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North Korea Rejecting Diplomacy; Trump and McConnell Attempt to Show Solidarity. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired October 16, 2017 - 3:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, he wasn't even consistent there.
I do think Will, the young man that -- that you just interviewed, that's just an example of class and graciousness. And it did my heart good to see somebody who wasn't uber-political.
Look, I think President Trump should have called the family and should have certainly sent letters out. It's been two weeks. But it's great to see somebody who is on TV, I think, who is a patriot, loves his brother and isn't making this political right now, because I think for the vast majority of Americans, it's about your family. It's about your country.
It's not about scoring political points. And that's our job, and I think Trump made a mistake, but it was refreshing to see that.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: It is about when you look at what was a very unexpected ambush, Shelby. There was chaos. There was confusion. It is unclear how this even happened. These Green Berets had gone on patrols. They had had no problems.
It's a reminder to Americans, oh, my goodness, we have U.S. troops in countries like this.
SHELBY HOLLIDAY, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Right.
KEILAR: And I was talking to Fareed Zakaria last week and he said, I'm going to give the president the benefit of the doubt on not calling the families, or he said on not responding to this publicly, because there were some details to be sorted out.
But doesn't this also go to the heart of how is the American strategy when it comes to fighting terrorism working, what is a little bit of a secretive war that is going on?
HOLLIDAY: Right. That's a big question.
And also President Trump has made it a point to not really outline a clear strategy. He doesn't like when other people know what our strategy is. Perhaps he doesn't have one. But it is not clear to most Americans what our strategy actually is. This also really shows us how terrorism is spreading. We know that as
it is rooted out in the Middle East, in Syria and Iraq, it's causing all kinds of problems around the world. So, yes, this really drew attention to this region in Africa. I think President Trump in making this a political point, as you said, missed an opportunity to talk about terrorism and to talk about his strategy.
I also just think Will's brother is such an American hero, and when you hear him say we wouldn't know if the president called us, it's been such an emotional week, it really just tugs on the heartstrings of all Americans, these people who give their lives for our country.
Nobody wants to see President Trump disrespect American troops. And I know there will be differing views on whether or not he did that. But all Americans, whether or not they serve, take this issue really personally. We don't take it for granted that these people die for our country.
KEILAR: And as he said, the mission -- my brother would say the mission continues. It was just amazing to hear him in a way channel what no doubt his brother would have thought.
I'm going to have you guys stand by with me for just a moment.
Moments ago, the president stood next to the Senate majority leader in what was an unexpectedly wide-ranging joint news conference. He said that they are closer than ever. But just minutes before the show of solidarity, the president failed to condemn a -- quote -- "war against Mitch McConnell" and the establishment GOP, that war declared by the president's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
Listen to how the president responded to a question about it at a Cabinet meeting today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know how he feels. It depends on who you're talking about. There are some Republicans, frankly, that should be ashamed of themselves.
But most of them -- I will tell you what. I know the Republican senators. Most of them are really, really great people, but you had a few people that really disappointed us. They really, really disappointed us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Then, just two hours later, after meeting with Senator McConnell, the tone really seemed to change in the Rose Garden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: But we have been friends for a long time. We are probably now, despite what we read, we are probably now, I think, at least as far as I'm concerned, closer than ever before, and the relationship is very good. We are fighting for the same thing. We're fighting for lower taxes.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: And I think what the president and I would both like to say to you today, contrary to what some of you may have reported, we are together totally on this agenda to move America forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Let's turn now to CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, as well as CNN political analyst April Ryan, the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, and CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray.
So, Sara, as you listened to this, what was the thing that really stood out to you as the president was standing next to Mitch McConnell after, really, in a way sort of endorsing some of the divide that's been sown by Steve Bannon?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly been whiplash today, Brianna, to hear the president say he has an outstanding relationship with Mitch McConnell, that Republicans are very, very unified.
But I think it's a big point that he said maybe I will go to Steve Bannon and tell him, can you spare some of these Republicans? The irony is that the Republicans on Steve Bannon's list are not the ones that are giving the president heartburn right now.
The Republicans he is going to be targeting for the most part who are up in 2018 are people who have voted in lockstep with the president's agenda, and he needs these people.
I think that's what you are seeing on display right now, is that the president may get angry about how fast Congress moves. He may get angry because they're not advancing his legislative agenda, but tax reform is the last best chance for him to get one big major legislative accomplishment before we get into the 2018 midterms.
So you're stuck with the Republicans you have got, Brianna.
KEILAR: And, Dana, the dynamics of this press conference were just unbelievable in a way, even from the moving up and down of the microphone as Mitch McConnell, who is a little shorter, would have to move it down, and President Trump would also move it up really too high.
And it sort of, I think, spoke to some of the -- in a way, it was maybe a metaphor for their relationship. I don't know. What do you think?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's actually very funny, Brianna.
Look, sure. The other thing that really is striking in the whiplash that Sara was describing from the president today is in many ways it's kind of classic Donald Trump. He said probably how he feels when he made the remarks in the Cabinet Room earlier today talking about his support for Steve Bannon and Bannon's efforts to try to keep some of the incumbents in check, actually defeat some incumbent Republicans.
And then a couple of hours later, he's sitting with the majority leader and then comes out and says something seemingly kind of different.
And when I say it's classic Trump, it's because, you know, he's sitting with the leader who is telling him -- of his own party -- who is telling him we need to do X, Y and Z in order to get our joint agenda through, and then he feels compelled to kind of give him an attaboy and show at least publicly that he's not really that distant and different from the Republican leadership.
They seem contradictory, and that is, again, kind of classic Donald Trump, because in his mind he probably doesn't necessarily think one is a contradiction of another. But I can tell you, Brianna, in talking to people in Bannon world, they do not see any kind of slowing down of their efforts, based on what the president said today.
They still feel that they have his support to try to use Trump voters or try to engage Trump voters, I should say, and push them to support Republican challengers for these incumbent senators.
KEILAR: There were so many moments that really, I thought, stood out, April, kind of small and large.
One of the ones that stood out to me was when President Trump was talking about the opioid crisis, and he said drug companies make big donations to political figures.
And he sort of teased -- but, in a way, it was almost public humiliation -- the Senate leader, saying, maybe even you, Senator McConnell, which seemed a little -- I don't know if that's true at this point in time, but it certainly seemed a little unnecessary after stressing bipartisanship. What really stood out to you?
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
Not only that. What stood out to me is the fact that, again, even with that piece, just what you mentioned, it was a fight against the establishment. It's a fight against what used to be. The president made news talking about he is going to make a big announcement next week, but this opioid issue is something huge.
This is something that Middle America has been dealing with for a bit. We heard about it on the campaign trail. And, again, this president in these first nine months has been trying to bring home some of the things that he campaigned on.
And I think, again, this opioid issue is huge, but he also wants to show, even in that and even in those statements and even in that quip with Senate Majority Leader McConnell, that he's fighting the establishment. And that's what some of his base want. They want to I guess drain the swamp, break the system, but that was a moment. Also, it was a moment to me when he said President Obama nor any other president has called families of slain military officials or leaders or soldiers who died.
And as soon as he said that, I was like, that's not true, because I have heard that and seen that before. We covered former presidents in this room, Brianna. And we know that they have called and even maybe gone to Dover or gone to hangars to welcome bodies home or to salute the bodies as they come.
And, also, another moment at the end of the press conference, when FOX News asked about the NFL and kneeling, and the president said it was disrespectful, and I tried to ask about the issue of why these players are taking the knee. You know, some of them did take the knee yesterday. The issue is about police-involved shootings, trying to bring attention to that.
And the president never addressed the issue, never said those words, but he said it's just disrespectful. It's disrespectful. And I wanted to know what the president was thinking about that for weeks. And I put it to him. He heard it.
But he said it's disrespectful, so, apparently, he doesn't think even, even if it's -- that's the issue, he thinks it's disrespectful about the flag.
KEILAR: No. Yes, he frames it in a very different way as well.
Dana, when he begged -- he literally begged, jokingly, Hillary Clinton to run again in 2020. That was -- what did you think of that?
BASH: He was just being a showman. He was just trying to kind of twist the knife a little bit on the notion that he beat her, and he feels very happy about that.
And he clearly wants to try to hit that home with her supporters and with her, too, frankly. As she's been out and about on her book tour, she has not been shy about saying how she feels, not just about how he was as a competitor for the White House, but how he's been as a president.
KEILAR: All right, Dana Bash, April Ryan, thank you, ladies, so much.
And next, we have breaking news, why North Korea says it is currently not interested in diplomacy with the United States, and what they plan to do to send a message to the Trump administration.
Plus, lawyers for a woman who has accused Donald Trump of sexual assault serving his campaign with a subpoena. This was months ago, but we have just learned about it. And the president weighed in just moments ago. Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [15:15:32]
KEILAR: We have more now on our breaking news.
The president apparently best friends with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to hear him say it today in the Rose Garden, despite one hour before this appearance saying many Republican senators should be ashamed of themselves.
So, let's discuss this.
We have Jamie Gangel back with us, along with Kevin Sheridan, who was a former senior adviser on Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. Also here, CNN political commentator Paris Dennard.
Paris, does this stand the truth test when you -- I guess bipartisanship is certainly welcome for folks who are trying to get things done in Washington, but to see the president stand next to Mitch McConnell and say kumbaya, kumbaya, when an hour before he was basically slamming Congress as a whole, how do you say, oh, yes, he's telling the truth here?
PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If you look back at Donald Trump's entire career in politics or as a businessperson when he was here in New York, he had the give-or-take relationship with Ed Koch and other members that were -- other mayors and things like that, but he always got things done at the end of the day.
He always got things done, despite this very back-and-forth, tough relationship. And I think when you look at this relationship with Mitch McConnell, the president understands one thing. Mitch McConnell is the key to his electoral, but, more importantly, his legislative victories.
He wants tax reform. He wants infrastructure. And he understands who Mitch McConnell's wife is when it comes to infrastructure. So, the president knows that he has to play good cop and bad cop at the same time, but Mitch McConnell is the key to winning some of these great battles that he needs for a 2018 victory.
KEILAR: Kevin, it seems President Trump is also so willing to poke Mitch McConnell in the eye, though, as well. When you looked at this press conference, did you think this was helpful for Republicans trying to get things done?
KEVIN SHERIDAN, FORMER ROMNEY ADVISER: Yes. I think in the main it is, and I actually saw Mitch McConnell pushing back a little bit on reminding folks who the failed Senate candidates were, and who this crowd put up years ago and why we had Senator Harry Reid, instead of a winning Republican in Nevada, for instance, or in Delaware and other places.
I think he is going to push back on this and I think he should. Look, this is a very serious time for the president and for Republicans in general, but for the president, he's not going to want to go into the second half of his first term without the House to protect him from impeachment and without a governing majority of senators.
So he really needs -- he needs Republicans more -- as much as they need him.
KEILAR: How big of a concern is that for Donald Trump at this point? Does he understand do you think what it would mean to lose the House?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that concern is being impressed on him.
Sara Murray, our colleague, has a great piece on CNN.com about exactly this point, and she spoke to, I think, 18 different Republicans about the danger of putting Republicans up, the Bannon effect, in primaries and then possibly losing those seats.
KEILAR: Meaning you primary a Republican, someone to their right. Then they are up against a Democrat and they lose.
GANGEL: And they can lose that seat.
And if they lose the House, then all of a sudden the possibility of articles of impeachment are a very real possibility. The other thing I just want to say is if you go back and look at the press conference today, Mitch McConnell is smiling at the beginning of it. Watch their body language when President Trump says we're closer than ever before, closer than yesterday certainly. We have an outstanding relationship.
It's classic Donald Trump, but you can see Mitch McConnell just sort of holding is together, smiling a little bit. This is a relationship that is going to be a work in process. It's going to have its good days and its bad days.
DENNARD: But this is exactly why tax reform is such an important thing and why standing out there today with Mitch McConnell would send the clear message inside the Beltway and outside the Beltway that Democrats and Republicans need to come together on tax reform, because that is going to be something that is a winning message going into these midterm elections.
KEILAR: That Democrats and Republicans need to come together?
KEILAR: But how is -- I don't see any world in which that would ever happen, Paris.
DENNARD: And that's why he's messaging to the American people.
Remember, Donald Trump, the president of the United States, is not always talking to us. He's talking to the American people. And he's messaging to them. This problem, this issue, high taxes, the Democrats are refusing to come to the table to work with you to give you the tax relief that you need. And that's why he needs to have Democrats and Republicans working together to pass this.
KEILAR: He has both chambers.
SHERIDAN: Yes, with very few exceptions, he's not going to get any Democrats even on tax reform, which could be a bipartisan issue, and in the past has been a bipartisan issue.
But look, he's going to be judged on economic growth and how fast the economy has grown by 2020. If he can get back to 3 percent, above 3 percent, everyone is going to feel it, wages are going to go up. Tax reform is key to that.
And politically speaking, this is his chance to do it. He's got to get this done. He's got to work with Mitch McConnell and every senator that's been blocking his agenda so far. And that's only four or five members, but he's got to find a way to get those.
GANGEL: And he hasn't gotten anything else. We haven't had the Obamacare. We haven't -- there's no wall in Mexico.
KEILAR: Gorsuch. Gorsuch is really it.
GANGEL: Gorsuch is his big thing, but this is -- he has not gotten all of the things that he can.
DENNARD: Well, he will say the Congress has not acted. That's what he will say.
KEILAR: But the buck stops with the president.
And I tell you, you can almost see that door just in slow-mo closing on this window for tax reform. It is going to be a very heavy lift.
So, thank you so much to you guys for giving us the insight on this, Jamie, Kevin and Paris. I appreciate it.
And, next, we're going to talk breaking news, because North Korea says it is not interested in diplomacy with the United States, at least not right now. What Pyongyang says it's planning to do to send Trump a message.
And after five years in Taliban captivity today, Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior. I will be getting a reaction from a member of his platoon who was there when Bergdahl disappeared in Afghanistan.
KEILAR: A new development in the Trump administration's back-and- forth about whether the U.S. is willing to negotiate with North Korea, but did anyone actually ask North Korea?
Because the nuclear-armed country telling a CNN source, we're not interested in negotiating.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says war is not what President Trump wants, using some eyebrow-raising language during an interview with CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think he does want to be clear with Kim Jong-un and that regime in North Korea that he has military preparations ready to go and he has those military options on the table. And we have spent substantial time actually perfecting those.
But -- but be clear. The president has also made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically. He's not seeking to go to war.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, he doesn't think it's a waste of time?
TILLERSON: But I -- no, sir.
He has made it clear to me to continue my diplomatic efforts, which we are, and we will -- as I have told others, those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Wow, until the first bomb drops.
Meantime, the U.S. Navy has begun what it calls defensive drills with South Korea, a move that North Korea calls a dress rehearsal for an invasion.
The U.S. also announcing that next week it's going to rehearse the evacuation of Americans from the peninsula to a Japanese island nearby.
I want to bring in Bob Baer. He's CNN's intelligence and security analyst. And we have also CNN contributor Jean Lee with us. She's a journalist and global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
OK, Bob, so when you hear this, North Korea saying we're not interested in negotiating, so they're not interested in this diplomatic path until they have a missile capable of bombing the U.S., what is your reaction to that and how should we really I guess take that at face value?
BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think we should, Brianna, because what the North Koreans have said in so many words, they're not giving up their nuclear weapons for anything. There is no negotiations.
Those nuclear weapons keep the regime in power. Otherwise, the United States would attack. And when the rhetoric gets more aggressive and more aggressive, the more determined they are to keep those nuclear weapons, and so there's no common ground with the Trump administration.
We can keep on sending messages by doing these drills and flyovers and the rest of it, but it's just making the North Koreans more paranoid and more determined to keep their bombs.
KEILAR: Jean, what is the impetus for getting North Korea to the diplomatic table? Normally, it seems as if it's something that they would welcome. How do you square that with this rhetoric?
JEAN LEE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We have to remember that the North -- all of this that North Korea is carrying out is designed to deter the United States.
We have seen ever-growing sanctions, tightening sanctions, and this massive military show that we're seeing off the South Korean Peninsula this week. And throughout all of this, North Korea has said, we are standing firm. We're not going to back down.
And part of what these sanctions and these military shows of force are meant to do is to induce the North Koreans to back down. There is going to be a parade of really powerful artillery, weaponry coming through the North Korean -- I'm sorry -- the South Korean skies over the Korean Peninsula off the waters, really to encourage the North Koreans to back down from this, but what we're seeing now is that they're not willing to back down.
I think the North Koreans are, frankly, too close to this milestone that Kim Jong-un has laid out. He said very clearly earlier this year that he has a goal in mind. His goal is to put a nuclear weapon, get it small enough to put on a missile that is capable of striking the mainland United States.
He has shown that he is very close to that. And he actually needs a couple of more tests to perfect that technique -- so -- that technology. So, I think he's just too close--
KEILAR: Too close.
LEE: -- to this magic milestone that has a major payoff back at home, and in terms of negotiations in the future.
KEILAR: So, Bob, what do you think about that? If -- does that change the calculus, or does it change the equation, what the U.S. is used to, this kind of predictably unpredictable behavior from North Korea?