Return to Transcripts main page


President and Melania Trump Host French President and Wife at White House; Senate Delays Confirmation Hearing for President Trump's Nominee to Head Veterans Affairs; Republican Narrowly Wins Arizona Special House Election; Interview with Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 25, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Republicans holding on to a House seat in a special election in Arizona's eighth district. Moments ago President Trump congratulating the winner. But what does this win mean for Republicans? Why are the Democrats taking it as good news? Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip live at the White House. Good morning, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. Last night was a big night for this White House, the first state dinner, an especially big night for Melania Trump. But this morning it is back to work, and there are troubles ahead for the president's nominee to be the Veterans Affairs secretary, Ronny Jackson. The White House is defending Jackson but Democrats are saying these new allegations about his conduct at the White House while he was a physician raise increasing concerns about his nomination.


PHILLIP: Troubling new allegations against Veterans Affairs secretary nominee Dr. Ronny Jackson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I understand he had a nickname in the White House.

SEN. JON TESTER, (D) MONTANA: It was the candy man because he handed out prescription drugs like they were candy.

PHILLIP: Senator Jon Tester describing what whistleblowers told a Congressional panel, that Dr. Jackson reportedly would hand out prescription drugs to help travelers sleep. Sources telling CNN the White House doctor allegedly became intoxicated during multiple overseas trips on duty, including one in 2015 where sources say he banged on the hotel room door of a female employee in the middle of the night. One source claiming Secret Service had to step in out of concern that he would wake then president Barack Obama. Lawmakers postponing his confirmation hearing indefinitely as Jackson denies the allegation.

DR. RONNY JACKSON, NOMINATED AS SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: I'm looking forward to rescheduling the hearing and answering everyone's questions. PHILLIP: President Trump continuing to back his embattled nominee

while giving him an opening to drop out.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really don't think personally he should do it. But it's totally his. I would stand behind him. Totally his decision.

PHILLIP: But only hours later the two met in the Oval Office and sources tell CNN that Mr. Trump told Jackson to stay and fight. The concerns over Jackson's nomination have Republicans and Democrats alike concerned, but president Trump seemed undeterred as he hosted French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House. The pomp and glitter of the Trump brand on full display at the first state dinner of his presidency.

TRUMP: May our friendship grow even deeper. May our kinship grow even stronger.

PHILLIP: The two leaders showing their affection and friendship beyond the usually handshakes, their bromance stealing the show.

TRUMP: I like him a lot.

PHILLIP: Macron hoping his visit would sway President Trump on several foreign policy challenges. Mr. Trump signaling that he might be open to staying in the Iran nuclear deal, with the French president hopes to salvage, but issuing this ominous warning to Iran.

TRUMP: I will say if Iran threatens us in any way, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.

PHILLIP: President Trump also raising eyebrows with this comment about North Korea's dictator who he hopes to meet with soon.

TRUMP: Kim Jong-un was -- he really has been very open and I think very honorable from everything we're seeing.


PHILLIP: And this morning, President Trump is offering his congratulations to Debbie Lesko who won that Arizona special election race last night. He says in a tweet, "Congratulations to Republican Debbie Lesko on her big win in the special election for Arizona House seat. Debbie will do a great job. Press is so silent," he says.

But here's what you need to know about that race. Lesko did win, though narrowly. And it's a seat that president Trump won by 21 points in 2016. Republicans are looking at that race as a potential harbinger of things to come in these midterms. It's going to be a tough fight for them if they have to fight so hard to win a race that the president won so easily just last November, Alisyn and Chris.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Abby, thank you for explaining all that for us.

Let's discuss it. We want to bring in CNN political analyst David Gregory and reporter and associate editor for Real Clear Politics A.B. Stoddard. A.B., what are we to make what happened in this Arizona special election? So the Republican won, but she won by something like 5.2 percent as opposed to the 21 points that President Trump did, so bellwether?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, Democrats wanted to keep it close, and they are satisfied this morning that they did enough to scare Republicans, and there are some Republicans in town who are adequately frightened by the results. In Arizona they're happy to keep the seat, but what the margin is here, the measure in terms of looking at close races in the fall and the possibility of the House majority flipping to the Democrats is how much the Democrats continue to overperform in every single congressional special election or state Senate election since late '17 into 2018, making them -- those who are watching the campaign map very nervous.

[08:05:03] And I think we've talked about this before but it's worth repeating. Senator Mitch McConnell very keen observer of these things, been at work on campaigns a long time, does not believe the Senate is safe in a wave. So it's no given that Republicans, who have the best map in the Senate since 1938 can hold the Senate either in a 51-49 Senate with some tight races for Republicans in potentially Tennessee and Nevada and Arizona. And of course people are looking at the House and thinking it's more than 50 percent, maybe 60 percent that the House flips to Democrats.

CUOMO: And given that, it's interesting that McConnell won't put a vote on protecting Mueller, something that has broad popular support, won't put anything on the floor about gun control that has broad public support in terms of dealing with background checks.

Now, there's pushback to this is good news for the Democrats, David. The first point of pushback is a win is a win, and two is, you'll hear from the Republicans the margin should be this way. This is a midterm. Often the out party gets momentum and we don't know what the margin should be ordinarily because the Democrats didn't put up people in the last couple of races, so we don't know if this is growth.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And to your McConnell point, I think he's got an eye on making sure that rock-ribbed conservatives, Republicans come out in an off-year election. You want that voter intensity on the right, and those are hot button issues standing up against them. Mueller, guns, they can make sure those Republicans get out to vote, because we've seen the energy on the Democratic side. We've seen it in these special elections now around the country.

And this is a win, but as A.B. says, it's about expanding the map for Democrats. If they force as they did hear Republicans to spend a lot of outside money in a district that's so reliably Republican, you can't always match what the president does in a presidential year, particularly a force like Donald Trump was in 2016, but the fact that Democrats have that much intensity, are forcing Republicans to spend in places they don't want to spend, yes, that's going to be increasingly worrisome for the GOP. CAMEROTA: And A.B., some of them are not even waiting to see if they

lose. Republicans are retiring as you and I have talked about and including, obviously, Paul Ryan.

STODDARD: Yes. If you talk to them privately, Alisyn, they're very concerned about the seats that I mentioned that they have to hold, districts where Hillary Clinton prevailed over Trump, or seats that Trump won, let's say, by five or seven percent or less, districts where his numbers are absolutely toxic.

You look at chairmen of committees, many of them, finally at a perch, unified Republican government. This is exactly where you want to be as a legislator, just deciding to just pack it in and leave the Congress. They say it's because the atmosphere is toxic. Actually privately they'll tell you because they worry it's going to get worse. They'll be out of power. They don't know what President Trump is going to do if Nancy Pelosi or another Democrat is speaker, and they're deciding that it's not worth it any more.

It's really remarkable to see not only the speaker but all these people at the leadership table, chairmen of committees who have worked years to get where they are, deciding to fold tent. And it's indicative of how toxic the atmosphere is and how much they fear Democratic energy against President Trump. As David was saying. McConnell's trying to preserve the base and hope that they're going to turn up, but when I ask Republican members who is the -- who is the voter going to turn out to mitigate that Democratic energy, to turn out to defend your majority when Trump's not on the ballot this year, they don't have an answer.

CUOMO: David, how does this stuff play that we're seeing in the cabinet, whether it's Mick Mulvaney coming out and saying the more you pay your lobbyists, the better chance that you'll get change and to talk to someone like me when I was in congress, Pruitt, with his now six open investigations. He's got to go between two panels to testify. Or now Ronny Jackson where clearly White House didn't know who everything they needed to know about the man they want to run the second largest bureaucracy. Does it move the needle?

GREGORY: We'll find out. I think it does depend. I think in districts or in states where you have Republican voters, more suburban voters who look at Trump and are turned off, I think it has an impact. But if you listen to what Trump said yesterday, he talks about how awful the attacks are and how awful the disgusting the process is toward his V.A. nominee, I think that falls on a lot of ears for people who support Trump and say, exactly. This is Democrats, this is media going after this guy, and it's simply wrong.

And I think they're going to give -- I think there's a lot of people who are going to give Trump a lot of room on that more than the media will, more than Democrats and even a lot of Republicans will. And so that's going to be something that I think we have to wait and look at. I think when Trump focuses on big fix, the Iran deal, diplomacy with North Korea, it's not even about the particulars. Is he big on the world stage? Is he achieving something that's really big that nobody thought he could do? I think those are the things that he wants to try to emphasize and a lot of voters will pay attention to.

[08:10:10] CAMEROTA: A.B., does the White House have an argument to make about Dr. Ronny Jackson, which is he was already working in the White House so he was vetted to that level. He was a favorite of President Obama. If you look at the glowing notes that President Obama has written, it's some Obama staffers had tweeted, that we thought that he was vetted?

STODDARD: Well, Alisyn, I think what needs to be stressed is there is a lot of good will towards Dr. Jackson. People are very fond of him from the Obama administration and Trump administration and up to President Trump himself. And this is the kind of thing where we've seen this, President Trump choose his personal chemistry and loyalty and friendship and comfort level over -- before he starts looking at criteria, qualifications, and whether or not he would be fit to run this sprawling bureaucracy.

And he just came out with this promotion, and then people started actually coming to senators to talk about why they're all these problems in his past performance that would make -- disqualify him from running the secretary of Veterans Affairs agency. And that's really -- I think that if this had never happened to Dr. Jackson he would continue on as the presidential White House physician without a problem.

CAMEROTA: And do you think that changes now? Can he not continue on at the White House physician?

CAMEROTA: That's a very good question. I think that it's going to be very difficult for him if these things are validated and confirmed and proven for him to be secretary of the V.A. I don't know if President Trump will keep him on as White House physician.

But people have to remember, he's very well-liked, and I think a lot of stuff was forgiven. And I think the prescription stuff is more routine, David mentioned that earlier today. It's more routine than people understand. So we don't know the specific details and what's been confirmed. But it wouldn't surprise me if he stayed on as White House physician because, as I've said, he's earned a lot of goodwill and President Trump really likes him. And obviously President Obama's staff was willing to overlook some incidents.

GREGORY: I think one of the big issue here is, do they know what they're doing in the White House within the administration, that competency test? And we're going to have to wait and see how voters really judge that. I don't think the vetting or lack thereof for Ronny Jackson is going to be an issue yet for voters because this becomes a cumulative issue. Trump said he's going to drain the swamp and now he has had all these guys with ethical problems where they don't seem to be running the White House right. I think there's still a lot of wind at Trump's back among supporters who think there's so many people out to get him, give him some room. And so that's why I'm hanging back and watching to see how these things build.

CAMEROTA: A.B. Stoddard, David Gregory, thank you very much.

GREGORY: Thanks.

STODDARD: Now to some style. First lady Melania Trump stealing the show during the French state visit. Her fashion sense was front and center. CNN's Kate Bennett is live in Washington with more on Melania's big moment. So tell us about the fashion and all of the attention grabbing outfits.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: So basically last night she wore this fabulous Chanel Haute Couture gown that was an homage to France because Chanel is the iconic fashion house there. But I still think the major fashion moment for her yesterday was that white hat that she wore, that custom made hat that was designed by her personal stylist Herve Pierre and went with that Michael Kors jacket. The hat to me said so much more about stealing the moment, pulling the spotlight over to her than it did anything else.

CAMEROTA: Listen, Kate, here's one of the interesting things I think which is that she's getting -- the first lady is getting so many kudos for her statements, but her fashion statements, not her verbal statements. We rarely hear her speak. And I understand how compelling she is visually. It's hard to take your eyes off of her. But isn't that -- I don't know if you have taken any account of previous first ladies, but Melania seems to be one of the more silent ones. She speaks in photographs.

BENNETT: Exactly. Very nonverbal. I cover her full time for CNN, so I've seen her speak, I've seen her do more events. I've witnessed it. However, most of the time, and I'm not just -- I have to say she's often usurped and overlooked because something else is happening in this news cycle that takes precedent. But that said, you're right. She certainly isn't as comfortable with public speaking. She hasn't unveiled her formal platform, which I hear is now coming in the next couple of weeks. So we should hear more from her.

You're right there. This is a private, sort of mysterious first lady we don't hear from a lot. When she does emerge, whether it's the white pantsuit from state of the union or the white suit yesterday, we have to look at these other instances and try to know who she is a little bit deeper.


But I think we should hear more from her in the coming weeks as she outlines this platform but certainly this is a tough news cycle to elbow in on if you're a first lady.

CAMEROTA: Social media took note of the hat. So they believe that she used as a role model Beyonce in the formation music video, or Olivia Pope from "Scandal". What's the back story?

BENNETT: I -- you know, maybe. I don't think Melania Trump looks to any one else for influence besides what she prefers or wants to do.

She's sort of like Michelle Obama in that way. Michelle Obama wore what she wanted to wear and no one told her what to wear or how to dress. I think Melania Trump is very much the same way. I love those references. I think they're interesting but certainly, you know, you couldn't overlook it, whatever the inspiration was. She was -- as soon as she got out of the car everyone went, Donald Trump who?

CAMEROTA: Oh, yes, it was like ba-bam.

BENNETT: That might have been part of her plan. You know, this was her week to shine and, you know, the hat -- nothing it more than wearing a big giant white hat.

CAMEROTA: Yes, as President Trump has said recently, mission accomplished. Kate Bennett, thank you very much for all of that fashion reporting.


CUOMO: All right. Republican lawmakers are going to return, rain depending, to the same baseball field where a gunman ambushed them last year. You remember Congressman Mo Brooks, how he was with us on the phone that morning, so calm, taking us through? All of the horrible situations that were survived.

He's going to join us to what this return means to him, next.



REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA (via telephone): -- on deck, about to hit batting practice on the third base side of home plate and I hear a loud bam, and I looked around and behind third base and the third base dugout which is cinder block I see a rifle.


CUOMO: Mo Brooks so calm after living through just a nightmare.

The congressman part of that baseball practice that was going on when a gunman opened fired last June. Several people were injured, including, of course, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise who just went in for another surgery recently and came out his recovery continues. The GOP team was back on the field this morning for their first practice and it was the same place where the attack happened.

Congressman Mo Brooks joins us now.

Congressman, good to see you well. Good to see you back on the show.

BROOKS: Good morning, Chris. Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you.

CUOMO: So, what was it like to be back out on the field?

BROOKS: It was wet. If you play baseball those aren't ideal conditions, but on a more serious note, it was mixed emotions. On the one hand, it was good to be with our comrades as we try to put

together a baseball team to compete, hopefully, with the Democrats. Democrats have a better team, but hopefully, you know, under dogs do win as we did two years ago and we raised over $1 million for local charities. That's the positive side.

The little adverse side was remembering on this same field, the last time we were there, five of our colleagues got shot, one congressman and four other individuals, including capitol police and assailant was dead behind home plate near the stands. So, it's very mixed emotions.

CAMEROTA: And was it hard to go back to that field? I know there was a lot of security as they're probably will always be forever more. And so, what was -- and also, Steve Scalise, you know, not being able to be there.

So what were your emotions?

BROOKS: Well, that's a part of it. I was practicing at second base and the last time we had someone practicing at second base he ended up getting shot and that will be a memory that is emblazoned in my brain. I'll never forget it. That made it a little bit more difficult.

Zack Barth jumping in, the first base dugout over myself and Jeff Flake, a senator with a hole in his leg. Of course, you'll never forget that. Capitol police officers returning fire, both wounded.

You know, there are a lot of mixed emotions. There's no way to get around those mixed emotions, but it was good to be back on the ball field and overcoming those emotions to try to play baseball, which for a century now has been America's past time. So, that was a very enjoyable part.

CUOMO: How are you doing with all this, Mo? I mean, we've been following you, obviously. Often we go at it about your positions and your arguments there as a congressman. You're obviously still a passionate fighter for your principles. But how has it been for you living through something like that?

That wasn't another day of practice. That wasn't something bad you heard. You lived it and a lot of people, you know, that lasts a lifetime.

BROOKS: Well, initially, you can't help but think about it almost constantly as you go over what happened, the things that were lucky, the good decisions you made, perhaps the decisions that you could've made that were better. But with the passage of time, it's further and further behind us and, quite frankly, I don't think about it except when I'm at that ball field on the one hand or when someone asks me about it. Other than that, I'm looking forward, not back.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, remember in the days afterwards, after such a harrowing experience, there was some hope that because everybody was praying for Steve Scalise and everyone that was wounded, that that would be some sort of glue and some sort of permanent unifying bond having lived through that trauma that people would be bonded, and I'm just wondering, how long that lasted and if you think that there is still some -- I don't know -- silver lining that came out of that?

BROOKS: Well, if you're talking about from a partisan basis, the Democrats have their beliefs, the Republicans have their beliefs, and quite frankly, that bipartisanship ended the night of the game when the Democrats took us to the woodshed. We're competitors and they're fighting for their belief systems and so are we and when it came to that baseball game, obviously, they were not going to give us any quarter and like I said, they took us down pretty bad the day after the shooting occurred.

But still, it was in sport. It was enjoyable. It was pleasant on the ball field before the game.

[08:25:01] We were very close to each other. There was bonding and we raised over $1 million for charity. We had roughly 25,000 people in attendance at the Washington Nationals baseball stadium.

So, that's quite an experience that helped all of us recover from what transpired.

CUOMO: All right. Let's talk about what you guys are dealing with down there. You have a job that really -- you shouldn't have to have which is going over the behavior of people who are either about to get into positions of power or while they're in positions of power.

You have what's going on with Dr. Ronny Jackson. That's going to be a Senate issue in terms of confirmation. You're in the House. You're going to be dealing with Scott Pruitt at the EPA. You got about six open investigations into him about what he's been doing and whether it's ethical and right as a cabinet secretary.

What are your feelings about how much stink is too much?

BROOKS: Well, they're always investigations of conduct in the executive branch by the legislative branch, the United States Congress.

So, this is not abnormal. There are always people who will level accusations against people in power. Some of those accusations have merit, some do not and hopefully will be able to work our way through these investigations with a minimal amount of partisanship, get to what truly transpired and once we have gotten to the facts and the truth of the matter, then the executive branch can make whatever decision they need to make in order to repair whatever damage has been done to their reputation if, again, if those accusations and allegations are substantiated by evidence.

CAMEROTA: From what you've heard thus far, should Dr. Jackson withdraw his nomination?

BROOKS: No, I don't think so, but that's not my decision.

CUOMO: Right.

BROOKS: It's his decision. He knows whether the accusations are true or not true, OK? Again, there are always going to be allegations and accusations. The key is determining what the truth is in the face of conflicting evidence.

I'm a commercial litigator. I've litigated in court. I've been a prosecutor. I've been a defense attorney.

And when you see a complaint or you see an indictment, those are mere allegations. Any court of law, the evidence comes forward and then a jury or judge makes a decision as to what the truth is, and that's what we need to focus on, putting the allegations aside, looking at the actual evidence and reaching a determination.

I'm cautiously optimistic that these allegations are false with respect to Dr. Jackson, but who knows? I'm not in the United States Senate.

CUOMO: Right.

BROOKS: I'm not on the front end of that investigation. I pray that the senators will put their partisanship aside and come to the evidence, examine the evidence with an open mind and then make the proper decision.

CUOMO: Well, we'll see what the House does with Pruitt because you got plenty of facts to work off there and we'll follow those deliberations very closely.

Mo Brooks, thank God you made it through that day. It's good to have you on the show, making your case to the American people.

BROOKS: My pleasure, Chris. Alisyn, have a blessed day.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. You too.

All right. Moving on, Central Americans arriving at the U.S./Mexico border. So what happens now to the so-called caravan that we've been following and watching all of these weeks? We take you there live, next.