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Lawmakers to Hold Hearing on Niger Attack This Week; Trump Vows 'Biggest Tax Cuts Ever'. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired October 23, 2017 - 07:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was so offended that somebody would be listening to that call.

[07:00:41] REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: Not only does he owe me an apology, but he owes an apology to the American people.

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 highly inappropriate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're fiercely protective of the rights of our Americans. That includes Chris Eisenhaus (ph).

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I didn't know there was 1,000 troops in Niger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's some real questions that need to be answered.

TRUMP: It will be the biggest cuts in the history of this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wants to do a tax cut for the middle class. That's not what Mitch McConnell wants to do.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Tax reform is important, but we intend to accomplish that between now and the end of the year.


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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

Up first, lawmakers are demanding answers on the deadly military mission that claimed the lives of four U.S. soldiers in Niger. Congress is set to hold its first hearings on the ambush this week. Will they also start owning their constitutional duty to weigh in on missions like Niger?

Leading senators on both sides of the aisle admit they were stunned to learn how many U.S. troops were in the West African nation. Now the Senate plans to debate President Trump's military authorization powers. They've said this before many times but never done anything.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So the president's feud with a Democratic congresswoman continues. The congresswoman says the Niger ambush is, quote, "Trump's Benghazi." She's also demanding an apology from the White House chief of staff. The White House defends the chief of staff, John Kelly's, attack on the congresswoman while the president turns to more name calling.

We have all of this covered for you. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns. He is live for us at the White House.

Good morning, Joe.


Growing questions about the ambush that took the lives of four U.S. soldiers and about the broader mission of the United States in Niger. Congress is expected to hold its first hearing, as the heated back and forth continues over the president's condolence call to a fallen soldier's widow.


TRUMP: The call was a very nice call. I 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 Frederica Wilson, following her criticism of the call, again calling her "wacky." Wilson firing back.

REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: 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 for 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.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I didn't know there was 1,000 troops in Niger. You've got to tell us more.

[07:05:04] 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.


JOHNS: The president is expected to award the Congressional Medal of Honor to a Vietnam veteran today who's credited with saving the lives of 60 wounded personnel during four days of intense fighting in 1970.

The prime minister of Singapore will also be here at the White House today, an opportunity for the president to take a question -- Chris and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, thank you very much for that preview. Let's bring in our panel. We have CNN political analyst David Drucker; and associate editor for RealClearPolitics, A.B. Stoddard.

So David, this weekend, two leading senators, Lindsey Graham and Chuck Schumer, admitted that either they didn't know the scope of what was happening in Niger or they actually didn't even know anything about Niger. It's unclear. But they both admitted they didn't know enough, so listen to this moment yesterday.


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?



CAMEROTA: How is this possible, David? How can two leading senators not know what's going on? And we've talked about that they haven't renewed the AUMF, the authorization for war. So what is this?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, on the one hand, there are operations ongoing in many parts of the world that I'm sure that, at any given moment, members of Congress that should be briefed, senior leadership, chairmen of the relevant committees, aren't aware of.

I think the question is, is there a system in place where the Pentagon and the administration plan to get them up to speed at periodic levels so that they're aware of what's happening?

Had these four special operators not lost their lives in this tragic something...


DRUCKER: And we don't quite know. We don't yet know exactly what led to the ambush, why they weren't prepared, would Lindsey Graham, would John McCain, would Senator Schumer know that we have 1,000 troops in Niger?


DRUCKER: There is probably -- correct, and so there's probably, probably a good reason why General Mattis wants 1,000 troops in Niger. There's probably a reason why we're operating in the region. And in my talking to members of Congress who follow this stuff very closely, they have been aware that the battlefield has extended to parts of Africa for a long time. And we have troops scattered all over the place, specifically for these reasons: to catch these plots before they can metastasize.

But they need to keep Congress informed, because one of these days it will blow back on everybody and cause a major problem. CUOMO: Well, that moment should be right now, A.B. Because the truth

of why these senators don't know is because they've ignored their responsibility to authorize the use of military force. That's why we're acting under one from 2001. That's the answer to the question, is does anybody really care? They say they're going to debate this, but do you think that Congress will really be held to account for what happens with military?

STODDARD: No. Chris, think of how many members in the House particularly have been elected since this last happened in 2002. Most of them have never voted for something they can call a war.

Also think about how much the terms of battle have changed. What Senator Graham is talking about is this sort of metastasized war against terror that goes at different places at different speeds, most of all -- most of the time in covert ways. It's no more the sort of ground occupations where we know exactly how many people we're sending in and a date certain that we're going to start pulling them out like in Afghanistan and Iraq. This isn't happening anymore.

And so although the -- they're obviously sitting there, authority on this, and not acting as a coequal branch, taking the tough vote, they are there to take. They should at least know exactly what's going on in those countries even if the public doesn't. How our resources are being spent, where our men and women are in harm, what the operations are and why they're necessary.

And in fact, the expert committees like the Senate Armed Services Committee, that John McCain would have to invite, under threat of subpoena, the secretary of defense to the Hill to be briefing him about this for the first time is truly stunning. And I think you're going to see a lot of heat in the weeks to come about what kind of mission we're on, why the Congress doesn't know.

And you are right that part of this is on them. That they refused to take a vote for an AUMF. And despite a few sponsors who go on TV like Senator McCain who talked about the need for it, if you ask them privately, no one wants to sign up for that.

DRUCKER: And let's look at what happened the last time an authorization for use of military force was debated at some sort of robust level. President Obama went to the Congress.

Whatever anybody thinks about his waffling on Syria, he went to Congress and said, "I will act if you give me fresh authority." And you have hawkish Republicans saying, "Something needs to be done. I don't trust President Obama or U.N. Democrats, members of his own party," saying, "I trust the president's leadership, but I'm not sure how I feel about granting more authority -- more authority to the executive branch to carry out more action.

And so it became, really, a matter of political polarization and political football. This has not been protected from the rise of political tribalism that we've seen on Capitol Hill. The members don't want any part of it, or they don't want -- they don't want to accept the fact that some of it is going to be on them. And so they blame the president that they don't trust.

CUOMO: One of the few areas, actually, that the left and the right have come together. In Congress they've made an agreement. "I will never blame you, Mr. Republican or Mr. Democrat, about us punting."

CAMEROTA: Is it that explicit, or is it just tacit?

CUOMO: It has to be. Because no matter how they explain it -- again, if Tim Kaine really cared, if Jeff Flake really cared, this will be all they'd be talking about. And now is the moment where they can do that, because you have four families whose kids were died -- kids were killed out there, right? And yes, there were fathers and brothers; and they were cared for by so many.

But they didn't even know what was going on over there. So if there were going to be a moment to change it, it would be now.

CAMEROTA: It sounds like it might be now. I mean, you hear what...

CUOMO: They say they're going to debate it.

DRUCKER: They say, look, I think you look at the comparison that Frederica Wilson made to Benghazi, which is different than how most Democrats would look at it. Because they never thought that that was the kind of thing that should be laying at Obama's feet the way that Republicans did it.

CUOMO: That was about a deceptive explanation from what happened. We don't know enough yet to say it's a Benghazi or not, because we don't know what the explanation is.

DRUCKER: That is correct. But the hearings that one could call on Capitol Hill more than just threatening General Mattis, to fully explore this, it's available to the congressional committees. They have not yet seized on it. I don't think they will.

CAMEROTA: All right. So let's talk about John McCain, A.B. He -- he was out, you know, this weekend talking about but not saying President Trump's name but talking about wealthy young men who during the Vietnam War got draft referrals for sort of suspect medical reasons or any reasons. So listen to what John McCain says.


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.


CAMEROTA: Now, bone spur is awfully specific, because that is what Donald Trump then used to avoid being drafted. When he was asked about it in 2015, he couldn't remember which foot the bone spur was in. His campaign later said, "Both feet." So that is John McCain, I mean, taking a swipe at President Trump. No way -- no other way to say it.

STODDARD: Well, Alisyn, this is personal. And I think that John McCain held his fire after the president, then a candidate, insulted him in 2015 saying, you know, "Why do you get to be a hero if you're captured? I like people who weren't captured." John McCain really -- you know, he stayed silent.

And I think that he was really trying very hard to hope that the president would succeed and really held his fire through this year. I think a lot of people are speculating that John McCain feels liberated because he's facing cancer, a very, very difficult cancer. And his odds of surviving it long-term, as he said, are between three and 14 percent.

I think it's actually two-fold. I think that he's feeling reflective, because he's facing a grave illness and feeling ready to open up. I also think he's looked at the last nine months and, just like Senator Corker, is very concerned about the foreign policy and national security posture of this administration and Trump's fitness for office.

And so the insults he's received from Trump are coming back to Trump, and he's not trying to hide it at all.

CAMEROTA: A.B. Stoddard, David Drucker, thank you both very much for the perspective.

CUOMO: As for President Trump, he is promising the biggest tax cuts ever. Is that true? Will Democrats support this tax plan?

[07:15:07] Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey talked taxes with the president last week, and he joins us live next.


CUOMO: The Senate Armed Services Committee is going to hold the first congressional hearings this week on the deadly ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers in Niger. This comes as top senators on both sides of the aisle say they didn't know 1,000 American troops were in the African nation.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Senator, thank you for joining us.

SEN. BOB CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Chris, good to be with you.

CUOMO: Always a pleasure. Did you know how many men and women were on the ground in Niger and what they're doing there?

CASEY: I did not.

CUOMO: And when you consider what happened, the four sergeants, Sergeant Black, Sergeant Wright and two Sergeant Johnsons lost their lives, I think there's a lot of work that both parties and both branches of government need to do, not only to stay more informed but to focus on why we're there, what happened to get to the bottom of this. So we've got a lot of work to do.

[07:20:04] CUOMO: What do you make of the intention that this was inevitable as the function of a process where Congress has punted, weighing in on military strategy. It's been happening president after president. Every president wants more power. They're happy for you guys to punt the ball to them.

But this is what happens when you don't debate the AUMF. You have people in places that you don't know about, that you don't understand. And then when you find out, it's too late.

CASEY: Now, Chris, I agree. I called for an AUMF since 2014, back in the Obama years. But we're -- none of us are, I think, focused enough on finally getting just a debate. Just the announcement the other day that the Foreign Relations Committee will formally take up the debate on AUMF, even as armed services is examining the Niger tragedy.

CUOMO: You think it happens?

CASEY: I think -- I think the debate will happen in the Foreign Relations Committee. But my question for Leader McConnell, and this is not to just talk about a Republican leader. This has been going on for years. But Mitch McConnell has been the majority leader in 2015, '16 -- I'm sorry, '15, '16, '17 now. And in all of those years, he's never had any floor time. This shouldn't just be Foreign Relations Committee. This shouldn't just be a Foreign Relations Committee, Armed Services

Committee. This should be a debate on the Senate floor. At least for a couple of weeks or a number of days. And then have a vote at the end of it.

CUOMO: I mean, especially when you've got, you know, your big names, right? Whether it's Graham or Schumer saying they didn't know what was going on. President Obama put these guys in Niger in 2013. Did Schumer forget?

I mean, this seems to be one of the only areas where you guys agree with your counterparts on the other side of the aisle, where you both want to be protected from accountability from what happens when American blood is spilled abroad.

CASEY: there's no question we should have the AUMF debate and have a vote. I would say this, though, with regard to this incident and briefing. I think it's incumbent upon the administration to provide regular briefings.

Now, they do come over and give classified briefings. But the latest ones have been on North Korea and Iran and appropriately so on big issues like that. But I think it's critically important. If there is an operation under way, there has to be a much better briefing process by the administration.

CUOMO: And you guys have to be calling for it. Because why would they burden themselves? CASEY: I agree.

CUOMO: Who seem disinterested. This takes us to what you expect to find out here. The inflammatory assertion that this is Trump's Benghazi, how can that be at this point?

CASEY: Well, look in the -- in the years when the so-called Benghazi incident was debated, I thought Republicans were completely unfair to the administration. And often what the -- what Republicans said in those years was in conflict with what really happened there. And we saw that not just in the hearings, in the grilling of then-Secretary Clinton.

But when you looked at the facts, I'm not going to make a judgment about one incident in history versus the other. I think that's impossible to do.

I do think the most important thing is to focus on how this happened, why it happened, how we can prevent in future. And I think that can be bipartisan, especially in the Armed Services Committee, but also about the larger issue in the Foreign Relations Committee.

CUOMO: As long as you let the facts lead, you wind up in the right place. And we will monitor these hearings very carefully on that level.

Taxes. Is this the biggest tax cut ever?

CASEY: I'm not sure. But I know one thing about it. It's a giveaway to the rich. And I said that exact thing to the president the other day.

CUOMO: Did he say to you, "No, it's about middle class," because we keep hearing...

CASEY: Oh, sure.

CUOMO: ... from Republicans. That's all he says: "I want it to be about the middle class." Did he say that to you?

CASEY: In our larger group, and he was right across the table from me when I said that. He didn't necessarily say, "You're wrong." He just said, "Oh, no, we want to have a middle-class tax cut."

The fact of the matter is, in year one, $146,000 tax cut to the top 1 percent. For the top .1 percent, it's 747,000.

CUOMO: So -- so what's the sell on it, though? If they're saying, if the president says it has to be about the middle class, but it seems that it's over-weighted to the wealthiest, how do they get to it being a middle-class tax cut?

CASEY: I don't know. Because they're claiming now that this unified Republican proposal, which is both houses, I'm told by Republicans and the president, they're saying when they get to bill tax (ph), that all of this will be taken care of. I am highly skeptical of that. CUOMO: Sarah Sanders press secretary, says it's a $4,000 pay raise

for middle-class families. Is that true?

CASEY: Not true. Not true. It's very clear. Look, in -- in the early years, the rich get a bonanza, more than 5-1. Something in the order of 8-1, when you look at -- the rich get an 8 percent bump. The middle gets maybe 2 percent.

And then over time, Senate and budget tells us that in 10 years the top 1 percent will get 80 -- eight zero -- percent of the entire tax cut.

[07:25:02] CUOMO: Trickles down. Leads to growth. Will drive the economy. And all of this spending, some 1 plus trillion dollars, will be netted out because of the growth. Do you accept that?

CASEY: I don't accept it. Because I think we have already had tan experiment. This isn't a theoretical debate. President Reagan, President Bush told us for 12 years that would happen. It led to the greatest deficit probably in American history at that point in time.

CUOMO: President Obama raised taxes; also had big fat deficits. So which way works better?

CASEY: President Bush gave us the same argument about tax cuts leading to go growth and it didn't. And so, look, we're in the -- we're the fork of the road where either the administration is going to make a sizeable, and I would like to say unprecedented tax cut to the middle class, or they're going to just give it away to the rich.

CUOMO: If it stays the way it is, where are the Democrats?

CASEY: Well, I don't think there will be much support at all for the -- I could never support what they've proposed so far. Let's see what the bill tech (ph) shows. But when you look at the data and look at the numbers, whether it's Tax Policy Center and a lot of other groups that spend their lives examining this, it's a -- it's a giveaway.

CUOMO: Senator Casey, we'll be watching what happens on taxes. Push for the debate on the AUMF. You guys go in to serve. This is a great way to stand up and be measured.

CASEY: You're right, Chris. Thank you.

CUOMO: Senator, be well -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Chris.

The women of the Congressional Black Caucus say General Kelly should apologize to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson immediately. Why? You'll hear next.