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Trump Doubles Down on Trade Tariffs; Trump Says Maybe One Day US Will Have President for Life. Aired 6-6:30

Aired March 5, 2018 - 06:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, NEW DAY: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, this is your NEW DAY, it's Monday, March 5th, 6:00 here in New York, Alisyn is off, Erica Hill joins me, thank you as always.

ERICA HILL, CNN: My pleasure.

CUOMO: Good, I need you this morning, there's a lot of news. Here's our starting line: President Trump defending his proposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, but he is yet to say how?

How doing this will help workers and how he would win a potential trade war. He's getting major push-back from trading partners and even Republican governors.

Administration officials say they're leaving room for the president to change his mind, but that is of little comfort to GOP lawmakers who fear a trade war would hurt them in the mid-terms.

Also, the White House is down-playing reports that the president's chief economist is planning to leave over those tariffs.

All this while the fate of the president's daughter and his son-in-law remains uncertain. Their rules have been reduced, powers are limited or those indications that they're on their way out.

HILL: President Trump making light of that chaos inside his administration at the annual Gridiron Dinner, taking jabs at Jared Kushner's security clearance issues and a revolving door in the West Wing.

But Mr. Trump's president for life comments are raising eyebrows. And Hollywood's biggest night getting political as well.

Celebrities using their moment in the spotlight to talk about harassment, protecting dreamers and gun control. But the big winners and the snubs at the Oscars -- we'll begin our coverage with Kaitlan Collins who is live at the White House. Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Erica and Chris. President Trump appears to be welcoming a potential trade deal and rebuffing those U.S. allies who have expressed concern about the potential impact of those proposed tariffs. But according to the president and his twitter feed, the United States has been on, quote, "the losing end of trade deals for just too long."


PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, TRADE & INDUSTRIAL POLICY: The president was quite clear, we can't have a country that can defend itself and prosper without an aluminum and steel industry.

COLLINS (voice-over): The Trump administration defending its stiff proposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum despite threats of retaliation from key American allies who will be disproportionately hurt by the policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure, there may well be some sort of retaliation, but the amounts that they're talking about are also pretty trivial.

COLLINS: White House adviser Peter Navarro telling Cnn that at this point, the president isn't planning on issuing any exemptions.

NAVARRO: As soon as you exempt one country, then you have to exempt another country. And so it's a slippery slope.

COLLINS: British Prime Minister Theresa May calling Mr. Trump Sunday to express deep concerns after officials from the European Union vowed to impose taxes on U.S. goods, including Harley Davidson motorcycles, Bourbon Whiskey and Levi's Jeans.

President Trump appearing undeterred, responding by threatening to tax European cars and tweeting "steel and aluminum industries are dead. Sorry, it's time for a change."

But Mr. Trump's advisors appearing to leave room for the president to change his mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever his final decision is, is what will happen. What he has said, he has said. If he says something different, it will be something different. I have no reason to think he's going to change.

COLLINS: A number of Republicans speaking out publicly against the president's proposal.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: This trade wars in dividing us from our allies makes no sense.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: China is winning and we're losing with this tariff regime. You're letting China off the hook, you're punishing the American consumer and our allies. You're making a huge mistake here.

COLLINS: On the heels of a chaotic week in the West Wing, the president making light of the tumult at a closed-door black-tie dinner, telling attendees, "I like chaos. It really is good.

Now the question everyone keeps asking is 'who is going to be next to leave? Steve Miller or Melania?'" And taking a jab at his embattled son-in-law, saying quote, "before I get started, I want to apologize for arriving a little bit late.

You know, we're late tonight because Jared couldn't get through security." The president also joking that Vice President Mike Pence starts out each morning asking everyone, quote, "has he been impeached yet?"

Mr. Trump making light of China's decision to scrap presidential term limits in a conversation with donors Saturday.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's now president for life. No, he's great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day.



COLLINS: Now Chris and Erica, the president and the first lady are going to welcome the prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu here to the White House today, and there are no photo opportunities scheduled at the moment.

But all eyes will be watching to see if Jared Kushner is involved in that meeting after he was stripped of his top secret security clearance just last week.

CUOMO: All right, Kaitlan, thank you very much. Let's bring in Cnn political analysts John Avlon and David Gregory. All right, so David Gregory, the simple read on why the president is doing this with tariffs is because he likes to shake it up.

He wants to show that he can flex his muscle and that this is how he's going to put America back in the game. He's getting almost unanimous condemnation from economists and lawmakers in his own party. What's the play?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, this was a signature promise. You have to admit that of the campaign. This is somebody who talked about dead manufacturing in the United States if he would bring it back.

This is definitely a part of his constituency and his political base of support. But you have to wonder if you listened to both political opposition and opposition among economists, whether this makes any sense.

You've got synchronicity in a global economic growth that's been fueling strong financial markets that's been disrupted by inflation fears, further disrupted almost 2 percent in the past couple of days as they looked at this tariff.

And what is it going to gain our economy? That's what I think people are questioning. And for a president who promised to be a jobs president, a president who said that he's the one who had the golden touch when it came to booming financial markets, he's putting all of that at risk.

HILL: Well, I mean -- go ahead, John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, look, this is something that is fundamental to what had -- the Republican Party had believed. Tariffs, free markets, this had been settled.

But you've got to fight in the White House between Peter Navarro; protectionist stayed and Gary Cohn who have allegedly threaten to resign over this.

You had announced that it was incredibly hasty without any of the normal diplomatic channels being made aware of it within the administration, let alone the actual procedures.

And if these tariffs had worked when W tried it with steel in the early decade of the century, we wouldn't be having this conversation, but they tend not to.

A tariff is a tax, and a lot of folks have rolled over for the president on policy in the past that it contradict what the conservatives supposedly believe, not this one. You're going to see a bigger push-back and you're already beginning to see it.

HILL: So we've seen that push-back since it was announced, and part of the push-back too is the point that David brought up in terms of being rolled out. So basically said, we don't even really know what's in it, and that's a problem.

And yet it is still being pushed through. But there is also the point, David, as we look at this, of the president sticking where he's at, and we're hearing of course over the weekend, we just heard this in Kaitlan's speech.

But Wilbur Ross talking about the fact that, look, there is room for change here, right? Something could change. If something is going to change, well then, in his words, it will be something different.

But there is no reason to think he's going to change. That said, with all the push-back the president seeing, he doesn't like to be contradicted. But is there a sense that, that will get through to him, David?

GREGORY: Well, it might. You know, they may see a couple of days of downturn in the economic markets. You know, he might be persuaded that look, I've always felt that the president, if he can deliver on economic growth and jobs, that' s you know, core to the promise of his candidacy.

If he sees some real threat to that, I think he'd have no problem just changing course. And that goes to John's point. You don't have a mature policy-making apparatus within the White House largely because you have a president who is so impulsive.

And we saw that with this policy rollout --

AVLON: Yes --

GREGORY: So when Wilbur Ross; the commerce secretary is basically saying is, well, I guess he'll change his mind and that will be the policy. You know, so --

AVLON: Exactly right --

GREGORY: For our allies who are already reeling, trying to figure out what America stands for anymore in the global order, especially when you have China going in this authoritarian direction --

AVLON: Right --

GREGORY: Now you don't know what to expect. You have businesses who are opposed to this. What do they want? Have they probably forgotten the healthcare debate?

AVLON: Right --

GREGORY: They want certainty. They want to know what's coming. So the president is trying to protect an industry that as the "Wall Street Journal" on its editorial pages today says -- points out, you can, you know, put tariffs to try to help the industry, it doesn't mean they're necessarily going to hire more --

CUOMO: Right --

GREGORY: Because they can do a lot more with less. The manufacturing basics in this country has changed dramatically that the president wants to leave in the past --

CUOMO: And that's an important point, David, the "Wall Street Journal" again --


CUOMO: All right, not invested in being inimical as the president of the United States named Trump. You have to read their editorial today.

Now, the only thing they do and that's a little awkward is they wind up bringing up King Cnut; which is this great story that people get wrong all the time.

Which is used to say that the king said look at me, I can roll back the tide. I have all this might. And they're using it as an example, the president believing he can change things that he cannot.

You remember the Euro example, Bush had to --

AVLON: Yes --

CUOMO: Roll back those tariffs one year after doing them, and they still believed it hurt the GDP and the labor markets. So what will he do here? I'm saying they get it wrong because the King Cnut story -- a powerful story is actually the opposite. He brought people down to say, you see, man cannot control the tide,

only the divine can. So Cnut gets a bad name --

AVLON: We'll speak for King Cnut --

CUOMO: I will -- Cuomo --

AVLON: You speak for King Cnut.

CUOMO: They didn't even spell his name right, but --


GREGORY: You can go to our website --

CUOMO: You can just go -- go to Google, but here's the point. They make this great point in the "Wall Street Journal" that it sounds good to say, I'm going to bring back coal jobs, I'm going to bring back steel jobs.

Those industries have suffered more because of innovation than they have anything else. And that's important. When will Speaker Ryan do what he has done so eloquently on this issue, which is talk about what the future of manufacturing is, how you're supposed to open markets.

Again, you hear that? That's Ryan being quiet.

AVLON: Yes, and not only on this issue, he's other great core issue of course is deficits in the debts, speaking eloquently about generational theft. But when a president of his party with unified control fundamentally repudiates what Paul Ryan has spent most of his career believing, you get crickets.

And that's a problem of congressional leadership as a -- branch. So we'll see if they stand up now. But I mean, you know, when Wilbur Ross is on air saying, well, you know, this could all change if he changes his mind, I mean --

CUOMO: Yes --

AVLON: That's a sign of just how capricious --

CUOMO: True words never not said. The -- and so how does this play into -- David, the idea of the chaos that's going on around there. The speculation about Javanka, and whether or not they're going to be pushed out either directly or indirectly by some kind of, you know, play out of a soap opera?

GREGORY: Well, I mean, I think the president's jokes the other night here in town at the Gridiron Dinner I think are a window into his thinking, which is being a chaotic manager is something that he likes because it keeps people on edge.

It keeps some unpredictability and he thinks perhaps it drives better results. I think what he doesn't understand about the presidency and about government policy is that it's not business. And you know -- CUOMO: Yes --

GREGORY: You can't have these kind of crisis ABS that you may have in his own personal business in government when you're dealing with allies or when you're running the federal government which moves very slowly.

So I think it's indicative of just how much disarray there is. Which in the economy leads to you know, unpredictability is I think bad for the economy.

And certainly when you're dealing with issues that can spiral quickly into crisis, I just don't think it's the way to go.

AVLON: Look, you know, obviously there is a high level of crisis in the White House. The "Washington Post" report quoting 22 sources paint a picture of a president who is increasingly isolated and erratic.

And even some of his close allies and friends are concern. But the Gridiron Dinner speech I thought was fantastic because it showed a degree of self-awareness by the president.

These are scripted remarks where he's poking fun at his own weaknesses, and that itself is healthy. What I thought was far more troubling is the tape that came out from Mar-a-Lago that Cnn got where he's joking about Xi, president for life.

That not scripted. Not you know, simply instinctive. I think speaks to a lot of his impulses in ways that are a total departure from the best American traditions.

HILL: And that --

GREGORY: There's no question that I mean, he has total strong-men envy. He wants big military parade, he thinks that Vladimir Putin is a strong leader and now admires President Xi -- yes, not exactly what we associate with our presidents.

HILL: No, not traditionally in this country, but we're going to dive into that a little bit deeper after the break. So gentlemen, thank you both for setting that up --

AVLON: Yes --

HILL: Perfectly for us. Because President Trump as John mentioned it for talking about praising China's president pushed to end term limits. We'll tell you a little bit more about what Mr. Trump suggested that is getting international attention, that's next.


HILL: China's parliament is voting on a measure that would end term lights, effectively making Xi Jinping president for life. A position that certainly got the president's attention here.


TRUMP: Don't forget China is great and Xi is a great gentleman. He's now president for life.


President for life. No, he's great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day.



HILL: Let's bring back now Cnn political analysts John Avlon and David Gregory. John Avlon shaking his head at that --

AVLON: Yes --

HILL: You know, he's making a joke, John.

AVLON: Yes, you know what? You can deliver like Shaggy Green(ph) but it's still expressing admiration for an authoritarian. And this is the biggest story in the world we're not talking about.

The world's biggest strategic competitor appointing its leader -- appointing himself, you know, leader for life. And that is a huge deal for the direction the century is going.

And for the president to joke about it, joke about it admiringly off the record with supporters basically is demeaning to our democracy when the president of the United States does that.

It's not -- you can't simply write it off as a joke, and something -- a lot trickier. You know, someone said humor is about that vicinity between someone's aspirations and their limitations.

If that's where his head and heart goes, that's not a good sign.

CUOMO: David Gregory, you be the judge. John Avlon and I were arguing about this, this morning in our caves getting our makeup like men.


And my point was, look, I get it, but he was joking as Erica introduced this. And is this taking a joke too far and open yourself up to criticism of you know, not just being a snowflake.

But you know, given the president a hard time where he doesn't deserve. You decide. You decide.

GREGORY: Yes, I mean, I come out a little softer than John does on this, I think it was a joke --

AVLON: So I mean that basically -- what he's saying is -- CUOMO: Continue -- let the man finish his --

GREGORY: All right, I'm sorry --

CUOMO: No, that's enough --

GREGORY: No, I'd come back a little --


But here -- but I do -- what I do agree with is the idea that, yes, he was joking here and we can appreciate that. But we've seen in very serious moments --

CUOMO: Right --

GREGORY: All of this admiration for strong men. And here's I think a larger point. You know, we've seen someone who is better prepared for the job, who has a stronger team around him.

And here I'm talking about President George W. Bush, who I think history will show misread Putin --

AVLON: Yes --

GREGORY: From Russia in the beginning and what the consequences of that were. And what I worry about in Trump is someone who is woefully under-prepared for the office and comes in making pronouncements about leaders.

Showing his naivety about them that I think can be exploited, and I think the relationship with China is a perfect example right now. And I think that's the window that we get into here and it could play out in other areas that are really damaging.

HILL: I will, and picking up on actually points that both of you made is this of course editorial in the "New York Times" today that is -- that is questioning whether the president has a problem with democracy, and pointing specifically to calling out some of those leaders as you're pointing out too David.

But here is part of that. Mr. Trump was surely joking about becoming president for life himself, but there can be little doubt now that he truly sees no danger in Mr. Xi's great decision to extend his own rule until death.

Going on to say "the craven reaction -- I think here's really why -- where the need of the slide -- in line with Mr. Trump's consistent support needing admiration for men ruling the increasing brutal and autocratic methods."

And mentions Putin, mentions Erdogan, Duterte, and so when we look at all of that, there's a question of yes, this is making a joke and it's good that the president over the weekend too -- we know that he's still poking fun of himself as John mentioned earlier.

But is there a broader concern there even in terms of it's the time to bring up the president not promoting democracy and its --

CUOMO: Right --

HILL: Importance in the way that we have seen from past presidents.

AVLON: This is not a freedom agenda administration.

GREGORY: All right --

AVLON: That's not on the menu. And you know, if in humor you're telling the truth at the heart of it. Imagine whether Obama would make this joke. Imagine if W would make this joke or Ronald Reagan -- no, not really.

Especially, given the fact that China is moving in this authoritarian direction, especially given the fact that Trump really seems to admire instinctively these strong men around the world at a time when the world is moving away from liberal democracy toward soft authoritarianism.

That's why it's serious, that's it matters, that's why you can't simply dismiss it as a joke.

GREGORY: No, and I think that John makes an essential point. I mean, imagine Reagan saying instead of tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev, maybe we'll build our own wall, maybe this is a pretty good idea.

CUOMO: Right --

GREGORY: He will lose a certain amount of moral authority which this president certainly doesn't have. And I think that's the key point which is this -- again, what we talk about so often on this program -- what's the role of the presidency?

What is the role of the president of the United States no matter who he or she is to set an agenda, to speak out for democratic values? That's what's important.

And the president undermines that, both when he's serious and when he's kidding. Because at this particular moment, it's an opportunity to stand up for America democratic values in the face of what China is doing --

CUOMO: Right --

GREGORY: Not to make light of it.

CUOMO: Now I think I probably could lose that point, now that we've had it all flushed out.


I appreciate that acknowledgement. But you know, as well, you look, you're much smarter, that's why I have you here, I ask you the questions, you give --


GREGORY: You're not in cave --


CUOMO: Well, you weren't here, you were very solomonic, I expected that frankly. So another place where we need to lean on you guys this morning is the Mueller investigation.

Now we have -- to David's point, we have often been discussing here what's going to happen long term on Mueller. And we have been resolute and unanimous in our understanding that this idea that this is going to be over any time soon is nonsense.

These investigations take a long time. Anybody who's worked with the FBI can tell you that. So now we see proof of that. Mueller -- "Axios" has a report out, John, that Mueller subpoena for a witness shows that they want all things saved back to 2015, November, and for this long list of people that are connected to Trump.

There is one indication. The bigger one is now they're looking at an adviser to the UAE and about how money may have mattered there in politics as part of the Mueller investigation.

Yes, not Russia, UAE, the United Arab Emirates, why?

AVLON: Well, the story is pretty extraordinary. It's about a sort of major league self-described influence peddler in the region trying to lobby the White House on behalf of UAE.

There's Qatar politics, there's question about whether the administration or key figures, particularly Jared Kushner, changed their position on Qatar in a result of this lobbying.

But those are all questions right now. All we know is that the Mueller investigation continues to expand. And the connective tissue seems to be a lot of shady people trying to use leverage with individuals in the White House who may have financial interests.

And there's just this sort of constant theme of skulduggery and third party channels on behalf of foreign actors weighing in or lobbying the White House and the campaign.

You don't want to get over your skis about saying who, what, where, when, why about this. We don't know yet. But we know that the Mueller investigation is expanding and this is all going to end in tears one way or the other.

HILL: We don't know yet, exactly, but we just to point out that in part of that reporting in the "New York Times", there is some talk about this discussion of policy with Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon.

And that to me, obviously, Jared Kushner coming up once again, David, as we're looking at this.

GREGORY: Yes, no question at the time when there's the topic of Mid- East peace with Netanyahu coming to the White House today and a security clearance for Jared and whether Jared remains as an adviser to his father-in-law at the White House, which is a major question hanging over all of this.

I think to John's point, we may find out at the end of the Mueller investigation that what began as an investigation of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to seek to meddle in the 2016 election can become an investigation and perhaps indictments around evidence of corruption within the administration or highlighting vulnerability for something similar in the future or something that we -- vulnerability -- you know, other kinds of vulnerabilities in terms of national security be compromised by our enemies around the world.

So I think to Chris's point, this is where these investigations take on on life. I think everybody has known that the financial history of this president and his associates would be fodder for this investigation whether he claims it's a red line or not. And that's the direction that it may be moving.

CUOMO: Yes, gentlemen, thank you very much, John Avlon used skulduggery.

AVLON: Yes --

HILL: Yes, he did --

AVLON: Yes, I did, a strong word --

CUOMO: Not afraid, not afraid to do it --

HILL: That Kacey(ph) had on earlier, really feeling empowered.

CUOMO: It's --

AVLON: Yes --

CUOMO: Well, look, nothing like a little bit of makeup to make a man know who he is.

HILL: This is --

CUOMO: All right, so she is a self-described seductress sitting in a jail cell in Thailand. All right, so why are we doing this story? Because this woman insists that she has information that is critical to the Russia investigation.

Do you believe it, do you not believe it? Well, first, listen to Cnn's Ivan Watson, he just interviewed her and he joins us next.


CUOMO: Cnn speaking with a self-described Russian seductress who says she is willing to give up Trump-Russia secrets in exchange for U.S. help to get out of a Thai jail.

Cnn's Ivan Watson live in Bangkok with more. Ivan, what do you make of it?