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Trump Taps T.V. Personality; Cabinet Changes Continue; DACA Deal with Wall Funding; Students Walkout over Gun Inaction; FBI Confirms Tip on Parkland Killer. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 14, 2018 - 13:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for very much for joining us.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We've got breaking news. "The Washington Post" now reporting that Larry Kudlow will replace Gary Cohn as the next chairman of the White House National Economic Council.

Let's bring in our Political Director David Chalian.

The president, yesterday, was praising Larry Kudlow, saying he's a great guy. They disagree on so many issues. They do disagree on one very sensitive issue, and that would be tariffs.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Tariffs. This is the issue that the president put front and center in advance of that special election in Pennsylvania last night.

Wolf, I was just bringing up, this is dated March third. This is a column written by Larry Kudlow, Arthur Laffer, Steven Moore. Free market guys, right? And conservative economists.

And he, basically, is in here saying that there is no logic to the tariffs. He said, Mr. President, these tariffs are a tax hike.

And, Wolf, you remember, Gary Cohn, the man Larry Kudlow is now set to replace as head of the National Economic Council, left his job, basically, over, as the last straw, the tariff issue.

He was in disagreement with the president. He left his job over it. So, the president's now replacing him with someone who agreed with Gary Cohn in that battle, not the president.

The other thing, of course, to note here is this is a cable T.V. personality. It is a perfect kind of an appointment for the apprentice-style presidency that Donald Trump is running.

And we know how consumed he is with watching people on cable television consuming a lot of T.V. news. So, it should surprise nobody that he would actually tap a cable television personality. BLITZER: Larry Kudlow has been at CNBC for a long time.

CHALIAN: It's not that he doesn't have the credentials. I'm not suggesting that.

BLITZER: But he's an economist. He's clearly qualified to be the president's National Economic Council director.

At the same time, though, when it comes to tariffs and trade, globalist versus protectionist, he's with Gary Cohn. They both supported the tax cuts. They both clearly are with the president on that.

And, interestingly, earlier today, the president tweeted this. We cannot keep a blind eye to the rampant, unfair trade practices against our country. So, he's still adamant on that.

CHALIAN: There's no doubt. In fact, Donald Trump has said, just recently in the last week, he sees this as one of the reasons he got elected president. He believes he tapped into this, a position by the way that he has held, this protectionist nature, for three decades.

This is actually the one major consistent policy position Donald Trump has had through his life in business and into public life as a politician. He believes it's one of the reasons he got elected to the White House.

And he's in a, you know, diametrically opposite place from his new National Economic Adviser.

BLITZER: To hear the president yesterday, basically, told us all Larry Kudlow was his man. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't agree on everything. But, in this case, I think that's good. I want to have a divergent opinion. We agree on most.

He now has come around to believing in tariffs as also a negotiating point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's come around to agree that tariffs could be a negotiating point.

The argument that the president and some of his advisers make is threaten tariffs on Mexico and Canada, as the U.S. renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA. And use that as a pressure point to get a better deal on NAFTA.

And what the president is suggesting, Larry Kudlow agrees. Use the tariffs as a negotiating point.

CHALIAN: Yes. Well, the president, in announcing the tariffs, gave those two countries, Mexico and Canada, waivers as part of waving this thing --

BLITZER: And he's holding over the threat.

CHALIAN: Yes, holds over that threat that this will be coming for you, too, if we don't renegotiate NAFTA onto what Donald Trump deems more favorable terms.

I'm sure as a negotiating tactic, someone might appreciate that. What Larry Kudlow has made clear is, as policy, he's totally opposed to it.

BLITZER: Now, big picture, clearly, the president has known Larry Kudlow for a long time. They have a good relationship. He helped him during the campaign.

But it comes at a time when a bunch of other changes already that have taken place. Gary Cohn, of course, he's gone. I think yesterday Rex Tillerson was informed by Twitter that he will be gone as the secretary of state. And more are on the way.

CHALIAN: All right. So, we look to see who else in the cabinet or among the closest advisers to the president, such as potentially his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster. We know that he's been on thin ice at times, and in different places on major issues with the president.

And we look to see some others, maybe Secretary Shulkin at the V.A. might be in danger. And the president has made clear to folks that he's not all that thrilled with this Obama holdover in the cabinet, David Shulkin.

So, here's the thing, Wolf. Not only is the president completely upending and recrafting his national security and foreign policy team, now with bringing Kudlow in, he is also doing this on the economic front.

[13:05:01] This is a reboot of a presidency to try to bring people around him, sort of Trump two point zero, as he delves into this second year of his administration.

BLITZER: And Jeff Zeleny is with us as well, our Senior White House Correspondent.

I guess we should -- none of us should be completely surprised Larry Kudlow has been tapped to succeed Gary Cohn.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We shouldn't be surprised. Of course, we heard the president talk about this yesterday. But you never know for sure, with this president. He talks to a variety of people.

But we are learning that he has accepted this position now, so that is always our barometer, that he's accepted the position.

Now, all this is happening, of course, as the president is flying from Los Angeles to St. Louis. He'll be doing an economic event there this afternoon. He is trying to shine a brighter light on his economic policy. Of

course, that huge tax cut plan passed last year that isn't necessarily helping him politically, but he believes it will help him long-term here.

But as you've been talking about, this is the continuation of, I would call it, some spring cleaning in the west wing. They're absolutely making a variety of changes. This is not the last.

BLITZER: Now, Larry Kudlow will be the head of the National Economic Council. This is a position that does not require Senate confirmation.

ZELENY: Which is very important. Because some of the positions, like yesterday's changes, do require confirmation hearings.

And I think there is a limit to how many confirmation hearings the White House and west wing can withstand at one moment here.

But I think it's also important, in choosing him, the president is also making the calculation that he's picking someone who doesn't necessarily agree with him on everything, but he's comfortable with him. So, we're seeing a bit of a contradiction here.

In the secretary of state, he's choosing Mike Pompeo, who seems to agree with him on every matter. On the economic front, he's using someone who doesn't necessarily agree with him, who might challenge him. We'll see how that works.

BLITZER: The president said he wants people with diverse opinions to be in that room.

ZELENY: He says that a lot. I'm not sure (INAUDIBLE) believes that.

BLITZER: That's what he said yesterday. But he said that he thinks Larry Kudlow has now come around and agrees with him. Use the tariffs as a threat in negotiating new trade deals, whether NAFTA or other trade deals as well.

Brian Stelter is with us, our Senior Media Correspondent.

Brian, so he's gone to CNBC this time. A long-time friend of the president, Larry Kudlow. A long-time anchor and analyst on CNBC to come in and run economics over at the National Economic Council.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we know that when President Trump wants advice or affirmation, he frequently turns on the T.V.

But this is one of the best examples yet of that Trump T.V. feedback loop. It's not only that the president live tweets cable news shows, gets ideas from cable news hosts and sometimes calls them up after they're on the air.

Now, we actually see him poaching a host from cable television, in this case Larry Kudlow, as you've been talking about. Kudlow has been a host on CNBC for many years. He's one of the best- known faces on CNBC. A conservative commentator. Someone who's been promoting free-market capitalism all of his life and on television for many years.

They're -- you know, he was also an informal adviser to Trump during the campaign. So, they've been in touch. This is nothing new necessarily.

What is new is to see this CNBC host, he's now a contributor to the network, actually making the leap and joining the government. Maybe not the last person we'll see make this move from T.V. to the White House.

BLITZER: Yes, he's brought in some others, from Heather Nauert at the State Department, a spokeswoman who's now going to be a -- I take it, an undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and for public affairs. She also used to work at Fox.

STELTER: Yes, that's right. Heather Nauert was a "Fox and Friends" host. Then, she joined the State Department last year. Sort of the first example of this Trump T.V. feedback loop where he actually hires people away from television jobs.

I think it reminds us, again, that that feedback loop is even stronger than ever. You know, 14 months into Trump's presidency, he's sometimes calling up Fox hosts when he needs advice. He's seeking out the Sean Hannities of the world for guidance.

And bringing Kudlow into the administration is another example. I did have a CNBC executive say to me, we don't want to lose him. We don't want to see Kudlow go. But, certainly, he also -- you know, I guess he can't say no, when the president calls.

BLITZER: Yes, the president called him and Larry Kudlow responded with a yes. He'll be coming to Washington, leaving New York.

All right, Brian, I want you to stand by. I want to bring in Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

Congressman, let me get your reaction. What do you think about this decision to replace Gary Cohn with Larry Kudlow of CNBC?

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, I couldn't be more pleased. I like Gary Cohn a lot. But Larry Kudlow, of course, is a Reagan alumni, if you will. All the way back to his days at the OMB.

And he's a guy that, frankly, is very well known among Republican members of Congress. He comes to our conferences quite a bit. A classic free-market economist and thinker and advocate.

So, he's somebody that House Republicans are extraordinarily comfortable with.

BLITZER: Are you with the president on going ahead with 25 percent steel tariffs, importing steel at 25 percent tariff, aluminum 10 percent? Do you want all these tariffs to go forward?

[13:10:04] COLE: No, I don't, not across the board. I think this is where you target bad actors.

Again, if this is used as a negotiating ploy, because sometimes even our friends are not so friendly when it comes to trade questions, that's fine. But I wouldn't want to slide into an all-out trade war.

And in my home state, frankly, you know, we're a big agricultural producer. That's an easy place to retaliate. We're an exporter. And we also use an awful lot of steel and aluminum in everything from aviation to oil field activity. So, metals are very important to us.

And, obviously, if you make them more expensive, you're going to increase the price of petroleum. You're going to increase the price of airplanes, and we don't like either of those things.

BLITZER: So, is there anything you can do to stop the president from imposing these tariffs?

COLE: Well, there's something. Look, we want to work with the president, not at odds with him. We know we don't agree on everything, but we agree on almost everything.

And I don't have any problem with him getting tough to people that are bad actors. Obviously, the Chinese, in my own district, has a huge tire producer. A number of years ago, we had to put a tire tariff on them, because they were dumping in the American market.

So, I understand the vibe, the use of this as a tool, in selective cases. But I don't think it works very well, if you just do it to friend and foe alike, so to speak.

So, a little more nuanced approach and we'll talk to the president about that. A hundred of us signed a letter to that effect, coordinated by Kevin Brady, the Chairman of Ways and Means and a noted free trader.

I think the speaker's made his views available -- or known on this and available.

So, again, we're in a dialogue with the president, but we see this as a productive partnership, not as something where we're at war or at odds with our own president.

BLITZER: You may have an ally in Larry Kudlow when he goes to the National Economic Council.

COLE: That's a good sign.

BLITZER: Let me put your political hat on, Congressman. A major earthquake out in Pennsylvania. You're a former head of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

What's your reaction to the election results in this 18th Congressional district in Pennsylvania? Conor Lamb slightly ahead by only 627 votes. Looks like he's got a good chance of beating Rick Saccone.

The president was there over the weekend, and he was saying the whole world is watching. It looks like the Democrat's going to win.

COLE: Well, we'll see. It's still contested.

But, frankly, you know, I think it doesn't tell us much new. We knew the midterms were going to be difficult.

I mean, Alabama, New Jersey, and, frankly, Virginia told you that. And while we've won five of these six competitive House races so far, I'd rather be six for six. Our margins haven't been, you know, what they might be.

So, look, Democrats are energized. No question about it. And that's noteworthy to me, in this case.

You got a Democrat running against Speaker Pelosi, running for gun control, running in favor of the president's tariff policies. So, he was a little bit of a stealth candidate but, you know, a gifted candidate.

So, again, I expect a very competitive midterm election. I believe our majority is at stake. That's been true in every midterm since 2002. It's not going to be any different this time.

Republicans need to be ready. I think we will be. I think we have excellent candidates. It's a great campaign committee, and nobody's asleep on our side.

So -- but, you know, --

BLITZER: Well, how worried are you?

COLE: -- I'll tell you, a battle in the fall.

BLITZER: How worried are you, Congressman, that Democrats could do exceptionally well in the midterms and become the majority in the House?

COLE: Oh, I think that -- look, I would consider that a 50-50 possibility. And any Republican that denies that is not doing themselves a favor.

You need to understand when the environment is against you. It is right now. It always is against the party that's in power in a midterm election.

And, fortunately, again, we have a lot of members that have won in districts that Hillary Clinton carried, that have won in districts that Barack Obama carried. I actually think our battle tested incumbents are about as good as you could ask for.

And I think, again, our committee is in good shape, and we're certainly not in a state of denial or complacency on our side. So, got to get ready for a big fight in the fall. BLITZER: Let me shift to one other sensitive issue, while I have you,

Congressman. "The Washington Post" is now reporting the president may be ready for a three-year deal to extend DACA, the Dreamers, here in the United States in exchange for some border wall funding, along the border with Mexico.

Are you with the president in allowing these Dreamers to stay here, have a three-year deal, attach it to the March 23rd spending bill?

COLE: I'd want to see the details, obviously. But, yes, I could be broadly in favor of that.

And, look, I think the president's actually laid out the most reasonable position here. He went a lot further than Democrats thought he would or could when he put out his proposals. That is 1.8 million, which more than doubled the people eligible, path to citizenship.

[13:15:00] But, in return, real -- you know, the border wall and changes in both the chain migration portion of our existing law and the visa lottery. Actually I think that's a very good position.

BLITZER: Well, what if he drops -- what if they drop -- what if they drop the last two ingredients, only have the path to citizenship for 1.8 million dreamers in exchange for border wall funding, but they don't deal with the other issues right now?

COLE: Well, we'll see. Again, I -- I don't know what the specifics are, obviously, and that always makes a difference. But I would be inclined to be supportive.

Look, you know, the president wants to move ahead. I think he's right to move ahead on border security. Look, we -- both parties really agree that the DACA population is full of really good people, that America really is their home. So this is something we just need to work through to a successful conclusion. So I don't find a deal like that a problem certainly for me to support.

BLITZER: All right. Well, clearly, you're in favor of certain -- a certain opportunities for these dreamers for a pathway to citizenship.

COLE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: You don't -- you don't -- you don't say that's simply amnesty as some of your Republican colleagues do?

COLE: No, I don't. Look, there's a big difference between children that were brought into the country as children. This really is their home. Look, they've had to pass really stringent background checks. They have to be at work. A clean record.

I've met with a lot of these folks that are in this category from my own state and my own district. I find them to be very admirable people. So we need to work towards some sort of long-term legal status for them and allow them to do what they're doing now, which is work hard, progress, and contribute to the American economy and to the American culture.

So there's a deal to be had here. I'm pleased that the president's trying to work toward one.

BLITZER: Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, thanks so much for joining us.

COLE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, we have some live pictures. Take a look at this. Students nationwide walking out of their classrooms and into the debate over gun control here in the United States. We're going to go live to the West Coast, where rallies are still underway, in hopes of bringing real change to this country.

We'll be right back.

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[13:21:07] BLITZER: At a time when the country is politically divided, an unprecedented sign of unity by students across the nation. Around 10:00 a.m. local time, students marched out of their classrooms to demand stricter gun laws and to honor the victims who died during the Parkland, Florida, shooting one month ago today.

Here in Washington, thousands of students descended on the White House and up on Capitol Hill, bringing a direct message to lawmakers. They say the NRA must go. They clearly want change in the nation's gun laws.

Out in Chicago, the walkout particularly significant. It's an area where gun violence touches the lives of people almost every day.

For most, the walkouts lasted some 17 minutes in honor of the 17 victims who lost their lives at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Our correspondent Stephanie Elam is joining us now from Los Angeles, where the walkout is getting underway.

Stephanie, what are the students doing there? What are you seeing and hearing?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I want to show you here what's going on because right now we are in the middle of the students who have walked out here at Grenada Hills Charter High School in Los Angeles County. And right now the children are -- the students are out here lying down, spelling out hash tag enough on their John Elway Stadium Field here. And as you can see, they're very silent. They're also hitting the gong every 30 seconds right now to mark those 17 lives that were lost in Parkland.

I want to introduce you quickly here to Lexi Hopp, a junior here.

How did the students come up with this plan? LEXI HOPP, JUNIOR, GRANADA HILLS CHARTER HIGH SCHOOL: We, the

students, wanted to unite as a nation and use our voices to say enough to the gun violence. We ended up working together with a team of five, and that grew to so many other students helping and really organizing this event because we -- we students, we don't want to be scared of gun violence any more in America.

ELAM: You're so far away from Florida, from Parkland. There's been so many other shootings. Why did this one resonate to the point that the students here really wanted to participate?

HOPP: Us students, even though we are far away, we wanted to participate and use our voice because students anywhere shouldn't be scared. And, our school, we have a large student population, and we had the power and our students are willing and have the courage to come out and say enough. We're out here. We're saying enough. We're showing it to our legislators that students should no longer be in fear of going to school.

ELAM: All right, Lexi, thank you.

And as you can see here, the students quiet. They're really participating. They're stretched out, laying out here, spelling hash tag enough, Wolf.

And also worth noting that this was all voluntary of who wanted to participate. But besides the gong that you hear, they also lined up 17 chairs, empty chairs, to mark those 17 lives that were lost in Parkland right here on the field as well, Wolf.

All of this because this student body here in Los Angeles County, at Grenada Hills Charter High School, wanted to participate and wanted their voices heard. And talking to one young man, Ben Vermerez (ph) who just turned 18 yesterday, he said that he wanted to participate and also to vote his conscience now because he cares so much about gun violence and what's happening and that they shouldn't be afraid to go to school.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that high school massacre exactly one month ago today.

Stephanie Elam, thanks very much.

Moments from now, students across the nation, they have -- they've been walking out of their schools. The Parkland killer is getting ready to appear in court after prosecutors call for the death penalty.

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[13:28:40] BLITZER: As thousands of students demonstrated outside Capitol Hill here in Washington for change in gun laws, inside lawmakers demanded answers about why officials failed to act after receiving tips about the Parkland shooter's alarming behavior.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Did the FBI reach out to law enforcement to give them a warning about Cruz? And if not, why not?

DAVID BOWDICH, FBI ACTING DEPUTY DIRECTOR: No, sir, we did not. I do not know why she -- the call taker did not do so. Even though she conferred with her supervisor and she made some sort of a presentation about what was contained in that call and a decision was made -- there was discussion about the fact that the local department had been notified.

You're absolutely correct, senator. The call was very explicit. However, they made a decision to close it, no lead value, and no call was made to the local jurisdiction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Emotional testimony also at the hearing from the father of Alaina Petty, killed in the Parkland shootings.

I want to bring in the superintendent of the Broward County Schools, Robert Runcie.

Superintendent, thanks so much for joining us.

ROBERT RUNCIE, SUPERINTENDENT, BROWARD COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Thank you, Wolf. Good afternoon.

BLITZER: All right, so you just heard the FBI confirming at this hearing up on Capitol Hill that they received explicit, very detailed tips about this shooter and that those tips weren't acted on.

[13:30:03] What's your reaction when you hear that?