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Obama's Historic Visit to Cuba; Clinton Blasts Trump at AIPAC. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 21, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] (MUSIC)








[11:06:03] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: John Berman here, along with Kate Bolduan. What you're watching right now is simply history from Havana. That's the Palace of the Revolution ceremonial hall. Inside there, President Obama just greeted with full honors by Cuban leader, Raul Castro, doing a march with troops, much like Vladimir Putin or Hugo Chavez would, but now it's an American president being received in the same way. What a moment after more than half a century of such a complicated relationship between the two countries.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The first time in 88 years that a sitting U.S. President has visited Cuba, not since Calvin Coolidge arrived on a battleship. This is a complicated relationship. Hanging over this entire trip is the Communist government's long history of human rights abuses. President Obama is expected to raise this when they sit down for a bilateral meeting, the two presidents, which will be beginning any minute. He's arrived here and then he will be continuing on. This is his first full day in Cuba.

Following along this history day with us, let's bring in Chris Cuomo, who is in Havana, and CNN's Havana-based correspondent, Patrick Oppmann.

Chris, you've been watching all this. This is not your first time in Cuba. Talk to us, just in this moment, history in the making. This is the signature meeting. This is that photo opportunity. This is the moment that will go down in history, what we just saw between President Obama and Raul Castro.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, NEW DAY: It's been a big string of firsts, Kate. Yesterday, when Air Force One touched down. To use Patrick's words -- I've got to bring him in because I'm going to steal his material. Yes, 1928, yes, Calvin Coolidge, but more accurately the word is "never." Because since the revolution, none of this has happened. And Cuba, pre revolution, was not the Cuba of today. The comparison is off base. The first time to hear that national anthem in Cuba, it's never happened before since the revolution.

The president here never, Patrick. I mean, this string of what seemed impossible not too long ago may change everything.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN HAVANA CORRESPONDENT: If I fall over, it's because I'm so wowed.

CUOMO: I would catch you.

OPPMANN: Four years of living here, you see a lot of leaders, Venezuelan, Chinese. Look and see the two leaders sitting down, the American flag, the Cuban flag. This is a revolutionary palace. This is the heart of officialdom. They don't let many Americans in here. And I never thought I would see an American president being greeted with the honors. Raul Castro taking his arm, guiding him here. There is a chemistry. Respect, is what Cuban officials have told me, if not friendship.

But all the same, these men are now partners. There's no going back. Raul Castro said recently that this is the last chance to get it right. When he says it, he means the revolution. He's going to step down in two years. He doesn't have a day to waste if he's going to save his country and keep the Communist style form of government in power here.

CUOMO: One thing is for sure, Kate and John, there was a familiarity of hostility between the countries. There was always disrespect and subtle contempt back and forth, especially with Fidel, that is one of his gifts, from a rhetorical perspective, his ability to kind of take it out of the United States. Now Raul Castro has an obvious affection for President Obama, said he's read his books, went out of his way to shake his hand at Mandela's funeral. That has to mean something. But the question is what. The challenges remain to be real and deep. It's not just about business.

People here don't need just money, Patrick. They need basic freedoms.

OPPMANN: Absolutely. Both men are making bets. Raul Castro is looking at short-term, more money, tourism. They're making deals every day with American companies that didn't have until now. President Barack Obama is looking at the long term, American influence, making sure this system doesn't collapse, and we suddenly change it over time. He thinks, others have said it, the former government here will be in the dustbin of history, and he can take some credit, with rights, to having played a role in the position that is already currently taking place in Cuba. Raul Castro has said we won't change our domestic policies. The Communist Party is here to say. When I step down in two years, others, the new generation, will take my place. We'll have to see. This is still the first generation of this revolution, and Raul Castro is doing something his brother, Fidel, never was willing to do.

[11:10:30] CUOMO: They can shake hands, but for many people in the United States, certainly the Cuban-Americans and the exile generation, it's unacceptable without shaking everything up.

Kate, we're talking about President Obama taking a long-term view. But there is no long term with executive action. When President Obama is out, the next president could undo whatever he does. The embargo is an animal of Congress, and without Congress, Kate, nothing can change back.

BERMAN: Patrick, it's John Berman here in New York as well. If I can ask you a question, I'm struck by the threading of the needle of protocol that's going on. We heard the "Star Spangled Banner" inside the palace of the revolution, the ceremonial hall, played by the Cuban military band, which is mind blowing to think of that. Just a few moments ago, the president laid a wreath at the Jose Marti memorial, which is overshadowed by the giant sculptures, these reliefs of Che Guevara and other revolutionary leaders there. How intricate is this dance in terms of protocol between the two countries today and tomorrow?

OPPMANN: There can be no missteps. So far, it seems like both sides are willing to dance to continue the analogy. But it's tough. These governments, up until last year, didn't have full diplomatic relations. They're not used to dealing with one another. The White House is used to coming to a country and saying what they want this, we want that.

But for me, personally, I was looking at the line of officials of President Obama shaking hands with, and I saw an official I know well, his father was killed fighting along with Che Guevara, and he was all smiles and respectful as he shook the American president's hands.

On both sides, people are starting to move past the unfortunate history, looking towards hopefully a better future.

I was asking a Cuban friend last night what he wanted to hear in the president when he gives his speech tomorrow. He said -- I said, do you want to hear a "tear down this wall" comment like Ronald Reagan? He said enough things have been torn down in Cuba. We want to talk about building things, relationships, the future. That's what Cubans need right now.

BOLDUAN: Patrick --


BOLDUAN: -- you've lived there. You've been on the ground. You've seen this, all of this happening on the ground from your perspective. I want to get your take when you talk about the delicate dance of diplomatic protocol that's going to be going on over the next 48 hours, talk about just the arrival of President Obama, when he arrived on Air Force One in Havana. Where was President Castro?

OPPMANN: We don't know. And I know that's created some controversy. I think this event has perhaps shown that it was not intended to be as a snub, as Cuban officials have told me.

CUOMO: And Josh Earnest said that, too, that they know in advance the president was going to be met by people on the ground but not Castro. They were OK with it, because they said, other than the pope, that the U.S. president hasn't done much of that either. The men have met before. They tried to brush it aside.

OPPMANN: It's about reciprocity. The Cuban government is a smaller government. It feels like it lost ground by the United States. It was bullied, invaded by the United States. They will show the respect that's shown to them.

CUOMO: They had the head of Venezuela, right before the president also, who went out of his way to take a picture with Fidel and meet with him. That sent a message also.

OPPMANN: Absolutely. And if you're Cuba, which received oil from Venezuela, which has a much different relationship with the U.S., you have to keep both sides happy. That's very difficult.

But here we have the images of the two presidents shaking hands, all smiles. And while we don't know where Raul Castro was when President Obama stepped down, the coordination is something to see. There have been presidential visits from other countries here. No one has come on a plane like Air Force One. No one has come with a car like The Beast. No one has come with an enormous delegation. And President Obama is really showing the power and the might, maybe soft power. But I think Cuban officials are really looking at this with eyes wide open of, wow, this is what Americans bring to the table.

BERMAN: Guys, stand by if you can.

If we also can, we'll leave up the pictures of the president's arrival inside the hall. These are pictures you could not have imagined five, 10, 20 years ago. And I think they're worth seeing again and again and again.

I want to bring in a panel with us. We're joined by CNN presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley; Dan Pfeiffer, CNN political commentator and former senior advisor to President Obama; and Julian Zelizer, a CNN contributor, and a historian, also professor of Princeton University.

Dan, I want to start with you.

Every president, when he or she takes office, wants to do big things. This, controversial as it may be, and unpopular with some folks, this is a big thing we are seeing. How important is this to President Obama and his legacy?

[11:15:20] DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's critically important. This is something he has thought about for a long time. It has always been a source of frustration for him that we would have a policy driven by domestic politics that made little sense from a foreign perspective. He saw an opening a couple of years ago. Sent Ben Rhodes, his deputy national security advisor, to try to bring us to this point, and it's incredibly successful. There's a lot of work to do. It'll continue long after President Obama is out of office. But we're seeing history here and presidents love to make history.

BOLDUAN: And, Dan, you were also in the White House when these conversations were starting. Why is this so important for President Obama, this move?

PFEIFFER: Well, look, one of the things that the president has always been struck by is sort of this conventional foreign policy, conventional wisdom of foreign policy in Washington, D.C., that is sometimes backwards. The idea that we can talk to the Soviet Union in the height of the Cold War, Nixon can go to China, but we can't talk to Cuba, a small country, you know, 100 miles off the coast of Florida, simply because there's domestic politics around it, made no sense to him. Like I said, we still have problems with Congress with the embargo, but if the policy -- we did the same thing for 50 years and nothing changed. Let's try to do something different here. And if we -- the president always has a theory, the more you can engage the people, the more you can get the people involved in the world, over the course of time, that will bring them into the modern world and into the modern set of democratic nations in the world. It's going to take time, but this is a start.

2: Professor Zelizer, these are images from moments ago, when President Obama and Raul Castro, being received, President Obama, with full honors by the Cuban military, reviewing the Cuban military honor guard here. These images would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Yet, you write that there is much less of a political cost and political risk to President Obama in 2016 with these images.

PROF. JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah. I think the politics of Cuba changed, and that's part of why President Obama has this opening. You know, as the Cold War came to an end in the late '80s and early '90s, Cuba lost some of its political power within the United States as an issue, and after 9/ll, that accelerated even further. And younger generations of Cuban-Americans are not as attached to the notion of just isolating the country as older generations had been. I think there was a real sea change. Obama did pretty well in 2012 with Cuban-Americans in Florida. And I think the president was aware there was room to move forward with very kind of bold step in ending this last relic of the Cold War.

BOLDUAN: Looking at these images, these are from moments ago. Right now, according to the schedule, the president and President Raul Castro are sitting down for bilateral meeting. There will be video at some point. Then there will be expanding meetings beyond that. This is a full day of meetings. They're going to be sitting down, where we're told the president will be raising part of this complicated relationship, the human rights abuses that the Cuban regime, the Castro regime has long been accused of committing against its people.

Doug, this is historic, no question. But put it in perspective for us. Is this up there with Nixon going to China?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It's worth mentioning in that regard. Nixon went to China in 1972. The press really got involved with that event. Everybody was glued to their television sets. I noticed on Sunday, Cuba wasn't mentioned on the front page of "The New York Times" or "Washington Post," but suddenly, everybody is waking up and realizing that this is quite a historic moment. I mean, there's been some diplomacy in the last years. Nixon had his ping- pong diplomacy with China. And Barack Obama, there's been baseball diplomacy. The Tampa Bay Rays are playing the Cuban Nationals tomorrow. Musicians have been coming to Cuba, film companies, teachers, scholars, environmentalists. But now it's the president of the United States. And for Raul Castro to basically say I'm putting aside Che Guevara's motorcycle diaries in favor of President Obama's "Audacity of Hope," and to constantly have phone conversations to the White House with this president and building a report with him, I think we're seeing a major milestone in U.S. history. And certainly, anything like myself, who teaches Cold War history, is moved by the imagery we're seeing, that the world does change. And just as Germany, during -- our huge enemy in World War II, suddenly, Germany's in NATO. And maybe there is hope. Maybe the young generations in America and Cuba will bond together, and maybe some day, this will be a genuine friendship instead of one that has a lot of question marks around it?

[11:20:37] BERMAN: Guys, stand by.

I want to go back to Cuba where Chris Cuomo and Patrick Oppmann, our Havana-based correspondent, are right now.

Patrick, a few months ago, the president was asked if he would visit Cuba, and he said not until he saw progress in liberty and freedom and possibilities for ordinary Cubans. Did that happen prior to this arrival, or does it seem, on the ground there the president just changed the requirements for this visit?

OPPMANN: No, it didn't happen. Cuban officials have said they're not changing any of their domestic policies, that Cuba doesn't have the right to tell the United States how to run its country, and they feel the United States doesn't have a right to meddle in Cuban domestic affairs.

I was just thinking, the last time I was standing here in Cuba with Chris, in August, we were watching the largest religious gathering in this country's history. Pope Francis played such a pivotal role in bringing these two countries together. Really carried it across the line when there was some last-minute waiting on whether or not there was going to be a deal. I think both sides had cold feet and doubts. He was the only one who created the final trust that was needed. And people in the revolution would have been terrified to show their faith that openly. We saw hundreds of thousands of people go out with the pope. Nothing happened to them.

So, yes, human rights situation, the economic freedom situation in Cuba is not what a lot of people like it to be, but it does seem to be trending in the right direction at long last. BOLDUAN: Chris, take us on the schedule. What are we expecting?

They're sitting down for the bilateral meeting and they'll have expanded meetings. And today, they'll make statements to the press. A big question is, will President Castro take questions from the press. As of now, it doesn't seem that's likely. Who knows, of course? What are you looking forward to in the next -- today and tomorrow?

CUOMO: Well, Castros don't take questions ordinarily. There's no expectation that that's going to change.

We do expect that if Castro doesn't, then the president may not as well. Again, this is a little bit of a dance, as Patrick keeps using that metaphor.

You have the state dinner today and then some really huge cultural events. You see some dollar diplomacy, the deal with Starwood, announcing the management of the hotels. The Google deal to maybe do Wi-Fi here. The thought there is, if you hook in jobs and business and commerce, then that has a lot of power and sway for change here.

But then you have culture exchange, baseball. Obviously, Cuba is huge with baseball here. That will be a big deal. The Tampa Bay Rays coming down. The Rolling Stones being here on Friday. You have to remember, that was illegal in the '60s here, post revolution. You weren't allowed to listen to rock music. These were seen as excesses. For that to be here now but what's the dance, though? Will it be like what we saw with President Obama coming, where, it's not like the pope came, where people were encouraged to pack the city and show it for what it is, because they don't want to show too much popular hunger and enthusiasm for the democracy and what America represents.

But there's symbolism here. It was Palm Sunday yesterday when President Obama came here. That's a very important time in the Catholic calendar. There were more churches open here yesterday. There were more palms around. I made some palm crosses for people in a restaurant and gave them to them, to see if they would take them. It was pretty easy. And the theme, of course, of Easter is rebirth and renewal. Maybe that will play into this.

But at the same time, right after mass, yesterday, what happened? The Women in White -- they are protesters here, they show up every week -- they got arrested yesterday. And they did it in a big way here, the Cuban authorities. They wanted to make a show and everybody saw it.

OPPMANN: It would have been so easy for them to let the protests go on and on, and they didn't. And they're showing, this is our country, we'll decide what, despite international ramifications.

BERMAN: Chris Cuomo, Patrick Oppmann, in Havana, along with Doug Brinkley, Dan Pfeiffer and Julian Zelizer, here in the United States. Guys, thank you so much.

When we get statements from the two presidents later, we'll go back to Havana. That will be big. A speech from President Obama tomorrow in Havana. That should be a historic event. Coming up next, one of the most critical days in the race for

president. The Republican Party really very much at war with itself. Donald Trump, he is in Washington. He has a meeting with some political leaders in a speech to a key Jewish group. What will he say? Hillary Clinton just spoke to them and ripped into him but also created some distance with President Obama.

[11:25:10] BOLDUAN: Also, Donald Trump is spending his time in Washington meeting with influential conservatives behind closed doors. And get this. At the same time, an anti Trump super PAC is sending someone, a tracker, to the meeting to try to get video of the Republicans meeting with Donald Trump, clearly, to say they're watching and this won't be forgotten.

Stay with us.


BOLDUAN: Just moments ago, Hillary Clinton took the stage at AIPAC, the nation's largest pro Israel lobbying group, and took direct aim at Donald Trump during her remarks, blasting the GOP front runner for saying he would remain neutral in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Listen here to Hillary Clinton in her own words.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need steady hands, not a president who says he's neutral on Monday, pro Israel on Tuesday, and who knows what on Wednesday, because everything is negotiable.


CLINTON: Some things aren't negotiable. And anyone who doesn't understand that has no business being our president.


BERMAN: Now, Donald Trump is also scheduled to address this group later today, and his appearance has created some controversy, threats of boycotts, possible walk outs from some of the folks attending.