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French Terror; Trump's First 100 Days; Tensions Rise Before N. Korea's Army Anniversary. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 21, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: It's day number 92 of the Trump presidency, but who's counting?

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump once embraced the 100-day marker. Now he calls it -- quote -- "ridiculous," while expressing new hope that he could revive the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare before that milestone arrives.

Ready to rumble, fresh fears that North Korea could conduct its sixth nuclear test, as Kim Jong-un continues to taunt President Trump.

Plus, terror on the Champs Elysees. ISIS now says it was responsible. Could the attack send shockwaves through one of the country's most important elections?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in today for Jake Tapper.

And we begin with the politics lead. It is the final sprint of the first 100 days, day 92, to be exact. Today, in a tweet, the president slammed what he called -- quote -- "the ridiculous standard" of the first 100 days of a presidency as a measuring stick for an administration, though his actions seemed to say it really does matter to him, a lot.

Today, the president said that a big announcement is coming next week on tax reform. By the way, next week is already jampacked, as he tries to turn a loss into a win in the next eight days with a buzzer beater on health care, all while the clock ticks down to a possible government shutdown.

CNN's Jim Acosta is live for us at the White House North Lawn.

Jim, can the president deliver on his promise to replace Obamacare in the next week?


President Trump is closing in on hitting that key milestone of 100 days in office. Aides to the president are pushing back on the notion that they have haven't accomplished much in their first few months here at the White House.

In fact, earlier this afternoon, the president, as you said, said he will have an announcement on tax reform next week, though we should point out a White House official tells us the timing of that announcement is not set yet.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a critical milestone for any president. But nearly 100 days in office, President Trump complains, this is no time to judge his performance.

"No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, it's been a lot, including Supreme Court. Media will kill."

But in the lead-up to the 100-day mark, the president has repeatedly tried to make the case he's putting points on the scoreboard.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days. That includes on military, on the border, on trade, on regulation, on law enforcement.

ACOSTA: But the president has yet to follow through on many of the promises he said he could accomplish in his first 100 days in office, such as health care reform, imposing term limits on members of Congress and tax reform.

During the campaign, the president promised there would be so much winning, the American people would grow tired of it.

TRUMP: We are going to win so much, you may even get tired of winning, and you will say, please, please, it's too much winning.

ACOSTA: In fact, the president laid out his 100-day agenda at an event just weeks before the November election.

TRUMP: Summing up, just think about what we can accomplish in the first 100 days of a Trump administration. We're going have the biggest tax cut since Ronald Reagan.

On the first day of my term of office, my administration will immediately pursue the following six measures to clean up the corruption and special interest collusion in Washington.

Ethics reform will be a crucial part of our 100-day plan as well. We're going to drain the swamp of corruption in Washington, D.C.

ACOSTA: So far, much of what the president has done has come through executive orders, not legislation. The White House is taking another stab at repealing and replace Obamacare, something the White House hopes can actually pass the House before Mr. Trump hits that 100-day milestone next week.

TRUMP: The plan gets better and better and better and it's gotten really, really good, and a lot of people are liking it a lot. We have a good chance of getting it soon.

ACOSTA: But standing in the way, the prospect of a government shutdown. Congress has until next week to pass a bill to fund the government. One potential obstacle, the White House is still insisting on money for one of the president's biggest promises, a wall on the Mexican border.

In the Oval Office, the president didn't sound worried that a shutdown could actually happen as he hits 100 days in office.

(on camera): Do you want to comment on the possibility of a government shutdown, sir?

TRUMP: I think we're in good shape.


ACOSTA: Now, the Trump administration's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, told reporters this afternoon that he doesn't think the government will shut down next week because at the very least the White House has confidence that Congress will pass a short-term spending bill to keep federal departments and agencies open.

But Mulvaney was cleared-eyed about the difficulties in dealing with Congress these days, saying -- quote -- "We're going to learn a lot about the next four years over the next four days." True words, Jim.


SCIUTTO: Jim Acosta at the White House.

Joined now by a panel of experts.

Amanda, the president tweets today, ridiculous standard. What are you talking about? We never should be talking about 100 days.

Of course, that's not the way he's described 100 days before.


Well, President Trump is not going to let something he said in the past stop him from saying something completely contradictory now. And I think that is the challenge for everyone who is covering Trump, only for the first 100 days, but probably for the rest of his presidency, because he's constantly changing the goalposts.

What he said yesterday doesn't necessarily matter today. And so we, as journalists, the media, really have to keep focus on, this is what he said he did. He's just not being effective by his own measure. Here's where things stand. He hasn't set out to do as much as he wanted to do. And that's that.

SCIUTTO: I was just reading through his 100-day plan. And I'm not going to bore the audience, because there's 10 things on the list.

But, you know, it was about tax relief. It was about repeal and replace Obamacare, school choice on education, and the illegal immigration act. It's really zeros on all of these things, at least so far.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and you know what? It's worth giving them credit for what they have done, which is actually -- on the immigration side, there's been a lot of activity on that side. Some of it is harder for us to see.

SCIUTTO: The executive order principally, and policy.

PHILLIP: The executive order, but also the enforcement actions that have been going on at the Department of Homeland Security. That's very real, whether you like it or not.

But, at the same time, this is a president who loves really big things, and there's not been a sort of like big signature item that he can put his name on, and it's causing a lot of anxiety in the West Wing right now. People want to deliver for Trump, because that's how he measures success. He doesn't want to go to benchmark with nothing to show for it, only sort of small piecemeal actions here and there.

SCIUTTO: And you make a good point. Presidents can do a lot without legislation, I mean, whether it's via executive order and policy or military action, Syria, et cetera.

But all the issue of legislation, Margaret, if you look now, another -- talk of health care. What is interesting here, it's the White House actually driving this expectations game, because you talk to folks on the Hill, and my friends who cover the Hill, they are saying, wait -- I'm talking about Republicans -- they say, wait a second, there's a lot that has got to happen before we're doing repeal and replace.

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Is 100 days an arbitrary measuring stick? Of course, just like a State of the Union address isn't the be-all/end-all to anything, or an inaugural address.

But this is part of the pomp and circumstance, part of the tradition of the presidency. And all presidents are to some extent measured and want to be measured by it. It's an opportunity for them to pivot and recast their message.

And what President Trump has the opportunity to do is to say, look, you know, these are challenging times, and the next 100 days are going to be really important for the following reasons. This is his opportunity to explain why many of these accomplishments and goals of his already are in progress.

SCIUTTO: And one way it's not arbitrary is the fact is that a president's power is strongest arguably in those days and months after the election.

TALEV: Absolutely.

CARPENTER: I wouldn't be surprised, honestly, if he takes a turn from -- a page from President Obama and starts blaming Congress, because that's really where the holdup is.

He's doing a lot of things administratively, but, Congress, start sending some bills.

SCIUTTO: He wouldn't be the first president of either party to do that.


SCIUTTO: Please stay with us.

There's a lot more to talk about, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions defending his comments about Hawaii just being an island in the Pacific.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD, sticking with politics now.

As our panel is back, as President Trump approaches his 100th day in office.

To the panel, Amanda in particular, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told conservative radio host Mark Levin, in response to the travel ban being overturned by a federal judge in Hawaii -- quote -- "I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power."

That was yesterday, a lot of uproar there, particularly from people on that island in the Pacific, which happens to be one of the 50 states in the union.

Here was Sessions today responding to that. Have a listen.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: No, I wasn't just criticizing the judge or the island. I think it's a fabulous place and had a granddaughter born there.

But I got to tell you, it is a point worth making that a single sitting district judge out of 600, 700 district judges can issue an order stopping a presidential executive order that I believe is fully constitutional designed to protect the United States of America from terrorist attack.


SCIUTTO: So, sure, a point perhaps worth making, Amanda, but that's also how our judicial system works.

CARPENTER: And he's at head of the DOJ. He should be celebrating, upholding the system as it works. So, that is deeply concerning. But also what makes me just want to put my head through this desk about these comments is that he's not making the best argument you can make in favor of the policies they're trying to promote. He's not defending the policy. He's going after the judge based on geographic location.

Like, you have better arguments. You're a lawyer. You were in Congress for a long time. You know these issues. Why are you using these dog-whistle, weird tactics, when this is really hurting your case? And so I just find it bizarre and confusing. And he's a guy who should really know better.

SCIUTTO: Abby, you sound like you want to...

PHILLIP: It's just been interesting to see both Sessions and Trump himself use the same argument, which is that they have determined the constitutionality of the order, and they don't believe that it's a judge's place to weigh in on that, which is, as Amanda points out, not how the system works.

So, on its face, this argument doesn't really hold up. And it's puzzling that the highest sort of law enforcement officer, attorney in the nation is not able to put forward a constitutional argument in favor of his...


SCIUTTO: Criticizing a system that he's very much a part of.


CARPENTER: And going after Judge Curiel, too.


CARPENTER: You're attacking where he's based. You're attacking the judge on his character. Get into the merits of the case.


SCIUTTO: And Judge Curiel is now going to be hearing the dreamer case, which is interesting.

But I want to go to the Democrats now, Margaret.

Have a listen to what the DNC vice chair, Keith Ellison, said about President Barack Obama's legacy.


REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Barack Obama could have a better party leader.

And I think that the fact that he wasn't has put his legacy in jeopardy.

[16:15:01] Given that we did not -- we lost a lot of statehouse seats, governorships, secretary of states, his true legacy is in danger.


SCIUTTO: Fair criticism?

MARGARET TALEV, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: Well, and I'm sure just a coincidence by Barack Obama will be holding his first public event on Monday, right in time to perhaps weigh in on Trump's 100 days in office. We'll see.

SCIUTTO: Listen. His criticism is in the numbers. I mean --

TALEV: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: -- lost of statehouses, lost in governorships, lost in the Senate and in the House. You haven't heard that though enough, you might argue, from Democrats.

TALEV: Of course, it was discussed last year, but when Democrats thought that Hillary Clinton was likely to be the next president, it's like, OK, you know, whatever. Obama engaged the way he engaged and didn't engage in other levels and as long as Democrats continue to hold White House, it won't matter.

The entire game changed in terms of assessing Obama's legacy once President Trump won the election, and now, you're hearing some Democrats using different -- I mean, look, there's the carrot and there's the stick. There's the overt criticism and there's the different kind of criticism or suggestions where you're hearing a lot of Democrats saying we really want Barack Obama involved in campaigning and building the bench at the state and legislative level.

SCIUTTO: OK, Margaret, Abby, Amanda, thanks so much and have a great weekend all of you.

Be sure to watch CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" this Sunday. Dana Bash is in for Jake Tapper. She will talk to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. It starts as always at 9:00 Eastern Time here on CNN.

And watching North Korea, the communist nation moving the missiles it showed off in a parade back to their bases. What is the regime preparing for exactly?

And then Mr. Trump weighing in on the presidential race. Not the one he won last year but the undecided one across the ocean in France. How the terror attack in Paris could be swaying voters as that election nears.


[16:20:49] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

More now in our world lead. Heightened tensions surrounding North Korea as it approaches another important national anniversary. Tuesday marks 85 years since the founding of its army and the regime oftentimes to show off so that its military might on such holidays. A particular concern: possible preparations detected for a sixth nuclear test. This as CNN is learning that those missiles displayed at the North Korean parade last week may not have been just for show.

Let me bring in CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

So, Barbara, we know the Obama administration warned the Trump administration that North Korea would become its top national security issue. It seems that the Trump administration got that message.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It does inside, Jim. Right now as you and I are talking the big worry across the administration is they simply have no predict ability about what may come next.


STARR (voice-over): As the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson sails closer to the Korean peninsula, the world heads into a weekend of high alert and tension. U.S. spy satellites and U2 planes keeping constant watch for signs of a North Korean nuclear test and other regime provocations.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Their word is not proven honest and provocative. They have not lived up to any statements that they have made in the past years, decades, actually about stopping their ballistic missiles and their nuclear programs

STARR: The Pentagon is also watching for more North Korean missile launches.

These missiles on parade just days ago headed back to their bases. They could be ready for test firings. The U.S. is urgently trying to determine if these huge canisters mean North Korea has a working intercontinental ballistic missile that could be inside. The parade also showed off new missile variants that haven't been tested yet.

Tensions rising even further for Chinese President Xi has China has raised the alert status for its aircraft, according to U.S. officials.

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: He could be messaging his own people, he could be messaging the North Koreans for that matter, but the real focus is on the actions that China is taking, for example, most recently it stopped importing coal from North Korea. It's made clear that if there's another nuclear test, it's going to cut off the oil that it provides to North Korea.

STARR: The Chinese president also under unprecedented pressure from President Trump who tweeted, "China is very much the economic lifeline to North Korea, so while nothing is easy, if they want to solve the North Korean problem, they will."

And then directly challenging the Chinese leader.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I actually told him, I said you'll make a much better deal on trade if you get rid of this menace. STARR: The Chinese government wants acknowledgement for its efforts.

LU KANG, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN (through translator): China believes the international community has definitely seen Chinese peaceful efforts to resolve the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula.


STARR: President Xi also now may be worried that if North Korea does conduct a test or a provocation, President Trump may direct little blame him -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

Could the latest terrorist attacks in Paris be a game-changer for the French presidential election?

CNN's Melissa Bell is live in Paris.

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is the big questions, Jim. We're just a few hours away from the end of the campaign here in France. How much has this attack coming at the 11th hour changed the fortunes, in particular, of the far right? That's the big question ahead of Sunday's vote. We've been trying to gauge that for you here in Paris.


[16:28:48] SCIUTTO: We're back with more now in our lead.

This morning, President Trump waded into the French presidential elections, something he had avoided until now, with a tweet that seemed to imply an endorsement. "Another terrorist attack in Paris. The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big effect on the presidential election."

Later, he told "The Associated Press" the attack will probably help Marine Le Pen.

She has made terrorism especially for Muslim immigrants a defining issue in a campaign with a virulent anti-E.U., anti-immigration message. It's fair to note that Le Pen's positions have much in common with President Trump's, including his continued pursuit of a ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries based on the perceived threat of imported terrorism.

Trump is not alone in making his presence felt there though. Former President Obama made a phone call just yesterday to the other French front-runner Emmanuel Macron who like himself unlike Le Pen is more of a pro-E.U., pro-immigration globalist.

An excited Macron even tweeted out this video clip of his taking that Obama call.

No outright expression of support from Obama. However, Obama did only call one candidate and Trump tweeted about the defining position of only one candidate.