Return to Transcripts main page


EPA on Ice?; Trump and China; Administration's Stance on Israel?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 24, 2017 - 16:30   ET




SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Trump says he will still pursue bilateral trade agreements, but those could take longer to negotiate, at a time when countries involved in TPP are already making moves to join a regional trade deal with China, all of this potentially complicating Trump's campaign promise to elevate American interests and stick it to Beijing.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We talk about free trade. It's not free trade. It's stupid trade. China dumps everything that they have over here.

MURRAY: Trump's inauguration speech was just the latest jab in a round of shadowboxing between the leaders of the world's two largest economies.

TRUMP: From this day forward, it's going to be only America first, America first. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.

MURRAY: That coming after senior administration officials warily watched the Chinese president's speech in Davos, where he touted globalization and warned of the risk of an isolationist agenda.

XI JINPING, CHINESE PRESIDENT (through translator): Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain may be kept outside, that dark room will also block light and air. No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war.

MURRAY: So far, Trump has refrained from the more drastic action he promised on the campaign trail.

TRUMP: I will direct my secretary of the treasury to label China a currency manipulator.

MURRAY: Instead telling "The Wall Street Journal," "I would talk to them first."

What's clear is the Trump administration is perfectly willing to put China on edge. The president has said the one-China policy, which maintains Taiwan as part of China, is up for negotiation. And on Monday, Trump's spokesman said the U.S. wouldn't hesitate to defend its interests in the South China Sea, where Beijing is looking to expand its territory.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If those islands are, in fact, in international waters and not part of China proper, then, yes, we're going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country.


MURRAY: Now, experts are predicting we could see a much more combative relationship between the U.S. and China under the Trump administration.

And China is already responding to those comments by Sean Spicer about the South China Sea, urging the Trump administration to exercise caution if they want to maintain peace and stability in that region -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Sara Murray at the White House, thank you so much.

In other world news, Israeli officials today announcing plans to build 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank. The move comes as President Trump has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a White House meeting next month, perhaps a sign that the new administration will be supportive of Israel's desire, the Israeli government's desire to begin settlement construction.

Let's get right to CNN's Oren Liebermann, who is Jerusalem.

Oren, what is the reaction of the Palestinian Authority to the news of these new housing developments and also the new relationship between the president and Netanyahu?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I would say the new relationship certainly worries them and that's reflected in their almost immediate condemnation of the new announcement of settlement housing.

This from Hanan Ashrawi, a PLO executive committee member. She says: "It is evident that Israel is exploiting the inauguration of the new American administration to escalate its violations and the prevention of any existence of a Palestinian state. Therefore, we urge the U.S. and the rest of the international community to undertake serious and concrete measures to bring about a full cessation of all settlement activities and to hold Israel to account."

That reference right at the top to Trump is a growing concern among Palestinian leadership that the U.S. is no longer the impartial broker of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, that peace may now no longer run through Washington and Palestinians have been looking to the international community more and more.

TAPPER: Oren, how is the White House responding to the expansion?

LIEBERMANN: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked for comment on the announcement of 2,500 new settlement units. And he basically said Israel is a huge ally of the U.S. and they will discuss it.

He said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump are meeting next month and they will talk about it. He didn't condemn it, he didn't criticize it, something we routinely heard when it came to settlement construction in East Jerusalem, in the West Bank from President Barack Obama.

It seems that is not the case here. If that criticism doesn't come, Netanyahu could see it as a green light for more settlement construction.

TAPPER: It does seem as though the Netanyahu government could not be more delighted with the new American president. There is this issue, however, about whether the U.S. Embassy will be moved to Tel Aviv -- from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem immediately or not, Press Secretary Spicer saying no decision made yet.

Is there any pushback to that, any resentment at all or is it just excitement about the new president?


LIEBERMANN: Mostly excitement about the new president. It seems that those who called for the embassy to be moved immediately are now OK with the White House under President Donald Trump saying, hey, wait a minute, this one will take some time.

Netanyahu has barely mentioned it, if at all. It's simply not one of his priorities. He wants to focus on the Iran deal, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict beyond that, perhaps some clarity on what Trump's attitude towards settlements will be. The embassy simply not registering high on Netanyahu's priority list here.

TAPPER: Yes, I interviewed the defense minister, Lieberman, a few weeks ago. And he didn't seem to think it was a high priority either.

Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem for us, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The man whom President Trump has tapped to head the Environmental Protection Agency has made a career of fighting the Environmental Protection Agency. Next, we're going to take an inside look at the White House's plans for the EPA.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The national lead now. This morning, President Donald Trump in front of leaders of the auto industry said he's an environmentalist. This announcement came just a few minutes before he signed executive orders reviving two pipelines opposed by the environmental community, the Keystone pipeline and the Dakota Access, which drew thousands of protesters and celebrity activists last year during the Obama administration.

Today, CNN is learning more about President Trump's plans to undo President Obama's environmental regulations and actions.

CNN's Rene Marsh has been working on that reporting for us.

Rene, some major, major changes in store.


All eyes are on the Trump administration as well as the agency in charge of protecting our air and water. President Trump has political teams in place at the EPA, and within his first week of his presidency, we are beginning to see the agency start to shift.

Since Trump has taken office, he's frozen regulations, as he has promised. And CNN has also learned he ordered EPA grants to be frozen as well.


MARSH (voice-over): Days into his presidency, Donald Trump is sending chills down the spines of environmentalists and some EPA employees. He's put a freeze on regulations and CNN has learned Trump also ordered a freeze on some EPA grants and contracts to states.

WENONAH HAUTER, FOOD AND WATER WATCH: This is exactly what we were concerned about in the beginning. It's a war on the EPA.

MARSH: But a Trump transition source tells CNN the freeze will not impact all EPA grants. We're told the $4.1 billion the agency gives to states to implement clean water and clean air regulations will not be touched. But other discretionary grants will be frozen for review.

HAUTER: The states, their budgets have been cut so much that I don't think that many of these safety programs will continue without federal funding.

MARSH: But Marlo Lewis with the libertarian think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute welcomes the approach.

MARLO LEWIS, COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: It's a good idea for a new administration that is thinking about a new direction for the EPA to want to take a pause, a time-out, and just look at all of these things first before spending the taxpayers' money.

MARSH: Word about the agency freezing grants comes as details of an EPA action plan was leaked to the media. The plan, considered a wish list, calls for more than $800 million in cuts to state grants, climate, and environmental programs.

The action plan targets regulations that limit carbon emissions from power plants and greenhouse gases from automobiles, just as scientists declared the warmest year on record. TRUMP: We're reducing unnecessary regulations. And we want

regulations, but we want real regulations that mean something. I am to a large extent an environmentalist. I believe in it. But it's out of control.

MARSH: The Trump transition source tells CNN the guidance has since been revised, but it is possible elements of the original plan will still be implemented.

But nothing will be decided until the Senate confirms who will lead the EPA.


MARSH: While the Senate is considering Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, an agency he has sued at least a dozen times as Oklahoma's attorney general, a state where oil and natural gas is big business, we do know, Jake, that Democrats are very resistant to this pick, simply because of his track record of suing the agency he would now lead.

They also believe that he would be more on the side of industry than protecting the environment. He still hasn't been confirmed.

TAPPER: And they're also in the minority.

MARSH: That's right. So, it all doesn't matter, right? He will get through.

TAPPER: Not that it doesn't matter, but that he will probably be confirmed.

MARSH: Right. Right.

TAPPER: Rene, thank you so much.

How much damage is President Trump doing to his ability to govern with his own belief based on nothing that millions of people voted illegally? That story next.


[16:48:15] JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continue with our breaking news, political story; claim that now has the weight of the highest office in the land behind it. The White House now saying, President Trump believes millions of people voted illegally in the election - election he won. Of course, there's no evidence for this belief it's based on nothing. It's not true. There is no evidence that three to five million people voted illegally, none.

So, let's talk about with our political panel. We have Kristen Soltis Anderson and Ruth Marcus, here's the big question, I think. Does it matter? Does it matter that he believes this? And I'll start with you, Ruth, in terms of like whether or not it matters to our democracy. And then I want to ask you about the politics of it. RUTH MARCUS, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Well, so, I think the

answer to the question, does it matter? Depends on to whom. I think it does matter broadly to our democracy because he's simple - for a number of reasons. First of all, he's simply saying something that's demonstrably untrue. That calls into question his assessment of other facts. It calls into question his personality and his resilience. And it calls into question the kind of foundations of our democracy. It doesn't - there's certainly a set of voters to whom it doesn't matter, the people who wouldn't care if he shot somebody on fifth avenue. There are a lot of people -

TAPPER: To quote him.

MARCUS: To quote him. The people who share his beliefs. But I think there's a bunch of people out there who want to think best of their new President, who want to feel reassured, and I think for them, Kristen can answer this and assess this better than I can. It's fundamentally un-reassuring, destabilizing.

[16:49:54] TAPPER: Do the politics of this matter? The fact that Senators and Members of Congress are now going to be asked by reporters, what do you think, what do you think? It's already happening. I haven't heard one person say, yes, of course, three to five million people voted illegally because, again, it's not true. But does it matter politically? Is it going to hurt Republicans? Is it going to hurt Donald Trump and his ability to get his agenda through process?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND POLLSTER: Well, they'd probably rather be talking about something else, right? They'd rather be talking about what they're going to do with the Affordable Care Act, than talking about how many people road the Metro on inauguration day. They'd rather be talking about, what they're going to do about tax reform than talking about whether or not illegal ballots were cast in this election.

So, it's a distraction, I think, from some of the things Congressional Republicans would like to drive on their message. But I think that the other problem is that it continues to erode this trust. I mean, you do have about a third of people who I would assume, hear this claim and maybe the three to five million doesn't matter to them but they think, look, that there's probably voter fraud in this country and good for Donald Trump for standing up to the media and saying so.

And then, you've a third of the country that says, there's absolutely no way this is the case. Donald Trump is terrible. And I think the problem is, to Ruth's point, you've got this part in the middle that they want to think well of the President. Maybe they think voter fraud happens, but why is he talking about this and saying it in such an extreme way? And he won, and shouldn't he get over it? I think that's what - I think is the struggle for the politics of this, why go there? Why go there and insist that it's three to five million. I think that's where he's really gone astray on this.

TAPPER: And people always say, well look, you can't argue with it, he won. And it's true, he won. But he lost the popular vote, and he's the least popular U.S. President at this point in his presidency. I don't doubt that he -

MARCUS: Only if you believe the rigged polls.

TAPPER: I don't doubt he can get more popular but - and that he will. But he's unpopular now. And could this have an effect in keeping his numbers down?

MARCUS: I think it could. I think people - look, if you look at the normal trajectory of numbers from election day to inauguration, those numbers tend to go up. His have been for the most part flat or down a little bit, depending on which polls you look at. And I think it's not possible to overestimate the degree to which - look, people say wacky things when they're candidates. Usually it hurts them with Donald Trump it didn't. People say wacky things when their nominees. Usually it hurts them but Donald Trump it didn't, with ex-President- elect. But when you say something as wacky as President, it really has an effect on, I think, the public mood and trust. That could have implications beyond the fact that he - yes, he said it before.

ANDERSON: I see. I don't know that it actually moves numbers. I think this sort of thing in many ways is baked in. What makes me concerned is when you have these debates about facts, whether it's something as substantial as three to five million people voting or something as silly as metro rider ship is. There're going to be times when you need to have a population that 100 percent trust is what is being told to them either by the media or by the government.

In the case of a natural disaster, in the case of a terrorist attack. I mean, there are moments when you need to be able as a leader of the country to have the trust of 100 percent of people out there that you're shooting straight. And I think when these things, whether there's something little or something that's now bigger with this voter fraud claim. What really concerns me is that you now have most Americans who either don't believe the President or don't believe the media. And that - it creates a scary situation.

MARCUS: And just assuming you're totally correct that it won't move numbers, that's not a good situation for the new President, right? He wants his numbers to improve as Jake held out that possibility.

TAPPER: You don't think it's possible?

MARCUS: I think that there're - totally were ways for him to come into office and accept the reality of that there are a lot of Americans who are unsettled by his election. To say what he said on election night about binding the wounds of division, to reach out to them, to recognize his role in bringing the country together and unifying them, and I think that he's done pretty much anything but through the course of the transition and now in his beginning days as President.

ANDERSON: I think it may be too soon to tell, though. I think a lot of this is going to be about actions, not words. I think it's going to be about whether or not people feel like has their healthcare gotten better? Do they feel like they have better job prospects? I think these are the things most people are going to judge Donald Trump on. And it's too early to say.

MARCUS: And I think that's a totally fair point. And there have been things that haven't happened that I think are quite interesting. For example, the decision not to reverse the President Obama's order on the dreamers. That is actually - it's an absence of action, but it's a unifying absence of action in a sense that that would be very be - might be popular with his base, but those are among the most sympathetic people that you can imagine. They were here through no fault of their own, they grew up as Americans. So, I think there are actions or absence of actions that could be helpful. I think those will be more important in the long run. I'm just arguing that these words aren't helpful.

[16:54:50] TAPPER: It is true, though, I will say, that the first crack in the Republicans came today with Lindsey Graham, criticizing President Trump on this, because the Republicans had pretty much been in lockstep. Going along with Rex Tillerson, even though Graham, Rubio and McCain all had serious reservations. Not saying anything about this pacific trade deal that overwhelmingly Republicans supported, they've been going along with Donald Trump. Today was the first. Lindsey Graham, not a big supporter of Donald Trump, but one wonders, is this just the first of many.

ANDERSON: Well, my assumption is that for the first month or so you're going to see Congressional Republicans trying their very best to be as supportive as they possibly can of the President on policy issues. To let him try to govern, to give him a chance so that if things go south, he can immediately say, well, those Congressional Republicans stopped me from day one. So, I think he has a little bit of latitude. But I think on things like for instance the claim of three to five million people voting fraudulently. I think those are the sorts of things where you'll see a little more comfort from Congressional Republicans to break away.

[16:55:54] TAPPER: Kristen and Ruth, thank you so much. Great conversation. Appreciate it. That's it for me in THE LEAD. Democratic Senator Chris Coons, of the great state of Delaware joins Wolf Blitzer next in The Situation Room. Stay with us.