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Trump to Hold Cabinet Meeting Amid Tariff Plans and Administration Scandals; Florida Lawmakers Approve Gun & School Safety Bill Allowing Some Teachers, Staff to be Armed; California Governor & Jeff Sessions in War of Words Ahead of Trump Visit. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 8, 2018 - 11:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:31:07] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: We are keeping an eye on the White House now. President Trump is about to hold a cabinet meeting, which is set to start at any moment. We're going to see if he responds to questions from reporters in the room about his plans for tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Or is he going to talk about porn star, Stormy Daniels, and the scandal there? There are also scandals plague many in the president's cabinet since the last time since they met back on January 10th. Take a look. You have HUD Secretary Ben Carson here, you have Ryan Zinke, and who is the Interior secretary, Veterans Affairs Secretary, David Shulkin, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, all under fire for various reasons.

CNN politics senior writer, Juana Summers, joining me now to discuss.

Let's tick through the scandals, Juana. There's a number of them. Ben Carson comes to mind for more than one reason.

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: Absolutely, Brianna. There are a couple of different things there. The first of which, as we reported yesterday, Ben Carson considering moving -- removing a phrase from his agency's mission statement, removing the phrase, "free from discrimination," or is considering it. That has got a lot of lawmakers up in arms. He wants to focus on self-sufficiency. That's not the only thing he's under fire for.

As we reported, he has been under fire and under pressure for a $31,000 dining set that he attempted to purchase for his official secretary suite at HUD, a lavish purchase. People raised eyebrows at that. Under pressure after saying he wouldn't do it, he's going to return it. They're looking at the role his family played at HUD, the inspector general, and particularly his son, Ben Carson Jr, in organizing a summer listening tour at Baltimore.

KEILAR: And there's three secretaries, three of them, who are being looked at for exorbitant travel costs.

SUMMERS: Let's start with Ryan Zinke, over at Interior. His travel sparked two separate investigations into his travel. Also allegations that he's mixed official business with political fundraisers and donor events. Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, is also under fire for the cost of both domestic and international travel, particularly first-class flights he takes. He's explained that and said this is for security reasons, and that those decisions are made by members of his staff.

Lastly, you have V.A. Secretary David Shulkin, the subject of a damming I.G. report several weeks ago that found that he and senior members of his staff misled ethics officials and that a senior aide, his former chief of staff, actually doctored an e-mail to ethics officials that led to the secretary's wife's flight being paid for by the V.A., $4,000. Shulkin has reimbursed the Treasury. He said the I.G. report, he did nothing improper, but he regrets it distracted from his agency's mission.

KEILAR: OK. And the attorney general, I mean, seems like Jeff Sessions is frequently at odds with the president, but that's especially the case going into this cabinet meeting.

SUMMERS: Absolutely. About a week ago, you saw the president lash out on Twitter. He said that Jeff Sessions is disgraceful. There has been a rift growing between the two of them since Sessions made that decision to recuse himself with regard to the Russia investigation. The president is someone who values loyalty. He didn't like that. And they have been at odds, it seems that's a relationship fundamentally broken with no real sign of repair.

KEILAR: This will be -- like Thanksgiving dinner with the family. Could get really awkward.

SUMMERS: Really fast.

[11:35:42] KEILAR: Juana Summers, thank you so much for that.

Lawmakers in Florida taking action on gun control in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. It is now up to Governor Rick Scott if this new bill becomes law. We'll have details on the new restrictions on firearm sales and arming teachers, next.

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KEILAR: Well, Florida is one step closer to implementing new gun control legislation. Lawmakers in the state approved a gun and school safety bill that would allow some teachers and staff to be armed. And the vote is coming three weeks after the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Andrew Pollock, a father who lost his daughter, Meadow, in the shooting, is applauding the bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW POLLOCK, DAUGHTER KILLED IN HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTING: We thank the House and Senate for voting in favor of protecting our children. But more needs to be done and it is important for the country to unite. In the same way the 17 families united in support of this bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: CNN's Athena Jones is with us now from Tallahassee, Florida.

Tell us what's in the bill, Athena, and what the road ahead is.

[11:40:02] ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Brianna. Some of the gun restrictions in this bill are being viewed as significant in a state nicknamed the Gun Shine State because of its long history of pro-gun rights policies.

Here is some of what the bill would do, raise the minimum age to purchase a fire arm and require a three-day waiting period. It would ban the sale or possession of bump fire stocks. That's the accessory that allows a semi-automatic weapon to fire more like an automatic weapon. It would give police more power to seize weapons and ammunition from people who have been deemed mentally unfit or otherwise a threat. And it would provide additional funding for armed school resource officers and mental health services in districts across the state.

The most controversial provision in the bill is one that would allow some teachers and other school staff to be armed as long as they undergo training and meet other criteria. That is something that some students and teachers and parents don't like, and that Florida Governor Rick Scott says he doesn't like. He has said repeatedly teachers should teach. Governor Scott also doesn't like the three-day waiting period, but he hasn't made clear whether he would veto legislation that includes these two provisions.

Yesterday, Governor Scott said that once he gets the bill, he plans to review it line by line. As of just a few minutes ago, we last spoke with the governor's office, he hadn't yet received it. One thing we should note, once the governor receives the bill, he has 15 days to decide whether to sign it or veto it. If he takes no action, after those 15 days, the bill goes into effect automatically -- Brianna?

KEILAR: All right, Athena Jones, thank you so much for that.

Still to come, the California governor and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are locked in a war of words after the DOJ sues the state over immigration. What kind of welcome should Donald Trump expect when he makes his first trip to the state as president next week? We'll have that ahead.

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[11:46:19] KEILAR: The president is heading to California next week and the war of words is on between California Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Jeff Sessions over California's immigration policy. Sessions has sued California over state laws aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants. But Brown has been quick to slam him, saying it is an effort to, quote, "keep his job" because the president is not too happy with him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Federal law determines immigration policy. The state of California is not entitled to block that activity. Somebody needs to stand up and say, no, you've gone too far, you cannot do this, this is not reasonable. It is radical, really.

GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: This is really unprecedented for the chief law enforcement of the United States to come out to California and act more like FOX News than a law enforcement officer. This is a political stunt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: I want to bring in Steve Cortes, a CNN political commentator and former Trump campaign adviser, and Maria Cardona, also with us, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So, Steve, the attorney general is saying that California's elected officials are, quote, "radical extremists." And then you hear Jerry Brown firing right back, the governor saying that the Trump administration is full of liars. I wonder what you think is going to happen when the president visits San Diego next week.

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I suspect he'll have a very productivity visit. Governor Brown says that this is unprecedented. It is actually not unprecedented at all. He reminds me of another Democratic governor, George Wallace, and some of his other southern governors during the civil rights era when they took refused to enforce federal law because of their local, narrow political agenda.

So I think he's evoking the ghost of those segregationists, governors, rebel governors, and he's trying to defy federal law. And, by the way, in doing so, putting his own citizens and federal agents in grave danger by protecting the rights of dangerous known criminal legal aliens over the rights of a citizen, the safety of the citizens of the United States.

KEILAR: Maria?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Clearly, Steve read the talking points out of the White House and the Department of Justice. That's just wrong. And if you listen to what Governor Brown said --

(CROSSTALK)

CORTEZ: Which part is wrong?

CARDONA: I will tell you. He talks about the statutes in California are such that what they protect are the rights of people living in California, but it never says those rights supersede the rights of immigration officers. What they do say is that the obligation of enforcing immigration law should not fall on local law enforcement. It says, very specifically, and Governor Brown said this, and Attorney

General Javier Becerra said this over and over again, that they cooperate fully when they are talking about drug cartels, gang members, violent criminals, people who are dangerous to the community. The problem with what Jeff Sessions is doing is that he wants local law enforcement to go after grandmothers, to go after fathers, to go after children.

CORTES: That's not true.

CARDONA: Who are not here with papers, and that is --

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: That's not true.

CARDONA: Yes, it is true.

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: That's exactly what is going on.

CORTES: What he wants and what is sensible, by the way, for the American people, who want local law enforcement, most of whom want to do this, by the way --

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: That's not true either.

CORTES: -- when they have a known dangerous person, such as the killer of Kate Steinle in police custody already, in San Francisco, with a federal detainer for him to be turned over and deported they did not comply. Why?

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: Because of a so-called --

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: -- a so-called sanctuary city. It is not sanctuary for Kate Steinle. It is not sanctuary for the many Hispanic victims, American Hispanic citizens, who are very often the victims of these known dangerous illegal aliens. And worse than that, the Oakland mayor last week when she knew there was an ICE raid was imminent in her city, and she alerted the public as if she is a lookout for lawbreakers --

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: -- so they could scurry and hide.

[11:50:27] CARDONA: The problem, Steve, ICE Is not just going after known dangerous criminals. They are going after immigrants who have done nothing in terms of breaking the law, except being here without papers. That is exactly what the attorney general in California and Governor Brown don't want to happen. In fact, you're wrong when you say law enforcement does want to do what Jeff Sessions says. They do not. Do you know why? Because they know if law enforcement officials are known to be coordinating tightly with ICE or federal law enforcement, that puts communities in danger because immigrants will not go to them, for example, on issues of domestic abuse, of rape.

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: And this is a known fact in law enforcement communities, Steve, and you should know that.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Steve, I want to ask you -

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: Yes, it is.

KEILAR: Steve, if I may. So the attorney general is saying, look, because this is about reporting, for instance, the release of detainees from custody. He's saying basically we're not going to do that work for the federal government. I mean, the federal government does have other ways to get that information.

CORTES: Sure. No, they do. By the way, but it puts federal agents at risk. Turning somebody over in a jail from local authorities to federal authorities is relatively riskless, right? When you have to go and get him in the community, it's a danger to the community. It's a danger to the ICE agents to have to knock on doors or blast through doors in the middle of the night. It makes no sense.

By the way, if California officials don't agree with our immigration policies, they should work to change them. They can't decide to ignore them simply because they believe in open borders anarchy. The American people don't --

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: They don't believe that, Steve. There you go with talking points.

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: He was the foundation of Donald Trump's victory was getting over the border and our immigration system. He was unambiguous about it. The American people validated that vision. And it's not up to Jerry Brown to endanger his citizens, his citizens --

KEILAR: Steve and Maria --

CORTES: -- and federal agents by flouting federal law.

KEILAR: Steve, we have to leave it there for time.

Steve Cortes, Maria Cardona, thank you so much to both of you. Coming up, just days after the White House downgraded Senior Advisor

Jared Kushner's security clearance, he went south of the border to smooth fraying relations, and he's doing it, though, without the U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

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[11:57:13] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is Gary Cohn's last meeting of the cabinet, and he's been terrific. He may be a globalist, but I still like him.

(LAUGHTER)

He is seriously a globalist, there's no question. But in his own way, he's a nationalist because he loves our country.

Where is Gary?

You love our country.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: He's going to go out and make another couple hundred million.

(LAUGHTER)

And then he's going to maybe come back. He might come back, right?

GARY COHN, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISOR: Absolutely.

TRUMP: We'll be here another seven years, hopefully. That's a long time, but I have a feeling you'll be back.

I don't know if I can put him in the same position, though.

(LAUGHTER)

He's not quite as strong on those tariffs as we want him to be.

(LAUGHTER)

But I want to, seriously, on behalf of all of us, I want to thank Gary. He's been great. He really worked with Wilbur and Steve and all of the people, Mike. We all worked so hard on the tax cuts.

And they have been far beyond, I would say, Gary, our wildest expectations.

COHN: Absolutely, sir.

TRUMP: What we thought would be very good has turned out to be unbelievable, great. And people are appreciating it a lot. The Democrats don't know what to do. They're saying, boy, this is turning out to be not good for them. We didn't get one Democrat vote.

So I just want to thank Gary. Before me are some rocket ships. You haven't seen that for this

country in a long time. And many of the jobs we're doing -- and Mike Pence is the chairman. Many of these jobs we're doing are privately financed. We're letting them use the Kennedy Space Center for a fee. And, you know, rich guys, they love rocket ships. And that's good. That's better than us paying for them. And I noticed the prices, of the last one, they said it cost $80 million. If the government did it, the same thing would cost probably 40 or 50 times that amount of money.

When I heard $80 million, I'm so used to hearing different numbers with NASA. But NASA is making tremendous strides and we're using a lot of private money. People that love rockets and they're rich. They'll be a little less rich, probably, but a lot of rockets are going up. We're at the forefront. Nobody is doing what we're doing. I don't know if you saw last with Elon with the rocket boosters when they're coming back down, to me, that was more amazing than watching the rocket go up.

I've never seen that before. Nobody saw it before, where they're saving the boosters, and they come back without wings, without anything, and they land so beautifully. So we're really at the forefront and we're doing it in a very private manner. At the same time, NASA is very much involved in doing their own projects.