Return to Transcripts main page
White House Staffers: Comments Will Resonate with President's Base; Trump Claims Great Relationship with North Korean Leader. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired January 12, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We cannot normalize that Donald Trump has turned the Oval Office into a shithole.
[05:59:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was trying to talk about meritorious immigration.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not just an embrace of sentiment. This is a dangerous place for the Republican Party to be.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They do nothing to increase the prosperity of the American worker.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am sick and tired of the good people who support Donald Trump who will not stand up and call this for what it is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's inconceivable that the president is publicly saying he has a good relationship with Kim Jong-un.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are his own words unprovoked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do now know whether he has spoken to Kim Jong- un. I'd be very surprised if, in fact, he has.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, January 12, 6 a.m. here in New York. Chris is off. John Berman joins me.
You picked quite a doozy of a day.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The unfiltered, unrated version of me here today, apparently.
CAMEROTA: Here we go. Vulgar, racially charged comments made by the president of the United States in the Oval Office are sending shockwaves around the world. A source tells CNN that in a meeting with a handful of senators, President Trump slammed immigrants from blank-hole countries, referring to people from Africa, Haiti and El Salvador. The president then suggested the U.S. should bring in more people from countries like Norway.
The White House does not deny that the president made these profane remarks.
BERMAN: Now, there are some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle condemning the president's words, but nothing from Republican leaders. Silence. Deafening silence from Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. So what are you going to do about this, gentlemen? Is this just another case where you will shrug your shoulders, Chuckle and say, "Well, you know, sometimes the president says wacky things." This is not some wacky thing. It's a racist thing.
Maybe the answer lies in the response from the White House itself. They're not ashamed of the president's comments. They're proud of them. Officials tell CNN they think the words will resonate with the president's base. Among those words, "shithole countries." Among the sentiments, he would rather have folks from Norway.
This is how the president's hometown paper is covering this. This morning is the cover of "The New York Daily News." Let that sink in for just a moment.
Let's begin our coverage this morning at the White House. CNN's Joe Johns is there.
Good morning, Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.
The significance of this is that the White House is counting on the president's base to embrace the racist remark, confident that they will. But it threw the immigration talks into confusion, especially because the president was responding to a proposal that would have created more protections from people from predominantly black and Hispanic countries.
JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump deriding immigrants from Haiti and some nations in Africa, asking the group of lawmakers, why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here, before saying that the U.S. should accept more immigrants from countries like Norway.
A person familiar with the meeting tells CNN that a frustrated Mr. Trump then went further, saying, "Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out."
The White House not denying the president's racially-charged remarks, insisting that Mr. Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.
A White House official downplaying the controversy, telling CNN that staffers predict the president's comments will resonate with Trump's base. just like his attacks on NFL players kneeling for the national anthem.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Get that son of a bitch off the field.
JOHNS: The offensive remarks coming weeks after "The New York Times" reported that Mr. Trump made similar comments at a different Oval Office, meaning last summer, claiming that all Haitians have AIDS. And that once Nigerians have seen the U.S., they will never go back to their huts.
The White House adamantly denied this reporting, and on the campaign trail, Mr. Trump had a starkly different message for Haitians in Miami when he was courting their vote.
TRUMP: I will be your champion.
JOHNS: The president's "shithole" comment just the latest in a pattern of racially-charged remarks.
TRUMP: I would like to have him show his birth certificate.
They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists.
You also had people they were very fine on both sides.
JOHNS: Still, Mr. Trump has repeatedly insisted that he is not a racist.
TRUMP: I am the least racist person that you have ever met. I am the least racist person.
JOHNS: But on Capitol Hill, bipartisan condemnation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attacking people based on their race, where they come from, their gender is just unacceptable. And I think the White House is facing a moral freefall.
JOHNS: Republican Congresswoman Nia Love, whose parents are from Haiti demanding an apology asserting that the president's comments are divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation's values.
The only African-American Republican senator, Tim Scott, calling the remarks disappointing. But the majority of Republicans and GOP leadership keeping quiet.
Now, the timing of this couldn't be more extraordinary. Today is the eight-year anniversary of the earthquake that killed 200,000 people on the island nation of Haiti.
Today, ironically, the president is expected to sign a proclamation honoring the Martin Luther King holiday. He was recording a preplanned video about Dr. King when the story broke about his remarks.
Alisyn and Chris, back to you.
CAMEROTA: OK, Joe. Thank you very much.
Let's bring in our guests. We have CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN political commentator Errol Louis. So guys, here we are. I don't want to say the word -- I just don't feel, I don't want to normalize it. I don't think that on morning TV, it's -- kids are watching. I just don't think that we should say it. John feels differently. Obviously, other...
BERMAN: So I'll be the one who says it.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm happy to say it. I mean, the president said it.
CAMEROTA: I understand that. I don't need to quote. I'm saying that I personally have a discomfort with this. Presidents use coarse language. OK, we get that.
AVLON: Nixon used coarse language.
CAMEROTA: Guess what? So did Bill Clinton.
AVLON: Not like this, not for...
BERMAN: Here's the thing though. Shithole in and of itself, I'm sorry, isn't what's offensive here.
CAMEROTA: There it is.
BERMAN: It is -- Norway. Adding Norway, it's the distinction between the two that makes crystal clear what's going on.
CAMEROTA: And by the way, the senators who were in the room were so offended that they obviously leaked it. Somehow we know about it.
AVLON: And the White House didn't even bother to deny it. It happens going into Martin Luther King Day weekend. It happened yesterday on, actually, Alexander Hamilton's birthday. Founding Father immigrant from what certainly Trump would have called the shithole island of Nevis. So this reminds us how un-American those comments are at their core. They contradict our best...
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The senators who were shocked and offended but not shocked and offended enough to open their mumbling mouths at the moment of truth.
LOUIS: Or to come forward and actually stand in front of a camera and say, "I disassociate myself from that racist filth that we just heard from the president." Those people who have no courage and who can't do that, they I think, should be where we focus our attention. Because the president is a lost cause as far as I'm concerned. You know, we have an unbroken history. You can go all the way back to the housing discrimination, through the birtherism, on and on and on, Central Park Five, his history.
CAMEROTA: You say it's rife with racism.
LOUIS: He told us over and over who he is, what he thinks, and the kind of vulgarity and obscenity he's brought to the Oval Office. He's who he is.
The question is what are the rest of us going to do? And that starts with the senators who are in the room. I mean, you know, if you're an elected senator, there are millions, in many cases, of people who elected you. If the president is going to go on some racist rampage, surely you can open your mouth and say, you know, "Maybe I don't need to be in this meeting, or I disassociate myself from what you just."
CAMEROTA: Tim Scott said it was disappointing. Nia Love went further, the congresswoman. She says -- from Utah. And obviously, her family is immigrants. "The president's comments are unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation's values. The president must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned."
LOUIS: Don't hold your breath, Congresswoman. I mean, it's not going to happen. I don't think that anybody -- does anybody who has been watching the president over the last couple of years that he's going to apologize at any time for any reason.
BERMAN: He won't. He won't. The question is, what are the leaders that you so eloquently say, Errol? What are they going to do about it, right? Are they just going to say, you know, they're disappointed, you know, shrug and walk on by? Or are they going to stand up to it? The president say in that quote there, "I'm the least racist person in the world." It's interesting, because he says a lot of the same things that the most racist person in the world would say. Let's listen to what he has said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I would like to have him show his birth certificate. And can I be honest with you? I hope he can.
They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists.
We're building a wall. He's a Mexican. We're building a wall between here and Mexico. The answer is he has given us very unfair rulings.
If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably -- maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.
You had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.
Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So after that now, people from Haiti and Africans come from shithole countries. Haitian immigrants all have AIDS. That's from a previous communications in "The New York Times." Nigerians will never go back to their huts. That's from a meeting that happened before. Also according to "The New York Times."
Least racist person in the world, John Avlon.
AVLON: It's almost like he's not telling the truth and may be incapable of it.
Look, this is the person represents what was formerly known as the party of Lincoln. That legacy is unfortunately gone. It's in the history books. Because he's head of the party, and the party has not consistently had the courage to stand up and condemn him.
And the worst thing -- one of the worst downstream effects of last night was this. Surrogates on TV acting like complete hacks trying to dismiss it and rationalize it. And the White House itself saying that, as Joe Johns eloquently said at the top of the show, believes that the base will embrace his racist remarks. That's the height of cynicism. That's incredibly ugly when you're trying to come up with a strategic excuse for why these should not be condemned.
LOUIS: And politically just wrong. Anyway you look at the phenomenon is to elections. The country is not filled with the kind of racists that the White House seems to think are going to sort of see them through this particular storm.
CAMEROTA: That's such a great point. I think that when people paint with broad brush strokes of the Trump supporters, that is completely wrong.
AVLON: I agree.
CAMEROTA: I mean, look, it's hard to speak for an entire group, but I don't know anyone who would support that -- this kind of language, who sees it in this kind of -- who sees the world in this narrow-minded way. Only Norwegians. We only want Norwegian immigrants to come in, who are blonde and blue-eyed.
BERMAN: I also don't think about the long lines of Norwegians, who are knocking on your doors to come into the country either. Let's just say it.
AVLON: There's a history to this too, right? 1924 Immigration Act was all about racial purity. And, you know, we use language now about means testing and merit. But I think what happened is that the curtain got pulled back a little bit. That the root of a lot of policies are going to be actually about race. And that is an ugly undercurrent in American history.
There was one point used against my grandparents who were immigrants and now, you know, have a whole different global resonance. But so this actually goes to the heart of the policies, not just the presidential rhetoric.
BERMAN: Errol, what does this do to the immigration discussion right now? Do these same senators march right into the Oval Office later today and say, hey, we have a new plan here, you know, guy who wants people from Norway.
LOUIS: Well, it looked as if they were getting some kind of a deal. It was going to be controversial, as any deal on this would have to be. I think they lose all of the Democrats now. I don't -- I don't think Chuck Schumer from New York, I don't think Nancy Pelosi, I don't think these folks are going to have any bit of wiggle room once they hear from the Black Caucus, for example, once they hear for their pro- immigrant base in these -- in these big cities. They're not going to let them sort of look the other way and just kind of past -- go past this.
And let's keep in mind, there was some real brinksmanship that we were moving toward. And we don't know if the government is going to be open a couple of weeks from now in, part because it was already sort of a delicate balancing act. And when you throw a kind of toxic racial bile into the middle of all of it the way the president did, it makes it that much harder.
AVLON: This is a portrait of one day, right? The morning begins with chaos because of a tweet about FISA that causes the chief of staff to try to go up to the Capitol Hill to calm it, because the president took notes from "FOX & Friends" rather than his own intelligence staff.
Then we have an almost deal on DACA. Actually, the Senate working like it should. A compromise where both sides are giving. It looks like we're going to get it forward, and then the president blows it up with these comments. And I agree with Errol. It's impossible to see how we can come back to that, even though it's for the good of the country. And then, we've got a government shutdown looming on January 19, next Friday. That's a huge radius of damage from one person's intemperate, impulsive, incurious remarks who happens to sit in the Oval Office.
CAMEROTA: OK. We have a lot more to talk about with you both if you will stick around, please.
BERMAN: All right. The president's comments only part of the chaotic 24 hours for the White House, as John Avlon just laid out. An eyebrow-raising interview. The president claims he has a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un, the man he calls "Little Rocket Man."
Does that mean the two have spoken? What the heck is the president's answer on that because, I have to say, it is deeply confusing. Stick around.
[06:16:53] BERMAN: In addition to being a discouraging 24 hours in Washington, it's been a flat-out chaotic 24 hours. The president's racist remarks about immigrants overshadowing a flat-out bizarre interview he gave to "The Wall Street Journal."
In it the president touts a very good relationship with North Korea's dictator, a man he has repeatedly attacked.
I want to bring in one of the reporters who interviewed the president for "The Wall Street Journal," Mike Bender; as well as CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger, reporter for the "New York Times."
Michael Bender, you know, first to you. This was out of nowhere. All of a sudden, the president says to you he has a great relationship with Kim Jong-un and won't answer a question about whether he's talked to the North Korean dictator. What on earth is going on here?
MIKE BENDER, REPORTER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, that's right. We had an interview with the president in the Oval Office yesterday about 45 minutes. We went around the world with him on topics. We were hitting a bunch of different issues.
In a section on foreign policy, he was referring to all the relationships he has with foreign leaders. His outreach to Xi and China is well-known. He mentioned his good relationship with President Abe. And then he just threw in there that you might also say he has a good relationship with Kim Jong-un. Those are his words. They were not prompted by us.
And as you can imagine, we were quite taken aback by that, which he. If -- say what you will about President Trump. He can read a room. And he correctly read the surprise on our face at that comment. We asked him if he had, in fact, talked to Kim Jong-un, which would be shocking. There's been no diplomatic channels between the two countries for quite some time. And he demurred. He said he wouldn't say yes or no. He didn't want to answer.
And we reminded him of his provocative tweets, his combative tweets about Kim Jong-un over the years, at which he acknowledged those and said -- sort of framed them as part of a broader strategy in his -- in his outreach. Not just with foreign leaders, but you know, he pointed out you can point to 20 or 30 people he's done that to on Twitter.
CAMEROTA: David, is this reminiscent of when the president, before he was president, when he was just Donald Trump or candidate, I suppose, said that he was very close to Vladimir Putin, whom he had not met. So watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: As far as Syria, I like. If Putin wants to go in, and I got to know him very well because we were both on "60 Minutes." We were stable mates. We did very well that night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: That was a taped program. They had -- he was suggesting they had met as though there was a greenroom. That didn't happen. So what is this?
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm as confused as Mike was in the Oval Office and all of you. I had a couple of theories. One is that he actually meant to say President Moon of South Korea but had Kim Jong-un on his -- his mind and then couldn't back away from it. I have no idea if that's right. I would doubt very much that there's been direct communication between the president and President Kim. I think there have been some back-channel efforts by the administration to go talk to the North Koreans.
[06:20:14] But, you know, in a day that I guess we could charitably refer to as lacking message discipline, right, if you start with FISA and, you know, end with Haiti, this one in the middle was truly absent message discipline. Because what is really critical in dealing with the North Koreans is repeating every time what the conditions are under which the United States would engage in a conversation with the North.
And so far we have ranged from the president saying during the campaign that he'd happily would sit down and have a hamburger with Kim Jong-un to telling his secretary of state to give it up, because Kim only understood force to the secretary saying they'd only talk when the North was ready to give up all of their nuclear weapons and their missiles, which of course, is the -- the objective you're trying to reach here, and then back to this, which had no conditions built around it. And so if, indeed, he the president, is a fan of the Nixon mad man theory and is trying to confuse Kim Jong-un, I think he's succeeded. He's also left us pretty confused.
BERMAN: I've got to say, let me tell you the first thing that crossed my mind. In the same week where the president didn't seem to know what his own immigration policy was and had to be told by Kevin McCarthy. In the same week where the president didn't seem to know what his own FISA policy was and had to be told by Paul Ryan, I was beginning to wonder whether he knew whether he spoke to Kim Jong-un. I mean, honestly, the way he responded to that question, Michael, at least in the transcript, the way it was reported there was deeply confusing.
Or maybe, as David Sanger said, he just didn't know who he was talking about or he meant to talk about President Moon. The tenor of the overall interview, you were in there with him for a while. You know, did he meander on other subjects?
BENDER: No. I wouldn't say he meandered. I've interviewed him a few times down in the Oval Office since he's -- since he's been elected. And yesterday wasn't all that different from any of the other interviews we've done with him.
He -- you know, we had a range of subject we wanted to get to. So we were pretty adamant about -- about kind of keeping it moving. You know, he -- he does dip back and forth into his talking points. But you know, I didn't think he was necessarily confused on this answer. I mean, it was, in some of the context, was about China, China helping with -- put pressure on North Korea and its nuclear weapons program.
You know, and we did -- you know, we did make a point to his communications staff on the way out this was going to be the headline and there would be additional questions whether or not he has talked to Kim Jong-un. And, you know, he has a -- he definitely has a way of speaking. And
when he mentioned his phone call, he very adamantly said "Kim Jong- un." You know, very deliberately like that. So I think he was clearly trying to send a message.
At the very least, I think that message, as Dave was alluding to there, is signaling an openness to diplomacy that we haven't seen from him on this subject for quite a while. So whether or not he's talked to Kim, I think the broader takeaway here is, at least for the moment right now, that Trump is more interested in peace than, you know -- than some sort of peaceful solution than total annihilation of the country, which has also been an option for him.
CAMEROTA: OK. Well, that's good. . That's a good outcome to hear about.
So David Sanger, let's talk about the confusion that he also triggered by not knowing the difference between the FISA court and the FISA act that was going to be voted on. So let me just read what happened. The confusion you alluded to.
In the morning at 7:33, the president first tweeted, "House votes on controversial FISA act today. This is the act that may have been used with the help of the discredited and phony dossier to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump campaign by the previous administration and others."
Then his staff and, we are told, I guess, Paul Ryan got to him and explained this distinction. And he then tweeted, with that -- he tweeted it at 9:14 but he continued the conversation. "With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office, and today's vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it!" exclamation point. "Get smart!" exclamation point.
It's -- look, the president doesn't -- doesn't have a handle, lots of people thought, on his own policy.
SANGER: This one, on the one hand, should be completely surprising and not surprising at all. The accusation that he made about surveillance on the campaign has had no substance that we've seen so far. There may have been some incidental collection, as the -- as the FBI and others referred to it, if they were watching foreigners.
[06:25:15] And then Americans, or Americans connected to his campaign, talked to them. That is, in fact, what happened to Mike Flynn, the former national security adviser when he engaged in conversations with a Russian ambassador, and those conversations were picked up because the Russian ambassador was being listened to and Flynn happened to call into it.
What's at the core here, though, is a fundamental misunderstanding, it seems, of what this particular act they were renewing was all about, which is about, in fact, listening to foreigners on foreign land. There were concerns about Americans they picked up. And it's the administration that has spent the past few months, trying to stress that point to all Americans, to Democrats, to get them on board to renew this. The only one they forgot in those briefings, it seems, was the president himself.
BERMAN: There's a misunderstanding of the most important issue of the day following the day before on immigration, where he had a misunderstanding of what was the most important issue.
CAMEROTA: Well, but listen, he's getting some points from "FOX & Friends." This is for real. We know this. This is what the president tunes into in the morning. And, you know, "FOX & Friends" has its strengths. They're not foreign policy experts. And so that is what -- where the confusion started.
We'll talk more about this, gentlemen. David Sanger, Mike Bender, thank you both very much for sharing your reporting with us.
We have a quick programming note to tell everybody about. Corey Lewandowsky will be on "CUOMO PRIME TIME" tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern with his thoughts on all this.
BERMAN: So President Trump says he is the least racist person in the world. For the least racist person in the world, he has a long history of saying awfully racist things. Charles Blow weighs in next.
BERMAN: The president's disparaging and, frankly, racist remarks about immigrants from what he calls...