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Rep. Wilson Demands Apology from White House Chief of Staff; McCain Mocks Trump's Draft Deferments; Senate Passes Budget That Adds $1.5 Trillion to Deficit. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired October 23, 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: When she made that statement, I thought it was sickening, actually.

[05:59:25] REP. FREDERICA WILSON, D-FLA: This is going to be Trump's Benghazi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to see the death of Americans turned into some sensationalized partisan fight.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: We don't know exactly we're at in the world militarily and what we're doing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Graham didn't know we had 1,000 troops in Niger. Did you?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: No, I did not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point, we have conflicting stories. We want to be able to get the full accurate story and get it right.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: We're going to score a big legislative accomplish here on tax reform.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People closest to the president whispering in his ear all want to do big tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want the very best tax package that can actually pass.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Monday, October 23, 6 a.m. here in New York. Here's our starting line.

Lawmakers demanding answers on that deadly military mission in Niger that claimed the lives of four U.S. soldiers. Congress is set to hold its first hearings this week. And leading senators admit they are stunned to learn how many U.S. troops are in the West African nation. The Senate also getting ready to grill President Trump's secretary of

state and defense secretary next week as it takes up the long-awaited debate about authorizing the use of military force against ISIS. Could the Niger ambush lead to changes?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: There's no question Congress should get answers, but remember, when it comes to accountability, the blame should start with them. Congress has abdicated its constitutional duty. It has punted to presidents when it comes to owning military action. They haven't held a vote since the Iraq War. They have hidden and now must be held to account.

Meanwhile, the war of words between President Trump and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson continues, and it is counterproductive and a distraction. The latest: the Congresswoman says the Niger ambush is Trump's Benghazi, and she is demanding an apology from the White House chief of staff.

The White House defending General John Kelly's actions on Wilson while the president resorts to name-calling again.

Senator John McCain getting in on the insult game, the Vietnam War hero blasting wealthy Americans who got bone spur deferments to avoid serving in the war. A not-so-subtle swipe at President Trump.

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

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Chris, there are so many questions bubbling up about that ambush in Niger, as well as the American mission in that country. Congress is set to held -- hold its first hearing this day on the issue, while many other questions continue about the president's condolence call that started a controversy last week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: The call was a very nice call. It was so nice.

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump refusing to back down about the nature of his condolence call with the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson. Keeping up his attacks on Congresswoman Fredericka Wilson, following her criticism of the call, again calling her "wacky." Wilson firing back.

WILSON: I'm sick of him giving people nicknames. He doesn't want me to give him a nickname.

JOHNS: Wilson attempting to shift the focus back onto the investigation into the ambush in Niger that killed Johnson and three other soldiers.

WILSON: I want people to understand what is actually happening in Africa. This is going to be Trump's Benghazi, Trump's Niger.

JOHNS: Trump launching his latest attacks on Wilson from his Virginia golf club.

The congresswoman joined the Johnson family in laying Sergeant Johnson to rest on Saturday. In a new interview, President Trump describes his chief of staff's reaction to the congresswoman's rebuke.

TRUMP: He was so offended that a woman would be -- that somebody would be listening to that call. He was -- he actually couldn't believe it. Actually, he said to me, "Sir, this is not acceptable."

JOHNS: Wilson has said she overheard the call because it was on speaker phone when she was riding with the family to receive Johnson's casket. The congresswoman has known the Johnson family for decades.

The women of the Congressional Black Caucus now calling on General Kelly to apologize for falsely claiming Wilson bragged about securing funding for an FBI building in 2015.

GEN. JOHN KELLY (RET.), WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Even someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.

JOHNS: Wilson's colleagues calling Kelly's comments "reprehensible" and "blatant lies."

WILSON: Not only does he owe me an apology, but he owes an apology to the American people, because when he lied on me he lied to them. And I don't think that's fair.

JOHNS: The backlash coming after White House press secretary Sarah Sanders cautioned reporters against questioning Kelly's remarks.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that's something highly inappropriate.

JOHNS: The Niger attack leading lawmakers to question the U.S. military's involvement in the African nation.

GRAHAM: I didn't know there was 1,000 troops in Niger. You've got to tell us more.

JOHNS: Amid the controversies, Senator John McCain mocking President Trump for avoiding the draft during the Vietnam War, obtaining five deferments, including one for medical reasons.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We drafted the lowest income level of America, and the highest income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur.

JOHNS: The pointed attack coming after the president called into question McCain's status as a war hero during the campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Today the president is expected to award the Congressional Medal of Honor to a Vietnam veteran who is credited with saving the lives of 60 personnel during four days of intense fighting in 1970. It's not clear if the president intends to address the media today.

Chris and Alisyn, back to you.

CUOMO: Joe, appreciate it. Happy Monday.

Let's discuss and bring in our panel. CNN political analyst David Drucker and associate editor for RealClearPolitics, A.B. Stoddard.

All right. David Drucker, let's start with the sound of what the senator said this weekend that really should be the entire focus of scrutiny on what's going to happen going forward to avoid and account for situations like Niger.

Let's start with Chuck Schumer, senator from New York. Here's what he had to say about his knowledge. Lindsey Graham, Republican; Schumer, Democrat. Both of them on the same page in a way that you must low. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: I can say this to the families. They were there to defend America. They were there to help allies.

I didn't know there was 1,000 troops in Niger. John McCain is right to tell the military, because this is an endless war without boundaries, no limitation on time or geography. You've got to tell us more.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: You heard Senator Graham there. He didn't know we had 1,000 troops in Niger. Did you?

SCHUMER: No, I did not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: All right. Let's deal with how terrible this is. It is their job to vote on these. They haven't held a vote since 2002 in the Iraq War. Why aren't they to blame for what happened in Niger? Here's the constructive case.

You want to look at Trump about how he deals with the families of the fallen, fine. Fair political scrutiny. They won't hold a vote. They won't debate an AUMF. They did one in 2002 for the Iraq War. They got burned. They've never touched it again. Lawmaker after lawmaker will come on this show and say, "We're going to take it up. We're going to talk about it." They never do a damn thing. Why shouldn't this be their fault?

Obama put those troops in there in 2013. Schumer didn't know? Alexander talks about -- you know, Graham talks about our role around the world all the time. He didn't know? Why isn't it on them?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, it is on them. Look, the way this works is that Congress provides oversight; and Congress ultimately grants authority to a president to engage in major conflicts. Now, I have talked over the years, as you have, Chris and Alisyn, to

members on of Congress on both sides of the aisle. And they're always very, very hesitant to sign up for a new authorization for use of military force.

CUOMO: Why?

DRUCKER: For reasons that you said. They are worried about getting burned. They are worried about signing on to something that sounds like one type of action that a president presents and then over the years, over months, evolves into something else completely different. Because they have no control over. And it's -- and it is a political calculation on this part.

Now, to play the other side of this, and there is another side, when you talk to members that are very dialed in to this, and that is they believe that the authorization for use of military force covering the greater war on terror right after September 11, 2001, is still operable, because you're dealing with al Qaeda and its affiliates. That includes ISIS. They do not believe another AUMF is legally necessary.

They're very happy to debate it. But they don't think that you need to do that. And they also are concerned some of these more hawkish members that you start a debate like this, and it doesn't go the right way, and all of a sudden, everything we're doing around the globe to fight radical jihadists becomes legally questionable. And they don't want that to happen.

CAMEROTA: That's interesting. That's a good assessment.

And so A.B., senators Tim Kaine and Jeff Flake have been pushing for a new AUMF. But I mean, this mission is -- is this mission creep? I mean, is -- who's authorizing this in Niger if the leading senators didn't know what was going on there?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Right. I think that we've all become aware that we're not going to be invading countries anymore and that we're running covert operations in Yemen, and Somalia and all sorts of places and have been for years.

Obviously, we're all counting on members of the Armed Services Committee, a co-equal branch of government in Congress, to be accountable for this and to be aware of it. The public might not know exactly where every installation of special forces or other troops are.

But we are counting on John McCain and Lindsey Graham and members of these committees to know exactly what's going on. And that really is -- it's really -- it's just astonishing to hear Senator Graham say that Senator McCain and Secretary of Defense Mattis will be working out a system here. It's a little late for that.

As for the AUMF, Chris is right; David is right. There are all sorts of reasons why they're afraid to get into this. But the idea that they, as a co-equal branch, would not have the knowledge and not be kept abreast of all the pertinent information about the -- about how many people are there, where they are, how much countries we're in, to what numbers. It's really, really shocking.

[06:10:05] CUOMO: All right. So listen to what the "New York Times" has to say about it. Congress has repeatedly ducked efforts by Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, and others to put the war against the Islamic State, which has broad popular support but no specific congressional authorization, on firm legal footing.

"President Trump, like his predecessors, insists that legislation passed in 2001 to authorize the war against al Qaeda is sufficient. It isn't. After the Niger tragedy, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, has agreed to at least hold a hearing on the authorization issue. It is scheduled for October 30." That's next Monday.

Here's the point. You're concerned that it might not be legally sufficient. One, that is not the reason to run away from a debate. It is a reason to have a debate. And it is clearly laid out in the Constitution that they declare war. So no matter which box you check, if you are a "I don't like what's happening with these conflicts, I think we do too much." Hold a debate.

If you think we've got to stamp them out. We've got to go long and broad, and hold a debate. If you think, well, law as a conservative, you're a constitutionalist, it's in there as a defined duty.

Even Tim Kaine, he's a good man; comes on the show. He has not pushed this hard enough. I know that he and Jeff Flake have something there, but it's never been an urgency.

So I don't know how -- I'll bounce it back to you on this, David -- I don't know how they look at these families and say, you know, "We really care about you and the way the president held this phone call, it is morally reprehensible." What about their moral agency? Of saying on open television "We didn't even know we were there." Which can't even be true, by the way. How can Schumer have forgotten that Obama put those troops there in 2013--

CAMEROTA: But he didn't know how many, he said.

CUOMO: -- and why. He said, "I didn't know that many." But he did not own it as a reality. Why isn't it on them?" Trump just got in there. Of course he's going to say, "I want more power." Every president would. You know, that's why this has worked so well for Congress. Who's going to says, "No, I don't want the power"? How is it not on them?

DRUCKER: Well, of course it's on them. Look, I think part of what this Congress is going to have to deal with is also that the president has given the Pentagon, given General Mattis and his commanders more attitude and authority to act without running everything up the chain. And there's a military value to that.

The other thing I don't think our government has ever grappled with this. This is Bush, Obama, and now Trump, in the congresses that have served currently, is that this is like a war of old, where we're able, even with an AUMF -- I mean, think of the first Iraq War. So we had an objective. Iraq invaded Kuwait. AUMF to get Iraq out of Kuwait. War done. War over.

This is, as Lindsey Graham said, and many in Congress understand, an ongoing war without a real end. It is, in essence, but it is a war against a group, its affiliates--

CUOMO: It's not against a sovereign.

DRUCKER: And it doesn't have -- there's not a way necessarily to end it. And when I was covering the debate over whether there should be an AUMF to deal with the Islamic State, a lot of what they were dealing with is the fact that, well, is ISIS different than al Qaeda? Talk to some of the experts. They'll say no. It's simply an affiliate of al Qaeda evolved into some other group. This is not to let them off the hook but this is to say that this is a lot more of a complicated issue.

CUOMO: It made it complicated. Advise and permission--

DRUCKER: There is not pressure. There is not pressure from voters for them to deal with this. If there were, it would have been dealt with in a much different fashion.

CAMEROTA: So A.B., let's just deal for a second with the politicization -- politicization of all of this. When we had that -- thank you. When we had Congresswoman Wilson on our show last week, she said this is Trump's Benghazi. She's been saying it since then, as well. Is that the right parallel? What -- how does that work? How is that the right comparison?

STODDARD: I don't think it is. And I thought, as I pointed out to you the other day, that when she said that with -- in her first interview, I think, with you, and it was an early politicization of this whole really an unfortunate episode, Benghazi was a situation where an unsecured compound, where they had asked for additional security came under attack.

And the administration came out with sort of an untrue version about what happened, which was revealed to be false and embarrassing about a video. And it was insensitive. And in the end, no one -- there was no real wrongdoing that was blamed on the highest levels of the Obama administration.

But they -- but this is a situation where we're running these operations. They're messy and they're dangerous. And they often are covert. And this is what our military does. And I think we're not at a point where we're going to call this some kind of secret, hidden, covered-up affair. I just don't think that's fair.

CAMEROTA: A.B., David, thank you both very much.

So Senator John McCain mocking President Trump for avoiding the draft during the Vietnam War without using his name. How did the president respond? We'll tell you what's been said next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:18:43] CAMEROTA: Senator John McCain taking another swipe at President Trump without ever naming him. This time, targeting wealthy men who avoided being drafted during the Vietnam War.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never, ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest income level of America, and the highest income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur. That is wrong. That is wrong. If we're going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Let's bring back our panel. We have David Drucker and A.B. Stoddard.

So Donald Trump had five deferments, David. Four, I believe, for education. He was in college at the time, one, because he had a bone spur in a heel -- in his heels.

So I mean, John McCain, what is this play, here? Is he just getting in everything that he ever wanted to say to President Trump? Or is there something larger, strategically, happening here?

DRUCKER: I don't know that it's strategic so much. I caught up with Senator McCain on the Senate floor the other day, and despite his illness, he is as spry and as cranky as ever, as he might say.

He let me have it a little bit. He said, "See, I haven't changed. I'm still screaming at you."

[06:20:00] I think that the sort of disagreement between him and/or this sort of battle of war of words between him and President Trump continues. I'm sure the president will respond.

But look, John McCain is concerned about the president's leadership when it comes to matters of foreign policy and even some matters of domestic policy. That's what his speech in Philadelphia a week ago was all about. And every time the president has gone after him, he found a way to hit right back. That's always been sort of who McCain is just on a sort of more traditional -- a traditional level politicians. And even some matters of domestic policy. That's what his speech in Philadelphia a week ago was all about.

And every time the president has gone after him, he's found a way to hit right back. That's always been sort of who McCain is. Just not on a sort of more traditional level for politicians than the current president.

CUOMO: Look, we know what's going to happen. They're going to banter back and forth; and we're going to cover it. You know, if McCain is that concerned about the president's thinking about foreign matters, and making more, you know what he should do, right, A.B.? Ask for that debate on the AUMF. And take ownership of the situation--

CAMEROTA: I saw that coming.

CUOMO: -- the way they're supposed to under the Constitution.

Let's turn into something a little bit more policy relevant. Dana Bash getting on the Senate majority leader, because tax cuts sound good, but obviously, they add to the deficit and they may also add to the debt. This is something McConnell said he wouldn't do. Let's play their back and forth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you making a promise to do whatever you can with tax cuts to make it revenue neutral?

MCCONNELL: No. Actually, we're not. Because that's a rather conservative estimate of how much growth you'll get out of this program of tax reform, which reduces rates for the middle class, which makes it considerably less likely that jobs go overseas, correcting business taxes. It produces more jobs and opportunity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: A.B., you can waste hours and hours like I have, trying to research whether or not tax cuts actually spur economic growth. And it goes back and forth and takes you basically nowhere. But politically, what does this mean, the balance of adding to the deficit versus delivering on tax cuts?

STODDARD: Well, it's been clear to congressional Republicans, Chris, that President Trump is not interested and worrying about the deficit for now or the debt. He wants full steam ahead on the deepest cuts possible and is promising the middle class a miracle, which is quite a promise if it doesn't turn out that way.

But Republicans in a panic over their fear of failure are uniting around this. And even we're seeing conservative Republicans who always fought to -- to cut the debt, always fought to shrink the government in the House Freedom Caucus, coming to the around of deficit-funded tax cuts that are not permanent that don't provide the certainty to business that they promised a year ago they were interested in.

And so, you know, in an effort to sort of how to win, people are abandoning their fiscal issue, for sure. Now, we'll know more about that later on when we have details. Right now, we really don't. But the estimates that are coming out of some secret room in the Treasury Department are making everyone very happy. Because they continue to tell us that everything has been so conservative, and all the growth is going to pay for everything itself.

DRUCKER: I want to pick up on A.B.'s points.

STODDARD: Yes. CAMEROTA: The political will here to get something done is actually rather extraordinary. Because of the health care collapse, Republicans are looking at a midterm election, which they could face a wipe-out of sorts, because their own voters won't show up, not even to vote for Democrats or that it will change the political calculus of the country but that their own voters will wash their hands of them and say you can't get anything done. There's no point in us supporting this majority.

That's why you've begun to see the conservative caucuses within the congressional Senate within the House and Senate or Republicans come around to ideas on fiscal matters is that normally wouldn't happen.

CAMEROTA: Yes. But previous predictions be damned. I mean, remember the hue and cry from Republicans during Obama's time about the deficit. About we can't bail out different companies. We can't pay for a bailout. We need to get the deficit down. I mean, I heard this drum beat every single day. And now they're like, "Ah, what's $1.5 trillion? Maybe it's 3.5 trillion."

DRUCKER: It's situational politics. And guess who cares about deficits? The party not in control of the purse. When you're spending it it sounds different.

Look, there's also this, too. Right? So Republicans really do believe that, with some sort of tax cut or reform plan, even if it's not what they had hoped, they will increase over time the rate of growth. The stock market has reacted to that possibility favorably. And they really do want to deliver on that. And what they learn there in the health care debate was that if they all stick in their corner and they don't compromise with each other, they get absolutely nothing. That is not an outcome that they want, both politically but also as a matter of policy.

CUOMO: Look, there's good news for two out of three sides here. You've got the Republicans. You've got the president, and you have the Democrats. The good news for the Democrats is they're going to acknowledge that they're going to do deficit spending, the Republicans. And they can move to make this an actual middle-class- focused plan.

That's what the president promised. That's not what it is on paper. So if you're going to spend the money, they may be able to have a role where it gets targeted.

[06:25:07] The president has a win also, A.B., because you've got McConnell following right behind, looking up at him the way the president has always wanted him to. We see it on taxes. We see it on health care.

Listen to what McConnell said his kind of guidance is on what to do as Senate majority leader would help here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Will you bring the Alexander Murray legislation to the floor on the Senate for a vote?

MCCONNELL: Well, what I'm waiting is to hear from President Trump what kind of health care bill he might find. If -- if there is a need for some kind of interim step here to stabilize the market, we need a bill the president will actually sign. And I'm not certain yet what the president is looking to for here, but I'll be happy to bring a bill to the floor if I know President Trump would sign it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: The president gets a lot of criticism for not knowing how to work his congressional power enough. What did he figure out, A.B., to have McConnell sitting there, looking up at him, waiting for him to give guidance about what he'll sign?

STODDARD: Well, I don't really see it that way. I think that McConnell has definitely changed. He's shifted here, where he's becoming Mr. Kumbaya, partner of the president, on trying to push through taxes.

But I do, from other conversations about what the reaction was in the Senate last week, know that McConnell was actually trying to chide him ever so gently about making himself clear about what it is that he will sign because of the whiplash he put them through last week, encouraging Senator Alexander, repeatedly leading him on and then backing off the bill less than 24 hours later.

So that's why Mitch McConnell saying, "Yes, we're happy to move on health care if we just know what it is we're supposed to move on." And I think it was really clear in that interview that McConnell is at a point now with this outside pressure coming in from Steve Bannon. People try and knock him off his job. And that fear of failure driving the need to push tax cuts into law, that he's with the president now, super sunny side up.

But on that health care answer, I noticed that he is really sick of being blamed for the failure of health care repeal, and he's waiting for an indication.

CAMEROTA: All right. A.B. Stoddard, David Drucker, thank you both very much.

CUOMO: All right. So there is a new front line in the fight against ISIS. A little known city in eastern Syria where the head of the terror group may be hiding out. CNN takes you there next.