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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With New York Congressman Lee Zeldin; President Trump Thought Being President 'Would Be Easier'; North Korea Tensions; Russia, State-Run Media Take Harsher Tone on Trump. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 28, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:06]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Chapter one of the upcoming book "The Art of the Presidency" will be titled, "I Thought It Would Be Easier."

THE LEAD starts right now.

Inside the head space of the commander in chief, President Trump saying that he misses his old life, as world events and congressional dysfunction remind the president, hey, that old life is long gone.

A warning now from the president of a major, major conflict possible with North Korea, as his secretary of state says the U.S. will strike if necessary and warns the U.N. act before Kim Jong-un does.

Hey, how about the first lady's first 100 days? We have some new information about Melania Trump's next moves. How long will she stay in a New York state of mind?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

President Trump this afternoon spoke to the NRA convention in Atlanta, Georgia, where he declared -- quote -- "The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end" -- unquote.

He also talked about his possible 2020 challenger, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren. Referring to Warren's questionable claims of Native American ancestry, the president called her Pocahontas, which of course is kind of an ethnic slur.

In a brand-new interview with Reuters, the president also said he thought being president would be easier. He also discussed the possibility of a military confrontation with North Korea. And that crisis continues to heat up and capture the attention of the entire world, especially at the United Nations today. We will have much more on that coming up.

But, first, let's go to CNN's Jason Carroll, who is live for us at the White House.

And, Jason, the president adding I think it's fair to say a bit more confusion to this North Korean standoff with mixed messages.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think it's fair to that, Jake.

In that interview with Reuters, the president said that he was looking for a diplomatic outcome with North Korea. But then in the same breath during that same interview, he said the following.

He said -- quote -- There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea."

There is one point, Jake, where the president has been very clear. He feels as though his first 100 days in office has been very successful.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (voice-over): On the eve of his 100th day in office, President Trump was quick to boast about his accomplishments.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a false standard, 100 days, but I have to tell you, I don't think anybody has done what we have been able to do in 100 days.

CARROLL: Still, the president reflecting on his short time in office, telling Reuters the job is tougher than he expected.

TRUMP: This is more work than my previous life. I thought it would be easier. I thought it was more of a -- I'm a details-oriented person. I think you would say that, but I do miss my old life. This -- I like to work, so that's not a problem. But this is actually more work.

CARROLL: That acknowledgement prompting this response from Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer in an interview with CNN's Manu Raju.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President, you're in the NFL. This is the big leagues. And of course it's a hard job. It's probably the hardest job in the world.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Were you surprised to hear him say that?

SCHUMER: Very.

CARROLL: While Trump today signed his 30th executive order, more than any president since Harry Truman, he is still in search of his first major legislative victory.

A reboot of the health care bill, which advisers hoped would be a 100 days trophy for the president, stalled again last night. Sources tell CNN White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus made a big push for a vote, but according to one senior GOP aide, Republicans were close, but not close enough to risk it.

Some Republicans say they're concerned too many people would lose coverage under the GOP plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not terribly optimist being right now. I think we need to change the paradigm. If we try to muscle a bill through, we will be fighting about it as well forever.

CARROLL: A new CNN/ORC poll finds just 20 percent of Americans now say it's very likely the president and Republicans in Congress will be able to appeal and replace Obamacare, compared to three months ago just before Trump took office,when half of Americans said it was very likely.

The president leaving Washington behind for a few hours today, traveling to Atlanta to address one of his most supportive audiences, the National Rifle Association.

TRUMP: The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.

CARROLL: Nearly six months after winning the presidency, Trump again recounting his victory.

TRUMP: November 8, wasn't that great evening? Do you remember that evening?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARROLL: The president also looking ahead to his 2020 reelection bid, reviving his jab of potential Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.

TRUMP: It may be Pocahontas. Remember that.

(LAUGHTER)

(BOOING)

TRUMP: And she is not big for the NRA. That, I can tell you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: Also during that NRA speech, the president said that he is going to build that wall.

[16:05:03]

And he said -- quote -- "It's going to be easy to do," obviously not so easy to do, since the administration has still been unable to get the funding to get that wall built, at least not yet.

Also, while he was down there in Atlanta, the president also took some time to campaign for GOP congressional candidate Karen Handel. She's running in the Sixth Congressional District just outside of Atlanta, Jake, a district that has been reliably Republican for decades, but then you have got this Democratic challenger down there, Jon Ossoff, who managed to get 48 percent of the vote, once again a Democrat in a Republican district.

That is a district the GOP does not want to see turn blue -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jason Carroll, thank you very much. I know a lot of Native Americans very offended by the calling of her, calling Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas. They think it's nothing short of racist.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is ratcheting up the pressure on North Korea, putting everything on the table, from direct negotiations to possible war.

And today his top diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, launched a new pressure campaign at the United Nations, charging the international community to cut off economic ties with North Korea. Tillerson also offered diplomatic talks with Pyongyang, this after President Trump warned of a -- quote -- "major, major conflict" possible with North Korea.

CNN's Elise Labott is live for us at the United Nations today.

And, Elise, what's the response of U.S. allies to this full-court press by the Trump administration?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I think diplomats here are relieved and pleased to hear at least the most defined explanation of the administration's emerging policy on North Korea to date, but it did come with a stern warning that the world must step up and act because Tillerson said, with the growing North Korea threat, the world is running out of time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Business as usual is not an option.

LABOTT (voice-over): With next racing towards a nuclear weapon that could reach the U.S., Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in his first speech before the United Nations said time is running out and the world must act.

TILLERSON: Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences.

LABOTT: As leader Kim Jong-un supervised live fire drills, President Trump warned in an interview with Reuters:

TRUMP: There's a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea, absolutely.

LABOTT: But Tillerson called for a global diplomatic and financial squeeze on North Korea, cutting ties with the regime, tightening existing sanctions and imposing new ones, stopping the flow of guest workers who send money back home, and cutting trade and said if the world didn't step up, the U.S. would.

TILLERSON: Diplomatic and financial levers of power will be backed up by willingness to counteract North Korean aggression with military action, if necessary.

LABOTT: The U.N. secretary-general said the -- quote -- "absence of communications channels with North Korea is dangerous."

Tillerson actually proposed direct talks with North Korea on ending its nuclear program, offering reassurance to Kim Jong-un.

TILLERSON: Our goal is not regime change, nor do we desire to threaten the North Korean people or destabilize the Asian-Pacific region.

LABOTT: But lobbed a direct threat to sanction countries who continue to do business with the regime, especially China.

TILLERSON: Accounting for 90 percent of North Korean trade, China alone has economic leverage over Pyongyang that is unique and its role is therefore particularly important.

LABOTT: But, today, the Chinese foreign minister said his country is not to blame.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): China is not a focal point of the problem on the peninsula. And the key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of China's side.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: And China was just one of the countries that was expressing concern about the escalation of tensions and the need to avoid this fiery rhetoric that could lead to a miscalculation.

Tillerson closed the meeting by saying if the U.N. had acted in the first place, there wouldn't be such high tensions. Jake, this comes as Secretary Tillerson, we're told, is considering making major cuts to the State Department staff. We hear he could be eying, as he does this restructuring of the State Department, as many as 2000, maybe 2,500 cuts.

He's already considering a lot of cuts within the State Department. Doesn't have a lot of staff at this critical time in dealing with what this administration considers the top national security priority of dealing with North Korea, Jake.

TAPPER: He will get a lot of pushback from that on Capitol Hill.

Elise Labott, thank you so much.

The secretary of state says regime change would not solve the problem in North Korea. Is he right?

We will talk to a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:13:42]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TILLERSON: The more we bide our time, the sooner we will run out of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

That was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today at the United Nations issuing an ominous warning about North Korea talking to the United Nations Security Council, Tillerson reiterating that Kim Jong-un's regime poses a serious threat to global security and saying that there's no reason to believe North Korea will change its behavior.

Joining me now to discuss this all is Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York, who serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee and is also a veteran.

Congressman Zeldin, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: So, Secretary of State Tillerson proposed today levying new sanctions, downgrading diplomatic relationships with North Korea, increasing financial isolation all to put pressure on North Korea.

Do you think that Russia and China, which are allies of North Korea in a way, will they get on board?

ZELDIN: Well, we have seen some progress on the part of the Chinese.

It is a good thing when they choose to suspend the import of coal. We could argue that they imported so much coal before they suspended it that it kind of neutralizes that decision.

But I would say that that is progress that the Chinese would make that step. You know, there is no ideal way of dealing with North Korea that doesn't include China, Russia to a certain extent as well.

[16:15:04] But when you talk about what supports the North Korean economy, the conditions on the ground for multi-lateral diplomatic talks, the economic pressure on North Korea with the importing of minerals, of purchasing fishing rights, of access to the United States' financial institutions -- you know, you can go down the list. And the way that they exploit labor and export goods.

So, whatever, we can do to ramp up that pressure I think improves conditions on the ground.

TAPPER: So, the president told "Reuters" about Chinese president Xi, quote, "I believe he is trying very hard", when it comes to North Korea. "He certainly doesn't want to see turmoil and death. I know he would like to be able to do something. Perhaps it's possible that he can't."

Do you think that President Xi is trying very hard?

ZELDIN: He certainly can try a lot harder. And it's a good idea on our part to encourage him to try harder because once again -- I mean, so we operate under the DIME principal, diplomacy, information, military, economics. When we say all options are on the table and we diplomatic our top, you know, five choices of options here, I think China's leadership in that region is going -- it's always been and remains to be key.

TAPPER: So, I know that the chairman of the committee on which you sit, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Royce, he and Congressman Engel, worked on a bill that would impose sanctions on -- I think it's about ten Chinese banks that do business in North Korea.

You support the bill. It made it out of committee. It's going to be voted on.

Is this something that Congress needs to force President Trump to do? Can't he just impose these sanctions on his own?

ZELDIN: Well, what we've seen certainly most recently in our experience with Iran, that some sanctions or statuary sanctions, there's other actions that the administration can take on its own. It's important that it's not only the United States increasing leverage to improve dynamics on the ground but, you know, we're leading in a way that encourages other countries. I mean, imagine being Japan or South Korea, they're concerned -- I mean, as a neighboring country is certainly something should allow -- you know, whatever tools countries around Korea can have and for other parts of the world.

So, Congress can act, the president can act, but for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, for him to be able -- and through our efforts of the United Nations, for us to be able to go around the world and increase economic pressure on North Korea, elsewhere, that's important, too.

TAPPER: Take a listen to Ohio Governor John Kasich talking about this issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I believe the best way to solve the problem is to eradicate this leadership. And I don't mean -- you know, I'm talking about those who are closest in making the decisions that, quote, "North Korea is following now".

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: There are probably a lot of Americans who think why don't we just go in there and assassinate Kim Jong-un and the regime? What's your take on that?

ZELDIN: Well, for one, the amount of ownership that we have when you take an action like that and you're without a command and control node within a country, even if you are eliminating an adversary threat to the United States. North Korea has some terrible economic conditions, human rights conditions. If he doesn't wake up tomorrow morning, who is the next leader of North Korea?

So, it's not just ownership over ensuring there's a stable political, economic environment for North Koreans to thrive, I don't know if the United States necessarily has the bandwidth or the interest or if it is the right move for us to take on that kind of ownership. That doesn't seem like a plan A or a plan G at this point.

TAPPER: Or maybe even a Plan Z.

Congressman Lee Zeldin, thank you for your time.

ZELDIN: Yes.

TAPPER: I really appreciate it.

ZELDIN: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: From toasting his election win, to claiming the relationship is on the rocks, a look at how Russia has gone from hot to Siberia cold on President Trump, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:23:00] TAPPER: Back with our world lead.

Just a few months ago, Russia was popping the vodka over President Trump's election victory. But at the 100-day mark, how do they feel now?

CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance takes a closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At first, he was the darling of the Kremlin-controlled media. Russian state television fawning over Donald Trump and his pro-Moscow promises.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along with Russia? Wouldn't that be -- wouldn't that be nice?

CHANCE: There were even Trump election parties in Moscow with some Russians literally toasting their good fortune. "To Donald Trump", cheered this prominent nationalist politician, "now we can become allies in Syria and Ukraine," he declared. "Maybe America can stop funding NATO."

It was, of course, wishful thinking. Talk of partnership ended in a barrage of 59 U.S. cruise missiles aimed at Russia's Syrian ally. The Assad air base may have been moderately damaged, but prospects for a Trump-Putin friendship were blasted in smithereens.

The Russian president preferred understatement to (INAUDIBLE)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): One could say the level of trust on a working level and especially on a military level has not improved. Rather, it has deteriorated. CHANCE: In fact, that deterioration began well before, amid lingering

accusations of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, and suspected Russian links with Trump officials, reporting of which annoyed the Kremlin as much as it did the White House.

MARIA ZAKHAROVA, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN: Come on, stop -- stop spreading lie and false news. This is a good advice for CNN.

CHANCE (on camera): Are you concerned the investigations into Russia are going to turn up more secret meetings?

[16:25:04] ZAKHAROVA: Please stop spreading lies and false news.

CHANCE (voice-over): It was that almost constant flow of bad news that may have eventually taken its toll. Disillusioned Russians protested that the amount of Trump coverage on their television screens.

"We're all against Trumpmania here," said this woman.

Behind the complaints, though, real disappoint, with Trump's first 100 days saw hopes of an early diplomatic thaw with Russia slip away.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And our thanks to Matthew Chance.

President Trump says he misses his old life. Is there anything wrong with that? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We've got lots to talk about with the political panel today. Let's start with this --