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Trump Makes Cryptic "Calm Before the Storm" Comments & Wants Military Operations at "Faster Pace"; Tillerson Days Seen as Numbered as Foreign Crises Roil; Massachusetts Suing Trump Administration After Rolling Back Obamacare Birth-Control Mandate; White House Daily Briefing Begins. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired October 6, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: -- he's expecting them to provide him with a broad range of military options when needed at a much faster pace. There is a, albeit, somewhat slow process as you know, as options even sometimes trickle over to the White House, part of that is to call out perhaps the bad options, and sometimes you could argue it means the president doesn't get all of the options. But when you see him asking for that, what would the effects of that be?

LT. COL. SCOTT MANN, RETIRED ARMY SPECIAL FORCES OFFICER: Well, first of all, I think that we do need our senior politicians to have a better grasp of the war-fighting options that are out there, not just the war fighting options but the war fighting realities. For example, the president's policy on Afghanistan where he says the capacity building and national building are not that high of a priority, I'll tell you that a nation like Afghanistan's ability to stand on its own and fight back against island extremism is everything. The three green better berets who died by building capacity with Nigeria security forces -- I'm not sure they fully understand the realities of this kind of war and it's not a traditional set piece battle kind of stuff. Some of the options may not be what he wants to hear but he's still got to listen.

KEILAR: All right, Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann, we really appreciate you sharing your insight with us.

MANN: Thanks for having me on, Brianna.

Is the secretary of state heading for a Rexit, as you might put it? CNN has new details on why Tillerson may be on the way out. Next, what more than a dozen sources inside the administration are saying about his relationship with President Trump.

Plus, any moment, the White House briefing is going to get under way. We are -- it's supposed to get started, so it could get started at any second. We'll bring it to you live when with we have it. And this is going on amid concerns over the cryptic military comment made by the president. Is that going to be clarified?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [14:36:04] KEILAR: As a crucial deadline to the Iran nuclear deal draws closer, the diplomat in charge of negotiating it may soon be out of a job. Sources inside the White House say the relationship between Tillerson and the president reached a new low. It comes all in the wake of an NBC News report that Tillerson called the president a moron and considered stepping down this summer. It's a claim that reportedly infuriated President Trump and prompted Tillerson to hold a news conference to respond to it for the explicit purpose of reaffirming his loyalty to the president and his foreign policy.

Joining me now to talk more about this is CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

Elise, tell us what your sources are saying about when Tillerson could make an exit.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, it seems to be at least it's -- I cautious it seems to be and you know how unpredictable things are with this White House and this president, that things seem to have calmed down at least for now with Secretary Tillerson staying in his job and certainly that's what White House officials are telling some of our reporters. But other officials are saying that this relationship is beyond repair. And it's really just a trust issue. And they don't know if that trust between the president and secretary can really be brought back to where it was when there was excitement from President Trump for hiring this former CEO of ExxonMobil.

Secretary of State Tillerson didn't address those alleged moron comments when he went out to cameras. His spokesman later said he never said it. And the White House still is calling this report fake news, even though this report was done by our good friend, Carol Lee, at NBC News. And other news organizations say it has a lot of legs.

So I think what you have here at the State Department, people just kind of recovering from the shock of what happened. The same at the White House. I don't think anybody expects Secretary Tillerson to really stay through his term, not only because of that relationship with the president but because he himself has been a little bit frustrated in his job and his ability to get his policy and his thoughts across. And the president does seem to undermine him as he does other cabinet members at every turn.

I think this secretary wants to move forward. He has several policy objectives and wants to continue and travel with President Trump to Asia in November. President Trump is making a trip to Asia.

And there are threats from North Korea and this Iran deal coming up. I do think Secretary Tillerson for now is ready to kind of just put his head down and get back to work. It remains to be seen whether that relationship can be repaired. There's some that say that now is not the time but there are others who say that it can't be repaired and you should see an exit from Secretary Tillerson.

[14:39:06] KEILAR: As you're reporting, this increasingly seen as sort of lame-duck time for Tillerson according to all sources within the administration.

Elise Labott, thank you so much.

After a cryptic military warning by the president and growing concern over President Trump's relationship with the secretary of state, Sarah Sanders will take the podium at any moment. We'll have the White House briefing as soon as it starts.


KEILAR: This news just in. Massachusetts, the state of Massachusetts, is going to sue the Trump administration after the administration rolled back, really, the big birth-control mandate that Obamacare provided.

I want to go to White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, we're getting new details. Explain what this rule by the Health and Human Services Department would do.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very significant blow to this Obamacare mandate and essentially expands the leeway for companies to withhold free birth control from employers based -- from their employees based on religious grounds. The news rules allow a broad range of employers going from non-profit to private firms and publicly traded companies to withhold providing free birth control through their insurance if they, quote, "have a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction."

This is something President Trump campaigned on back on the trail, a promise to the religious groups who supported him. What we could likely see, like with the state of Massachusetts, it's a lot of litigation generated. Before now, it was religious groups saying it was their moral right to not live by the mandate, and now we're going to see women and public health groups more likely.

[14:45:25] KEILAR: Right now, you've got -- I think it's a couple hundred groups, some of them, for instance, religious non-profits who as you mentioned have taken this to court other this mandate and don't want to provide this. They have religious objections to it. It's clearly designed to alleviate their concerns but you also have HHS saying that almost all women who currently are covered by this mandate are not going to be affected.

Isn't the concern, though, that once you say if you have a moral objection, if you have a religious objection, and you could be a publicly traded company, you don't have to provide that. Isn't the concern this opens up a big loophole for a number of companies and entities to not provide this coverage?

COLLINS: Yes, that's definitely what the concern is with this news coming out today. During that call they didn't so much focus on the numbers of people who would be affected. We know 55 million women have zero out-of-pocket costs for birth control because of this according to the national women's center. What they focused on this is a win for those employers for their religious liberty. And we heard House Speaker Paul Ryan saying it's a win for religious liberty. They focus more on the employers who will be affected by this and less by the employees who are benefitting from these zero out-of-pocket birth control costs.

KEILAR: Are they concerned -- considering most women, the vast majority at women at some point in their lives use birth control, are they concerned at the White House they might alienate some women who, if, potentially, they are not receiving this free benefit that they have before?

COLLINS: Well, that's a great question. That's not really something the White House has addressed as they said this today. They've been focused more on the religious liberty aspect of it. But that's a question that will be raised by these women's public health groups as we go forward. We're likely to see more litigation based out of this. And that's something the White House will have to answer and talk about.

KEILAR: Kaitlan Collins, at the White House, thank you so much.

As we await the White House briefing there, where Kaitlan is, we have more on our breaking news. Sources telling CNN that the Las Vegas gunman rigged his car to explode if it was fired upon. And 90 pounds of explosives found inside and two suitcases of ammunition. What was he planning? We'll discuss that ahead.


[14:52:18] KEILAR: Any moment now, the White House will be holding its daily briefing with a whole lot to answer for today, including the president's cryptic warning at a military dinner that this is the, quote, "calm before the storm."

I want to bring in CNN political director, David Chalian, and CNN military and diplomatic analyst, Rear Admiral John Kirby, and CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, with us.

David Chalian, he says this last night, maybe this is the calm before the storm, as he's standing there with his top military brass and their spouses, and he doubles down on it just moments ago from the White House. How do you read this?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: With an added wink for effect.

That's right. Like a cliff hanger.

GREGORY: Yes. He was literally winking at us as if we're in on the joke as a country was in, as he is creating mystery around something that could be unbelievably serious. Now perhaps it's absolutely nothing and he's just playing cliff hanger games, like you say, in reality TV show games. But he's not making that clear whether that's true or not. And this is Donald Trump, the showman, in full effect with the added benefit from his perspective of using the military as his props in this. He has done this time and again.


absolutely. It very well may be that it was real, that something is coming that we don't know about. But his decision to say what he said and to bring the White House pool which had been told no more for the night in despite that as sort of an added event to make -- to have that picture and make that comment, certainly to me seems as though he wants us to be talking about exactly that. And maybe not about Rex Tillerson and the problems that he has had and the allegedly calling him a moron or about the controversy swirling about whether the president should or should not decertify the Iran nuclear deal.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be talking about it because the cliff hanger or throwing it out there, whether it's a wink or nod or it's real, from the commander-in-chief with the military is worth talking about.


BASH: He also knows what he's doing.

KEILAR: John Kirby, we just spoke with a former Special Forces officer who obviously is still very much in touch with the military. I asked him, do you think there is some sort of specific plan that he is referring to? And he said, yes, that actually he is referring to something, it is some sort of showing of the cards of something. And truth be told, we don't actually know. What's your evaluation of some of the concerns this raises?

[14:55:05] JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: The caveat that I'm not in intelligence anymore, and not in the room as they plan military operations, I'm leaning more towards David and Dana. I think this was really for effect. I would be very surprised if there was really any more specific behind it than that. I saw an opportunity to get a good camera spray in front of those military leaders and look presidential. He had a tough week, Puerto Rico, Iran deal, moron comments by Tillerson. This was a chance to wrap himself in the flag and a cloak, if you will, and make himself look good.

Now, the military conducts operations, as you know, Brianna, all over the world. So something could happen in next couple of days that he had nothing to do with, and he could say, that's what I was talking about. My gut tells me this was just bluster and nothing more.

KEILAR: You guys stay with me.

You're looking at the screen at what will soon be the White House briefing, running more than 20 minutes late right now. That's practically on time in White House time. We'll keep an eye on this. We'll be back with our all-star panel as well, in just a moment.



SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon. Today's jobs report shows the extraordinary impact recent weather events have had on our economy. Calculations from Moody's analytics estimate the recent storms could cause between $195 billion and $245 billion in economic losses.

But those numbers, as large as they are, are not the best way to understand the impact these storms have had on the people of our nation.

President Trump has now personally visited storm-ravaged areas in numerous states and territories. He's seen the devastation, and he's looked into the eyes of Americans struggling to find hope in midst of heartache. The president has committed to these people that we will walk with them every step of the way as they rebuild their homes, their communities and their lives.

And he has committed to all Americans that we are going to build an economy that works for everyone.

We are encouraged to see the unemployment rate has once again dropped, and workforce participation vaulted to a 3 and-a-half-year high. This underscores the need for Congress to work with us to grow the economy and create jobs. The importance of passing tax relief for American workers and business cannot be overstated.


We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a tax code --