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President Trump's Reported Comments on Immigrants from Certain Countries Draws Controversy. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 12, 2018 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it is really is here and everywhere in the country because of these comments that President Trump now denies making. They were racially charged comments about immigrants during an Oval Office meeting with senators. The president has tweeted the language he used was tough but he claims he did not slam immigrants from Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador as people from blank-hole countries. Keep in mind for the previous 14 hours the White House did not deny that the president made those remarks, and neither have any of the senators who were in that meeting.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now some lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are condemning the president's words which is every reason to believe he said, by the way. But you know who we have not heard from? Republican leaders Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. It is 8:00 a.m. in the east, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. Will you remain silent? Is silence approval?

Speaker Paul Ryan, leader McConnell we have to assume you do approve of the president calling these countries shithole countries, saying that he wants people from the Haiti out. Also the response from the leadership might be what it often is, well, this is not language I would use. Racist language?

But we don't know because they are nowhere. Speaker Paul Ryan, Leader McConnell, call us and let us know how you feel. This is how the president's hometown paper is handling it this morning. The "New York Daily News," the picture of the words speak for itself.

We are now joined by the reporter who broke this story wide open, I mean a clean break that set off a giant frenzy, White House reporter for "The Washington Post," Josh Dawsey. John, first of all, thank you for being with us, congratulations on the breaking news. First let me just get your reaction to what the president now says. He now says this was not the language used despite the fact that the White House didn't deny it to you or anyone over night, and now every news organization has matched your reporting. What do you make of this?

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": We stand by our reporting. In the course of our reporting yesterday we took the comments we were going to report directly to the White House, told them exactly what we are going to say. We did not get a denial, obviously the statement did not deny. We confirmed it from multiple places, other outlets, the "New York Times", the Associated Press, CNN has confirmed it as well. This comes 15 hours later. So the president obviously has the right to express his opinion on this story as he has on Twitter, but we stand by our reporting 100 percent.

CAMEROTA: So Josh, give us more, expand on that if you would. So the president was saying to this group of bipartisan senators that why do we have, basically I'm paraphrasing, but you tell me, why do we have to take people from these blank-hole countries of Africa, Haiti and El Salvador?

DAWSEY: So there was a bipartisan meeting yesterday where Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham were trying to present the president with an immigration deal, hoping that he would sign off on it. We saw earlier in the week the president had Democrats and Republicans at the White House and said bring me a deal and I will sign off on it.

But at the meeting there were a number of conservative lawmakers as well. And the president did not like the deal. Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin proposed cutting the visa lottery system by some but still keeping in protected immigrants from a number of countries, from African countries, from Haiti. And the president did not like that. He suggested we should have immigrants from Norway and Asian countries and we should not have immigrants from shithole countries in the president's word.

The lawmakers were pretty mystified by that. It is not a remark even we have known the president to be pretty speaking his mind, crass at times. Obviously you remember the "Access Hollywood" tape. But I think still took some folks aback in the White House yesterday.

BERMAN: One thing I want to say here is ultimately your story, I don't think the first version included Asian countries, that the president also said he wanted people from Asian countries. Ultimately I think you have sources from the White House saying that he also had said Asian countries, that's true?

DAWSEY: Yes, that's correct. We put up a version of the story and then I continued to report, my colleagues continued to report. As you know those meetings, there is often a dozen or more participants so you try to triangulate from a number of people, OK, do you remember him saying this, do you remember him saying this, and get enough specificity that you feel comfortable reporting it, and we did feel comfortable reporting that last night.

BERMAN: In the reaction, you said they were taken aback by the president's comments. Expand on that a little bit. I have to imagine that hearing the president of the United States use these words and in that context had to be shocking.

DAWSEY: It was, but I was told this was a pretty contentious exchange between the senators and the president where lots of profanity was flying, there was some frustration from the president. I think there was some frustration from the senators that he wasn't into their deal. I think one thing we should note is that we haven't seen any of the senators from this meeting or the Congressmen go on the record on give remarks.

CAMEROTA: Why not? Why not, Josh? If they felt strongly enough to share with you what happened inside that meeting, why won't they use their names?

[08:05:03] DAWSEY: It is a good question. A lot of Republicans do not want to repeat a president of their own party. We have seen that time and time again when the president says something controversial, gets into a difficult spot. We also know that a lot of Republicans in Congress have constituencies that support these tougher immigration policies and that they think the president won this election largely based on his stances on immigration. So going after him or contradicting him is not something that they want to do lightly.

CAMEROTA: Josh, thank you very much for sharing your report with us. It is great to get it straight from the source. Thanks a lot.

DAWSEY: Thank you so much.

CAMEROTA: Let's bring in CNN political analyst David Gregory and CNN contributor Wesley Lowery. Great to have both of you. Wesley, how do you see the president's comments?

WESLEY LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, we are using a lot of different language to describe this crass and vulgar comment from the president, racially tinged, racially charged. It is clearly and obviously racist, right. When you despair people from black and brown countries and say why do we have to take those people? Why can't we get more white people and Asians, which is more a less a paraphrase of what the reporting has said, there is no question, there's no ambiguity about what this is.

I will say also I think that as significant as the president's comments were and as they continue to underscore who he is and what he believes, these are not dissimilar or inconsistent with his previous comments, I think it's equally important to note that we are hearing these things, that we are constantly hearing about all of the president's worst behavior. That goes as a credit to colleagues and friends of mine like Josh Dawsey but also speaks to how the people around the president feel. We are hearing about these private meetings over and over and over again.

CAMEROTA: Right, but they'll leak it, they're that offended. The people in the room were that offended they shared it with Josh, your colleague but they won't go on the record and they won't use their name. What does that tell you?

LOWERY: For example, and granted I don't know specifically who Josh's sources are, none of us do. Obviously as is written in the piece, it's folks who are aware of what is being said in that room and assuming either were in the room themselves or heard directly. But I do think in this case the president likes to get into these personality wars. You can imagine a world in which, say, Senator Lindsey Graham came out and said I heard a bunch of racist comments in the Oval Office today, I thought they were unacceptable. What this story could quickly become is not even a debate about immigration policy or the comments being made by the president but rather a fight between Lindsey Graham and Donald Trump. Trump starts tweeting made up names to mock him. That's why you loss the primary, tweets his cell phone number again, right. And so you can see how if this is something you want to get out, you may decide putting your name on it might not be the best way to actually get to the substance of the conversation of what the president said and whether it was becoming of the highest office in the land.

BERMAN: It's 8:07 a.m., David Gregory, I keep on checking my computer and my Twitter feed here to see if House Speaker Paul Ryan or the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may have found the time to weigh in on this when the leader of the their party, the leader of the country said racist things. David Gregory, the silence is deafening.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The president is a nasty guy and he's proved that over and over again. And what we see over and over again is that Republican leaders don't want to get in the way of that. It is a nasty business to step in front of the wrecking ball. And the ones who have done it are those who are retiring. That's just a fact.

And so you can imagine that those who are in the room negotiating are trying to focus on the deal, trying to focus on getting an immigration deal done, and they're willing to just let Trump be Trump as Corey Lewandowski said, and let other people deal with him and let the people of this country evaluate him for what he is, which is painfully clear, because this episode as many people have said may be shocking but it is not surprising.

This is just a revelation, another examples of who he is and how he thinks and how he doesn't understand the power of his words or the power of words generally by any human being, let alone the president of the United States, because from one day to the next he can lurch.

Here is a very cynical take on what can also be going on here. If you are a Republican who wants a deal on this, maybe you think, hey, the president gone out there and been as offensive as he could be and fires up those people who would agree with this who support him and don't want to see immigration reform, and that makes him big and tough and sound bad, and then he can turn around and do a deal. There is another step towards earning his chops. You can't get any more cynical and dark than that, but I think that's the kind of analysis you do have to lay on top of this presidency.

[08:10:00] BERMAN: You said there is no surprise who the president is. We know who the president is. Now he told us again in these comments. But who are they? Who are you, Speaker Ryan, who are you, Mitch McConnell? Who you choose to be, what you choose to say about this reflects on you and silence reflects on you in this case. I suppose, David, the cynical explanation of it might be the most charitable?

GREGORY: It might be the most charitable because there is not a good answer. These are people who are making a calculation based on whatever is driving them, whatever their end goal it is. I am not going to speak for it, I'm not going to justify it. But the coverage of this president, we got a lot of heat for the tonnage of negative coverage against the president. The president is speaking for himself. The reporting is 100 percent solid. The fact that the president tweets 15 hours later that that's not the language that's used, guess what, no one is going to believe that. That's what you tell and adolescent over and over again is that they have lost our trust. That's just a fact, and anybody who wants to come start debating this that this is biased and all the rest, bring it on. Your issue is with the president who is outspoken, he is what he is, and now we can analyzed what got him here, what the fallout is, what the politics are, how people respond to it, and where it gets it. But he is what he is.

CAMEROTA: I don't know. Wes, one of the things we have been struggling with this morning is that the president does not know that there are people with merit coming from Haiti and coming from Africa. He doesn't know that. So he wants to leave out those blankful countries, that's just the truth.

LOWERY: And I would hope that he would sit down with Congresswoman Mia Love, for example, folks who are immigrants themselves and the family members of immigrants themselves. It certainly seems clear that the views being expressed by the president, not just in this case but in others, clearly evidence in the most good faith, charitable version, deep ignorance of who these people are and what they bring to our country.

I think it is particularly striking that this morning is, what, the eighth anniversary of the day of the earthquake, 300,000 Haitians killed. I was watching earlier as I was getting ready for us to come on air, watching the clip from Anderson last night talking about his experience being there and watching resilience of these people. I think we also have to be clear about the reason. If the critique is that the Haitian government is inefficient or is corrupt, I think we have to have some honest conversations about the history of some of these countries and the way that some of our own foreign policies and our interactions created the environment currently. So there is clearly some deep historical and cultural, societal ignorance, but it's hard not to feel a little pain no matter what you politics are and think that you have people who are waking up this morning remembering the anniversary of the day that their loved ones were killed. People here in America, Haitian-Americans are seeing this, this morning waking up to these comments from their president.

CAMEROTA: It is also Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

BERMAN: Haitian-American kids are waking up and seeing this. People who come from Africa are waking up and seeing this. And people who look like that are waking up and seeing this. I am struck by something Wesley said, or Alisyn suggested, too, the president doesn't know. David Gregory, the president had to be told what he felt about a clean immigration deal. The president had to be told by Paul Ryan where he stood on the FISA reauthorization right now. It doesn't seem like the president needs to be told where he stands on issues regarding race. This seems to be the one area where he is very, very consistent.

GREGORY: Yes, I think he's both ignorant and in other areas he's willfully ignorant. This is someone who rose to national promise on a back of a racist lie about Barack Obama and who has pedaled racist views in everything, you ask anyone of color in this country what does make America great again, or by the way, ask women what it means, they'll tell you exactly what it means, which is it harkens back to a day when there weren't so many people of color in this country who were on the ascent in this country, getting more equal treatments than they have gotten in the past.

So this is the kind of nationalist that says let's make us great by appeal to the worst. And that's what nationalists do. And that's how the president is acting. So on top of all of that, on top of what he willfully disregards of the greatness of the immigrants who build this country, and what they contributed, and by the way, if you met anyone who is a new immigrant, just speaking to somebody who lives in Washington D.C. or the DMV, Maryland or Virginia, whether they are from South asia or from countries in Africa or from South America, These are really patriotic folks.

CAMEROTA: Oh my gosh, so true.

GREGORY: They are committed to the country and learning and incredibly committed to the news and to understanding where the country is going. So, the pain they must be feeling, wait a minute, I thought America is something else.

The other piece of all of that is the implication of this, which is, how do you negotiate with Democrats? How do you negotiate on a deal when all you do is get in your own way? On Russia, all he does is get in his own way by potentially obstructing justice and obsessing and going after.

It can all come back to it. You can turn the volume down on CNN. You still have the president and what he says and you have to deal with that.

CAMEROTA: All right. David Gregory and Wes Lowery, thank you both very much for having this conversation.

So, the president facing backlash this morning after those ugly comments he made about immigrants, but we have not heard from the GOP leaderships. So, we'll speak with a Republican lawmaker about that, next.

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CAMEROTA: This morning, President Trump denies making racially charged comments that immigrants from Africa, Haiti and El Salvador comes from blank-hole countries.

Some lawmakers, including Republican Congresswoman Mia Love, who is a Haitian-American, says, quote: The president's comments are unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation's values. The president must apologize to vote the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned.

[08:20:04] So, why are some -- why are all Republican leaders silent?

Joining us now is Republican Congressman Sean Duffy.

Congressman, thanks for being here.

REP. SEAN DUFFY (R), WISCONSIN: It's good to be here, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: What did you think when he heard, why are we taking people from this blank-hole countries?

DUFFY: Listen, I think it's an unfortunate comment. I disagree with it. I think it's an indefensible comment. But I think it's important also to look at what's the context in negotiations in the conversations that were taking place.

CAMEROTA: I understand. But, first, just stick with me on the comment from this before we larger issue, which we will. Was it a racist comment?

DUFFY: I don't think so.

CAMEROTA: Why?

DUFFY: Because I don't think Donald Trump is racist. Donald Trump -- if you look at the economy, it's affecting everybody, African- Americans and Asians.

CAMEROTA: We're not set up where you could just cut out Americans from a booming economy.

DUFFY: So, take this, look at DACA. You have these kids that come here in no fault of their own and he's trying to cut a deal to give them a permanent status. That hasn't been accomplished yet. And also, he's saying, when kids come here, again no fault of their own and the uncertainty that comes along with it, I want to fix the root cause problem that bring kids in.

CAMEROTA: I know. I mean, he's saying he wants a bill of love, I get it. But then why did he focus on Haiti and Africa and only places where they don't look like Norwegians?

DUFFY: So, those two things I think are compassionate. Dealing with DACA kids but also affecting the root cause of the problem which is border security. Now, this came about in regard to temporary protective status. These are the only countries that were included in the temporary protective status.

And I think Donald Trump is thinking, hey, listen, why don't we bring in the best and the brightest. They may come from El Salvador or Haiti. I don't want to exclude these other countries, I want to bring everybody in and that's been a key tenet of his --

CAMEROTA: I understand, but he said, he said Haitians, get them out of here.

DUFFY: Oh, I didn't hear that.

CAMEROTA: That was another comment that was quoted in "The Washington Post."

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: But I hear what you're saying, but it sounds like you're threading this needle, you're attempting to thread this needle. I mean, he is the one who used the broad brush stroke. I know that you said you don't believe he's a racist. But this is not the first time he made comments, Mexicans are rapists, black athletes are son of bitches. Get Haitians out of here. Haitians have AIDS.

DUFFY: So, I'm a white man, right?

CAMEROTA: Yes.

DUFFY: Obviously. I married to a Latina, have eight Hispanic kids, Mexican-American father, know many in the Hispanic community, they applaud what the president is doing. They're the ones that are getting more opportunity and better wages. They care about crushing ISIS.

They have money in the stock market, and their 401(k)s have improved. They like energy independents.

So, they look at a large stroke of what the president does and they love what he's doing. And so, they look at this and go, you know what, I want to put America first. And again, I can look at these countries and yes, there's been some problems in Haiti and there's been some dysfunctional government, but there is good people coming in there.

CAMEROTA: You didn't say that's --

DUFFY: But why can't I say, in America, I want the smartest people, I want the brightest people that contributes the most.

CAMEROTA: I understand. But you know that's changing what are sort of compact is with immigrants. I mean, you know we say we'll take your poor, hungry, huddled masses. We don't want that anymore?

DUFFY: No, we do. We can take, we can take some of those. But is that all we take -- is that all we take, Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: I don't hear the president mentioning that. I hear the president mentioning Norwegians.

DUFFY: I think he said Asians as well.

CAMEROTA: Sure.

DUFFY: So, that's --

CAMEROTA: Does he want what he says, or you know -- to your point of only the best and the brightest?

DUFFY: Right. So --

CAMEROTA: That's not what we say in America. DUFFY: But hold on a second. If could you go back to the comment, it

is in defensible and you and I are on the same page. I said it last night, Mia Love is a friend of mine, and she's Haitian and she's a Republican and has supported the president.

CAMEROTA: So, that's how she heard it.

DUFFY: Yes, but respect to -- we're talking about a temporary protective status from these countries. And if you specifically give a special status to these countries, right, the president's reference, instead of saying, no, no, in America, what's best for us is -- what's best for us, not these countries is the best and brightest coming to our country. I think it makes sense.

And, by the way, if you look back, and we said we get to this -- we are talking about a DACA deal, we're talking about an immigration deal. And the president is in a situation where he wanted to end chain migration and a lottery system and a secure border in exchange for dealing with DACA kids. These group of senators basically gave everything away in the DACA issue, and he didn't get anything in this deal. He got less than 10 percent border wall funding.

So, I think the president was annoyed and frustrated, to go, what are you offering me? Do you think it is a good deal or do you think I'm stupid? I think that's what he's coming from me when that deal was presented to him.

CAMEROTA: Because I am struck by the brood that you have, all of your eight children, eight, right?

DUFFY: Eight kids, yes.

CAMEROTA: Right. Are any of them 10 or 12?

DUFFY: Yes, so I have ages from 18 to 20 months. You can pick a date --

CAMEROTA: I know, I figured that. I have two 12 years old. What are you going tell your 12 years old that the president does not want anybody from Africa?

DUFFY: I don't think he doesn't want people from Africa.

CAMEROTA: He said that.

DUFFY: But he wants the best and brightest from Africa.

CAMEROTA: He didn't say that.

DUFFY: But he wants the best and brightest from Africa. So --

CAMEROTA: Guess what, have we become so selfish that we only will take the best and brightest?

[08:25:02] Guess what, there are property-stricken countries.

DUFFY: Yes.

CAMEROTA: And doesn't America open its arms to these folks? Guess what, they then can become the best and the brightest when they're here through our education system, right?

DUFFY: I don't dispute that. That's happening throughout history.

But when you say we are only taking certain groups of people of certain regions in the world and you exclude the best and brightest, Alisyn, we educate some of the brightest mind at Harvard and MIT, and then we send them home, we don't let them stay in America.

CAMEROTA: That's the issues with dreamers. They have been here and educated here.

DUFFY: I'm talking about immigrants.

CAMEROTA: I know you are, but you are arguing against your own interests.

DUFFY: I believe in dreamers. I am saying people come here on student visas and they get educated in the best schools of America and we send them home.

CAMEROTA: This is why the Dreamers need to stay.

DUFFY: I agree with you. But also, don't you think that it's compassionate that you secure the borders so we don't have the next generation of Dreamers? Isn't that a compassionate policy?

CAMEROTA: Listen, as you know, Democrats say they want to secure the borders, but they want a clean bill to fix the Dreamers situation and not sending them home.

DUFFY: So, we have done this for generations where we'll do amnesty today and border security tomorrow. Border security never happens. And listen, Democrats have all said from Barack Obama to Chuck Schumer, a fence on the border will stop illegal immigration, that was when -- in 2006, today with Donald Trump they say we cannot have a border.

Let's secure the border. And that's compassionate policy and don't you and I have the right as Americans to decide who comes in and out of the country? I think that's our role.

CAMEROTA: I get where you are coming from and we're out of time, but is there going to be any deal this month now?

DUFFY: I think so. I mean, I think there's a willingness to get a DACA deal done. We want to take care of the kids, but also, we want to deal with the root cause of the problem. Democrats have to come to the table. This can't be a one-sided deal, and if they are willing to negotiate, I think we address the problem.

CAMEROTA: It seems like you're far apart at the moment. Congressman Sean Duffy, we appreciate you being here. DUFFY: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much for the conversation.

John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thanks, Alisyn.

President Trump's mental fitness will not be evaluated when he has his physical today? But a Yale psychiatrist who has briefed lawmakers says she believes the president is dangerous even though she has never examined him. She joins us next.

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