Return to Transcripts main page


Trump's Speech: A Performance Or Presidential Pivot?; Trump Embraces Key Parts Of Obamacare As Fight Looms; Emotions High After Widow Of Fallen SEAL Honored; Trump Mentions "Radical Islamic Terror" Despite Objections; White House Postpones New Travel Ban To Milk Speech "Moment" Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 1, 2017 - 11:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- all right, Coy, thanks so much.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much. Thank you all for being with us. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" starts right now.

KEILAR: Hello, everyone. I am Kate Bolduan. The performance ends and the political reality begins. President Trump's surprising new tone could be setting up epic showdowns on Capitol Hill with Democrats and his own party.

He's embracing key parts of Obamacare as Republicans try to convince their own to jump on board. He's calling for both parties to compromise on immigration now. And he's calling for a massive infrastructure package, something you would normally hear from a Democratic president. The question now, is any of this possible in the current political environment?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The time for trivial fights is behind us. We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts. We should ensure that Americans with preexisting conditions have access to coverage.

I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible as long as we focus on the following goals, to improve jobs and wages for Americans. I will be asking Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure of the United States.


KEILAR: Let's break this all down now with CNN political director, David Chalian, and CNN political analyst, "Daily Beast" editor-in- chief, John Avlon. Guys, it's great to see you and what a day it is today.

David, you have the president on many issues, but the president's striking a new tone yesterday, especially on immigration. He talked about building a wall. He didn't mention anything about Mexico paying for it, though, in his speech. But then you had Mike Pence saying this this morning.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to build a wall. We're going to enforce the law --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't say Mexico is going to pay for it.

PENCE: We'll enforce the laws of this country. Well, they are.


KEILAR: "Well, they are." So David, where is the president on these two fronts of immigration reform and the wall?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No, listen, the network -- the lunch that he had with network anchors yesterday where he floated this notion of some big compromise immigration plan, if that was actually something he was pushing, it would be included in the speech in a real way, if that was something he really wanted to launch.

So until President Trump comes out with some kind of proposal about some compromise legislation that is an immigration overhaul, I think we can put that on the side. If you look at what he actually said on immigration last night, his policies are not that different from what they were during the general election campaign.

So I think that there was a sense of sort of testing something out there. Clearly, you saw right away that Republicans were like, hey, where is he going on this. In the speech itself, Kate, he did not go there. He was sort of back where he had been, talking about sort of the border security side of this. That was the emphasis last night, including with his guests up in the first lady's box.

KEILAR: He doesn't have to come up with more compromise legislation, David, all he has to say is these words, "Gang of Eight compromise." It's out there, it made it part of the way through, it's there.

So John, he could, as David lays out, he could have a big fight in Congress over a lot of this, pathway to legal status, pathway to citizenship. He could also have a big fight with regard to Obamacare, repealing and replacing Obamacare. Listen here to Republican Senator Rand Paul.


SENATOR RAND PAUL (R), HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE: If you give people back money that they did not pay in taxes, that is basically an entitlement program. So if you have a refundable tax credit and you give everybody back money they did not pay in taxes and you say we're going to help you with your health insurance, how is that different than Obamacare subsidies? We just call them tax credits instead of subsidies, but they're the same thing. It's government money of which there's a shortage of. We're borrowing about a million dollars a minute.


KEILAR: John, where does this go?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I mean, fiscal conservatives are politically homeless in this administration. It's quaint to hear Rand Paul complain about certain aspects of the plan. You know, he's kind of losing battle after battle on this front and most folks on the Republican side seemed to have surrendered their principles when it comes to fiscal responsibility. The plan Donald Trump laid out last night --

KEILAR: But the Freedom Caucus in the House hates this bit too.

AVLON: They may very well hate it, but their base seems to love Donald Trump for the time being. The principled fights around spending, that's where the action is going to come in Congress. What he presented last night in health care reform is basically a series of proposals that have been out there by Republicans.

Added to a problem of access, I think that word is important, access for people with preexisting conditions and sort of a price control, Nixon-esque price control on drugs. That's where the devil is in the details.

Because the plan he puts forward, if practical, will be really expensive and theoretically, Republicans won't like it. Of course, their problem might be with the word "Obamacare," not the policies per se. If it was Romneycare, it might be a different conversation for you.

[11:05:10]KEILAR: We'll see if the president is OK calling it Trumpcare coming up soon. Go ahead, David.

CHALIAN: Also in that Stephanopoulos interview you showed, Mike Pence was asked point black, would you guarantee that anybody who has coverage under Obamacare now will not lose their coverage. That was not a guarantee that Mike Pence was able to make.

KEILAR: He doesn't want it coming back to bite him. So John, you have been making this big pitch last night, yes, as you point out short on details, but he is now hitting the road to sell his agenda. Virginia and Florida this week and various parts. That's straight out of the, I like to call, post-presidential address playbook.

AVLON: I know, it's almost startlingly typically presidential. Look, I mean, you know, beginning with last night, you know, Teleprompter Trump is very presidential. The problem is that Twitter Trump seems to be the real man. Whether they can put that Donald Trump on a leash and actually act presidential will be key to selling his plan.

Look, the speech was effective because the tone changed, the tune didn't change dramatically but the tone was presidential. It had a kind of sweeping, soaring oratorical quality that we would have expected from the inaugural, which ended up being all about American carnage.

But I think the good marks the president is getting today from that speech reflect the fact that he was more disciplined and he was just frankly more presidential in the presentation of his ideas. The ideas themselves however didn't markedly change. Lincolnesque for Trump but (inaudible) curved it.

KEILAR: One markedly changed, though, he has not tweeted anything in the last two seconds other than "thank you" this morning. We'll see how long it sticks. Great to see you, guys. Thank you.

It was the moment that grabbed, and rightly so, the spotlight last night. President Trump paying tribute to Ryan Owens, the Navy SEAL, who was killed last month in that Yemen raid, by recognizing Ryan Owens' widow, who is sitting in the chamber with the first family. Listen here to the president.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: Ryan died as he lived, a warrior and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation. I just spoke to our great General Mattis just now who reconfirmed that, and I quote, "Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemy." Ryan's legacy is etched into eternity. Thank you.


KEILAR: That was last night. Joining me now is CNN global affairs analyst and former deputy national security adviser to President bama, Tony Blinken. Tony, you have worked with many a president and sat through many a speech like the president offered up last night when the president goes before a joint session of Congress. What did you think when you saw that moment that we just played?

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Kate, how can anyone not be moved by that? It was a powerful moment. It was a beautiful moment. I think the president paid appropriate tribute to Chief Owens and to his widow. Of course, just watching her face, here tears, looking up to the heavens, you can't not be moved, it was a powerful thing.

But I've also got to say it induced a little bit of whiplash, because the president was touting the success of the mission, and yet hours earlier, he was blaming the generals for the loss of Chief Owens' life, which is very unfortunate, it's hard to square those two things.

KEILAR: Tony, I actually was going to ask you about that. I want to play that moment you're talking about. You have what he said last night but you also have, he spoke to Fox News earlier in an interview and was asked about Ryan Owens, his death, and criticism coming at the president over the raid. This is what the president said in that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, this was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, you know, just -- they wanted to do. They came to see me.

[11:10:08]They explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected. My generals are the most respected that we've had in many decades, I believe, and they lost Ryan.


KEILAR: You heard there, this was a mission that started before I got here, you and I have had many conversations about that, this is what they wanted to do, meaning the generals, and they lost Ryan. Is that a fair assessment, Tony?

BLINKEN: Look, first, nothing takes away from Chief Owens' incredible courage, heroism, valor on the battlefield. But what would be a betrayal of Chief Owens is to gloss over or ignore any problems that may have occurred in that mission, in the way it was conceived and carried out. We don't know that there were problems, but there have been some suggestions that there were.

KEILAR: It's under review right now.

BLINKEN: It's under review. The military makes it its mission each time to do an after-action report, figure out what worked, what didn't work, what went right, what went wrong. It would be a big mistake not to carry that forward. But what's really troubling to me about what the president said is, he implied whatever happened is the military's responsibility. He's the commander-in-chief. The buck stops with him. It was ultimately his decision to go forward. He's responsible for it.

KEILAR: On another front, Tony, I do want to ask you from the speech last night, the president made a point to state very clearly the term "radical Islamic terrorism." I want to play that moment for you. Listen.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: Our obligation is to serve, protect, and defend the citizens of the United States. We are also taking strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism.


KEILAR: That might not be unusual coming from the president. But according to a senior administration official, his new national security adviser, McMaster, had pushed the president not to say that term during the speech, as a former deputy national security adviser, does that surprise you?

BLINKEN: Well, I wish he had listened to his national security adviser, who is exactly right. Using that term plays right into the hands of the terrorists who want to paint this as a war between the west and Islam. It's their best recruiting tool. At the very moment that we have ISIL on its heels in Iraq and

even in Syria, you don't want to give them a lifeline by giving them a propaganda victory and allowing them to portray this as a clash between the west and Islam.

So the national security adviser is exactly. It's just not smart to do this and I hope the president gets away from this.

KEILAR: They are differing views on if it's smart or not. Interesting that it's happening in the White House between the president and his top national security adviser. Tony, great to see you. Thanks.

BLINKEN: Thanks a lot, Kate. Good to be with you.

KEILAR: Thank you. Coming up for us, the White House said they rushed the rule out because American security was at risk. But now they say the travel ban rollout can wait another day. We'll tell you why, next.

Last night, the president condemned the threats against Jewish community centers. But behind closed doors, did the president question who is really behind it?

And she has a media empire for sure, but will Oprah Winfrey aim even higher, perhaps as high as the oval office, 2020 politics, anyone? Her answer is next.




KELLYANN CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Go buy Ivanka's stuff is what I would tell you. I'm going to go get some myself today. It's a wonderful line. I'm going to give it a free commercial here, go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.


KEILAR: You likely remember that moment. This just in, the White House is now concluding that one of the president's top advisers, Kellyanne Conway, did violate ethics rules when plugging Ivanka Trump's brand during a TV interview from the White House briefing room.

But the news here is that the White House says after meeting with counsel and after a review, Conway did so, quote, in their words, "without nefarious motive and is highly unlikely to repeat the mistake." The review makes no mention of any punishment. We'll bring you updates as we get them on that front.

But also new this morning, the White House is pushing back on plans to announce a revised travel ban. Why? According to a senior official, they don't want to step on positive reviews coming from last night's address to Congress. Here's what we know about the reworked order. It's likely to not include legal permanent residents known as green card holders or existing visa holders under the ban.

Plus it's expected to revise language prioritizing refugee claims of certain religious minorities. All right. You've got this new ban that is expected to be rolled out but not rolled out today, as it was originally expected.

Let's go to Capitol Hill now for more on this. I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff. He is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for coming in after a long night for all of you. You were very outspoken against the travel ban. Are you feeling more comfortable with the details that are coming out now?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: No, I'm not. It's still the same basic problem, and that is the choice of these countries is very arbitrary, and indeed the imposition of this ban, the perception around the world and all too accurate, that it's a ban targeted at Muslims, is going to make it more difficult for us to get cooperation from Muslim nations in the fight against terror.

It's not going to protect our security. These are already the most highly vetted people coming into the country. And the fact that the president thinks, well, we can wait another day so I can get a political benefit from a day focused on my speech, tells you they don't see that much urgency with this either. So it looks arbitrary and political, which is exactly, I'm afraid, what it is.

KEILAR: That's what I wanted to ask you about, hearing from the White House that they're scrapping plans for the rollout today, you say in your view you think that's patently political? It couldn't be anything else?

SCHIFF: Absolutely. I mean, it's either urgent or it's not urgent, it's either important that all these seven countries be included or it isn't.

[11:20:07]And of course, why these seven countries, why not Pakistan, which has been so much of the source of plotting and planning? It looks and is arbitrary. The effect will be not to improve or security but to make it more difficult for our troops overseas to get cooperation in places like Iraq and elsewhere.

So I think it's very ill-considered and the idea of singling out a faith for discrimination, and this is really of course what is behind this, this campaign promise, to ban Muslims and to try to dress it up as something else, that's antithetical to the whole history of the country as well as a Constitution that protects the free exercise of religion.

KEILAR: You may say that, but it seems that the White House is trying to take pains now to not have religion be an element of this ban. It obviously is more going to geography, but you can continue to have your disagreements there. I want to ask you about -- more about last night, though, you

tweeted after the president's big speech, "For all who continue to ask will this president act to unite the country, can he grow in the job, the answer tonight was a discouraging no."

Congressman, 57 percent of people who watched the speech in a CNN poll overnight had a positive reaction to it. What did you hear that they didn't?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, certainly there were things to have a positive reaction to. I think the guests that the president brought and alluded to in the gallery, some were the spouse of a war hero that is deserving of a lot of applause.

But when you look at what the president talked about substantively in terms of his policies, again it was a repeal of the Affordable Care Act with no proposal to replace it.

Again it was a view of immigrants as all murderers and the whole discussion of immigration last night was in the context of people who were murdered by immigrants. That is the same dark vision that we heard when he accepted the Republican nomination.

Nothing has changed and for the president to say, I'm for women's health, as he did last night, but for the Congress to be eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, for the president to say I'm for clean water and air, of course, that gets high approval, but then he appoints Pruitt to head the EPA.

KEILAR: But Congressman, on immigration, it appears, he's saying, at least, that he's moving on immigration. I mean, he told a group of anchors before the speech last night, he was open to compromise and then beforehand, he said he was also open to a pathway to legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants. Is this a place -- do you believe him, is this a place you could work with him?

SCHIFF: You know, if he's not willing to say it publicly, no, I don't believe it and frankly, a lot of what he does publicly is very hard to believe. Look, we all want to read into the tea leaves of things he says not for attribution, off the record, as holding out some promise that maybe he'll be a different kind of a president.

But he had the opportunity last night to talk to the American people with the biggest bully pulpit in the world and he said nothing to give us encouragement. The only real new agenda item that he had was the creation of a new office for the victims of immigrant violence.

That is not someone who is trying to bring the country together on the most challenging issues, that of immigration reform. You know, the plea for building a great, great wall, again, another divisive proposal. You have to judge him by what he is willing to say publicly, and when he is willing to say publicly is the same old divisive and dark view of immigration.

KEILAR: Got some work to win you over. That is clear, Congressman Schiff. Thank you very for coming on. We appreciate it.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

KEILAR: All right, in just minutes, House Republicans will be heading to the Senate to sell their new version of the Obamacare replacement plan. Can they get all of their members on the same page? That might be the toughest job in town right now.

And Nancy Pelosi just compared the president to a jerk boyfriend? Ahead, her advice to Democrats why she thinks President Trump's voters will eventually turn on him. We'll be right back.



KEILAR: Under way right now on Capitol Hill, a battle among Republicans over the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. The "replace" is a big question. Right now, it's a battle between Republicans and Democrats, but also especially between Republicans at the moment.

Two key members of Congress, Republicans Kevin Brady and Greg Walden are about to make their case to Senate Republicans for their effort to roll back Medicare expansion and replace insurance subsidies in Obamacare with tax credits, a proposal already facing a fight from Republican conservatives who call it "Obamacare Lite." That's not a good thing for Republicans.

Joining me now is a Republican congressman from New York, Lee Zeldin. He of course sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for coming in.


KEILAR: So Congressman, President Trump last night, he seemed to embrace the emerging, I'll call it the Paul Ryan plan, to replace Obamacare. Are you on board with it? Is it full steam ahead for you?

ZELDIN: I'll want to read through the bill first. I do like to see where things are going to be going. I see this as a few different phases. One is going to be a budget reconciliation bill. Then we also see some powers that are in the Secretary Price in the Health and Human Services, what his plan is as secretary to help ensure that there is a smooth transition.

KEILAR: What about tax credits? Is that "Obamacare lite"?

ZELDIN: I think it's important to include in this package a better ability for people who are working to be able to set aside money for them to better afford to pay their premiums and deductibles, because when a person has $8,000 worth of deductibles and can't afford it, they feel like they don't even have health insurance even though maybe they do.

If you can't afford your policy, you don't really have access to it. So I do support the concept of making it easier to set aside money pre-tax to allow individuals to better afford the --