Return to Transcripts main page


Senate Republicans meet with Trump; Trump Tweet Reality Checks; Corker's Comments; GOP Senators Speak After Meeting with Trump. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 24, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:26] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Here we go. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Good to be back. Thank you so much for being with me here on this Tuesday. You're watching CNN.

Let's get to it now, to Capitol Hill, where President Trump is, at this very moment, he's pushing his tax cut plan.

By the way, I know you're looking at those flags, wondering what the heck was that? It was -- it looked like Russian flags someone there was tossing at the president as he was walking with the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And as President Trump tries to sway Republican senators, he is coming out swinging against one senator in particular, Bob Corker. The two should be having lunch together right now with other fellow Republican senators. But if you've missed this back and forth, let me fill you in.

President Trump tweeted, quote, Bob Corker, who helped President O give us the bad Iran deal and couldn't get elected dogcatcher in Tennessee is now fighting tax cuts. He goes on, dot, dot, dot, Corker dropped out of the race in Tennessee when I refused to endorse him and now is only negative on anything Trump. Look at his record.

Well, there are facts and there are misstatements and we're going to get into fact checking that in just a second here. But this is exactly the kind of misinformation that Senator Corker has been slamming the president for all morning, which sparked the president's ire on Twitter. After the tweet, Senator Corker issued an especially sharp counterattack to our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju. Here you go.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You didn't run for re-election because you couldn't get his endorsement. Is that accurate?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: No, that's not accurate. And, you know, nothing that he said in his tweets today were true (INAUDIBLE) accurate. He knows it. And people around him know it. I would hope the staff over there would figure out ways of controlling him when they know that everything he said today was absolutely untrue.

RAJU: Do you regret supporting him in the election?

CORKER: Let's just put it this way, I would not do that again, so --

RAJU: You wouldn't support him again?

CORKER: No way. No way. No, I think that he's proven himself unable to rise to the occasion. I think many of us, me included, have, you know, tried to -- you know, I've intervened. I've had a private dinner. I've, you know, been with him on multiple occasions to try to create some kind of aspirational approach, if you will, to the way that he conducts himself. But I don't think that that's possible. And he's, obviously, not going to rise to the occasion as president.

RAJU: Do you think he's a role model to children in the United States?


RAJU: You don't?

CORKER: No. Absolutely not. I think that -- you know, the things that are happening right now that are harmful to our nation, whether it's the breaking down of -- we're going to be doing some hearings on some of the things that he purposely is breaking down, relationships we have around the world that have been useful to our nation.

But I think at the end of the day, when his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth telling, the -- just the name calling, the things like -- I think the debasement (ph) of our nation will be what he'll be remembered most for. And that's regretful. And it affects young people. I mean we have young people who, for the first time, are, you know, watching a president, stating, you know, absolute non-truths non-stop, personalizing things in the way that he does and it's -- it's very sad for our nation.


BALDWIN: That stunning interview conducted by our own Manu Raju, who is on the phone with me up on Capitol Hill. Part of this mega scrum, eyes peeled for those senators coming out of that lunch there with the president.

I understand, Manu, even a senator showed up with popcorn for this luncheon. I don't know if they were planning on eating the popcorn and anticipating some sort of fight breaking out, but here's the picture. Tell me more.


You know, this session will probably be overall largely positive. We've already heard applause from coming inside the room multiple times. Typically when the president does go in behind closed doors, it is generally a positive affair.

There is, however, some pushback from time to time. One of the times that the president did meet with Senate Republicans at the White House, there were concerns that the president was undermining one key senator up for re-election, Dean Heller. And senators made it very clear that the president should not engage in any attacks against Senator Dean Heller.

[14:05:08] And there probably would be some pushback here and there in this session, particularly in light of this pretty rather dramatic fight with Senator Corker who, when I asked Senator Corker earlier today if he planned to attend, he said, of course he's going to attend this lunch. And I said, well, do you plan on talking to the president while you're there? He would not say -- he said, I don't know. I have not made a decision on that yet.

So it remains to be seen exactly what set of that exchange (INAUDIBLE) still in the room. We're actually waiting outside the room in case the president does come and talk to the press. We're hearing it's possible that he may. That may be a decision that's made at the last second here. So -- and we'll see if the president responds to this pretty dramatic criticism from Senator Corker.


RAJU: A number of reporters, including myself, trying to shout out questions to the president on his way into the lunch and was waiting to meet Mitch McConnell before the lunch. He would not respond. We'll see if he does afterward.

But, clearly, this is overshadowing this lunch, even though a lot of Republican senators may agree with Senator Corker, they also recognize it's a distraction from the larger agenda to get through -- especially a major tax reform proposal this year, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We are looking at pictures. It looks like someone's up on some sort of small ladder, all trying to get a glimpse of these senators. And potentially, as you mentioned, even the president stopping to talk before those cameras.

Manu, we'll check back in with you. And, obviously we'll take that live.

But let's get back to the president's Twitter attack on Senator Bob Corker, blaming the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee for the Iran deal and claiming the Tennessee senator sought Trump's endorsement for re-election. So I want you to listen to exactly what senator Bob Corker said.


RAJU: You said he's an untruthful president.


RAJU: Are you calling the (INAUDIBLE) no question?

CORKER: Yes, no question. I mean I don't -- we grew up in our family not using the "l" world, OK, and -- but, yes, just -- I mean they're provable untruths. Provable. So, I mean, on the Iran deal, everybody knows they roll up late there, and they're working with me, interesting, right now, on tax reform. I made the deal with Toomey that, you know, has allowed that to go forward. Obviously, I want to make sure it's done properly.

But -- and then everything else. I mean four times he encouraged me to run and told me he would endorse me. So I -- I don't know. It's amazing. Unfortunately, I think world leaders are very aware that much of what he says is untrue. Certainly people here are because these things are provably untrue. I mean just -- they're just factually incorrect and people know the difference.

So I don't know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard and debases our country in a way that he does, but he does. And, you know, look, I don't like responding. I -- you know, you can let them go unanswered, but -- and it's just not me to -- we don't do tweets like that. We've responded twice to, again, untruths. But, you know, it's unfortunate that our nation finds itself in this place.

RAJU: Is the president of the United States a liar?

CORKER: The president has great difficulty with the truth on many issues.


BALDWIN: So here with me for a presidential reality check, CNN White House reporter Jeremy Diamond.

And, Jeremy, we deal in truths around here. So, please, sir, give me the truth. Can you fact-check the president's tweets for me?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right. Well, you heard Senator Corker there saying that the president has great difficulty with the truth. And one of the points on which President Trump lashed out at Senator Corker this morning was his claim that Senator Corker supported the Iran deal. This is what the president tweeted this morning. Corker helped President O give us the bad Iran deal. That is not the first time that the president has made this claim. Earlier this month he said Corker largely responsible for the horrendous Iran deal.

Now, the fact of the matter is, that that is simply not true. Corker was actually one of the most vehement and vocal critics of this deal as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This is what he wrote in "The Washington Post' in 2015 as the deal of the Iran deal came out. He wrote that the deal leaves the United States vulnerable to a resurgent Iran, wealthier and more able to work its will in the Middle East. And in that same editorial, he also called on Congress to reject this deal and send it back to the president.

And that is exactly what Senator Corker, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, worked to do once that deal was sent to Congress. Senator Corker joined with 50 -- was one of 54 Republicans, four Democrats also joining with them, to try and push a resolution forward that would have rejected the Iran deal outright. That -- that was Senator Corker's vote, but that bill fell two votes shy of that 60 vote filibuster threshold. [14:10:16] But that was not the beginning of Senator Corker's

opposition to the Iran deal. And he worked before that to actually strengthen Congress' oversight over this deal. This was the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which I think we can pull up on the screen here. This was the overwhelming vote in the Senate and the House. A lot of this pushed forward by Senator Corker, the Senate, 98- 1, overwhelmingly voting for these review provisions, and the House, 400-25. Without this bill, it's very possible that the Obama administration would have been able to essentially skirt congressional oversight. At least that is what the Obama administration wanted to do initially. President Obama initially opposed that bill and subsequently he did sign it, given that overwhelming support for it.

So how do we rate the president's claims? Well, Brooke, they're simply false.


All right, just so we're all on the same page moving forward here. Jeremy Diamond, thank you very much.

In Washington, D.C., let's take you back out to Capitol Hill. Live pictures here as we are watching and waiting to see potentially the president. Remember, Manu said, game time decision, will he, won't he address the members of the media, all waiting to see how this whole lunch went with Republican senators, right, supposed to talk tax reform. At the backdrop of this whole thing, this, you know, war of words between the Tennessee senator, Bob Corker, and the president himself.

Also breaking news today in the investigation into the ambush in Niger. A major, major development this afternoon involving why those Americans were there in the first place.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:16:13] BALDWIN: We're back with the breaking news here. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Live pictures. Capitol Hill. We're waiting to see President Trump, Republican senators emerging from this lunch that started just a little over an hour ago here. It's supposed to be talking tax reform, but, you know, in case you're just tuning in, let me just fill you in on this whole back and forth between Tennessee Senator Bob Corker and what he told CNN today, you know, essentially suggesting, didn't use the "l" word -- he said we don't -- I didn't grow up in a house where we used the "l" word, but basically called the president a liar, said the president is incompetent, doesn't care to be competent, isn't a role model to American children.

So, let's begin there with my panel.

I've got Gloria Borger standing by, our CNN chief political analyst, and CNN political commentator Shermichael Singleton and Scott Jennings.

So, here we go.

And, Gloria, to you first, just quickly on talking to Manu a second ago who's part of the whole, you know, scrum outside those doors on Capitol Hill. He said, you know, despite everything, they've heard some rounds of applause from behind those closed doors. Do you read anything into that?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, what I read into it is that these are a group of Senate Republicans who want to get something done and they need to have the president on board, they believe, to do that. And they want to get their tax cuts through. And so they have to sort of show a united face if they're going to do that and kind of gloss over the other issues that he has with lots of Republicans in the Senate, many of whom he has actually criticized personally.


BORGER: And so that's not something I wouldn't -- I would expect them to be talking about in there.

BALDWIN: OK. Well, let's not gloss over it. Let me just stay with you, because I'm curious, we've seen -- we've seen a lot of Senator Corker today, right? He did the rounds this morning on all the morning show. I think I caught him on multiple -- you know, doing multiple gaggles today up on Capitol Hill. What do you think his motivation might be in coming out so much ahead of this all important lunch?

BORGER: Well, look, it -- he got insulted this morning. He came out, I believe, we were all after him to talk. The week after his first round with the president, he kind of calmed down after that. But as he has said, he knows what he's saying when he said that, you know, Rex Tillerson and Mattis and Kelly were standing between the country and chaos. He knew exactly what he was saying when he first said that.

It may be easier for him because he's liberated by not having to run for re-election, but he is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and I think you have to take him seriously. And so I think he came out to try and talk about why he feels this way. He did that. He talked about his concern about tax reform adding to the deficit and the president reacted.

BALDWIN: Here he is. I think he -- is he just leaving.

Forgive me, Gloria, but we're marking it, 2:18 p.m. So there goes the president. I guess there goes the game time decision of addressing the media. But there he went.

So just as we're all -- we're all watching --

BORGER: Right.

BALDWIN: Perhaps, perhaps we'll see some of those senators step up to that microphone.

Go ahead. BORGER: Right. And so, you know, I think that once the president

started tweeting and throwing a Twitter tantrum this morning, tweeting, what, five times in a row about Corker --


BORGER: He decided he had to respond. And as he said to Manu, you know, I don't normally like to do this but these are untruths, as he called it, that sort of -- that they're so easily provable to be false. But he -- you know, you need to -- you need to respond to it. So I think he felt like he had to do it. I think a lot of Republicans would rather he just not have done that because it creates a problem for them. But he did and there you go.

BALDWIN: Well, Paul Ryan has weighed in, the House speaker. Shermichael, let me -- and, Scott, let me play this for you. He weighed in on this back and forth between the president and Senator Corker and he said that this lunch is a good thing.

[14:20:12] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I'm glad they're coming -- I'm glad the president's coming to lunch because I have -- I have long believed that it's best just to settle these things in person and I hope that they can get a chance to do that.

I know Bob well. Bob's going to vote for Tennessee, he's going to vote for America, he's going to vote for tax reform.

So all of this stuff you see on a daily basis on Twitter this and Twitter that, forget about it.


BALDWIN: To be fair, Twitter this and Twitter that, it is, you know, legit statements from the White House.

Shermichael, I mean, what the president tweets, we all do and should pay attention to. What do you make of what the House speaker said just there and also just Senator Corker's words today?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think Speaker Ryan understands and has placed things in perspective. We should stop the feuding because the American people have given us a mandate, meaning the Republican Party, to accomplish something. It's almost 11 months into the president's term and we haven't accomplished anything yet.

I do think there are some benefits as far as increasing the child tax credit for tax reform, decreasing the corporate tax rate, which will hope will allow corporations to bring those dollars back into the U.S. and reinvest them. So there are some benefits with tax reform that we should focus on.

Now, look, as it pertains to Senator Corker, he's retiring in 14 months. He has the freedom, unlike many other senators, to probably speak more freely. And I'm almost certain, at least from the reporting that CNN has done, many senators do share a lot of what Senator Corker has spoken about and they've talked about these things oftentimes in private.

But when you look into the Republican Party by and large, I think the president is doing quite fine. I mean his approval rating is nearly 80 percent. So I think senators will look at --

BALDWIN: Wait, I'm sorry, the president's approval rating is at 80 percent?

SINGLETON: Well, with Republican voters, registered Republican voters. Let me clarify that.


SINGLETON: Yes, let me clarify that, Brooke.

So when you think about that, if you're a Republican senator and you're considering whether or not you're going to speak out against a sitting president, the leader of your party, you're going to look at those numbers. Keep in mind, Republicans control 32 state legislators, 33 state governors. Those Republican voters who will be voting next year come midterm. And so senators aren't going to put themselves out in a position that could backfire on them if they're up for re- election and that could also hurt Republicans by and large.

BALDWIN: Scott, what do you want to hear? I mean obviously we got the wave from the president. We won't be hearing from him on camera. But we could start hearing from some of these senators emerging from his luncheon talking tax reform, which is so, so important for Republicans getting this done. What do you want to hear?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I want to hear a couple of things. Number one, I want to hear that we have the votes, that we have at least 50 Republican senators who are going to vote to keep the promise of reforming our tax code, simplifying the code, lowering the rate. So that's number one.

Number two, I want to hear that they have a unified strategy. I think one of the things that's troubling from a strategic perspective is when you have a piecemeal situation where the White House or individual senators are saying, well, I don't want this, I don't want that, we're going to cut this, we're not going to cut that. What they need is an upfront, unified strategy. What does the president want to see in the bill, what does he want to see out of the bill. Let's move from there. I don't think we can move the goal post during this because they've got to thread the needle to get it done and moving the goal posts during the negotiation is going to make it harder.

Right now, I think Republicans are very optimistic, the Corker-Trump feud notwithstanding. But, of course, they were optimistic about Obamacare repeal. So we can't count or chickens before they hatch.


JENNINGS: But these need to hatch for the political prosperity of the Republican Party.


Gloria, just how unprecedented is it to hear from a sitting senator, you know, openly questioning his, you know, vote for the president and even the party itself?

BORGER: Well, he's questioning -- not only that, he's questioning the president's competency. He's questioning whether the fact the president might be dangerous in terms of foreign policy. He's questioning whether the president might be stable. I mean this goes beyond questioning whether you disagree with somebody or whether he hasn't represented the party well enough or whether he tweets too much.

BALDWIN: Whether he can turn it around at all. (INAUDIBLE) say no.

BORGER: Right. Or -- yes, exactly. I mean this -- you know, this goes to the core of who Donald Trump is and what his presidency is about. And, you know, I think that it's sort of beyond anything that I have ever seen, even including Watergate, when, of course, I was a baby and not covering this, but --


BORGER: But there were -- you know, there were questions of (INAUDIBLE), of course, during Watergate and questions of criminality. But this question of any kind of competency and real stability is something that might have been whispered but isn't really said out loud the way Bob Corker said it.

[14:25:08] BALDWIN: Over and over and over again today.

BORGER: Yes. Yes.


Let me ask you all to stand by.

Did someone want to jump in? Shermichael?

SINGLETON: Yes, Brooke, this is Shermichael.

BALDWIN: Yes, real quickly. Go ahead.

SINGLETON: Again, I think Gloria makes a --

BALDWIN: Oh, oh, hang on a second.


BALDWIN: Here we go. The Senate majority leader.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, MAJORITY LEADER: Well, good afternoon, everyone.

As you know, we had the president at lunch today and he went overall all of the items that the administration has been working on, much of which I agree with him, the administration hasn't gotten nearly enough credit for. But I would highlight several things that I think will be front and center going down the end of this session.

Obviously, tax reform, we're hopeful the House will tomorrow pass a budget that will open the door to begin the process of tax reform in the Ways and Means and (INAUDIBLE) committee.

We're going to be confirming a number of judges beginning with a couple of district judges that I filed cloture on yesterday.

And the president also talked about his upcoming announcement on opioids. You know, we have a national epidemic of historic proportions and the administration has correctly seized on this issue. It's something that's important to the American people. We need to get a handle on this as west we can and the president will be talking about that -- excuse me, and the president will be talking about that later in the week.

SEN. JOHN THUNE, REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE CHAIRMAN: Well, as the leader mentioned, one of the big points the president wanted to cover today is what we could do to help ordinary Americans, middle income families, improve their economic standing. And that's really what the focus of tax reform is all about.

A lot of middle income families have had a very tough time during the past few years. And if you're trying to save for your kids' college education or put aside some money for retirement or save for a rainy day, it's gotten harder and harder for average American families to be able to do that. So that's why we're focused on tax reform.

We're on tax reform because we think it's unacceptable that half of the families in this country say they're living paycheck to paycheck and that a third of the families in this country are literally one break (ph) job away from financial ruin. And so what the tax plan that we're putting forward does is it lower rates on middle income families, it doubles the standard deduction, you know, removes a number of Americans from even having tax liability all by doubling the standard deduction, and also expands the child's tax credit, which makes it easier for families to afford the cost of raising children in this country.

We think that's a path forward that will help pave a better and a brighter future for middle income families in this country. We hope that there are Democrats who are going to be available to work with us to pass that kind of tax reform because it's good for American families, it's good for our middle class, it's good for jobs and wages. And those types of things that Democrats say they support, if they do, they ought to join hands with us and help us get this tax bill across the finish line.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO, REPUBLICAN, POLICY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, I'm very happy that the president accepted our invitation to join us today for lunch. I thought it was a very productive meeting, an active discussion, focused on the things that we've been elected to do, which is to help lower the taxes of the American people. He -- the president was very strong and very focused on that, on giving people a raise by cutting their tax.

This is going to be the first time in a generation that that has occurred. We have taken the first step in the Senate by passing a budget. That has been done. We need a tax system in this United States that is fairer, simpler and lets people keep more of their hard-earned money. That's what we're committed to do and that's what the president was focusing on today.

In terms of businesses and the tax situation there, you lower the taxes there to make it easier for businesses to hire people, put more people to work and to raise wages.

Additionally, the president talked about the issue of confirmation of so many of his nominees. We're in a position where it seems that the Democrats have been so obstructive to President Trump and getting people in place to do the jobs of the American people that at this point President Obama had twice as many people confirmed as President Trump has at this time. We're going to continue to work to break the obstruction that we're seeing from the Democrat Party.

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: Part of the president's remarks today focused on the regulatory reforms that have been made already and they've been significant. Things like the power structure that would have raised utility bills, the so-called clean power rule, the waters of the U.S. that would require the EPA to be involved and so much of the economy. And these were huge overreaches. They're a step back from that.

[14:30:10] And on taxes, the president said in his two principle --