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Trump: Meeting with GOP Senators was a "Love Fest"; Report: Paul Ryan says Obamacare Repeal Dead for this Year; Controversy over "Safe Injection Sites". Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 25, 2017 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. This morning, President Trump says his meeting with Republican senators yesterday was a "love fest," in his words. One of those Republican senators begs to differ. In fact, Senator Jeff Flake says the president is hurting American democracy and says he's not the only Republican who thinks that. That more will speak out soon. Listen.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: A lot of my colleagues share the concerns that I raised on the floor yesterday. And I believe that more of them will speak out in the future. I hope that we've reached a tipping point of some type, where we don't continue to normalize by being silent the kind of behavior that we've seen. That's why I felt it was important to give the speech and I hope that we move in a different direction.


BERMAN: Unless you think the president's going to take this silently, think again. He writes this morning, "Jeff Flake, with an 18 percent approval rating in Arizona, said 'a lot of my colleagues have spoken out.' Really, they just gave me a standing O!"

I will note that if you listen to what Jeff Flake just said, he said that more Republicans will speak out, not that they have. But we digress. The president had been writing a lot about this morning.

CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House with the status of this ongoing internal Republican struggle, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Good morning, John. The president using his Twitter megaphone to try to diminish the messages from senators Flake and Corker because, he has to, quite frankly. Making out that this is nothing more than mid-term politics, indicating they dropped out, because they had no chance of being elected, also diminishing the assertion that this is a tipping point that other senators will join in.

The president also tweeting that his meeting with Republican senators was a "love fest" where he got a standing ovation. But there really is no diminishing the fact that these two senators and especially Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona just yesterday really with free-wheeling, personal criticism of the president of the United States and it's important to say that these senators, Corker and Flake, are both senators who are not running for re-election. So, they're free to speak their minds. And the question, of course, is whether that's going to translate into something else in the Senate. Listen to Jeff Flake.


FLAKE: It doesn't matter so much the policies that you adopt or that your votes, it's if you're with the president. And I can't be with the president at all times. I'm sorry. I just -- I think that when the president is wrong, you know, to call him out.


JOHNS: Those two senators, by the way, are going to be on Capitol Hill until January of 2019. The president certainly needs them to get anything through that requires a partisan vote. The president headed out to Dallas for a fund-raiser today. John and Poppy, back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Joe Johns at the White House. Thanks so much, Joe.

I wanted to discuss now with our panel, Amber Phillips, political reporter for "The Washington Post," "The Fix" and CNN political commentators Doug Heye and Shermichael Singleton, both we should note, Republicans, both we should also note, who have been critical of the administration and of Donald Trump, over time, so interesting perspective, especially this morning.

So, Doug, first to you, you know, we keep hearing from Jeff Flake, saying more Republicans are going to come out and speak. But we've now spoken to a lot of these Republicans -

HARLOW: And they're not!

BERMAN: This morning, Rob Portman was on "New Day." There are other folks out there, they're not coming out and saying more. So, is Jeff Flake right?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think at some point, he may be right. Right now, he's not right. Because what we've seen is we've had time and time again where people could speak out and choose not to. What I can tell you is what Jeff Flake said publicly yesterday and what Bob Corker has said publicly a few times now is exactly what a lot of Republican members are saying privately all the time. But if they're running for re-election and they want to keep things tranquil in their district, they're not going to speak out.

And to Senator Risch's point earlier when he was talking to you and Poppy. This isn't policy. This is personality driven. And it's not just Donald Trump driven. The divisions that we see in the Republican Party now existed before Donald Trump. If we were talking, you know, four years ago, we would be talking about a personality-led Republican government shutdown. These problems existed before Donald Trump. Unfortunately, they're going to exist after Donald Trump, as well.

HARLOW: Perhaps this is why. Let's pull up the poll, guys. You look at the latest CNN Polling. Republicans' approval rating of the president, a whopping 82 percent, recent Quinnipiac Poll shows Republican's approval of Republicans in Congress, ah, 32 percent.

[10:05:09] So, Shermichael, you look at those numbers and look at the lack of speaking out, as John mentioned, from all of these other Republican lawmakers, even if they privately disagree with a lot that the president says. Do you feel like you're losing in this one?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think so. I believe senators most certainly have a moral obligation to speak out. I think candor would even oblige the most casual spectators to admit that truth. But I think if you're a senator and you're one of the eight that are up for re-election next year, you are probably are not going to speak out against the president. If you're a Republican senator and you're in a state where the president has high approval ratings, you are going to look at those numbers.

And you're going to be cautious before speaking out, because you have to ask yourself, if you're one of those senators, do I risk losing political capital in my home state, by speaking up against the president, who has an 82 percentage rating with registered Republican voters. And I think most Republicans just aren't ready to do that. Now it's my hope that after the midterms are over with, more Republicans will feel more comfortable with speaking up and speaking out against things that are clearly wrong and objectionable.

BERMAN: So, Amber, you know, Jeff Flake and Bob Corker now have taken themselves out of the game. They're not running for re-election. So, by Shermichael's standards there, they don't have to be careful, they don't have to wait. So what do you think they will do with the next -- I'm bad at math -- 16 months of their lives until they're out of the Senate? How will they spend those 16 months? Because that's the standard here if Jeff Flake is serious about wanting to take a stand, he's got to do something.

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE FIX": Exactly, yes, that's a great question. And I haven't heard specifically from Jeff Flake what that would be. He was on with CNN's Jake Tapper right after his retirement speech and he said he talked about spending next 14 months trying to get policy goals done, which is fine. But that's not what he is sort of staking his name on, on retiring. You know, he talked about wanting to do perhaps immigration reform, definitely tax reform. Don't rule him out as a potential vote for a tax reform bill that President Trump badly wants signed.

What I think is really interesting is what Senator Bob Corker told CNN's Manu Raju yesterday. He said I want to hold hearings, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, to talk about some of the things that Trump has deteriorated in the world. I don't know what that could mean, but I think that's really fascinating to watch.

HARLOW: Go ahead. HEYE: Yes, I was going to say, Poppy and John, you know, Republicans have been pretty loquacious in discovering what the problem is, and talking about the problem. What they're not able to do, frankly, what I'm not able to do, and I haven't talked to anybody who is able to do, is to really identify what the solutions for Republicans are after this. Because it's so personality-driven, because it has become so tribal, there's no passing of Obamacare repeal or tax cuts that's going to solve the Republican's problem for them. This is going to be a long-term fight.

HARLOW: You know, Doug, Senator Risch said the same thing, that this is personality driven, not substance driven. But if you read Flake's op-ed, just titled one word, "Enough" this morning in "The Post," or you listen to his speech yesterday or listen to his interview with Jake Tapper. He doesn't talk about just personality things. He talks about substantive policy things.

Now, he's voted with the president 90 percent of the time. But I am saying he talks about, you know, the names that the president called Mexicans. He talks about fighting with Gold Star Families. He talks about the comments after Charlottesville and equating white supremacists with those protesting. Those are personality issues. Those are substantive, meaningful issues to this democracy.

HEYE: Well, I would say, they're certainly substantive issues that we need to look at, but their also driven by the personality of Donald Trump and how he talks about those things. Republicans certainly have divides on, say, immigration. We've certainly seen that play out over the past few years. I learned that in Eric Cantor's primary in 2014, which was a, you know, shocking loss to a lot of us.

There are substantive differences. But -- and this is why mom and dad having the fight in front of the kids is what we thought that the 2016 primaries were going to be. But we still don't know what the answers are. It's not just passing an immigration bill or Obamacare repeal. We have a tribal problem and a lot of people don't want a solution.

BERMAN: Shermichael, one thing that Republicans have been able to come together against for some time is Hillary Clinton. And this morning, there might be new grounds for Republicans to come together. "The Washington Post" reporting and CNN confirming much of the reporting that the DNC and the Clinton campaign provided the funding which led to the still dossier, this famous collection of research documents on Donald Trump, during the campaign and then used by the FBI during and after. Does this change the perception, you think, of the Russia matter, writ large?

SINGLETON: I think for many Republican voters, it most certainly will. But for the rest of America, I don't think so. I mean, look, I worked for America Rising in 2014, an opposition research firm, and I can tell you, this is nothing new.

[10:10:00] What's most interesting to me about this is prior to DNC and the Clinton campaign getting involved with this particular firm, it was an unknown Republican candidate who was financing this research. I think the problem is that the Clinton administration -- or not administration, rather, the Clinton campaign, excuse me, and the DNC had multiple opportunities to admit that they had some level of involvement. And they denied it.

So, I think for a lot of Republican voters are going to look at this and say, see, this is all a sham to disrupt President Trump's administration. But for the rest of America, I think a lot of people will look at this and say, look, this is a part of the political process. I'm certain Republicans job was in research, as well, which we do. But I think at the end of the day, we have to come to the realization that if there are some things in that dossier that were truthful, we probably should investigate them. And I think Republicans will have that same expectation if it was a Democrat in office.

HARLOW: And CNN's reporting is that the U.S. Intelligence Community has cooperated some, Amber, of what is in the dossier already, some of the substantial things, some of the salacious details in it not confirmed by the Intelligence Community. How big do you think this is? Or is it significant, the revelation that the DNC and the Clinton team paid for it? And didn't come forward, by the way, after the election, to acknowledge such?

PHILLIPS: Yes, I think it's significant in that it hands President Trump an opportunity to do what he does best, which is muddy the waters, especially on something as big as an ongoing investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia to win the election. Because here you have, you're exactly right, Poppy, Democrats and Hillary Clinton's campaign directly, and secretively, trying to get opposition research from a foreign government and help from a foreign government to ultimately win the election. It opens the door for Trump to say, see, them, too, or maybe, them more so.


HEYE: Can I stand up for the media real quickly? You know, we've heard this. --

HARLOW: Go for it!

HEYE: I thought so. As a Republican I'm not used to doing this. But we've heard this White House savage the media every day and talk about fake news. This is real news. Yesterday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that she can't use "The Washington Post" as a source. This story came from Amber Phillips, "Washington Post." There's a lot of great journalism happening out there right now, whether it's holding Republicans or Democrats accountable and we need to see more of it.

BERMAN: Just two points, Michael, just to clean up here, Steele did not come onboard until after the Democrats started -

HARLOW: This is the British -

BERMAN: The British investigator, right. I mean, the Republicans were paying for some research, and Steele didn't come on until afterwards as far as getting help from a foreign government. Steele is not from the U.S. He's not exactly a foreign government.

HARLOW: He's not Russian.

BERMAN: These are the details that we'll all need to be worked out, but guys thank you so much for this discussion.

HARLOW: Thank you all.

So, this just in to us, House Speaker Paul Ryan says repealing, replacing Obamacare off the table, his words, for this year and thinks that some in Congress are focused on take two next year.

Sunlen Serfaty, our CNN correspondent, is on the Hill with more. So this is -- I was using the word to John, a little captain obvious. But do we know what about Alexander-Murray? What about this middle ground? Is that also off the table?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that certainly is a key question, Poppy. And that certainly was an intriguing -- it sounded like a nail in the coffin for repeal and replace Obamacare from Speaker Ryan, but it wouldn't go that far. As you rightly pointed out, health care is something that essentially doesn't die up here. It has been going through fits and starts with the Alexander-Murray plan to deal with the cost-sharing reduction payments. You also had a competing plan just announced this week by Kevin Brady and Senator Hatch.

So, there are these plans floating around that would deal with the cost-sharing reduction payments. So it's not clear at this point what Speaker Ryan was talking about. The question, indeed, that he was asked during that interview with "Reuters" was, are you abandoning plans to repeal and replace Obamacare and the speaker in that "Reuters" interview responding back and saying, I think essentially the best path for it right now is to take it up in next year's budget.

So, interesting, intriguing comments, but I would say not the final nail in the coffin, because there is talk that either the Alexander- Murray deal or this other deal could be attached to some vehicle this year, not voting on it as a stand-alone bill. And that's really essential up here. So it could mean that those systems are still a go on those deals. John and Poppy?

BERMAN: All right, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill for us. Sunlen thanks so much.

Are there more Republicans who will come out and speak out against the president? Jeff Flake says there are so many that are worried, but why have they been so quiet? One Republican Senator joins us next.

HARLOW: Also, the former spokesman for the Clinton campaign says any money spent to help paid for research that led to that Trump/Russia dossier is money well spent. He says he would have gone over there to help. We'll speak with them live.

Plus a controversial way to stop overdoses. Safe spaces -- that is what they are called. They are places where heroin addicts can go and get high under medical supervision. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes us inside. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When overdoses happen in our bathroom, people are not dying. I have reversed 25 overdoses in this bathroom myself.




BERMAN: President Trump insists his meetings with Republican senators yesterday was a "love fest". Those are his words. He also made sure to note it included several standing ovations.

HARLOW: I don't know if Senator Jeff Flake was standing, assessing what he said afterwards and what he wrote this morning. Growing concerns for him about the president's behavior and more of his colleagues, he says, will be speaking out. Will they?

[10:20:02]Joining us now, someone who was at the lunch with the president, Republican Senator Steve Daines of the great state of Montana. Nice to have you, thanks for joining us.


HARLOW: So you gave the president an A-plus on Twitter after this lunch yesterday.

BERMAN: Which he gives himself.

HARLOW: Which he does give himself.

BERMAN: For just about everything.

HARLOW: You gave him that. And at the same time, your fellow Republican senator took to the floor to say that this president, the one you gave an A-plus to, is damaging American democracy. That's a big disparity in the same party after the same lunch. Which is it?

DAINES: Well, I think one of the underreported stories in America is the fact the vice president comes up and meets with us once a week. Yesterday, the president came up. And it was over a 90-minute meeting. The president spoke for virtually all of that time and then open up time for questions, good back and forth dialogue, but he covered a lot of issues.

He talked about the need for tax cuts. He talks about the scourge of opioid addiction abuse in our nation. Had a very telling story about his own brother, who had a struggle with alcoholism and why the president doesn't drink. He talked about the need for health care reform. He talked about the looming threats of North Korea and Iran.

That is what the American people expect us to be doing, is having open, constructive dialogue with the president on these very, very important issues. And I was very proud to be part of that meeting and to see a very thoughtful president focused on these very important issues that the nation faces.

BERMAN: Senator Jeff Flake says one of the most important things is to stand up and say something's wrong when you see it, as wrong. He says the president is damaging the democracy.

I quote, "How much more damage to our democracy and to the institutions of American liberty do we need to witness in silence before we count ourselves as complicit in that damage?"

Do you, senator, think that President Trump is damaging democracy?

DAINES: Well, I don't. The American people spoke loudly in this last election, and they were looking for change here in Washington. President Trump is a business guy. He is results focused. He's very pragmatic. He wants to get something done. The frustrations the American people have are the same frustrations the president has. That is the inability of Congress to move forward at a faster pace.

But, you know, in politics, somebody once told me, it's a contact sport. I would argue it's a collision sport oftentimes today, but other important advice is, keep your skin thick and your heart tender. And we have these debates on Washington. And I think it's very important we stay focused on the issues, because the issues here could not be more important, more pressing. We not only have the important domestic issues of our economy and jobs and wages and so forth, the loss of jobs overseas, but look at the looming existential threat we have right now in North Korea and potentially Iran. That is what the American people want us to be talking about. And that is what that meeting was about yesterday, for nearly 90 minutes.

I think the press went in assuming there was going to be a lot of drama in that meeting. I can tell you what, it wasn't drama. It was focused on the issues. It was very constructive. And it's what I think if more Americans would have been a part of that meeting, they would have said, that is what we want to see in Washington, D.C. Dialogue between Congress and the president talking about the issues.

HARLOW: We would love that. Bring us, me or John, as your plus one next time to that meeting. I'm glad to hear it was constructive. And on the issues, though, sir, you called tax reform the single most important piece of legislation we can pass this Congress. You say this is a president who is results focused.

Is the president doing any favors to you, the American people, himself, on getting tax reform through, by calling fellow Republicans like Senator Corker, who have a key position when it comes to getting tax reform through, incompetent lightweight who couldn't get elected by a dog catcher?

DAINES: Well, I'll tell you, the president has been a CEO and business leader for most of his career and he's not afraid to say what he thinks -

(CROSSTALK) HARLOW: -- But most CEOs don't call people they need to get something done, an incompetent dog catcher.

DAINES: Yes. Well, he's very focused on getting results. And I share his frustration. I think we should, for example, change the filibuster rule in the United States Senate. Let the majority speak as an example. We need to move forward. If the American people are saying one thing about what's going on in Washington. It is get something done. Let's get some results.

And the tax cut the president is talking about. And by the way, he was very, very strong yesterday in our meeting, talking about the need for tax cuts for the hardworking American middle class. That is where his heart is, and that's why he pushed back on some of this 401-K nonsense, because that would take away a very important tool right now that hardworking American families are using here to save for retirement.

BERMAN: Again, Jeff Flake addresses this head-on. He says that people dismiss the president's behavior as just a businessman or it's the new normal, is what he said. And he said if you don't speak out, people who don't are complicit in the president's actions, which he doesn't see as good.

[10:25:02] Do you think that the senator then was out of line, essentially calling the rest of you complicit in the president's behavior?

DAINES: You know, first of all, I want to compliment Senator Flake. I think Jeff Flake is a good friend. I think he's done a great job as a senator. He's voted with President Trump, I believe, about 95 percent of the time. And so - and Jeff Flake is a statesman, but I'll tell you, I think when you stake focused right now on getting results, stay focused on let's get tax cuts completed for the American people, by the end of the year, that is what they sent us back here to do.

I was in the private sector for 28 years before I left and came to public service. I'm very results focused, very pragmatic in my approach. And that is what the American people want to see. Unfortunately, fights tend to sell more papers and build viewership, but thoughtful dialogue and talking about the issues sometimes doesn't. And I want to stay focused on the latter.

BERMAN: You certainly displayed your focus here this morning with us, Senator Steve Daines of Montana. We do appreciate your time.

HARLOW: Thank you.

DAINES: Thank you.

BERMAN: The White House is going after the Clinton campaign over the fact that it helped bankroll the now famous Russian/Trump dossier. Her former campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon, says this money well spent. He joins us next.