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Trump, Mattis To Meet After North Korea Rejects Diplomacy; North Korea: No Diplomacy Until ICBM Can Hit East Coast; Questions Remain Over Deadly Niger Ambush; Drug Czar Nominee Drops Out Amid Legislation Flap; ISIS Loses Grip On Raqqa: "Major Military Operations" End. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. New this morning, the President has not blamed anyone for anything today. Unusual, because less than 24 hours ago he blamed the Republican Congress for not passing his agenda, blamed Puerto Rican officials for not delivering aid, blamed President Obama for not comforting families of soldiers killed in Niger last week, and blamed the media for not ignoring sexual harassment claims against him.

HARLOW: And now the borage of blame is not playing well with most voters. A brand new CNN poll shows 56 percent of Americans think the President's policies will move the country in the wrong direction. And it is not playing well with one Republican senator who overnight (INAUDIBLE) attack on the President without having use his name. Listen to John McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: To abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership, and our duty to remain the last best hope of earth, for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism, cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems. We live in land made of ideal, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home and they are champion abroad.


HARLOW: You know who else might not like the 2017 blame everyone version of the President? The President back in 2012, here are his words, what he wrote on Twitter, "Obama's complaints about Republicans stopping his agenda are B.S., since he had a full control for two years he can never take responsibility."

Let's go first to the White House this morning where we find our Joe Johns. Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. So we see the President trying to appeal to the warring factions in the Republican Party. It's a very difficult job and in sort of stretches credulity, if you will.

But in our poll, the President does not get very high marks for the way he's been dealing with Congress. Just to look at the graphic. Overall, 32 percent approved the way the President is handling his relationship with Congress, while 54 percent disapproved.

Now that tension (ph), however, does appear to be playing well to the base. The poll also shows that 68 percent of Republicans do approved of the way the President is handling the relationship.

So let's talk a little bit about the President trying to straddle the fence here in Washington. We saw it on display at the White House just yesterday, the President on the one hand trying to reach out to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the other hand trying to keep the peace with his former top adviser, Steve Bannon. Listen.


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 we've been friends for a long time. We are probably now, despite what we read -- we're 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.


JOHNS: The President will get the opportunity to reach out to both sides of the Republican Party once again tonight when he appears before the Heritage Foundation, that's a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. They'll be very interested to hear more about the President's plan on health care, as well as tax cuts.

We're also expecting to see the President speaking to reporters for the second time in two days when the Greek prime minister shows up here at the White House later this afternoon. Back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Joe Johns at the White House. Thanks very much, Joe.

HARLOW: Breaking news just in to us. Minutes ago, President Trump announced that a key position to confront and battle the opioid crisis will not be filled as expected.

BERMAN: The President says his nominee for drugs czar, Congressman Tom Marino, is withdrawing his name after revelations that he supported legislation, really promoted legislation was the key sponsor of legislation that limits the DEA's ability to fight the opioid crisis. This is all part of the "60 Minutes" and "Washington Post" expose. CNN Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill with the latest on that. Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, the backlash is fears and swift. We heard from -- this is Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia this morning who was on our air saying over his dead body that they were going to allow Marino to be the drug czar, and to allow that to happen saying that they were going to repeal this legislation, really damning here from the "60 Minutes" and "Washington Post" report.

This is legislation that was passed through unanimous consent. It was not a vote by the Senate, but no objections to this and essentially originally this bill was about helping people who were dying, end of life, to get painkillers that were necessary that they could not get.

[09:05:08] But the "60 Minutes" report revealing something much more sinister perhaps, that the drug companies really lobbying and pushing to allow this loophole, if you will, to make it harder for the Drug Enforcement Administration to seize these shifts of suspicious narcotics and flood the system, flood American cities with these pills and with these opioids contributing to this drug crisis that we have.

So we heard from Senator Manchin and we know that he said he was going to repeal. Senator Murkowski said she's going to put a bill on the table. The President, of course, did not want it.

He was confronted with the reality of his nominee just yesterday and now we're hearing from Manchin this morning tweeting a response to the President saying, "Trump, thanks for recognizing we need a drug czar who has seen the devastating effects of the problem. I look forward to working with Trump to finding a drug czar that will serve West Virginia and our entire country." John, Poppy?

HARLOW: All right. Suzanne Malveaux, thank you very much. I mean the problem is this now leaves America without the key position in the middle of a complete crisis.

BERMAN: It is, but it has been without this position all this time.

HARLOW: For the entire administration.

BERMAN: All right, joining us now, Alex Conant, former Communications Director for Marco Rubio as running for president, he also work in the White House, and Errol Louis, CNN Political Commentator.

You know, Errol, the drug crisis aside, this is another example, the President ripping off the band-aid pretty quickly when someone associated with him starts to get bad press. Tom Marino, the subject to the scathing "60 Minutes" piece, you know, Sunday, and today is Tuesday. Marino is out. Tom Price when he was taking these expensive private flights last -- about a week and a half after that story came out, the President acting pretty quickly here.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this was also extraordinary. I mean, the expose that was done, it takes months to put the step together at "Washington Post" and "60 Minutes" very high- profile sort of embarrassment for the administration because as you point out, Marino wasn't just sort of part of the crowd that went along with this legislation.

HARLOW: Yes. LOUIS: He spearheaded it. When it came to light that he had taken over $100,000 from Big Pharma, it becomes clear that he is part of the swamp. He is a swamp creature. And he pushed through something in that in the end. It was terribly devastatingly bad for West Virginia in particular.

HARLOW: Here's the thing, Alex, not a single sitting member of Congress nor President Obama did anything about it. They saw this legislation coming. I read at this morning, you can't even understand a lot of this. I mean, no one -- it passed with unanimous consent in the Senate and the House and not a single senator or member of the House opposed it.

ALEX CONANT, FORMER RNC AND W.H. SPOKESMAN: Yes. I mean, look, clearly it had consequences that most members of Congress didn't appreciate at the time. I give the administration credit for acting swiftly in this case. We have seen other cabinet secretaries, other nominees sort of hangout there even after they are politically dead. It is awkward for the administration.

But in this case, the administration, the President acted very swiftly. I think they deserve credit for that. Now, hopefully they act swiftly, appoint a new nominee to this critical position who we can move forward with fighting this terrible epidemic.

BERMAN: I mean, there are questions about how -- if this person was on the exact wrong side of what some people see as an issue in the opioid crisis, how he ended up as the nominee to be drug czar --

HARLOW: Anyway.

BERMAN: -- in the first place. That's a question for another time, I guess, as we go forward. We got to get new live pick (ph) immediately.

Errol, if we can shift gears, we talked about Senator John McCain. We played sound from him in the opening of the show. You know, the President -- we have a new poll out today, I guess little approval ratings from the country in general particularly little approval ratings from Senator McCain who said, you know, pointing to his half baked spurious nationalism --


BERMAN: -- by pointing to the President there. What did you hear from John McCain last night and what do you think the significant?

LOUIS: Well, look, first of all, he got choked up a little bit and I thought that was sort of telling. When he talked about the obligations of leadership, this is something that is just baked into him from the naval academy on. It's literally part in his blood from his family members, who have all been military heroes.

And he was trying, I think, to sort of bring the party and perhaps even the President, back to sort of a more durable, more stable, more reliable concept of patriotism, instead of this patriotism of fools, where you sort of go around and bluster and think that it's a sort a trade deal as opposed to something enduring.

When he talks about the world that we built, this postwar world where we kept the peace, no third world war, nuclear proliferation kept under a lid despite what's going on in North Korea for -- to just act as if that was all something just to be overthrown because the establishment doesn't know what it's doing. He's really sort of full hard. You know, that's what I heard Senator McCain sort of saying like, "Let's not be too hasty in throwing out what have we built."

HARLOW: Let's listen, Alex, to the President yesterday speaking on the Rose Garden, speaking at a meeting yesterday talking about blame not being placed on him. Listen.


TRUMP: We are not getting the job done and I 'm not going to blame myself, I'll be honest. They are not getting the job done.


[09:10:00] HARLOW: OK. How do you square that with his own words in 2012, Obama's complaints about Republicans stopping his agenda are B.S. since he had full control for two years he can never take responsibility.

CONANT: Look, there's a saying in town that for everything Trump does you can find a tweet from his that says the exact opposite a couple of years ago.

HARLOW: Yes. But this matters, Alex, right? This matters because they're not getting done for the American people.

CONANT: It does. But, look, President's rarely blamed themselves. Why would they? That is not constructive to blame yourself. He needs to blame Congress because he needs to put pressure on Congress.

HARLOW: Right.

CONANT: And just the polls that you -- that CNN released this morning, you see more Americans trust Republicans in Congress than they trust the President to make the right decisions. He needs to reverse those numbers and he needs to starts by putting the onus on Congress for not moving the agenda.

That is -- he needs the American people to trust him to get things done and put pressure on Congress to act. I think those comments yesterday and his appearance with Mitch McConnell yesterday were very constructive to that end.

BERMAN: Alex, the fascinating about those numbers is we have them up right now.



BERMAN: When you ask Americans overall who they blame or who they trust more --

HARLOW: That's not the right one.

BERMAN: -- that's not the right one. Anyway, if you ask Americans overall who they trust more --

HARLOW: There you go.

BERMAN: -- Americans trust Republicans in Congress.

HARLOW: Right.

CONANT: Right.

BERMAN: But when you ask Republicans specifically who they trust more, they trust the President more than Congress. So the President is winning this battle among the Republican base. I'm wondering if you think that's what Steve Bannon sees here as he's really deciding to take on Congress in the President's name.

CONANT: Well, I try very hard to stay out of Steve Bannon's head. I think it's a scary place, to be honest with you. Steve Bannon is trying to elect Democrats. I don't know why he's doing that, but that is the end result of what he just doing by targeting Republicans who support the President's agenda 100 percent.

I think President Trump should be more forceful in his condemnation of what Steve Bannon is trying to do, that is to target Republican senators. And instead, he should be working with Mitch McConnell as he did yesterday afternoon and other Republican leaders to expand the majority.

Look, the best way that he can implement his agenda is by sending more Republican senators to Washington, D.C. in next year's midterms. That will not happen if Steve Bannon is successful. I think that is an imminent problem to Trump's agenda and his potential presidency.

HARLOW: Errol, just put it by (INAUDIBLE) really quickly because Alex said, every president doesn't like to take blame, but every president doesn't say I am without blame.

LOUIS: Yes, very true. He also, by the way -- I mean, look, he's blaming whether it's Congress or himself, and this is kind of a crazy speed that they thought that they were going to use to sort of change the health care system one-sixth of the economy, change the whole tax code. It took Reagan two and a half years to get it done. This notion that they couldn't get it done, well, what was he expecting?

I think some of this is what comes when you have somebody who has no experience in government. I mean, it's not as if they tried two or three seasons of working with Congress and they couldn't get major legislation pass. They expected to get done somehow in like five weeks, very strange.

BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE) little back now on the blamed he had in Puerto Rico, not to mention the blamed he placed by not calling the families of those fallen soldiers.


HARLOW: Yes. We're going to talk about that.

BERMAN: Alex, Errol, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Ahead for us, no diplomacy for now. North Korean officials say they won't sit down at the table and talk until they have the full capability of launching an ICBM that could hit the East Coast of the United States. The President minutes away from the meeting with Secretary Mattis on all of this.

Also, a 20-point drop in the aftermath of hurricane Maria the President take the major hit in the polls over handling of hurricane.

BERMAN: And NFL players and owners, they meet today after weeks of the anthem protest that sparks so much controversy.



BERMAN: Very shortly the president will meet with Defense Secretary James Mattis, this after North Korea seemed to reject the idea of any diplomatic resolution to the ongoing nuclear battle.

HARLOW: The regime telling CNN it has no interest in de-escalating tension with the United States at least right now until it says it develops an ICBM capable of reaching the east coast of the U.S.

Let's go straight to our correspondent, Will Ripley. Will, you've spent so much time there. You've spoke with these North Korean officials so much. I mean, how significant is this change? It's not like they were eager to get to the table.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, this is a message that was reiterated when I was in Pyongyang recently and North Korea's foreign minister told Russian state media last week that they are not interested in negotiations with the U.S.

What this official told me is it's not only they are not interested in negotiations, but they actually feel they need to prove to the Trump administration that they have this effective nuclear deterrent, the capability to attack the U.S. and also to defend against attacks.

And therefore, they have to prove it by launching an actual ICBM in full range and detonating a nuclear device above ground. If they actually went through with that, it will be the first above-ground nuclear detonation the world has seen in nearly 40 years, since China did it back in 1980.

Obviously, it would be highly provocative. Another potentially escalatory development here would be President Trump's visit to Asia. Next month, he is going to be coming to a number of different Asian countries in early November here in Japan, China, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and perhaps most significantly South Korea.

The president spoke at the White House about the possibility of visiting the demilitarized zone, the border between North and South Korea along the 38 parallel like every other U.S. president before him. Here's what he had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you intend to go to the DMZ?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I will be going as you know to South Korea, China, Japan, Vietnam, we have a big economic summit there and I may go to the Philippines, also. We have been invited to the Philippines. I may be going to the Philippines and I look forward to all them. We have not set the details as of this moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you provoking North Korea by going to the DMZ?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We will take a look at that. I didn't hear any terms of provoking, but we will certainly --


[09:20:08] RIPLEY: There are two ways to look at this. One, the United States would certainly show strength by having President Trump visit the DMZ just like Vice President Pence did earlier this year.

But what if he goes there, John and Poppy, and he says something, anything, like perhaps "Little Rocket Man," the nickname that he has adopted for North Korea's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un.

To say something like that in this highly sensitive and charged location where there's so much weaponry pointed back and forth, so much high tension as it is, there are fears in the region that President Trump's presence there and saying something off script could really cause the situation to go downhill very quickly.

So, that is what is being grappled with right now ahead of President Trump's visit. His meeting later this morning with more top officials about what to do regarding North Korea.

HARLOW: Great point. Will Ripley, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic congressman --

BERMAN: Senator.

HARLOW: Senator, sorry, we have it wrong in there, Senator, we will give you your due, Jack Reed of Rhode Island. It's nice to have you. You just came back from your second trip to South Korea, and you said you left confused and shaken. Tell us more.

SENATOR JACK REED (D-RI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, I think the confusion is the message that the administration is sending. Secretary Tillerson has been trying to establish diplomatic channels to North Korea. He's been trying to collaborate with our allies.

But President Trump says repeatedly (inaudible) told him not to do it in a series of tweets, and basically indulged in name-calling with the North Korean leader, none of that is helpful to a diplomatic approach, and it's going to be necessary to have some diplomacy here because the consequences of a war are catastrophic on the peninsula.

BERMAN: Senator, I would like to shift gears to Niger. You are the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Obviously, four U.S. servicemen were lost nearly two weeks ago in this ambush in that African nation. You've joined a chorus of people now asking for a review of the circumstances that led to their death, to that ambush. What questions do you have?

REED: Well, first of all, there are questions about intelligence, were we aware of the capabilities and the intent of the ISIS forces that attacked this unit. The unit, as I understand it, was what they considered a routine training mission with troops from Niger, and then they fell into a very well-executed and well-calculated ambush.

We have to be conscious of our intelligence, what is the mission? Are we actively pursuing the ISIS-backed elements or are we simply training and trying to enhance the ability of the army of Niger?

HARLOW: Do you think that the administration has been forthcoming on this? The first we heard from the president at all about the death of these four Americans serving our country was yesterday when he was asked about it in a press conference. It's been about two weeks since they died. Has the administration been forthcoming enough, Senator?

REED: No, I don't think so. I think the administration has to be much more clear about our role in Niger and our role in other areas in Africa and other parts of the globe. They have to connect it to a strategy. They should do that. I think the inattention, you know, to this issue is not acceptable.

BERMAN: Again, you did hear the president yesterday when asked about it why he had not called the family members or reached out to them yet, he said he was writing letters, but then he suggested past presidents have never called, and he does actually more than that. What was your reaction to his initial response?

REED: Well, I think that's gross mischaracterization of what previous presidents have done. The president has an awesome responsibility as any president, but in my experience, most have tried very diligently to contact the families, and sometimes it's difficult, but they try to contact the families.

And they are very sensitive to the need to do that, and to the president, he seems to exhibit an insensitivity, and it's something he would get to eventually. That's not the case. We have to not only care for the families, but also care for those who have been wounded and I hope we do that.

HARLOW: I also want to get you on a piece of legislation that has now costs a member of Congress his potential job as drug czar, and that's Tom Marino. We just learned moments ago he's out of the consideration to be drug czar as this country is battling the opioid epidemic that is ravaging communities across this country.

You, as a member of Congress, did not object to the Insurance Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act.

As we saw this week from "60 Minutes" and the "Washington Post," it is that legislation that tied the DEA's hands, part of the DEA's hands on getting a handle on how many of these opioid prescription pills were being distributed and where.

[09:25:11] No member of Congress, no Republican, no Democrat, the president, President Obama objected to this, why?

REED: Well, I think it was one of those issues in which the presumption was the committee, and particularly the individuals directly involved in negotiating the legislation and the DEA itself had worked out something that would not be harmful to their mission.

In fact, most issues in the end since then are technical issues which are not controversial. This is one of those exceptions. So, I think what the remedy is, is to immediately take steps to repeal the legislation and put in a stronger authority for the DEA to crack down on these pharmacy companies.

HARLOW: Did you read the entire bill before not objecting to it?

REED: The bill came out of the Judiciary Committee, was posted, my staff reviewed it and the comments to me it was noncontroversial. Unfortunately, it appears to be highly controversial and therefore, I think step is to immediately correct the legislation.

HARLOW: All right. Senator Reed, thank you.

BERMAN: Appreciate it, Senator.

REED: Thank you.

BERMAN: We have breaking news now out of Raqqa. This is the self- declared capital for ISIS. U.S.-backed forces fighting ISIS say that major military operations in the city have now ended, ended successfully, is what they are saying most importantly.

HARLOW: We have our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon who joins us right now. Arwa, what can you tell us?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hello to you both. Pretty significant when it comes to at least the physical territory that ISIS does control. What we do know from the Syrian Defense Forces, and that's the force that is led mostly by Kurdish fighters and backed by the U.S.-led coalition, is that right now they are really focusing their efforts on trying to clear out small pockets of ISIS, sleeper cells, as well as trying to clear the roads and buildings of various different improvised explosive devices, mines that ISIS may have left behind. The devastation that this fighting has caused on this city is apocalyptic, to say the least. There's barely a building that has been untouched by the fighting bearing in mind the significance of Raqqa in and of itself.

This was the first main city that came under ISIS' control, but later became the capital of its de facto so-called caliphate. This is a city where we saw beheadings in the main square on a fairly regular basis, where women were sold into slavery, often times sexual slavery.

The city where ISIS issued a lot of its orders from where its headquarters were centered and its operations, it orders that it issued to its foreign operatives overseas to carry out other attacks derived from.

This now it seems is almost entirely cleared of all ISIS fighters. That being said, though, right now, what is very critical is what happens next, who is actually going to hold this city.

Let's not forget that ISIS has not been completely eradicated from both Syria and Iraq. In fact, according to aid organizations, some 10,000 civilians are still fleeing (inaudible) in Syria as the focus of the fighting moves into that area.

BERMAN: Arwa Damon for us on the border there. Again, a significant milestone if in fact Raqqa has fallen taking away the key marker for ISIS at this time. Arwa, thanks very much.

This morning, new outrage after the president says his predecessors did not make the tough calls to families of fallen soldiers.

HARLOW: But we are a few minutes away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Will we see another record this morning? The Dow closed at a record high yesterday. Will it cross the 23,000 mark today? Maybe.

The president's promise of slashing corporate taxes is a big reason the market is so hopeful, but can he get it done, next.