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Secretary Tillerson Speaks Out; Trump And McConnell To Meet; At Least 40 Dead In North California Fires; U.S. and South Korea Launch Naval Drills; Aired 04-04:30p ET

Aired October 16, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:23] CHRISTINE ROMANS, EARLY START SHOW CO-HOST: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking out refuting accusations he is at odds with the President, talking about diplomatic efforts with Iran, North Korea and responding to some surprising comments from Senator Bob Corker.

DAVE BRIGGS, EARLY START SHOW CO-HOST: President Trump's very important lunch. President meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today on the tax reform and the never ending health care.

ROMANS: In California at least 40 dead now in the brutal California wildfires. Hundreds are still missing. Residents are beginning to return home if their homes are still standing. Some of these folks saying there's not even something to sift through.

BRIGGS: Going home not sure what going to be there when they get back.

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome to "Early Start." I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Monday October 16, 4:00 a.m. in the east and 5:00 p.m. on South Korea, 11:30 a.m. in Tehran. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking out about the relationship with President Trump saying he and his unconventional boss are working together to quote force action on important global issues. On CNN State of the Union, Tillerson told Jake Tapper that his conversations with the President are frank, candid, refuting rumors the two of at odds. The Secretary firmly refused again to address reports he called the President a moron over the summer.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm not going to deal with that kind of petty stuff. This is a town that seems to relish gossip, rumor, innuendo and feed on it in a very destructive way. I don't work that way. I don't deal that way and I'm just not going to dignify the question. At the end of the day he makes decisions and I do the best I can to execute those decisions successfully.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Secretary Tillerson also had a pretty sharp comeback to that

comment that the President's trying to quote publicly castrate him on foreign policy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't want to say anything about the Senator calling -- suggesting you've been gelded before the world? That is not anything that bothers you?

TILLERSON: I checked. I'm fully intact.



ROMANS: Actually would have thought he was laughing so hard I couldn't stop laughing.

BRIGGS: Classic Rex.

ROMANS: Tillerson also suggested the President's unusual approach to foreign policy with his combative tweets and demand to renegotiate treaties and agreements is all part of the deliberate strategy.


TILLERSON: He himself is an unconventional President. He does not accept the status quo with the many threats that we're confronting in the world today. He is going to take forcing action and oftentimes the tweets are decisions that he makes to force this action to get off the status quo, to force people to take action.


BRIGGS: Two areas where the President's taking an unconventional approach, Iran and North Korea also among the most tense in the world right now. More on what the Secretary said about diplomacy there. CNN's Ryan Browne in Washington.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY: Good morning, Christine and Dave. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed a series of topics, most specifically the Iran nuclear deal and President Trump's recent decision to not withdraw from it, but to decertify it, handing it over to congress in an effort to see if it can be strengthened and address what the administration calls serious flaws in the arrangement. President Trump and Secretary Tillerson both said they want to work with European allies to find ways to strengthen it and to address what they see as Iran's other provocative behavior particularly its missile development and support of militant groups like Lebanese, Hezbollah and the Hooties in Yemen. Secretary Tillerson also touched on North Korea saying that President Trump still supports a diplomatically led effort there despite recent tweets saying the direct negotiations with a waste of time. Tillerson saying the diplomatic effort will continue until the first bombs are dropped.


TILLERSON: I think he want to be clear what Kim Jong-un that regime in North Korea that he has military preparations ready to go and has the military options on the table and we have spent substantial time perfecting those. Be clear the president also made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically. He is not seeking to go to war. He has made it clear to me to continue my diplomatic efforts, which we are, and as I told others those efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.


BROWNE: Now it remains to be seen what actions the administration can take with its European allies and congress to bring about a new arrangement on Iran and to see hot to con-curb North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. Back to you guys.

[04:05:11] ROMANS: All right Ryan. Thank you. The President also working to repair frayed ties with key Republican Senators. He and Mitch McConnell will sit down for lunch along with the Vice President Mike Pence, it is a follow up to the president's phone call with McConnell on Saturday. The same day he called with frequent foe Lindsey Graham then on Sunday the President had links with Senator Rand Paul.

ROMANS: All three lawmakers key to advance to the president's agenda. Senator Paul seemed optimistic about moving ahead on with President Trump on issue dear to both their hearts, tax reform.


RAND PAUL, REPRESENTATIVE KENTUCKY: I've been very excited about the President's plan. I'm for that now. Congress is trying to make money as well as make sure we realize we're competing with the rest of the world.


BRIGGS: President Trump expected to talk tax reform with McConnell's at today's lunch, if the tax bill pass this year. The senate will have to move on a budget this week.

ROMANS: All right, a woman who has accused President Trump of sexual assault has formally subpoenaed his campaign for all documents relating to her. She is a former candidate on the apprentice. She says on a separate occasion in Beverly Hills, Trump kissed her aggressively and touched her breasts.

BRIGGS: During the campaign Trump called claimed coach total fiction. I never met her at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately. She continued to contact me for help e-mailing my office on April 14 of this year asking I visit her restaurant in California.

ROMANS: She filed suit last year in response to his denials. His lawyers have been trying to get this lawsuit thrown out. They did not respond to a request for comment about the subpoena. The White House deferred to the campaign which also did not return a request or a comment

BRIGGS: New allegations surfacing this weekend against disgrace Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. British actress Lysette Anthony claiming Weinstein sexually assaulted her in the 1980s on multiple occasions, one taking in her own home. London's metropolitan police confirming the case has been launched. Three women making accusations. Any allegation of nonconsensual sex, vigorously denied by Mr. Weinstein.

ROMANS: French President's Emmanuel Macron starting to process stripping him of the country's highest order of merit, legion of honor. Over the weekend Weinstein was also expels from the organization behind the Oscar, the academy of the motion picture, arts and scientist. The producer's guild will reportedly meet later today to consider a similar actions.

BRIGGS: The Harvey Weinstein case inspiring a movement on twitter. Actress Melissa Milano. If you've been sexually harassed wrote me too as a reply to this tweet. In just a few hours tens of 1,000s of women and men responded with those simple words me too. That is the top trending tropic on twitter as we speak.

ROMANS: There have been some high profile television and movie actors who is also stepping forward. We have by the way been treated like meat over the years by crass horrible movie executives who don't care about females.

BRIGGS: Hopefully it stops here.

ROMANS: Nine minutes past the hour. President Trump blasting insurance companies for profiting Obamacare, Trumps pulls funding's last week from key Obamacare subsidies calling them insurance company payouts. He tweeted this. Health insurance has gone through the roof during Obamacare years plunged yesterday. The President is right. Health insurance stocks have been on a tear. Look at those returns. The sector is up 20 percent this year alone. But that is despite Obamacare, not because of it. Companies have actually lost money, millions of dollars under Obamacare merely due to high claims and low premiums. So why the stock surge? It is health insurances that break huge profit otherwise, especially in the past few years, two reasons big growth in other areas like Medicare and less exposure to Obamacare and its profit loses. That is actually making more money as they had been right abandoning the exchanges and more companies pulled out the exchanges each year boosting the industry net income, 46 percent last year alone. Finally those co-sharing subsidies payouts, not exactly they reimburse insurers for lowering deductibles for six million low income Americans.

[04:10:20] BRIGGS: What happens now, now that they have stopped those payments.

ROMANS: They have already set their prices for next year. So in open enrollment you'll be able to see what the prices are next year.

BRIGGS: Two weeks out. All right at least 40 dead in northern California. These wildfires. Counties letting residents to return to their homes if anything is still standing. We'll have the latest for you next.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Firefighters are slowly gaining the upper hand on several deadly wildfires in California. Death toll stands at 40, hundreds of people unaccounted for, thousands of structures destroyed. With weather conditions improving dramatically some counties are preparing to allow evacuees to return to the homes if indeed they're home are still standing. CNN's Dan Simon has more.


[04:15:17] DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, for the first time in a week, firefighters are now striking an optimistic tone about the fires because the witness have died down. There are still trouble spots. This is at Oakmont fire. Firefighters are leaving those blazes alone because they're not threatening any populated areas, but they are watching things very carefully. There are number of firefighter in the area. Just to make sure things don't get out of control and we don't see any more structures going up in flames. It was a tough Saturday night for the community of Sonoma. That is when the winds kicked up and saw a number of structures burned there. But Sunday a different story with the winds dying down, no longer under a red flag warning and once again firefighter like what they're seeing. They are beginning to make progress, the Tubbs fire, the most destructive fire in Santa Rosa, the containment numbers are way up. 60 percent or more. Hopefully firefighters are now turning a corner. Christine, Dave back to you.


ROMANS: We certainly hope that that holds 60 percent. Thank you. Colin Kaepernick claims all 32 owners of the NFL are colluding to keep him unemployed. The former 49ers quarterback filing a grievance under the leagues collective bargaining agreement, his attorney issued a statement saying this was done only after pursuing every possible avenue, all the NFL team and their executives. Principles and peaceful political protests which the owners themselves made great theater in retaining weeks ago should not be punish and athletes should not be denied.

BRIGGS: Last season it was Kaepernick who first took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality. He opted out of his contract with the 49ers and has not been picked up by another team for the current football season. Hard to believe, some say, with the amount of quarterbacks who have been given jobs.

RICHMOND: Interesting. A dire situation unraveling in Puerto Rico, nearly a month after the hurricane hit. The death toll now rising to 48. They face a daily struggle for food, water, necessities. It's so bad in one particular area residents are tapping into well water designated by the federal government as a tactic super fund site. They have the very worst ground pollution. CNN's Ed Lavandera has more.


after hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. There is still a great deal of concern where some Puerto Ricans are getting the drinking water. Sone of the officials say about 70 percent of the island has had its drinking water restored but in one particular area in the town of Dorado west of the capital here in San Juan, there's a site called a super fund site. It's a designation from the environmental protection agency that says that the ground is contaminated with highly toxic materials and because of that, there are also some water wells on that site, and there are reports that some people have been tapping into those water wells to use as drinking water. Since just after the storm. We've witnessed this, ourselves. EPA teams have been at a number of those wells throughout the weekend carrying out water sampling, but it will take the better part of this week to determine exactly what is in this water. We caught up with one of those EPA officials at that site. And this is what he had to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's urgency, it's a concern. Both we understand that people are hurting right now. We understand there's a lot of thirsty people out there and they're accessing whatever water they can. We're trying to ascertain if it is posing any hazards or not.

LAVANDERA: EPA officials say if the testing does come back to show high levels of toxins in this water, they do say they believe it would take long-term exposure of drinking this water for a very long period of time so suffer any real serious health consequences but despite that we've also talked to independent water experts who are also very disturbed this was going on at all. Serious questions and really kind of points to the sign of how desperate the situation has been on the island for many Puerto Ricans as a desperately searching for water to live on for the better part of the last month. Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: Just unbelievable. All right thank you.

BRIGGS: All right North Korea lashing out angry over joint U.S.-South Korean drills Pyongyang saying American soil and its sight, that is next.


BRIGGS: The U.S. and South Korea launching a ten day naval drill off the Korean peninsula. The military exercise involving more than three dozen war shipping as North Korea reviving its threat to launch missiles towards U.S. territory of Guam. CNN Will Ripley moderating the latest developments live from Tokyo, Will good to see you. What's the plan with these latest military drills?

WILL RIPLEY, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, we know that they kicked off just within the last basically 12 hours or so here in the region, and they involve about 40 naval ships. Including the USS Ronald Reagan, the aircraft carrier that was recently deployed to this region.

[04:25:10] We know that the Nuclear submarine the USS Michigan is also in the region. The U.S. not confirming whether that submarine will be involved in this naval drills which is describes as defensive in nature helping United States and South Korea train and practice how to defend against the North Korea naval attack. Whether it be the North Korean submarine, North Korean ships are even an incoming missile that maybe fired. And so obviously the U.S. continuing to state these drills are defensive in nature. North Korea, on the other hand infuriated as they always are, by this joint military exercises calling them essentially a dress rehearsal for an invasion. We have not yet seen a direct response from North Korea through this drills. But we know, based on past experience North Korea does respond with some sort of military provocation. During the last drills that ended in September, North Korea conducted their most powerful nuclear test, also launching a missile over northern Japan, and last year North Korea also conducted a nuclear test within one week of the joint military exercises ending. Russian lawmakers visiting Pyongyang within the last month and had indicated that North Korea may be preparing to launch a new kind of long-range missile. And last week North Korea revive its threat to launch that missile towards the U.S. territory of Guam. We'll have to see what happens, Dave.

BRIGGS: We'll do. Will Ripley live for us in Tokyo. Thanks.

ROMANS: All right 26 minutes past the hour. At least 276 people killed over the weekend in a double car bombing in the Somali capital. The first explosion destroyed dozens of buildings. Embassy also heavily damaged. Moments later a car bomb explosion ripped through the nearby medina district. No one claiming responsibility for the attack. They've endured terrorist bombings for years.


TILLERSON: I checked I'm fully intact.


BRIGGS: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking out, talking policy, his relationship with the President, comments from Senator Bob Corker suggesting that the Secretary's man hood may be in peril. That is next.