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Southeast Texas Church Damaged by Package Explosion; White House Staffer on McCain: "He's Dying Anyway"; Singapore Chosen as Neutral Location; Trump Hoping for Better Iran Nuclear Deal. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired May 11, 2018 - 05:00   ET


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: We are blessed no one was injured, adding it has made everyone nervous.

[05:00:05] Two weeks ago, a suspicious package was found at a Starbucks in the city, later found to be an explosive device as well. Beaumont police advise residents not to handle anything suspicious. Beaumont is about 250 miles east of Austin where you might remember a serial bomber targeted homes and businesses in March.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Senator John McCain's opposition to Gina Haspel becoming CIA met with a despicable response from inside the White House. An official tells CNN that at a meeting, white staffer Kelly Sadler said of McCain he's dying anyway.

The Arizona senator is battling brain cancer at home. The official says Sadler meant it as a joke, but the official said that joke fell flat. Sadler runs surrogate communications at the White House.

BRIGGS: Asked for a response, the White House says we respect McCain's service to our nation. And he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time. The source says Sadler called the senator's daughter Meghan McCain to apologize, unclear how Meghan McCain responded.

The senator's wife Cindy McCain posting this tweet: May I remind you, my husband has a family of seven children and five grandchildren.

ROMANS: John McCain on Wednesday urged his fellow senators to reject Gina Haspel for CIA director after she declined to say torture is immoral. McCain's move prompted this ugly response and ugly and incorrect respondent from Fox Business commentator, Retired Air Force Lt. General Thomas McInerney.


CHARLES PAYNE, FBN ANCHOR: John McCain said he would not endorse Haspel also in part because she believes in torture and she thinks it works.

LT. GEN. THOMAS MCINERNEY (RET.), AIR FORCE: John McCain. It worked on John. That is why they call him song bird John.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: That is just not true. PolitiFact rates that conspiracy theory a pants on fire. No evidence torture ever got McCain to betray his country. John McCain did not go home when offered a chance to go home because he wanted to stay back with his fellow hostages, hostages.

Host Charles Payne later tweeted an apology to McCain saying he missed the remark in a moment but would have challenged it had he heard it.

BRIGGS: Yes, I don't think this is on Charles.

A spokeswoman for Fox tells CNN that McInerney though will no longer be invited on Fox Business or Fox News.

Meghan McCain will address the remarks from McInerney and Sadler on "The View". On a more positive note, Senator Graham visited McCain in Arizona. He says McCain is, quote, getting stronger.

ROMANS: Joining us this morning, Sarah Westwood, who's just joined CNN as a White House reporter.

Welcome, officially.

BRIGGS: Good to see you.

ROMANS: And good morning.


ROMANS: Sarah, let's start with the Senator John McCain issue. Look, it is appalling that it could be joked about inside the White House. On Fox business to have someone say something like that. What does it say about the state of politics today that someone like John McCain, a war hero and national hero in the troubling time for his family could be joked about in such a manner? What happened to politics?

WESTWOOD: That's a great question. I mean, politics -- political discourse has sort of been on a downward trajectory for a while. When you thought it could not go lower, here we see people attacking a war hero, someone who is sort of an American icon at this point. There is bipartisan support that is outpouring from all over the country for McCain since his diagnosis was revealed.

But look, at the White House, the tone is set at the top. President Trump is someone who has gone after McCain before. Not just for his politics, but for his war record. So, it is difficult, I guess, for Trump and senior White House staffers to come out and criticize this relatively lower level aide Kelly Sadler for making remarks that is not that different from things that President Trump said and been criticized for in public.

Obviously, though, this is the last thing the White House wants to be dealing with right now. They have a controversy related to Michael Cohen, the president's former personal attorney. They have the Russia investigation going on. They are trying to get attention to the foreign policy agenda. So, this is not something they were prepared to deal with at the end

of this week.

BRIGGS: Yes, for you on social media, John McCain really has oddly become a divisive topic for conservatives and litmus test for where you are on conservatism. But let's forget, it was candidate Trump who said I like people who weren't captured. So, perhaps he is the one who started this tone long ago on John McCain.

But I want to talk about the president last night in the RV capital of the world in Elkhart, Indiana. He was in full campaign mode. Here is what he said about the Democrats and 2018 midterms.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats, they fight against the borders. They fight to raise your taxes. They want to rise your taxes. They fight for all of the things that we don't stand for.

[05:05:04] And we're going to have a great victory in '18. You watch. We're going to have a great victory.


BRIGGS: So, it was a full really felt like a campaign rally as we start to look forward towards 2018. You wrote about this issue. Do you think the central issue would be these tax cuts and how they played out or foreign policy?

WESTWOOD: Well, I think President Trump is increasingly turning his attention to foreign policy because his legislative agenda has stalled, a lot of the things he tried to do through executive orders have been challenged by the courts. But foreign policy is where the president has the greatest unilateral power. That's where he is focusing his attention now. The attention to his foreign policy agenda is starting to raise the approval ratings for him which he takes a lot of pride in. So, that may be where the president is focusing attention.

Republicans, however, want the conversation to be about tax cuts and they want to draw that contrast with Democrats who have gotten themselves in a bit of trouble by railing against the tax cuts. Nancy Pelosi calling them crumbs when a lot of Americans did get significant amounts of money. Republicans want to draw a contrast with the tax cuts.

ROMANS: The trick will be is if Democrats can position the tax cuts as corporate welfare and show it is hundreds and billions of dollars to companies and just $6 billion or $7 billion to actual workers. We were talking about gas prices rising. Gas prices rising this summer to take a third of the tax cuts away from working families.

You think that's going to matter? Or do you think that -- do you think that's going to be a problem in 2018 for Republicans? WESTWOOD: It absolutely could. The old saying, right, is that people

vote with their wallets. That's not going to be any different this year. Historically, the deck is stacked against Republicans and President Trump still remains unpopular in large swaths of the country. It's going to be difficult for Democrats to hold on to their seats. So, President Trump facing a lot of headwinds although the tax cuts are more popular as time goes on.

ROMANS: It's $3 gas, not $4 gas. Remember $4? That is brutal.

BRIGGS: I remember that. That was painful.

All right. Sarah Westwood, we'll check back with you next half hour -- thanks.

WESTWOOD: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. DHS is flatly denying a "New York Times" report that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen considered resigning after an explosive argument with President Trump during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. A source with knowledge of the incident says the president erupted over immigration, berating Nielsen in front of the group for not doing enough to secure the border. The secretary, we're told, standing her ground citing the law to the president more than once.

BRIGGS: According to "The Times," Nielsen drafted a resignation letter. But the Homeland Security spokesman died she threatened to step down. And Nielsen now says she shares the president's frustration with border security, blaming the problem partly on congressional inaction.

President Trump, as we mentioned, in Indiana last night taking a victory lap following the release of three prisoners held by North Korea. At a rally in the vice president's home state hours after greeting the detainees in person. President Trump says the efforts are ensuring America is respected again.


TRUMP: They were saying he's going to get us into a nuclear war. He's going to get us into a nuclear war.


And you know what gets you into nuclear wars and you know what gets you into other wars? Weakness. Weakness.


BRIGGS: The location and date are now set for President Trump's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

For the latest on that, we turn to CNN's Paula Hancocks live for us in Seoul.

Paula, good morning. An intriguing destination when you talk about this summit, Singapore. Any sense of why?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave, it is intriguing. It is one the U.S. officials around Trump and inner circle were favoring for some time. One reason is security and it is a neutral location.

Now, we know the U.S. president was thinking about the DMZ after he saw the North/South Korea summit and the optics of walking across the demarcation line. U.S. officials were not happy about that because they thought it was showing a conciliatory gesture of going to Kim Jong-un's backyard. And they wanted somewhere far more neutral.

So, it is a close ally of the United States, Singapore. From the North Korean point of view, they are happy with it because they have an embassy there. They don't have embassies in that many countries. So, they have a connection with Singapore as well. The leader there of the country welcoming it, saying he hopes it can move things toward peace on the peninsula and around the region as well. Everybody is welcoming the summit.

The South Koreans would have liked it to be at the DMZ as well. It is very nice for them to be able to host. They have acknowledged this.

[05:10:00] They also want to have a trilateral summit after this bilateral summit with South Korea involved as well -- Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. Paula Hancocks, live for us, 6:10 p.m. there in Seoul, thanks.

President might like it, Singapore cracks down on press freedom. A hundred fifty-first out of 180 victims in terms of press freedom rankings worldwide.


BRIGGS: So, it will be an interesting back drop for the world's media. You litter there, you go to jail.

ROMANS: Yes, good point.

All right. Prescription drug prices always rising. Can the president fix it? He lays out his vision for lowering drug prices today. That's next.



TRUMP: Among the many grave national security blunders of the previous administration, one of the world's worst was the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. We're putting the harshest, strongest, most stringent sanctions on Iran.


[05:15:00] BRIGGS: The president says he is hopeful for a better deal with the Iranians. No escalation in the violence overnight. But the situation does remain volatile. Iran is now condemning Israel's strikes on Syria. Israelis say it was retaliation.

International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson has some context for us live from Jerusalem.

Good morning, Nic.


I mean, what a lot of people are trying to analyze because President Trump was pulled out of the JCPOA, have the hardliners got a stronger hand in Iran now? Have they started exercising what people called strategic restraint? That is Israel has struck a number of times at Iranian military positions inside Syria, just over their border, that they feel are threatening Israel.

And Iranians up until now hadn't done anything and that dynamic appear to change after President Trump pulled the United States out of the JCPOA. Does this mean the hardliners decided to drive the ship, if you will, in Tehran? The moderate president of Iran, Rouhani, has said that the European countries who are part of the JCPOA only have a short space of time to prove that the JCPOA can actually work.

As we heard from President Trump speaking there right now the indications are they will find that difficult. European diplomats are not sure they can make the JCPOA work because they expect that there will be additional sanctions put on European companies that might try to do business in Iran.

That undermines the stability, if you will, of the moderates in Iran like Rouhani, which puts the hardliners like those forces on the ground inside Syria in control. So, if they have lifted that strategic restraint, that means we will see an increase in violence over a period of time. It might not happen now, but this problem really hasn't gone away.

BRIGGS: Nic Robertson from a quiet Jerusalem for the moment, thank you.

ROMANS: In the wake of President Trump's decision to quit the Iran deal, former President George W. Bush warning of the isolation, accepting an award from a foreign policy think tank, Bush invoked the words of Winston Churchill.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: The price of responsibilities. One cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilized war without being involved in these problems, without being convulsed by its agonies, and inspired by its causes. If this had been proved in the past as it had been, it will become indisputable in the future. People in the United States cannot escape world responsibility. I wholeheartedly agree.


BRIGGS: The former president also thanked everyone for their prayers after the death of his mother. He says his father, George H.W. Bush, misses mom, but his health is good.

ROMANS: President Trump says he has a plan to lower prescription drug prices. Trump's American Patients First plan promises to reduce consumer costs and improve drug price renegotiations and create incentives for lower prices. How? Making it easier for generic drugs to hit the market and targeting this shadowy world of drug rebates. Trump wants insures to share their big discounts for buying pricey brand name drugs with consumers, an idea the Obama administration also supported.

But the president is abandoning one campaign promise, directly negotiating with drug makers. Instead, officials planned to remove government rules preventing Medicare from getting better deals. This is the first big move on his campaign promise to cut drug prices. And experts say they think today's proposals will have a modest impact.

Trump is also expected to slam foreign countries for buying drugs for less money, asking them to spend more for taking advantage of American innovation. Americans spend more on drugs than anyone else in the world, over $1,100 per person each year.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, game seven, two of the most thrilling words in sports. Could the Jets and Predators match that hype?

Lindsay Czarniak with the "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:23:06] BRIGGS: Game seven, two of my favorite words, two of the best words in all of sports.

ROMANS: Lindsay Czarniak has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

BRIGGS: Good morning.


ROMANS: Oh, yes.

CZARNIAK: You have so many nerves, so much tension.

Predators thought after losing to Pittsburgh in Stanley Cup final last year that this was their moment. But their hopes ended early. Eddie George, NFL legend, and Sheryl Crow sang the national anthem, they started firing up the crowd in Nashville, known for a terrific atmosphere for catfish thrown on the ice.

They struggled from the start. Star goal defender struggling uncharacteristically. He was pulled in the middle of the first after allowing two goals. The Jets taking advantage and cruising to a 5-1 win advancing to the winner conference final for the first time ever where they will face Las Vegas. The Predators season ending in disappointment.

And one team knows what that feels like is the Washington Capitals. The past two seasons, they were knocked out in the second round by the Penguins. Well, now, they flipped the script. They face game one against Tampa Bay lightning after beating the Penguins in overtime on Monday.

Alex Ovechkin, arguably one of the best players in the NHL, has waited 13 years to get past the second round. He told me what was going through his mind the moment it happened.


ALEX OVECHKIN, 13-YEAR VETERAN: I try to remember, but, you know, my memory is delete it. We are going to play the Stanley Cup final. We'd just our time and it is something special.


CZARNIAK: Game one of that series tonight in Tampa.

And Phil Mickelson here in Florida turning some heads while making a fashion statement rocking that long-sleeve button down shirt. Who does that at the player championship.

Here is what this is famous for, the 17th green. It makes guys do this. Are you kidding me?

[05:25:00] It is so hard to land the ball -- you know this, Briggs -- on that green. Well, it is nearly impossible. Rickie Fowler is trying. Man, I don't know.

Yes, he finds the water. In all, 24 water balls on day one. That is the most since 2007.

BRIGGS: I want to try.

CZARNIAK: We will see if today is better. You know who retrieves those balls? They have a scuba diver that goes in. He gets bitten by gators and things like that. True story. But, look, this is what it does to every golfer.

And this you got to see. You are about to see the worst ceremonial first pitches in the history of baseball. Former linebacker Akbar Gbaja-Biamila. Guys? Really? That was tough. That was before the game in Philly last night.

BRIGGS: He is off the mound or off the grass?

CZARNIAK: It looks grassy. He tweeted I think somebody deflated my baseball.

BRIGGS: Is it worse than 50 Cent? That's really the question this morning. I think it is. CZARNIAK: We should do a split screen.

BRIGGS: I think it is the worst of all time.

CZARNIAK: There is so much that goes into it. Pressure.

BRIGGS: You have to practice.

ROMANS: Thank you, Lindsay.

CZARNIAK: You're welcome, guys.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-six minutes past the hour.

Breaking overnight: an explosive device causes damage at a Texas church. The second explosive found in the city of Beaumont in the last two weeks.