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Secretary Tillerson Speaks Out; Trump Reaches Out To GOP Foes; U.S. And South Korea Launch Naval Drills; Firefighters Gaining on California Wildfires. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 16, 2017 - 05:30   ET


[05:33:32] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking out, talking about his relationship with the president and the administration's plans on Iran and North Korea.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump trying to mend bruised relationships with members of his own party, lunching with Mitch -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- at the White House. On the line, Republicans' tax reform plan, health care, and a budget.

ROMANS: Plus, a rising death toll in Northern California. At least 40 people killed, hundreds still unaccounted for after deadly wildfires rage. Those firefighters going 100 yards every three seconds.

BRIGGS: They can't outrun them -- terrible.

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Thirty-three minutes past the hour.

We start with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking out about his relationship with the president, saying it is not tense and that he and his unconventional boss are working together to quote "force action" on important global issues.

On CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" Tillerson told Jake Tapper that his conversations with President Trump are frank and candid, refuting rumors that the two are at odds.

The secretary also 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. I mean, this is a town that seems to relish gossip, rumor, innuendo, and they feed on it. They feed on one another 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. I go out and do the best I can to execute those decisions successfully. (END VIDEO CLIP)

[05:35:02] ROMANS: Secretary Tillerson also laughed off a comment by Republican Sen. Bob Corker that the president is trying to quote "publicly castrate" him on foreign policy.


JAKE TAPPER, HOST, CNN "STATE OF THE UNION": Do you want to say anything about the senator calling -- suggesting you've been gelded before the world and that it's not anything that bothers you?

TILLERSON: I've checked. I'm fully intact.


ROMANS: Yes, that actually happened. That is the secretary of state --

BRIGGS: Extraordinary times.

ROMANS: -- of the United States of America.

Tillerson also suggested the president's unusual approach to foreign policy with his combative tweets and demands to renegotiate treaties and agreements is all part of a 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 and he is going to take forcing action.

And oftentimes, the tweets or decisions he takes are intended to cause this forcing action to get off of the status quo, to force people to take action and move to a different place.


BRIGGS: Two areas where the president is taking an unconventional approach, Iran and North Korea, also among the most tense in the world right now.

With more on what the secretary said about diplomacy there let's check in with Ryan Browne in Washington.


RYAN BROWNE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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 Sec. Tillerson both said they want to work with the 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 its support of militant groups like Lebanese Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen.

Now, Sec. Tillerson also touched on North Korea, saying that President Trump still supports a diplomatically-led effort there despite recent tweets saying direct negotiations with Pyongyang were a waste of time. Tillerson saying the diplomatic effort will continue until the first bombs are dropped.

TILLERSON: 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 be clear, the president has 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 we will -- as I've told others, those diplomatic 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 with Congress to bring about a new arrangement on Iran and to see how they can curb North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

Back to you guys.


ROMANS: All right, Ryan. Thank you so much for that.

The president also working to repair frayed ties to key Republican senators. Today, he will try to ease simmering tensions with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They will sit down for lunch along with Vice President Mike Pence --

BRIGGS: Try the meat loaf.

ROMANS: It's a follow-up to the president's phone call to McConnell on Saturday, the same day he golfed with frequent foe, Sen. Lindsey Graham. Then on Sunday, the president hit the links with Sen. Rand Paul.

BRIGGS: All three lawmakers key to advancing the president's agenda. And after the golf outing on Sunday, Sen. Paul seemed optimistic about moving ahead with President Trump on an issue dear to both their hearts, tax reform.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I've been very excited about the president's plan from the very beginning, you know, when he put out a 15 percent corporate tax cut. I'm for that now and Congress is trying to say 20. I just want to make sure we realize we're competing with the rest of the world.


BRIGGS: No scores were released but Rand says the president won again in golf.

President Trump expected to talk tax reform with McConnell at today's lunch. If a tax bill is to pass this year the Senate will have to move on a budget this week.

ROMANS: And joining us here this morning again, Eugene Scott, political reporter for "The Washington Post." Thanks, Eugene.


ROMANS: You know, this weekend, the White House trying to sell the idea that corporate tax cuts will mean a bigger paycheck for the American middle-class. The president truly wants his tax reform to be about the middle-class. I really believe that. He has said it over and over and over again.

The plan that you see there from the GOP's sort of framework though really is about corporate tax reform. You know, getting a cut for companies.

SCOTT: Absolutely and, I mean, we saw a study coming from Brookings that said nearly 80 percent of the plan will benefit people in the top one percent. And I think it's important to realize that when you look at some of the groups that Donald Trump won in 2016, people making more than $250,000 a year was one of those groups.


SCOTT: And so, he has these split loyalties from what he said and how he campaigned but who ended up essentially backing him, and those are the people that are looking for some type of response and some type of reward, I guess, for their loyalty.

[05:40:02] BRIGGS: Well, what they say is it translates -- a corporate tax cut -- to a $4,000 pay raise over eight years. Now, it relies on a lot of assumptions.


BRIGGS: It's interesting -- let's point it out. That's what they say.

What Steve Bannon says though -- the former chief strategist at the White House says this is war with the GOP establishment.

SCOTT: Right.

BRIGGS: This is an interesting needle for the president to try to thread because he's spoken with Bannon several times, according to Michael Bender, in recent days. That, within the context of Bannon saying they're at war and Lindsey Graham acknowledged that war, and here's how important it is to the GOP.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's a symptom of a greater problem. If we don't cut taxes and we don't eventually repeal and replace Obamacare, then we're going to lose across the board in the House in 2018, and all of my colleagues running in primaries in 2018 will probably get beat. It will be the end of Mitch McConnell as we know it. So this is a symptom of a greater problem.

If we do cut taxes and we do repeal and replace Obamacare, it doesn't matter what Bannon do because we'll win.


BRIGGS: Is he right?

SCOTT: I think he is right to affirm what Bannon said at the Values Voter Summit this weekend.

Bannon has been accused of being at war almost singlehandedly and what he says, it's us. It's the voters and Bannon against the establishment.

And so, the reality is I feel like people like Graham realize that they're not -- they don't have to prove something to Bannon as much as they have to prove to the people who put -- who sent Trump to the White House who now believe that perhaps what the establishment Republicans are putting forward hasn't been in the best interest of the American people.

ROMANS: How close do we think the president is now, currently, with Bannon? I mean, does he have his ear?

SCOTT: I was just reading an article that said that he calls Bannon when John Kelly isn't around. So, I mean, for us to think that that communication pathway has been cut off just because he left the White House is not something that I would put a lot of stock in.

BRIGGS: It's interesting though, trying to make a deal with Mitch McConnell and going to war with the GOP establishment. How do you straddle that fence?


BRIGGS: But let's talk about health care and Susan Collins out there with "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake yesterday, talking about what the president's moves this past week actually will do to the health care market -- listen.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: What the president is doing is affecting the ability of vulnerable people to receive health care right now. This is not a bailout of the insurers. What this money is used for is to help low-income people afford their deductibles and their co-pays so that their health care is available to them.


BRIGGS: And again, that's a Republican --

SCOTT: Right.

BRIGGS: -- senator, Susan Collins.

Where are we headed on this health care battle?

SCOTT: Yes. I mean, her points are so valid and concerning to many people in the Republican Party. There's another study that said nearly 70 percent of the people receiving these subsidies -- the low- income people -- live in states that Trump won, and so these are real concerns the Republicans have.

BRIGGS: But will he get the blame for it?

SCOTT: Well, that's a -- it doesn't seem like it will be, not from people who are on the Trump train, right?

The reality is that we've seen Democrats over the last week try to say this is Trumpcare now, this is Trumpcare. He's changing some of the fundamental pieces of it.

But I think what Bannon has been effective at doing is saying that we're just trying to change what the Republican establishment, along with the Democrats, have messed up for you all.

ROMANS: All right. Eugene Scott, "Washington Post." So nice to see you this morning.

SCOTT: You, too.

ROMANS: A lot to talk about --


ROMANS: -- on a Monday morning. Thanks, Eugene.

BRIGGS: OK. Some new allegations surfacing this weekend against disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. British actress Lysette Anthony claiming Weinstein sexually assaulted her in the 1980s on multiple occasions, one of the attacks allegedly taking place in her own home.

London's Metropolitan Police confirming a sexual assault investigation has been launched with Weinstein believed to be the target and three women making accusations.

A rep for Weinstein has released this statement on behalf of her client. "Any allegation of nonconsensual sex is vigorously denied by Mr. Weinstein." ROMANS: Meanwhile, Weinstein's legacy as top-shelf producer gradually being dismantled. French President Emmanuel Macron starting a process of stripping him of the country's highest order of merit, the Legion of Honor.

Over the weekend, Weinstein was also expelled from the organization behind the Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And producers -- the Producers Guild will reportedly meet later today to consider a similar action.

BRIGGS: All right.

North Korea lashing out, angry over joint U.S.-South Korean drills. Pyongyang saying American soil in its sights. A live report, next.


[05:48:45] BRIGGS: The U.S. and South Korea launching a 10-day naval drill off the Korean Peninsula. The military exercise involving more than three dozen warships. That, as North Korea reviving its threat to launch missiles toward the U.S. territory of Guam.

CNN's Will Ripley monitoring the latest developments for us live from Tokyo. Will, these drills don't often go well in Pyongyang, do they?


Previous joint military exercises have resulted in North Korean provocation such as nuclear tests, a missile launch over Japan earlier this year. And by all indications, according to North Korean propaganda, where just last week they revived their threat to potentially launch missiles toward the U.S. territory of Guam.

The indications are that there could be a very strong North Korea response to all of this, especially given the war of words -- the back and forth between North Korea and President Trump, who said to the United Nations that the U.S. could totally destroy North Korea and even came up with a nickname for their leader, "Little Rocket Man," something that infuriated Pyongyang.

Their foreign minister responded, calling President Trump mentally deranged and later, even threatening to detonate a nuclear weapon over the Pacific.

Now, we know that these drills are expected to last for 10 days. They involve 40 naval ships, including the US -- the USS Ronald Reagan. That's an aircraft carrier dispatched to the region.

[05:50:00] We also know there's a ballistic missile submarine, the USS Michigan, in the region right now. But the U.S. is not confirming whether the Michigan is also taking part in these drills which are described as defensive, helping the United States and South Korea prepare for a possible provocation from North Korea even though the North insists that these are a declaration for war.

So we have to watch to see if tensions escalate -- what North Korea's response to all of this will be if, indeed, they do respond. History shows it's a very likely possibility.

Also underway right now, regular exercises to evacuate American servicemen and their families from South Korea to the island of Okinawa here in Japan. These are exercises that do happen regularly where families have to board helicopters, military planes that take them to Japan. It's a very, very routine operation but obviously, becoming much more serious right now, Dave, given the escalating tensions.

BRIGGS: All right. Tense times remain here at 6:50 p.m. Will Ripley, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Let's take a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Chris Cuomo joins us this morning. Good morning, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thank you --

BRIGGS: Morning.

CUOMO: -- very much. Always good to see you, Dave. Christine's very interested in time with these teases so let me get right to it.

Health care, big deal. Taxes, big deal. But will there be any deal right now in Washington, D.C.? We're going to take you through the latest developments.

We're also going to take a look at what is going on with the wildfires. There is a little bit of control but not enough.

So we're going to take you through all those big headlines, as well as a round-up of international issues. What's on the front burner and the back burner, coming up on "NEW DAY."

How was that, Christine?

ROMANS: That's was great.

CUOMO: Happy I'm out of time.

BRIGGS: No, we like stories.

ROMANS: No, no, no. Chris Cuomo --

CUOMO: I want to see what you fill it with now, Christine. I've given you time. Let's see what genius comes out your face.

ROMANS: Chris Cuomo proving that brevity is the by-product of vigor, my friend. Thank you.

All right, big changes coming to Twitter. The company's CEO announcing new rules to stop online harassment. Well, it's about time.

Details on "CNN Money Stream," next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [05:56:23] BRIGGS: Firefighters are slowing gaining the upper hand on several deadly wildfires in California. The death toll stands at 40, with hundreds of people still unaccounted for and thousands of structures destroyed.

But with weather conditions gradually improving, some counties are preparing to allow evacuees to return home if those homes are still standing.

CNN's Dan Simon has more.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, for the first time in a week firefighters are now striking an optimistic tone about these fires. That's because the winds have died down.

That said, there are still some trouble spots. I want to show you where we are.

This is the Oakmont fire. You can see a number of fires -- spot fires burning in that canyon. For now, firefighters are leaving those blazes alone because they're not threatening any populated areas.

But they are watching things very carefully. There are a number of firefighters 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's when the winds kicked up and we saw a number of structures burn there, also some evacuations. But Sunday, a different story with the winds dying down, no longer under a red flag warning.

And, once again, firefighters like what they're seeing. They're beginning to make progress.

The Tubbs fire, which was the most destructive fire in Santa Rosa, the containment numbers are way up 60 percent or more. So hopefully, firefighters are now turning a corner.

Christine and Dave, back to you.


ROMANS: All right. Dan Simons. Thank you for that, Dan.

Let's get a quick check on "CNN Money Stream" this Monday morning.

Global stock markets are higher right now. Wall Street rose on Friday after positive data in retail and consumer sentiment. That pushed the Dow and the S&P 500 to a fifth straight week of gains.

Wall Street banks kicked off third-quarter earnings season last week. Expect more this week. And so far this year, it has been very good times for big American companies. Profits were fantastic in the first two quarters. S&P 500 companies should report lower profit growth, though, in the third quarter, only just about 2.8 percent. That's because of those two big hurricanes. They will depress earnings growth -- Harvey and Irma -- particularly, on the insurance industry.

All right. Twitter's CEO says new rules are coming to stop online harassment. In a series of tweets, founder Jack Dorsey said the rules would combat unwanted sexual advances, nonconsensual nudity, hate symbols, and tweets that glorify violence, adding that Twitter is taking a more aggressive stance.

Twitter, of course, has been criticized for years for allowing hate speech and harassment on its platform, as well as, you know, terrorist recruitment.

Dorsey did not give any time line for those changes.

You know, it's interesting. So many of these social media platforms have always been about just give me the platform for the voices.

BRIGGS: Allowing -- yes, yes.

ROMANS: Now they're starting to know that those voices are being corrupted.

BRIGGS: It's the land of the trolls.

ROMANS: It really is.

BRIGGS: That is a heck of an uphill battle --

ROMANS: It really is.

BRIGGS: -- for Jack Dorsey.

ROMANS: Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And, I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now. We'll see you tomorrow.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Right now, it's a season of war against the GOP establishment.

GRAHAM: If we're successful, Mitch McConnell's fine. If we're not, we're all in trouble.

ROMANS: Trump and McConnell set to meet today as the budget deadline and the possibility of a government shutdown loom.

PAUL: Don't subsidize something that's never going to work.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: What he's doing is hurting the American people. NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Just because we all made the deal doesn't mean you don't go back and look and say is it still working.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is using this for political cover.

TILLERSON: He has assembled a very unconventional team. He is an unconventional president.

H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He is not going to permit Kim Jong Un to threaten the United States with a nuclear weapon.


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

CUOMO: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY.