?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think you're trying to conflate different things here.

Look, we are certainly respect the rights that people have. But I think we also need to focus. Again, this isn't about the president being against something, which is what everybody wants to draw.

This is about the president being for something.


BROWN: So, the response is just the latest in the back and forth between the Trump White House and prominent athletes. Some NFL players and team owners refused to stand during the anthem in protest against the president's comments, while others locked arms in solidarity.

More protests are expected tonight. And here is what the president said while speaking to a predominantly white crowd in Alabama. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.


TRUMP: He's fired!


BROWN: CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray joins me now.

So, how is the White House handling this fallout, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, I guess you could say they tried to engage in some kind of cleanup effort today.

But it wasn't much of a cleanup effort at all. We saw Sarah Huckabee Sanders out there. She didn't apologize for the language the president used, calling these players SOBs. She insisted this was not supposed to be an attack on anyone, even though the president called for the firing or suspension of those who were kneeling, and tried to sort of explain it as the president sees this as a moment where everyone should be united in patriotism, everyone should be united under the flag.

She also dismissed the notion that this is in any way Trump trying to engage in some kind of culture war when he's taking aim at these African-American players within the NFL. Of course, it is questionable why the president would be devoting so much of his time and so much of his attention to something like this, when, obviously, we have health care playing out in Congress, he wants to move ahead with tax reform, he has a very robust agenda.

And yet this is where his attention is focused, Pam.


And there are other things going on, besides what you pointed out. There's, of course, North Korea, the other big headline today, North Korea accusing the president of declaring war on the country over the weekend in a tweet, warning that they may not be around much longer.

How did the White House respond to that?

MURRAY: And, again, Pam, just stunning that one of the focuses today has been on the president's feud with NFL players when you have news like that coming out. North Korea's foreign minister accusing President Trump of declaring war on North Korea.

Today, Sarah Sanders dismissed that outright. She said the U.S. is not declaring war on North Korea, the president didn't declare war on North Korea. She called any suggestion of that absurd. BROWN: All right, Sara Murray from the White House, thanks so much.

Let's listen to what Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James had to say about the president's comments.


LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: Can we sit up here and say that we're trying to make a difference? Because we know this is the greatest on country in the world. It's the land of the free, but we still have problems just like everybody else.

And when we have those problems, we have to figure out a way how we come together and be as great as we can be as a people, because the people run this country, not one individual, and damn sure not him.


BROWN: Joshua DuBois, CNN contributor and former White House religious affairs director under President Obama, joins us now, and Jim Lowe, pastor of Guiding Light Church in Birmingham, Alabama. He co-organized an All Lives Matter march with conservative political commentator and talk show host Glenn Beck.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining me.

Pastor, I'm going to start with you. The president says this is not about race. Do you agree?

JIM LOWE, CO-ORGANIZED ALL LIVES MATTER MARCH: Well, I don't know what the president's position is on that, but I think this -- I think it goes beyond that.

I think we need to face the issues that the nation has to deal with here. And it's -- the president is moving it over to a -- I guess a political way of looking at things. He's looking at it and saying, it's not about race.

But it does affect people of all races here, the words that he speaks and what's going on. It does have something to do with that. Now, he's trying to make it patriotic, but I think the protesters are protesting about what's happening to a group of people in this nation.


BROWN: Joshua, respond.

LOWE: I think that's what the protesters are speaking about. He has another issue. He's talking about patriotism.

JOSHUA DUBOIS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, certainly, the president's speech in Alabama, to me, it felt like it was about race.

This was more than a dog whistle. This was an elephant trombone. You have this man giving this unhinged rant about a group of African- American players who are exercising their constitutional rights. Once again, this is a just another moral disaster from the president. And if folks step back and think about it, which is a greater moral debasement to our country, one individual and now many individuals quietly taking a knee to honor and mark the lives of those lost because of police violence, or the president of the United States ranting and raving and calling fellow citizens sons of B.s?

This is the type of behavior that we would not accept from middle schoolers. Why are we accepting it from the president? .

BROWN: So, Bishop Lowe, do you think he went too far? I mean, the president has a right to his opinion here, but do you think he crossed the line in handling it that way?

LOWE: I think the president was wrong in his words about calling people, demeaning the character of people who are making a protest for something that they believe in. They have the right to make their protest, just as he has a right to state what he wants to say, but we have -- no one, no human being has a right to degrade or demean or even speak negative of another human being's character or their life because of what they believe.

That's one of the problems we have today. We can't sit down and discuss issues civilly without calling people names. I think the president was wrong to do that. I think those people have a right to protest, but I also think that people have a right, if they want to take a knee to protest, they should also have a right to take a knee to pray. That's where I think we're missing in this nation.


BROWN: Go ahead.


DUBOIS: No, I was just going to say that I think a lot of those players who are taking a knee are both protesting and praying at the same time, in the great tradition of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many others, Fannie Lou Hamer, who both protested and prayed.

They're praying for America's ideals. They're praying that we would close the gap between what the country says about itself and how we actually live in our country today.

LOWE: If we're going to do that, then let's stand up and say that we have a right to pray also by taking a knee to pray.

If the NFL is going to allow them to protest the national anthem, then allow them also to pray. If you want to do -- you can't have it both ways. And for the American public out there, we need to stand behind the rights of the Constitution for people to protest or bring any address and any grievance against their government.

And this is addressing a grievance by them taking a knee to say we protest the way police brutality is. They have a right to do that. And the people that are with the NFL, the owners have a right to decide whether they want to fire them or not. So, it goes each way. There are consequences for the actions.

But I go back to the point. The hypocrisy of America shows itself with these things that are going on that is being -- happening to the Afro-Americans, what's happening to the Native Americans. That's hypocrisy that's there. And then to say that we have no right to turn to God who is the one who gives the authority for government to be in place all total anyway, it's wrong.

BROWN: All right, let me just ask you, Josh, just on the heels of what the pastor said, the White House says that the kneeling has morphed into more than just police brutality and that the focus has changed since the initial intent when Colin Kaepernick did that a little over a year ago. Is that true? What is the White House talking about?

DUBOIS: Yes, I don't think that's true. I have had the opportunity to speak with some current and former players and certainly have read much of what they have written.

These guys are protesting for people like Tamir Rice, the young boy killed in a Cleveland park for the crime of playing with a B.B. gun. They're protesting for Walter Scott, shot in the back in North Charleston, South Carolina.

They are actually very clear and very focused about why they're taking that knee. And, again, it's not a knee that's a show of disrespect to the flag or to the national anthem. It's a knee that is meant to mark the gap between American ideals and how a lot of people live and die in America today.

So, I think the press secretary and the president is off on that.

BROWN: And what do you have to say to the press secretary when she said, well, if you have an issue with police brutality, you should protest the police officers protecting you, not the flag?

DUBOIS: I would say the White House does not get to tell people how to protest. I would encourage folks to read Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," where he speaks directly to this.

You don't get to set the timetable on another person's freedom. Colin Kaepernick sparked a conversation here. And in the eyes of him and many other, the time is now.


And the last thing I would note is that, if you would not have been talking about racial issues in America if it wasn't for Colin Kaepernick and all these folks kneeling down, then they have done their job.


BROWN: Go ahead.

LOWE: Well, I'm sorry.

One thing I would like to say about that is the president, albeit however he makes his decisions, the president himself is still under the hand of almighty God, and maybe for such a time as this, his comments have brought to the forefront again the injustices that have been done.

And he has brought attention to it. So in some ways, we want to condemn him, but in other ways, we need to look at it and recognize he's brought it to the forefront, now that we can discuss the issues that are having problems in this nation today.

They're back on the forefront, regardless of how he ever intended for it to be, I see a way now that now you have more of the NFL and the people and the players recognizing we have issues in this nation we need to deal with.

BROWN: Yes, it seems like he really galvanized those in the NFL and beyond.

Bishop Lowe, Joshua DuBois, thank you. Really interesting and important discussion there.

DUBOIS: Thanks for having us.

LOWE: Thank you.

BROWN: And we will get the point -- the point of view, rather, from members of the military coming up.

Plus, on this Monday, protests break out on Capitol Hill on the hearing for the latest Republican attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare -- what the White House is saying about the Graham-Cassidy bill.

Also, more on the escalating words between the U.S. and North Korea. North Korea now claiming President Trump declared war over Twitter, saying that now gives him the right to shoot down American planes. We will discuss the escalating tension and what comes next.



BROWN: And you are watching protesters disrupting the first and only hearing Congress will have on the Graham-Cassidy bill. You saw a police officer looking to carry out a protester there in that video.

That is the 11th-hour efforts by Republicans to revamp the nation's health care system. And now that last-ditch effort has gone through some last-minute revisions.

Moments ago, the White House had this to say about health care.


HUCKABEE SANDERS: We have been calling on Congress to do what they were elected to do and certainly what most of them campaigned on, and that's to repeal and replace Obamacare. We're continuing to push forward.

We know we can't live with the Obamacare status quo. It's a complete disaster. And so we're hoping that this moves forward and goes through.


HUCKABEE SANDERS: He's continuing to be engaged both directly and through his team, legislative affairs team and the vice president.


BROWN: Joining me now, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, also co-moderator of tonight's CNN debate on health care.

Very timely, Dana.

What are these new changes to the Graham-Cassidy bill?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're varied, but mostly it is about trying to sweeten the deal, sweeten the pot for some of those undecided Republican senators whom they actually really need for any -- if there's any chance of getting this passed.

For example, for the main senator who is the focus of pressure, a lot of arm-twisting right now is Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Among these changes, some special help for Native Americans in her state who she says have very special, unique needs and they would need to be taken care of, and also just an increased percentage of money of the federal pot of money, because, look, what this comes down to and what we're talking about is a fundamental change, a really fundamental change in the way health care is distributed and provided -- health insurance, I should say, in this country.

It would take the federal money, Obamacare, and change it and push it all over to the states. So, because this is so new and because this is under such a time constraint, there's really kind of a warp speed trying to bone up on this. And that's just in terms of the process making a lot of people uncomfortable, starting with John McCain.

We saw him on Friday, saying he might even be OK in the long term with this really big change, but it's too quick, and that's why you have people like Lisa Murkowski trying to say, whoa, whoa, whoa.

But you know what? At the end of the day, this is kind of Washington process, but it matters. Friday night at midnight, this fiscal year runs out, September 30, and the rules that allow Republicans to potentially pass this with a simple majority and not a 60-vote supermajority, that runs out on Friday.

So that's why there is such a time crunch for the supporters of this bill, including the White House.

BROWN: And, as we know, the Republicans can't afford to lose one more vote.

As you mentioned, they have sweetened this deal for certain senators, such as Senator Murkowski. Does it seem that that might be working, or does she still appear to be in the no category?

BASH: She's keeping close counsel. We're not sure.

But, look, just in speaking to her, and on seeing her public remarks after the failure of the first Republican bill that went down because she and two others voted no, some of her concerns are still in there.

Just one example, off the top of my head, Pamela, there is a one-year ban on any federal funding for Planned Parenthood. She made clear to me that that was one of the deal-breakers that was also in the first Republican bill, because so many women in her home state of Alaska really rely on Planned Parenthood for basic health care needs.

Same goes for Susan Collins of Maine. So that's just one example of some things that are tripping them up. I didn't even mention the more conservative side of the Republican spectrum. You have people like Rand Paul, like Ted Cruz, who say that they don't like this idea of so-called block grants to the states because it keeps in place too much of Obamacare.


So this is the classic kind of Whac-A-Mole of legislating, even -- again, we should emphasize, even within the Republican Party, because we're just talking about trying to get Republican votes for them to get it over the finish line.

No Democrats have come on board or even close at this point.

BROWN: It's complicated, to say the least.

Dana Bash, thank you so much.

And don't miss Dana and Jake Tapper moderating a CNN debate tonight, "The Fight Over Obamacare." Senators Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders go head to head with Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy. That's tonight at 9:00 Eastern, only on CNN.

Up next: One of the Pittsburgh Steelers who served three tours in Afghanistan was the only one from his team to come out of the locker room when the national anthem was played before his game. I will be joined live by an Army veteran and a military widow with different takes on this controversy.

Stay with us.



BROWN: Well, the United States most popular sport, the NFL, going head to head -- I should say football -- going head to head with the president of the United States.

Some players took a knee, some sat, and many locked arms during the national anthem. The Steelers, Titans, and Seahawks all deciding to stay in their locker room during the national anthems yesterday, all the players except for one on the Steelers side.

Alejandro Villanueva is a former Army Ranger. You see him right here in this video. He came out all alone during the national anthem. He did three tours in Afghanistan after graduating from West Point. And he stood in the tunnel alone with his hand on his heart, as you see.

Worth noting here, Villanueva's stand just earned him the top-selling jersey in the league today.

Take a listen to what the Steelers coach said in defense of his team.


MIKE TOMLIN, HEAD COACH, PITTSBURGH STEELERS: We got a group of men in there, men that come from different socioeconomic background, races, creeds, ethnicities, and religions and so forth.

That's football. That's a lot of team sports. But because of our position, we get drug in the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) to be quite honest with you.

And so some have opinions. Some don't. We wanted to protect those that don't. We wanted to protect those that do. We came here to play a football game today, and that's what was our intentions.


BROWN: And joining me now to discuss, Jason Beardsley, former U.S. Army Special Operations and co-founder and CEO of The Underground Movement. Also with us, Katie Hubbard, a mother of one and the widow of Command Sergeant Major James W. Hubbard Jr., featured right here in this picture.

Katie, I'm going to start with you.

You tweeted this. You said: "My husband died for your right to #takeaknee. He would have supported you. I support you. Sincerely, a military widow."

As you well know, Katie, many in the military find this disrespectful to the flag that they fought for and their comrades died for. Explain why you support these protests.

KATIE HUBBARD, MILITARY WIDOW: Well, I have supported -- my husband was a black man in America.

He graduated the last class of a segregated school in Southern Georgia. He was drafted into the military in 1972. He has faced discrimination his entire life. Until the day he died, he was facing discrimination in this country.

My husband said that he swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. You don't have to agree with people when they are exercising their rights, such as, you know, protests, peaceful protests or taking a knee, but you have to protect their right to do so.

Knowing what my husband went through, knowing our conversations that we had, knowing his viewpoints of being a black man in America, that is why I support and I know my husband would have supported this movement.

BROWN: Now, Jason, you see it a little bit differently, right?


But, by the way, Katie, we want to thank you and honor you and your family for the service and the sacrifice. That means a lot to us.

But here's where I stand. I'm a military veteran. I'm a black man. I'm a combat veteran. And I served that flag proudly. It's about our nation coming together. Those 50 stars on the blue field represent the 50 states.

It's out of many, one. It's the 13 stripes that represent the 13 colonies. This is a unifying theme for many of us in America. And we are proud to honor it.

But I will tell you one more thing here. When a person takes their personal protest and decides to make a statement, I don't think any of us have a problem with that, but what happens here is, this is taking it to the NFL, and this is a company franchise. These are business owners who own the teams that have made this decision.

Now, even in that, they can make that decision. But here's what we're saying is, we like to see our flag honored. We want to see it raised up, hoisted up. And some of us, frankly, get teary-eyed when that flag goes up there and we are proud to stand, like Villanueva did, and put our hands over our heart and say, I do pledge my allegiance to this United States of America.

BROWN: And, Katie, President Trump says that his criticism of those players taking a knee during the national anthem has nothing to do with race. How do you see it?

HUBBARD: It does have an issue with race.

In this country, every day, we have individuals that are facing discrimination. We have a president who speaks worse against a news anchor or a celebrity than he does white supremacists in this country.

We have a president who wants to ban individuals of color from this country. So, him saying it isn't a racial issue is just flat-out incorrect.

We have individuals every day that hope that they can come home to their families. We have individuals every day who are hoping that they can feel --