Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma; Protests Continue in Iran; President Trump Tweets about U.S. Aid to Pakistan; North Korean Leader Floats Possible Meetings with South Korea. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 2, 2018 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, January 2nd, 8:00 in the east. Chris is off and John Berman is here. Hope you had a great New Year.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I did. We were up until 10:00 to ring in the New Year.

CAMEROTA: Wow, pop the champagne, everybody. All right, great to have you here.

We have a lot of news to get to, so let's get to it, because there are deadly protests and they are strengthening in Iran. President Trump tweeting his support for the Iranian people while declaring it's time for change in Tehran. Iran's supreme leader blaming the uprising on his country's, quote, "enemies." What does all this mean for the future of the Iran nuclear deal.

BERMAN: On the domestic front the president's plate is full. A budget, an infrastructure plan, an immigration plan for Dreamers just a few of the legislative challenges for the White House. Will the president get Democrats in Congress to work with him to try and get this agenda through? CNN covering every angle of this starting with Joe Johns live at the White House this morning. Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. The president back here at the White House after the long holiday break. The congressional new year's as well as the administration trying to deal with a range of domestic issues that they postponed before they hit the road in December. However it's the international issues that are dominating the president's Twitter feed.


JOHNS: President Trump returning to Washington with a large legislative to-do list and a range of international issues on his plate.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody is going to love what's happening with our country because we're taking this big beautiful ship and we're slowly turning it around. Like it a little faster.

JOHNS: Mr. Trump weighing in multiple times over the holiday on the deadly anti-government protests in Iran, saying that Iran is failing at every level and calling for change after warning the U.S. is watching very closely for human rights violations.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: It's not enough to watch. President Trump is tweeting very sympathetically to the Iranian people, but you just can't tweet here. You have to lay out a plan.

JOHNS: Iran's ambassador to the U.K. calling the tweets offensive in an Instagram posting Monday night. As for Kim Jong-un's New Year's threat that the nuclear button is always on his desk, President Trump saying only this.


JOHNS: The former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warning that the U.S. is closer to a nuclear war with North Korea than ever before.

MIKE MULLEN, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I don't see the opportunities to solve this diplomatically at this particular point.

JOHNS: The Trump administration's relationship with Pakistan also strained heading into the New Year. Mr. Trump accusing Pakistan of lying and deceiving the United States in his first tweet of the year, and again alleging that the country's the leaders have given safe haven to terrorists.

TRUMP: We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting.

JOHNS: A National Security Council spokesman later saying the U.S. will continue to withhold $255 million worth of military aid from the country. Pakistan responding by summoning the U.S. ambassador for a meeting and promising to respond shortly to let the world know the truth. All this as the administration confronts a number of legislation deadlines back here in the U.S., the first a January 19th deadline to pass a spending bill and avert a government shutdown that could cost billions. One issue that will be front and center, protection for so-called DREAMers who were brought to the country illegally as children. The president insisting there will not be a deal on DACA without funding for the wall, a nonstarter for Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you give anything to the president on border wall funding in order to get a DACA deal done, because he says --


(END VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS: And the president's tweeting on Iran continued this morning. He also managed to get in a dig at his predecessor in the White House, there's the tweet, "The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism in their pockets. The people have little food, big inflation, no human rights. The U.S. is watching. That's what the president tweeted this morning on Iran. John, back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Joe, thanks so much.

So South Korea is proposing high-level talks with North Korea. The potential discussions unfolding after Kim Jong-un expressed interests in sending athletes to next month's winter Olympics in South Korea. CNN's Paula Hancocks live in Seoul with the very latest. Paula, what is going on here?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, there's actually an offer of a date to start these conversations with North Korea. South Korea today saying that they have suggested January the 9th, so that's next Tuesday, for senior-level talks with the North Koreans. They are suggesting that they should take place at the DMZ, the demilitarized zone, the border village where negotiations have taken place in the past.

[08:05:04] We haven't had any response from North Korea at this point, but certainly Kim Jong-un made it very clear on New Year's day that he appeared to be willing to not only send a delegation to the Olympics but to talk to South Korea to try and alleviate tensions on the peninsula, as he said.

Of course this is a very interesting, different tact, it's a very different message that he's giving to South Korea than he's giving to the United States. This nuclear defiance is still continuing with the United States. And it's interesting that Kim Jong-un almost seems to be sidelining Washington when it comes to these negotiations. One potential thought from experts is that this time last year North Korean officials were suggesting there could be some kind of new relationship with a new Trump administration. That did not go well yesterday. There were personal insults being thrown between Washington and Pyongyang. So clearly now Kim Jong-un is starting to look South knowing that the South Korean president Moon Jae-in will be very welcoming of these kinds of overtures.

China also saying that they are looking at this very positively, thinking it is a good thing that the two sides will be talking. John, Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: Paula, thank you very much for all of that reporting. Let's bring in CNN senior political analysts Ron Brownstein and CNN political analyst Karoun Demirjian. OK, so Ron, the shifting sands on the Korean peninsula, so fascinating to see how this is happening. Obviously it might create a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea, and it also might help de-escalate Kim Jong-un. How do you see it?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, you know, I think the experience is clear that most foreign policy problems are managed. They're not solved. They kind of wax and wane in the intensity of the dilemma or the threat at any given moment, and this is a positive development.

South Korea has always had a tilt further towards negotiation and discussion as opposed to the more confrontational rhetoric out of Washington under President Trump. So there is the risk of more space opening between the two, and we have seen that at various points over the past year, but certainly I think anyone would welcome any kind of opening while understanding that in the end it is unlikely to produce a denuclearization of the peninsula just on its own.

BERMAN: It is interesting to watch, Karoun, because over the last 24 hours we have seen the president talk about Pakistan, we've seen the president talk about Iran. His only response to what is going on in North and South Korea is we'll see, we'll see. He hasn't weighed in on this issue because maybe it's more complicated. There's no obvious response to the south and north now setting up these discussions.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Right, it's not something you want to actually dissuade the South Koreans from doing because that is an escape hatch from the situation that we're in right now. Look, the president has not shied away from using very forceful rhetoric against the North Koreans, but it has been matched, as Ron just said, by the rhetoric coming out of the North Korean regime as well, so you can keep stepping that up, stepping that up to the point where it becomes critical and maybe undercuts the steps that the South Koreans are trying to take by talking to the North Koreans, but that wouldn't be particularly wise.

So this is the moment for the president to hold back for the things he usually puts on Twitter regarding the North Korean leader. It's possibly wise restraint for this week as they are trying to figure out if they can actually sit down and talk to each other.

BROWNSTEIN: There is a common thread in this, whether it's Pakistan or Iran or North Korea. The president in essence is arguing toughness will slice the Gordian knot, that in essence we are in these difficult situations because his predecessors were either weak or feckless or unwilling to stand up for America, and that if you just kind of show, you know, if you are in a foreign country and people don't understand you, you talk louder, it's that theory applied to diplomacy, that if we just assert our position more strongly others will buckle to our leverage or our might or our wisdom.

And in fact I think, as I said, most of these are problems that we are going to manage, we are not going to solve. This is not a Gordian knot to cut in Iran or in North Korea. And so that is just not a reality that I think is very different than the Twitter-style belligerence of the rhetoric.

CAMEROTA: I see another common thread, Ron, and that is bucking with convention. So he is just shaking it up. So in other words if conventional wisdom has said we must pay Pakistan billions of dollars because they have nukes and we can't have them retaliating against us, he's saying, no, maybe Karoun we will withhold this money because they are not being cooperative partners in in terms of fighting terrorism. And so he's throwing out the playbook. How do you see it?

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, look, there's a faction of people that will -- Rand Paul responded to the president saying, good, I have been asking for this for years.

[08:10:01] It's not a majority of people in Congress or anything like that, but remember also there's an element of opportunism here, I guess that when you talk tough on Pakistan you appeal to a certain subsection of the population. When you talk tough on Iran it's a way to address the Iran deal again even though clearly what is happening in the streets of Iran is that they're frustrated because the economic promises that were supposed to result from the Iran deal didn't happen.

But there's a way to make a connection from the president to whether it's his base or to political issues that he thinks will work for him domestically talks about these things. The audience is more the American audience, his Twitter stream, and potentially the foreign leaders than it is actually going to change anything in the streets there.

And also remember insofar as the American public is paying attention, Iran and Pakistan are new in a way. What is happening there is not -- the president has been trying to make this tactic work on North Korea for months now. Clearly it's not and things are moving in a different direction. Iran and Pakistan are almost fresh territory in way for the president to assert his toughness on the international stage using this medium to communicate to the American public.

BERMAN: Ron, let's talk about domestic policy right now because the president begins meetings today or tomorrow in Washington on the agenda in January is everything, but where do you see the biggest fight? They have to get a spending deal done, they have to do debt limit, they have to do DACA, they have to do CHIP, everything is on the table here. Where is the biggest fight?

BROWNSTEIN: First of all, the last conversation, I think the difficult reality is behind door number one we may not get what we want, which is the existing approach, and door number two we may not get exactly what we want either because of the limits of our leverage in shaping events around the world and in other countries.

Domestically I think the core issue they face in the near term is just keeping the doors open and the lights on, keeping the government open, avoiding a debt crisis, and then DACA and CHIP, which is the program, the Children's Health Insurance Program for the kids of low income working families, both of those ultimately have to be settled.

Now, in each case, particularly DACA, you have the potential for significant divisions among Republicans, and you have Democrats, I think, frankly uncertain about how to press their leverage. Correct me here, I don't think we have had a government shut down when we have had unified control of government. We've had the presidency and the Congress in the same hands. It's not clear what that would mean, who would be pressuring who. And if Democrats are envisioning using the threat of a shutdown to increase their leverage on DACA, the history of that, whether it was Republicans under Obama or Republicans under Clinton, is that a government shutdown does not give you the leverage that you think and in fact may backfire.

So I think the clear and present immediate challenge for Republicans is to keep the ship moving forward, but I think the bigger issue than any of these in terms of what will shape 2018 is whether Paul Ryan moves ahead on his either promises or threats depending on your point of view to rethink entitlement programs, particularly Medicare, I think that is the one remaining agenda item big enough to have a potentially impact on the midterm election.

CAMEROTA: That will be fascinating to watch. Back to DACA for a second, Karoun, we have been talking this morning about the absurdity of how Washington operates when everybody wants to get a deal done. Mitch McConnell says he wants a deal, President Trump says he wants a deal, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer wants a deal, so the deal is going to be really hard. The idea that everybody wants a fix but yet it's going to be these major loggerheads is just so Washington.

DEMIRJIAN: Right, and because everybody has a different definition of what a deal would be in this regard. Democrats do not to budget on the wall. Frankly, there are a lot of Republicans who did not like the idea of the border wall funding several months ago, putting out new proposals. But the president has been really, really firm about the fact that he wants his border wall in exchange for DACA.

But one thing I would say is this is an election year, and 2018 midterm elections, especially when you have got the Senate now so close, 51-49, the House is in play for months now, you can't risk losing a section of your voting population that you might if you don't -- look, there are Republicans running in states that have large Hispanic populations there, but there are other groups of voters also that care about the DACA issue. It has to not turn into some sort of self-inflicted wound whatever the end up doing because Democrats are primed to try to play this. Ron made the point you can't necessarily play this cleanly if you leverage the opening of the government, but DACA does not actually expire until March so there are other rounds that this can go to even if they get past the January 19th spending bill.

BERMAN: Ron, quickly, you have a new piece on where you actually talk about the stakes as we head into the midterm election, which all of a sudden are actually this year.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, the last three times one party has had unified control of the government, the House, the Senate, and the White House as the Republicans do know, and gone into a midterm election, the voters have revoked unified control, in 2010 with Obama and 2006 with W. Bush, in 1994 with Bill Clinton. And today the ominous precedent for Republicans is that President Trump's approval rating contrary to his tweets is lower than any of those presidents were at the time that the voters pulled back control. . [08:15:06] I mean, that is the precedent Republicans are running up

hill against. They have some advantages. Economy is getting better. His approval rating may go up. Democrats have shown they can break in to blue collar districts.

But as long as the president's approval is somewhere around 40 percent, you have to say Republicans are a high risk in the House at least in 2018.

CAMEROTA: It's going to be an interesting year. Ron Brownstein, Karoun Demirjian, thank you for the preview on all of this.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: As we have been discussing, the clock is ticking as Congress returns to Washington. So, what will they tackle first on this very busy agenda? And can there be any bipartisanship? We ask one Republican congressman, next.


CAMEROTA: Members of Congress returning to Capitol Hill this week with a laundry list of issues to tackle. At the top of the list, passing a government spending bill before funding runs out in just two and a half weeks.

Let's bring in Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma. He's a member of the House Appropriations Committee and can help us understand how this is all going to work.

Good morning, Congressman.

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Good morning. You are very optimistic.

CAMEROTA: I am expecting a lot out of the five-minute segment from you.


CAMEROTA: OK, let's get to it.

We have a graphic of all the issues you have to tackle in the next couple of months. So, we'll just go through it. The number one, pass the government spending bill because this is the can that you guys are forever kicking down the road and now, you only have two weeks to keep the government running. Then, of course, there's what to do about the DREAMers.

There's the president's infrastructure program that he sounds like he wants to tackle first. There's CHIP that protects the most vulnerable children, in this country, that the president still wants to repeal Obamacare. Then there's what, Paul Ryan has talked about, which is, you know, reforming welfare and the entitlement program, and then, of course, there's the midterm elections.

Congressman, what do you want to do first? [08:20:00] COLE: Well, let's start first things first is to fund the

government. And, frankly, the appropriators are pretty good at this. We did it in April, over a trillion dollar bill, very bipartisan and it has to be bipartisan. That takes 60 votes of the United States Senate to pass the spending bill.

So, two parties have to work together. The first thing we need is for the president, the speaker, the majority leader, the two minority leaders, to agree on what's called a top line number. After that, we break it into 12 different bills and that's what funds the government. But they have to agree on the top line. They haven't been able to come to that agreement yet.

CAMEROTA: I mean, this may be why optimism maybe misplaced, because there are sticking points. There seem to be a lot of sticking points. So, how are you all going to get onboard?

COLE: Well, the big one is there has to be something in it for everybody, and what's the bipartisan deal. And the way forward is pretty obvious. Republicans want to do a major defense buildup -- actually both parties voted for that in the National Defense Authorization Act.

So, there's going to be more money there above the cap level, and the Democrats want in exchange for that to give money on the nondefense side of discretionary spending, so that's the deal and they just have to decide on the appropriate amounts. And again, the appropriators know how to get this done pretty quickly, once there's an agreement. So, the two parties are actually used to working together in the appropriations process, but leaders have to agree to allow appropriators to do their job.

After that, you've got to move on to CHIP program and both sides --


CAMEROTA: Let's talk about CHIP, I want to talk about that, because, listen, I mean, if you can't protect, you know, the nation's most vulnerable children, this is the children's health insurance program, the sticking point for Democrats seems to be this -- the money not coming from this preventative care fund.

So, why can't Republicans just agree to keep funding that?

COLE: Well, they can and have so far. We have continued to fund it on a short-term basis. The House has passed a bill, and I think it's a good bill. The Senate has got to pass a bill so we can go to conference.

It doesn't have to be our bill. They just have to come to an agreement and put together a bill and the two sides go to conference --

CAMEROTA: Right, then what is the problem? Why isn't the Senate -- what hasn't the Senate done that? COLE: You're going to have to ask the Senate for that. I mean, look, there are rules that they adopt, to make it very difficult to move forward. And they have to move forward in a bipartisan way.

I respect that. It's up to them, but just get the job done, pass a bill. I think part of this was everybody was so focused on tax reform, and we get the importance of day-to-day governance. And, you know, that's what really impacts most Americans every single day. So, let's get this one. Not that hard to do.

Again, we passed it through the House. We had Democratic support. It will be a different bill out of the Senate. You sit down and make a deal. It's not that hard.

CAMEROTA: Well, I like, again, your optimism in making it sound so simple. But let's talk about the DREAMers, OK, because that's another one that all sides say there needs to be a fix for these kids who were brought here through no choice of their own.

COLE: You are exactly right.

CAMEROTA: But if the president insists on funding an actual wall as part of the deal, Democrats say they can't go along with that. So, what's the simple fix?

COLE: Well, I don't know why you can't go along with border security. Look, on this one, that polls over 80 percent. People on all sides want it. We can disagree about the wall, but we had the largest increase in border security money in April in over a decade. We can do that again.

In some places, walls make sense, some places, they may not, but we can make a big step in the right direction. And, again, you know, I don't consider these young people a problem, but the issue with DACA is because you didn't have border control in the first place. That's why you have all these young folks.

And they ought to get legal status in my view, but the obvious tradeoff is stronger border security, and the president is right on that one. Democrats need to come around, or, you know, they may decide they want a political issue. But in the meantime, we're putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk that in my view shouldn't be at risk.

CAMEROTA: I mean, what Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer say is that when they sat down with the president to talk about DACA, they thought they had a deal and the president was on board with protecting DREAMers. And then later, he inserted the funding for the border wall, which they said wasn't part of it, and they felt sort of hoodwinked?

COLE: Well, I wasn't privy to that conversation, obviously, and I can't speak to that directly. But I'll say this, anybody that thinks you are getting an immigration fix without enhanced border security is just whistling past a political graveyard. Look, you need to do both at the same time. And, again, I would --

the devil is in the details in these things, but we managed to do this on a spending bill in April on a trillion dollar spending bill, increased spending on the border, most Democrats voted for that. We can do it again here, but they have to sit down and each side has to not try to score political points but actually solve the problem.

I think there's a lot of credit to go around here if they can just hit the sweet spot.

CAMEROTA: I know you have a lot of thoughts on how to handle all this domestic legislation, but I just have to ask you about everything that seems to be blowing up internationally. The president has tweeted support for the Iranian protests.

[08:25:01] What do you think the U.S. should do next?

COLE: Well, I think he was right to have done that. I think we need to get the Europeans speaking up. This is one where I think we ought to look at perhaps at re-imposing sanctions if they are brutal to their own people. Certainly, we ought to do what we can to try and facilitate communication as the regime and Tehran, you know, shuts off things like Twitter and the Internet.

So -- but that's honestly the extent of it. The future of Iran is really in the hands of the Iranian people. We need to be supportive. They are trying to do the right thing.

And frankly, they are absolutely right to make the point that this is a regime wasting billions on foreign terrorists activity, and being involved in other country. Those dollars ought to be spent to improve the lives of the Iranian people. So, hopefully, somebody in Tehran will wake up and decide it will be better to be a peaceful partner to countries in the region as opposed to engaging in endless wars against Sunni states.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Tom Cole, thanks so much for being on NEW DAY this morning.

COLE: Thank you.


BERMAN: All right. President Trump writing his support to demonstrators in Iran. Up next, we're going to ask a former diplomat, one of the Americans held hostage in 1979, about the U.S. handling of the situation there.