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A Presidential News Conference Like None Ever; GOP Moving Ahead with Health Care Overhaul; VP Pence Offering "Reassurance" to Europe. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 17, 2017 - 05:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you. You're dishonest people. This is fake news put out by the media. I inherited a mess. It's a mess.


ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, that is just the tip of the iceberg. An erratic performance from President Trump at the White House conference. It has the performance has many asking what could come next just four weeks into his term?

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

[05:00:00] MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Miguel Marquez. It is Friday, February 17th, 5:00 a.m. here on the East Coast.

KOSIK: And this morning, everything at the White House is running smoothly. Just ask president Trump.

In a bizarre news conference, the president lashed out in a stunning display of anger at the media and judges and at leakers and at his critics. He complained about inheriting a mess and insisted that reports and leaks about turmoil in his administration are false. And despite his insistence that all is well in the West Wing, Mr. Trump will now have to begin his third search for a national security advisor.

Retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward said no to the job, this days after the president demanded Michael Flynn's resignation for misleading the vice president over his talks with the Russian ambassador. Harward cited financial and family issues that would prevent the 24/7 commitments the job requires.

MARQUEZ: But it may not be as simple as that. A senior Republican says central to Harward's decision was, quote, "a question of clarity regarding lines of authority." And more bluntly, a friend of Harward says he was reluctant because the White House seems so chaotic.

The friend says Harward called the job an "S" word sandwich. Very, very blunt. The White House official asked by CNN if there is another candidate for national security adviser on the horizon, replied, "Not that I'm aware of."

KOSIK: The timing of Vice Admiral Harward's decision is perhaps not entirely a coincidence. It came just hours after the president's rants of a news conference which marked a total break from everything we've ever seen before. Even Capitol Hill veterans were stunned.

One Republican senator texting CNN's John King saying this, "He should do that with a therapist and not on live television." Another Republican lawmaker called it the new normal, adding, "We're just trying to manage this expletive."

CNN's Sara Murray has more now from the White House.



Donald Trump capped of off a very busy week with a rock 'em sock 'em press conference, something very different from what we are used to seeing in the east room. He stretched on for an hour slamming the media and going after his former political opponent Hillary Clinton, all as he assured the press and American public that there's no turmoil in this White House.

TRUMP: I turn on the TV. Open the newspapers. And I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine. Despite the fact that I can't get my cabinet approved.

MURRAY: All of that and the president making news on Russia, insisting he is not aware any of the top campaign advisers were in contact with Russian officials during the presidential campaign. Now, that runs contrary to what we are hearing at CNN from sources who say that there are former Donald Trump top campaign officials who were in constant contact with Russian intelligence officials throughout the campaign.

And in that press conference, President Trump continued to speak glowingly about Russia, saying he hopes to have positive diplomatic relations going forward.

Today, Donald Trump heads to South Carolina for an event at a Boeing plant there, before he heads off to Mar-a-Lago, also known as the "Winter White House" for the weekend.

Back to you, guys.


KOSIK: All right. Sara Murray, thanks.

MARQUEZ: Thanks to her. To help us understand what happened in the East Room, if that's possible, CNN's politics reporter Tal Kopan live in Washington, D.C. and joining us here in New York is senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter, host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES".

Good morning to you both.


KOSIK: Good morning.

MARQUEZ: Tal, I want to start with you. There was actually news out of there. There was the labor pick. There was Russia stuff. There was the tax plan. Obamacare.

We actually had some news, yes?

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. And, ostensibly, this press conference was to announce said labor pick Alexander Acosta.

You know, what was really fascinating about it, though, is we're sort of used to, you know, when you think of the rollouts of cabinet officials, you think of the officials that are standing in the wings, coming out, saying a few remarks. It's a lot of platitudes, sort of, you know, usual ritual of things. We heard his name at the top and then almost didn't hear anything about him again for, you know, the hour as Donald Trump continued on.

I got the sense watching him that he was really frustrated with how his message is getting out there. He almost told Sean Spicer like let me do your job and defend my administration. And so, you're right. There was news in there, but the way it all came together and the odd optics of it kind of overshadowed those policy issues.

KOSIK: You know, Brian, there were so many bizarre moments. One memorable was a question from a Jewish reporter about anti-Semitism, the rise of anti-Semitism. Do we have sound from the news conference? Let's go to that and talk about it.


TRUMP: I want to find a friendly reporter. Are you a friendly reporter? Watch how friendly he is.

REORTER: Well, we are concerned about it and what we haven't really heard being addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism issues and how the government is planning to take care of it. There are people who are committing anti-Semitic acts or threatened to.

TRUMP: He said he was going to ask a very simple question and it's not. It's not. It's not a simple question. Not a fair question.

I hate the charge. I find it repulsive.


KOSIK: So, I mean, you look at what's going on here. He -- I'm talking about President Trump. He tied himself in knots, didn't he?

MARQUEZ: The guy did not call him an anti-Semite. He was making the opposite.

STELTER: He is making the opposite point. The generous explanation is that the president misunderstood the question and didn't hear frankly the very thoughtful things that this reporter was saying. He eventually suggested the reporter was a liar, told the reporter to sit down. And you could see how frustrated the reporter was by not getting an answer.

We heard from the Anti-Defamation League overnight saying the president needs to be addressing these questions, needs to have a fuller answer to these questions. We have seen telephone terrorism at these Jewish centers calling in bomb threats and things like that. If the president is not aware of that, he should be aware of it. Maybe the benefit of that awkward exchange is that maybe he'll get more information on this issue.

KOSIK: But this is not the first time this has been brought up to him. You know, "The New York Times" even writing an editorial saying, "For a normal American politician, the moment offered a perfect opportunity for a home run. Mr. Trump, alas, is not that politician. He lacks the principles and moral understanding that most Americans want to see in their presidents. As is so often the case, he began with a focus on himself and skirted the issue."

When will he learn?

STELTER: I would say it a little bit differently. He prefers to be campaigning rather than governing. And that is something we have seen time and time again. We're going to see it tomorrow with a rally in Florida. "The New York Post" might be more powerful than the cover of the "New York Times". Front page from "The Post" this morning showing him as a circus master, with the words wildest show on earth.

That is what President Trump was doing. That is what he's all about. He's living a reality TV show of his own making.

MARQUEZ: But, Tal --

STELTER: And he's going to be assessed by "The New York Times" editorial board.

MARQUEZ: But a ringmaster suggests he is actually in control of something, Tal. He seems to get in his way. He insists there is a crisis. He insists he inherited a mess. None of that stacks up with reality of what's out there. Is he going to get in his way and make his life more difficult with Congress getting anything done there?

KOPAN: Well, you have to keep in mind, you know, audience. You know, one of our colleagues here, a contributor, Salena Zito, said she was watching, you know, in sort of middle Pennsylvania. It was a different reaction than what you may be getting in the Acela corridor.

If you watch some other outlets' take on it, it was Trump takes it to the media. Not Trump rants, as you might get in some outlets.

So, there is definitely a subjectivity question here. And, you know, the big question for Republican lawmakers is what they sense from the base. As long as Donald Trump continues to captivate the Republican base, lawmakers are not going to turn on him because they need him and they need his voters to like what he's, you know, offering. And you know, they're going to try to implement his agenda as best they can.

The second that they start to sense weakness, that they don't need him to maintain their voters and that perhaps he is so sort of bloodied up by the news cycle, they're going to push their agenda and push him to the side. So, he needs to keep that base on his side. He doesn't need to worry necessarily about the voters that didn't vote for him, but he loses his base, then he starts to be in trouble with Congress. And that's I think what you saw yesterday.

KOSIK: You know, the irony of this, Brian, I'll turn to you is, the president predicted what the media would be talking about the next day. His rants. Listen to what he said.


TRUMP: Tomorrow they will say, Donald Trump rants and raves at the press. I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you. You know, you're dishonest people. But I'm not ranting and raving. I love this. I'm having a good time.


STELTER: I think he is right. I think he was having a good time.

KOSIK: He wasn't having grievances, it was like the best of bests or something.

STELTER: It certainly was. But I think he was enjoying it. I would be surprised if he doesn't do this more often now he has had one solo press conference. He was up there more than an hour, taking reporters' question. This is vintage Trump. It is primary season Trump.

And even "The New York Post" that I was referencing is calling it a rant this morning. So, you saw it with your own eyes. He was venting. He was ranting.

He is consuming an enormous amount of media about himself. And that may not be healthy for him or for the country. I'm not sure how he can move away. As a businessman in New York, would always read the tabloids and watch television coverage. You can't expect a 70-year- old man to change.

MARQUEZ: Campaigning, governing, let's hope it starts soon.

KOSIK: We're going to bring you back. We have more to talk about.

STELTER: I'll be here. MARQUEZ: Speaking of which, one of the president's big promises, repealing and replacing Obamacare. Are Republicans finally getting to it?


MARQUEZ: Welcome back.

Still no plan, but there is movement within the GOP on the vow to repeal and replace Obamacare. Congressional Republicans meet privately to hear from officials leading that effort. Still, internal divisions over key components are slowing down that process. As lawmakers head home for a week long recess, where angry voters are expected to demand answers.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has more from Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Miguel and Alison. Look, there's no question about it. Republicans just haven't coalesced around a repeal-and-replace plan like they expected. They campaigned on this issue for multiple elections now and there are real problems here.

But over the course of the last couple days, we have seen them really start to work behind closed doors to try to get information out to members.

[05:15:01] Some members want to move quickly. Some would like the process to slow down. Here's what's important: those members are now going home for recess, where they're faced with town hall backlash, seven-figure ad buys by one liberal group attacking them on this issue specifically.

This is why these meetings, these briefings are so important. And this is why Speaker Paul Ryan laying out an actual timeline matters. Take a listen.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Obamacare and repealing Obamacare was a big reason why we won the House in 2010. It's a big reason why we won in 2014. And it's still yet a reason why we won the White House in 2016. We owe this to the conservatives around the country who elected us to repeal, to completely repeal Obamacare.

MATTINGLY: Now, guys, there is no question about it. There is a long road ahead. But the fact legislation will actually start moving, the process of legislating will actually start happening, that in and of itself will start assuaging some of the concerns of the members.

But the reality is this, on policy, not just on politics, not just on timeline, there are clear differences inside the Republican Party still on what to do with Medicaid, on what to do with the taxes that are applied to the Affordable Care Act. They don't have straight answers on that yet. That will be with the negotiations going forward. It is a long path ahead. No question about it. But there is at least

movement and we talked to Republican aides and they acknowledge that is a positive sign going into what is expected to be a rough recess -- Alison and Miguel.


MARQUEZ: All right. Thanks to Phil Mattingly.

And the president has just tweeted about Obamacare saying, "Despite the long delays by the Democrats and finally approving Dr. Tom Price, repeal and replacement of Obamacare is moving fast."

KOSIK: Could he be watching CNN?

MARQUEZ: It is very likely.

KOSIK: Could he be watching EARLY START?

MARQUEZ: Although as fake news, who knows what he's watching?

KOSIK: Bite your tongue.

MARQUEZ: I will.

KOSIK: All right. On the heels of President Trump's news conference, the vice president heads to meet with world leaders overseas. How can he ease concerns about the administration?


[05:21:23] KOSIK: Vice President Mike Pence on his way to Europe today where he is expected to offer reassurance as he meets with world leaders at the Munich security conference. These reassurances are needed perhaps more than ever as mixed signals on foreign policy keep coming out of Washington.

CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is joining us from Munich, Germany.

So, how much of the visit for the vice president, Nic, is it reassurance to show allies the U.S. will stand by them after the president said that NATO is obsolete?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, this is a lot about reassurance. This is the main message that Mike Pence will be bringing here, a message also that explains the relationship, the transatlantic relationship from the United States perspective.

But, look, when he arrives here, he will be first speaking with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. Angela Merkel herself has been criticized by President Trump, criticized for a policy on refugees, criticized for, if you will, the -- you know, trying to take business away from the United States.

So, the Germans and also, President Trump always compared Angela Merkel to President Putin of Russia. So, at the moment, you have Europeans looking at what President Trump said about NATO, about the European Union, especially here in Germany about the German chancellor, and being very concern and worry.

So, the reassurance that Mike Pence will bring will be very important. But it's almost this week from a European perspective as if we are seeing damage control and damage limitation coming from the new administration at the White House. You had not just Vice President Pence coming, you've got just here in an hour or so.

You have Secretary of Defense James Mattis arriving here. You've got Rex Tillerson in another part of this, secretary of state, in another part of Germany meeting with European leaders. It is about reassuring the importance of the transatlantic alliance, the importance of NATO. The United States wants to keep its relationship with the Europeans. It might change it slightly, but not as drastically as the leaders had been hearing, potentially outlined by President Trump.

Of course, there will be concern here. The administration officials when they go back to Washington, how will President Trump take the messages they bring back? Everyone here will have seen the press conference last night. And that just leads to more concerns in Europe about exactly the nature of the White House that they are dealing with. So, this message that the vice president brings of reassurance is hugely important right now, Alison.

KOSIK: All right. CNN's Nic Robertson live from Munich, thanks very much.

MARQUEZ: The Senate at this very moment is in session for a very rare overnight debate ahead of a scheduled vote on the nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. Opponents do not appear to have enough votes to block the Oklahoma attorney general's confirmation. Pruitt has long criticized the agency he is poised to lead. The vote set for 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time today comes as an Oklahoma judge has ordered Pruitt to release thousands of documents believed to be communications he had with fossil fuel executives. Pruitt was -- has until Tuesday to comply with the request, but he would be confirmed by then.

"The New York Times" is also reporting that 800 EPA employees signed a letter opposing Pruitt's confirmation.

Well, President Trump with a news conference the likes we have not seen before. More from that surreal sight at the White House, just ahead.



[05:29:02] TRUMP: I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you. You're dishonest people. This is fake news put out by the media. I inherited a mess. It's a mess.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KOSIK: And that was President Trump yesterday with an extraordinary condemnation of virtually all of his critics that has everyone asking, what could possibly happen next? The criticism again overshadowing his policy move.

Good morning and welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

MARQUEZ: And I'm Miguel Marquez. It is 29 minutes past the hour.

This morning, everything has the White House is running smoothly, fine-tuned machine as the president says. In a bizarre extended news conference, the president lashed out in a stunning public display of anger at the media, judges, leakers, and at his critics. He complained about inheriting a mess and insisted that reports and leaks about turmoil in his administration are false.

Despite his insistence that all well in the West Wing, Mr. Trump will now have to begin his third search for a national security adviser. Retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward said no to the job, this days after the president demanded Michael Flynn's resignation for misleading the vice president over his talks with the Russian ambassador.