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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

North Korea Crisis; Will Hurricane Irma Hit U.S.?; President Trump Targets DACA, Expected to End DACA with 6-Month Delay. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired September 4, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The Trump administration says Kim Jong-un is begging for war.

THE LEAD starts right now.

North Korea possibly getting ready to launch another missile after daring the Trump administration with a new thermonuclear test. What is President Trump's next move?

End of the dream? President Trump now expected to wipe out protections President Obama had put into place for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. What could it mean for kids who call America home?

Plus, where will Irma strike? Millions along the East Coast watching and cringing as another monster storm zeros in on the U.S.

Welcome to THE LEAD on this Labor Day. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.

And North Korea rattling the world once again with one of its most alarming provocations in recent years. Over the weekend, the Kim Jong-un regime conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date. Now they may be getting ready for another intercontinental ballistic missile test and it is again threatening the U.S. territory of Guam.

Today, in an emergency meeting of the Security Council, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley urged the world to act before it's too late.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Enough is enough. We have taken an incremental approach, and despite the best of intentions, it has not worked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: And hours after President Trump vented about South Korea on Twitter, he spoke to South Korean President Moon this morning.

We will get to the White House in just a moment, but let's begin with CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, Defense Secretary James Mattis warned there could be a massive military response. What exactly does that mean?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, by all accounts, what the secretary is doing is warning Kim Jong-un if it came to it a U.S. military action would not be a pinprick.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): This live-fire exercise by South Korean forces a direct military response to the North's largest nuclear test, army and air forces simulating an attack on North Korea's nuclear test site.

Even as North Korean state media issued new threats to the U.S., including Guam, one editorial saying, "Every time the U.S. goes crazy talking about sanctions and war, our will of vengeance will become hundred and thousand times stronger."

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley very much in the hard-line mode back at Kim.

HALEY: His abusive use of missiles and his nuclear threats show that he is begging for war. War is never something the United States wants. We don't want it now.

STARR: Rising tensions pushing Defense Secretary James Mattis to exactly where he never wants to be: center stage at the White House.

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam or our allies, will be met with a massive military response, a response both effective and overwhelming.

STARR: But are there credible military options without thousands of casualties?

MICHAEL HAYDEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: What I think Secretary Mattis was doing was simply trying to convince the North that we have this option and they cannot be certain we would never use it under certain circumstances.

STARR: It may be the most critical decision ever for Donald Trump.

STEVE WARREN, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: How much of a price we are willing to pay, how much we are willing to bleed to accomplish our objectives, this is a decision not for military members. This is a decision for elected political leaders to make. And they always have to weigh the cost vs. the benefit.

STARR: Short of U.S. attack, the Pentagon could send an aircraft carrier offshore. The Ronald Reagan is nearby. More bombers could be sent. South Korea and Japan both upping their missile defenses in cooperation with the U.S., but there is no indication Kim Jong-un is listening. JANG KYOUNG-SOO, SOUTH KOREAN DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER (through

translator): We predict that North Korea could fire an intercontinental ballistic missile to show that they have obtained the means of delivering a nuclear bomb to the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So, if you do send in more U.S. ships, missiles, aircraft, would any of this change Kim Jong-un's mind about proceeding with his weapons program? The betting money is it would not -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right, Barbara Starr, thank you so much for the latest there.

Meantime, President Trump spoke with South Korea's president today after tweeting an I told you so of sorts after Sunday's nuclear test.

[16:05:01]

CNN White House correspondent Athena Jones joins me now.

Athena, the president appears to be ramping up pressure on U.S. allies to step in here.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Pamela.

The president's aides say he has grown frustrated with what he sees as South Korea's soft stance toward North Korea. That's criticism the South has pushed back on.

As for today's call, the White House says the two leaders agreed to maximize pressure on North Korea using all means at their disposal and to strengthen joint military capabilities. The president also approved the purchase by South Korea of "many billions of dollars' worth" of military weapons and equipment from the U.S., and he approved the country's proposal to lift restrictions on the payload weight of their ballistic missiles, increasing their potential power, all of this coming, of course, as the North's latest test is ramping up tensions all across the region.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUESTION: Mr. President, will you attack North Korea?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll see.

JONES (voice-over): President Trump refusing to rule out taking military action against North Korea. But the fact remains that there are no easy answers for how to rein in the rogue regime's nuclear ambitions.

This weekend's test is just the latest demonstration that years of diplomacy and sanctions have failed to halt the country's progress. Trump's own rhetoric on the issue has veered wildly, even in just the past few weeks. He leveled this threat last month at his Bedminster golf club. TRUMP: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United

States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

JONES: Only to express optimism about the prospects for dealing with the country two weeks later.

TRUMP: Kim Jong-un, I respect the fact that I believe he is starting to respect us. I respect that fact very much. And maybe, probably not, but maybe something positive can come about.

JONES: It's just the latest example of Trump's shifting strategies when it comes to confronting the dilemma posed by North Korea, from optimistic talk on the campaign trail.

TRUMP: I will speak to anybody. There is a 10 percent or a 20 percent chance that I can talk him out of those damn nukes, because who the hell wants him to have nukes. And there's a chance. I'm only going to make a good deal for us.

JONES: And as recently as May of the potential benefits of opening up a dialogue with the North's unpredictable leader, Kim Jong-un.

TRUMP: If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely -- I would be honored to do it.

JONES: To tough talk like in early January when he tweeted, "North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen."

His democratic critics say the president's approach has so far failed to deliver.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: One thing is clear. The president's tough talk has not appeared to change the calculation of North Korea.

JONES: And after repeatedly pressuring China, the North's main ally and trading partner, to do more to rein in the country, a frustrated president lashed out at South Korea, a key U.S. ally in the region, tweeting Sunday: "South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work. They only understand one thing."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Now, the president is also considering cutting off all trade with countries that do business with North Korea to try to put pressure, more pressure on that regime, but that would mean cutting off trade with China, one of the U.S.'s biggest trading partners.

It would have huge economic and political ramifications, and critics are calling it an empty threat -- Pam.

BROWN: We're going to dive a little bit deeper into that issue later in the show. Athena Jones, thank you very much.

I also want to bring in CNN correspondent Will Ripley. He recently returned from his 14th trip to North Korea.

Will, help us understand why the regime would prepare another ICBM test just hours after its biggest nuclear test.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is all about messaging for the North Koreans, Pamela.

Remember, they launched that mid-range ballistic missile over Japan last week. Then they put out an editorial saying that the United States needs to recognize North Korea as a nuclear power. Then they showed pictures of Kim Jong-un standing in front of a miniaturized nuclear warhead, a hydrogen bomb. Hours later, they test that hydrogen bomb, their biggest nuclear test ever.

And now preparations under way to potentially launch an ICBM toward the Pacific Ocean, maybe even towards the U.S. territory of Guam. They are trying to show they have the warhead, they have the missile, and they're willing to launch it, trying to get the United States to change its strategic position. But clearly the rhetoric from the U.N. ambassador, that's not going to happen any time soon.

BROWN: Yes, some strong words there from Nikki Haley.

Will Ripley, thank you very much for that. Do appreciate it.

And the Trump administration says, enough with the talk on North Korea.

[16:10:02]

But, really, that's all we have heard. Does the regime's claim of an H-bomb test force the U.S. to act? That is the big question. And one man who has weighed these types of decisions inside the White House will join me up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: And welcome back to THE LEAD.

Sticking with our top story in the world lead, the crisis with North Korea reaching a critical stage.

Joining me now is Gary Samore, former adviser to President Obama on arms control and weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Samore, thank you for coming on.

GARY SAMORE, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER ON ARMS CONTROL: My pleasure, Pam. Thank you.

BROWN: So, North Korea is claiming that this was a hydrogen bomb test that could be mounted on an ICBM. How does this raise the stakes, in your view?

SAMORE: Well, most importantly, a hydrogen bomb is much more powerful than an atomic bomb, and, therefore, can cause much more damage in terms of threat to lives and property if it hits a city.

BROWN: So, it was one month ago, as I'm sure you'll recall, that President Trump threatened fire and fury after North Korea launched a missile test and threatened Guam. Clearly, this rhetoric is not forcing Kim Jong-un to back down. Do you think it's only making matters worse?

SAMORE: I doubt it's making matters worse. I think the Trump administration is trying a number of ways to dissuade Kim Jong-un from continuing testing. They've offered diplomacy. They're threatening greater sanctions. They're threatening military force.

None of that is working, which is not much of a surprise. The U.S. has very limited means to stop North Korea from its testing program. The best we can do is capitalize on these actions by increasing the price to Kim Jong-un. And I think this latest nuclear test, and if there is another ICBM test, gives us a good opportunity to work with China to strengthen economic sanctions at the U.N., and I expect we'll see another U.N. Security Council resolution with stronger economic sanctions in the near future.

BROWN: And, you and Ambassador Nikki Haley said that the strongest sanctions possible would be really the only thing that could stop North Korea. What might that look like, the strongest sanctions?

SAMORE: Well, there are a range of sanctions that haven't been imposed yet. Obviously, the most potent would be a complete embargo on trade and investment in North Korea. That's unlikely, I think, but one could still sanction certain sectors such as oil imports from North Korea, textile exports. There are still limits on foreign worker that could be imposed. I don't know which of those. The Chinese will, of course, resist the maximum pressure because of their fear about stability and conflict in the peninsula. But I think in the end, the Chinese will go along with further economic sanctions.

BROWN: And speaking of the Chinese, the president tweeted -- here's what he said: The United States is considering additional other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.

So, what do you think? Is it realistic to lean on China to stop all trade with North Korea?

SAMORE: Well, that's not a very credible threat, that we would stop all trade with China. But I do think the Chinese are responsive to U.S. pressure and anger, both threats of going to war but also threats of economic sanctions against Chinese companies. So the Trump administration has been successful in getting a stronger U.N. Security Council resolution last month, largely in response to Kim Jong-un's refusal to stop testing, and I think again Kim Jong-un is giving us an opportunity to work with China for stronger economic sanctions. Whether that works at the end in terms of giving us bargaining

leverage, I think, is very unclear. So, in the meantime, it's important that we continue to strengthen our defenses in the region. I noticed that both South Korea and Japan are talking about strengthening missile defenses and I think it's a very wise precaution in the -- because it's unlikely that diplomacy is going to solve this problem for us.

BROWN: What should the red line be for the use of military force?

SAMORE: Well, if we're attacked by North Korea or if our allies are attacked, then obviously we would respond. But the option of the U.S. attacking first to destroy North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities is really not very practical. We don't have a good fix on where these facilities are all located, so it would be very hard to destroy them.

And, of course, the risk of North Korea retaliating by attacking Korea and Japan is very high. So, one of the big frustrations the U.S. has always faced in dealing with North Korea is that our military options are quite limited or very unappealing because of the risk that North Korea can retaliate against our allies.

BROWN: All right. Gary Samore, thank you for your insight.

SAMORE: Thank you, Pam.

BROWN: And up next, what may be President Trump's biggest immigration announcement yet. Ending protections for some 800,000 so-called DREAMers. This could pull many out of the only home that they've ever known. Is there a more sympathetic solution?

Plus, breaking news: Hurricane Irma looking more than likely to hit the U.S. We're going to look closer at the track, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:23:42] BROWN: And welcome back to THE LEAD.

Turning now to politics. Tomorrow, a monumental announcement on the future of immigration in America will come from the White House. President Trump is expected to end DACA. It's an Obama-era program that protected undocumented immigrants who came to America as kids. The future is unknown for people currently in the program. But the president reportedly would delay ending DACA for six months to give Congress a chance to find a solution.

I want to bring in Sara Murray now.

So, what can we expect tomorrow in this announcement, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, part of the reason it's taking the president so long to deal with this is he was really on every side of it as a candidate. He vowed to end DACA at one point. At another point, he said he would protect the DREAMers, that he loves the DREAMers. But sources tell CNN that the president has come to this decision,

that he does want to end DACA, Deferred Action for Young Arrivals, but he wants to do it with a six-month delay. He's hoping in that six months, Congress will come up with some kind of legislative fix. There are mixed reactions to that, and part of what we're hearing from administration officials is, look, this is a president who often changes his mind. This was the plan as of yesterday, but it's not going to be an announced until tomorrow, which means there's still a little bit of wiggle room here, particularly as the president hears more people's reaction to this, Pam.

BROWN: So, what is the early reaction, Sara?

[16:25:02] MURRAY: Well, a lot of Republicans have welcomed this news. They like the idea of Congress being able to take this up, even though Congress has not come up with a fix to this at this point.

But Democrats, of course, are outraged about it. They see it as heartless that you would punish someone for a decision that their parents made on their behalf. And we even heard from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president earlier, someone who was on the president's diversity council who basically threatened to leave that council if the president goes through with this and said it would basically prove that the president is a liar and didn't mean anything he said about DREAMers to date -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Sara Murray, live from the White House for us, thanks so much, Sara.

And now I want to bring in AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, whose organization represents more than 12.5 million workers on this Labor Day.

Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

RICHARD TRUMKA, PRESIDENT, AFL-CIO: Happy Labor Day, Pam.

BROWN: So, one of the questions looming out there ahead of this announcement from the president is how much will ending DACA affect the economy and the workforce, in your view?

TRUMKA: Well, it will have a tremendous effect. It will leave our workplace as less safe, less fair. It will make it more difficult for us to come together and raise wages for everybody.

There are 800,000 people that are making contributions every single day. Taking away their rights, making them exposed to being fired at will is not only cruel., it's very, very wrong for the economy. It's the wrong thing to do.

So, I think we would probably respond in two ways. The first thing we'll do is work with those DACA workers to make sure that their rights are protected, their job is protected. And then we'll fight to get legislation so that the contributions that they make are celebrated rather than assaulted. BROWN: I want to play you some sound from Secretary Steve Mnuchin,

treasury secretary, of course. And this is what he said about the impact on the economy and jobs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I'm less concerned about the economic impact. We'll make sure that we have plenty of workers in this economy. We want to put more people back to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: So, is this not about protecting jobs for U.S. citizens?

TRUMKA: No, it isn't. It's really -- this is a political move, is what it is. It's the president trying to satisfy a promise that he made during the campaign.

Look, these people have been here. The DACA workers have been here since birth. They've been contributing to this economy. They pay taxes at twice the rate of the rich around the country, twice the rate. Not just once but twice the rate.

So, taking them out of the work force, taking their rights away will leave every workplace out there less safe and less fair. It will hurt us in our efforts to try to raise wages for every worker out there.

BROWN: But why couldn't it also be a case where you're giving more jobs to U.S. citizens? Why do you say that's not what this is about?

TRUMKA: Well, it isn't. I mean, we're creating jobs each month. Not as many as we would like to create. The unemployment rate is at 4.4 percent, which in many instances, that used to be defined as full employment.

Now, there are some areas of the country where the unemployment rate is a little higher, but that's not where the DACA workers are. The DACA workers are where the employment rate is already really low. People that want jobs have jobs are looking for work can find work. This isn't about that. If you're trying to raise wages, you have to fix this problem, you have to fix the immigration problem if you want to raise wages for every worker out there.

BROWN: There is a six-month delay in ending this program, according to what we've learned from administration officials. What would you like to see Congress do in this time?

TRUMP: Well, I'd like to see them come up with legislation that will give these workers a pathway to citizenship. That will have their rights protected in the meantime so that they can continue to figure out safe conditions, so they can continue to join together with their fellow workers to get a better life on the job and increase wages of every worker out there. Their contributions have been significant to this economy. Ripping that out of the economy would severely hurt not only the DACA workers but every worker out there. BROWN: And as we wrap up, I want to ask you about President Trump.

He has been out there saying he is a champion of the working class. How do you think he's done?

TRUMKA: Well, he had a good rap and a lot of workers bought onto that rap. But he really hasn't done a good job after he got in as president. He's assaulted just about every health and safety regulation that's out there, whether it was protecting us from beryllium or silica. He has attacked the overtime regulations. He attacked regulations for consumer protection. So, he hasn't really done a lot for workers --

BROWN: But what about -- he would push back and say, well, look at the unemployment rate, it's gone down with me as president? Look at the stock market, it's gone up?

TRUMKA: It hasn't really gone down. In fact, the last -- the first six months in office, he produced fewer jobs than Obama did in the last six months that Obama was in office. So, he can't claim credit that he took the unemployment rate down.