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NEW DAY

Trump Straddles GOP Divide, Supporting Both McConnell and Bannon; CNN Poll: 32% Approve of Trump's Handling of Congress; McCain Warns U.S. Against 'Half-Baked Nationalism'; Trump Not Considering Firing Robert Mueller; Trump Plans to Declare Opioid Crisis Next Week. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My relationship with this gentleman is outstanding.

[05:59:00] STEVE BANNON, BREITBART MEDIA: We've cut your oxygen off, Mitch. It's a season of war against a GOP establishment.

TRUMP: I can understand fully how Steve Bannon feels.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Donald Trump is playing Mitch McConnell and Steve Bannon against each other perfectly.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: To abandon our duty for the sake of some half-baked spurious nationalism is unpatriotic.

TRUMP: If you look at other presidents, most of them didn't make calls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why does he make stuff up all the time?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This should have been about expressing condolences for those fallen heroes.

TRUMP: Most people have said we've done an outstanding job, but Puerto Rico is a very tough one.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Our president doesn't have the commitment to the Puerto Rican people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, October 17, 6 a.m. here in New York. Here's our starting line.

Former Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, taking a clear shot at President Trump without ever saying his name. McCain warns the U.S. against turning towards, quote, "half-baked spurious nationalism," and he calls America's retreat on the world stage unpatriotic. This comes as President Trump is under fire for falsely claiming that

his predecessors did not call the families of fallen U.S. troops. Several aides to President Obama are lashing out at Mr. Trump's baseless attack. And remember, it took President Trump nearly two weeks to talk about these four service members killed in combat in Niger.

CUOMO: President Trump insisting the relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is closer than ever before. He then went on to defend Steve Bannon's war on the GOP establishment, which targets McConnell specifically.

All this as a new CNN poll shows President Trump's approval rating holding steady. But more Americans say he is leading the country in the wrong direction. The president's approval rating on recent hurricanes dropped 20 points after Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico. The humanitarian crisis there is deepening a month after the storm.

We have it all covered. Let begin with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House. Joe, good morning.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.

The president spent Monday straddling between competing factions in the Republican Party, trying to appeal to both sides in the warring GOP, touting his relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, while at the same time trying to keep the peace with the Steve Bannon wing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: We're probably now, I think, at least as far as I'm concerned, closer than ever before.

We're fighting for the same thing.

JOHNS: President Trump attempting to put up a united front with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, despite lobbing this criticism moments just hours before at the Senate McConnell leads.

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

JOHNS: The president attempting to appease both the GOP leaders he needs to get his agenda passed and the anti-establishment wing of the party spearheaded by his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

BANNON: This is not my war. This is our war.

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

JOHNS: Mr. Trump backing Bannon's anti-establishment attacks during a cabinet meeting Monday morning.

TRUMP: Steve is very committed. He's a friend of mine.

You had a few people that really disappointed us. They really, really disappointed us. So I can understand fully how Steve Bannon feels.

JOHNS: Before vowing to pressure Bannon to back down in his effort to unseat a number of Republican incumbents.

TRUMP: Steve is doing what Steve thinks is the right thing. Some of the people that he may be looking at, I'm going to see if we talk him out of that. Because, frankly, they're great people.

JOHNS: Senator John McCain making a passionate plea against the nationalist world view championed by Mr. Trump and Bannon while accepting the Liberty Medal.

MCCAIN: 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, is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

JOHNS: Mr. Trump also breaking his silence about the deaths of four U.S. servicemen in Niger nearly two weeks ago.

TRUMP: I've written them personal letters. They've been sent or they're going out tonight.

JOHNS: The president immediately growing defensive, making this false claim about his predecessors.

TRUMP: If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls.

JOHNS: Former White House photographer Pete Souza responding with this image, showing President Obama comforting a Gold Star family, as multiple aides to the former president recalled specific times Obama consoled the families of fallen soldiers.

Obama's former deputy chief of staff lashing out at Mr. Trump on Twitter.

Mr. Trump also boasting about his administration's response to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico again, placing blame on local officials.

TRUMP: It was in really bad shape before. We have done -- I will say this. We have done...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People don't have drinking water.

TRUMP: We have -- well, we've delivered tremendous amounts of water. Then what you have to do, is you have to have distribution of the water by the people on the island.

JOHNS: A new CNN poll shows the president's approval rating for his response to recent hurricanes has dropped 20 points since September as the majority of the island remains in the dark, one month after the storm.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: For the second day in a row, the president is expected to take questions from reporters today. This time during a news conference with the Greek prime minister.

And this evening, the president is expected to address a highly influential conservative group here in Washington, the Heritage Foundation. Very likely that tax reform as well as health care will be on the agenda.

Alisyn, back to you.

[06:05:04] CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, thanks so much for all that reporting. So our new CNN poll, it finds that President Trump's approval rating is holding steady, but more Americans say that he's leading the nation in the wrong direction.

CNN's political director, David Chalian, joins us live from Washington to help break down all of the numbers. Give us the headlines there, David.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, good morning, Alisyn. This is our brand-new, breaking CNN poll, conducted by SSRS.

Donald Trump's approval rating is at 37 percent, 57 percent disapprove. He's been hanging out in the 37 to 40 percent range for the last 40 months -- four months or so. It's been pretty steady.

How does it stack up in history? Take a look at where his predecessors were at this stage, October of their first year. You can see, he is way down at the bottom, 37 percent in October. Bill Clinton next closest, and that's ten points higher. So, not stacking up well against his predecessors.

We also asked how things are going in the country today, and we see a drop here. In August, 53 percent of Americans said things are going well in the country. Now it's down to 46 percent, Alisyn. That's about where it was in February after the first chaotic weeks of the Trump administration.

And of course, you've seen the battles with McConnell, Trump's relationship with congressional Republicans. Thirty-two percent of Americans approve of the way Trump handles his relations with congressional Republicans. Fifty-four percent disapprove. That's all Americans.

How about among Republicans? Look at this: 68 percent of Republicans approve of how he handles his relations with the Republicans in Congress; only 22 percent disapprove.

We also asked, who do you trust more to handle the issues? Thirty percent of Americans, again overall, say they trust President Trump; 47 percent of Americans trust these guys, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, more.

But when you ask Republicans and just look at their responses, among Republicans, President Trump has the advantage on this issue of trust to handle most issues. If you go to the next screen, you'll see that Republicans overwhelmingly, 63 percent, trust Trump over the 29 percent who trust the Republicans in Congress. It's this advantage that he is pressing against Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. And by the way, that Steve Bannon is pressing, as well -- Alisyn, Chris.

CAMEROTA: All right.

CUOMO: David, thank you very much. Stay with us. Because that panel is the only one that the president agrees with in this poll. Yesterday, he had a tour de force of selling the American people and the media on what he has done and why he is doing very well at this point. In fact, ahead of schedule, he says.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst David Gregory to join David Chalian. What did you make of what we all saw yesterday?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I'm fixated on David's numbers there, especially how the broader GOP views the president in terms of confidence in his leadership or on the majority of the issues. That is the point that he -- he is the Republican Party, and yet look what he's doing with Mitch McConnell yesterday.

He's basically putting him outside himself, putting himself outside of the party saying, "Yes, I'm disappointed in what the Republicans have done in Washington. but I'm not going to blame myself." What a shocking thing for Donald Trump to say, "I'm not going to blame myself." He's saying they haven't gotten it done. So he's playing this outsider game even though he's the president, even though he's the leader of the party, to say, "Look, I'm still a grassroots political leader."

CUOMO: That's what works for him, David. Doesn't it?

GREGORY: That's really the bottom line, is that that's still what works for him. That's what keeps his base together. And that even when he's getting hammered for his response in Puerto Rico, he still plays this outsider game, knowing that he is responsible, as the head of the federal government, for that kind of response.

CHALIAN: I totally -- I'm sorry, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Well, I was just going to pull up those numbers for the hurricane response one more time in case people missed it. Only 44 percent approve of how he's handling the hurricane response; 47 percent disapprove.

CUOMO: But he puts that on us and on Puerto Rico's government. We're giving fake reports that don't give enough respect to the success, and the Puerto Ricans can't get their own business in order, and that's the problem.

CAMEROTA: Our problem is that we have our reporters are on the ground, showing us what the real situation is.

CHALIAN: Our reporting standards and the way we cover hurricanes didn't change between Harvey, and Irma and Maria. We cover the stories as they are. He was getting the best grades of his presidency, 64 percent approving of how he handled Harvey and Irma. And in fact, it was helping sort of boost him a little bit. We've never seen that kind of support for him on any given specific issue.

Now it's down to 44 percent because of what people have seen in Puerto Rico.

CUOMO: Yes. I mean, there's no question about it. Anybody who goes there will tell you, if they're in this business and they have any experience, that it is the worst American natural disaster that they've ever seen. I've never seen that kind of need among Americans in the time I've been in this business.

His desire to say that he's a success over recognizing that reality has to be what's driving that imbalance between how he was in the first couple of storms and this one.

[06:10:07] CAMEROTA: All right. So let's talk about last night. So John McCain, Senator John McCain came out, David Gregory. And look, he's battling cancer, and he is speaking his mind.

GREGORY: Right.

CAMEROTA: So let's just remind people about the message that John McCain is trying to send. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: The fear of the world we have organized and led to 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: What do you hear there, David Gregory?

GREGORY: I hear the voice of institutional memory in the Senate, a voice of history in our country, a voice that is now completely unafraid of standing outside of the populism of Donald Trump and essentially saying, "Shame on you." And he's joining other Republicans who are doing the same.

But that doesn't necessarily change the calculation of Steve Bannon, of this grassroots work. What the president has signed on to is to say the GOP establishment is still letting you down, is still not getting anything accomplished, is not doing its job.

Even McCain's good friend, Lindsey Graham, said over the weekend, "Yes, I understand where Trump and Bannon are coming from, because we're not doing our jobs on issues like tax cuts or particularly health care. We're not making good on these promises."

So, McCain's comments will be championed by many critics of the president, including a lot of Democrats who otherwise wouldn't otherwise be with him on a lot of these issues, because he's starting to align himself more strongly against the president.

CUOMO: You know, David Chalian, he used a great word, "spurious." Right? That -- it suggests that it's half-baked. It's not what it appears to be, you know? It comes from being a way of describing of illegitimate birth.

Does it matter to the Republicans that this form of populism isn't legitimate, according to Senator McCain? Is it being artificial? Is that something that might work in terms of galvanizing the party and calling out the Bannon factor?

CHALIAN: Well, it matters to some Republicans, like John McCain is one, obviously. But it doesn't -- I don't think that it's going to be a rallying cry to all of a sudden overturn the dynamic that really has been sort of ten years in the making inside the modern Republican Party.

I do think, though, that what you see with John McCain, add this speech that he gave last night to the speech he gave on the Senate floor when he returned from his diagnosis right in advance of the health care bill, where he voted against the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

He is trying with all of his might to sort of turn the tide here, both institutionally in the Senate, and how things get done in Washington and with Trump's sort of global philosophy and vision for America's role in the world. He's trying, with his words, with anything he can galvanize, to try to steer back something he seems to think is off course.

CAMEROTA: So speaking -- quickly, David -- go ahead.

GREGORY: Well, I just think it is -- it's also striking to watch. You know, President Trump aligns himself with the Bannon anti- establishment folks. But if he were to get a big bipartisan deal on health care, I think he'd love it. Look how he greeted the debt deal that he got.

If he were able to accomplish things and be able to put his name on the top of a victory, I think that he would very quickly align himself with the establishment if it started working, and if he could say, like on tax reform, "We got this done because of my leadership." I think you'd see that start to change.

CAMEROTA: OK, so we need to get to what President Trump claimed in this press conference yesterday, speaking of spurious. He claimed that other presidents didn't call the families of fallen soldiers, and then he tried to walk it back when people were saying, "Yes, they did."

So here is what he originally said and then some of the cleanup effort. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I will, at some point during the period of time, call the parents and the families, because I have done that traditionally. 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Earlier, you said that President Obama never called the families of fallen soldiers. How can you make that claim?

TRUMP: I don't know if he did. No, no, I was -- I was told that he didn't often. And a lot of presidents don't. President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn't. I don't know. That's what I was told. All I can do -- all I can do is ask my generals.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

[06:15:02] CUOMO: This is -- look, this is example number -- you know, fill in the blank of what number you want -- of just a fake claim. He shot it out there. It's demonstrably false, and then he backed off with his, you know, anonymous sources, unnamed sources, which he hates when anybody else uses them. Era (ph) -- the administration officials jumped on this.

CAMEROTA: Yes, the former Obama administration officials, including Eric Holder. Listen to what he put out on Twitter. He said, "Stop the damn lying. You're the president. I went to Dover Air Force base with 44," meaning Obama, "and saw him comfort the families of both the fallen military and DEA."

Then a former Obama aide tweeted something even more raw: "That's an f'ing lie to say President Obama or past presidents didn't call the family members of soldiers killed in action. He's a deranged animal."

David Gregory.

GREGORY: OK. Look, I think -- you know, it doesn't deserve too much more commentary, other than I don't understand why the president doesn't tell the truth all the time, but he doesn't. And he makes claims that are usually based on him feeling attacked somehow, feeling defensive, and he lashes out without the facts.

If you were listening to him, it almost sounded as if what he meant to say was that the way you offer condolences takes different forms and that the protocol over the year -- years versus calling as opposed to writing a letter, maybe certain circumstances called for certain responses. That's what I thought he might be driving at.

But, of course, what he then says is a kind of blast, a kind of gut blast to say, "Well, you know, nobody in the past really called to offer condolences," which is simply not true. And so yet again, he creates a controversy, because he's offensive in what he's saying. Offensive to the office and his predecessors that gets in the way of what he's trying... CUOMO: Right.

CAMEROTA: Exactly.

CUOMO: You have to be careful, David, both Davids and us, not to let it work. Because what it is, is a fog of distraction and B.S. that gets us away from the main premise. Why didn't he say anything about this for two weeks? You know, why did these service members lose their lives? What was this about? Where is the curiosity from the administration? You know, where is the story of these four men and what happened to them? That's the question, David Chalian.

CAMEROTA: Exactly, Chris.

CUOMO: He can cover it in a lie and cast, you know, blame on other people: "We'll get people who hate Obama involved in it and they'll focus on that."

But we still don't know the answers to the main questions.

CHALIAN: Yes, the lie is important to call out. We've done it. It was a lie. It was totally wrong-headed.

My question was, when I watched that, was why is this a moment for him to start trying to compare himself to his predecessors? There are four dead American service members. He is the commander in chief. There must be something else he wants to say here other than try to compare himself to how others in this job handled this kind of moment. It just seemed entirely the wrong moment, to me, for him to try to stack himself up to his predecessor.

CUOMO: Unless he either doesn't know what happened in Niger, which shows a fundamental lack of curiosity, or he doesn't want to go there. And in either case, throwing some stink on Obama and other people will work. That will become the headline, unless you doggedly stay on the main questions. We need to know what happened to these men, and we don't.

GREGORY: Well it's just like Puerto Rico. Why on earth, as the leader of our country, would you say, you know, "I think we really deserve an A-plus on what we're doing," when people are suffering? Your primary job as the leader of government is to help and protect the people that you govern. And when people are hurting in such an obvious way, your job is to say "We're doing everything we can, but we're not done until these major problems are solved. And so that's what we're thinking about every day. Whatever they need we're going to get on it. If there's long-term problems, we'll deal with those over the long term. Right now we're taking care of people."

You can't understand why he would have any other response other than making it about him. And, of course, that is his whole career, and it's certainly his career as president so far.

CAMEROTA: All right. David Gregory, David Chalian, stick around, because we have many more questions for you. There's much more on President Trump's free-wheeling, impromptu Rose Garden press conference, including his remarks about Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation. Did the president consider firing the special prosecutor? We have all the details on that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:22:14] CAMEROTA: President Trump addressing the ongoing Russia investigation and how he feels about special counsel Robert Mueller.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If it would help Special Counsel Robert Mueller get to the end of the Russian investigation...?

TRUMP: Well, I'd like to see it end. Look, the whole Russia thing was an excuse...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well how do you...

TRUMP: Excuse me, excuse me. The whole Russia thing was an excuse for the Democrats losing the election. So there has been absolutely no collusion. It's been stated that they have no collusion. They ought to get to the end of it, because I think the American public is sick of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: All right. Let's bring back our political panel to discuss this and more. We have David Gregory and David Chalian.

David Gregory, I mean, it's -- he didn't use the word "hoax" there, but he basically reiterated...

CUOMO: Same thing.

CAMEROTA: Same thing, that the whole thing has been, you know, silly or for naught.

CUOMO: Nobody in his own administration will say the same thing for what it's worth.

CAMEROTA: Of course. Obviously, everybody that we talk to says that Russia did meddle. So where do you think the president's head is with this?

GREGORY: Well, I think what's clear is that his legal team is trying to make the case to the special prosecutor that Trump should be cleared, that he should not be a target of any of this, which raises the question of all the things he done, since he's been president, like firing the guy who was leading the probe, firing Jim Comey, that raises questions about obstruction of justice, which would be totally separate from the question of interference and meddling with the election on the part of the Russians.

What is so striking still is that, as president of the United States, he will not view this as a larger threat to the country, to our Democratic system, to our electoral system. He only sees it in terms of whether he is being criticized. He only sees it as an excuse by the Democrats. Nobody sees it that way.

Everybody else, even the delayed reaction by Twitter and Facebook recognizes this was a serious threat but, no, not the president of the United States, who may not be calling it a hoax openly. But what he's really doing is sending out signals, daring Mueller to bring anything. Because if he doesn't have something significant, that he's going to run on this and say, "You see, the entire government was arrayed against me. It was all ridiculous, and it was an excuse by the Democrats." He's going to go to his base of voters and say, "You see? This is what they spent their time doing."

[06:25:30] CUOMO: Look, and the bottom line is it's effective with his base. It defies fact. Nobody around him believes it in terms of anyone who knows anything about the situation, but he says it because it works for him with the base.

So let's get to something else yesterday. It's not a function of spin. It's a function of painful reality. What's happening with opioids, anybody you talk to in this country who fights drugs says they've never seen anything like what they're dealing with right now. The president had a comment on it. He's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about declaring a written national emergency for this crisis? You talked about it.

TRUMP: We are going to be doing that next week. By the way, you know that's a big step? By the way, people have no understanding of what you just said. That is a very, very big statement. It's a very important step. And to get to that step, a lot of work has to be done; and it's time-consuming work. We're going to be doing it next week. OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: I mean, look, this is what the voters that we've spoken to, David Chalian, the Trump supporters and Trump voters, they were hoping for it on week one. That's what he promised. He would immediately address this national crisis. We lost so many people to opioids. So he may not have realized what went into declaring it a national emergency, but certainly some of his supporters that we've talked to wanted it before ten months.

CHALIAN: Yes, one way to tell how resonant this issue is, a lot of politicians are up for reelection next year up on the Hill who would get nervous to sort of get out front and comment on issues of the day right now. They were all out there talking about this, because they know their voters want to hear about this.

So yes, he sort of announced the news he's going to announce next week. He also was asked if his drug czar nominee is going to remain his drug czar nominee after this controversial report, where he very well may have exacerbated or been part of exacerbating the opioid crisis. CUOMO: Right. I mean, look, it's not -- it will be called a

controversial report, but really, the more you read into it, it is not. "The Washington Post" did it in conjunction with "60 Minutes." The headline is this, David Gregory. This -- this is what big pharma does.

What makes the opioid scandal different on an administrative level, is that it started with the proliferation and over-prescribing of pain meds. We haven't seen that before. Crack, meth, coke. You know, all of those different drugs, they came up through the streets. This did not. This came top down.

This law was just vintage big pharma. They've worked. They lobbied $100 million. They got lawmakers. They got the DEA. They got the DOJ. They got everybody on the same page, including the White House, President Obama who signed this law, that changed the standard from imminent threat to immediate danger. And that sounds like lawyer talk, and it is. But it changed the ability of the U.S. government to stop bulk deliveries of drugs.

The guy who's going to be the drug czar, if the president has his way, was the champion of this law. How do you pick someone to fight something that, in large part, is because of this kind of practice, to head the effort to stop the practice?

GREGORY: Well, and you heard President Trump say that he may not in the end.

CUOMO: And how would he not know? Why would he have to say, "Yes, I saw the report. We're going to have to look at it"? How would you not know what this guy's history is?

GREGORY: Yes. It's the right question, especially because it undercuts a major area of public policy that President Trump really could own. You know, whether he's been delayed at starting it, despite his promises is still a major area that he could advance and make a difference on that is good politics but could also be very important policy for the country.

So he was transparent about that, saying -- not accounting for how he wouldn't know, but saying if this thing is all true, whatever breakdown in their vetting that they've had, maybe he'll look another way.

Again, this is going to be a major area for the president that he has an opportunity to really marshal resources around and own politically and from a policy perspective if he digs in.

CUOMO: Right. And full disclosure, we have a documentary on it this Friday night, so I'm not new to this discussion. And we were with the firefighters that Trump put his arm around during the campaign and said, "I will be there for you."

They are dealing with something I've never seen before, the concentration of drugs they're fighting. They haven't gotten any help yet. They're still waiting. Friday night, you'll see the full story. CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, one of President Trump's favorite boogeymen or

boogeywomen came up, Hillary Clinton. He once again spoke about her and talked about his dream for her political future. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I hope Hillary runs. Is she going to run? I hope. Hillary, please run again. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So she's at odds with you over whether or not this is disrespecting the flag.