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President Trump Announces Possible Further Tariffs on Chinese Imports; White House Sending Mixed Messages on Future of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 6, 2018 - 8:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has learned that President Trump floated the idea of having Pruitt replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: New this morning, the president just gave him a radio interview, and he is making news. It comes after the president literally tossed out the script yesterday at a speech, finding his base plenty of red meat, offering it to them, resurrecting some of his greatest fact-free hits and debunked claims. We want to begin with CNN's Ivan Watson live in Beijing with our top story involving more tariffs from this administration potentially. Ivan, good morning.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, David. The Chinese government today said we don't want to fight a trade war, but we're not afraid of it. Take a look at how quickly this trade dispute has escalated. On Monday China imposed tariffs on $3 billion worth of U.S. goods in retaliation for tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. On Tuesday the White House fired back, threatening to impose tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods because of allegations of intellectual property theft. On Wednesday China retaliated, threatening to impose tariffs on $50 billion of U.S. goods. And then on Thursday, the White House announced, President Trump announced threats of tariffs on another $100 billion worth of Chinese goods.

China is running out of U.S. exports to slap tariffs on because of the trade imbalance here, but a lot of experts say there are other levers that China could use to try to put pressure on the U.S. President Trump for this latest threat, he accused China of trying to hurt U.S. farmers and promised he would try to protect them. Some of the threatened tariffs target soy bean production, which is a big export business for the U.S. And there are signs that some of the president's allies are getting worried.

Republican Senator Ben Sasse, he said that the president's measures threaten to light U.S. agriculture on fire, going on in a statement to say, hopefully the president is just blowing off steam, but even if he's half serious, this is nuts. Let's absolutely take on Chinese bad behavior but with a plan that punishes them instead of us. This is the dumbest possible way to do this.

The White House has said it still could be months before some of these threatened tariffs go into effect, but the more the rhetoric heats up, the harder it will be for the leaders of the two world's largest economies to negotiate a way out of this looming trade war. David?

GREGORY: Ivan, thank you very much.

President Trump speaking out about those tariffs this morning as the White House faces a series of controversies now. CNN's Abby Phillips is live at the White House with the very latest. Good morning, again, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, David. The president is doubling down on these controversial tariffs even in spite of the concerns raised by Republicans, by the industries that stand to be hurt and also by the markets. This morning in an interview with WABC the president talked about the short-term pain that the U.S. might sustain and said he had no choice but to do it. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've already lost the trade war. We don't have a trade war. We've lost the trade war. The easiest thing for me to do would be just to close my eyes and forget it. If I did that, I'm not doing my job. So I'm not saying there won't be a little pain, but the market has gone up 40 percent, 42 percent, so we might lose a little bit of it. But we're going to have a much stronger country when we're finished.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: So the president reiterated that message on Twitter this morning, talking about the fact that a trade war with China isn't really a trade war because the United States, according to him, has already been losing with billions in a trade deficit with China. But this issue is not going away for the president. As markets open this morning, we'll see how they respond to him, indicating he's willing to double the amount in Chinese goods he's willing to put a tariff on.

Meanwhile, the White House is also still dealing with the fallout over the Environmental Protection Agency at straighter Scott Pruitt and some of the scandals unfolding around him. But sources tell CNN that President Trump is still standing by Pruitt. He has even been naming Pruitt as a potential attorney general replacement for Jeff Sessions as recently as this week. And listen to what he told reporters yesterday about what he thought of this controversy surrounding Pruitt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that Scott has done a fantastic job. I think he's a fantastic person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: It seems very much that as the days go on there is scandal after scandal involving Pruitt. The president is standing by him for now in part because he likes what Pruitt is doing at the EPA. And of course he thinks of Pruitt as someone he can slot into another slot if he decides to get rid of a different cabinet secretary. But these conversations are annoying folks within the White House. His staff believes these headlines are untenable. We will see how long Pruitt is able to hang on, Alisyn and David.

[08:05:06] GREGORY: Abby, thanks. Abby Phillip. Sorry, I was getting confused with Wilson Phillips.

CAMEROTA: His favorite band.

GREGORY: Before your time. Anyway, Abby, thank you.

Let's bring our CNN politics reporter, editor at large Chris Cillizza, and CNN political analyst Julie Pace. Chris, you remember Wilson Phillips, right?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Very well, absolutely.

GREGORY: I went to high school with Wendy Wilson, she was in my home room class in 10th grade.

CILLIZZA: We've got to hold on for one more day, David.

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: Wow.

GREGORY: He's so good.

Chris, I want to start on this tariffs issue, because what I heard the president say that I think is significant for the first time is saying, look, there is going to be pain with this. You might be part of my political base, but we're going to feel some pain in the United States, in the marketplace, the rattled financial markets. We may lose some of the gains but it's worth it to really take on China. It's the first time I really heard him in more detail say we're going to do this.

CILLIZZA: Yes, and it's also one of the first times you've heard him actually acknowledge that not every solution comes with no consequence, right, that if you were going to make some of these hard choices, and he ran on the idea that politicians prior to him, Democrats and Republicans, had simply either not negotiated well, not been willing to do the hard thing and that he would be willing to do so.

Now, he also campaigned on the idea he would do these things and they would all be simple. Let's see if he carries through on it. What's difficult for me is the president keeps saying there's no trade war, but we impose sanctions. China imposes sanctions. We say, oh, yes, we're going to impose more sanctions. It starts to look like a trade war.

GREGORY: But Julie, that is the question, right, which is this still a big setup as Larry Kudlow suggested, to a big bargain here? Because we remember that the president started off currying favor with China to try to get leverage on North Korea, and then decided, oh, yes, we're going to ramp up our trade discussions with them.

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. At this point we're just talking about rhetoric, pretty heated rhetoric, and rhetoric that, if there's follow through on both sides, would have enormous economic consequences. We are in this space right now where there is still time and both sides privately behind the scenes say that there is still time to dial this back.

Every day it seems like it's a question of who is going to blink first, who is going to come to the negotiating table first. It will be fascinating to see what the markets do today. A few days ago when Trump announced what he wanted the U.S. to do and Larry Kudlow, his new economic adviser, came out and said, hold on, we still have time to walk this back, the markets responded positively. But the markets may not have patience forever with this type of back and forth.

CAMEROTA: It's very interesting, you're right, to watch the president gin it up, his advisers tamp it down. But Chris, it's also interesting to hear some of the president's supporters, conservative Republicans in the Midwest, lawmakers, talk about publicly how they don't like that. We have some examples. Congressman Steve King of Iowa says they are not as concerned about trade deficits as they are about this emerging trade war, talking about his own constituents and voters. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, I just think it's a very unfortunate outlook that we have protectionists advising the president and that it seems he has an intrinsic believe in protectionism. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, I need for him, the president, to understand that we're hurting in the Midwest and this is not helping. Senator Roy Blunt in Kansas, I don't think we're headed to the right place on trade policy. So what does the president do about that dissension?

CILLIZZA: I don't know that he knows. Normally he's relatively reactive. I think Julie makes the right point which is that this is rhetoric. It's pretty strong, candidly, but it's rhetoric. We're going to do this. Well, we're going to do that. I'm going to take my ball and go home. Is he influenced by some of these people? Joni Ernst, Roy Blunt, these are not the John McCain, Ben Sasses, and Jeff Flakes of the world. These are not people who have been outwardly critical of the president. They've been broadly supportive.

But things like this reaffirm that all politics is in some way local and that these tariffs are going to make it more difficult they believe for their constituents to prosper. Does he listen to that? There's a lot of -- politically speaking, there's a lot at stake in that sort of middle of the country in November. Does that impact how Donald Trump makes a decision on this? I honestly -- I wish I could tell you, but no one really knows how he goes about making decisions because it's very much all a negotiation, and it feels very zigzaggy. He's all for one thing and then he's all against it. Go back to immigration. I feel like the path toward where we are now on that is incredibly sort of chaotic, up and down.

[08:10:04] GREGORY: So Julie, switch gears and talk about Scott Pruitt. We were talking about holding on for one more day, but also because with each day there are revelations about these ethical lapses. But this is also the tension in Donald Trump's mind. You have a guy who is a hero for conservatives because of how he's rolling back environmental regulations that came from the Obama administration, but he's getting awfully shiny. He's getting a lot of negative attention, and we know the president doesn't like that. What happens?

PACE: Exactly. You see a split actually in the public rhetoric that we're hearing from the president who says that he has confidence in Pruitt, that he thinks he's doing a great job, and what we're hearing privately from administration officials where there is enormous frustration over the fact that day after day there's another controversy involving Scott Pruitt. And you feel like it could reach a point where the good of Scott Pruitt in the president's eyes, which is on the policy front and the implementation of his environmental agenda no longer outweighs the bad, which is the constant drumbeat of controversies.

And in terms of Pruitt's own standing, I don't think that public assurance from this president carry as much weight as they might with a previous commander-in-chief because he's willing to change his mind so freely, so quickly.

CILLIZZA: There's nothing worse, by the way, to Julie's point, there's nothing worse than being called a good man by Donald Trump. That's what you do right before the sword falls.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. That's like don't let the door hit you on the way out. But what about this "New York Times" reporting, Chris, that five of his staffers who tried to sound the alarm or tried to talk to him about his spending and that it was running afoul perhaps of ethics concerns, that they were reassigned. He had them shunted aside. How do you get past that one?

CILLIZZA: On top of two staffers allegedly, apparently went around Scott Pruitt to try ask for trying to secure $80,000 in raises on top of the $50 a night room that he rented from an energy lobbyist on top of the first class and military flights he took because he couldn't fly in coach because he felt threatened by people who weren't happy with his policies. I mean, it's a run of negative news we haven't seen since Tom Price, the HHS secretary.

I don't know how he survives, candidly. In any sort of basic political analysis, it feels as though the bleeding has not been able to be stopped by Scott Pruitt. We know that Donald Trump hates nothing more, nothing more than negative headlines he himself does not cause. I don't know how he makes it. The only thing I can think of is we're all saying he's not going to make it which will make Donald Trump keep him for a bit little longer.

GREGORY: So I want to ask Julie about Stormy Daniels, which the president is talking. But Chris, will you think about one thing. "A Good Man," was a Clint Black song or Brooks and Dunn?

CAMEROTA: I think Pearl Jam, "A Better Man."

CILLIZZA: That's "Better Man," yes. GREGORY: "A Better Man," right. Thank you. Anyway, Julie, why do

you think the president was coming out talking about Stormy Daniels and answering the question for the first time yesterday?

PACE: We were quite please as a press corps that he was answering that question because we've been trying to get it in for several weeks. But the president is in this mode right now where he is not taking his advisers' advice very seriously. I'm sure that there are very few people in the White House who wanted him to stroll back into the press cabin on Air Force One for exactly this reason. You don't know what the press is going to answer. You're in this confined space. It's a lot harder to pretend you didn't hear the question, a lot harder to dodge when you're there than if you're on the White House lawn for example or even the Oval Office.

So he came back. It was a brief exchange with reporters. But for the first time we got him on the record denying he knew anything about this payment. That's really important. That's been a fundamental question that has gone unanswered by this president.

CILLIZZA: By the way, I think very quickly, I think he did it because he was feeling good. I watched the whole tax event in West Virginia which happened right before this. Ten, 11 people on the dais all praising him. He's laughing. He's joking, everyone telling him how great he is. I think he feels empowered. We've seen all the reporting that suggests he feels unencumbered, he now feels he can do what he wants and I think he had a great even and was feeling his oats.

GREGORY: Chris and Julie, thank you. I'm feeling good about Chris' range musically, on demand.

CAMEROTA: Impromptu. I love it.

GREGORY: President Trump putting some numbers behind his plan to put more boots on the ground at the U.S.-Mexico border as that caravan of migrants continues to move through Mexico. A live report and reaction from a Republican congressman next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:18:21] DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump is conjuring up a new immigrant rape crisis with a big claim without providing evidence about women coming to the U.S. from Central America. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower, I used the word rape. And yesterday, it came out where this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY: The president's comments come as organizers say hundreds of Central American migrants are making their way through Mexico to the United States border.

CNN's Leyla Santiago is live in Puebla, Mexico, and has been speaking with the migrants.

What do you have this morning, Leyla?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's address that exact comment from President Trump, actually after he made that comment, I spoke to two women from this caravan and asked them that very question, have you been assaulted, has this been an issue? They both said, no, that's not the case at all. President Trump is saying that to give this caravan a bad reputation, to make it look bad. That's not the case at all.

Now, as someone who has covered that journey from Central America to the U.S. on occasion or in the past rather, you do hear of immigrants who do have that fear, who are concerned about assaults, be it physical or sexual, along the way. That is why this caravan is so important to so many women and families and children who are trying to make their way north, because they believe, if they are in this caravan, there's strength in numbers.

So, where does the caravan stand right now? Well, yes, President Trump is correct. It is breaking down. They are going into smaller groups.

[08:20:00] But that, David and Alisyn, is actually something that's pretty normal during these via cruces, which are annual events that actually started as sort of a religious pilgrimage that many use to make statements. And this group obviously making statements about conditions in Central America and they're making their way north. Now, organizers are still saying they believe at the end of this, about 200 people will make it to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek as asylum.

But there's also quite a bit of confusion among organizers. I mean, since President Trump sent out just one tweet, they have become so incredibly overwhelmed. And so, they admit that they are sort of in some cases putting things on hold or delaying things a bit, but they are still very much in groups. And you know this because they all have this little I.D, the organization in charge of this, Pueblo Sin Fronteras, gave all of them.

So, you know that they're still together in groups and they're still making their way up north even if it is a little bit of a broken-up group -- Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Leyla, it is so helpful to have you on the ground there telling us exactly what's happening. Thank you for all of your reporting.

Let's bring in now, Republican Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama. He's a member of the House Freedom Caucus and he serves on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee.

Good morning, Congressman. REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: Good morning.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you here. I want to read the statement you put out about this caravan and about the president's idea to send National Guard troops to the border.

Here is your statement: I fully support President Trump's use of our military to secure the border against invasion by foreign nationals. Recent highly publicized caravans of thousands heading to our borders. It's past time for Congress to reform laws that entice and reward foreign nationals to illegally invade America.

Congressman, why are you using the word invasion and illegal invasion there?

BROOKS: Because that's the word that applies. If you go to Webster's Dictionary, it absolutely fits that definition.

CAMEROTA: But isn't this the process for seeking asylum? Don't people show up on our shores and are at borders seeking political asylum?

BROOKS: Well, if you want to get into the legalistics of what is asylum and what is not, that's one thing. But as often happens, these folks come into the United States of America illegally when they cross our borders. They don't do some kind of legal formal application process from another country to assert asylum to come into America. Often what you see is they cross our borders illegally, then they're advised by lawyers to say the right things that need to be said in order to be able to stay in the United States of America.

And the net effect is it's costing us $116 billion a year in net tax losses at the city, county, state level, and federal level. And we don't have that kind of money.

It's also costing our American and lawful immigrants jobs and they're suffering from wage suppression because of the huge surge in the labor supply.

CAMEROTA: Look, I mean, obviously, look, just to stop --

(CROSSTALK)

BROOKS: Whatever name you want to call it, whether refugees, immigrants, go ahead.

CAMEROTA: Well, that's debatable, right? I mean, you know there are all sorts of numbers on the other side that show that immigration has helped this country and that they're the backbone of our economy. But that's neither here nor there. I don't want to get to the overarching issue --

BROOKS: Well, no, you're talking about immigration which is different from illegal aliens.

CAMEROTA: I understand, but I think -- BROOKS: OK. Let's make sure -- if you're talking about lawful

immigration, we have the most generous lawful immigration policy on the planet. Nobody is as generous as the United States of America.

CAMEROTA: I get it, but I wanted to stay focused right now --

BROOKS: What we're talking about right now is illegal aliens over and above lawful immigration.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but we're also talking about this caravan. This is what has prompted the act from the president. This got the president's attention, and as you just heard from our reporter, there's something like 1,000 people from Central America, and they say they're fleeing persecution, they're fleeing violence in their home countries and trying to make it here for asylum. This is the process. This is the legal process.

BROOKS: There are literally billions, billions of people -- there are literally billions of people who could make that same kind of argument. But the bottom line is, as much as we might want to have compassion for people around the planet that under these circumstances, America cannot afford it. The Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office, the comptroller general of the United States of America, they've all warned us that the current financial path is unsustainable.

Translate that into the United States government is going to go insolvent and bankrupt unless we change our ways, and this is one of the ways in which we can change our ways. We cannot afford to be the planet's orphanage, the place where everybody comes and lives off the hard work of Americans and lawful immigrants who are already here.

CAMEROTA: So, are you saying our doors are now closed to people who are fleeing persecution?

BROOKS: No. Well, OK, when you say they're fleeing persecution that is, of course, a judgment call and something that has to be decided in a legal format.

[08:25:04] CAMEROTA: There's a process for that.

BROOKS: We don't have the physical ability to harbor and house all those people. I wish we did. Compassionately, we want to help people but you have to recognize, Alisyn, our limitations.

CAMEROTA: Of course, Congressmen. We're not talking a billion. We're talking a thousand.

BROOKS: Where is the rest of the world --

CAMEROTA: Congressman, hold on one second.

BROOKS: No, it's hundreds of thousands that are coming over. The caravan is just symbolic of the problem.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but the caravan is what got the president's attention and why he's sending all of the -- the impetus was for him to send the 2,000 to 4,000 National Guardsmen. So, I just want to stay focused on the caravan. We do have enough room for that thousand.

But the last time they did this, we took three, OK? So, when they went through the process of asylum, filling out the paperwork, being investigated, that months' long process, the U.S. took three, OK? That was from 2016 or 2017.

So, we wouldn't make room for the thousand. But, I mean, it sounds like you're saying we don't have room for any. People should no longer come here to our shores if they are fleeing violence and persecution in their home country.

BROOKS: We have limitations on how many people we can absorb at any one point in time. If you look at the wages of people in America, lawful immigrants and American citizens, they have been relatively stagnant for decades now after you adjust for inflation and the biggest part of that problem is the huge surge in the labor supply we have caused by illegal aliens coming into the United States of America.

You can also add to it in an argumentative way -- there are pros and cons on this, the huge numbers of lawful immigrants we allow into the United States of America. So, if you want to suppress the wages of Americans and lawful immigrants who are already here, if you want to deny job opportunities to Americans and lawful immigrants who are already here -- then fine, be an open border society, because that seems to be what you're arguing for.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, there is a law. Congress passed a law I think it's in 1967 saying there is this protocol through the U.S. immigration law, the United States has legal obligations to provide protection and certain rights to those who qualify as refugees. I'm not making this up. This is the law, the 1967 protocol.

BROOKS: Well, in my opinion, in my opinion none of those people from Central America are legitimate asylum seekers.

CAMEROTA: How do you know that?

BROOKS: In my opinion, this is not a war zone.

CAMEROTA: How do you know that?

BROOKS: Because I read, and there is nothing in Central America that suggests to me that there is an armed conflict going on between rebels and government forces or that there are invasions, the kinds of things that happen in an area that needs asylum.

CAMEROTA: So just fleeing violence in their home country -- it has to be a war zone?

(CROSSTALK)

BROOKS: These are people -- no. But these are people who are deciding that for economic reasons, they want to leave the countries where they are, because the United States --

CAMEROTA: And violence reasons.

BROOKS: -- government in a foolhardy will pay them, will actually pay them money once they get here, will pay them money in the form of health care, in the form of services, in form of transportation, in form of education. And we don't have the money to do that, Alisyn. I wish we did.

CAMEROTA: I understand.

BROOKS: But we're running out. We need to pay attention to the people who are telling us we're headed for insolvency and bankruptcy. That will kill the goose that lays the golden egg and will cause tremendous damage to America and the centuries of sacrificed of those before us who have made us who we are.

CAMEROTA: I have 10 seconds left. A one-word answer. Should the president get rid of Scott Pruitt?

BROOKS: I have no judgment on that one. I'm sorry.

CAMEROTA: Are you comfortable with how Scott Pruitt has conducted himself and his spending?

BROOKS: There are so many personnel matters involved with the executive branch, I can't possibly keep track of them all. I'm doing my best to make sure I understand public policy well enough to be able to cast good votes for our country. And that's where my focus in. These personnel matters, I pay very, very little attention to them.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Mo Brooks, thank you very much for being on with your perspective.

BROOKS: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: David?

GREGORY: You just heard from a Republican lawmaker on the president's border plan. Let's get the take from a Democrat representing a red border state. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)