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President Trump Draws Controversy for Comments on NFL Players Kneeling During National Anthem; Interview with Sportscaster Bob Costas; National Anthem Protests Grow In Rebuke Of Trump. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired September 25, 2017 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm pissed off. I supported Donald Trump, and it's annoying to me.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For him to try to use this platform to divide us even more is not something I can stand for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now they don't have my vote. I want to get there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: GOP leaders hoping to win over holdouts with a new version of the health care bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans have campaigned on repeal and replace. It's going to be very close.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the biggest catastrophe in modern history for Puerto Rico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are 70,000 people at risk of another life- threatening situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to take a lot of prep work for Puerto Rico as a community.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Monday, September 25th, 8:00 in the east. Chris is off this morning. John Berman joins me. The show is flying.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is flying and we have so much more to go.

CAMEROTA: Because we have a lot of news. Up first, President Trump stoking the flames with his war on the NFL. He's tweeting now this morning about players getting booed for kneeling during the National Anthem and once again insists that his criticism has nothing to do with race. Owners and athletes were united this weekend in defying the president, kneeling and locking arms on the field.

BERMAN: There are plenty of other pressing issues facing the president, maybe not a coincidence. The administration unveiling new travel restrictions targeting eight countries including Venezuela and North Korea. Senate Republicans revising their health care bill in hopes of winning over skeptical senators. CNN covering it all for you this morning. We want to begin with CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House. Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, the president doubling down on his rhetoric condemning pro athletes for taking a knee during the National Anthem. The president's critics questioning why he had harsher words for NFL players and gays in peaceful protests than he did for white supremacists in those violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this year. The president says it has nothing to do with race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

JOHNS: President Trump exasperating a culture war with this unexpected rant Friday night.

TRUMP: 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.

(APPLAUSE)

JOHNS: Despite a day of widespread backlash, the president calling again for a boycott and for players who kneel during the National Anthem to be fired or suspended.

MICHAEL THOMAS, DOLPHINS SAFETY: You're the leader of the free world. This is what you are talking about?

LESEAN MCCOY, BUFFALO BILLS RUNNING BACK: Our leader of this country is acting like a jerk.

DREW BREES, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS QUARTERBACK: I think it's very unbecoming of the office of the president of the United States to talk like that to the great people like that.

JOHNS: Dozens of NFL players taking a knee or sitting during the National Anthem Sunday, other teammates and coaches standing shoulder to shoulder on the sideline interlocking arms.

JOHN FOX, CHICAGO BEARS COACH: There is no disrespect to the anthem. Everybody has locked arms in unity.

JOHNS: The majority of Steelers' players choosing to stay in the locker room until after the anthem was over, some singers even showing their solidarity taking a knee along with players. The president responding, saying "Standing with locked arms is good. Kneeling, not acceptable." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sounding off in a statement saying "Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the league and the players." Even prominent Trump backers finding it hard to defend the president.

REX RYAN, FORMER BUFFALO BILLS AND NEW YORK JETS COACH: I'm pissed off. I'll be honest with you, because I supported Donald Trump. I'm reading these comments, and it's -- it's appalling to me.

JOHNS: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Mr. Trump's friend, who gave $1 million to the president's inaugural fund, says he's deeply disappointed by the tone of Mr. Trump's comments.

TRUMP: I like Bob very much. He has to take his ideas and go with what he wants.

JOHNS: President Trump adding fuel to the fire by publicly rescinding a White House invitation to the NBA champion Golden State Warrior Steph Curry after he said he would not go.

STEPHAN CURRY, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS POINT GUARD: I don't know, you know, why he feels the need to target certain individuals. It's not what leaders do.

JOHNS: Curry's longtime rival LeBron James criticizing the president's response.

LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: For him to try to use this platform to divide us even more is not something I can stand for.

JOHNS: The president's attacks on players pinning fans against each other at Sunday's games.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: And the president picked up on the theme this morning, but with a slightly different perspective, praising professional racing. In part he says "S proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won't put up with disrespecting our country or our flag. They said it loud and clear."

[08:05:06] And then this tweet also apparently on the NFL. "Many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday, which was a small percentage of total. These are fans who demand respect for our flag."

And, just a few minutes ago, reiterating something on Twitter that he said yesterday. "The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our country, flag, and National Anthem. NFL must respect this." So the president all-in on the culture war this morning, Alisyn and John.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much for the update, Joe.

Joining us is veteran NBC sports broadcaster Bob Costas. Bob, great to have you here on this morning. You've seen it all in this business. What's your reaction to what happened this weekend? BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTS BROADCASTER: The reaction is so universal,

including from prominent NFL owners who have supported and donated to Trump's campaign and to his inaugural committee.

CAMEROTA: Bob Kraft --

COSTAS: Bob Kraft -- across the board. And you have not heard a single person within the NFL raise a voice in support of what Trump said. Rex Ryan says he's appalled and now ashamed that he once introduced Trump at a rally in Buffalo where he then was the coach. What's happened here is that what was already an issue raised primarily by Colin Kaepernick has expanded beyond the specific point that Kaepernick was trying to make, which was a very valid point, and now has become near universal disgust with the president's insulting remarks.

BERMAN: Your friend Peter King noted last week there were fewer than 10 NFL players who kneeled and did some kind of protest. This weekend depending how you count it, 250, including entire teams. How significant is that to see a movement like that? I can't think of anything like that ever in the NFL?

COSTAS: No. But the president galvanized players of all backgrounds, of all beliefs. Drew Brees in his complete statement says that he never would comfortable not standing for the National Anthem, but would stand locking arms with his fellow players, black and white, but with a hand on a shoulder of a black player who was expressing his point of view. And pointedly said he found the president's remarks inappropriate, which is kind.

CAMEROTA: What's interesting the president could have used this as a teachable moment, to say here's why I believe we should stand for the National Anthem. Here's what I believe it stands for. But he took a different tact. And it has -- look, we saw what was happening with just the fans yelling at each other. You know, there is something contagious about divisiveness.

COSTAS: Yes. And it plays in certain quarters. You stir people's emotions and resentment, that's actually a business plan in certain quarters of the Internet or cable television. It's a business plan, and it's the way President Trump, for better or worse, approached his campaign and approaches his presidency.

To give him the extreme benefit of the doubt, extreme benefit of the doubt, you'd say he's insensitive to the racial implications to make comments like this at a rally in Alabama, all right? He likes cheap applause lines.

BERMAN: Which has no football team.

COSTAS: And delivered them. Well, their rapid football fans down there. That's to give him the extreme benefit of the doubt. But do you want a president of the United States who even as you're giving him the benefits of that doubt is so tone deaf to the racial implications of this? BERMAN: It's interesting because this morning one of the things the

president has written, he writes "The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It's about respect for our country, flag and, National Anthem. NFL must respect this." Now, if you take your tact there, and say giving him the extreme benefit of the doubt, maybe for him the extreme benefit of doubt, the issue of kneeling isn't about race, but for the players, especially the players initially to say it's not about race, that's not true.

COSTAS: Seventy percent of the players in the NFL roughly are African-American. Virtually every player who knelt in the initial stages of this was black, and the initial impetus from it, or for it, came from Colin Kaepernick, and it was about police brutality and mistreatment of African-Americans. You can't separate those two things.

Now, if you want to make the point that the National Anthem is about something more than the nation's flaws and shortcomings, it's also about its ideals and that people can see some texture to what the National Anthem means, and you might prefer that people protest or make their point outside of the National Anthem, that's something that can be argued.

But the idea that this doesn't have something to do with race is preposterous. Michael Steele, African-American, former head of the Republican National Committee, was unsparing in his remarks about what Trump had that say. Bob Kraft, who contributed to the inaugural committee, you're not going to find many voices of support outside his base, his extreme base, for these remarks.

[08:10:08] CAMEROTA: Tom Brady. I mean, Tom Brady, the quarterback, he said this morning, just this morning on a radio show, I certainly disagree with what he said. I thought it was divisive. Have we heard from Colin Kaepernick?

COSTAS: No, and I don't expect that we will.

CAMEROTA: Why not?

COSTAS: Becausehe's been quiet for a long, long time. Sometimes he tweets some things out. I think it's actually a good thing that this has gone now beyond Colin Kaepernick, and I'll tell you why. We have to give Kaepernick credit. First of all, taking a knee, the first game he sat. And then it occurred to him, maybe sitting seems contemptuous. Kneeling can be an act of grace. Tim Tebow knelt at various times. It can be an act of grace and an act of respect.

But Kaepernick has, whether people know it or not, has raised and/or donated millions and millions of dollars to worthy causes. He's walking the walk. He's involved in the community. But Kaepernick himself was an imperfect messenger. He's given to saying things like "I don't vote because the oppressor will never let you vote your way out of your oppression." So I guess it doesn't matter to him who wound up being president of the United States. It doesn't matter when he first knelt Barack Obama was president, and now someone who many of his fellow African-Americans and, importantly, many of his fellow citizens of all races and backgrounds object to. It doesn't matter to him.

Sometimes what Colin says when he does speak makes it sound as if, and I say this with great respect for his intentions and for what he has done beyond kneeling on the field, sometimes he sounded like someone who took one semester from radical professor when a freshman and that's all he knows about the world. So I think it's better that additional voices here from multiple backgrounds weigh in, because Colin Kaepernick, despite what some people want to say, is not the natural heir to Muhammad Ali or Arthur Ashe or to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who continues to be a public intellectual. He's not. He's tried to do a good thing from his heart. I don't know that he's equipped to carry that baton.

BERMAN: Whether or not he's the right person for it, he's being punished. I don't think there's any question he has the talent to be playing football and he is not because of this.

COSTAS: He's better than some starters and better than most backups.

BERMAN: Let me ask you again about what a lot of the debate is about right now, because you hear it from the president, you certainly hear it from his cabinet, including Steve Mnuchin. I'm not sure we have that quote, but the treasury secretary went on TV this weekend and said this isn't about race. It's about respect for the military and first responders, and when you kneel you're disrespecting the military and first responders.

COSTAS: Part of what's happened is that sports and patriotism and the flag have been conflated to such an extent that people can't separate out any nuance. If you go to see "Hamilton," which is about the founding of the republic, no one said, wait a minute. Don't raise the curtain until we hear the National Anthem. When you went to see "Saving Private Ryan," no one said turn off the projector until we've had the National Anthem. It's in sports where this stuff happens, sometimes movingly, sometimes I'd submit cynically, because wrapping yourself in the flag and honoring the military is something which no one is going to object to. We all respect their sacrifice. We all honor their sacrifice.

And yet what it has come to mean is that the flag is primarily and only about the military. This is no disrespect to the military. It's a huge part of the narrative. But Martin Luther King was a patriot. Susan B. Anthony was a patriot. Dissidents are patriots. Schoolteachers and social workers are patriots. And yet at Yankee stadium, you can shift sports, not only do they play the National Anthem before the game but they play "God Bless America" at the seventh inning stretch 81 times a year at home games. And in every case, they say please rise as the Yankees honor a military guest. I have no problem with that. I stand every time I'm in the ballpark no matter what it is, I stand. And I certainly respect the military person they bring out there.

But there's never a schoolteacher, there's never a social worker. Patriotism comes in many forms, and what has happened is that it's been conflated with kind of a bumper sticker kind of flag waving, and with the military only so that people cannot see that in his own way, Colin Kaepernick, however imperfectly, is doing a patriotic thing. And so, too, are some of these other players.

CAMEROTA: What do you think this does this season for football? Do you think that it will hurt rating?

COSTAS: No. I think it increases interest. Yesterday every telecast including Sunday night football on NBC showed the National Anthem. Generally speaking, and this is interesting, generally speaking, be it baseball, football, whatever, the networks try to cover the National Anthem. They try to be in commercial.

[08:15:07]

I've heard it in my ear where the producer says, wait a minute. They may still be in the anthem when we come out of this commercial and sometimes they are. You're quiet the last few notes and note that the anthem has concluded.

Now people want to see the anthem. They're interested in it. How long it lasts, we'll have to wait and see. By the way, this is not as important. But in his comments in Alabama, Trump went on to say that they're ruining the NFL. There's not enough hitting.

They're, I guess, sissifying the game. You wonder how many times people who believe that have themselves been hit in the head? The science is clear, and the more that science emerges, the more it will become clear that football and brain trauma are linked. It doesn't matter how much you like the game. They are linked and to deny that is to live in a fantasy world.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: When you hear people say that sports is about entertainment. Sports is about distraction. Sports is about something other than politics. Politics shouldn't be in sports.

COSTAS: Largely true, but sometimes they intersect. Inevitably and to ignore it is to ignore the elephant in the room. When I commented about various issues, only occasionally on NBC, be it on football, or during the Olympics, it was never during the action. It was never at the expense of the action and the drama.

It was always in a little niche that was carved out when nothing else was going on in terms of the game itself. But you have to acknowledge these things, and you have to address them. They're important, and very often because sports appeals across demographic lines, like nothing else.

We live in a niche world. But the one thing that draws not only a large audience but a varied audience, outside of the academy awards and Emmys, I guess. The one thing that draws that kind of across the board interest is big sports events and very often that's where these issues play themselves out.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I heard relevant history yesterday I think is important to reiterate. Before 2009, the players often weren't on the field for the national anthem. Something changed and patriotism became a larger component of all of this. Sometimes paid patriotism. So yesterday what did you think of the teams that stayed in the locker room for the national anthem? Released statements saying we believe in patriotism, the flag, first responders, but stayed in the locker room. What did you think?

COSTAS: I was OK with it and I think what Mike Tomlin said, the coach of the Steelers made a lot of sense. We don't want our players to have to choose. They may feel one way, feel the other, feel apolitical. So, we'll stay off.

Villanueva, one of the players for the Steelers, who was an Army ranger in Afghanistan came out of the locker room, and stood at the edge of the field, sort of at the lip of the runway leading to the field with his hand over his heart. That was his decision to make and I would respect that, too.

BERMAN: What crossed the line specifically do you think? What broke the dam here?

COSTAS: Well, when you call people "sons of bitches" across the board, that offends everybody, white and black. They've stood shoulder to shoulder on those fields, in those locker rooms. What kind of a statement is that to make?

And I don't think it's irrelevant that clearly the president had more passion and conviction for those remarks than he did when he finally got around, after equivocating, to distancing himself to some extent from white nationalists and neo-Nazis. He clearly had more fervor for this than for that.

CAMEROTA: What about those owners that were so poignant, actually? Just the visual itself. Just seeing the owners locking arms with the players, the owners, most of them white, locking arms there on the field. Do you think that this is a tipping point? Will Bob Kraft still support Donald Trump after this? Will these owners say different things now?

COSTAS: I can't read Bob Kraft's mind, but it's very clear that there's almost no one in the NFL who wants to support or rationalize the tone and content of President Trump's remarks. So -- where it goes from here, I'm not sure. Where I hope it goes, though, is that it's one thing to take a knee or raise a fist.

It's your right, and there's a point here to be made, but I hope others follow Kaepernick's lead. Not in some of the naive political statements he's occasionally made, but in getting involved in the community, and actually doing things, which many NFL players already do, but it's just not spotlighted.

It's not just the NFL. NBA, Major League Baseball, whatever it may be. And I think it would -- the reason why Kaepernick is an imperfect messenger is that you think about Muhammad Ali.

A different time, of course, a transcendent figure, he was so entertaining even when polarizing people couldn't take their eyes off him. He was so charismatic and magnetic, but you need people out there articulating, as few did this weekend, out there articulating, we love our country.

[08:20:10] We support the military. We know that most policemen not only are not guilty of misbehavior but many of them are heroic and dedicated. Many of them are themselves African-American or Hispanic and they are dedicated to protecting and serving people of all backgrounds.

We get that, but there is still a problem, and that problem of police brutality specifically is real, it's true, it's urgent, and because it's connected, historically, to the mistreatment of African-Americans by government, by the justice system, and by the police, because it's connected, it resonates all the more.

If people can make those distinctions and voice those distinctions rather than just kneeling or raising a fist, then the conversation's really on. And I hope it goes there.

BERMAN: It's hard to say all of what you just said on Twitter, which I think one of the problems right now.

COSTAS: Yes. That's right.

BERMAN: -- leadership in this country. It's a complicated discussion.

COSTAS: A world that plays its discussions out on social media is not a world of texture and nuance.

CAMEROTA: Bob Costas, thank you for being part of the conversation with us. Great to talk to you.

BERMAN: Thanks, Bob. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:25:01]

BERMAN: President Trump standing by his criticism of the NFL this morning. This is what he wrote a short time ago, "So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won't put up with disrespecting our country or our flag. They said it loud and clear.

Many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday, which is a small percentage of total. These are fans that demand respect for our flag. The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our country, flag and national anthem. NFL must respect this."

With so much on the president's plate, North Korea, health care, U.S. islands devastated by Hurricane Maria, why hammer this issue, why now?

Let's get the bottom line with CNN political analyst, David Gregory and senior political writer for "FiveThirtyEight," Perry Bacon. Perry, let's start with you. Why now? What does the president get out of this this morning? PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, "FIVETHIRTYEIGHT": I'm not totally sure why this started on Friday night and continued in the last few days. I mean, one thing you know is he likes to punch back. So, when Steph Curry says he wasn't coming to the White House, I wasn't surprised it was said, you can't -- disinvited him. How Trump behaves normally.

I think it's an odd time to take these issues on when so much else is going on. On the other hand, look, health care reform doesn't look to be moving much. Tax reform stuck right now as well. It's not as if Trump's agenda is moving quickly. Nor as if he can, he was more involved in health care, wouldn't necessarily pass.

The president's getting involved as health care at times throughout the year and it hasn't unstuck the bill. So, I think Trump is playing on an issue he probably has more political strength and more political support versus the health care bill that is very unpopular and knows he can't move that issue as much.

CAMEROTA: David, how about that? The art of distraction at work here?

DAVID GREROGY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, he's a highly distracted person in general and has been for a long time and now is president of the United States. So, he can't resist kind of moving in to the limelight, moving towards that light of controversy and division.

Really loving, it seems, to be in the middle of a fight that can tear the social fabric of the country. To get into race relations, issues of hate, of police brutality. To get right in the middle of that and trike to stoke it in a way that is so counterproductive that not only unites the NFL.

and in all of its diversity against what he did, but also is just so counterproductive to trying to tamp down some of the controversy involved in all of it. It's what he does. He did it in Alabama at a political rally, which has a double meaning.

Because he's also there on behalf of an establishment or Republican candidate who may very well lose, which would further hurt the president as he's perhaps going to lose on a health care fight yet again and is having so many other difficulties. I think all he knows is how to really, to kind of stoke the factional divide in the country.

BERMAN: Perry, you work at "FiveThirtyEight." Math is politics and politics is math. It's hard for me to see how the president adds to his support from this. When you watched the NFL yesterday, shows like "NFL today," "NFL prime" were speaking out against him.

Those are shows that you would think at least tacitly would be supportive of him in the past. Terry Bradshaw, Cris Collinsworth, Rex Ryan, a guy who introduced him at a rally, now speaking out against the president.

BACON: And look at the math, Trump is -- his approve ratings between 35 percent and 40 percent, has been there a while, but is gradually going down. I would say this has been a base presidency.

I say that from the beginning, from January 20th forward, Trump has done very little to reach out to independents, reach out to Democrats, the people who voted for Hillary Clinton.

So, in that sense, his behavior was not surprising and Trump seems to prefer as a political strategy to make appeals to his base, to ramp up his base, even if those things are going to irritate everyone else.

I don't think Donald Trump is surprised that, you know, his tweets the last few days have irritated Democrats, irritated independents, athletes. I think that is sort of a feature, not a bug, of what he's doing.

GREGORY: Also --

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, David.

GREGORY: I want to say, look, the other thing, there's always got to be accountability. If the president wants to take on these fights, he has to be accountable for his own words and action. He says it's not about race. He doesn't have a good record on that.

This is a guy who rode to national political prominence on the back of a racist lie against Barack Obama. He wants to honor the flag and the military, this man as a candidate impugned the heroism of John McCain, a war prisoner, a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War.

He has to be accountable for things he's done and said, and takes a self-righteous stand and recognize the hollowness of it.

CAMEROTA: Perry, what about that? I mean, David set it up perfectly. The president says this isn't about race, it's about patriotism. How does that wash with you?

BACON: I think Bob Costas said it really well in your interview. This whole thing started because Colin Kaepernick was protesting about police shootings and police brutality. If you looked yesterday a lot of the athletes kneeling are black, 70 percent of the people in the NFL are black. It's hard to say.

I think what Donald Trump is saying is because he didn't say I'm not bringing black athletes to the White --