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Trump Seems to Take Both Sides in GOP Battle; McCain Blasts Spurious Nationalism in Speech; Iraq Seizes Critical City From Kurds; North Korea Rejects Diplomacy with U.S.; Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: This is not my war. This is our war. And you all didn't start it. The establishment started it.


DAVE BRAGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's call that a smattering of applause. In a meeting with his Cabinet, President Trump scolded Republican lawmakers and seemed to side with Bannon.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not going to blame myself. I'll be honest. They are not getting the job done. We've had health care approved, and then you had a surprise vote by John McCain. But you had a few people that really disappointed us. They really, really disappointed us. So I can understand fully how Steve Bannon feels.


BRIGGS: Then just a short time later the White House abruptly called a news conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. There the president catered to the establishment wing saying he in the face of the establishment, Mitch McConnell are closer than ever before.

Today the president will welcome the prime minister of Greece to the White House for meetings and a joint news conference, 1:30 in the Rose Garden. Perhaps then we'll get a little more clarity. Which end of the president's party he is backing?

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell meeting in the White House on Monday to talk about tax reform. Of course, these two Republican leaders have been at odds for weeks, if not months. They are coming together to push tax cuts, tax reform. They know it's key to keeping the Republicans' agenda.

The president, for his part, said there's no civil war in the GOP. People are working together. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I have a fantastic relationship with the people in the Senate and with the people in Congress. I mean, I have a -- with our House of Representatives. I have a great relationship with political people. If you read the papers you think I'm like on one island and they're like on the other. Well, it's not the way it is.


ZELENY: Of course complicating this view for the president is Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist to the White House, who says he's waging war with the Republican establishment. Waging war specifically with Mitch McConnell which made their meeting in the Rose Garden all the more awkward.

Senator McConnell said Republican victory is the most important.


SEN. MITCHELL MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The goal here is to win elections in November. You have to nominate people who can actually win because winners make policy and losers go home.


ZELENY: So the president came to South Carolina late Monday evening for a Republican fundraiser for the governor here but he is focused on midterm races but, more importantly, on tax reform.

The challenge, of course, for this Republican majority in the House and Senate is getting some type of legislative achievement. Health care collapsed, other issues have not gone forward. Tax cuts, tax reform are the most important priority on their agenda. We'll see if the president and the Senate Republican majority can get this passed this year.

BRIGGS: All right. Jeff, thanks.

Joining us this morning, "Washington Post" political reporter, CNN alum, Eugene Scott. A regular here on EARLY START in recent days.

Eugene, good to see you, sir.


BRIGGS: This was a baffling day. You're talking about 31 questions, almost 50 minutes. And when you go back to the Cabinet meeting the president had and then the public comments there in the Rose Garden, he's embracing Steve Bannon and the war on the GOP, and he's embracing the face of the establishment.

You could say he wants to have his cake and eat it, too. But that wouldn't go far enough. He wants his war and his tax cut. Can he have it both ways here?

SCOTT: He's certainly going to try but it will be difficult if not impossible to make that a reality. He said that if you read the papers it looks like journalists are highlighting that there's conflicts within the Republican Party. Steve Bannon himself said that there was a difference,, and while the president praised both Bannon and McConnell yesterday in two different settings, to your point, they have two very different visions of where they think the parties should go in areas related to tax reform and other issues.

How President Trump is going to get both of them on the same page and please all parties is just not even clear right now if that's possible.

BRIGGS: All right. Highlighting this war, if you will, John McCain in a speech last night made some pointed remarks, didn't mention the name Steve Bannon but clearly was talking about this battle.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: To fear the world we have organized and led for three quarters of a century, 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.


MCCAIN: This is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history. We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil.

[05:05:04] We are the custodians of those ideals at home and their champion abroad.


BRIGGS: Essentially another big thumbs down from Senator McCain about this nationalist movement. Where is the party headed?

SCOTT: Well, if you listen to Steve Bannon, it's not on the John McCain track. I mean, when I talk to Republican voters, populism, nationalism, it is popular with them, especially in red states like Arizona where the senator comes from. And so I mean, I think people feel like he was attacking or at least directing his comments towards Bannon specifically, but what I do think the senator understands is that this is not something that's just coming from Steve Bannon or even (INAUDIBLE) or Gorka or other people who were previously in the White House.

This is a fight for who the future -- what the future of the Republican Party will be all the way down at the base.

BRIGGS: Senator McCain would certainly take issue with the comments the president made about having to call the families of those who have lost a son, lost a daughter on the battle field.

Here's what the president said in the Rose Garden yesterday that is firing up many on both sides. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens. Soldiers are killed. For me, that's by far the toughest. So the traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls.

I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I'm able to do it.


BRIGGS: He attempted to clean the comments up a little bit later as did Sarah Sanders. What's the biggest problem with those comments from President Trump?

SCOTT: Well, I think in addition to the dishonesty going forward of saying that someone did not do something that they actually did, especially when speaking to an action as sensitive as responding to Americans who've endured that kind of loss. I think the greater frustration is this also highlights a big void in the president's toolbox. A lack of historical perspective. Like he does not know actually what former presidents have done regarding this because he hasn't shown himself to be a student of history when it comes to how presidents respond on policy issues related to the military, foreign affairs or even domestically.

And so instead of just taking responsibility for how he handled this situation, something that he constantly egged President Obama on when he was in the White House, he got up there and he says something that wasn't true or historically accurate.

I think the more important point of all of this is that quite frankly with many people on the Trump train, if not most of them, it doesn't even matter, because they're so invested in his vision for what America is that he will be allowed to criticize past presidents for things that they actually did without going checked.

BRIGGS: Yes. For some perspective, the president played more than 120 holes of golf since those four Americans were killed.


BRIGGS: He's yet to call their family members.


BRIGGS: All right. Eugene Scott from the "Washington Post," thank you, sir. We'll see you in about 20 minutes.


BRIGGS: President Trump has hailed the federal government's response in Puerto Rico, but the American people apparently have their doubts. In a new CNN poll, approval of the president's response to recent hurricane has dropped 20 points since Maria's devastating hit on Puerto Rico. His approval now at 44 percent compared to 64 percent in September.

At his Rose Garden news conference Monday the president again criticized local relief efforts in Puerto Rico saying ample supplies have reached the island but have been held up by distribution issues. Many Puerto Ricans still have no access to clean water or electricity. Nearly a month after the hurricane and more than 85 percent of the island is still without power.

The Iraqi government ripping an oil-rich city away from the Kurds who control it by the escalation between two armies both funded by the United States. We're live from Baghdad.


[05:13:18] BRIGGS: Two U.S. funded armies who nearly succeed in defeating ISIS in Iraq may now end up turning their sights on each other. The oil-rich city of Kirkuk which had been under Kurdish control is now in the hands of Iraqi Security Forces and pro-Iranian Shia militia. The forces entered the disputed city, set up checkpoints and lowered a Kurdish flag, which had been flying over a government building.

And overnight Iraqi forces have just seized control of two more oil fields near Kirkuk that had been in Kurdish hands. All this could have lasting impacts on the future of Iraq and the wider Middle East.

For the latest let's bring in CNN's Ben Wedeman live in Baghdad.

What could the implications of all this be, Ben?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On the short term, Dave, I think what we're seeing already is that ISIS is getting a bit of a respite in all of this. They were able temporarily did retake control of two villages outside of Kirkuk. And obviously if these two forces who have spent much of the last three years fighting ISIS are suddenly refocusing on this confrontation, ISIS is going to get something of a breather, but sort of in the longer term, the real beneficiary is, of course, Iran, which has been able, since 2003, with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, who was for many years Iran's main foe in the region, Iran has gradually been able to establish a level of influence here in Iraq that at this point is unprecedented.

They, along with the Americans, did provide support for some of the forces that were fighting ISIS, and it's important to keep in mind that Iran has a long-standing interest and influence in Iraq or Mesopotamia before that, going back to the early days of the Roman empire.

[05:15:17] Keep in mind that, for instance, it's only about 500 miles from Tehran to Baghdad but it's well over 6,000 miles from Washington to Baghdad and Iraq, for the Iranians is their very front yard, and they have a deep interest in the course of events here. Know this country more than anyone else and they are gradually benefitting more and more from what appears to be a rather confusing or rather confused American position in the Middle East, in particular, and in Iraq more specifically -- Dave. BRIGGS: Some great historical and geographic context from Ben

Wedeman. Thank you, sir.

A diplomatic solution to the North Korea nuclear crisis appears to be off the table for now. A North Korean official telling CNN the Kim Jong-un regime has no interest in diplomacy until it's able to hit the East Coast of the United States with a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile.

Let's bring in CNN's Will Ripley live from Tokyo.

Will, all this on the heels of Rex Tillerson Sunday saying, we're going to try diplomacy until that first bomb drops.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Very cryptic comments from the secretary of state, but of course President Trump has talked about the U.S. military option repeatedly and frankly because he is the man at the top.

He's the one who North Korea is listening to and they're also watching military activities by the United States. There are joint naval drills under way right now due to last for more than a week. You have 40 naval ships. The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, helicopters and fighter jets, all engaging in drills just off the Korean peninsula. And North Korea sees this and they feel that in order to effectively communicate with the Trump administration diplomacy just wouldn't work right now.

North Korean diplomats have indicated repeatedly they are not interested in talking. Instead, what government officials tell me, they will have to do is to demonstrate their force to the United States through a long range intercontinental ballistic missile test and an above ground nuclear detonation, the kind of which the world hasn't seen in nearly 40 years, the kind that the North Korean foreign minister threatened at the United Nations after President Trump's fiery speech where he said the U.S. could totally destroy North Korea.

And he also called their supreme leader "Little Rocket Man" at the U.N. North Korea's U.N. envoy, the deputy ambassador, was speaking just this week and he said, quote, "A nuclear war could break out at any moment with the United States," so clearly the question now, Dave, what will North Korea's actions be? We've heard the rhetoric, now we have to see what happens.

BRIGGS: 6:17 p.m. there in Tokyo. Will Ripley live for us, thank you.

Now it's a series. The Yankees rout the Astros taking game 3 of the ALCS. Coy Wire with the details in the "Bleacher Report" next.


[05:22:39] BRIGGS: Bronx bombers living up to their nickname in their return to Yankee Stadium. Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, buddy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Top of the morning to you, Dave. After scoring a total of two runs in the first two games against the Astros, the Yankees bats came alive in last night's game 3. Rookie phenom Aaron Judge was a human highlight real on offense and defense. 37-year-old CC Sabathia pitched six scoreless innings. Looking great out there. In large part due to defense like this, Judge, using all 6'7" making the leaping grab into the wall. Steals that extra base hit.

Then on offense, the Judge would come out of recess after a seven-game slump. Without a homerun, the 25-year-old brought the fans to their feet. A three-run shot there over the wall. Look at the crowd going crazy. Yankees winning about 8-1 and they rallied back from being down 0-2 in this division. Can they do it again against the Astros? Now down to just one to two games. Game 4 this afternoon at 5:05 Eastern in the Bronx.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota was battling history and a ham string versus the Colts for his first game back from injury. Not yet 100 percent. Mariota has tightened, looking to break the NFL's longest active losing streak to a single opponent. Scores 11 straight games. Mariota brilliant in the fourth quarter, including that bomb right there. He completed all six of his passes in the fourth quarterback. Not touchdown passes. To Taywan Taylor. The Titans go on to score -- beating the Colts for the first time in six years.

NFL owners are going to gather in New York later today to discuss the ongoing controversy surrounding the national anthem. In an extraordinary move they're also inviting players and their union leaders to take part. As someone who served as an NFL Players Union rep during my playing days, I have seen up close and personal how contentious this relationship between the owners and players and the union can be.

On a conference call last week the NFL said there are no proposals currently on the table that would force players to stand during the anthem. We shall see if that changes after today.

Finally a young Oakland A's fan whose possessions were destroyed by the wildfires in Northern California getting a help hand from his favorite team. 9-year-old Lawrence Jay Smith wrote a letter to the A's saying, quote, "My house burned down in the Santa Rosa fire and my saddest things were my baseball collection cards, my 17 jerseys and 10 hats and my baseball from the game and also a ball signed by the whole team and Rickey Henderson and Bob Melvin."

[05:25:11] That not only caught the eyes of the A's but at least another team. Eight of them. They're sending little Lawrence signed baseballs, photos and bobble heads and more, Dave. The A's also set up a fund for his family to help get them back on their feet.

BRIGGS: That's outstanding. Coy, I want to mention the president in South Carolina said last night, I guarantee the kneeling is going to stop. Do you think it will? WIRE: You know, I don't see players who have been kneeling, Dave,

from what I have seen and heard and players I've spoken to, league executives, they're not going to force them to change and they're going to continue to shed awareness and raise awareness for social and racial injustice in America the way they have been. But as again, this meeting, we'll see. Will there be a more unified front?

BRIGGS: Right.

WIRE: Coming out of this where they all do the same thing? It remains to be seen after today.

BRIGGS: Should be interesting. Thank you, Coy.

WIRE: You're welcome.

Speaking of the president, he's looking to bridge the divide in the GOP as well by playing nice with both sides. How it affects the agenda in this fast-approaching midterm election deadline. Very rapidly approaching.