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Tillerson: Diplomacy Will Continue 'Until First Bomb Drops'; Trump Allies Worry Losing the House Means Impeachment. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired October 16, 2017 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEVE BANNON, BREITBART NEWS: Right now it's a season of war against a GOP establishment.

[05:559:28] SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If we're successful, Mitch McConnell's fine. If not, we're all in trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump and McConnell set to meet today as the budget deadline and the possibility of a government shutdown looms.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Don't subsidize something that's never going to work.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: What he's doing is hurting the American people.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Just because we all made the deal doesn't mean you don't go back and look and say, is it still working?

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The president is using this for political cover. He has assembled a very unconventional team. He is an unconventional president.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Monday, October 16, 6 a.m. here in New York. Alisyn is at home, Poppy Harlow plus one joining me this morning.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Very plus one this morning. Good morning, my friend.

CUOMO: We need you and appreciate having you here, as always.

This is the starting line. President Trump set to meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the man he blames for the Senate repeatedly failing to repeal Obamacare.

Now Democrats are threatening a government shutdown over health care. Can they strike a deal on this or frankly anything, given the negativity that has been ginned up in the capital?

One top Republican warns the GOP of a bloodbath if they don't cut taxes and replace Obamacare with something better.

But some do not want compromise. Steve Bannon, the alt-right supporter President Trump made relevant when he put him on his staff, now declares a, quote, "season of war" against the Republican establishment. His No. 1 target, the man having lunch with the president today, Mitch McConnell.

HARLOW: Exactly. Meantime, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said diplomatic efforts with North Korea will continue, despite what the president says, quote, "until the first bomb drops." Now, this comes as the U.S. military begins drills to evacuate Americans out of South Korea in the event of possible war.

Tillerson also refused again and again to answer whether or not he called the president a moron.

And one of the president's favorite targets, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, filing a grievance late yesterday against the NFL. Kaepernick claims they are colluding to keep him unemployed.

We have it all covered this morning. Let's begin with our Joe Johns at the White House. Good morning.

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

Despite the public sniping between President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the two men are expected to sit down to lunch today. They did speak over the phone this weekend. And they're going to meet today to try to hash out an agenda for the fall.

Tax reform is coming up. And if that's going to go through, they have to come up with a budget this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell meeting face-to-face today after months of growing tension. Both leaders desperate for a legislative win, set to chart the path forward on key issues like health care and tax reform.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to get tax reform done?

GRAHAM: Yes. If we don't, we're dead.

JOHNS: The president also cozying up to two former rivals, inviting senators Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul to play golf over the weekend.

PAUL: He's a better golfer than I am.

JOHNS: But despite these warming relations, growing signs of deep divisions within the Republican Party.

BANNON: Mitch, the donors -- the donors are not happy. They've all left you. We've cut your oxygen off, Mitch.

JOHNS: President Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon attacking Mitch McConnell by name this weekend and declaring war on the GOP establishment.

BANNON: This is not my war. This is our war. The establishment started it. But I will tell you one thing: you all are going to finish it.

JOHNS: This as Republican Senator Susan Collins, a key "no" vote on health care, criticized the president's move to kill subsidies benefiting poor Americans.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: What the president is doing is affecting the ability of vulnerable people to receive health care right now.

JOHNS: Secretary of state Rex Tillerson addressing his own rocky relationship with the president on CNN's "State of the Union."

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did you call him a moron?

TILLERSON: Jake, as I indicated earlier, when I was asked about that, I'm not going to deal with that kind of petty stuff, and I'm just not going to dignify the question.

JOHNS: Refusing to answer when asked repeatedly if he called the president a moron before pushing back against comments from Republican Senator Bob Corker that the president is trying to publicly castrate him.

TILLERSON: I checked. I'm fully intact. This is an unconventional president. He uses unconventional communication tools. He uses unconventional techniques to motivate change.

JOHNS: Tillerson also defending the president's decision to decertify the Iran deal and the administration's strategy toward North Korea.

TILLERSON: The president has also made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically. He's not seeking to go to war. Those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: President Trump is expected to meet with his cabinet today, the first such meeting since they got together at Camp David last month.

The president then gets involved in what is likely be another contested primary race, this one in South Carolina for the governor there. He is facing two challengers in the primary. The president is still licking his wounds after backing the losing horse in the Alabama Senate race. Poppy, back to you.

HARLOW: It got to him a lot, certainly. All right. Joe Johns, thanks for the reporting at the White House this Monday morning.

[06:05:09] There is growing concern within the Republican Party that President Trump's feuds with his own in his own party and his legislative failures could spell disaster in the midterm election, ultimately putting his presidency in peril. Just look at the House and what it could portend.

Our Sara Murray is live in Washington with more. Your reporting this morning is fascinating, Sara. Walk us through.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Poppy.

Look, the conversations that are increasingly playing out among White House staffers, among lawmakers, among other top Republicans, is does this president understand that he could put his own presidency in peril if the House loses -- if the Republicans lose control of the House in 2018.

They see a president who is picking fights with other Republicans, who lacks a major legislative accomplishment. And they look at the math, and it could be, potentially, a bloodbath for Republicans.

So what does this mean for President Trump? They say he doesn't understand the kind of oversight authority Democrats would have over him if they take control of the House. We're talking about issuing subpoenas. We're talking about dragging his family members, his friends, his acquaintances up to Capitol Hill to testify and, of course, moving forward with articles of impeachment.

Now it's very difficult to actually boot a president out of office. That is a point the White House would make. The White House also insists the president is keenly aware of this risk. They say they're not taking a defeatist approach to 2018. They plan to fight to keep control of the House.

But it also gives you an indication of just how high the stakes are for this upcoming tax reform fight. If they can manage to get tax reform through, if they can pass something, then Trump has a big major legislative achievement that he can go around touting; and Republicans have something that they can go home and talk to their base about.

But for now, the fear among Republicans is this is a president who does not understand that Democrats can make his life a living hell if Republicans lose control in 2018.

Back to you guys.

CUOMO: All right, Sara, appreciate it.

Let's bring in the panel: CNN political commentators Errol Louis and Michael Smerconish. Michael, so what do you make of this -- this latest kind of stream of

fear that we're heading for bad midterms within the GOP? I thought that the whole sell was that Trump had tapped into the base, and sure there was going to be some -- some friction between them and the traditional establishment. But ultimately, they were on the side of the people.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the president would like to have legislative achievement. I think he'd like to get tax reform done. I think he'd like to have something relative to the Affordable Care Act. But Chris, I think he's inoculating himself. He's inoculating himself. There's probably a better word choice.

He fights with these establishment Republicans. He can then lay it off on them. Notice what he's done in the last couple of weeks with Iran, DACA, Cuba, and the Affordable Care Act. He's taken some individual initiative. If you're having condemned President Obama for all that executive action, he's now doing likewise, I think, so that he can say "I did my part. I can't control Mitch McConnell."

And one other aspect of this, it's not at all clear to me what the relationship is between the president and Steve Bannon. I'm not convinced Bannon isn't acting at the president's behest when he stirs the pot against those establishment Republicans.

HARLOW: We know from reporting in "The Wall Street Journal" that he spoke to the president three times recently, Errol, as he came out and made those statements over the weekend.

Let me ask you this, though. There's something fascinate anything Sara Murray's reporting talking to all of these, about a dozen Republican officials inside and outside the White House. A top official said wouldn't it be ironic that Steve Bannon helped get hum elected and impeached. Meaning, the question is raised, is Steve Bannon -- a lot of Republican strategist are saying -- making it easier for Democrats to take over the House in 2018 by saying everyone can be primaried, every Republican, other than Ted Cruz.

CUOMO: That's right. The larger war that Steve Bannon has sort of set off, this civil war within the Republican Party -- look, to a certain extent this was going to happen anyway. There are some real cleavages: regionally, ideologically. People want different things within that conference.

On the other hand, there are a couple dozen seats by which the Republicans control the House of Representatives. There are also a couple of dozen seats that Hillary Clinton won that had Republican representatives in them. So the Democrats, they're leading on a number of different fronts. There are some interesting indications that Democrats can make some headway, could in fact, take back the House. And that does in fact, lead to the only sure remedy for all of the frustration that Trump has heaped on the Democratic Party generally. All of the insults, all of the tweets, the answer to all of those things is to organize the ground level.

The Democrats are very clear about that. And to start an investigation. A real investigation that Republicans have not undertaken about what went on during that campaign, what's going on with Russian collusion, and what's going on with the many, many conflicts of interest that Trump and his family have.

CUOMO: You think the fears are real, Smerc? You think that the -- that there's a chance that the GOP loses in the midterms?

SMERCONISH: I think it's a possibility. I mean, history is on the side of the Democrats having a good year. Just how good of a year remains to be seen. What I don't buy into the predicate that this could lead to impeachment. There are no evidence of any bribery, treason, high crimes and misdemeanor. It's like all the the 25th Amendment talk that I hear. I know among those very anti-Trump circles, this is reaching a fever pitch. I just don't see the substance that backs any of it up.

CUOMO: You've got to remember, with Clinton it came down to perjury.

HARLOW: Sure.

CUOMO: What they wound up getting him on. So it wasn't a high crime or misdemeanor. It was what they had.

HARLOW: Well, and that's why the president keeps saying, "Stop going out of the scope. Stop going out of the scope." Because they see what happened with -- with, you know, Clinton. But the special prosecutor can do whatever he wants.

Errol, to you, what about policy? You've seen the president golfing with people who he didn't necessarily get along so well with, Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham, but apparently now they do. Rand Paul talking a lot about tax reform yesterday. He's so encouraged.

Lindsay Graham said bluntly, "If we don't get this thing done, we're dead. This isn't about Mitch McConnell. This isn't his fault. If we, the party, don't get tax reform done, we're dead."

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I strongly suspect that this was Lindsey Graham trying one more angle to try to get to the president. He often will listen to what he sees on television, as opposed what he's told on the golf course or face-to-face in the Oval Office.

I'm not entirely sure, though, that this kind of apocalyptic talk about if we don't slash taxes, if we don't, you know, wreck Obamacare, we're going to all get voted out of office. The polls don't actually support that.

HARLOW: Ted Cruz says that, you know, wait until next year. It won't even happen, if it happens, until 2018.

JOHNS: Well, that's right. And these things are going to play out over time. It's not entire clear that, you know, when the critical moment comes next fall, there are going to be a whole bunch of single- issue voters out there who all they ever wanted to do was wreck the Obamacare exchanges and see their premiums soar. I'm not entirely clear that that's a winning formula in the first place.

We'll see, obviously, what the Republicans can put together. But no, all of this talk about, you know, we've got to do this, we've got to do this. I think they're trying to build momentum, trying to build consensus where, very importantly, consensus does not exist.

CUOMO: Look, and also, there's something to be said in campaign politics for getting something done nearer to the actual election.

HARLOW: Fair.

CUOMO: So while they'll say they want to get it done in the first year, there's salability to that. But you get it done next year, Poppy, you've got the election coming up. It's not a bad time to have something--

HARLOW: The way we just did.

CUOMO: -- in your face. So Michael, a little bit of this, though, is going to be we're on parallel tracks, right? You have the accomplishment. You guys are right to want to talk about that. But this is as much about culture and a culture war now where Trump is involved, because it is about what he gets done legislatively. How does that play into the mix?

SMERCONISH: It's such a good point. Because when all is said and done, he's still not Obama, and he is still not Hillary. To his base, Chris, Poppy, Errol, I think that's what matter most. You know, we pay attention to the foibles and stumbles that he's made in the last 10 or so months, but that base largely remains intact, united I think, by all the people that he still opposes.

HARLOW: Well, the party, I mean, just looking at the polling from last month, not that long ago, 85 percent approval for the president among Republicans. So much higher than for McConnell and for, you know, and for Paul Ryan, et cetera. What about health care? I mean, the Dems threatening to, Errol, shut down the government over this. Whether or not Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander can get something done, we'll see.

But where do we go from here? And how much are the Democrats risking if they're willing to shut down the government over this?

LOUIS: Yes, but there's a lot of talk about the fighting on the Republican side. The Democrats are also involved. And the Republicans are involved in their own search for a purpose, a unifying principle everyone can-can get-together around.

I think they're trying to figure out if DACA is going to be the hill that they decide to sort of die on. They -- if DACA is going to be something that they would shut down the government over to try and fight against the wall. Is this going to be something that they really actually do? Are the tax cuts that are being contemplated so destructive that Democrats can say, you know what, we've got to stop everything, rather than let this go through. Is the amendment or, you know, the amendment or the wreckage of health

care going to be something? Now, they've suggested that they're willing to do that and, in fact, their base, the Democratic base, which we don't talk about very much, they, in fact, might push them to do that. Because there is more than one way to sort of lose if you're a Democrat. One is in a primary. There are some progressive Bernie Sanders Democrats who are itching to run and to run on the proposition that some of the mainstream Democrats have not fought hard enough for things that the party should be fighting for.

CUOMO: You never know, Michael. It's all about, you know, reading the tea leaves. There is a belief that, yes, Trump canceled those cost-sharing payments. Forget about the legality of all of that. It's too deep in the weeds for people and probably rendered moot by his action now anyway.

But he's also supposedly open to legislation on them. So wouldn't it be interesting if he winds up by executive order canceling the payments? They didn't cut a deal to stabilize the markets, put those cost-sharing payments back in, and he signs it.

[06:15:12] SMERCONISH: Look, he's been talking for so long about how the Affordable Care Act is in a death spiral. And then, through the action that he took last week, he ensured that that will be the outcome. I think this, among the litany of issues that you just raised, is the one that posed the greatest problem for him.

But let's also say this. For all the problems within the GOP, the Democratic Party is in the worst shape that it's been since reconstruction. When you look at the White House, the House, the Senate, gubernatorial mansions, state legislatures all across the United States. They've got to get their act together. And to the point you made a moment ago, Chris.

You know, what will be the face? What would be the mantra of the party? Will it be the very progressive wing, the Bernie Sanders, the Elizabeth Warren wing, or will they try and go more centrist. And I don't think they yet know what they want to be.

HARLOW: And who? Who is the face?

All right, guys. Stick around?

SMERCONISH: And who, Poppy.

HARLOW: We have a lot to get to. Stay with us, OK?

Secretary of State Tillerson insists the president favors a diplomatic solution to the North Korean crisis. Why did he tell CNN diplomacy will only prevail, quote, "until the first bomb drops"? Did the secretary tip his hand? We'll discuss.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:20:06] HARLOW: Despite the harsh rhetoric, to put it mildly, that we've heard from the president, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson insists the president's tweets and statements about North Korea are actually meant to motivate action. Listen to what he said to our Jake Tapper yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TILLERSON: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right. Let's bring back in Errol Louis and Michael Smerconish.

CUOMO: All right. So, Errol, let's take on what Rex Tillerson was there to put out. Why did they put him out on a Sunday show talking to Jake and others? He's got some stuff to clean up, all right? So let's play a couple of moments that went to his effectiveness to see how he did.

The first one was he reportedly called the president a moron. He doesn't want to deal with the suggestion. It came up on the show. Here's how he handled it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TILLERSON: Jake, as I indicated earlier, I was asked about that. 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 feel that way, and I'm just not going to dignify the question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Errol, here's the problem. And I'm on record saying the answer doesn't work. It just doesn't. Because it doesn't sound like he's saying he didn't say it. If you want to deal with the pettiness of D.C., you've got a very easy way to dispense with it: "I never said it. The report is wrong." Why doesn't he say that?

LOUIS: Well, he can't. In fact, I heard, if you think about it, what he was just saying, he doesn't want to participate in it. It's not how he deals. That's -- I read that a a shot across the bow or, frankly, a response to the people in the room who hear this and who eventually told a reporter that they heard it. That's the fight that he seems to be losing. That seems to be the fight that he doesn't like.

Not so much that reporters are doing their job. Because we're going to do our jobs. But that the reality is somebody has got some knives out for him and stuck him in the back there.

I think he didn't just come out and say he never say because he probably did say it, No. 1. And No. 2, if he gets five or six or seven people who come out and say, "I was there. He did say it." Or God forbid, there's a recording, then he's in worse -- a worse position than when he started.

CUOMO: He can thank his boss for some of this. Because one of the reasons we have to keep pushing on these things now, everybody would agree that what names they're calling each other, I don't really care that much. But when you've called into question all reporting and what's real and what's fake, you've now created pressure right from the White House, that yes, now we've got to nail it down, because you say everything is not true.

HARLOW: And you know, if you didn't see this full interview, watch it on CNN.com. Because Michael, it was Jake's follow-up that got to the heart of it. Right? It's not about he said/she said, who leaks this or that, OK? It's about why did it matter if you, the secretary of the state, the highest diplomat for this country, thinks that the president doesn't know what he's talking about? Whether you think that or not is of the utmost relevance, Michael.

SMERCONISH: So now they're trying to present themselves as playing a very deliberate good cop, bad cop. But the "F-ing" moron comment -- you guys are leaving out half the statement, by the way--

HARLOW: It's morning television.

SMERCONISH: It goes against -- it goes against the idea that they're all working in concert. And Errol is right. You know, he said it. Because if he didn't say it, he simply would have said to Jake yesterday, "Jake, I never said that." But he couldn't do that.

CUOMO: Now, there was another moment there about his own effectiveness, and it's your point, Michael, about whether or not they're more united now. Here is the secretary of state's take on whether or not he is fully intact. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: You're a cattle -- you have a cattle ranch. You don't want to say anything about the senator calling -- suggesting you've been gelded before the world? It's not anything that bothers you?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Now, that answer works. Errol, what do you think?

LOUIS: It's a great -- it's a great answer. And it works, in part, because it skirts the real issue. Right? The real issue is that the secretary of state has been undercut by the president.

More importantly, though, you know, it's not clear whether or not the State Department as a whole, diplomacy as a whole is supposed to be downplayed. We keep hearing about the funding cuts. We keep hearing about the staffing chaos. There were a number of important desks that still do not have managers in charge of them.

And that's Rex Tillerson's doing, possibly as a strategy that he agreed upon with the president starting from day one. So, you know, the reality is after the joke, after the chuckling is over, we have to ask ourselves, "Do we have a functioning State Department? Do we have a diplomacy that actually is meaningful in the world, compared with -- compared with the march of the generals, the trade wars, the tough talk, the brinksmanship with North Korea and all of the other stuff that's coming out of the White House."

HARLOW: Michael, it's intersection of politics and pop culture this morning as the NFL once again, Colin Kaepernick, who was the first to kneel during the national anthem, who has been mum during this whole debate over the last month and a hat, has obtained counsel. He is suing the NFL for collusion, saying that the teams, the owners colluded against him so that he would not have a job, because he expressed his personal feelings by kneeling.

[06:25:18] You know, in the -- in the statement put out by his attorney, it does reference the president a few weeks ago saying, "You should fire these SOBs." So you've got everything coming together this morning on that front.

SMERCONISH: Poppy, it reminds me years ago I litigated a case on behalf of a ranked heavyweight against Don King. And the argument was, for reasons I won't bore you, you're not giving this guy the shot at the title that he deserves.

And the takeaway for me was that case was a combination of the objective. You knew his fight record. You know his own loss and knockouts. But there was also a subjective quotient.

And like that in the Colin Kaepernick case, you know his statistics. You can compare him to those who are a part of the team. But there's also a suggestive quality here. You know, does he suit the type of offense that a particular team is actually going to run.

I think those with trained eyes -- I'm thinking of, like, a Bob Costas -- say he's better than many of the backups, and he's better than some of the start-ups; and he probably does deserve a shot. But whether you can successfully litigate that, even with Mark Geragos as your counsel, remains to be seen.

CUOMO: I mean, that's -- look, it will be somewhat of an interesting legal question. Because -- because of the subjectivity, they don't have to really prove why they did things, I don't think, in this kind of forum. But you are put on the field because of how you do on the field. But you're also put on the field because of what you mean to the franchise and the face they want to put forward for that franchise. Do you think that that is also factoring into why Kaepernick is not on the gridiron?

LOUIS: Yes, unquestionably. Right? I mean, follow this stuff as closely as some of the experts. But what I've read from people who I do trust, is that yes, he's very, very good. And somebody should have picked him up in some role.

The fact that that didn't happen, I think, opens the door for what could be some expensive litigation as far as the reputation of the NFL. I mean, if Geragos was a very sharp operator, harnesses this through the larger question of the civil rights movement that Colin Kaepernick kind of set off and joined by taking his action, then all of a sudden, there's a lot of pressure.

And then that, plus, as you know, sort of the discovery process, all kinds of e-mails, discussions start to come out, the pressure starts to mount. And then that's when you see the owners trying to settle.

CUOMO: Good points. Fellows, thank you very much for starting us off here on Monday morning. We have a headline taking us into break. Two car bombs have torn through Mogadishu. Hundreds were killed in the Somali capital. One going off right after the other. It looked as though it was coordinated. What do we know who was behind these attacks? We have late-breaking details next.