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Interview With Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro; Trump Visits Mexico; Bracing for Impact. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 31, 2016 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Taking credit. Russia claims its airstrike killed a key ISIS leader, as the U.S. gets new information about how he died. Tonight, one U.S. defense official is calling the claim by Vladimir Putin's government laughable.

And bracing for impact. State of emergencies right now declared in Florida and Hawaii, with two powerful storms gaining strength. Tens of millions of Americans could be affected. We're getting new information about the storms' path.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news this hour, Donald Trump says he was straightforward with the Mexican president about his views on trade and immigration during their face-to-face talks in Mexico City. But he acknowledged they did not discuss a signature issue of his campaign, his goal of getting Mexico to pay for a wall at the border, Trump taking a respectful tone toward Mexicans after months of insults.

The question now, what tone will he take in just a few hours when he delivers a long-awaited speech on immigration in Arizona? Hillary Clinton says Trump can't build alliances by simply dropping in on the Mexican president for -- quote -- "a photo-op."

Speaking to veterans in Ohio, Clinton argued that she would be consistent and a reliable commander in chief while Trump would be a dangerous loose cannon.

Also breaking this hour, severe weather danger in the lead-up to Labor Day, Florida on alert right now as Tropical Storm Hermine shifts west and nears landfall tomorrow. The strengthening storm might hit the coast as a hurricane with tens of millions people potentially in its path.

Stand by for a new forecast.

I will talk about all of that, the immigration, the presidential race, with Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

We're covering Trump's dual events in Arizona and Mexico.

Jim Acosta is standing by in Mexico City.

But first let's go to our political reporter Sara Murray. She's in Phoenix -- Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight, we are told Donald Trump's tone of his immigration speech will be tough, but fair.

But what is stunning is that Trump, who has touted himself as one of the greatest negotiators, didn't even broach a key issue of his campaign in this meeting in Mexico, who will pay for that wall he wants along the southern border. The one thing he did get is the chance to appear as a statesman in his meeting with the Mexican president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Tonight, Donald Trump attempting to show a more presidential side in a last-minute visit with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I happen to have a tremendous feeling for Mexican-Americans.

MURRAY: Trump now saying he wants to improve the North American Free Trade Agreement after previously calling it the worst trade deal in history.

TRUMP: NAFTA is a 22-year-old trade agreement that must be updated to reflect the realities of today. There are many improvements that could be made.

MURRAY: But when it comes to one of his signature policy proposals, Trump admits he didn't discuss the thorniest issue.

TRUMP: We didn't discuss who pays for the wall. We didn't discuss it.

MURRAY: The wall along the southern border, a regular rallying cry at Trump campaign events.

TRUMP: Build that wall. Build that wall. Build that wall.

MURRAY: And a proposal that's been slammed by both the current and former Mexican presidents. It's an issue Trump is expected to revisit tonight in an immigration speech in Arizona. Advisers say Trump will offer less bluster and more substance in his Phoenix speech. He will explain how he will deal with millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. after struggling to find the right tone.

TRUMP: There certainly can be a softening, because we are not looking to hurt people. ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You said on "Hannity" you used the word

softening. Even last night on "Hannity," you talked about...

TRUMP: I don't think it is a softening. I have had people say it is a hardening, actually.

MURRAY: Trump's policy speech and trip to Mexico all coming as he attempts to woo minority voters in the U.S.

But even as Trump and Nieto expressed their mutual respect...

TRUMP: It is a great honor to be invited by you, Mr. President, a great, great honor. Thank you.

MURRAY: ... back in the U.S., Hillary Clinton is betting voters won't forget a year of comments like this one about undocumented Mexican immigrants:

TRUMP: They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.

MURRAY: As she dismissed Trump's outreach efforts as too little, too late.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And it certainly takes more than trying to make up for a year of insults and insinuations by dropping in on our neighbors for a few hours, and then flying home again. That is not how it works.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[18:05:07]

MURRAY: Now, of course, we're expecting Donald Trump here in just a few hours. While everyone is waiting to see what he will say about the undocumented immigrants who are living here in the U.S., how specific he will get or whether he will just sort of gloss over that issue, I'm also told by advisers that we will get more details from Donald Trump about his plans for that wall and how he will pay for it, how exactly he hopes to make Mexico pay for a portion of it, and changes they can make to policies here in the U.S. to offset the cost -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: When you say a portion of it, they're no longer talking about paying for the entire cost of the wall? Is that what you're hearing?

MURRAY: We are hearing that there's a way they could try to spin it to make it sound like Mexico is paying for the entire cost of the wall, but some of these other measures are essentially defunding sanctuary cities or stripping what they say are benefits that undocumented immigrants are receiving from the U.S. federal government.

They say, by doing that, you fund a portion of it. And while they may spin that as Mexico picking up part of the bill, that would essentially be coming out of U.S. budget -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara, thanks very much. Sara Murray is in Phoenix.

Let's go to Mexico City right now. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is on the scene for us.

Jim, asked Trump that first question at the conference with the Mexican president. Take us inside. What was it like there?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.

It wasn't supposed to be a press conference. We were told no questions before all of this got started. But, of course, as soon as they finished their remarks, we did our best to ask questions. And Donald Trump responded.

Wolf, it was a stunning scene. Being inside the presidential palace of the country that Donald Trump has slammed time and time again, Donald Trump was trying to pull off a tricky balancing act here, Wolf. He was trying to reach for some kind of Reaganesque moment, but at the same time turn down the temperature inside of Mexico.

You heard at one Donald Trump referring to Mexican-Americans as amazing people. But when I asked him why did you not offer an apology, were there any apologies exchanged between these two men who have had strong words to say about one another, Donald Trump said, no, there were no apologies.

Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: No, not at all. Look, we want what's good for the United States and the president wants -- wants what's good for Mexico. And in sitting down and in talking, we both realized -- we realized this from the beginning -- that it's good for both of us, better for both of us, actually.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, we have heard so much of Donald Trump over these last several months talking about the ramifications of illegal immigration on the U.S. side of the border, undocumented immigrants flooding into the country, drugs and crime into the country.

But what we heard today from Enrique Pena Nieto, the Mexican president, was sort of the other side of the story. He was sort of dishing it right back to Donald Trump, saying, well, we wouldn't have people crossing the border and all these problems crossing the border into the U.S. if there wasn't an appetite for drugs and weapons and that sort of thing.

It's sort of the diplomatic language, Wolf, that we hear covering the White House when you have a visiting Mexican president coming over to the White House to talk to the president of the United States. But there was one moment where Pena Nieto -- he did not have strong words for Donald Trump, at least in front of the cameras, but he did say towards the end of this press conference that Mexicans are hurt. They are hurt by what Donald Trump has had to say about them over these last several months -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, Donald Trump at one point he said the meeting was excellent. And the Mexican president also was complimentary. At least on the surface, they seemed to have a positive tone. Was that your impression?

ACOSTA: I think so, Wolf.

This was the most diplomatic moment we have seen from Donald Trump. Obviously, this is his first visit with a head of state, a foreign head of state overseas. He went to Scotland earlier this summer, but that was to visit his golf courses. And so this was a defense setting.

You can see that Donald Trump was basically working off of prepared remarks. He had his top advisers with him, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner -- excuse me -- Jared Kushner, the former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator. And then Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller, his other top aides, they were also by his side.

It almost felt like this was the makings of a Trump administration on display inside this presidential palace. But one noticeable absence in the room, Wolf, there was no flag of the United States government in this room. There was a flag for the Republic of Mexico, but not one for the United States. It was a reminder this was not a president visiting Mexico. This was somebody who wants to be president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. All right, Jim Acosta in Mexico City for us, thanks for the hustle of getting there on time.

In the last hour, we spoke with Republican National Committee chief strategist Sean Spicer.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, Hillary Clinton, she was offered the same invitation by the Mexican president. She didn't accept it, at least not yet.

Do you think she should have accepted and gone right away like Trump?

CASTRO: Well, I think that she said she's of course glad to go to Mexico and glad to visit with the Mexican president.

[18:10:04] She was last in Mexico in 2014 and visited with him. And she's going

to do that at the appropriate time. I think that Donald Trump's visit today was a colossal failure both for Donald Trump and for the president of Mexico.

Donald Trump went there and didn't say anything about his signature issue, which was getting Mexico to pay for this wall. And I think that both his supporters and the American people will really see that as a cowardly act.

How do you spend over a year rallying people with your crowds and your big rallies, talking about how you are going to make Mexico pay, and then when you get face-to-face with their president, you essentially chicken out and not say a word about it?

I think it was a colossal failure for him. I also think that it reminded Hispanics about how much resentment and fear and hostility he's created in this country over the past year for Hispanic- Americans, in addition to immigrants.

You think about his words about Judge Curiel and this idea that just because this judge was of Mexican heritage, he wasn't qualified to do his job. And so, Wolf, I wish that this more contrite Donald Trump had started his campaign off this way, rather than starting it off with a smear and slander of Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants.

BLITZER: The Mexican president, you also heard the president say that he believed NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, could be improved to benefit both parts. He said he's open to modernizing it.

Does it sounds like he seems to be agreeing with Donald Trump, who now says he wants to renegotiate, to improve NAFTA, not simply scrap it?

CASTRO: Well, remember, Donald Trump essentially said that he would obliterate or ignore these trade agreements.

So, again, he's backtracking on his original plan. What he's demonstrated over and over and over again is that he has a forum of political multiple personality disorder, not only on the immigration issue, but also on the trade issue.

BLITZER: But what's wrong with a politician evolving, as they say, moderating views when it's convenient or necessary? Politician do that all the time, don't they?

CASTRO: Yes, Wolf, but I think there's a difference between evolving over time and having five different positions in the course of a week or two. And that's what we're seeing with Donald Trump.

BLITZER: If Donald Trump does soften his stance toward allowing immigrants, an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States right now, if he softens his position to attain some sort of legal status without leaving the United States, and I don't know if he's going to do that, couldn't that be a good thing? Wouldn't that potentially lead down the road to comprehensive immigration reform legislation passing the Congress? CASTRO: If Donald Trump somehow manages to become president, and I

don't believe that he will, but if he somehow manages to win the presidency, I don't believe that comprehensive immigration will pass.

And, in fact, I think that he will not only go after undocumented immigrants. I think that he's also going to curtail the rights or the privileges of legal immigrants. I think he will shorten their visa times. I think he will jack up the fees to make it harder for them to get -- to re-enroll essentially. And so I don't see comprehensive reform coming with Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Congressman Castro, I need you to stand by. We are going to take a quick break. There's much more to discuss, including, from your perspective, as a supporter of Hillary Clinton, some worrisome poll numbers about her unfavorable ratings. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:17:48]

BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Congressman and Hillary Clinton supporter Joaquin Castro.

Congressman, a new poll shows the Democratic nominee's unfavorable ratings right now higher than ever. Look at this "Washington Post" poll. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have extremely high unfavorable numbers, Hillary Clinton 59 percent unfavorable among registered voters, Donald Trump, 60 percent unfavorable, about the same.

How did she get into this mess, if you will, as far as her unfavorable rating is concerned?

CASTRO: Well, the first thing is that I think that Hillary Clinton is a strong leader, a sharp woman and somebody who is going to make an incredible president of the United States.

And I do think that she's getting a bit dragged down by being in a race with somebody like Donald Trump, who is really turning off a big portion of the American people. And besides that, you also see during the course of a presidential that a candidate's numbers will ebb and flow.

But at the end of the day in November, I'm confident that she will be elected by the American people as the first female president of the United States.

BLITZER: But those unfavorable numbers, you can't blame Donald Trump for her unfavorable numbers with the American public, can you?

CASTRO: Well, no.

You think about the fact that for 25 years, she has faced essentially what amounts to a political full-court press by the conservative media, by Republicans. And some of that shows up in the popularity numbers. She's been clear about that. She has said that herself. And so, at the end of the day, it's a competition between these two individuals, one Democrat and one Republican. And I believe that she will win.

BLITZER: She did have very good numbers coming out of her term, her four years as secretary of state. But now that she's a candidate, those numbers clearly are slipping.

Let's talk about the e-mail controversy, which is not going away, at least not yet. The FBI is going to be releasing its report that it gave to Congress presumably in the coming days. We will get more information. Some of those e-mails that she deleted, she said involved personal matters like yoga, wedding planning, funeral arrangements, clearly had government issues involved, State Department issues as well.

Is that one of the reasons why her unfavorable numbers are as high as they are right now?

[18:20:00]

CASTRO: It's possible.

I think that Republicans have made -- have tried to use it in every single way that they can against her. But she has stood up and she's gotten in front of Congress and testified. She's done many interviews about it. She's been very clear that she wasn't -- didn't know that she was receiving and certainly didn't send classified information.

The FBI has essentially cleared her. And so she's been very, very straightforward with the American people about these things.

BLITZER: She does do one-on-one interviews, as you correctly point out, but she hasn't held a press conference with reporters. And right now a lot of the critics are pointing out it's been 269 days, going back to December, that she hasn't held a formal news conference. And that's raising questions about whether or not she should be more transparent.

Your reaction to that? As a politician, you meet with your reporters, I assume, all the time.

CASTRO: Yes. No, but and I have heard that critique. But, Wolf, I have seen her on every single media channel there is.

I have seen her on FOX, on MSNBC, on CNN. I know that she's done local press. So, I know that that's a critique. And I know that the media always wants to have more access to candidates and ask more questions, which is the job that they're supposed to do for the American people, but I also think that Hillary Clinton has been the most scrutinized probably politician, at this point, over the last two decades.

BLITZER: What do you anticipate emerging from that first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? How tough is that going to be?

CASTRO: Well, I think, for Hillary Clinton, it's hard to anticipate the kind of Donald Trump that you are going to see up there.

As I mentioned earlier with his regard to visit to Mexico, has a form of political multiple personality disorder. What we saw today in Mexico was almost this reserved, contrite Donald Trump. And then he goes to his rally, his rallies, and you will probably see it tonight in Arizona, and he's very aggressive and very bombastic and stirring people's fears and resentments.

So, it's hard to anticipate exactly who is going to show up. But, regardless, I think the American people are going to see a woman who is the best prepared candidate in a very long time, somebody who knows her facts and knows the policy that's in front of her. And I think they will be impressed.

BLITZER: Congressman Castro, thanks very much for joining us.

CASTRO: Thanks.

BLITZER: Just ahead, did Donald Trump accomplish his goal of looking presidential when he was in Mexico City today? And will he go back to talking tough on immigration when he speaks in Arizona later tonight?

And look at this. We're getting new information right now coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, a very, very dangerous storm. It's now barrelling toward Florida, threatening tens of millions of people. We will go live to our Severe Weather Center. Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, there you see her right now.

She is going over this brand-new forecast. This is information you need to know. We will take a quick break. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:27:34]

BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news, Donald Trump meeting with Mexico's president today, and now getting ready to deliver a major speech on immigration in Arizona.

We're joined by our political analysts, Jackie Kucinich. She's Washington political chief for The Daily Beast. "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and our senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's a senior editor for "The Atlantic."

Gloria, this was Donald Trump's first meeting with a head of state as presidential candidate. How did he do?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, if you work for Donald Trump and you planned this trip, you're pleased, because Donald Trump had a long meeting with a head of state with whom he's clashed.

He got on the stage with him. He heaped praise on Mexico and Mexicans. And he talked about building the wall. He didn't ask the president of Mexico who would pay for it. But he did talk about building a wall. So, if you work for Trump, you're going to think he was firm, he was strong, he can be seen as presidential. That's what they wanted to do.

But lots of presidential candidates, Mitt Romney comes to mind, who met with heads of state of Great Britain and Israel when he was running for president, do that. It's not out of the ordinary for presidential candidates to do that.

So, I don't think you should overstate it because sort of Trump passed this bar. And I also think we need to sort of take a look about why he did this. I think, if you look at the polling, there are questions about his temperament, the sort of commander in chief question, and his appeal to Hispanics.

And so what they were trying to do here, and they, I believe, probably helped themselves here, is appeal to Hispanic voters and also appeal to those Republican women, for example, those suburban women, those more moderate voters who might be on the fence, but might be worried about Donald Trump's temperament or his intolerance.

And they -- the campaign hoped to give voters another look at Trump today in that light. And we still have to see what he says in his speech tonight.

So, overall, I would say it's probably a plus for them, but I wouldn't overdo it here, because this is a long campaign ahead of us still, 69 days.

BLITZER: You know, David Swerdlick, we're just getting this in from the Reuters news agency.

A spokesman for the Mexican president said they -- yes, they did speak about the wall, and that Mexico, the president of Mexico said, told Donald Trump very bluntly, Mexico would not pay for that wall. You heard Donald Trump say that they spoke about the wall but they didn't talk about who would pay for the wall. So, there seems to be a contradiction, a serious contradiction emerging, David, right now.

DAVID SWERDLICK, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, look, Trump is going to stick by his pledge to make Mexico build the wall. Obviously, if you're the president of Mexico, you can't cave into that. But I really think Donald Trump got what he wanted out of this meeting. People -- he gets to say, look, I'm a businessman. I'm not a regular politician. I see a problem, I fire up the jet, I go down and I have -- let's talk about it.

That's exactly how he wants people to see him. So, even if he and President Pena Nieto have a disagreement about this particular issue, I think this accrues to the benefit of Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Jackie, we did hear a very different tone about Mexico and Mexicans from Donald Trump today than we've heard all of these many months.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But it is -- that's all it is, the change in tone. There's some talk about, you know, whether he's softening. He's softening the tones. He's not softening the positions.

His surrogates keep on saying we're going to build the wall and Mexico is going to pay for it. You're hearing the same rhetoric. It's just not said in a crazy way.

Now, we'll see if he can keep that up, because his problem is never in front of this kind of crowd, this more sophisticated crowds. It's always when he gets in front of his rallies and the crowds start feeding him and he sort of, you know, goes off into old Donald Trump land. So, we'll have to see in the next couple of weeks if that's something -- or next couple of days -- if he's going to do that.

BLITZER: You know, Ron, Donald Trump, he repeatedly thanked the Mexican president for the invitations. Said he was honored to come to Mexico City and meet with him, discuss these issues. And he also appeared and you heard this pretty clearly, to soften his stance on NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying it could be improved. But he didn't trash it like he almost always does.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. You know, I think we're going to need more paper for the list of things in this campaign that we never thought we would see, seeing Donald Trump standing on a podium next to the president of Mexico, who did not seem to go into this meeting or extend the invitations with a clear idea of what he wanted to get out of them, I think.

And I do think that you saw a very -- they were both subdued. They were both kind of in maximum diplomatic speak. They were largely talking past each other in their remarks and kind of almost in that heavy diplomatic code.

I think it will be striking to tease out what they ultimately did or did not discuss about Mexico paying for the wall, because while Donald Trump was sober, was serious and all of that does accrue to his benefit, if we are in a situation where his three core primary season promises on immigration are all inoperative, which is the potential here, that, in fact, he did not press Mexico on paying for the wall, if in fact tonight he does move away from his repeated position on mass deportation on all undocumented immigrants, and he's already significantly changed his core promise on banning all Muslim entry into the U.S., if all those are revised, not necessarily that his core voters will move away from him, but it does I think cut at that really, you know, central strength that he's not a politician. That he's someone who says what he thinks whatever the consequences because it sure looks like a rapid amount of political readjusting relative to where he is in the polls.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hold on for a second. I want to repeat the news coming in from Reuters, quoting a Mexican spokesman as saying that yes, the issue of the wall did come up but the Mexican president told Donald Trump that Mexico will not pay for that wall. You heard Donald Trump say something very differently at the news conference when he answered a couple of questions at the very end.

Gloria, this whole issue of who's going to pay for the wall, you remember last year when Donald Trump hosted "Saturday Night Live". They poked a little fun at the idea of Mexico paying for the wall. Watch this clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, the president of Mexico is here to see you.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: That's great. Send him in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald.

TRUMP: Enrique.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I brought the check for the wall.

TRUMP: That's so wonderful. This is far too much money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I insist. Consider it an apology for doubting you. As history shows us, nothing brings two countries together like a wall.

TRUMP: Well, I told you and I'm so proud you have and changing Telemundo to all English for me, you changed that to all English, it's the greatest thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course.

TRUMP: I'm so proud of you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Pretty funny "SNL" clip.

The whole issue of paying for the wall has been an issue all of these many months.

BORGER: Right. And we're going to have to hear from Donald Trump giving the news you just reported about whether indeed that did come up in the conversation.

[18:35:05] You know, the president of Mexico is in a tough political position here, right? He's at 23 percent in the polls, I think. I think he has to tell his country that yes, he told Donald Trump that he would not pay for the wall. The question this evening for all of us is deportation and what Donald Trump is going to say about mass deportation.

These issues are the signature issues of the Trump campaign. He came down that escalator on day one, Wolf, and was talking about building the wall and immigration. The question that I had watching Donald Trump today who is quite subdued, as we all saw, was, would this Donald Trump have beaten everybody else in the primaries? And I don't know -- I don't know the answer to that because there's

been a shift in tone, which he's clearly trying to reach out to a broader base of voters who have concerns about him. But if I were John Kasich or Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, I'd be scratching my head saying, wait a minute. He's talking about what we were talking about during the campaign.

BLITZER: You know, Ron, I want to get your reaction to the news we're getting, and I want to be precise because this is important. At the end of the news conference, when he answered a couple of questions, Donald Trump said these words, "We discussed the wall. We did not discuss payment of the wall. That will be for a later date."

Now, "Reuters" is quoting the presidential spokesman of Mexico as saying the Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto told Donald Trump at the meeting that Mexico would not pay for Trump's proposed border wall. So, you got two very conflicting assessments there.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. That is obviously going to be the -- the story coming out of news conference was Trump's statement that they had not discussed the wall. If in fact they had discussed the payment for the wall -- excuse me, Trump said that they had not discussed the payment of the wall, if in fact they had discussed the payment for the wall and the Mexican president said no, that was not the way Donald Trump presented it, that is going to be a major in the issue coming days.

But to underscore Gloria's point, can I just really quickly, if you look back and you look at the exit polls in the primaries, in most of those key early primaries, whether it was South Carolina or Virginia or Georgia or Illinois or North Carolina or Florida or New Hampshire, Donald Trump, or Michigan, Donald Trump did no better than even, run even among voters who supported legal status for people who are here and undocumented positions. In most states, he lost among the voters and he won those states only because he had overwhelming margins, usual half a both or more, among the minority of Republicans who supported deportation.

So, I think she's exactly right. There are a lot of aides of those former advisers, those other candidates who are questioning whether Donald Trump would have differentiated himself as dramatically from field if he had taken the position on deportation that he seems to be heading toward in his speech tonight.

BLITZER: Everyone, standby. We have a lot more to assess. A lot more information coming in.

Hillary Clinton is dismissing Donald Trump's visit to Mexico City as nothing more than a photo op. Much more on that.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:42:49] BLITZER: We're back with our political team tonight.

Hillary Clinton is dismissing Donald Trump's trip to Mexico City, telling military veterans that building alliances takes more than a photo-op.

Our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is joining us from Cincinnati right now. That's where Hillary Clinton spoke today.

Update our viewers on how things unfolded there?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we know that Hillary Clinton was invited to go to Mexico as well. She said she will do so at an appropriate time. Now, she was scoffing at Trump's effort to look presidential and moderate his tone. She said it takes for more than simply flying in, dropping by to be a president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton delivering a blunt message to American's veterans.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: You don't build a coalition by insulting our friends or acting like a loose cannon.

ZELENY: Barely mentioning her rival by name, her argument was clear. Donald Trump, she said, simply doesn't pass the commander in chief test.

CLINTON: Threatening to walk away from our alliances, ignoring the importance that they still are to us is not only wrong, it's dangerous.

ZELENY: Speaking to the American Legion National Conference, she seized upon Donald Trump's whirlwind visit to Mexico as the latest example of the stark choice facing voters.

CLINTON: It's more than a photo op. It takes consistency and reliability.

ZELENY: A new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll also suggests a tough choice, giving Clinton the lowest favorable rating of a quarter century in public life. Among registered voters, 59 percent said they had an unfavorable impression of her, compared to 60 percent for Trump. It's a sign that fallout from lingering controversies over the Clinton Foundation and her private e-mail server are taking a toll.

In Cincinnati today, she received a respectful but far from enthusiastic response from military veterans. She's trying to build a bridge to voters who may not like her. She urged her critics to look beyond party loyalty in this high stakes election.

CLINTON: I suppose there are some of you who never voted for a Democrat before.

[18:45:00] I will be a president for Democrats, Republicans, independents, for all Americans.

ZELENY: Many veterans we spoke to say like Felix Ayala of Florida say they are torn in choosing the next commander-in-chief.

FELIX AYALA, AMERICAN LEGION MEMBER: Yes, this country needs change, as we all know. And it will be a very difficult decision.

ZELENY: Trump is said to address the legion convention here on Thursday. Clinton set the tone by reminding the audience of his public feuds with the Khan family, whose Muslim son was killed in Iraq and John McCain for his capture in Vietnam.

CLINTON: I will never, ever disrespect Gold Star families or prisoners of war who endured so much in our name. To insult them is just so wrong. And it says a lot about the person doing the insulting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: And, Wolf, John Podesta, the chairman of the Clinton campaign, moments ago released a statement saying in part this. He said at the first opportunity to make good on his offensive campaign promises, Trump choked. What we saw today, Podesta says, from a man who claims to be the ultimate deal maker is that he doesn't have the courage to advocate for his campaign promises when he's not in front of a friendly crowd.

And, of course, Wolf, by John Podesta saying that, it's an attempt to say that Trump essentially whiffed on his claim to pay for the wall. He's been saying that over and over for months now.

So, the Clinton campaign was watching Trump's meeting very carefully today. They know it got very strong reviews in terms of looking presidential. Now, they are going to try and remind voters that he simply is not the same Trump he was earlier in this campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jeff, thanks very much. Jackie, that's the argument that Hillary Clinton supporters are making that Trump blinked, if you will. He didn't have the guts to stand up and tell the Mexican president, you're going to pay for this wall. We're going to be hearing a lot more of that from Hillary Clinton supporters.

KUCINICH: That sounds to me like they're goading him a bit. They are hoping he lashes out and saying, I'm a great deal maker and they're going to pay for the wall. I think it's a bit of a troll.

But it does seem they're overall message that he's not ready for this and that, you know, he's not going to make good on these promises. Yes, you're absolutely right, they're going to continue saying that over and over.

BLITZER: Did Hillary Clinton, Ron Brownstein, make a mistake by not immediately accepting the invitation from the president of Mexico to come down there?

BROWNSTEIN: It's a very odd situation. I'm sure it was not what the president of the Mexico expected, that he would be standing there on a podium with Donald Trump before Hillary Clinton. It is -- I think, as I said before, it's not clear he thought through very carefully what he was going -- the Mexican president, Pena Nieto, what he was going to get from this meeting. And if, in fact, he did raise the issue of paying for the wall and said, no, in the meeting, it's unclear why he didn't make that clear during the press conference after.

You know, I think, to me, another interesting question as we think about kind of this meeting today and the speech tonight will be, if Donald Trump ultimately concludes that building wall and making Mexico pay for it and mass deportation of over 11 million undocumented immigrants are not sustainable positions for a general election, I think one reasonable question is, will that have any impact on Republican thinking in Congress after the election regardless of who wins.

If, in effect, even the hard liners' hard liner Donald Trump ultimately concludes that you cannot go to the public and say, I'm going to remove everyone, does that create any momentum for creating any kind of legal status, which, of course, has been a stalemate between the parties going back to the George W. Bush administration.

BLITZER: Gloria, Hillary Clinton's unfavorables clearly have risen since the Democratic convention. She's now just about even with Donald Trump, 59 percent, saying they view her unfavorably, compare to 60 percent for Trump.

So, how does Trump capitalize on this?

BORGER: Well, he keeps talking about Hillary Clinton's e-mails. He keeps talking about her dishonesty. He keeps calling her crooked Hillary and reminding people of why they don't like her. I think that she's made his job a lot easier lately. I think James Comey of the FBI made his job a lot easier by saying she had been careless with her e-mails. And we're going to watch this story unfold. It will continue to unfold in coming weeks.

And, you know, to get back to your question that you asked Ron before. Hillary Clinton, today, lost the news cycle, but now, there's another controversy and I think Jackie's right. She's kind of egging Trump on here. But there's a controversy between -- and a question of who is telling the truth here. Is it the president of Mexico who said that he told Trump that he wasn't going to pay for the wall, or is it Trump who said it wasn't raised?

Pena did not correct Trump during the press conference. And so, now, this is a story that's going to continue to unravel for another news cycle where we're asking question, don't know. So as Trump goes after Hillary Clinton on her truthfulness, there will be questions now about Donald Trump and about the president of Mexico and that will take up another news cycle.

BLITZER: And we'll see what he says tonight at his big speech in Phoenix.

Guys, stand by. Just ahead, Russia is now taking credit for an air strike which killed a top ISIS leader, but a U.S. defense official is calling that claim laughable.

And a powerful storm now shifting course. Tens of millions of Americans could now be in the path of a very severe weather system over the holiday weekend. We're going to go live to our meteorologist Jennifer Gray. She's over at the CNN weather center. She just received the latest forecast.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:24] BLITZER: Tonight, the U.S. military has new information about how a key ISIS leader was killed and defense officials are mocking Russia's attempt to claim credit for his death.

Let's go to our chief national correspondent Jim Sciutto. He's getting new information.

What are you learning, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

The new information tonight, defense officials telling CNN that it was a drone, an unmanned aerial vehicle that carried the strike targeting the number two ISIS leader. They still have not confirmed that he was killed in that strike, but they are dismissing Russian claims that it was somehow involved. Multiple defense officials telling CNN there are no facts to support that claim.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, the Pentagon confidently claiming credit for an airstrike aimed at Mohammed al-Adnani, one of the most senior ISIS leaders targeted to date. The Russian defense ministry claimed on its Facebook page that it was a Russian air strike that took Adnani out.

Speaking to CNN, a U.S. defense official called the Russian claim, quote, "laughable". The Pentagon press secretary adding the U.S. has no facts to support a Russian strike.

PETER COOK, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: It has not devoted much, if any, effort that we're aware of targeting ISIL's leadership, and at the same time we've not seen the Russian military campaign use precision weaponry on a regular basis as well.

SCIUTTO: The Pentagon is still working to confirm whether a U.S. strike killed Adnani. ISIS itself announced his death Tuesday via its official news agency.

COOK: His elimination would be a significant blow to ISIL, a significant blow to ISIL's leadership and importantly, a significant step in reducing ISIL's ability to conduct external attacks outside of Iraq and Syria.

SCIUTTO: Adnani was more than ISIS' chief spokesman. He also oversaw planning for the group's attack beyond their base in Iraq and Syria. From Paris to Brussels, to Istanbul and Bangladesh, the operations he oversaw killed more than 1,800 people and wounded nearly 4,000 U.S. officials say.

A founding member of al Qaeda in Iraq, the group that preceded ISIS, Adnani is believed to be in prison at a U.S. detention facility during the Iraq war. Once seen as a possible successor to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, Adnani has been actively hunted by the U.S. His death could create even more problems for ISIS as it continues to face military pressure from the U.S.-led coalition.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It remains to be seen if they have that deep of a talent pool that they can put on the front line like Adnani was, and that's going to be a significant issue for them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: The fear now, revenge attacks, particularly terror attacks. The U.K., Wolf, concerned that ISIS is trying to infiltrate terrorists there.

BLITZER: All right. Jim, thank you.

We're also following very important breaking news about the weather. A new tropical storm not only threatening Florida right now, it now looks like it will affect tens of millions of people along the U.S. East Coast.

Our meteorologist Jennifer Gray is in the CNN severe weather.

You've just received the latest forecast, Jennifer. What have you learned?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, the storm has strengthened just a little bit, still with winds of about 45 miles per hour, with gusts up to 60. Now, the track did shift a little bit farther to the west. It is starting to pick up a little bit of speed, moving to the north-northeast at 7 miles per hour. This has been a very disorganized storm, but with the latest track it takes it farther to the west right over Apalachicola and up to the north and east.

With this new track, though, it does seem to keep it over land for much, much longer. The track before was taking it offshore and you can see, even possibly impacting the D.C. area, New York, Philly and even Boston as we get into the latter part of the weekend. So, everyone needs to be paying attention to this forecast. It could bring rain and wind and, of course, the possibility of rip currents all up and down the East Coast.

Now, here are your hurricane watches and warnings. I do think one of the biggest threats with this storm will be the storm surge. We could see anywhere from four to six feet right in the Big Bend of Florida with this being very, very flat, we could see some flooding inland. We also could see two to four, one to three, once you get down to the Tampa area.

So, Wolf, with the track changing, everyone needs to be watching. It's going to be extremely urgent over the next 36 hours.

BLITZER: This is a serious, serious forecast that we're getting right now. We'll stay on top of it together with you, Jennifer. Thank you very, very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.