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Flake Denounces Trump's Policies And Behavior; Alaska Senator: Trump Asked About Renaming Mountain; Trump To Embark On 12-Day Trip To Asia Next Week. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired October 25, 2017 - 07:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[07:32:51] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA, AUTHOR, "CONSCIENCE OF A CONSERVATIVE": The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters -- the notion that we should say and do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That's Republican Sen. Jeff Flake announcing his retirement in a passionate speech from the Senate floor.

President Trump just responded moments ago. He tweeted, "The reason Flake and Corker dropped out of the Senate race is very simple, they had zero chance of being elected. Now act so hurt and wounded."

"The meeting with Republican senators yesterday, outside of Flake and Corker, was a lovefest with standing ovations and great ideas for USA."

Joining us now is Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. Good morning, Senator.

FLAKE: Thanks for having me on.

CAMEROTA: So, I'd like you to respond to that tweet from the president. Is the only reason that you dropped out of the race is because you had zero chance of being elected?

FLAKE: Well, I can tell you it's very difficult to be reelected in the Republican Party right now, in Arizona, in particular. If your -- 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 ought to call him out. And sometimes he's wrong, and that's what I tried to point out in the speech yesterday.

CAMEROTA: And so, are you an outlier, Senator, in the Republican Party now? I mean, what about that second half of what the president just tweeted? "The meeting with Republican senators yesterday, outside of Flake and Corker, was a lovefest with standing ovations and great ideas for USA." Is that how you see it?

FLAKE: Well, I'm not here to describe a private meeting. I can just say that 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.

[07:35:11] CAMEROTA: Senator, what makes you think that your colleagues will speak out in the future?

FLAKE: Well, I think it's a cumulative effect. You know, we're nine months into the administration. Those who were hoping to see a pivot, I think have realized that's not going to come.

And this has the potential to do real damage, particularly on the foreign stage with regard to the agreements that we have, trade arrangements that will affect our economy, and geopolitics as well. These things have lasting meaning. That's why Bob Corker has been so concerned, and I share those concerns.

CAMEROTA: But those colleagues that you've had those conversations with behind the scenes that you believe will speak out --

FLAKE: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- what are they waiting for?

FLAKE: I think -- I think they will. I think we've hit the tipping point, you know. There is, at some point, just the weight of it just causes people to change and to say I can't take this anymore. And I hope that we've reached that point.

You know, we had several speeches last week. Certainly, my colleague John McCain spoke very eloquently about the concerns he has about our foreign policy. I think you're going to see more of that in the future.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, look, the reason that I press you on this is because John McCain, as we know, sadly is battling --

FLAKE: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- brain cancer.

We also heard George W. Bush, former president, speaking out about the tone that he thinks that the Republican -- the whole country has taken now under this leadership.

But let's face it, I mean, you are retiring. Bob Corker is getting out the Senate. So everybody that we're talking about is, you know, not one of the Republicans who, you know, sadly, in the case of John McCain, is planning a long-term, necessarily, career.

So what is it going to take for the people who do want to stay in the Senate to speak out?

FLAKE: Well, people out there are obviously frustrated at the inability of the Congress and the administration to work together on things like health care reform.

I can tell you if we don't get some kind of tax reform -- not just tax cuts, but tax reform -- there's going to be great disappointment out there and then people will be saying all right, you can no longer just blame the Congress. There is some blame that will go to the administration.

So I do think that we're entering a time now -- we've been in the administration long enough. There's always a honeymoon period that an administration enjoys and people give a little slack, but we're coming to a point now where we've got to get some big things done.

We have challenges in this country that we've got to face and unless the president is able to work with Congress on these things then people aren't going to stand and say, you know, we're going to give you more time. At some point, there's a tipping point where we have to move on.

CAMEROTA: When did you decide that you were going to make that speech yesterday?

FLAKE: Well, the speech itself, just a couple of days before. We hadn't decided, as a family, that we were going to do this until, you know, the final decision just a few days before.

CAMEROTA: And so, you still have 14 months left. What's that going to be like to work in the Senate for the next 14 months?

How's that -- I mean, what are you going -- are you going to be with the president or not? Are you going to vote your conscience? What does that look like?

FLAKE: There are some things that I hope to be with the president on. He's expressed a desire to fix the situation for the DACA kids. I hope we can do that together.

We're going to need to do an authorization for use in military force. We haven't done one for 16 years. Tim Kaine and I have a bipartisan bill that we're going to be holding a hearing on next week.

So things are moving ahead. We've got a lot of challenges ahead. And I work well with my colleagues and look forward to doing so for the next 14 months.

CAMEROTA: So you don't feel like persona non grata?

FLAKE: No, no. I've worked with Republican presidents and Democratic presidents on policy issues despite political differences. That's the way it used to be. I think that's the way it needs to be in the future instead of this personalized tweeting against members that you don't like or Gold Star families that you want to have an argument with.

That's not normal behavior. That is ahistoric. We've got to recognize that and stand up before that kind of behavior becomes normalized.

CAMEROTA: Do you support the president's tax plan, as it is?

FLAKE: Well, we haven't seen -- well, there's an outline -- a framework out there that we got from the White House which looks pretty good, but we won't know until it's drafted in legislation. In the next couple of weeks, the House and Senate will be doing that.

CAMEROTA: Even if it adds to the deficit?

FLAKE: Well, we'll see. There are things -- you know, supply-side economics says that certain tax cuts will yield increased economic activity and therefore, more tax revenue. We've seen historic evidence of that but not ever tax cut does that, so we're going to have to see what's in the package.

[07:40:10] CAMEROTA: I want to talk to you about the reaction to what you said yesterday and to your retirement announcement.

Steve Bannon --

FLAKE: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- of "Breitbart," is taking something of a victory lap. The headline says that Bannon has claimed another scalp.

Then, one of his editors has tweeted Bannon's reaction to Flake retirement announcement. Quote, "Our movement will defeat you in primaries or force you to retire. The days of establishment Republicans who oppose the people's 'America First' agenda are numbered."

Are you letting Steve Bannon win?

FLAKE: I'll let him describe his victories or defeats. That's up to him. I'm more worried about my work in the Senate.

CAMEROTA: But do you feel that by retiring that you're surrendering somehow?

FLAKE: You know, it's tough. I'm competitive, I like to fight these battles, but I also knew that I couldn't run the kind of race that I would be proud of and win in a Republican primary at this time.

The politics in that way has changed. You can be conservative on policy and it doesn't matter, it seems, as much as being with the president or not criticizing him even if you think he's wrong. We haven't entered politics like that before. This is something new.

And so, I didn't feel that I could move ahead and run a campaign that I could be proud of and so that's why I'm retiring.

CAMEROTA: You know, we just had Ana Navarro on. I'm sure you know her. She's one of our political commentators.

She's a Republican and she says -- I mean, her feeling was that she's sad and frustrated that you're retiring because she thinks that -- then who stands up for the Republican values that she thinks are necessary in Congress and so many other Republicans, if you want to call them establishment or just, you know, solid conservative values -- however you would describe them? That if you leave then who holds that ground?

FLAKE: Well, one, I'm not leaving immediately. I will serve out my term which is another 14 months, as will people like Bob Corker. So this will be pivotal, this next 14 months, and I plan to speak out.

CAMEROTA: Did you and Bob Corker coordinate your statements yesterday?

FLAKE: No. I sit with Bob on the Foreign Relations Committee. I've been aware of his concerns, particularly about our foreign policy and I share those concerns.

So we've had those discussions but he had no idea I was going to do what I did yesterday.

CAMEROTA: What's the response been among your colleagues after your speech yesterday?

FLAKE: Obviously, privately, a number of my colleagues have expressed concern about the direction of our politics and the behavior of the president. I think in the coming months you'll have more people stand up.

I think the cumulative weight of all of this, there comes a tipping point where we realize we just can't continue to normalize this kind of behavior. So I do think we'll have more people stand up in the coming months.

CAMEROTA: Are you considering running for president in the future?

FLAKE: That is not on my radar screen. That's a long way off.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, 2020 is actually not that long off. I mean, has it -- has it crossed your mind?

FLAKE: I'm focused on my work in the Senate. I've got another good 14 months.

CAMEROTA: It hasn't crossed your mind?

FLAKE: I haven't entertained that thought for very long, no.

CAMEROTA: Well, Senator Jeff Flake, thank you.

FLAKE: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: We really appreciate you coming on and sharing with us your thoughts behind everything you did yesterday and moving forward. Great to talk to you.

FLAKE: I appreciate it. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Thank you -- Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Such a funny question. You thinking about running for president? No, end of discussion. You rarely hear that from people who are actually thinking about it.

It's good to hear the Senator here in his own words.

So, other news.

CNN has learned that President Trump has asked both Alaska senators, in March, if they thought President Obama's order to rename the nation's tallest mountain from Mount McKinley to Mount Denali should be reversed. It's something candidate Trump promised to do.

CNN's Tom Foreman has more on this curious subject.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Towering more than 20,000 feet over the Alaskan wilderness, this is the tallest mountain in North America, and it also appears to be a big chip on the president's shoulder. So much so that he took it up with the state's two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How you doing?

FOREMAN: The issue, in 2015, President Obama changed the mountain's name from Mount McKinley to Denali.

OBAMA: Flying in on Monday, I had the view of something extraordinary from Air Force One. The great one, Denali.

(APPLAUSE)

We restored its Alaskan native name.

FOREMAN: The move came amid much praise in the far north.

[07:45:00] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Alaskans have fought for this to happen for years, knowing that it was a gold prospector who named the mountain after President McKinley who never set foot in this state.

FOREMAN: But in Ohio, the home state of the assassinated 25th president, outrage. Then-speaker of the U.S. House, Ohioan John Boehner, said he was deeply disappointed. Governor John Kasich said POTUS, once again, oversteps his bounds.

And candidate Donald Trump --

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: O-H.

RALLYGOERS: I-O.

FOREMAN: With the state's primary still ahead, he tweeted "President Obama wants to change the name of Mount McKinley to Denali after more than 100 years. Great insult to Ohio. I will change back."

But it's not clear if that will actually happen now.

The "Anchorage Dispatch News," which initially reported on the president raising the matter with the senators says it happened back in March. Both told him no, no.

And, by the way, this was Murkowski back when McKinley was dropped by Obama.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I'd like to thank the president for working with us to achieve this significant change to show honor, respect, and gratitude to the Athabascan people of Alaska.

FOREMAN (on camera): Her colleague, Sen. Sullivan, put it this way. Those native inhabitants of Alaska named the mountain Denali 10,000 years ago and that name should remain.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CAMEROTA: OK.

Meanwhile, a stunning statement from Sen. Bob Corker about President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think world leaders are very aware that much of what he says is untrue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: All right. How will this impact President Trump when he takes the world stage in Asia in just days? We discuss that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:50:52] CUOMO: So, the president has this huge trip to Asia. He's going to a lot of places, he's entering a lot of situations. There's a lot of chance for upside and downside.

So what does all this politics at home within his own party mean to this trip? Let's talk with CNN political and national security analyst and national security correspondent for "The New York Times," David Sanger. Always a pleasure.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Good to see you, Chris.

CUOMO: What's the answer?

SANGER: Well, the president's going to have a big challenge. First, as you say, it's a long trip and he tends to flag some after very long travel.

Second, you've got a lot of leaders here who are wondering who to actually listen to and believe. Whether or not the tweets are to be believed. Whether or not when the president comes out and undercuts his secretary of state, as he did after the secretary's trip to China.

I was on that trip with him. It was quite remarkable. He basically said don't waste your time with all this diplomacy you have with North Korea.

It's going to be different reactions in different places. I think the trip to Japan will go probably pretty well. He's got a good relationship with Prime Minister Abe.

It's going to be a lot rougher in South Korea where President Moon is pursuing a different strategy on the North.

The trickiest one is going to be China because here you've got Xi Jinping. He's just emerged from this party congress as the strongest Chinese leader, really, since Mao. And he's going to feel very much, I think, like he's in the catbird seat and the United States is on its heels.

CUOMO: Let's dig in on that. So he comes out of this party thing, and somewhat unprecedented that he doesn't name a successor.

SANGER: Right.

CUOMO: He picks his own team. It makes him potent in a way that we haven't seen in recent history.

Do you think the Chinese use the political dynamic in the U.S. to their benefit on this trip?

SANGER: They already are, Chris.

First of all, the president ran talking about trade in China.

CUOMO: Yes.

SANGER: And he's talked about it a little bit since. You haven't heard it in a while. Why, because he needs them on North Korea.

And they recognize that they can probably slow-walk him on North Korea. That they can promise to do some crackdowns, and they certainly have done some on the North but not enough to make the regime collapse.

And the central problem that the president is going to face on this trip is that his own CIA has publicly said no amount of isolation and sanctions is going to get the North to give up the nuclear weapons program. And that means he's either committing himself to military -- a set of military actions or destabilization actions that the others are not going to sign up for, or ultimate acquiescence.

CUOMO: What do you know about who's prepping the president for this trip? As you know and as you've taught people like me, that is a huge part --

SANGER: Yes.

CUOMO: -- of this, the briefing.

How do you know everything from protocol to policy? He doesn't even have a lot of the positions filled in the Asian bureaus. Who's getting him ready?

SANGER: Well, the one primarily responsible for getting him ready is the national security adviser H.R. McMaster. We don't know if the relationship with Sec. Tillerson is good enough that Sec. Tillerson is saying much or being listened to.

I thought it was an interesting sign that Henry Kissinger walked into the Oval Office about a week and a half ago, sat down for an hour with the president. That's the one American -- the only American who has known every Chinese leader from Mao to Xi.

CUOMO: It's a good sign.

What are your concerns about the potential good things that can happen and the potential bad things that can happen?

SANGER: Well, the good thing that can happen is that each of these leaders feels like they're more in sync with the president, and that's really what these are more about.

CUOMO: Get a true measure of the man face-to-face and be able to separate, maybe, what they hear about him.

SANGER: Right. Now, all of them that he's seeing in the -- in the Northeast Asia part, they've all met him before.

CUOMO: Right.

SANGER: But the depth of that relationship is not great, except with Prime Minister Abe with whom I think, you know, he's spent a lot of golfing time.

But I think the bigger question for each of them is that they're going -- they've -- they're reading the same things and hearing the same things we're all discussing here. They are seeing, you know, Alisyn's interview with Sen. Flake. They're hearing Bob Corker say this man could lead us to World War III.

[07:55:00] They're nervous about it and they're wondering whether or not he's got the base in Congress still.

CUOMO: Is there a criterion for this trip? Is there one thing that he needs to be able to say he did?

SANGER: He needs to be able to walk out of this thing saying that everybody is unified on a strategy on North Korea, and he needs to be able to go prove that. And that strategy may not be one of maximal pressure of the kind he's putting out in statements about what the North Koreans can't do because the North Koreans always respond to those the same way.

The thing to watch for, whether the North Koreans try to go do a test of some kind during the course of his trip, which would be an insult to him and to the Chinese.

CUOMO: So, your source tree, David Sanger, is broad and deep. Where is your lunch money on what happens with the secretary of state after this trip?

SANGER: I think the secretary of state -- and this is more guesswork than any sources. I think the secretary of state stays on for a while, probably into next year.

He's -- the project that's got him most engaged is a reorganization of the State Department -- a very controversial one. I think once that is sort of in place and he's announced how he's going to go do this, I think he'll feel freer to say more work here is done.

That said, on the last two trips he's been on -- China and the one he's on now -- he actually seems to be getting interested in the diplomacy, which we haven't seen before.

CUOMO: That assumes he'd be driving the bus, though, right, in terms of whether he stays or goes. The speculation is nobody insults this man, President Trump, and survives around him.

SANGER: That's absolutely right.

On the other hand, the president doesn't really want to see the headlines that would come out of getting rid of the secretary of state after the kind of upheaval you've seen in this -- in this White House.

And there are some others who might well step in easily. The CIA director Mike Pompeo has got a very good relationship with the president. Some people talk about Nikki Haley. I'm a little more skeptical about that.

But he's got to make the argument that this has not been a failed experiment with Rex Tillerson.

CUOMO: David Sanger, good information, better insight always. Thank you very much for helping out.

SANGER: Great to be with you.

CUOMO: Appreciate it.

All right. There is a lot of news on this Wednesday morning. What do you say? Let's get after it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLAKE: We must stop pretending that the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN "THE SITUATION ROOM": When he lies about something and you know it's a lie, shouldn't you speak out?

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: That's your job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

CORKER: I don't know why he lowers himself and debases our country.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: All this stuff you see on a daily basis on Twitter -- Twitter this, Twitter that -- forget about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His coalition to get things passed is now in some jeopardy.

BRIAN FALLON, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY, CLINTON CAMPAIGN: Bob Mueller's team has corroborated many key aspects of the dossier. There's no shame in the fact that the campaign sponsored that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a lot of motivations in the White House today to distract a little bit here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did they spend a year covering it up?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your new day. It is Wednesday, October 25th, 8:00 in the east.

And we begin with an extraordinary day of Republican rebuke against a sitting president. Two retiring GOP senators, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, calling President Trump dangerous and utterly untruthful.

President Trump, just a short time ago, tweeted about all of this, saying that those senators, Corker and Flake, dropped out of the race because they had quote "zero chance of being elected."

Moments ago, Sen. Flake responded to the president right here on NEW DAY.

CUOMO: It's gotten very provocative. If it was so damning, why is the president and his supporters -- why are they celebrating? Does this help or hurt? The White House is defending the president's clashes with both men.

House Republicans are trying to turn your attention to new investigations of Obama and Clinton. Yes, it is true.

Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House with more -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.

The White House has been stressing that in their view what's been happening on Capitol Hill is all good and this morning, the president's tweets sort of keep going with that. The president indicating in his view that this is all about midterm politics. That senators Jeff Flake and Corker were not going to be reelected next year.

Here's the tweet. "The reason Flake and Corker dropped out of the Senate race is very simple. They had zero chance of being reelected. Now act so hurt and wounded."

The president also characterizing his important meeting on Capitol Hill yesterday with senator -- Senate Republicans and I'll just read that one to you as well. He indicates "outside of Flake and Corker, it was a lovefest with standing ovations and great ideas for USA."

Our independent reporting of that meeting is that it was largely positive, that there was a standing ovation, and that the senators shied away from conflict.

Nonetheless, an important moment on Capitol Hill with these two senators very outspoken and harsh. Even personal criticism to the president.