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Trump Falsely Claims Obama Didn't Call Families of Fallen Troops; John McCain Criticizes Isolationist U.S. Foreign Policy in Speech. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:10] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Those are beautiful words and I am sure they will matter to those families and hopefully everybody listening to them right now. Again, Will, the best to you.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

CUOMO: We are following a lot of news this morning. Let's get after it.


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

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: We 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To abandon out 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our president doesn't have a commitment to the Puerto Rican people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota. ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your

NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, October 17th, 8:00 in the east. Up first, President Trump facing major backlash for falsely claiming that President Obama did not call the families of troops killed. It took the president himself two weeks to address these four fallen heroes. Now aides to President Obama are lashing out at Mr. Trump. We did it take so long for President Trump to talk about these brave Americans killed in action?

CUOMO: And they are coming after President Trump for suggesting that President Obama didn't take time to call families of the fallen. He mentioned other presidents, as well. We'll take you through that.

Another big headline this morning is Senator John McCain. He got a big award and he took a big swipe at President Trump without ever saying his name. The former Republican nominee warning all of us against turning toward half-baked, spurious nationalism and calling out America's retreat on the world's stage as unpatriotic.

We have it all covered for you. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House. Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, they are also running out of time to get a big victory on Capitol Hill, and the president is trying to appeal to competing factions in the Republican Party, trying to clear the air with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and trying to keep the peace with his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're probably now, I think, at least as far as I am concerned, closer than ever before. And we are fighting for the same thing.

JOHNS: President Trump trying attempting to put up a united front with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell despite lobbing this criticism just hours before at the Senate McConnell leads.

TRUMP: I'm not going to blame myself. I will 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.


Mitch, the donors are not happy. They have 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 he may be looking at, I'm going to see if to talk him out of that, because, frankly, they are great people.

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

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 --


MCCAIN: -- 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 have written them personal letters. They have 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 or other presidents, most of them didn't make calls.

[08:05:00] 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 recall 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 --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People don't have drinking water.

TRUMP: We 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 polls shows the president's approval rating for his response to recent hurricanes has dropped 20 points since September as a majority of the island remains in the dark one month after the storm.


JOHNS: For the second day in a row today the president is expected to take questions from reporters this time as a news conference with the prime minister of Greece, then this evening he is expected to give a speech to the highly conservative highly influential Heritage Foundation in town. This is an audience that will be very interested in hearing about the president's plans on tax cuts and other subjects. Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, thank you very much for all that.

So there's a new CNN poll out just this morning, and it finds President Trump's approval rating steady. However more Americans say the president is leading the country in the wrong direction. CNN's political director David Chalian is live in Washington to break down all the numbers for us. Give us the headlines, David.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Good morning, Alisyn. Here it is, our brand new CNN poll conducted by SSRS. Donald Trump's approval rating, 37 percent, disapproval 57 percent. You are right to say holding steady. We have seen him between 37 and 40 percent basically for the last four months or so, so indeed holding steady.

Of course, how does he stack up historically with his predecessors? We know he likes to compare himself to his predecessors. Maybe not on this chart. He's down at the bottom, he's at 37 percent for October of the first year. His the next closest predecessor was Bill Clinton at 47 percent at this point in his presidency. But you can see Trump is well below that.

We asked Americans, Alisyn, do they think things are going well in the country today? And 46 percent of Americans say that they are. It has fallen below the majority mark. Back in August and April you see it was higher. It's back to where it was in February in those first chaotic weeks in the immediate aftermath of President Trump's inauguration.

Of course what has been front and center this week is Donald Trump's relationship with Republicans in Congress. Overall when we ask Americans writ large, 32 percent, only a third approve of how he handles his relationship with the GOP congressional leaders, 54 percent disapprove. But when we ask Republicans how they feel about this, 68 percent of Republicans approve of President Trump's handling of his relationships with Republicans in Congress, only 22 percent of Republicans disapprove.

We see a similar trend, Alisyn, when we ask who do you trust to handle the major issues. Overall 30 percent of Americans say Trump versus saying 47 percent of American trust these guys, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to handle the major issues. But it is the reverse when you look at Republicans. Among Republicans, President Trump is crushing his congressional competition. Sixty-three percent of Republicans trust Trump to handle the major issues versus only 29 percent of Republicans who trust their own leaders in Congress. It's this advantage that Donald Trump knows he's pressing day in and day out with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.

CUOMO: And David, it explains a lot of this that we hear from McConnell and Ryan when it comes to stepping up and countering what the president says through the magic of TV. David is going to go and join us in just a second, so let's bring in reporter and editor at large for CNN politics, Chris Cillizza. Chris, let's give a little bit of attention to why the president did what he did yesterday. He had to know or should have known that presidents call the families of the fallen, but he did it anyway. Why do you think?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: Because he has a compulsion to be the best, the first, the only in every situation. Whether he knew or not is sort of beside the point. I feel like we have that debate all the time. Did he know what he was doing or did he not? The outcome is still the same. You are raising questions about past presidents.

We focused on President Obama, but George W. Bush as well, past presidents who did do things to honor the fallen. It's your job as president to know those things. So whether he knew, he didn't know, he misled, it was, you know, an error, regardless the outcome is still the same. And remember, it's the most the exclusive club in the world. There are 44 people who have ever been part of it. You see tremendous camaraderie among all of the past living presidents with the exception, right now at least, of Donald Trump.

[08:10:02] CAMEROTA: But David, I am still issuing with this issue. Put aside the false claim for a moment, accusing that his predecessors didn't make these phone calls. But why the delayed response? I don't understand why it takes him two weeks and why it took him so long with the tragedy after the "USS John McCain" crashed. Isn't there a chief of staff who is saying Mr. President, it is time for you to go out and address the American public about the loss of these fallen soldiers?

CILLIZZA: There certainly is a chief of staff who may indeed be saying that, Alisyn, but we know that President Trump operates on his own in many ways. What I find so confounding is, why is this a moment to compare yourself to your predecessors? Why is this a moment to be concerned if somebody is asking what you perceive to be a critical question? We have four American service members who died, this is the commander-in-chief, and there should be nothing here but a moment of a discussion people of what happened and expressing on behalf of all of the American people the sympathies that need to be expressed to the families and loved ones. That, I just don't know understand why in his head he thinks that's a moment to start comparing himself to his predecessors.

CUOMO: Hold on, Chris, just a little bit of context. We just had Will Wright on, OK, the brother of Dustin Wright, one of the Green Berets who was lost. He made a good point. They couldn't have handled the call early on because they were grieving. So fine, fine. There's a protocol. There's a sensitivity. You feel that you want to do what's right for them.

That is a different consideration than informing the American people about why these troops were lost in an ambush in Niger, and I have a page full of quotes from Donald Trump about Benghazi. You've got to know, you've got to know, you've got to respect the loss. You have to get answers. You've got to talk right away. You can't hide, you can't delay. What about now? That's the answer to your question, David, why talk about that when I can do what my base loves and bad mouth Obama and make it about me being attacked. McCain put a beautiful word into our lexicon, "spurious," illegitimate, not what it appears on its face. Isn't that the answer to why he does what he does.

CILLIZZA: I think that's right. I was just going to say to David's point, he only compares himself -- he finds definition, I should say, by comparing himself to others. That is how he views everything. Everything is a competition. Whose build is bigger, whose show gets better ratings, who got more votes in Pennsylvania, who got more Electoral votes, who had the biggest inauguration crowd. You can go through it all.

But to David's point, I am less concerned about the timing, necessarily, of the call than recognizing it, sort of saying to the public, we lost these people. Here's why I thought it was important to do this. And then the thing he did yesterday, I think, is something that you really can't explain other than through the lens of Donald Trump being Donald Trump, which is everything is seen through the lens of how do I compare to everyone else who ever held this job to everyone else in the world, and how can I figure out how I did it best, first, or highest in some way, shape, or form.

CAMEROTA: David Chalian, I have rarely heard Obama era officials using as strongly-worded tweets as last night. So Eric Holder, former attorney general, he tweeted this out "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 the DEA."

This this top Obama aide said "That's an f-ing lie to say President Obama or past president's did not call the family members of soldiers killed in action. He's a deranged animal." I mean, they felt as strongly and angrily as possible about his words in the Rose Garden yesterday.

CILLIZZA: Because it was factually untrue, so that's A. B, it's factually untrue about something that is very sacred. And so you could understand the anger from some former Obama officials who want to get the record straight and make sure that, you know, their former boss is not maligned with the untruth from the sitting president in the Rose Garden.

CUOMO: And yet the what-aboutism always works. It just muddies the water. It brings up what people don't like. And let's be honest, the president has got a unique talent for identifying that.

Now, that leads us to what Senator McCain did last night. He got this very big award for being a fighter of liberty, and he used it as an opportunity to call out something that he sees as spurious. Here's a little bit of what he said.


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 --


[08:15:04] CUOMO: I'm sure that spurious is now one of those words that everybody just looking up, when somebody introduces a new word in the lexicon. But they should. It's probably the perfect word from his perspective.

But, David, we're not hearing what he says echoed by many of the leaders of the GOP or in Congress in general. Is that potentially linked to that one panel you just showed us of how much more people trust the president than members of his own party's leadership?

CHALIAN: Yes. This is President Trump's Republican Party that is ascended right now, that is in power, that is prevailing. Not McCain's Republican Party.

Now, that's not to say that John McCain does not represent a point of view that is prevalent inside the Republican Party, he does. It's just not the currently prevailing, energized, dominant strand of politics inside the Republican Party, and this is precisely the divide that we've been seeing.

This is, you know, the Bannon versus McConnell, if you will, divide that plays out day in and day out in Washington right now. John McCain, Bob Corker, others, clearly trying to -- with their words and their positions trying to steer back something they think is off course, but that's not where the energy and fuel inside the Republican Party is right now.

CILLIZZA: By the way, not an accident, just to add to David's point, not an accident that John McCain battling brain cancer, Bob Corker retiring and Jeff Flake in deep trouble against a conservative challenger in Arizona. Those are the three people that have spoke out. That tells you everything you need to know about who is willing to speak out and what the political consequences are. And that's why you see less people talking.

CAMEROTA: And, Chris Cillizza, is there a way to placate Steve Bannon and McConnell at the same time? Can Donald Trump thread that needle?

CILLIZZA: Well, that's an easy one. No. The simple fact is that you can't placate or find a third way when one person wants to destroy the other person. I mean, Steve Bannon's goal is to unseat Mitch McConnell and every Republican establishment figure like him.

It's hard for McConnell -- Donald Trump to say there's got to be compromise. There's no compromise when the only goal of one of those two people is to rid Washington of Mitch McConnell and his ilk. I just don't see -- he can't -- Donald Trump can do what he did yesterday, sort of say two things that are directly contradictory.

CHALIAN: But it does show the need, President Trump's need -- he needs both. He's out there saying how he needs to get a big legislative accomplishment on his desk, like tax reform, to sign so he understands intellectually he needs Mitch McConnell for that in some way. But Chris is right, this is not something where you are going to actually make both parties happy.

This is the president's conundrum. He needs both the fuel and fire from his people and from his base, but he also needs the establishment folks on the Hill to get him a bill on his desk.

CUOMO: Hence the phrase political skill that usually you need to navigate these situations. Gentlemen, thank you.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right. President Trump not only falsely claiming that President Obama did not call Gold Star families, he's also trying to dismantle Obamacare and undermine the Iran nuclear deal. So, is President Trump's focus about undoing President Obama's legacy? We debate that, next.


[08:22:02] CAMEROTA: President Trump facing backlash after falsely claiming that his predecessors never called the families of fallen soldiers. He made the remark while responding to a question about why he remains silent for 12 days after an ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 did not make calls, a lot of them did not make calls.

REPORTER: Earlier, you said President Obama never called the families of fallen soldiers?

TRUMP: I don't know if he did, no, no. I was -- I was told that he did not 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.


CAMEROTA: Let's discuss this with our CNN political commentators. We have Ben Ferguson and Jen Psaki, former White House communications director for President Obama.

Great to have both of you here.

Jen, what did you think when you heard President Trump say that yesterday?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would say I was shocked, I was not because lying has become a favorite past time. But I worked for Obama for eight years, and not only did he call the families, he welcomed Gold Star families to the White House frequently, he met with them when he was on the road. He visited Walter Reed every month. He visited Dover and welcomed and honored the bodies of fallen soldiers. He visited Section 60.

I would ask whether President Trump is doing any of those things. Honoring soldiers, honoring military, honoring their families was part of what we focused on nearly every single day. So, and I know that was the case for President Bush as well.

So, it's disheartening and I find it really pathetic because the fact is that this has never been political. We didn't publicize all these visits, and neither did President Bush, neither did their predecessors. And what President Trump did yesterday is publicized it by attacking his predecessors.

CAMEROTA: So, Ben, why did he do that?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think, one, the question he was getting, obviously, felt like he was on the defense as if there was some sort of criticism of him. And I think the point -- and you saw the White House clarified this later, Sara Huckabee Sanders did, when he was saying that he was told they didn't always call. And I think he should have done a better job of clarifying that.

I -- The part about the story that I hate the most is it's taking away from these four men specifically that lost their lives in this controversy, that I think the president's point was, look, I'm going to contact them, I wrote letters over the weekend, and not every single time a soldier, you know, passes away and dies in action do presidents call them.

And, unfortunately, now, this has turned into a political talking point more than this about the soldiers.

CAMEROTA: Well, he turned it -- Ben, let's be clear. I mean, he did that by throwing his predecessors under the bus.

FERGUSON: I think his point was -- and again, the White House clarified this later.

[08:25:00] I think if you could go back and say it, you heard how he said it the second time in that press conference when he's pressed on it.

His point was, they don't always call every time. And I think he felt like he was getting criticized for not calling yet or have not called at this point. You heard the family earlier --

(CROSSTALK) CAMEROTA: Right. But what would he criticize -- I mean, Ben, I hear you, you are trying to come up with the logic for why he would say something like that. So, why when he is criticized would he throw past presidents and the protocol under the bus like that?

FERGUSON: Again, I go back to -- look at what he said with the second part of the statement when he is asked the question again by the press, I think he felt like he was being attacked --

CAMEROTA: Yes. Hold on, he says, he says a lot of presidents -- I was told he didn't often, he says about President Obama, I was told he didn't often.


CAMEROTA: A lot of presidents don't. Those aren't true.

FERGUSON: Well, if you look at how many died under the Bush administration and under the Obama administration, when we were in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think it's pretty obvious that they didn't call every single time.

And again, I go back to this. I think the president was trying to clean it up the second time when he was talking about there. I go back to what I said a moment go, I hate this is taking away from the four family members. If the president could redo this comment, I think he would probably redo. I think the White House press secretary tried to clean this up very clearly later in the day.


FERGUSON: It's unfortunate that this has turned into a political talking point, instead of about the men that lost their lives serving this country.

CAMEROTA: OK. Jen, your thoughts when you hear this?

PSAKI: Look, I think, one, I'm happy to see, Alisyn, that you and Chris are honoring these men who served and died for our country. That's not something that we have seen from this White House.

Ben is right that there were more soldiers and members of our military who died in the past during the Bush administration and during the early parts of the Obama administration. But that makes the fact that he hasn't called the families of these four individuals even more shocking. There are four people, there are four families. So, what was also startling was the fact that he said, I'm going to call them this weekend.

There's a protocol that happens through the Department of Defense that notifies the next of kin. But we know who these people are, the White House has known who these people are. There really is no excuse he didn't honor their names and that he hasn't called them earlier.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Ben. FERGUSON: Let's be clear, though, Alisyn, let me say real quick -- excuse me. The president said clearly, he is going to call these families --

CAMEROTA: I heard him said that he was going to send a letter. I think that what I heard him say was that he was going to write a letter and he's going to send it.

FERGUSON: He also said he was going to call. The White House is going to call. He wrote a letter this past week, and he said they would have either gone out yesterday or last night.


FERGUSON: But the president said he was going to call the family members.

You just had the brother of one of the fallen soldiers on again, and again, I go back to I hate the politics of this because it takes away from their sacrifice for political reasons.

CAMEROTA: Understood that you hate that. But the president talked about it yesterday.

FERGUSON: Let me finish, let me finish though. The president, to somehow criticize the president now, saying that he has not called yet and you think your timetable is x, y and z, when a family member just said, one, they were looking forward to the phone call.


FERGUSON: Two, they could not have handled the phone call earlier than now as of this morning when he was on CNN, that's where we should not be criticizing the president as Jen just did because that's a political criticism and the family members said they even didn't want the phone call until now.

CAMEROTA: But, Ben, hold on. One second, how about just addressing it? How about acknowledging it? Never mind the phone call and what the right time for that phone call is? How about addressing it? How about tweeting it out? How about talking about it? Why -- hold on, Ben -- why did it take the president almost two weeks to do that?

FERGUSON: Look, I have no problem with the criticism that you just said there. I think that the president's obligation and his duty is to always honor the men and women who give the ultimate sacrifice in protecting and defending this country. \

I personally think that as soon as you find out that a man or woman has passed away serving this country and it becomes public in the news, that you immediately, even if you don't announce the names, you send out a --

CAMEROTA: Why isn't he doing that? He didn't do it with USS McCain. Didn't do it in this occasion. Why the belated response? FERGUSON: Again, I don't know why the belated response, unless he

knows more information behind the scenes than we do about these issues, and what the military is saying. I also think you will see a change on this moving forward.

But this is a point I will say again --


FERGUSON: -- let's be careful not to try and score political points attacking the president when the real story about the men and women who died in these instances and not try to just hit the president politically.

CAMEROTA: Hey, and he could have talked about that.

Jen, why do you think he's not doing it in a much more timely fashion?

PSAKI: Look, I think there's a pattern here, Alisyn. I wish I had the answer to your question on why he didn't do it earlier. We saw earlier this year when he went to visit the CIA, and the wall that is the memorial to the people who had fallen, that he talked about crowd sizes. His instinct is not in align with most past presidents who have served in this role, who have been the commander in chief, have done and how they've honored our men and women who have served.

So, why does he do it? I don't know. It may just be part of the fabric of who Donald Trump is, which is disappointing when that's the person sitting in the Oval Office.

CAMEROTA: I mean, he did talk about how it is for him. How hard these phone calls are for him. He did say that.