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President Trump Nominates Dr. Ronny Jackson to Replace David Shulkin as V.A. Secretary; President Trump Criticizes Amazon; Interview with Republican Congressman Mike Coffman of Colorado. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We hope that those confirmation hearings will start up in the next few weeks. And we're also hoping for a quick process. I don't want to get ahead of the Senate because they have the role of advise and consent. But if he were to become the next secretary of state, one of the areas he will start is listening to folks in the building, having conversations with my colleagues, asking what their priorities are, asking what they need, what kinds of tools that they need to do their job.

So I think we'll try to see him do a lot to recognize the professionalism and the importance of what my colleagues do. Our foreign service officers are terrific civil servants and our contractors as well. I think that you will see him doing a lot to try to boost morale and recognize the importance of what the State Department does.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Acting Undersecretary Heather Nauert, thank you very much.

NAUERT: Great to see you.

CAMEROTA: You too.

We're following a lot of news. Let's get to it.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is maundy Thursday, March 29th, 8:00 in the east.

President Trump firing his embattled V.A. secretary, tapping his White House doctor to replace him. The president insists Dr. Ronny Jackson is highly trained and qualified. But if you look at his resume, he has never managed anything significant let alone of the scale of the federal government's second largest department. So how will he justify picking someone to manage hundreds of thousands of employees, hundreds of billions of dollars?

CAMEROTA: And the "New York times" reports that President Trump's former lawyer John Dowd had floated the idea of pardoning fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as the special counsel was building cases against both men. Was Dowd trying to influence Flynn and Manafort from cooperating with the investigation? Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip. She is live at the White House with our top story. What's the latest, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. Another day, another firing here at this White House. This time it is the only Obama holdover in President Trump's cabinet, V.A. Secretary David Shulkin. The president is replacing him with his personal physician here at the White House. But there are some questions being raised about whether he has the management experience necessary to manage this large and troublesome bureaucracy at the V.A.


PHILLIP: President Trump firing embattled Veterans Affairs secretary David Shulkin, the latest in a series of high profile departures in the last month. Sources tell CNN that chief of staff John Kelly notifying Shulkin of his termination in a phone call before the president made the announcement public on Twitter. His departure was expected after damaging revelations that Shulkin and his wife used taxpayer dollars for a European trip, a trip that at least four administration officials cautioned him not to take.

In a new op-ed Shulkin claiming he was falsely accused and blasting the toxic, chaotic, and disrespectful environment in Washington for preventing him from doing his job. In a surprise move, President Trump tapping his White House physician, Navy Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, as his nominee to head the V.A. White House officials tell CNN it is because the president was pleased with how Jackson handled questions praising his health back in January.

DR. RONNY JACKSON, NOMINATED AS SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: There is no indication whatsoever that he has any cognitive issues. His overall health is excellent. I told the president if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 year he might live to be 200 years old. I don't know. He has incredible genes.

PHILLIP: A source tells CNN that Mr. Trump had been floating Jackson's name during recent conversations with advisers but wasn't taken seriously. This upheaval as the White House faces new questions about whether President Trump offered to pardon two top advisers at the center of the Russia probe in exchange for their silence. The "New York Times" reports that president's former lead lawyer John Dowd discussed the idea of Mr. Trump pardoning fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort with their lawyers last year if they were to be criminally charged in the special counsel's investigation.

The "Washington Post" reports that these conversations took place last summer before Manafort was charged with financial crimes and before Flynn cut a deal with Mueller in exchange for pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. The White House dodging questions about pardons, reading a statement from the White House lawyer Ty Cobb.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No pardons are under discussion or under consideration at the White House.

PHILLIP: Dowd denies having any discussions related to pardons even after reports surfaced back in July that Mr. Trump was considering granting pardons to those under investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The report does say that the president has even inquired about the ability to pardon himself.

PHILLIP: As recently as December, the president leaving open the possibility of pardoning Flynn.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn. We'll see what happens.


PHILLIP: President Trump this morning is actually reviving a dispute that he has had ongoing with Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos.

[08:05:00] This morning he tweeted this, "I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state and local governments, use our postal system as their delivery boy causing tremendous loss to the U.S. and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business." This issue is in the news this week because of reports that president has been talking more and more about this in private. And President Trump has actually been very public about his dispute with Amazon, with Jeff Bezos, who by the way also owns the "Washington Post." The president here leading into this and this reporting on Amazon yesterday had some impact on their stock prices, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: That is interesting. OK, Abby, thank you very much. We'll get to Amazon in a moment, but let's bring in CNN political analyst Alex Burns and Brian Karem. Great to see you guys. So Alex, Dr. Ronny Johnson has great medical credentials, not managerial credentials, and he will be running the second largest agency in the government. So how do you think this confirmation hearing will go?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We just don't know a whole lot about how he is prepared to answer questions about that experience. The White House and their allies have not been giving a particularly deep rationale for this choice. The president obviously gets along with him and thought he did a great job describing the president's health over the summer. But you have not had this extensive defense of his credentials and preparedness that you would expect for a nominee for a job like this at a moment like this.

So I think he has a tough confirmation hearing ahead of him and I think veterans issues are particularly charged at this moment, and it is sort of an issue where concern crosses partisan and demographic lines in a way that not a lot of issues do.

CUOMO: Look, the perversity that has preceded him is going to give him a little bit of a break. You have people running organizations now where they don't know what the hell the organization did before they got into it, so he has help there, whether it is the secretary who is leading the education or leading the housing. So you have the boss. So you have some precedent there. And we know that the GOP is going to swallow pretty much whoever Trump puts up there.

But you should have to make a case for yourself that you can do this. Shulkin had his personal problems.

BRIAN KAREM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He made it for himself, Chris.

CUOMO: I know, but you're talking about TV saying that Trump weighs only 14 pounds more than I do.

KAREM: And he's going to live to be 200 years old.

CUOMO: But Shulkin is a doctor, too. I actually earlier misstated that. I said he ran hospitals because I was focusing on the management experience. Shulkin is a doctor, but he ran hospitals. Shinseki was a four star general who had multiple commands. So Corey Lewandowski says, one, Ronny Jackson has a ton of experience with the V.A. Obviously he must mean as a clinician because you don't get to use the V.A. when you're active service. So let's say he means as a clinician. That is not the same as knowing how to manage it. And the idea -- if their argument is the one that Corey is putting out which management experience has gotten us in trouble, Brian, look how the place has failed. You're better without it.

KAREM: That's logically, Chris.

CUOMO: That's all I got. All I have is logic.

KAREM: There's logic involved in this. Look, the day -- I remember the day he came out and said that the president is going to live to be 200.

CAMEROTA: Could live.

KAREM: Could live if he had the right diet. And we're talking about a 71-year-old guy with heart disease who likes to eat cheeseburgers, and the rest of us are going he weighs 14 pounds more than I do, I don't think so.

CUOMO: He'd have to be drinking that stuff they give the guy in the "Black Panther" that comes out of the special flower. Did you see the movie?

KAREM: Yes. Very funny. So you're watching this, and I remember at the time turning and looking at Sanjay who was next to me, and I go what is he angling for? And then yesterday when the announcement was made, it took me a minute to go, oh, it all makes sense now. If you think about it, this may be the most brilliant guy to go to the administration. He played his cards wonderfully.

CAMEROTA: Alex, what point were you going to make?

BURNS: I think it is absolutely true that there is a track record of appointing people to positions that they don't seem to be trained for, prepared for. I'm not sure that the Ben Carson confirmation hearing would go the same way today if he were nominated as it did 14 months ago.

CUOMO: Why? CAMEROTA: There is a different relationship between Congress and the

White House now. The precedent may hurt him. And new president, there is a traditionally a cultural of deference, the man should have the team that he wants. I may not love Ben Carson for HUD or love Betsy DeVos for education secretary, but he won the election, he gets his picks.

KAREM: But we are --

BURNS: I'm actually not done talking right now. But to my point, I will finish my point --

CUOMO: Go ahead.

BURNS: We're 14 months into the administration. The culture of deference has worn out to a degree, and there are folks in the Republican Party and certainly on the Dem on the Hill who are very concerned about this cabinet department. So I'm not predicting that he is going to be rejected or that he won't do a good job in the confirmation hearing, but he is going to have to make his case.

[08:10:00] CUOMO: It would be a big deal for them to bump a cabinet secretary. They did it with a judge. We had Senator Kennedy from Louisiana go after that judge who was woefully unqualified for what was going on, but this would be a big deal. Go ahead, Brian.

KAREM: The point being to what you were saying earlier, why now is there is a change? Is it because of just the accumulation of garbage that we've seen over the last 15 months? Because I got to tell you, from the people I talk to on the hill, I don't see that there is much change in the Republican side as far as deference to the president. They are more than willing still to go along with what he proposes. I don't think that has chained much. I don't think there is anything that will make it change that much.

Unless there is somewhere down there is an indictment or somewhere down the line there is a link to the Russian hacking, I think that the Republicans still love this president. And by and large if you take a look at Mitch McConnell, you take a look at Ryan, I don't think that -- I'd be surprised if there would be a huge -- you're right, he has to make his case.

CAMEROTA: You have an answer to that?

BURNS: I think if Jackson does a tremendous job at his confirmation hearings, he will get Republican support.

CUOMO: But he can't say he's ever running anything like this before.

BURNS: He can't say he's ever running anything like this before. And when you look at the agenda the president has tried to set on infrastructure, on guns, on a couple other issues, Congress has just ignored him in the last couple months which they were not doing in the first year of his presidency. You are not seeing enormous confrontation between Senate Republicans and the president, but you are seeing them largely ignore him on a lot of stuff that he is trying to push.

KAREM: On stuff that would be unpopular for them. I think there is a give and take there. I think if it is going to be unpopular in their district or cause them problems they are going to push where they can. But the point you made earlier about them wanting to allow him to have the group that he wants working with him, there was still that overwhelming desire to make sure that -- and the president has made that point through Sarah Huckabee Sanders in that press briefing room on more one occasion in just the last two weeks about Democrats being the stumbling block. And the reason why they can't fill all their positions and the reason why they are not effective isn't because of the Republicans. It is because Democrats won't give them the people that they want. So I don't think unless he comes out and drools and passes out and makes a complete fool of himself, I don't think there will be any problem in getting this guy in.

CUOMO: Here's the good news -- we'll see.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about Amazon. So the president is going after Amazon. In fact yesterday Amazon's stock fell by four percent, a $31 billion loss. So obviously Jeff Bezos is at the top of Amazon. Can you catch us up here? Why is the president going after Amazon, and do they really not pay any taxes?

BURNS: I think it is important to put this on two tracks. There is the personal track. The president has expressed personal antipathy for Jeff Bezos and by extension the "Washington Post" for a really long time. And a lot of that is political coverage and his fixation with the way he is covered in the media.

His criticism of Amazon, that it pays taxes differently than other kinds of retailers, brick and mortar retailers, that fits in a line of criticism that Amazon has taken for years. Under the Obama administration, there was a bipartisan push to change the way Internet retailers, not just Amazon, pay taxes on sales sort of across the country. So it is not as though the president is coming from some wildly outside the mainstream position here. But it is intensely personally charged.

KAREM: Yes, let's not pretend that this is anything more than the president being upset with the "Washington Post," please. This is blue smoke and mirrors.

CUOMO: He says he said it before the election.

KAREM: Doesn't matter. It's still an impetus that he doesn't like them. Why is he going after Facebook? Why isn't he going after, I don't know, Sinclair Broadcasting. He doesn't like the mergers of Time Warner. He will fight that. But where is he fighting Sinclair? They have broadcasting in 75 percent of the markets now and they are shoveling out their propaganda at will. Please. This is the president once again pushing his agenda and pretending it is something that it is not.

CAMEROTA: Brian Karem, Alex Burns, thank you both very much. White House physician Ronny Jackson nominated to take over for David

Shulkin as V.A. secretary. Did President Trump make the right call here? What are the issues with it? We speak with the first congressman to call for Shulkin's firing next.


[08:17:56] CAMEROTA: President Trump firing Veterans Affairs secretary, Dr. David Shulkin, tapping physician Dr. Ronny Jackson to replace him.

The first congressman to call for Shulkin's ouster was Republican Congressman Mike Coffman of Colorado. He's a Marine Corps veteran who served in both the Gulf War and Iraq War.

Good morning, congressman.

REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you.

Why did you think that Dr. Shulkin was not fit for the job?

COFFMAN: Well, Dr. Shulkin did nothing to change the culture within the Department of Veterans Affairs. And there is a calcified layer at the top at the most senior executive service levels that have failed our veterans year after year after year, and have not been removed. And we gave the administration -- the Congress of the United States gave the administration, the prior administration, the authority to expeditiously remove these people without the same protections as the rank and file.

And the prior administration didn't do so. Dr. Shulkin didn't do so. And so nothing changed at the V.A. and he really needed to go.

CAMEROTA: And how about Dr. Ronny Jackson? Do you think that he is qualified to change the calcified culture as you call it?

COFFMAN: Well, unless he -- unless he removes a good number of those people, unless he cleans house. Certainly, it is my position only the V.A. can be cleaned up by somebody outside the V.A.

But unless he does that, if he thinks that he can just -- given his personality, he can weigh in, he's going to change things, that's just not going to happen. And the V.A. will continue to fail our veterans. And --

CAMEROTA: So, you're concerned?


COFFMAN: In terms of meeting on the nation's (ph) obligations, yes.

CAMEROTA: I mean, am I hearing you right? You're concerned about this appointment from the president, this pick? COFFMAN: I would be concerned about any appointment. I think -- I

just think that unless this navy officer is going to be Marine Corps tough and, you know, go in there and clean house and say, you know, you really don't belong here, you've not served our nation's veterans, you've not served the taxpayers of this country in terms of this bloated bureaucracy, unless, he's going to really get in there and clean house.

[08:20:04] This is an organization that is over half the size of the United States Army. And unless he's going to be tough, nothing is going to change.

CAMEROTA: So how do you think his confirmation hearing is going to go?

COFFMAN: Well, I think it will probably go well. My guess is it won't be about the privatization of the V.A. It's going to be about having a V.A., but having a collateral or parallel relationship with community providers under the Choice Program and getting that to work. I think that's going to be the focus. I don't think that he will have a hard confirmation process.

CAMEROTA: Do you think you need managerial experience to run an agency with more than 360,000 people?

COFFMAN: Well, it certainly helps, but I think that Dr. Shulkin had managerial experience and he failed. And the predecessors before him, McDonald and Shinseki, I think, in my view they failed too.

CAMEROTA: So doesn't that bode badly for what is about to happen?

COFFMAN: You know, it's going to be tough. I mean, the -- I'll be frank with you, the odds are not with him. And so, unless -- I hope to meet with him soon and sit down and talk with him and spell things out, because I'm not -- I'm here to represent the veterans of the United States as a member of congress, as a Marine Corp combat veteran.

I'm not here to be a booster for a particular president or particular party. I'm certainly a Republican. But so, I'm going to lay it out to him what he needs to do. And I think if he fails to clean house, he will fail.

CAMEROTA: Why do you think the president picked him?

COFFMAN: I think the president doesn't have a positive chemistry I think with a lot of people. And I think that he is finally settling down on the team, on a set of personalities that he believes have the skill sets to do the job that he has a good rapport with. I think he has good rapport with this navy doctor who has had a stellar career, been quite frankly more hands on than bind a desk. But has had a stellar military career who he has a good rapport with, that he communicates well with, that he thinks can do the job.

CAMEROTA: Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that Dr. Jackson gave the president a glowing health report? (LAUGHTER)

COFFMAN: Probably didn't hurt. But I think if you look at the kind of people that the president has gone with in, you know, whether it's Mike Pompeo as secretary of state or whether it is John Bolton as his new national security adviser, and you look at these sort of changes, and General Mattis who has been there from the beginning, it is people that he respects, it's people that he communicates well with and he has a good rapport with. And so, that's what we're moving forward with and Admiral Jackson certainly fits that description.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Mike Coffman, we appreciate your perspective. Thanks for being here.

COFFMAN: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it, Alisyn.


CUOMO: All right. President Trump defending the Second Amendment after a former Supreme Court justice calls for its repeal. Some conservatives say that's what the gun control movement is about. Really?

We have the president of the U.S. Concealed Carry Association. They've got a reach that goes beyond a million people. Let's have a conversation about what we can get done to stop the shootings -- next.


[08:27:42] CUOMO: So, is what is really going on that gun control really isn't about better rules, it is about getting rid of the Second Amendment all-together? Do you believe that?

Well, a lot of people do. President Trump declared in a tweet that the Second Amendment will never be repealed as much as Democrats would like to see this happen.

The president is responding to someone who isn't a Democrat, a former Supreme Court justice, John Paul Stevens, who was actually appointed by a Republican, President Reagan, but he did put out an op-ed saying that he thinks that repealing the Second Amendment would be the fastest way to legal change. And other people have echoed this sentiment as well.

But is it real or is it a distraction from bringing people together to answer the fundamental question of how do we stop these shootings?

Joining us now is founder and president of the United States Concealed Carry Association, Tim Schmidt.

Tim, welcome to the show. Thank you for being part of this conversation.

And I hope we can keep having you on because we need to have all sides represented to keep pushing for changes that will keep people more safe. So thank you. TIM SCHMIDT, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT FO THE U.S. CONCEALED CARRY

ASSOCIATION: Hey. Well, thank you for the warm welcome. And I look forward to being a part of the conversation because you're right, we do need to continue to talk and figure this out.

CUOMO: So I wanted to start with this idea of what we don't believe, OK? Everybody wants there to be less violence, less gun violence, less shootings. I'm right about that, right?

SCHMIDT: Of course, of course. Yes, we all want that. We all want safety and security for our families. And this isn't a Republican and Democrat issue. We all want that.

CUOMO: You know, and in fair when I was vetting your organization, you know, just to make sure what we were getting, but you get blown away by your membership, you got a huge membership, but you have people from both parties and all different kinds of stripes in there. So, the idea of it is just one way or on the other, you don't represent that so I wanted you here.

The reason I'm seizing on this Second Amendment thing, have there been op-eds about it? Yes. Are there people who want to repeal the Second Amendment? Yes.

But is that a main thrust of what is being proposed anywhere in Congress? I don't see it. And I feel that it is being used as a device to keep people apart and if you do that, we'll never get any better solutions.

SCHMIDT: Yes, that is a great point. And certainly you don't hear a lot about that.

But I got to be honest, when a former Supreme Court justice --

CUOMO: Sure.

SCHMIDT: -- writes an op-ed that actually talks about that very thing, that's pretty scary, because if you look back at history, world history, I mean, gun control starts and eventually, it turns into gun confiscation. I'm not saying that that's going to happen in the United States.