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Questions Mount about Trump's Response to Puerto Rico; NFL Teams Show Solidarity Against Trump Remarks. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 26, 2017 - 07:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only question is whether the Trump White House should get a "D" for "disaster" or an "F" for "failure."

[07:01:32] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Five days after Hurricane Maria, President Trump tweeting about Puerto Rico's devastation.

RICARDO ROSSELLO, GOVERNOR OF PUERTO RICO: We're going to need from our president a level of support.

LEBRON JAMES, NBA PLAYER: The people run this country, not one individual. Damn sure not him.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's always appropriate for the president of this country to promote our flag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think a lot of people truly understand what it feels like to not feel equal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any rational human being would vote against this monstrosity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're about you getting care, you being covered, you having the power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These ideas used to be bipartisan. And now maybe we just need more a little bit more time to draw that message through.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: this is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Up first, President Trump breaking his silence on Puerto Rico, nearly a week after Hurricane Maria made landfall there. The president appears to be blaming Puerto Rico and what he calls their deep trouble on their fragile infrastructure and financial problems.

CUOMO: With this humanitarian crisis unfolding, President Trump is spending the majority of his time, on Twitter at least, fanning the flames of a feud with NFL players. The president tweeting three times in the last hour about it. Wait until you hear the words he's using. We'll get to that. But last night, the news is that the entire Dallas Cowboys team and

their team owner did take a knee before the anthem. And then stood up, locking arms in a show of solidarity during the anthem.

We have all of the big stories covered. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.

It's the first time the president has substantively addressed the issue in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria made landfall there just last Wednesday. In the process, the president has raised eyebrows in a series of tweets in which he acknowledged the problems in Puerto Rico, but also seemed to blame Puerto Rico for the ongoing debt crisis there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump facing mounting criticism for his response to the crisis in Puerto Rico, tweeting Monday night that the U.S. territory is in "deep trouble," pointing to the "broken infrastructure and massive debt" the island was dealing with prior to Hurricane Maria, before asserting that "the billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks, sadly, must be dealt with."

ROSSELLO: It's a recognition that this is an unprecedented situation, and we're going to need an unprecedented level of support with Congress.

JOHNS: The president's remarks come as Puerto Rico's governor warns they are on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, urging the Congress to pass legislation authorizing more aid after Maria knocked out power across the island. Residents growing in their desperation for basic necessities like food, water and fuel.

ROSSELLO: We want this bill to have the resources that would have been allocated to another state, because we're U.S. citizens.

JOHNS: The White House defending the government's response.

SANDERS: The federal response has been anything but slow. In fact, there's been an unprecedented push through of billions of dollars in federal assistance.

JOHNS: But the president has spent the last three days tweeting repeatedly about NFL players who kneel during the national anthem. Mr. Trump continuing to fan the flames on Twitter Monday night.

Sources tell CNN that the president appears pleased with the firestorm he's created, telling a private dinner of conservative leaders "It's really caught on. I said what millions of Americans were thinking."

Administration officials tell CNN that chief of staff John Kelly is not happy with the public feud, but the retired military general, who lost a son in the Afghanistan War, agrees with the president on the substance of the debate. Meanwhile, NFL teams continue to show solidarity against President

Trump's comments. The entire Dallas Cowboys team and team owner, Jerry Jones, taking a knee before the anthem at last night's game, then standing arm in arm as the song was sung.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not going to disrespect our flag.

JOHNS: The president's remarks continuing to divide NFL fans and players.

JAMES: The people run this country, not one individual, and damn sure not him.

DOUG BALDWIN, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS WIDE RECEIVER: There might be some implicit bias that, you know, our president just doesn't understand.

JOHNS: The White House press secretary rejecting this idea.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is he trying to wage something of a culture war?

SANDERS: Not at all. The president is not talking about race. The president is talking about pride in our country.

JOHNS: Dodging questions about whether the president went too far, using vulgar terms, referring to players who kneel.

SANDERS: Look, this isn't about the president being against anyone, but this is about the president and millions of Americans being for something, being for honoring our flag.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: And a couple more tweets from the president this morning back on the NFL. The first one read, "Ratings for NFL football are way down except before game starts, when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected."

The other two tweets, the president offering his perspective of what happened before the Dallas game on "Monday Night Football" last night, when the owner and players kneeled before the national anthem.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe.

JOHNS: Alisyn and Chris, back to you.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much. We'll get to the NFL battle in a moment.

But first, let's bring in our political panel. We have CNN political analyst David Gregory; CNN contributor Wesley Lowery; and reporter and editor at large for CNN Politics, Chris Cillizza.

David Gregory, why do you think that with Puerto Rico -- let's start there, because 3.5 million people are in dire straits. Why do you think it has been so challenging for the president to express empathy or support for those folks?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it's challenging, because it doesn't make a lot of sense. I mean, the response to this storm season has been very strong. The president is certainly right that the financial problems, the infrastructure problems in Puerto Rico that predate the storm make this devastation that much more difficult to deal with.

But why -- why have that fight now, as there -- as was reported, Puerto Rico is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe? These are our -- these are our fellow citizens. This is a problem that has to be solved. And then there is time down the road to address how Puerto Rico got here. But this is not the time. And I can't believe that anybody on the president's team thinks this is the time.

This is a classic case of, you know, the president not using, perhaps not realizing the power of the office to focus attention on a solution for a disaster like this, that must be dealt with quickly rather than -- than muddying it with,, you know, these kinds of rants about how Puerto Rico got into a position where it was as vulnerable as it was.

CUOMO: Well, look, you know, the jaundiced will say, "Well, they don't vote for president." So maybe that's the difference with Florida and Texas and Puerto Rico.

But Chris, FEMA did a lot of pre-planning. They put a lot of assets in place. They've shown great dexterity and commitment on the federal level here.

Trump, when he was just a citizen -- not just a citizen, but when he was a citizen, would often say, "Disaster is the test. That's when a president, you know, really makes their bones." He seemed to want to do that with Irma and Harvey.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Absolutely.

CUOMO: Why not throw on the khakis and get down there and parade around Puerto Rico, saying "We are here. I will build this. I'm the builder. I'm the deal maker. I'm the doer"? And really, that need would go to the top of the pile of Americans' concern. It would get way from the health care debate he's not doing well on, get away from North Korea and the Iran deal, which isn't going the way he wants. Because the need is so real. Why not do that?

CILLIZZA: Let me throw one other thing, Chris, onto that. Even if he didn't want to make that decision for all the right policy reasons you've just outlined, there's also a political reason. Sixty-four percent of people in our CNN poll approved of how he handled Irma and Harvey. This is someone who lives and dies on poll numbers. Sixty- four percent of people approving of anything he's doing is well beyond his other numbers.

Why not? Because I think David makes a really important point, which is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the presidency is and should be. The presidency should be a way that you take this massive spotlight and, as the president, you kind of shine it where you want to shine it. And when you shine it in a certain place, for all the fracturing of the media, for all if the -- you know no one pays attention to politics. When you, as president, shine a light somewhere, it gets light. People pay attention. It gets more coverage. He doesn't -- he knows that.

[07:10:09] But what he chooses to shine a light on is what? The NFL. Because he views this -- everything through the lens of how can I service my base? How can I get people angry, harvest resentment and bitterness? That's the campaign he ran. That is the presidency to date he has been conducting. It is as simple as that.

So he chooses to shine a light on the NFL, because he knows there's political points to be scored there with his base. When you shine a light on the NFL, 15, 16 tweets, and the tweets you send about Puerto Rico are basically, "This country is kind of a dump," that tells you where his priorities are and how he conceives of...

CAMEROTA: Yes.

CILLIZZA: ... what the presidency is and should do.

CAMEROTA: So Wesley, I mean, if this is -- if the tweets are a window into his mind, this morning there has been three about the NFL. So I'll just read them through for everyone.

"Ratings for NFL football are way down except before the game starts, when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected." Then less than ten minutes later, "The booing at the NFL game last night when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees was the loudest I've ever heard. Great anger." Less than ten minutes later, "But why Dallas dropped to their knees as a team, they all stood up for our national anthem. Big progress being made. We love our country."

Your thoughts?

WESLEY LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this clear -- to me, at least, this seems to be the president attempting to turn an "L" into a "W" here, right?

What you saw last night, after the president of the United States called for players who kneel on the field to be fired from their jobs, one of the president's friends, Jerry Jones, took a knee himself on the field. This was unquestionably a pushback on the president, essentially affirming, while couched in the language of unity and football and sports, affirming the right of these players to express themselves on the field, whether you agree with the anthem protests or not, right? This was a repudiation of exactly what Donald Trump had been calling for.

And yet, he's pretzeling this somehow into him having a political or rhetorical victory. Now, it's true, in our politically polarized world, is that those who support the president will, in fact, see this somehow as a victory. Right? That he was right, and these players were booed. And they stood up, because he -- you know, because he's right and he's a strong leader. It's going to be something like that.

But what we saw here again -- we have to remember what this three-, four-day arc has been. The president called for all of these players to be fired by owners like Jerry Jones. And what Jerry Jones did was he locked his arm with his players, kneeled on the field in an act of demonstration.

CUOMO: Yes. In a moment of potential controversy and crisis, he became a leader and joined with people and showed a united front. What a novel idea.

David Gregory, the language alone. This morning, the president is being called out for his lack of priorities on Puerto Rico, on this dire situation of his own health care bill that's going down, he is tweeting about the NFL. And the language he is using really deserves examination.

Forget about, for current conversation, that it was the loudest he ever heard at the Dallas game. Who knows if that's true? It's true in his mind. That's good enough. "Great anger." Who says those words? There is nothing great about anger. Yet to the president, he sees negativity directed at these people on the field as a good thing.

GREGORY: Yes.

CUOMO: How is it a good thing?

GREGORY: Well, it's not a good thing. And I think it also shows something about how the president sees himself as president in the country. In other words, he sees himself primarily as a culture warrior, someone who knows how to get into the -- the heart of a divisive issue like this and create a firestorm to his liking.

You know, in other areas he's more of a bystander. When it comes to major legislation that he'd like to see passed, he's been more of a bystander. Even on the international stage, it's really much more of a team effort, and thankfully so, given some of the good advisers he has around him, when it comes to dealing with foreign affairs.

Here, he feels like he uniquely can drive this particular issue.

And you know, that earlier tweet about -- "I was saying something that so many Americans were thinking." I think he's probably right. That doesn't make it right. It doesn't make it right that he's, you know -- he's preying off the idea that people think, "Oh, yes, a lot of these athletes are so rich, you know, that they're just being cry- babies here." He's not understanding. But he does understand that he -- the racial aspect of all of this.

And that he is really going to the heart of racial grievance in the country by denying largely African-American high-profile athletes to use the forum that they have when people are watching to say, "Here's a part of America I don't like and that we need to be paying attention to."

[07:15:05] And to equate that with a failure to love America or to honor our military, of all the people who support President Trump on this, did you also support him when he said that John McCain, who had been captured and was a war hero, was no hero at all because he got captured? This is the person who you're going to put the credibility in, when it comes to how we honor the military and honor America? And we have a White House press secretary who says it's appropriate for him to defend America? Where was he then? Where was he then?

So -- so this kind of thing just shows how cynical all of this is, to try to get people riled up instead of taking a hard look at what may be behind all this, and even, by the way, if you disagree with the form of the protest, which there's going to be disagreement about, which is fair.

CILLIZZA: And I would add -- I would add to David's point, look at that comment last night. That probably probably will get overshadowed by his tweets this morning. "It's really caught on," talking about the NFL. What does that tell you?

It tells you that he is so focused on dominating the conversation on, "Hey, I created this thing." Well, I mean, you created a thing that's driven racial resentment and animus. Now, at least it's driven that conversation up to the top of the mind. But that's what he's focused on. He's focused on "I did this."

I mean, it's not like he built something and said, "Hey, I built this." "It's really caught on" tells you his mind-set, how he thinks about this stuff. He cares about being talked about. He cares about being applauded, at least by some people. And he just sort of -- he creates the rest of it.

You know, I don't know that he has a boo-o-meter at his house to judge how loud the boos were, but in his mind, they're loud. And therefore, he's affirmed in some way. And he's now created -- he's stirred it up, and that's victory. And unfortunately, that's the opposite of being presidential. Your job is not to add -- add heat. It's to take heat away.

LOWERY: Exactly. And beyond that, he's basking in it, as Chris and David were kind of talking about here. And he's doing so in a way that, frankly, is kind of intellectually bankrupt anyway, at the very least. If we're going to have a president who wanted to be a culture warrior, perhaps he could advance this conversation in an intelligent way.

I mean, if you remember the comments made at the White House podium yesterday by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, right? Her argument, intellectual argument in favor of calling these players SOBs, as well as in favor of him fanning the flames of this, was essentially that it was hypocritical for these players to protest police brutality if they benefit from police security services, right? She called them hypocrites.

This is not an intellectual argument at all. It's an argument pulled from Internet message boards, right? That if somehow you benefit from a government service, you can't -- you can't speak out about the things about it you wish would be better? That if you send your kids to schools, you vote for the school board or say that you want different policies? If you drive on roads, you can't say, "Hey, why are there potholes"?

You are allowed to benefit from police services and protest the police.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you all very much. Great to get your insights into this. And if everybody is wondering how President Trump supporters feel about these conversations, Puerto Rico versus the NFL, stick around, because coming up in just minutes, I will ask Trump voters what they think about the president taking on the NFL players. Do they stand by him on this one? We're going to get the pulse of the people.

CUOMO: Plus, the White House, the criticism of NFL players, it's not about race. It's about respect. That's the word from the White House. It's not about being against. It's about what the president's for. Is that the truth? Let's discuss the truth of what is going on here, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[07:22:45] SANDERS: The president is not talking about race. The president is talking about pride in our country. What you saw yesterday were players and fans of all races, joining together as Americans to honor our service members. That's what the president is talking about. That's what his focus is on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Sarah Huckabee Sanders going on to say that this is not about what the president is against. This is about what the president is for.

Let's debate what Donald Trump's injection of this new urgency into what's been going on with these NFL protests, let's discuss what it's really about. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, the author of "Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America," joins us. And Ed Martin. He's an attorney and the author of "The Conservative Case for Trump." Gentlemen, thank you for joining us this morning to exchange some ideas.

So Doctor, let me start with you. It's not about race. It's not about him being against something or fomenting tension. It's all positive and about progress. Do you buy it?

DR. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, AUTHOR, "TEARS WE CANNOT STOP": Not at all. It's positively negative.

The reality is, is that the NFL is nearly 70 percent black in terms of its players. The NBA, of course, 75 percent black. NASCAR, not so much. Major League Baseball, 8.3 percent black, maybe 20 point something percent Latino. So we know we're dealing with an overwhelmingly white response from this president to a perceived black league or at least perceived black players who are acting in historically constructed terms as uppity.

It's about race, because these young men have argued that the central issue that they're concerned about is the fair treatment of people of color beyond their ranks. They're not concerned about themselves. They're not being selfish, as we ask athletes to do. They're being concerned about something bigger and broader.

And what is that? The unfair treatment of their people, of the ways in which police brutality have roiled the African-American community, and the way other issues of race continue to impose themselves with troubling consistency...

CUOMO: All right.

DYSON: ... on the lives of those people. So, yes, the president is responding out of the base of his own bigotry and responding to something that is American as apple pie.

CUOMO: Ed Martin.

ED MARTIN, AUTHOR, "THE CONSERVATIVE CASE FOR TRUMP": Well, look, I mean, I the good doctor forgot something. The people that are protesting are in the 1 percent, right? We're in an era where people want to talk about categorizing people based on what they're -- you know, the groups they fit in. These are really rich people. I don't think that matters, but I think that's what he's saying, is slice everybody up by -- by categories.

[07:25:15] Look, Donald Trump, this is like election -- the day before election day, Chris. I mean, I was out in New York doing radio and TV, and everyone said he's got no chance. He's got no chance. Out here in middle America -- I'm in Missouri -- a lot of people agree with what he's saying.

And what he said was, in a private business, the people -- and by the way, Colin Kaepernick was a benched player who led one protest. I never heard Colin Kaepernick talk about a lot of the things the doctor said. Some of them, but now it's been expanded into a large argument that they're making.

It's not all the players, by the way. The most famous player in America right now, whose jersey is selling faster is Hispanic- American, because he stood out and didn't stay with his other players that stayed in the tunnel.

So I don't think it's about race. I think it's about this very simple fact. If you burn the flag at the 50-yard line, I think people would agree you should be fired, but it is protected speech. So these guys have protected speech. But just like Curt Schilling, he got fired for saying something ESPN thought was really not appropriate. Whether you agree or disagree, private employers are able to do that.

And one more thing, Chris. I listen to your show. I like listening to the show. But the president is supposed to use the bully pulpit. That's what we want. We wanted Kennedy to do it, FDR, Obama. And Trump is saying, "Hey, guys, protest in lots of ways. Have press conferences."

CUOMO: All right. Let's...

MARTIN: "Put your money where your mouth is but..."

CUOMO: We'll stick to the -- we'll stick to the current issue. Because, look, the main line criticism of the president tweeting so much about the NFL is that we have an unprecedented catastrophe in Puerto Rico right now, and it's about priorities. But that is a different conversation.

Let's stick on this one. You heard Ed's arguments, Doctor. Can you counter?

DYSON: Yes, absolutely. First of all, he didn't answer the question. The question is, it can be about everything he just said. But it's also about race.

MARTIN: No, it's not.

DYSON: The reality is, is that in this country, the mistreatment of African-American people is something that -- that concerned Colin Kaepernick from the very beginning.

But we -- look, even beyond Colin Kaepernick, it's bigger and broader than him. Whether or not he has flaws or virtues is irrelevant to the central point he's making. Many of the leaders who led us -- Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and yet wrote the beautiful Declaration of Independence. So we can't ask for perfect people to make perfect arguments. What we can ask them to do is to be held accountable, according to the rights we have.

The president of the United States of America, the bully pulpit comes from Teddy Roosevelt. That assumes a predicate of high intelligence in defense of moral principles that spread to the rest of the nation.

MARTIN: Well, I mean...

DYSON: Let me finish. The reality is this, is that he's a bully in the pulpit trying to rain down the furry of his irreverent concepts of American democracy.

CUOMO: All right.

MARTIN: Well, I mean.

DYSON: And he's failed to understand the necessity of dealing with it.

And let me finally say this. You say that most people out there agree with the president and so on. People disagreed with Martin Luther King Jr. when he began to speak out, and yet the country now celebrates his birthday. Let's not forget that often protest exposes some of the deeply entrenched biases in this country that people then turn the tide on later on, sir.

CUOMO: Ed.

MARTIN: Yes, but Chris, you just said we were going to talk about policies, and the doctor drops into insulting people's intelligence. I mean, this is all I'm saying to you, is that...

DYSON: Not at all.

MARTIN: ... you can have a -- well, you can have a debate about whether Trump should have said as much as he did on the NFL. But I'm just telling you, people don't want to see the flag and the anthem disrespected. And that's what he's saying. And I think a lot of people -- look, let's go back to...

DYSON: When black people are murdered the flag is disrespected.

MARTIN: Hey, look, I mean, hey look, Doc, I didn't interrupt you. You asked me not to.

CUOMO: All right. Go ahead. Make your point, Ed. Fair point.

MARTIN: Chris, here's one thing that's really interesting, isn't it? Instead of having a debate on something else, right now we're talking about whether African-Americans have been abused by the police. Isn't there some way that you guys should say, "Hey, wow, Trump's led us into a national conversation"? And instead of whacking and banging on every American that disagrees on the protest method say, "Hey, guys, he's not full of hate and not intelligent, which is what the doctor said."

CUOMO: All right.

MARTIN: Instead say, "Here's what the facts are on brutality and other things."

CUOMO: Ed, first of all, we do that all the time. You watch this show. You'll know that.

MARTIN: OK.

CUOMO: But so again it's not about us. Here's the thing. You said. "Shouldn't you guys be saying let's talk about this issue?" Why isn't the president doing that? Why is his response to this to do little more than fan the flames of the division? He hasn't advanced any part of this larger dialogue, Ed.

DYSON: Right.

CUOMO: Look at his own tweets. "They booed loudly last night. Great anger."

DYSON: Right.

MARTIN: Well...

CUOMO: "When the Dallas Cowboys dropped to their knees as a team, they all stood up for our anthem. Big progress being made." Does he say "progress on better policing"? Does he say "progress on

community interactions between black and white"?

DYSON: Right, right.

CUOMO: No, he doesn't say any of that. He doesn't elevate a damn thing, Ed. He traffics in the division.

MARTIN: No, Chris. Come on. Look, first of all, I mean, everybody -- you want to pick out tweets, I agree tweets on certain subjects gets him into his rhythm. But he also tweeted on...

CUOMO: Rhythm? What rhythm?

MARTIN: ... tax reform. He also tweeted on health care.

CUOMO: What rhythm, Ed? "I love the anger directed toward the Dallas Cowboys. That's great."

MARTIN: Nobody said, "I love the anger."

CUOMO: "Great anger."

MARTIN: You know this.

CUOMO: "The loudest booing I've ever heard. Great anger." What does that mean? Is he upset about it?

MARTIN: No, there is anger. The country is fed up with this. We're fed up with people, like those saying...

CUOMO: What part of the country?