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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

House Republicans Hold Closed-Door Meeting; Rallies Across Nation to Protest Trump's Policy. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 16, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


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[16:33:33] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're going to stick with politics.

At his news conference in between whatever that was, the president did make some news including that an Obamacare replacement is coming in March.

Today, House Republicans met behind closed doors trying to unify their message on plans to repeal and replace Obamacare. As of now there is still no agreement on any tangible replacement plan and some lawmakers are frankly concerned that moving too quickly could spell political disaster later, if constituents wind up losing coverage.

Let's go to CNN's Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

And, Phil, Tom Price, the newly minted health and human services secretary, he was also at today's closed door meeting. Any hints as to what might be next in efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, eventually, a proposal. For the near term, they want information. And, Jake, when you talk to GOP leadership aides, one of their biggest issues right now is they felt that their members are out of the loop. That's why they've been so unsettled. That's why they've been complaining about the time line or lack of policy details. There is a strategy going forward and they've had a series of behind closed doors briefings including that briefing today really trying to dig in on specific issues.

And here's why. Jake, the House is no longer in session. They are going home for recess. That means town halls, that means seven-figure ad buys by some liberal groups. What Republicans did today, I'm told, was arm their members with PowerPoint packets, talking points walking through why the Affordable Care Act in their view is failing, why replace plan will eventually work.

But, Jake, there is no question about it, when it comes to policy there are sharp differences within the House Republican conference, differences that don't have answers yet.

[16:35:07] Speaker Paul Ryan making very clear when they come back from recess, we will start the legislative process. How that process ends up, there's no answers to that yet, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly, thank you.

Now on to our national lead. Another round of rallies and grassroots efforts are taking place across the country today. This time they are to protest not President Trump's policies on health care, but his policies on immigration and travel. Immigrants in Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and other major U.S. cities are skipping work and school today. Some are planning to not spend any money on this so-called "Day Without Immigrants".

I want to bring in CNN correspondent Tom Foreman. He's in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington.

Tom, is this having any sort of impact nationally or locally?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is no real way to measure what the impact is nationally at this point. It is having some local impact. Right behind me is one of the restaurants here in D.C. that has closed down for the day. Normally, this would be hopping. We had customers come by a short while ago, trying to get in and they're not alone as this effort has extended, as you noted, to cities coast to coast.

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DEMONSTRATOR: We are workers! We are --

FOREMAN (voice-over): In Chicago, in Atlanta, in Charlotte, and in Austin, protesters rallied loud and long against the Trump policies on immigration. Among the many immigrants who walked off of their jobs to hammer home a point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people that are here, they just want to be heard. They just want to be respected. They want to do their jobs.

FOREMAN: Employers joined the effort, too. Some restaurants in particular are allowing their workers to stay off of the job from Los Angeles to Philadelphia. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has found more than half of all restaurant workers are foreign born. That's over 7 million people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to let them know. We're not criminals. We're workers. We support our country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just going to close the store completely. I wouldn't be able to run it without them in the first place. They're the backbone of my business and they make the machine go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you stand for something, whatever your ideology is, you've got to stand up for it.

FOREMAN: In the nation's capital, more than 100 eateries, bars and cafes shut down, including a good many that serve folks at the Pentagon. And on Capitol Hill, some even had managers working in place of their immigrant employees so the restaurant could stay open.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're running a limited menu in support of our staff. My wife is here washing dishes, for example. You know, we needed to kind of call in all hands to help out.

FOREMAN: Even a restaurant in the new Trump hotel was so short staffed, it was offering a limited menu. And its sister restaurant was closed altogether just a block from the White House where the new administration has been steadily defending the new president's policies.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Those who are in this country that pose a threat to us or with a criminal record are where his priorities are going to be first and foremost, and we're going to move through the rest of the folks that are in this country illegally.

FOREMAN: But some aren't buying it.

Celebrity chef Jose Andres who is involved in dueling lawsuits with the new president over a contract dispute closed some of his restaurants and tweeted a message at the White House, "#immigrantsfeedAmerica."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I only want to run a successful restaurant and you are making it very difficult.

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FOREMAN: At least one bilingual school here was also closed. As best we can make out, Jake, it didn't seem to shut down any community anywhere, but it did get a lot of voices heard everywhere. That's really what they wanted most of all -- Jake.

TAPPER: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

President Trump pledged to build a wall, but a new CNN investigation uncovers what might really happen with that wall. It could leave some Trump supporters sorely disappointed.

Stay with us.

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[16:43:08] TAPPER: Welcome back.

Let's dive into the national lead now as President Trump calls for a big, beautiful wall on the border between the United States and Mexico. A new report out today questions whether the fence in place now is even effective.

The current barrier is 654 miles long. It covers not even half of the 2,000-mile border. The fence stops and starts at various points throughout California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The CNN air drone shows you what it actually looks like over Nogales, Arizona. Those who would be in charge of planning and building and manning a new wall, well, they now say plans may need to be scaled back, way back.

Our senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin explains why. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is 18 feet tall made of steel with a cement base. Call it what you want, but the government planners, security experts and Homeland Security officials who will be in charge of building it call this a fence.

This is the most recently built barrier between the United States and Mexico near Brownsville, Texas. And CNN has been told by multiple sources within the agencies involved in building, paying for and enforcing this barrier that this is what President Trump's wall may look like.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is planning to present the plan for border security to its bosses possibly this week, and CNN has learned new details.

First, they say the wall should not be a wall. It should be a fence, and that could become a sticky situation for a president who insists otherwise.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On the fence, it's not a fence, it's a wall. You just misreported it. We're going to build a wall.

GRIFFIN: Sources tell CNN the biggest job in moving forward is convincing the president that the fence is more secure and it will be up to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, sources say, who must find a way to allow the White House to spin the promise of a wall into a fence.

Secretary Kelly seems to have already begun, in testimony to Congress, repeatedly referring to the border fortification as a barrier.

JOHN KELLY, UNITED STATES HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Yes, there are many, many places that we need some type of physical barrier right now backed up by men and women of border protection.

GRIFFIN: Why would President Trump agree to a fence instead of a beautiful wall, as he says? Security and common sense. U.S. Customs and border patrol officials on the ground and in charge of actually securing the border, tells CNN a fence actually offers more security than a solid wall. One source telling CNN, "You never want to have a barrier in place that will obstruct your vision. That prevents you from seeing the other side of the border." Another saying, "I'm not calling it a wall, because we are talking about a fence that we can look through.

That's what we need. It's more secure for border agents. It eliminates many environmental factors like drainage. And its costs will be significantly lower. If the current plan is approved, it will look like this bollard-style fencing, the steel slats secured 6 feet below ground and standing 18 feet above, the slats reinforced with rebar and cement. Another part of the proposal according to sources, it will not go coast to coast. This is the current fence from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico with large gaps in between for a total of 654 miles. The latest plans involve adding 177 new miles of fencing and replacing 272 miles of already-built fence, according to one-high level source with knowledge of the project.

That means the total barrier between the United States and Mexico would cover 831 total miles of a nearly 2000-mile border. Still, not even half, according to these sources. As for the cost, if President Trump accepts this recommendation, it will be about $5 billion according to sources. Should President Trump insist on complete coverage included in a Department of Homeland Security draft report seen by CNN is a proposed three-phased plan to do it all the way across, an additional, 1,080 miles of fencing at a cost of roughly $21 billion. But leading experts say constructing it across rough terrain is not only unrealistic, but according to one source, pure fantasy.

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GRIFFIN: And add to this, Jake, a government accounting office report released just this afternoon basically saying that the customs and border patrol really doesn't have a good handle on how effective fencing really is. The report says the CBP has yet developed any method of assessing the value of fencing or how well it integrates into the overall border security system. One thing is clear in the report, the old fencing, which is called legacy fencing appears to be very easily defeated. In fact, the GAO says in a five-year period from 2010 to 2015, legacy fencing, Jake, was breached, either cut open, driven over, or tunnelled under more than 9,000 times. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: Wow. Drew Griffin, thank you so much. Coming up, what is North Korea celebrating with parades and fireworks? CNN has the only western reporter on the ground in Pyongyang. We'll go there live. Stay with us.

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[16:50:00] TAPPER: Looking now to our "WORLD LEAD", North Korea may be one of the few countries not fascinated with the death of Kim Jong- un's half-brother right now. Instead, the hermit kingdom has celebrated one of its biggest national holidays, the late leader, Kim Jong-il's birthday. North Korea is pulling out all the stops for the "day of the shining star celebration", lavish fireworks, concerts, and military displays, a lot of money that could be better spent on feeding their own people. Let's now go to Pyongyang, that's where CNN's Will Ripley is, the only western T.V. journalist on the ground. And, Will, on the heels of the launch of one of North Korea's most advanced missiles yet, is this year's celebration any different from previous years?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This celebration is very similar in many ways to celebrations we've seen before, Jake. Perhaps a bit larger because it would have been the 75th birthday of the late North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il. What we saw, a more than 20-minute fireworks display, we saw public dancing in the streets, and people throughout Pyongyang practicing their routines for hours during the day. We saw 100,000 people attend a flower show, the special flower that was designed and created for Kim Jong-il called the Kimjongilia.

And so, these are all things that we've seen in North Korea before. And yet, this is a country that continues to be under very heavy sanctions, unprecedented sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs. There was that missile launch over the weekend, a considerable amount of this country's resources is spent on developing these weapons by some estimates up to a quarter of its GDP. And, so, you have people who might be coming from homes that don't have electricity and yet you're seeing these lavish displays. You have people outside of Pyongyang in the country side, who don't have a nutritionally sufficient diet, who may be watching these extravagant celebrations on television during the couple of hours a day that they have power.

And, so, that is the real -- that's the perplexing thing about this country. The state media, the propaganda tells people that they are going without these things, they don't have good quality food, they don't always have consistent electricity, they're kept isolated from the rest of the world because their country needs to develop these weapons to protect their national sovereignty. They tell people that the United States is just miles away from Pyongyang where I'm standing right now, with a - with a - with an army of forces waiting to invade this country. And when we talk to people on the streets, that's what they tell us. When we ask them if they think the weapons development is worth it for the hardship that this country endures. They say their country has no other choice. They don't blame the regime, they don't blame their Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un for their - for their financial troubles. They blame the United States because that's what the state-controlled media has been telling them.

[16:55:01] Now, we spoke to some everyday people also about the U.S. elections and specifically about President Trump. Surprisingly, pretty much everybody knew the name, they know who he is, but they say they're not expecting much from the new Trump administration. They say every U.S. President continues a hostile policy against their country. So, whether it's Trump or Obama, or anyone else, they don't feel optimistic that things will change, but government official are telling us privately here that there is some hope that perhaps the new administration will take a different approach with North Korea and be willing to negotiate. Jake?

TAPPER: He is a negotiator. Will Ripley in Pyongyang, North Korea. Thank you so much, my friend. Stay safe. President Trump pushing back on criticism that his administration has been chaotic. He said, in fact, his White House is running like a fine-tuned machine. That story coming up.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening now, "BREAKING NEWS".