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Miss America CEO Under Fire; President Trump Declines to Hold Traditional End-of-Year Press Conference. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 22, 2017 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: It is a Friday afternoon. You are watching CNN here with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin. I really appreciate it.

For the first time in 15 years, the president of the United States held no end-of-the-year news conference, but he did take a couple questions from members of the media before jetting off to Florida to begin his Christmas break.

Here was the president moments ago greeting supporters after arriving there at West Palm Beach, shaking some hands, taking some photos, before he spends his holidays with his family at Mar-a-Lago.

As I said, he did talk to reporters earlier while signing into law his historic tax cuts. This is the most substantial set of tax reforms this country has seen in 31 years. President Trump says he doesn't plan to try to sell the cuts to the American people, this despite the fact that the majority of people CNN polled oppose those tax reductions, which will add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think we have to do much selling. I think the corporations that are giving billions and billions of dollars away to their workers, and many more are coming, I think that's really what's selling this, maybe better than anybody could, including myself.

But I think, come February, when they open their checks and they see, wow, what happened, I have a lot more money in here, I think that's really going to be something very special.


BALDWIN: Let's go to Boris Sanchez. He's live in Palm Beach there near Mar-a-Lago.

Boris, it was interesting how the president was saying, I was planning on signing this early in January, but he was watching TV and he was irked, right, about some people were saying he wasn't keeping his promise of giving this gift to the American people by Christmas. And so what did he do? He signed it.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brooke. There was some speculation about how he would handle the signing of

this historic tax bill. Just a few days after the president said he doesn't watch that much television news, he admitted it swayed him to signing this bill today, a symbolic gift to the American people just before Christmas.

He says he was keeping a promise. Before he signed that tax bill, he also signed this continuing resolution to keep the government funded through January 19. Included in that stopgap is an extension to funding for CHIP, Children's Health Insurance Program, as well as a $4 billion missile defense spending plan.

Not included in that C.R. though, is a solution to the issue of dreamers and their legal status, something that Democrats were seriously hoping for in negotiations when it comes to funding the government, as well as an $81 billion recovery plan for areas that were badly hit by hurricanes earlier this summer.

Those things, lawmakers will likely focus on early in the new year. And the president in that short interaction with the press in the Oval Office added yet another one. He started talking about an infrastructure bill, saying that he believes there will be bipartisan support for it. Listen to more of what the president said.


TRUMP: I really do believe, and I said on social media today, I really do believe we are going to have a lot of bipartisan work done, and maybe we start with infrastructure, because I really believe infrastructure can be bipartisan.


SANCHEZ: He also admitted that it likely would have been Easier to start off his agenda by focusing on infrastructure because there appears to be some common ground there between Democrats and Republicans.

The president was in the Christmas spirit even with the press at one point during that get-together, offering the press pens that he used to sign the legislation into law.

However, he did stress that it wouldn't just be Christmas spirit, eggnog and golf during his time here in Mar-a-Lago. He told reporters that he was going to looking forward to working on issues on his agenda, including coming up with responses for any kind of North Korea aggression that may be on the horizon and issues pertaining to unrest in the Mideast, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Got it. Boris, thank you, Boris Sanchez in Palm Beach.

Let's take a deeper look here on the president's year ahead and the year that is now nearly behind him.

With me now, Caitlin Huey-Burns, national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. Also with us, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, and CNN political commentator Doug Heye, who is the former communications chief for the Republican National Committee.

And so great to have you all on, on this Friday afternoon.

And, Doug, you first just on the way in which the president, very honest with the American people, the way in which he described how, all right, he said he was going to sign this thing by Christmas and he was watching TV -- yes, we know he watches a lot of TV -- and he signed the bill into law today.

What did you make of how he handled that? Do you give him credit for just following through and just doing it on the spot? Or was it a missed opportunity to go into the country and maybe do it at a business and say, listen, this is about the people?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I wish the president would have had a press conference.

Obviously, like a lot of us, I wish he would do more press conferences anyways. But I go back to earlier in the week when Sarah Huckabee Sanders kicked off her press briefing and she did so by 90 seconds of talking about what the administration views as their key accomplishments.



BALDWIN: The list she read, yes.

HEYE: Over the past couple of years.

And I might disagree with some of those. Maria will probably disagree with all of those. But I thought it was an impressive telling of what the administration's priorities were. And I think this is missed opportunity for the president to be his own best advocate, to make the case one last time before the holidays, to have that cement in voters' mind, because he ended this week, whether you like the tax bill or don't like the tax bill, this was an impressive accomplishment by the president and by Congress, something that we haven't see happen a whole lot, something with tax reform that hasn't happened in a generation.

I would have loved to have seen the president out there making that best case and being his own best advocate.

BALDWIN: Maybe he wasn't out there doing that.

But I can tell you, watching in the Oval Office, he did sit there and say he doesn't think he's getting enough credit for what he thinks has been a really big year, and cited some of those items on that list.


BALDWIN: Maria, I hear you chuckling. MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. And you know what? He does

desperately need to try to convince the American people that they have done a lot, because the American people ain't buying it, number one.

Number two --

BALDWIN: You think he needs to sell it?

CARDONA: Yes, he needs to sell it, because, first of all, I don't know if it would work, because I don't think he has that much to sell.

There is a reason why he is at a record low approval rating. There is a reason why Republicans are at record low approval ratings. There is a reason why the generic ballot for 2018 midterm elections, Democrats are running away with it in double digits.

The American people are not buying what this president and the GOP Congress are putting down as priorities. Doug talked about priorities. And that is exactly the problem.

Let's look at their priorities. The last thing that they desperately wanted to get done to try to show that they could achieve something legislatively was a huge tax cut for millionaires and billionaires and the wealthiest corporations, who have had record profits.

Who did they not care about? The nine million children who are about to lose their health insurance and whose families are desperate because they can't sleep at night.


CARDONA: That right there is a stark contrast in what the priorities are for this Republican Congress. And it's not going to bode well for them in the midterm elections.

BALDWIN: Hopefully, for those nine million kids and parents -- we know the funding for CHIP through the end of March. Hopefully, they're going to re-up that for much, much longer. That has big bipartisan support.

CARDONA: Exactly.

BALDWIN: But, Caitlin, just listening to Maria and talking how America ain't buying it when it comes to some of this tax plan, but what others may not buy, the president tweeted to reinforce that on this point of infrastructure and he's saying, essentially, I predict we're going to work with Democrats on my next big priority, which is infrastructure.

Talk to me to a little bit why you think it's interesting that infrastructure is next on his list and if that's a smart move.

And, then, Maria, I will ask you if you believe him, but you first.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Sure. Well, Republicans are facing a very different political reality than

they were heading in last year compared to this year, because they will be down one U.S. senator. Remember, Doug Jones from Alabama is going to cut into their margin next year.

So, it could be that tax reform is the last big Republican agenda item that they can get through before the midterms. On infrastructure, yes, there is always wide bipartisan support for infrastructure. But always the devil is in the details.

We saw a lot of Democrats express support for the idea of tax reform before they got to the actual legislation. And no Democrat went over the aisle and signed it, which I think is one of the more interesting stores of this year politically, that no Democrat from red states, especially those states like West Virginia, Indiana, North Dakota, states that Trump won overwhelmingly, none felt the political incentive to cross the aisle and support anything with his name on it

We will see if that's a big risk on their part or gamble, or if next year they might start seeing the tide turn a little bit. We do have a year until the midterm elections, really, but looking at that generic congressional ballot, it's an 11-point difference at this point, mirroring 2006. Headwinds are certainly facing Republicans.

BALDWIN: I want to ask a follow-up on that, but I was actually, in listening to you, Caitlin, handed this piece of paper.

And we were talking earlier. Doug, I'm going to put this to you, because we were talking at the top.

HEYE: Uh-oh.

BALDWIN: Listen, we all wish -- not an uh-oh -- we all wished that the president talk more to the press, right, just fact.

And so now what we are now getting from Jeff Zeleny, our senior White House reporter, is that apparently the president was eager to take questions and hold a news conference -- I'm just looking at Zeleny's reporting -- and hold a news conference to tout his accomplishments before leaving for Mar-a-Lago, but his advisers argued against it.

They were eager to avoid him being besieged with questions about the Russian investigation and other distractions. This is according to two White House officials telling CNN.

Doug Heye, smart move?

HEYE: Yes, well, look, obviously they want to avoid these questions that they have been trying to avoid for months.

Anything about the investigation, anything that involves the word Russia is something the president and his team want to not just dismiss, but also discredit.

[15:10:05] That's the risk of doing any press conference. You can't control necessarily what questions you are asked, even if you control to some extent what outlets are asking the questions.

But, again, I thought this was a good week for the president. I think, by and large, he's been much measured in the way that he has been tweeting, tweeting less, less outrageous things, let's self- crated outrage du jours.

I would have loved to have see him go out on a high note and really emphasize why he supports and why he pushed this package, especially given the good news, not just of reducing the corporate tax rate, but so many companies that we have heard just over the past day-and-a-half that are giving $1,000 bonuses to their employees, which isn't just about the corporations, but about those employees, because of this tax bill.

He had good news and I would have liked to seen him promote that.

BALDWIN: Maria, what do you think?

CARDONA: Well, I agree with Doug on the one hand, but on the other hand, he would have definitely gotten besieged with questions about the Russia investigation, and especially whether he's going to fire Robert Mueller.

And he does not do well on the cuff. He does not do well in improvised situations, because he will say whatever is on his mind at that moment in time, and we all know that that has not boded well for him or the Republicans. And in fact I think one of the reasons why he has such a low approval rating, because people don't believe that he has temperament to be president of the United States, because he does govern from the hip.

In fact, he governs by cable news commentaries. As he himself said this morning, he reacts to things he hears on televisions. I think people want a more measured president. I think people want a president who understands what the American people are going through and actually has a strategy moving forward.

And the fact that his own advisers didn't want him to do a press conference, I think they also understand that he has no political strategy moving forward and that it's up to them. So I think all of these things do not bode well going into a 2018 midterm election where the headwinds are against them and the winds are at the backs of the Democrats.

BALDWIN: Maria, you got the last word. We are going to leave it.

HEYE: She usually does.

BALDWIN: Hey, I'm not going to talk to all of you until next year, so I just want to wish you all happy holidays, merry Christmas, and happy new year.

CARDONA: Thanks, Brooke. You too. We will see you next year. (CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Thank you, Caitlin and Doug. Thank you all so much. Thank you.

CARDONA: Bye-bye.

BALDWIN: Next up here, a new CNN poll finds nearly two-thirds of Americans think the fight against ISIS is going well, but less than half are actually giving the president credit for that.

Plus, the Hispanic Caucus rips into Democrat Leader Chuck Schumer for not taking a stand on the dreamer program, more of a stand that they would have liked. And one of the members who really confronted him, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, will join me live to tell me about what happened in Schumer's office.

And, later, two former Miss Americas speak out about a series of incredibly offensive e-mails sent out by the CEO of that pageant, their reaction to this Huffington Post reporting today and how the Miss America Organization is responding.

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



BALDWIN: The Pentagon is accusing Russia of intentionally violating agreement designed to prevent accidents in the skies over Syria.

Accusations follow this recent encounter between American F-22s Russian SU-25 jets that nearly resulted in a collision.

With me now are Pentagon reporter Ryan Browne and retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, who is a former spokesperson for the Pentagon and the State Department.

Gentlemen, good to see both of you.

And just first, Ryan, in response, Syria's envoy -- Russia's envoy to Syria, rather, says it's time for U.S. to basically pack up and get out. What do you know about this violation and potential fallout?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, we are being told that the Russian military in Syria has violated this agreement multiple times in recent weeks, as many as eight times a day in November, according to U.S. officials.


BROWNE: Now, they have said that the number of violations have gone down as the amount of Russian activity in the area has been reduced.

But both the U.S. and Russia maintains sizable military presence in Syria. The U.S. has some 2,000 troops there. Russia has his own forces and aircraft supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. So while they are fighting different groups, they have kind of come into contact with one another.

This agreement, this deconfliction agreement was designed to prevent any accidents. But the U.S. now saying that Russia is intentionally violating the agreement. Previously, Secretary of Defense Mattis said that Russian pilots may have been making mistakes, these may have been accidents.

But the Pentagon telling CNN very strongly that these incidences were not mistakes and this is part of a concerted effort by Russia to break this agreement.

BALDWIN: That's what I wanted to ask, Admiral Kirby, you about.

Specifically, Secretary Mattis says it's unclear whether Russians were violating this, saying -- quote -- "I don't expect perfection, but I don't expect dangerous maneuvers either." Key word is intentionally violating airspace.

Why would Russia be doing this?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: To get the United States out of Syria, period.

And what you are seeing, Brooke, in addition to these intentional violations and this tension along the demarcation zone and the line, you are also seeing out of Moscow political statements, very -- as recently as just yesterday, where Putin's spokesman is talking about how the United States has absolutely no role left in Syria, no business being there, they should just get out.

And I think exactly that's what -- they are trying to ratchet up the pressure. This is classic Russian strategy, ratchet up the pressure politically, ratchet it up militarily to try to get your adversary or the individual you're targeting to change their behavior. And the behavior they want is the United States out of Syria.


BALDWIN: Good luck with that.

Onto this new polling on CNN, more than six -- this is on ISIS -- Admiral Kirby, more than six in 10 Americans say the U.S. military action against ISIS is going well.

Here are the numbers you can see for yourself. This is the most positive assessment since the U.S. began these airstrikes just three years ago.

We know that Iraq, the president there has claimed victory. But is this positive shift reflected, you know, in reality on the ground?

KIRBY: Yes, I think it is, Brooke. I really do.

If you just look at what's happened in the last year, ISIS has lost almost all of the ground that it once held in Iraq and Syria. I wouldn't say all, but almost all. And about half of that territory lost was lost in just the last 11 months.

Of the two-and-a-half million people that have returned home in Syria, more than half of them returned home in just the last year or so. Now, I do think that the Trump administration gets a little credit for this. They did loosen up delegation of authority to lower levels of the chain of command.

They let commanders on the ground make more tactical decisions a little bit faster. Now, that's part of this. Also, what's part of it is momentum that was built before Trump took office. It was under President Obama and Secretary Kerry that this multinational coalition of now 74 nations was stood up and established and really started pounding away at ISIS' ground facilities, their ground capabilities, as well as their financing.

So a lot of this is sort of momentum coming in favor the United States and the coalition over time.

BALDWIN: We keep hearing this, too, to your point at the top about losing so much territory. And this is something the president touts all the time, decimating ISIS.

But also, in the same polling, 48 percent of Americans, so less than half, actually, approve of the president's handling of terror overall. Why do you think that is?

KIRBY: I think that's because he tends to couch terrorism in religious terms.

And I think this is the biggest -- that and the fact that he isn't really showing an honest effort to get at the root causes of radicalization. Look at his national security strategy that he just touted a few days ago.

You won't find much in there about self-radicalization and getting at the terrorists narrative. It's mentioned, but not in any great detail, because they like to couch this as a religious conflict or a religious-based conflict. And I think that's turning a lot of Americans off.

The second thing I would say, Brooke, is that one of the reasons why people are still worried about ISIS, and they should be, is because ISIS has metamorphosed now into a radicalization, an inspirational organization.

So they don't have as much ground, but they are metastasizing to other places in the region and around the world and they are trying to inspire self-radicalized individuals in Western countries, including the United States, to conduct attacks.

And there is a really very concern about that. And is sort of the new ISIS we are dealing with.

BALDWIN: It is that intangible inspiration that is the scary part. KIRBY: It is.

BALDWIN: Admiral Kirby, thank you. Thank you so much.

Ryan Browne, thank you both.

BALDWIN: Coming up next on CNN, Miss America's CEO in big trouble after a stunning series of e-mails was published by The Huffington Post. There is name-calling, fat shaming, and what appears to be a coordinated attempt to retaliate against former Miss Americas who didn't toe the line.

Two of the pageant's winners who were named in those e-mails join me live to respond.



BALDWIN: A bombshell report involving the Miss America Organization.

This is revealing, how some of the page ends biggest stars were fat shamed and humiliated behind the scenes. The Huffington Post -- and Yashar Ali was the one who broke this -- published several scathing e- mails exchanged between Miss America CEO Sam Haskell and other top officials.

And the one raising all kinds of concerns is this, where he writes: "We are no longer going to call them forever Miss Americas. Please change all script copy to reflect that they are former Miss Americas."

The official then responds: "I already changed forevers to the 'C- word.' Does that work for you?" And CEO Haskell responds, "Perfect. Bahahaha."

Now 49 former Miss Americas are calling for the organization's board members to resign immediately.

Two of them with me now. They are both the subject of some of these malevolent e-mails, Kate Shindle, who was crowned in 1988. She is now president of the Actors Equity Association. And 2013 Miss America, Mallory Hagan, is on the phone with me now. She's now an anchor at WLTZ in Columbus, Georgia.

So, ladies, thank you to both of you.


BALDWIN: And, Kate, let me just start with you.



But, Kate, all right, before we get to how all of this feels and especially having it so out there, thanks Yashar and HuffPo, how bad was it at the worst moments and times?

SHINDLE: You know, I'm not even sure we know how bad it was at the worst moments. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is the tip of the iceberg and there's more to come.

I have heard conversations about all kinds of things across the spectrum, ranging from financial issues to different types of communications.

BALDWIN: Well, what about you directly?

SHINDLE: Oh, for me, the worst part was having to call my mom and say, hey, just so you, there is an article that just posted where a bunch of people wished I was dead.

What do we do with that? Oh, and, by the way, they all work for the organization that taught me how to be a leader and an activist. But this is how they do it now.

BALDWIN: How crushing was that to read that?

SHINDLE: It was sad. It was sad.

But, you know, you can only go up from here, frankly. And I think that, as long as they were going to say these things, I'm kind of glad they were dumb enough to put them in e-mails, so they could then become public.



BALDWIN: Mallory --


SHINDLE: -- I shouldn't say that.


BALDWIN: Hey, you feel it, you say it.

Mallory, Mallory, how do you feel? What's the worst of it for you, directed at you?