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American ISIS Widow and Children Look for a Way Home; CNN: Republicans Aren't Ready to Back Trump's 2020 Bid; Trump Again Claims 'No Collusion' with Russians. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 19, 2018 - 07:00   ET


SAM SALLY, WIFE OF ISIS FIGHTER: I ended up with two broken ribs over that video. I fought. I fought. I fought.

[07:00:06] NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What do you remember of that day?

MATTHEW (ph): It was hard. I didn't want to do it.

WALSH (voice-over): Moussa died in a drone strike late last year.

SALLY: And then I was able to breathe. It was like, "OK, we can start phase two."

WALSH: Tens of thousands fled the Raqqah siege. But Sam said she only felt safe at the very end leaving with these last hundreds of ISIS given passage out in a deal.

The FBI has interviewed them. There were no charges yet or tickets back home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to eat McDonald's. You know, we want to live a normal life for us again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Instead now she is surely reliving her decisions over and over again.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, northern Syria.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, my gosh. What inconceivable scenarios to imagine living through. We want to thank our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.

And good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. President Trump says that he expects the upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un to be historic. But he says he is willing to walk away from the talks, if necessary. And the president again says there was no collusion with Russia and again insists that the Russia probe is a hoax.

CUOMO: President Trump is also trying to convince the world that no one is tougher on Russia than he is, even though he changed his mind on new sanctions and put Nikki Haley in a tough spot. This comes as CNN learns that the president is not getting the full

support from members of his own party. Listen to this.

There is supposedly a growing number of Republicans who say they aren't ready to back their party's standard bearer and the president of the United States in a 2020 reelection bid.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Manu Raju. He's live in Washington. He has this reporting. Look, I know it's early, Manu. But I've never heard of the party in power not lining up behind their president.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, remember, President Trump declared that he was a candidate very early, as soon after taking office that he was going to run for reelection but a wide array of House and Senate Republicans tell me they aren't ready to endorse President Trump's bid for a second term, reflecting the deep uncertainty on the Hill over his political standing and the tenuous relationship he has with his party.

Now, I spoke to more than two dozen lawmakers who represent a cross- section of the GOP. And for the most part, members were mum, saying it was too early to make such a decision. They did not know if he would face a primary foe. And they were still uncertain the president would ultimately run for reelection, even though the president has repeatedly said he would run. He's hired campaign staff. He's raised money. He's held campaign rallies.

Now, this is, of course, unusual since most presidents automatically get support from lawmakers from their own party without hesitation. But not this time.


RAJU: Are you prepared at this point to endorse the president for reelection in 2020?

REP. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS MAJORITY WHIP: I haven't even thought about that election. I'm worried about the midterm election.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I did not endorse the president for the Republican nomination in 2016. I supported, first, Jeb Bush. And then John Kasich. So again, I think that it is far too early to make a judgment of that type.

RAJU: Will you support the president in -- for reelection?

REP. MARIO DIAZ-BALART (R), FLORIDA: Again, I'm focused on working and doing what I do. And so talking about what might happen in, you know, at that time is, I think, premature.


RAJU: Now, many Republicans do not think there's any room for a primary challenge against Trump. And they do think it's a bad idea to run against him. They point to history like in 1976, 1980, 1992, when sitting presidents were challenged within their respective parties, winning their primaries but losing the general elections.

Moreover, Trump ran against his own party in 2016. And he still maintains rock-solid report amongst base GOP voters, even as he's historically unpopular among the broader electorate. Now one prospective challenger in 2020, Jeff Flake, he told me, quote, "I wouldn't gauge what support there is a year and a half from now from what there is now among base GOP voters." So we'll see what support there is there will be from Trump from his own party on Capitol Hill, Chris, come 2020, and we'll see, of course, whether that makes a difference at all -- Chris.

CUOMO: Strange days. Manu Raju, thank you for bringing us the reporting.

President Trump expressing optimism about his planned talks with Kim Jong-un but still suggesting he might walk away if they aren't fruitful. And in a joint news conference with Japan's prime minister, hitting his go-to defense on the Russia collusion. "No collusion" he said five times.

[07:05:09] CNN's Abby Phillip live in West Palm Beach, Florida, with more -- Abby.


President Trump spent the last two days here meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on this North Korea meeting. And he's also using his CIA director, Mike Pompeo's, secret trip to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong-un as a way to boost his nomination to be the next secretary of state.


TRUMP: If I think that it's a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we're not going to go. If the meeting when I'm there is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting.

PHILLIP (voice-over): President Trump giving new insights into his planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Mr. Trump promising Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe he would work hard for the return of at least a dozen Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and '80s.

The president also declaring CIA Director Mike Pompeo go along really well with the North Korean dictator during their secret meeting over Eastern weekend. Mr. Trump using this news to push for Mike Pompeo to be confirmed as the next secretary of state. But one prominent Republican senator still opposes it.

TRUMP: I will say this about Rand Paul. He's never let me down.

PHILLIP: Meantime, CNN is learning new details about the confusion with plans to impose sanctions on Russia. Three senior administration officials tell CNN that President Trump personally made the decision to abandon those plans hours after U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley made the announcement in a televised interview on Sunday. TRUMP: We'll do sanctions as soon as they very much deserve it.

PHILLIP: As the commander in chief grapples with the Russia investigation closing in on his inner circle.

TRUMP: There has been no collusion. They won't find any collusion. It doesn't exist.

PHILLIP: President Trump declaring five times that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia, despite ongoing investigations by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate. Mr. Trump downplaying speculation that he could fire Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

TRUMP: They've been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they're still here. So we want to get the investigation over with.

PHILLIP: CNN also learning another one of President Trump's long-time lawyers warned him that Michael Cohen, who is under criminal investigation, could turn against him after the FBI seized records from his office, home, and hotel room.

Jay Goldberg says he told the president on Friday, "Anybody who is facing 30 years never stands up."


PHILLIP: Well, President Trump plans to spend the rest of the week and the weekend here in Florida. But today, he's going to Key West, where he's going to be visiting a military unit that intercepts drug smugglers by sea and by air -- Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby. Thank you very much for all of the reporting.

Let's bring in CNN political analysts John Avlon and Julie Pace.

OK, John Avlon, let's talk about how significant do you think it is, Manu's reporting that he just broke moments ago, that he spoke to two dozen Republican lawmakers and did not get full-throated endorsements of the president's reelection. In fact, many said they were not willing to support the president yet?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think this is a big story that the White House should be buzzing nervously about today and in the weeks to come, because normally, this isn't rubber-stamped. This is a no-brainer, people. You support the president of your party, particularly when it's a Republican. But what this is is the discomfort with Donald Trump that a lot of Republican members of Congress and the Senate spite (ph) about in private, bubbling up to a wait-and-see attitude that spells real political problems.

Everyone talks about how everyone is so, you know, scared of Trump's base. They don't want to go against the public. Refusing to endorse him when you're John Cornyn, when you're John Thune, that's a big deal, and that's a sign of big problems to come for President Trump. CUOMO: Julie Pace, it comes with a little bit of risk, though, right?

I mean, you can say, "Well, it's early. Don't talk about the election. Let's deal with the matter at hand." But they're not really saying that. And they expose themselves to some risk in the midterms, if they're up, if they are seen as not being part of the Trump base.

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Because this is the reality. Trump remains extremely popular among Republican voters, particularly those voters who are going to have enough energy and enthusiasm to show up in a midterm election, where turnout tends to be low.

And this is the constant push and pull of these Republican lawmakers. They look back at their home districts. They see the support for Trump. But they deal with him day in and day out. And privately. And increasingly, a little bit publicly, they get frustrated with the type of relationship that they have and the unpredictability of him in the Oval Office.

CAMEROTA: But isn't this one of these things, John, where, OK, today before the midterms, they have the freedom to say, "You know what? It's too early. I'm focused on other things." But after the midterms, when we get closer to 2020, they will all fall in line.

[07:10:01] AVLON: I don't know that they will. Look, I think there's no question that this is a wait-and-see moment. They're expecting a shellacking. But if they really get their clock cleaned, that's not going to increase their loyalty to Donald Trump. You'll see people running against the president, or not with the president.

Also, let's just reality check one thing. Yes, Donald Trump is enormously popular with the base, the folks most likely to turn out, as Julia said. But George W. Bush's approval rating among Republicans was routinely in the mid-90s, not the mid-80s, low 80s. So there's actually a bigger gap between traditional Republican support for past presidents and Donald Trump.

CUOMO: You know, Julia, it gets a little tricky here. Because it's impressive that Manu Raju says he talked to him about two dozen. And he didn't get anybody who was standing solidly behind President Trump for his reelection today.

But you know what? I wonder if he asked those, or he surveyed those same two dozen. Who's really stood up against Donald Trump and anything that he says and anything that he does?

I mean, let's take the Paul Ryan example. I mean, I remember being impressed with Paul Ryan about how he stood up for these questions of conscience. And how he stated his priorities. And not just being a family man. There are a lot of family men and women who are in public service and make great sacrifices. But that, you know, he would speak his truth. Party be damned.

No more. It doesn't matter what Trump says. You have to really corner politicians within the GOP to get them to even express that what he's saying could be a little bit risky.

PACE: The number of Republicans who are willing to do anything publicly that breaks from the president is must extremely small. And they are the outliers. It's the people like Jeff Flake.

CUOMO: Who are leaving.

PACE: Who are leaving. People like Bob Corker who are leaving. Even Bob Corker has moved from some of those really provocative comments he was saying about the president right after he decided to not run for reelection.

So again, we hear -- we all hear privately a lot of frustration from Republicans, about the president. But when it comes to their public comments, when it comes to their votes on issues that are important to the president, they are basically in lock step with him.

CUOMO: Look at McConnell. McConnell won't even put a vote on the floor --

PACE: On Bob Mueller. Absolutely.

CUOMO: -- to protect Bob Mueller. And with this really odd rationale of, "Well, I don't think he's going to do it. It would be horrible if he did. But we're not going to do anything to protect against it."

AVLON: Yes. God forbid we do anything to actually, you know, protect against it as a co-equal branch of government. Look, you've got to -- there's an invertebrate impulse inside the current Republican Party. They've lost their backbone, in part because they are afraid of Trump's base in these closed partisan primaries, which leave many of them vulnerable.

The question is, you know, is that a degree of Stockholm Syndrome, if it's contrary to your conscience. And that gap that Julie's talking about between Republican elected officials saying in private and what they say in public, what -- the Manu's reporting is significant is it shows that thin edge of the wedge that a lot of folks aren't willing to stand up and stand with Donald Trump. Because they think the party is about to get its clock cleaned in the midterms, and that he may be too toxic to support for reelection, at least with their own political calculus.

CAMEROTA: Here's an interesting factoid, Julie. My producer is just telling me that, from FEC filings from last week, one fifth of reelection funds for Donald Trump have gone to pay legal fees.

AVLON: That's exactly as nature intended.

CAMEROTA: I mean, isn't that -- first of all, wow. And then that's perhaps a disincentive to give the president more money.

PACE: Well, it really puts in perspective where this president is right now, a little over two years from his reelection. He is consumed, increasingly, by legal challenges and legal threats. And they only seem to be going in one direction, which is increasing, which is a real problem for this president.

And I think that is something that Republicans are really closely watching, particularly if they do lose the House and/or the Senate in the midterms, that would really change this whole legal landscape.

They can protect him a bit while they're in the majority. But if Democrats were to take over, Democrats will be under tremendous pressure to pursue impeachment. If Bob Mueller were to put forward reports that were even the slightest bit damaging to Trump, I think you would see a real change in the dynamic in Washington and the legal challenges to President Trump.

CUOMO: You know, you could look at it the other way. You would be more inclined to give him money, because you want to fight against this Russia thing because you agree with him that it's a hoax and you want him to be clear of it. But look, it's certainly just indicative of the state of play.

I wonder who's getting the money.

Tell us the overall number of how many numbers, millions we're talking about. Other than Jay Sekulow; 834,000 out of 4 million. So I guess that's all -- went to eight law firms. Who are the eight law firms, though. As far as I know -- Julie, John, you've got Sekulow. You've got Cobb. I think he's paid by the government.

AVLON: He is.

CUOMO: Because you're representing the White House. McGahn, obviously, the same thing.

CAMEROTA: We now know Jay Goldberg. Maybe.

AVLON: Maybe.

CUOMO: Who are all the other law firms?

AVLON: The point is the president's reelection campaign is functioning as a legal defense fund. Add to those expenditures also the money coming from the campaign coffers and the RNC going back to Trump properties. And that number's going to ratchet up considerably. Which is a whole other problem that we should be talking about, and Republicans and donors should maybe feel some discomfort with.

[07:15:10] Many donors, to your point, are going to say, "You know what? I support him, right or wrong. The more he comes under attack, the more he needs my help in defending him. That's a matter of principle to me. By all means, take my money."

CAMEROTA: OK. That's their prerogative.

AVLON: It's their prerogative.

CAMEROTA: Give money to that. Great.

CUOMO: I wonder if it's becoming a little bit of a dead end, though, these questions, you know. Won a Pulitzer Prize for a friend at "The Washington Post," Mr. Fahrenthold. But the idea of, boy, he's had a lot of obvious conflicts. We'd never seen anything like this before. His businesses are still going. People stay at the businesses. He didn't turn over his tax return.


CUOMO: OK? And that didn't even move the needle. And now we know that money and where it came from and where it goes is of fundamental importance to a federal investigation. And people still aren't -- their noses aren't bent by it.

AVLON: Hold on. This president is historically unpopular. Let's not forget that. And I do think --

CUOMO: His numbers stay solid no matter what comes out about these conflicts.

AVLON: His core support, the super supporters are around 28 percent. They're not going anywhere.

But, again, even among Republicans, yes, that 80 percent changed numbers. Impressive, but actually, it's not as impressive as George W.

So yes, the president has a core group of support. They're not going anywhere. The more he's attacked, the more they'll rally around him. But it's at the end of the day, the voters at the center of the spectrum will make a difference. And if you see a consistent pattern of Trump businesses making money off the presidency, of actually, taxpayer dollars going to Trump businesses, that sets a stink that's ultimately not going to sit well with the American people, who will finally decide the outcome of the election.

CAMEROTA: But Julia, haven't we always said that, for the base on either side, OK, if Mickey Mouse ran as a Republican, that he would get 35 percent support from Republicans. And if Mickey Mouse ran as a Democrat, he could count on 35 percent support. I mean, isn't that just sort of a truism?

AVLON: A problem?

PACE: Some of this -- some of this is just baked in, absolutely. And I think this to this question of Trump conflicts, this has been something where I talked to Democrats. They are just so frustrated over it. Because they see this is really ripe for trying to sway those independents or those moderates. But they just can't seem to break through on this.

There's an amazing example that got almost no attention a few weeks ago, where Trump's businesses actually wrote in a letter to the president of Panama, a country where he was having an issue with a hotel, seeking help. So that's a business that the president is still involved in, seeking help from a foreign government for a financial matter. It pretty much just blew by almost with no attention.


PACE: It really is remarkable.

CUOMO: You report it, but it doesn't move the needle.

PACE: It doesn't catch on.

AVLON: But the reason -- it's important to continue reporting for obvious reasons. Imagine if the Clintons had a similar thing in that alternate reality. They would be screaming bloody murder, and they would be right.

At the end of the day, yes, what I also described is a big, is maybe the problem in our politics. But at the end of the day it's the middle 30 that determines the winners.

CUOMO: Always has been. Basic political science. You're always battling for the middle 30.

CAMEROTA: But we always talk about the base. So that's something new. The base sticks. You know? All right, so John Avlon, Julie Pace, thank you very much.

CUOMO: Lawmakers are concerned about the White House direction or lack thereof when it comes to Syria. We have a senator who attended a briefing on the president's Syria strategy. How does he feel about it? Next.


[07:22:17] CUOMO: All right. So CNN has learned that the president isn't getting full-throated support from members of his own party, even when asked about whether or not they will back Trump in a reelection bid.

Roughly two dozen Republican senators and members of Congress told CNN they're not ready to back their party's standard bearer. This is unusual.

Let's discuss that and more with Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who was at a very important briefing about what the state of the strategy and plan in Syria is for the United States.

And Senator, first, one step sideways. An invitation to you, sir. Please come up and attack the white board. And we have to talk deficit, how it will be controlled. Because we're looking at numbers who you as a lawmaker and businessman have never even dreamed might be facing the United States of America. We've got to talk about that. But not today. The invitation stands. Come on up, and let's go through the numbers.

I've got an OK on that?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Absolutely. I've got all kinds of charts and graphs to simplify this. Because it's a dire situation, but it's pretty simple to describe. CUOMO: Good. And I never thought I'd see this with the GOP in power.

But that's where we are. We've got to talk about it.

However, I've got three "will you back" questions. The first one is will you back the president of the United States, Donald Trump, the standard bearer of your party, in his reelection bid?

JOHNSON: Chris, you know it's way too early --

CUOMO: No, it isn't.

JOHNSON: -- to be talking about 2020.

CUOMO: No, it isn't. Not to say that you support the guy who's president, who's the head of your party.

JOHNSON: It could be a completely different world by 2020. We have a 2018 election first. So listen, I understand the kind of "got you" question you're engaging here. But it just is way too early to even be talking about it.

CUOMO: I am offended you see it as a "got you" question.

JOHNSON: I think it is. It is.

CUOMO: But I'll put my personal feelings aside.

JOHNSON: That's fine.

CUOMO: To say that you back the head of your party who's currently president? You don't think that that's unusual? To say, "We'll see where we are."

JOHNSON: Chris, what I'm doing is I'm trying to do everything I can, as I did with President Obama, to help President Trump keep this nation more prosperous, safer and more secure. I do not envy any president's task. It's an enormous challenge. We have enormous challenges facing this nation. So I'm going to keep focused on the problems at hand, like the debt and deficit, like the situation in North Korea and Syria. Our trade negotiations and everything else. I try and provide as wise a counsel as possible. And I try and support the president in areas of agreement.

CUOMO: I hear you on it. I get the pragmatism. You get an amen on that. You guys should be looking for common ground and taking action thereon. There's not enough of it. The commodity is division. And it's toxic.

However, that said, would you at least acknowledge that it is unusual, in our partisan political culture, to hear members of a party say that they are not behind a member of their party who is president?

JOHNSON: Chris, I think it's unusual that members of the media would be talking about the 2020 election in 2018.

[07:25:00] CUOMO: Only because it's surprising to have heard this response.

JOHNSON: I mean, that's -- I think that's what's unusual about this.

CUOMO: All right, look, I'm not going to chase you, because I've got other things to talk about. We both know --

JOHNSON: Let's talk about the problems facing this nation.

CUOMO: Well, that's one of the problems. Because if the party isn't behind the president, you guys are going to have your own divisions to deal with. But let me ask you --

JOHNSON: Listen, we've been four square behind his agenda, trying to repeal and replace Obamacare, certainly from the standpoint of reducing the regulatory burden, stop adding to it.

CUOMO: Why wouldn't you back him for his reelection?

JOHNSON: Again, we're supporting his agenda.

CUOMO: So why won't you support him for reelection?

JOHNSON: Well, let's --

CUOMO: I think you're in a box on this one, Senator. But the people have heard what you're saying, and they'll get the state of play. You join big names: Cornyn, Lamar Alexander, Thune, Sanford, Flake, Rob Portman. All who say it's too soon to say whether they back the president of their own party.

Will you back a -- any bill that comes up -- I know I have to be careful about it, because McConnell says he won't put a bill like this on the floor. But as you know, Grassley is working with others on both sides of the aisle to come up with a bill to protect Mueller, to protect the special counsel. Would you back such a bill?

JOHNSON: Firsts of all, I'm not all that nuts about special counsels. I think I made my point pretty clear on that. I'd rather have the Justice Department handle these things from the standpoint of these political prosecutions. I think it's far better to have Congress do the investigation so the public understands exactly what's happening. The problem with criminal investigations is oftentimes, the public never finds out what happens inside government. So I would question the constitutionality of that, the constitutionality of that type of law, but I'll cross that bridge when it actually comes to the Senate floor, if it does.

CUOMO: But you've also said that getting rid of Mueller, if the president were to do that, that that would be a mistake. And --

JOHNSON: And I just don't -- I don't see what it would accomplish. The investigation is going to continue. But what I -- what I would like to see is the investigation come to a conclusion.

This is very damaging for America to have this kind of cloud hanging over any administration. Again, we have enormous challenges. You talked about that. We need to move on with those things.

CUOMO: Interference by -- but interference by an inimical foreign power is also a problem.

JOHNSON: It's a serious issue. It needs to be investigated. We should have concluded this, I think, months ago.

CUOMO: Why? Why do you think that?

JOHNSON: Because again, so far there has been no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. There has been evidence of collusion between the Clinton campaign and Russia. But --

CUOMO: What collusion between the Russian government and Democrats?

JOHNSON: Well, how about the Steele dossier?

CUOMO: Was Steele working for the Russian government?

JOHNSON: Listen, my focus has really been the Clinton e-mail scandal and the FBI's investigation, if you call it that, under that. And we're really looking forward to seeing the Office of Inspector General's report on the FBI investigation of that scandal as well as the Clinton Foundation scandal. I thought Michael Horowitz did an excellent job in his report on the --

CUOMO: Yes, I read -- I read the excerpts of the report. I get that is something -- I don't know why you see it as a setoff against the fact that a foreign inimical government interfered with our election, and you want to talk about a separate investigation that seems to have some kind of political motivation. I get that you can do that, but why is it an offset from the Russia investigation?

JOHNSON: I'm not saying it is an offset.

CUOMO: You mentioned it while I was talking about the Russia investigation.

JOHNSON: Well, again, no. What I'm saying is we need to get these investigations behind us so we can concentrate on the serious issues facing this nation, all of these issues behind us.

CUOMO: But we don't know what and how Russia did it to interfere in the election. And their ongoing efforts. We don't know how to stop it. We don't know who worked with them. But you're in a rush to move on. Why?

JOHNSON: We've got -- we've got a very good idea. We have a very good idea that they did not affect the outcome of the election. It is very difficult to do so. I've had secure briefings on these things

Listen, I'm concerned about this. But I also like the fact that states control elections. The election machines are not connected to the Internet. It's very difficult to change the results of the election. My biggest concern would be violating the voter files. But I have a concern about people not updating voter files, as well. So we have so many different controls, so many different things that can indicate whether or not we've had any true meddling in the election, that would affect the outcome. So from my standpoint in terms of the problems facing this nation, that's relatively low on the list of priorities.

CUOMO: All right. Good to have you on the record about that. Mike Pompeo for secretary of state, are you in or out?

JOHNSON: Oh, I'm -- I think he's a person of intelligence, integrity. He's got great experience. You know, he's a director of the CIA. He should be confirmed easily.

CUOMO: All right. Good to have you on the record about that. Now Syria. You went to the briefing. Can you explain the U.S. strategy in Syria?

JOHNSON: I can explain, first of all, the strategy on the strike. I think Secretary Mattis made it clear --

CUOMO: Was it legal?

JOHNSON: I believe so, yes. I think the president --


JOHNSON: Just under his Article II constitutional powers.

CUOMO: What was he doing to protect the security of the United States with this attack?

JOHNSON: Well, because the normative use of chemical weapons threatens the entire world, including the United States. I'm really glad that France and Britain joined in that to make that very clear statement. We simply can't allow ongoing use of chemical weapons to become a normative experience.