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THE SITUATION ROOM
GOP's Graham: Immigration Talks Turning Into a 'S-Show'; DHS Secretary: Don't Recall Specifics of Trump's 'Tough Language'; Government Inches Closer to Potential Shutdown; Bannon Subpoenaed to Testify Before Grand Jury; Doctor Gives Trump Clean Bill of Health. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired January 16, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Tale of two Trumps. As the White House physician calls the president fit for duty, two U.S. senators question what happened to his behavior from one upbeat Oval Office immigration meeting to another that broke down amid a vulgar tirade just two days later.
"I don't recall." Pressed repeatedly by lawmakers, the homeland security secretary says she doesn't remember the president's using vulgar slurs to describe immigrants from African countries. Seething with anger, one senator finally tells her, quote, "Your amnesia is complicit."
Forced to testify. As former Trump campaign manager and White House strategist Steve Bannon appears before congressional investigators, "The New York Times" reports he's now been subpoenaed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the first of the president's inner circle to be called in.
And "spasm of a lunatic." North Korea is hitting back to the president's boast about his bigger nuclear button. Kim Jong-un's regime calls that tweet -- and I'm quoting now -- "the spasm of a lunatic," saying President Trump is pushing things to the brink of war.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump gets a clean bill of health from the White House physician who just moments ago declared him to be in excellent condition and likely to remain healthy throughout his presidency. The doctor says he has no concerns about the president's cognitive ability.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham agree in that an Oval Office meeting with the president last Thursday was anything but healthy. In a CNN exclusive, Durbin says they were sandbagged by Trump advisers, who brought in conservative lawmakers opposed to a bipartisan immigration proposal. Durbin says the president's language was vile and had a racial tone. Graham says the president's staff has not served him well and says immigration talks have turned into, quote, "a s-show."
Grilled by senators today, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen insists she does not remember President Trump's using a vulgar slur to disparage African countries. She rolled her eyes when Senator Cory Booker spoke emotionally about the belittling of minorities.
Meantime, the stalemate over a solution for young immigrant DREAMers is stalling efforts to get a spending bill done in time to avoid a government shutdown on Friday.
And there are big developments in the Russia investigation, with "The New York Times" now reporting Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon to appear before a federal grand jury. That word came as Bannon testified today before the House Intelligence Committee.
I'll speak with Congressman Joaquin Castro of the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees. And our correspondents and specialists are standing by with full coverage.
Let's begin with the breaking news. Even as the president gets a clean bill of health, there are continuing questions about his behavior, especially a vulgar tirade during a crucial immigration meeting.
Let's go straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. What's the latest, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president clearly wanted to answer questions about his fitness for office, so the presidential doctor, Dr. Ronny Jackson, came out to brief reporters in the White House. That just ended a few moments ago.
As you mentioned, Dr. Jackson said that the president is in excellent health, but the president is also doing some surgery of his own, cleaning up some comments he made about immigrants coming into the U.S. last week. Comments that were described as vile and racist.
ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump tried again to clean up his comments on immigrants coming from what he referred to as shithole countries. Visibly annoyed, the president snapped at the press when we asked about his remark that he'd like to see more people entering the U.S. from places like Norway.
(on camera): Did you say that you wanted more people to come in from Norway? Is that true, Mr. President?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want them to come from everywhere. Everywhere. Thank you very much, everybody.
ACOSTA: Just Caucasian or white countries, sir? Or do you want people to come in from other parts of the world, where there are people of color?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jim, thank you.
ACOSTA (voice-over): In another sign the White House has grown weary of the questions, two aides to the president stood right in front of the press and shouted at another event with the president of Kazakhstan.
(on camera): Mr. President, why do you keep saying these racially invested (ph) things?
(voice-over): The president is insisting he's no racist and that he did nothing wrong, tweeting that Senator Dick Durbin, who heard Mr. Trump refer to African countries as "shitholes" in a White House meeting totally misrepresented what was said.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This has turned into a s- show, and we need to get back to being a great country.
ACOSTA: But Durbin's Republican colleague Lindsey Graham, who was also at the meeting, is all but confirming the president made the remark.
GRAHAM: I'm not going to talk about the meeting other than I know what I heard and I know what I said.
ACOSTA: Graham appeared to be speaking through the media directly to the president, urging him to behave more like he did in a separate immigration meeting in front of the cameras last week, when he appeared open to a bipartisan deal.
[17:05:06] TRUMP: This should be a bipartisan bill. This should be a bill of love.
ACOSTA: Graham blamed the president's apparent new hardline stance on White House advisors, including his chief of staff.
GRAHAM: I will say, I don't think the president was well-served by his staff. I think the president that we saw Tuesday is -- that that Donald Trump exists, and somehow by 12 p.m. Thursday, something happened. And I don't think he was well-served by his staff. But he's responsible for the way he conducts himself, and so am I. I can't blame that on the staff. But I do believe the staff was...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would that be general Kelly?
GRAHAM: Pretty -- pretty much missed the mark here. I think General Kelly is a fine man, but he's also part of the staff.
ACOSTA: The latest White House melodrama is unfolding just days before a possible government shutdown. Democrats want a spending deal that would protect young, undocumented DREAMers from deportation.
The White House is demanding that no strings be attached to the spending bill. In exchange for protecting the DREAMers, Mr. Trump is insisting that Congress give him billions of dollars to build a wall on the border, tweeting, "We must have security at our very dangerous southern border, and we must have a great wall to help protect us." But the president's racially-charged comments have poisoned talks with
Democrats, even as the White House offered up a new reason why Mr. Trump is no bigot.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I think that is an outrageous claim. And frankly, I think if the critics of the president were who he said he was, why did NBC give him a show for a decade on TV?
ACOSTA: The White House was also responded to questions about the president's fitness for office, presenting the results from Mr. Trump's recent physical exam, which included an assessment of his neurological health.
DR. RONNY JACKSON, PRESIDENTIAL PHYSICIAN: His overall health is excellent. Are there a few things he could do to make himself a little healthier with diet and exercise? Absolutely. And he's tracking that, and I'm tracking it and we're working on that. But overall, he has very, very good health.
ACOSTA: Now as for the president's recent physical exam, the White House doctor, Dr. Ronny Jackson, said the president made a point of asking for a test -- that's right, he asked for a test -- of his own cognitive abilities, which the doctor then carried out during that exam. He says that the president passed that exam, as well.
But Wolf, we should point out to our viewers, and Dr. Jackson pointed this out at the briefing with reporters earlier today, that is not the same thing as a psychological exam. That was not performed during the president's exam up at Walter Reed -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, we'll have more on the president's health later this hour. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
While the White House tries to stifle questions about the president's vulgar slurs against immigrants, lawmakers today tried to get to the bottom of last week's stunning Oval Office meeting.
Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider. She's with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Things got pretty heated during that Senate hearing today.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They did, Wolf. The tensions flared, with those lawmakers trying to pinpoint the president's words. But the homeland security secretary, she stuck to her stance that she did not hear the president utter that curse word that has grabbed the most attention. She pushed back, saying it was a heated meeting with a lot of cross talk. But that explanation far from satisfied several of the Democrats in that hearing room.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen under oath and under fire. SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: President Trump
reportedly said the most vulgar and racist things I've ever heard a president of either party utter.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Did the president of the United States use that four-letter word beginning with "S" in combination with any other words?
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: You said on FOX News that the president used strong language. What was that strong language?
SCHNEIDER: Answering each version of the question virtually the same way.
LEAHY: You were in the room. You're under oath. Did President Trump use this word or a substantially similar word to describe certain countries?
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I did not hear that word used. No, sir.
Apologies. I don't remember a specific word.
I don't specifically remember a -- the categorization of countries in Africa.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it possible he said the word at the meeting, and you didn't hear it?
NIELSEN: Anything is possible. Yes, ma'am.
SCHNEIDER: Secretary Nielsen set the scene inside President Trump's Oval Office meeting with lawmakers.
SCHNEIDER: The president used tough language in general, as did other congressmen in the room.
What I was struck with, frankly, as I'm sure you were, as well, was just the general profanity that was used in the room by almost everyone. I remember specific cuss words being used by a variety of members.
DURBIN: I'm not going to ask to you say those words here. But I will just say for the record, Senator Graham spoke up in a way that I respect very much, countering what the president had said about countries in Africa, reminding the president that his family did not come the America with great skills or wealth, but they came here as most families do, looking for a chance to prove themselves and make this a better nation. And in defense of Senator Graham, his strong words repeated exactly the words used by the president, which you cannot remember.
SCHNEIDER: She also tried to explain the president's reported preference for immigrants from white-majority countries like Norway. [17:10:05] NIELSEN: What he was specifically referring to was the
prime minister telling him that the people of Norway work very hard. And so what he was referencing is, from a merit-based perspective, we'd like to have those with skills who can assimilate and contribute to the United States.
LEAHY: Norway is a predominantly white country, isn't it?
NIELSEN: I'm -- I actually do not know that, sir, but I imagine that is the case.
SCHNEIDER: After repeated questioning, Secretary Nielsen grew exasperated.
NIELSEN: Sir, respectfully, I have answered this. I've been very patient with this line of questioning. I am here to tell you about the threats our country faces and the needs and authorities that are needed by the Department of Homeland Security. I have nothing further to say about a meeting that happened over a week ago.
SCHNEIDER: But Democratic Senator Cory Booker said he was seething and would not relent from the questioning, criticizing Nielsen for not remembering the president's exact words.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NY), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: You're under oath. You and others in that room that suddenly cannot remember. And that you can even say in your testimony the Norwegians were preferenced by him because they're so hard-working.
NIELSEN: I didn't...
BOOKER: Excuse me. Let me finish.
NIELSEN: Happy to.
BOOKER: The commander in chief in an Oval Office meeting referring to people from African countries and Haitians with the most vile and vulgar language. Language festers. When ignorance and bigotry is allied with power, it is a dangerous force in our country. Your silence and your amnesia is complicity.
SCHNEIDER: And a lot of passion inside that hearing room today. And while all eyes are on Congress when it comes to a deal on DACA, the battle is also now playing out in the courts.
The Justice Department just announced that it will appeal the recent 9th Circuit hearing that blocked the president's efforts to end DACA and also mandated that the administration resume receiving DACA renewal applications.
The DOJ actually took the unusual step of appealing both to the 9th Circuit and asking the Supreme Court to directly review the case at the same time. Wolf, this is all in an effort by the administration to get a final ruling on this as quickly as possible. BLITZER: And you're absolutely right. That is pretty extraordinary
to go right to the U.S. Supreme Court at the same time.
Thanks very much. Jessica Schneider reporting.
With the move to solve the DREAMers problem now stalled, efforts to come up with a government spending bill are also bogged down, and a government shutdown is looming on Friday.
Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen, how do things right look now?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the tone up here on Capitol Hill, Wolf, is that a shutdown is looking even more likely. You have some lawmakers up here on Capitol Hill openly talking about, barring any sort of last-minute "hail Mary" compromise, we could very well see the federal government shut down when the clock strikes midnight on Friday night.
The DACA negotiators -- Senator Graham, Senator Durbin -- say that they are trying to push ahead. They're hopeful that they are able to put some pieces back together on DACA, but even they admit that they're not exactly sure here how to right the ship.
They're trying to breathe some oxygen back into the DACA negotiations. They're pushing -- they're planning to release legislative text up here on Capitol Hill, text of the deal that President Trump himself killed last week. And they're pushing for leadership to have some sort of test vote on that bill here on Capitol Hill.
Here's Senator Graham earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: We'll get to the bottom of this, but here's what's going to matter. How does it end? How does it end? Does it end with the government shutting down? We should all be kicked out if that happens. Does it end with these 700,000 kids being thrown to the wolves? No. Does it end without any effort to secure the border? No. So it's not going to end poorly. It's going to end well. And let me tell you why it will. The public is demanding for us to get our act together up here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: Now all of that said, the Republican leadership is at this hour still pushing forward a push toward a short-term government funding bill without DACA attached. We heard from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just moments ago up here on the Senate floor, saying lawmakers should not push DACA -- a DACA deal this week. He does not want that pushed through. He says Democrats should not be holding the government funding hostage over their immigration demands.
So Wolf, as you can see, a lot of finger pointing from both sides of who could potentially get blamed if the government shuts down. And again, just four days before the government potentially runs out of money.
BLITZER: Good point. All right. Sunlen, thanks very much. Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill.
Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Thank you, Wolf. Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: So we're quickly approaching the shutdown deadline, midnight Friday. Are you prepared to shut down the federal government and all that means for so many millions of people who rely on the federal government for all sorts of services if there's no deal on DACA, the DREAMers?
CASTRO: Well, I certainly don't want to shut down. I know Democrats don't want to shut down.
At the same time, the American people want to us address the DACA situation. Over 80 percent of Americans support allowing these DACA kids to stay in the United States.
[17:15:10] And what we've seen over and over is that the Trump administration and the Congress keep pushing this issue off. It's been happening for the last few months. And every day, 122 more of these kids become deportable. If we get to March, that number is going to be 800,000. So we have to deal with this at some point.
BLITZER: Will you vote for a temporary spending measure, a continuing resolution, as it's called, if it doesn't include dealing with DACA, the DREAMers?
CASTRO: I believe that it needs to include DACA. We can't leave...
BLITZER: What if it doesn't?
CASTRO: ... these kids behind.
BLITZER: What if it doesn't?
CASTRO: Then it doesn't have my support. Now, in the House of Representatives, remember, Republicans have the presidency, the Senate and the House. So they don't need my vote to move forward, but we want to work with them to include a short-term spending bill or a long-term spending bill. But make sure that DACA relief is in there.
BLITZER: Well, why not approve a short-term spending bill for a month, let's say, and then, during that period, you could work out the DREAMers and get that resolved?
CASTRO: We've been trying to work this out for months. And like I said, Wolf, the inclination has been not to deal with this and to keep pushing it off and pushing it off. The problem is that, when you do that, more and more of these kids are becoming deportable. And if we get to March, 800,000 will become deportable.
BLITZER: Do you support the bipartisan legislation put forward by senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin?
CASTRO: I just had a chance to start to look through it. Of course, it's over in the Senate, so it would have to go through Senate first. But look, I think that we can come up with a compromise that basically amounts to the DREAM Act. And then, in a separate piece of legislation, deal with the border security concerns. It's possible for the House and the Senate to do both of those things. With bipartisan agreement.
BLITZER: The bipartisan deal put forward by Durbin and Lindsey Graham and others in the Senate does include border security, enhancing border security and some, at least, for some fencing, some funding, a little bit, for a wall, not a whole lot. At the same time, it deals with the 700,000 or so DREAMers who would be allowed to have legal status and remain here in the United States.
CASTRO: Certainly, if that bill passes through the Senate and comes over to the House, then I'll take a very close look at it. Right now, we're only going to get a chance to vote for what's in front of us in the House of Representatives. And I'm hoping that that will include some kind of DREAM Act or DACA relief.
And like I said, you can put border security and border enforcement in a separate piece of legislation. There's no reason that the majority can't do it.
BLITZER: Well, what if it's in the same piece of legislation?
CASTRO: Then it depends what it contains. For example, I've said that we shouldn't trade the lives of 800,000 young people and their futures for a wall across America.
I represent a big part of Texas, the city of San Antonio. And people from throughout Texas, both Republican and Democrat, have spoken up against the border wall. We don't want 1,200 miles of border wall between the United States and Mexico. It's not something that we want to trade.
And I mentioned that 80 percent of Americans support the DREAMers. It's not we only support them if you build a wall. It is, we support them. We want you to do something so that they can stay here.
BLITZER: With the deadline Friday night, do you believe a shutdown now of the federal government is likely?
CASTRO: I certainly hope not. I don't think that any American and any legislator should want to see a government shutdown. At the same time, we need to get these things done. We need to get DACA relief done.
BLITZER: Congressman Castro, I need to take a quick break. But there's a lot more we need to discuss. We'll resume this interview right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[17:22:59] BLITZER: More breaking news now. There are some major developments in the Russia investigation. "The New York Times" reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon. That came as Bannon was testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. Apparently still up on Capitol Hill right now.
We're talking with Congressman Joaquin Castro. He's a member of that Intelligence Committee. I want to get your reaction to all these late-breaking developments, Congressman, but I want to bring in our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, who's getting new information, as well. What are you learning, Evan?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is a big deal that the -- that Steve Bannon has received a subpoena to testify. It appears to be before the grand jury.
Heretofore, with the special counsel investigation for people surrounding the president, they have -- they've done cooperative interviews, voluntary interviews. And the fact that they have gone the route of getting a grand jury subpoena means that he is being compelled to show up and do some testimony.
And so what that tells us is perhaps that Steve Bannon is a hostile witness to the special counsel. Of course, you know, if you're -- if you're some of the people in the White House who are watching this development, I think this is very important thing for Jared Kushner. Because, as you know, Bannon and Kushner were at odds during the time that Bannon was in the White House, and of course, Bannon has some theories as to Kushner's role in the firing of James Comey, which is a big part of this obstruction of justice investigation. So I think a lot of people in the White House, especially in Jared Kushner's camp, are watching this development very, very closely.
BLITZER: There's another major development today that we -- we've learned about, that this Russia cloud hanging over the White House apparently is not going away any time soon.
PEREZ: It is not going away, Wolf. I was in court today for a court appearance by Rick Gates and Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman. And what we heard today from the judge is that it looks like we're going to go -- we're going to have a trial, beginning perhaps in mid- to late September.
So we're looking now at a trial that is going to be in the thick of the 2018 mid-term season. This is a story that's going to be in the headlines in the middle of when Republicans are going to be trying to defend all those seats. Of course, we know the Democrats are going to make the Russian investigation and everything related to the president part of their case as they -- as they try to take seats from the Republicans. This is a big story that's going to be looming over all that.
[17:25:18] BLITZER: It certainly will be. All right, Evan, thank you very much. Evan Perez reporting.
Let's get back to Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro, the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees.
You're on that Intelligence Committee, Congressman. Did you find Steve Bannon to be cooperative during his testimony today? And is he still up there? Is he still answering questions?
CASTRO: Yes. Unfortunately, there were a lot more non-answers than explanations or answers to many of the questions that we had. And I do think that we'll have to have Steve Bannon back.
I'm not surprised, if the reports are true, that the special counsel has subpoenaed him. He's important to understanding many things, including the Comey firing, the letter that was written after -- or to explain the meeting with the Russian entourage at the Trump Tower. And then also, many things that happened during the campaign, including possible collusion with any of the Russians responsible for interfering with our 2016 presidential election. So he's got a lot to talk about.
BLITZER: Why didn't he answer some of those questions? Did he cite executive privilege, having worked for the president of the United States, or did he not remember certain details? Because you seem frustrated that a lot of questions were left unanswered.
CASTRO: Well, I'm going to let the committee make an official statement before I make a comment, but you can probably imagine why he didn't. And it was very frustrating for those of us on the committee who were trying to get to the bottom of exactly whether there was any collusion, whether there was obstruction of justice, and so many other issues.
BLITZER: Because he also raised the possibility of money laundering in that new book came out. Was that a subject that came up during your committee's questioning of him today?
CASTRO: It's certainly something that I've been wondering about and other members of the committee have also been wondering about.
BLITZER: The notion of follow the money. Well, explain what your concern is as far as money laundering, the allegations of money laundering. And I want to point out: Steve Bannon is the one who raised that possibility in that interview with Michael Wolff.
CASTRO: Right. There are multiple concerns with respect to money laundering. The relationship between the president and his financiers, including Deutsche Bank.
But also whether individuals, nefarious individuals were using Trump condominiums or other properties to basically launder money. And what knowledge of that President Trump or anybody in the Trump Organization ]\ may have had.
So these are still open questions, questions that we need answers to. And unfortunately, today at least, Steve Bannon could not or would not supply many of those answers for us.
BLITZER: According to "The New York Times," the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has actually subpoenaed Bannon to testify in front of a federal grand jury. Other witnesses have done informal interviews with Mueller's team with an attorney present. When you appear before a grand jury, as you know, no attorneys are present, and you're on your behalf.
What does it tell you about Mueller's strategy that he wants Bannon in front of a grand jury without attorneys guiding his testimony?
CASTRO: Well, as has been commented upon already, this is a significant move that Steve Bannon would be subpoenaed. I think, based on what I saw today, that that's exactly what it's going to take, a subpoena, to get him to talk.
But also, that Special Counsel Mueller, I think, is getting closer to the principals in this investigation, including obviously, people in the White House.
And so Steve Bannon is self-described CEO -- was a self-described CEO of President Trump's campaign. He joined the campaign in August of 2016 and called himself a CEO. So as far as I can tell, Robert Mueller is getting closer and closer to the top.
BLITZER: Congressman Castro, thanks so much for joining us.
CASTRO: Thank you.
BLITZER: Also breaking tonight, President Trump has received a clean bill of health from the White House physician, who's pronounced him to be in excellent condition and fit for duty physically and mentally. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACKSON: There's no indication whatsoever that he has any cognitive issues. And, you know, on a day-to-day basis, as I said before, it's been my experience that the president -- you know, he's very sharp and, you know, he's very articulate when he speaks to me. And I've never known him to repeat himself around me. He says what he's got to say, and he speaks his mind. And I've found no reason whatsoever to think the president has...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's fine?
JACKSON: Yes. I've found no reason whatsoever to think that the president has any issues whatsoever with his thought process.
I think the president, you know, he and I talked. He would -- he would like to lose over the next, I think a reasonable goal over the next year or so is to lose 10 to 15 pounds. We talked about diet and exercise a lot. He's more enthusiastic about the diet part than the exercise part. But we're going to do both. He and I will work together over the next year so we can meet those goals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Bringing in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Sanjay, you were there in the briefing room for that briefing. What's your assessment?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was quite an extraordinary.
[17:30:06] Wolf. First of all, just having the White House doctor come out and take questions for about an hour from reporters, and having covering this sort of stuff for about 16 years, I've never seen anything quite like it. And he even made the statement that he wanted to answer all of our questions at the president's request.
There were a few things. They really -- as we would have thought, they focused in on his heart health. Given his age, he's 71 years old. We know, for example, his cholesterol numbers have gone up over the last year. You can see how his numbers were last year, compared to this year. He's on a medication that lowers cholesterol. But you still see what the numbers have done over the last year.
We know the impact now more clearly of this diet that we've heard so much about and what Dr. Jackson has counseled him about, he said, in terms of correcting his diet and getting more exercise.
Interestingly, as well, Wolf, Dr. Jackson said the president had actually requested himself that he have a cognitive exam of some sort. And he had what's called a Montreal Cognitive Assessment. It's about a 10-minute exam that is best described as a screening tool to try and figure out if someone has any signs, early signs of dementia or any cognitive problems.
And at least according to this screening tool, what Dr. Jackson told us, the president scored 30 out of 30 on that. So he said he had no concerns.
But again, about an hour of taking questions. Everything about his diet, his exercise habits, the overall testing that he had and again, this cognitive specifically, Wolf.
BLITZER: Would you agree with Dr. Jackson's bottom-line assessment that the president is in excellent condition?
GUPTA: Well, you know, Wolf, you and I talk a lot about heart issues in particular. And here's what I would say, is that he had -- you know, we know he has high cholesterol. We know he has evidence of heart disease. We know he is borderline obese. So if you say those things to the average person, they're not going to equate that with excellent health.
On the other hand, he's had this -- this echocardiogram which shows that his heart is functioning well. He had a stress test, as well, to basically figure out how the heart performs when it is stressed. And again, according to Dr. Jackson, President Trump did well on those exams.
So he has a lot of concerns, these markers for heart disease, and he does have heart disease itself based on previous tests, but Dr. Jackson really seemed emphasized this point that, despite those things, he would still say call him in excellent health.
I asked that exact question: how can -- how can you reconcile excellent health with those parameters? He said -- he said the president's heart is functioning well. And he said -- he took it even a step further to say he didn't expect the president would have a problem with his heart for the rest of this term or even another term, if he were elected.
So a hard thing to say, clearly, Wolf, but that's what Dr. Jackson said today.
BLITZER: He is 6'3", 239 pounds according to Dr. Jackson. You say that's borderline obese?
GUPTA: That's borderline obese. If do you the math, it's right around 29.9 or 30 body mass index, BMI, and 30 is obese.
Last year he was 236 pounds, according to his official records, and that put him just over obese. Supposedly over the last year he's gained three pounds. And that's where the numbers are.
Again, Dr. Jackson said he's been trying to counsel him. You just heard his -- his comments there from the briefing room, telling the president that exercise and diet are really important. But that the president, he's seen the president is more inclined to follow up on the diet part of things, not the exercise part of things.
BLITZER; His cholesterol level, though, seems to have gotten worse over the past year, even though doctor pointed out he takes -- he takes Crestor to deal with cholesterol. How do you explain that?
GUPTA: Well, I explained that in part, because he also is well-known for eating two cheeseburgers at a sitting, two fish sandwiches, a chocolate shake and two scoops of ice cream. He doesn't exercise hardly at all. These are the exact things that any doctor, certainly any cardiologist would be concerned about.
So you're right to point out, Wolf, that despite being on a cholesterol-lowering medication, his cholesterol went from 169 to 223. You also saw that his LDL -- that's the lousy type of cholesterol, the LDL, the low-density cholesterol -- that also went up over time, despite being on medication.
So he's going to get an increased dose of the medication now, according to Dr. Jackson. There's also this test, which is a -- which is a different sort of test that actually looks at the amount of calcium that's actually in the blood vessels that lead to your heart. It's calcium score. That number also went up. It was 98 before, and now it's in the 130's. So it's gone up about 30 points or so.
So these are all, again, concerning things, things that I don't think most doctors out there would say equate with excellent health. But when pressed, Dr. Jackson was still comfortable in saying that because of the tests that he did to determine the president's heart function, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. His LDL, 143. Supposedly, they always say it should be, what, under 100. Is that right?
[18:35:06] GUPTA: That's right. LDL should be over [SIC] 100. They like the HDL over [SIC] 60, typically. And then that total cholesterol at least under 200.
And again, in the past it was under 200. But it went up, you know, close to -- from 170 to 223 -- so it went up over 50 points over one year.
BLITZER: And very quickly, Sanjay, before I let you go, if he were your patient, what's the major advice you'd give him?
GUPTA: It's -- heart health has got to be the big one. I mean, you know, they make recommendations about his diet and exercise. I think it's got to be really, really followed up on.
It's obviously -- it's tough for anybody to follow some of these recommendations. But he's had some significant changes and clues that would give us insight into his heart health. And, you know, he's 71 years old. That -- really focusing on that diet and exercise would be important. And see if the numbers come down and check those things more frequently than every year.
BLITZER: Maybe they should bring you in and give him some good solid advice, although Dr. Jackson seemed to know what he was doing, as well.
GUPTA: You bet.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks so much for that, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, reporting from the White House.
GUPTA: You got it.
BLITZER: Coming up, it took a while, but North Korea is hitting back at the president's boast about his bigger nuclear button. Kim Jong- un's regime calls that tweet -- and I'm quoting now -- "the spasm of a lunatic" and delivers a new warning. Stick with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[18:41:05] BLITZER: We're covering multiple breaking stories, including the growing threat of a government shutdown this week as President Trump and members of Congress bicker over immigration. A stalemate over helping hundreds of thousands of young immigrants is holding up a spending deal to keep the government running after Friday.
Let's bring in our political specialists. Gloria Borger, are we headed for a shutdown?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, today it looks like we might be headed for a shutdown. Check back with me tomorrow, Wolf. I may have -- you know, I may have a different answer.
I mean, we're at a stalemate, clearly, over the DREAMer issue, over -- over DACA. And then, you know, you have liberal Democrats saying they wouldn't sign onto anything unless it included a resolution on -- on DACA. You have some more moderate Democrats, particularly in the Senate, who are up in red sates, who said that they would. And then you have conservative Republicans who are saying they don't want to do a DACA deal in this -- in this continuing resolution. So I think these things need to be worked out.
It is so confusing, Wolf, that it's not clear at this point who would actually get the blame if the government shut down. I mean, the Republicans do run the Congress, but they're going to set out to blame the Democrats and vice versa, because the issues are so confusing at this point.
BLITZER: Nia, as you know, the lawmakers frequently wait until the last minute to pass this temporary spending bill, a continuing resolution to keep the government open. Is that still an option?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That seems to be the only option at this point, if you think about everything that Gloria laid out there. All of the complications that have gone into this process so far about DACA. The president seeming to blow it up. Progressive Democrats really wanting the government to shut down, but what would be the political implications of that?
I think the backdrop of this is November 2018. In any -- in any year, it's hard for Congress to do big things, right? Big difficult complicated things. But it's especially hard in an election year with both parties trying to make some inroads in terms of their numbers in the House and Senate.
So I think this is a Congress that has done a C.R. before. And I think the people you look for are those red-state Democrats to come on board. And there's already some indications that people like Joe Manchin, who of course, is up for reelection in West Virginia, that he be up for a clean C.R.
And then you've got people like Cory Booker who's going to be on our air tonight with Chris Cuomo, saying he wouldn't be up for a C.R. But that will be -- you know, they needed roughly, you know, a handful of Democrats to come over and vote for a clean C.R. That seems to be the only game in town at this time.
Nobody really wants a government shutdown. Nobody really seems to want to put skin in the game for DACA either. So I think they're going to do the easy thing here and just go for a C.R.
BLITZER: Yes. There are some Republican, though, Jackie, who aren't going to vote for this continuing resolution either. So you need a bunch of Democrats, especially in the Senate, to get to that threshold and pass what's called this clean continuing resolution.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, to Nia's point, it's hard for Congress to do basic things in an election year. It's hard for Congress to do anything in an election year. And particularly when you're talking about -- watch the Freedom Caucus. Because they're under a tremendous amount of pressure to sign on with Republicans to get this passed. Because in the House, you can pretty much write off the Democrats. There aren't a whole lot of Democrats in seats that Trump won, so they really do have to rely on their own conference. And in order to do that, you've got to convince the conservatives to get on board, and they are not usually inclined to vote for anything that would increase spending.
BLITZER: All right. Let's get to Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security's dramatic testimony today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I want to play an exchange she had with Senator Durbin on that meeting, that awful meeting that occurred the other day, which ended in all the vulgarity. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: How did he characterize those countries in Africa?
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I don't -- I don't specifically remember a categorization of countries in Africa.
DURBIN: You said on FOX News that the president used strong language. What was that strong language?
NIELSEN: Let's see. Strong language, there was -- apologies. I don't remember a specific word.