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Trump Straddles GOP Divide, Supporting Both McConnell and Bannon; CNN Poll: Trump Approval Holds Steady at 37%; Ivanka & Jared Kushner Talk Tax Reform at Bipartisan Dinner. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 07:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have great relationships with most Republican senators, but we're not getting the job done.

[07:00:17] SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY, MAJORITY LEADER: Contrary to what some of you may have reported, we are together totally on this agenda.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: That's really not real. This has all the warmth of an arranged marriage.

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR: Whether they like it or not they need each other to get things done.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John McCain perceives Donald Trump and Steve Bannon's foreign policy to be a greater threat to the United States than Barack Obama's.

TRUMP: Other presidents did not call. And some presidents didn't do anything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When he gets backed into a corner, his default is to lie, make something up.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It shows just what a completely moral bankrupt man is our commander in chief.


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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Up first, Senator John McCain didn't mention the president by name, but he didn't have to. The former Republican nominee condemning, quote, "half-baked, spurious nationalism" in a speech, saying to abandon America's role as world leader is unpatriotic.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump is also under fire this morning for falsely claiming that President Obama did not call families of troops killed in action. Several aides to President Obama took to Twitter in the strongest language imaginable. It took President Trump nearly two weeks to even address the issue on four soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger, the president focused on how making these calls to families of the fallen are tough for him.

So let's begin our coverage with CNN's Joe Johns. He is live at the White House. What's the latest, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, with one eye on the legislative calendar, the president is finding himself straddling competing factions, trying to appeal to two sides of the Republican Party that are at war with each other, praising Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and trying to keep the peace with his former adviser, Steve Bannon.


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.

[07:05:06] 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.


JOHNS: For the second day in a row, we expect President Trump to take questions from reporters today during a news conference with the prime minister of Greece. And this evening, we'll be watching to see if there is more thin straddling by the president when he appears before the conservative Heritage Foundation for a speech.

Chris, back to you. CUOMO: Joe, it will be interesting to see if the president has any

information about how those troops walked into an ambush in Niger. They certainly had weeks to figure it out.

So we have a new measure of how the president is doing. A CNN poll out this morning shows that President Trump's approval rating is holding steady. But we do see more Americans saying the president is leading the nation in the wrong direction. To get inside these numbers, we have CNN's political director, David Chalian, live in D.C. What do you see?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Good morning, Chris. Here are brand-new numbers. President Trump's approval rating, 37 percent disapprove, 57 percent. We've been seeing that pretty consistently, him in the 37 to 47 percent range for the last four months. So it is pretty consistent.

How does this stack up historically? Take a look at Trump versus his predecessors. He's all the way down at the bottom. This is for October of the first year of office. He's at 37 percent. Bill Clinton was the next lowest, closest to him, and he was ten points higher at 47 percent.

We asked folks if things are going well in the country today. Take a look at this, Chris. Forty-six percent of Americans say things are going well. That's a dip of seven points from where it was in August. It was at 54 in April. It's back to where it was after the first chaotic weeks of the Trump administration.

We also, of course, delved into the relationship between President Trump and Republicans in Congress. Overall, Americans disapprove of the way Trump handles his relationship with congressional Republicans. Only 32 percent approve. Fifty-four percent, a majority, disapprove. But among Republicans, take a look at this. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans approve of the way Donald Trump handles his relationships with the Republicans in Congress. Only 22 percent disapprove.

We see a similar trend when we asked folks "Who do you trust to handle the major issues, President Trump or the Republicans in Congress?" Again, overall public of Americans only 30 percent say they trust President Trump. Forty-seven percent say they trust those guys, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.

But when you ask Republicans -- and this is what President Trump is so keenly aware of -- 63 percent of Republicans trust President Trump to handle the major issues, versus only 29 percent of Republicans who trust their party's own leaders in Congress -- Chris.

CUOMO: That's the headline from this poll, and it explains maybe why you're seeing a lot on the GOP side, certainly on the elected side, not talking much about the president in a negative, because he does have sway.

CAMEROTA: David, stay with us, if you would, because we want to talk about all of this.

Also joining us now, CNN political analyst David Gregory.

David, I want to start with this false claim that the president made that his predecessors, other presidents don't call call families of the fallen? It's just -- I mean, it's just so ridiculous -- it's a ridiculous and sort of cruel claim.

But before we get to that claim, I want to ask you about his own belated response. Why did it take him almost two weeks to even talk about these four fallen soldiers in Niger? Why did he have a belated response to the people who were killed on the USS John McCain? I'm confused about the protocol here.

Doesn't the chief of staff, particularly General John Kelly, who himself lost a child -- isn't there some sort of protocol where he taps him on the shoulder and says, "Mr. President, it's time to respond to this," you know, 24 hours later?

GREGORY: Absolutely. It's what's appropriate. It's what a president does. There's no excuse for not memorializing these fallen soldiers, particularly from a president who just spent so much time talking about his fidelity to the American flag and to our military, who surrounds himself with military advisers, now civilians who've had military experience.

It simply doesn't make sense in his response yesterday to deliberately be untruthful about what previous presidents have done, an attempted stain on his predecessors and on the presidency that has no bearing in fact. And again, it's simply a reflection of his desire to distract, to deflect, to come up with something else to talk about, especially when he faces criticism. And that -- it's that very insecurity and defensiveness that we see not just here but around so many issues: around the hurricane response, around Puerto Rico. It's the same over and over again.

CUOMO: And that's why we call out the tactic when we see it and we show and try and demonstrate how it is wrong. Last week we were asking him why he isn't talking about what happened in Niger. Let's play what he said yesterday, because it deserves to be called out.


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.

TRUMP: I don't know if he did. No, 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.


CUOMO: David Chalian, not to be cynical, but I can almost hear the people Googling right now somewhere around the president, trying to find examples of past presidents who didn't call in situations, and they could put it out and then scream fake news. But the reality is, he said something that was wrong. He said it because he wanted to distract what was going on, and then he tried to backtrack on it. What's the net effect of this?

CHALIAN: And he said it because, to David Gregory's point, he felt he was being criticized. This is...

CUOMO: He is. It's been two weeks, and he hasn't mentioned these fallen service members, the ambush, you know, and all of the considerations that should go with that.

CHALIAN: Right. But this is a trait that we've seen in the president time and time again. When there's a larger principle at stake, four American service members dead. He is the commander in chief. This should be a moment that has nothing to do with him comparing himself to predecessors. This should just be a moment for him to lead, for him to express to the country what happened and his sympathies, of course, to the families.

And yet it's about him. Because whenever there is the slightest hint of criticism against him, he can't focus on anything but trying to defend himself, facts be damned if that's the case that need to be made.

CAMEROTA: People who worked in the Obama White House, including high- level, Eric Holder, former attorney general, were quick to take to Twitter to just shut this down. So Eric Holder says, "Stop the damn lying. You're the president. I went to Dover Air Force base with President Obama and saw him comfort the families of both the fallen military and DEA."

Then an Obama aide tweets, "That's an f'ing lie, to say President Obama or past presidents did not call the family members of soldiers killed in action. He's a deranged animal."

People, David Gregory, felt so strongly about shutting this down.

GREGORY: Yes, they did. Again, it's an attempted stain on his predecessors but also on the presidency itself. And, you know, I think there's a pattern here, as well, that it confounds the people watching him, which is why does he want to debate these points? Why doesn't he have an intuitive sense of the right thing to do and just stick to that?

I keep bringing up the example of Puerto Rico. Why, when people are suffering, would you say, "I think we get an A-plus in the job we're doing" instead of saying, "People are hurting. That's all that matters. We're going to do everything we can, because that's our responsibility as the federal government. That's my job as president." Here, too, as commander in chief, you are someone who is always in a

position to be steadfast in the mission but also to support the fallen and their families. You've got to be able to have both at the same time instead of casting aspersions at your predecessors.

CUOMO: Look, we saw Senator John McCain kind of going at the same set of instincts and their perils in terms of the stability of America's democracy. Listen to what he said as he received this award.


MCCAIN: 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.


GREGORY: David Chalian, though, while people may applaud the senator for saying that, what's the reality within his own party?

CHALIAN: I mean, the reality is that John McCain is swimming upstream a little bit to where the grassroots base, the Republican Party with Trump has ignited as he ran for office and has remained totally solid with as he's been in office, the Bannon wing of the Republican Party has been the forceful wing, has been the winning wing of late.

[07:15:23] And so John McCain is representing what is a clear other point of view within the Republican Party but it has not been the prevailing point of view in terms of the recent elections that the Republican Party has been dealing with.

CAMEROTA: Last word, David Gregory?

GREGORY: You know, this is a very difficult time. The Republican Party is convulsing within itself. The Democratic Party is, as well. Our two-party system is under great strain, because there's a lot of identity politics in the country, a polarized electorate and some real challenges.

You have allies saying America is retreating from the world. We're in a dangerous standoff with North Korea. But now you're starting to see important voices in the Republican Party really start to call out President Trump. Will that continue? Will that make a difference?

In the end, Republicans have to achieve something with President Trump as president if the establishment is going to strike back. And argue that it still meets ahead of the table. Otherwise, I think it's going to keep convulsing. And President Trump is the kind of figure who knows how to ride those various waves.

CHALIAN: That's why it was -- that's why it was so intriguing to see him stand in the Rose Garden with Mitch McConnell, right, the very essence of the establishment. Because it was a recognition from President Trump that they -- they need each other. He does need to get the kind of accomplishment, legislative accomplishment that David is talking about.

CAMEROTA: Right. And one of the questions is can you have it both ways? Can you play to Mitch McConnell and play to Steve Bannon simultaneously or never the twain shall meet?

Thank you, gentlemen, very much.

CUOMO: So there are new calls for the president to step away from his nominee for drug czar after a shocking report -- really shouldn't have been a shock to anybody. That has been going on for a long time.

But we're going to tell you about a bill that the potential drug czar championed that makes it easier to get opioids onto the black market. It's true. It sounds absurd, but it's true.

Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia is here to talk about the law and what to do about it next.


[07:21:19] CUOMO: President Trump was asked about what happened to those four soldiers in Niger. And in his answer, he said, you know, "Other presidents haven't called families of fallen service soldiers, as well." It came off as insult, as a slight and an ugly distraction.

But the question remains. Two weeks after what happened in Niger, how come this White House and the administration haven't put out information to the American people?

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Senator, we have a lot of important things to talk about this morning.


CUOMO: This is one of them. I know that you have your own questions. You feel you haven't been briefed. You're trying to get your own answers. What's going on here?

MANCHIN: Well, I'm on the Intelligence Committee, Chris, and I do intend to be briefed, and we will as soon as information comes to us from the intelligence community. That hasn't happened as yet. I hope it happens this week, sooner than later.

CUOMO: Are you satisfied by the president's response that it is hard for him personally to contact these families? That was basically the gist of his answer. He's going to contact them. He's contacting them now. It's hard for him.

MANCHIN: Chris, first of all, I'm sure that President Trump and President Obama both contact families. That is a hard -- that's a hard call when you're making that because, you know, we're fathers. We're grandfathers. We have children and grandchildren, and when you lose a loved one, when a person loses their child, that is a tough call. Because I don't know how to relieve their pain. I want to know that I feel their pain. I understand as a parent what you're going through, and I want you to know I'm never going to leave you. I'm always going to be with you when you have a problem.

I try to call everyone in my state that I know of has lost somebody, either in the military or even in industrial accidents such as mining accidents. And I want them to know that when the day is done, we're there for you. Call me. Call my office. We're going to make sure we help you and never leave you. They need to have that assurance, and I'm sure that our presidents do that. I really am sure in my heart.

CUOMO: Look, I saw you in action, dealing with fallen miners and comforting families. And one of the big sources of comfort you gave them was your dedication to find out how they died and to make sure it didn't happen again.


CUOMO: Let's hope we see the same intentions and resolve with Niger. We will stay on it. So let's talk about progress on another crisis, opioids. You had a big dinner last night. Tell us about the dinner and why it lifted your spirits in hope for better in the future?

MANCHIN: Yes. Well, Chris, first of all, I want to thank Jared and Ivanka. They had a wonderful venue for us. And that doesn't happen that often when we come together as Democrats and Republicans truly as Americans representing the whole American population, if you will.

We were able to sit down for a couple of hours. We talked to each other. We talked with each other, not at each other. Ivanka and Jared were great hosts. They kept -- everything was moving in a direction. We had Steve Mnuchin there, talking about taxes. We really got into some serious content, which I think helped all sides find a pathway forward.

We're hoping we can do that. We need tax reform that stimulates the economy, that gives the middle-income earner, the middle class, if you will, but the workers who get up every day, give them a break.

CUOMO: What was your sense at that dinner? Do you believe that this is going to be a set of proposals that helps the middle class more than it does the upper class?

MANCHIN: Well, you know, I had a dinner maybe four weeks ago at the White House with the president. He was very direct in saying this is not a -- this is not a tax -- a tax break for the rich or the wealthy.

CUOMO: But it is, on the initial points that they put forward.

MANCHIN: That might not be the intent but the way it came out of Congress because Congress has been designing, putting things out. We need the White House to inject now and say, "Well, hold on. Let's make sure we make some adjustments here." We're very hopeful that gets done.

[06:25:09] And we'd like to see it get done in regular order. And I've asked Mitch McConnell, let's go through this process before we go down the budget, before we go down and put ourselves in budget reconciliation with a simple -- a simple majority. And we're hopeful for that. That's probably not going to happen, but I want to be involved.

We have a lot of Democrats that want to help and be involved. We want to work with our Republican colleagues and find a pathway forward. Ivanka was very passionate about child tax credits, and we want to make sure that's -- that's there for the working family also.

CUOMO: We'll look forward to what's actually put, what meat is put on those bones so we can -- we can test it and see who it helps. Another crisis that's going on in this country is with opioids. It got a lot of talk during this campaign. That was good. But now ten months into the administration, we haven't seen a lot of follow-through on that talk. Why does this issue matter to you so much in West Virginia?

MANCHIN: Well, we're the No. 1 state. Not another state has suffered the way West Virginia has. We have more deaths per capita than any other state on opiates.

I want to thank "The Washington Post." I want to thank "60 Minutes" for doing the in-depth review that they have and the investigation they did to unveil.

You talk about the swamp. That almost becomes quicksand, what has happened in the way they have basically preyed upon the American public but upon my constituents in West Virginia.

I know Mingo County well. I know Kermit, West Virginia. These are great little areas that have given a lot to America, and hard workers. They have been preyed upon. This is a business model. It is absolutely criminal and sinful what has been done and to see, now, it unraveling.

I want to think Joe Rannazzisi. That's who our drug czar should be. That's the person that could be passionate about really changing this whole culture that we have right now. It has to be done.

BLITZER: So how do you explain the president -- I know he said that Merino, Representative Merino has been good to him. But is that why he's making him the drug czar, when this is one of the men who championed the bill that insulated drug companies from being monitored in their bulk shipments, that floods the market? You know, that's what drove the beginning of this opioid crisis. We've never seen it come top down like this before. Should he be the drug czar?

MANCHIN: Well, I think not, because I wrote that letter. But I don't think the president had any knowledge of Congressman Merino's background.

CUOMO: How? How could he not? It's not like he was hanging out in Cuba,, you know, with some second life. This is what he did as congressman.

MANCHIN: Yes, but it was even brought to our attention. Why weren't we even -- why did not the DEA or the DOJ from the previous administration let us know that this is going to affect their ability to oversight and investigate?

CUOMO: How did you not know? I mean, fair point of criticism, Senator. You voted for the bill.

MANCHIN: I didn't vote. There was no vote. There was not a vote, Chris. This is unanimous consent. That means it comes out of the committees, the Health Committee...

CUOMO: Right.

MANCHIN: ... and probably Judiciary at that time when Senator Hatch, it came out of those committees. There was no dissent. They probably thought they greased this bill, and when you look at basically how they...

CUOMO: How did it work, though, Senator, if it came out of committee, how come -- I mean, you're supposed to vote. What happens?

MANCHIN: It comes out a hot ticket. Let me tell you how it works.

CUOMO: Please.

MANCHIN: Because it come out of committee, Chris. When they come out of committee and there was no dissent, it went right to Mitch McConnell. He hot tickets it. When Mitch McConnell stands up, there is no dissenting because no one has raised any concern, because they think everybody is fine. DOJ is fine. DEA says it hasn't impeded them whatsoever. We didn't know about all the people that had been fired. We didn't know about all the people who had left and took big- paying jobs for the other side. No one knew about all this. It wasn't revealed.

CUOMO: But couldn't you read the bill?

MANCHIN: We read the bill. But the bill -- do you know how the bill was written? It was basically protecting people to get the -- have the end of life need that they have for these opiates or people that are severe cancer patients. No one ever intended for them not to get their medication.

CUOMO: It changed the review standard also.

MANCHIN: Oh, it was awful. Awful.

CUOMO: Which is what made the big difference. I don't -- I don't mean to hit you with a stick unnecessarily, Joe. Senator, I know you care about this very much, this issue.

MANCHIN: I most certainly did do.

CUOMO: But this is how it happens. This is the stuff that people hate, where this law gets lobbied, $100 million, and the lawmaker who championed it is now going to be the drug czar? I mean, it's like crazy land.

MANCHIN: He is not going to be. Over my dead body will he be the drug czar. That is not the person that a person from West Virginia can look at this man, and being the drug czar. A person that basically weakened it and allowed hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people to get killed. This is wrong.

And I'm sure when the president sees this, adjustments will be made. I'm very hopeful for that. And we bring somebody that's passionate to have the knowledge to stop and really fight this thing. But Chris, I'm as outraged as you. We're all outraged. How can this happen? How does -- my entire staff, you think I haven't berated them? And they gave me every step of the way.