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White House Wrangles Over Travel 'Ban'; House Staffers Worked with Trump Team on Travel Ban; Trump Milwaukee Trip Canceled, Company Feared Protests. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 31, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


TAPPER: -- with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[17:00:07] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. The president's pick. President Trump will reveal his Supreme Court nominee three hours from now in a primetime announcement. He's called his top two finalists to Washington like a high-stakes version of "The Apprentice." Who will be his pick?

Chaos and confusion. Trump tells his acting attorney general, "You're fired" after she questions the legality of his travel ban from mostly Muslim nations. The White House insists it's not a ban, but that's the word used by both the president and his press secretary.

Uphill fight. Angry Democrats dig in their heels in the confirmation of the attorney general nominee, and they've boycotted committee votes for other presidential picks. Can they stage a battle over the Supreme Court nominee? Do they have any room left to maneuver?

And Trump's brain? His White House strategist Steve Bannon, the former boss of a right-wing website, the most influential voice in the president's ear. Has he put his stamp on the president's controversial early moves?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking news stories under fire from all sides. The White House is defending its temporary ban on travel from seven mostly Muslim nations, including an indefinite halt to refugees entering the United States from Syria.

President Trump's order has brought chaos and condemnation when the acting attorney general publicly questioned its legality and the president promptly fired her. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly denies that he was kept in the dark when the order was drawn up and stresses it's not a ban on Muslims. White House press secretary Sean Spicer takes exception to using the word "ban" altogether, except that he used that very word this week, as did President Trump.

Furious Democrats have been stalling the confirmation of the attorney general nominee, Senator Jeff Sessions; and they boycotted committee votes for the treasury and health nominees, leading a top Republican senator to call the Democrats -- and I'm quoting now -- "idiots."

Just three hours from now, live on CNN, President Trump will change the subject completely and set the stage for a potentially bigger battle by revealing his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. He's playing it very close to the vest. Sources say his top two picks, both strong conservatives, were summoned to Washington ahead of the announcement.

I'll speak with Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Caught up in a battle over the president's order suspending travel from seven mostly Muslim nations, the Trump administration is ready to move on to the next fight.

Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, is the White House looking to change the subject?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They are trying, Wolf. Aides to the president are standing firm that this executive order that established extreme vetting is not a ban, but that is a word that the president has used himself more than once.

But you're right: the White House is trying to change the subject as they engage in this battle over semantics; and he'll try to do that later on tonight when he announces his pick for the Supreme Court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Across the Trump administration, all of a sudden there seems to be a ban on the word "ban."

JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: That is not a travel ban. This is not, I repeat, not a ban on Muslims.

ACOSTA: New Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly insisted the executive order barring travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries does not amount to a ban.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: First of all, it's not a travel ban.

ACOSTA: But tell that to the president, who tweeted just yesterday, "If the ban were announced with a one-week notice the bad would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad dudes out there."

And don't forget, President Trump said this on Saturday.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Working out very nicely. You see it in the airports; you see it all over. It's working out very nicely. And we're going to have a very, very strict ban. And we're going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years.

ACOSTA: White House press secretary Sean Spicer tried to explain it this way.

SPICER: He's using the words that the media is using. But at the end of the day, it can't -- hold on, hold on, hold on. It can't be -- it can't be -- Jonathan, thanks, I'll let Kristen talk.

ACOSTA: Even though Spicer used the word "ban" himself on Sunday.

SPICER: It's a 90-day ban.

ACOSTA: Then there's what one of the president's top surrogates, Rudy Giuliani, told FOX just over the weekend.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: When he first announced it, he said "Muslim ban." He called me up. He said, "Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally." And what we did was we focused on, instead of religion, danger.

ACOSTA: Spicer's answer for that.

SPICER: Then you should ask Mayor Giuliani. That's his opinion.

ACOSTA: The administration is still pushing back on the notion that it botched the rollout of the executive order, which led to chaos at airports across the country.

[17:05:00] KELLY: We knew it was coming. It wasn't a surprise it was coming, and then we implemented it.

ACOSTA: House Speaker Paul Ryan carefully criticized the execution of the order but not the policy itself.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think it's regrettable that there was some confusion on the rollout of this. No one wanted to see people with green cards or special immigrant visas like translators get caught up in all of this.

ACOSTA: The White House is standing by the firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who balked at carrying out the executive order, saying Yates "betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States."

But at her own hearing two years ago, Yates told Alabama senator and now attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions she was capable of telling the president no.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: You think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that's improper?

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator, I believe that the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the president.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Now, the White House will try to turn the page later on tonight at 8 a.m. Eastern when the president is scheduled to announce his pick for the Supreme Court. Aides here at the White House are confident they'll have enough Democrats on the other side of the aisle to put this nominee over the top, Wolf.

But given all the anger on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in the Democratic --Democratic Party right now, that might be easier said than done, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

President Trump will reveal the Supreme Court nominee as we heard in a primetime announcement. You can watch it live right here on CNN 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Meantime, sources say the president has summoned his two finalists to Washington. Let's bring in our Supreme Court correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Does one of them, Pamela, have an edge?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: There are increasing indications, Wolf, that judge Neil Gorsuch has an edge at this point. But as we have been saying all day long, sources caution us that Donald Trump could still change his mind.

As we pointed out early this morning, Judge Hardiman, the other top finalist that we've been reporting was on on his way here to Washington, D.C., summoned by the White House.

What we are told by our sources, Wolf, that Neil Gorsuch did receive a call from the White House saying that he is likely the pick, but again anything can happen. He arrived here in Washington last night. Judge Hardiman, the other contender as I pointed out, driving here this morning. So we'll have to wait and see what happens in a few hours from now.

BLITZER: Why did the White House decide to bring both of them to Washington if only one is going to get the job?

BROWN: Well, that's a good question. I'm told by sources familiar with this process that the White House is taking extraordinary measures to protect this process and to conceal who the topic is. And part of that strategy ask to bring both of them to Washington, Wolf.

And also there still will be the possibility, if you will, that Donald Trump could have a change of heart. He's been going back and forth between these two judges. As we point out, the leading contender has been Judge Gorsuch, but they want to have Judge Hardiman in Washington, as well.

BLITZER: The drama continues.

BROWN: Building suspense. That's for sure.

BLITZER: At least for a few more hours. All right. Thanks very much, Pamela. Joining us, Democrat Seth Moulton of Massachusetts. He's a member of

the Armed Services served four tours of duty in Iraq as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. SETH MOULTON (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Good to be back, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some of these issues. The president, as you know, fired the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, last night after she said she would refuse to defend his executive order in court. Was it appropriate for her to make that call?

MOULTON: Absolutely. I mean, her job is to make her best legal judgment. She's a career prosecutor. She was approved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the Senate. Her job is to uphold the law and to follow the Constitution. That's what she did when she made this decision.

BLITZER: Would it have been more appropriate for her to simply offer her resignation?

MOULTON: Well, I mean, that's her decision. I mean, I wouldn't say whether it's appropriate or not. I think the most important thing for her to do is just to uphold the law. That's what she did, and unfortunately, the president decided to fire her over it.

BLITZER: What is unconstitutional about the president's order?

MOULTON: Well, first of all, one of the principles in our Constitution is that you do not discriminate on the basis of religion. And it's very clear from Rudy Giuliani's statements and others that that's how this was envisioned, that this is a Muslim ban. The White House might not like to use that word. It's obvious why they don't want to use the word, but that's exactly what this policy is all about. And we've seen the incredible chaos that has accompanied its implementation.

BLITZER: But, you know, the -- I guess the point that the White House makes is, yes, this ban involves seven mostly Muslim countries, but there are few dozen other Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the largest Muslim country, Indonesia, for example, that are not affected by this. So, why do you call it a Muslim ban?

MOULTON: Well, look, I mean, I call it a Muslim ban, because that's clearly the policy that was envisioned by the president. When he went on the campaign trail and said that his is what he would enact when he was elected.

Sure, there are other Muslim countries around the world. There are Muslims right here in America. But with this policy, as ill-conceived as it is, that's clearly what they're trying to do. And obviously, someone who believes firmly in the Constitution said, "We can't even justify this. We can't defend this legally. And so, I can't support it from the Department of Justice." [17:10:14] BLITZER: The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, yesterday said that federal employees needed, in his words, "to get with the program or they can go." Critics say the White House is suppressing dissent. The administration says they simply want employees, career officials, for example, at the State Department, among others, who should be committed to the president's agenda. What do you think?

MOULTON: I think they're not only suppressing dissent; they're not even listening to their closest advisors, their cabinet members.

You know, I served under General Mattis in Iraq. I was in his division. And there is no way that he supports this ban. In fact, he finally came out today and said that he's going to work on exceptions for all the critical Muslim allies, the intelligence sources, the translators that we had to work with every single day in Iraq, because including them in this ban absolutely harms our national security.

So, if the administration put this out without even consulting General Mattis in a serious way, then clearly, they have no interest in even hearing the ideas of people who support their -- their policy or their administration, let alone people who might dissent with it.

BLITZER: Because we did hear from the secretary of homeland security, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly today saying he was informed; he defended the president's decision. We haven't directly yet heard from Secretary Mattis, also a retired general. If he were to speak out, do you think he would say that this is a good idea?

MOULTON: No, I don't. But I think that the calculation that a lot of people in the administration are making right now is "What is the red line for me to resign?" I mean, this is something I'm hearing behind the scenes from people at the highest levels all the way down, that they're so dismayed by what Trump is doing with Bannon and, you know, his white supremacist agenda in the Oval Office that they're all saying, "At what point do I resign?"

I think General Mattis took this job as secretary of defense, because he believes that by being on the inside, he can prevent America from truly going off the rails, can prevent a real tragedy that might come from Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

But he's got to make a tough call at some point as to whether he just continues to support the president, to be in the arena and helping to make those decisions, or whether he just has to resign. I think a lot of people in the administration are having that discussion with themselves and with their friends right now.

BLITZER: You served under him in Iraq, then-general, now Secretary of Defense Mattis. Do you still have faith in him, even though he has been silent on this sensitive issue?

MOULTON: I do. I know General Mattis not too well, but I served under him. He is a truly moral leader, a great leader in combat, but also someone who stood up firmly against -- you know, when the division was accused of mishandling prisoners, for example. And he always talked about our division motto, which was "No better

friends, no worse enemy." Now, everyone knows what the second part means. You don't want to be an enemy to the United States Marines. But the first part, the part that comes first is "no better friend." And that means that, if you're willing to put your life on the line not just for your country, but for ours, that you'll be our best friend. We will protect you from the terrorists who are a common enemy.

And now with this policy, we're just abandoning these critical allies in the fight against terror to the terrorists we're trying to fight.

BLITZER: Because I want to be precise. You said -- and you served four tours of duty as a Marine in Iraq. You say the president's policies, in your words, put our troops' lives at risk.

MOULTON: Absolutely.

BLITZER: I want you to explain why you believe this policy of the president puts U.S. troops, their lives at risk.

MOULTON: Because when you work in a place like Iraq or Afghanistan, you have to rely on local allies. You have to rely on intelligence sources that tell you where the bad guys are. You have to rely on translators to help you go through patrols every single day. And you literally put your lives in their hands. And if you can't do that, if you can't find people who are willing to work with you, then you're out in the cold. And we're not going to be able to find the terrorists; and we're not going to be able to protect ourselves.

I mean, I worked with a translator on my fourth tour in Iraq who worked so closely with my team when we went out with the Iraqi security forces that we made -- that we made sure he got a gun. And we trained him, and we trusted him with that weapon, because we needed him in the fight if we ever got into big trouble.

Now, he was, of course, targeted by the insurgency for being a collaborator with the Americans. And I've worked for the past eight years to get him through the extreme vetting that already exists in the process for refugees from -- from a place like Iraq to come here. Thank God he was able to get here with his family just a couple of months ago before Donald Trump was inaugurated, because if he hadn't gotten here then, he might be stuck in Iraq at the hands of the terrorists today.

But I want to emphasize, it took eight years. I worked with him in 2008. It took eight years for him to navigate that process. So, when Sean Spicer gets out there and says, "Oh, we had to do this expeditiously so that people wouldn't rush onto planes," it's obvious that Sean Spicer and the administration have no idea how this actually works.

[17:15:17] BLITZER: Congressman, we have to take a quick break. There's a lot more to discuss. I'd like you to stand by. We'll resume our conversation right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking news stories. The White House under fire for the president's order banning travel from seven mostly Muslim nations. The president will change the subject in less than three hours when he reveals his U.S. Supreme Court pick.

[17:20:05] We're back with Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a member of the Armed Services Committee. Once again, he served four tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine Corps infantry officer.

Congressman, the Trump administration points out that President Obama back in 2011 took similar action after two Iraqi refugees who had been granted asylum living here in the United States were actually found to have constructed roadside bombs when they were in Iraq, bombs designed to kill American troops.

So, how is President Trump's order any different today than when President Obama did it in 2011 when he put a pause on refugee arrival here in the United States?

MOULTON: It's entirely different, Wolf. What President Obama did is he simply improved the vetting process. He did not even put a pause on immigration, although the process slowed down because of the additional vetting procedures from -- for people coming from Iraq.

Improvements to the vetting process are something that you'll find bipartisan support for here in Congress. What Trump has done in contrast is just put this blanket ban that will be used against us and our troops. In fact, ISIS is already using the rhetoric from the Trump administration, the text of this executive order, to incite attacks against us and to recruit more terrorists to their side.

BLITZER: Supporters of the president's order point to the terror threat in Europe, whether in France, or Germany or Belgium where ISIS sympathizers have come in under the -- posing as refugees. And Trump administration officials say they want to prevent that from happening here. How would you address that challenge?

MOULTON: So, once again, the Trump administration is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people by comparing two processes that are almost incomparable.

When refugees come to the United States, they go through the most comprehensive vetting process of any traveler to America. That's why it took my translator eight years to get here with his family. And this is someone that I literally trusted so much I gave him a gun to fight alongside me.

Now, in contrast, in Europe what's happening is that, with open borders, refugees are just fleeing into Europe without any proper vetting. So, it's an entirely inappropriate comparison. And Europe does have a security problem, but the reason why, here in the United States, we have not had a single fatal attack from anyone from any of these seven countries in the last 30 years is because our vetting procedures are so strong. BLITZER: Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, thanks very much

for joining us. Thanks for your service.

MOULTON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, a close look at the man the New York Times calls the de facto president, not President Trump, but his top political strategist, Steve Bannon. So, how powerful is he?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:27:16] BLITZER: As we await President Trump's announcement of his U.S. Supreme Court nominee, we're also following multiple White House controversies, including White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisting the president's quote, "extreme vetting" executive order is not a travel ban, even though both the president and Spicer himself repeatedly have called it a ban.

Let's bring in our political and legal experts. And Laura Coats, let me start with you. Do you think the semantic argument right now over the use of the word "ban" is a symptom of some of the confusion that has developed over this very sensitive issue over the past few days?

LAURA COATS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, absolutely. This is the core of the issue people are having. It's the core of what Sally Yates' confusion, I believe, was. It's also the core of why there's so much hysteria over the weekend. Because you need to have clarity. We were talking about how to enforce such a far-reaching executive order. And that was lacking in this case. And it continues on as we go forward.

And frankly, regardless of who the attorney general is, either acting or seated, will have to face the same sort of conundrum here of how to actually enforce a law that may or may not contain some elements that are unlawful or untenable to actually enforce.

BLITZER: You know, a lot of Republicans, Dana, as you know, they're complaining privately up on Capitol Hill. They weren't even consulted on this. But we've now learned that some congressional staffers, staff aides who work for members, they were, in fact, part of this process that came up with this idea. So, is that extraordinary, unusual, or is that routine?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's unusual in that apparently, the chairmen, the Republican chairman of that committee, Bob Goodlatte...

BLITZER: Of the Judiciary Committee.

BASH: Of the Judiciary Committee, didn't know that the aides who effectively worked for him on the committee were working on this executive order. He was in the dark, but apparently they weren't, at least, the particular parts that they were charged with.

Deirdre Waltshire (ph), our producer up on Capitol Hill, has been reporting on this and notes that certainly -- and you've seen this, as well -- when you go to, you know, either presidential events or more likely political events, you often see campaign aides on vacation, but working for other people.

This is different, though. I mean, this is not a political, you know, kind of vacation. This is something where one staff or one branch of the government is helping, because they are experts on this, helping draft another's executive order.

BLITZER: Were they were formally assigned to the transition team, to the new White House to help out on this? Took a leave...

BASH: Right.

BLITZER: ... from their positions as staffers on the Judiciary Committee?

BASH: It doesn't -- it doesn't appear that that is the case, at least not according to the chairman, the Republican chairman, Bob Goodlatte's statement. It seems as though they were simply just the experts -- the Republican experts that were closest to the White House for them to reach out to, to help with some of the language. And it wasn't, as you said, the vacation.

[17:30:08] BLITZER: Because it is unusual the chairman, the members didn't know about it, but the aides, at least some of them apparently did.

Ron Brownstein, the Trump administration also facing criticism for supposedly suppressing dissent within the administration. As you know, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said to federal employees, especially those at the State Department who are complaining, "You should get with the program or go." The acting attorney general, Sally Yates, was fired, as you know.

Is he -- are they threatening the independence of these career officials, these independent agencies, if you will?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the short answer is yes. I mean, look, if you think about the amount of whiplash we are going through, the last time we went from a Democratic president to a Republican president, we went from a relatively centrist Bill Clinton to a George W. Bush who started off quite centrist himself. The distance, the degree of turn radius was not as jarring.

Today we're going from an Obama presidency that was more liberal than Bill Clinton's toward a Trump presidency that is much more -- not only more conservative, but more confrontational, I think, and more determined to kind of break the crockery in many different directions.

And I think what we're seeing in the State Department with this tug of war over resistance to this executive order is really indicative of a lot of what we are going to see over the next several years.

For example, the role of science and climate. Some of the further immigration orders that have been floated, according to "The Washington Post." You can see a lot of the things they want to do running into significant resistance within their own government. And I think the early signals are they are going to move very aggressively against that in a way that heightens the underlying polarization around this administration.

BLITZER: Yes. There will be dissent, and I assume there will be resignations, as well.

Joan Biskupic, you're an expert on the U.S. Supreme Court, about 2 1/2 hours or so from now we're going to learn who President Trump wants to be the next United States Supreme Court justice.

How is all of this controversy that we've seen over the past couple days going to spill over in the questioning of whomever is nominated?

JOAN BISKUPIC, SUPREME COURT BIOGRAPHER: I think it will spill over, and it will spill over right away. As soon as President Trump nominates someone, that individual will be brought up to Capitol Hill for what's called courtesy visits. And usually, the senators start testing the waters on issues.

I cannot imagine that they won't start asking about this order. And in two ways. First of all, whether it potentially violated any kind of statutory rule with the -- Immigration and Naturalization Act, and whether there are constitutional issues here. Perhaps violations of due process, violations of religious rights.

So, I think this is going to be -- it's Topic A right now. It will be Topic A for much of the Supreme Court battle.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. We're just getting word that the president, President Trump, has just canceled a planned trip. We'll get you details right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:37:33] BLITZER: Back-to-back breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We just learned that a trip by President Trump is now being called off because of fear of protest.

Let's get the latest from our CNN White House reporter Jeremy Diamond. He's on the North Lawn of the White House.

What are you learning, Jeremy?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Yes, an administration official just told me moments ago that President Trump was scheduled to go to Milwaukee to visit a Harley- Davidson factory on Thursday. That trip has now been canceled after Harley-Davidson decided that had it wasn't comfortable hosting the president amid a flurry of protests that have been planned for the president's -- what was supposed to be the president's visit to Milwaukee on Thursday.

The company apparently told Trump administration officials that it wasn't necessarily what the president was planning to do there, where he was potentially going to sign some executive orders on American manufacturing, but it was really the presence of protests, protests planned because of the president's immigration ban.

So, we're seeing the continued effect here snowballing as the president looks to continue to implement his agenda. He's hitting roadblocks once again, in part because of this controversial immigration executive order, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Good reporting. Jeremy Diamond over at the White House.

You know, Dana, it's pretty extraordinary. Not even two weeks into this presidency and already a trip like this, which normally would have been a routine trip for a new U.S. president to go to Wisconsin, meet with Harley-Davidson workers, executives, all of a sudden fear of protests resulting in Harley-Davidson telling the White House "Not a good time to show up."

BASH: Right. And you're talking about what was supposed to be the core of the Trump message and the Trump presidency, which is jobs and jobs in places that he says presidents before and Democrats before have forgotten.

Harley-Davidson, an American company in the state of Wisconsin, which President Trump won, first time a Republican won there in three decades since 1984, and was going to go talk about manufacturing. And American manufacturing.

The fact that the company said, "You know what? It's just not going to be a good scene for you. Don't come," is the first real-world example of how this whole disaster of the travel situation has stepped on what was supposed to be his core message, which is jobs, jobs, jobs, getting America working again, and you know, that's it. That is really the reason why people in Wisconsin, in Michigan voted for Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Yes, Ron, you want to weigh in?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Well, I say I think it goes even deeper than the executive order, although that's certainly the flashpoint right now. I mean, I tweeted the other day asking, is it -- would it be possible for Donald Trump, President Trump to go to any major city without experiencing major protests? I mean, the core divide that we saw in this election was geographic. Hillary Clinton won 88 of the 100 largest counties in America. He dominated in smaller midsize cities and rural areas.

But the actions of the presidency in the two weeks have deepened the divides, I think, that we saw in the election. You know, in Gallup poling the other day, he reached 50 percent, a majority of Americans saying they disapproved of him after eight days in office. For President Obama, he didn't reach that dubious milestone until about 600 days. For George W. Bush it was about 1,200 days. Ronald Reagan, I believe, around 700 days. So what we're seeing is kind of an intense polarization that is

reflected in this decision, but also, I think will have a real impact on Democrats on Capitol Hill. Not so much on President Trump or Republicans, but Democrats in many ways are -- will be scrambling. I think are scrambling to keep up with their own coalition, which has shown a visceral reaction against many of the initiatives that the president is pursuing.

BLITZER: And Ron, let me just repeat the news for viewers just tuning in. This according to our Jeremy Diamond, our White House reporter, an administration official tells him the president will not head to Milwaukee for a visit at a Harley-Davidson factory on Thursday which had been scheduled. The company deciding it wasn't comfortable hosting the president amid plans of protests in Milwaukee. This according to an administration official.

We've covered new presidents for a while, you and me. Have you ever seen anything this early in an administration unfolding like this...

BROWNSTEIN: No.

BLITZER: ... protests and controversy -- one would call it even chaos -- as a result of that travel ban executive order?

BROWNSTEIN: No. Look, there's never been anything like this.

First of all, there's never anything like the protests the day after the inaugural where essentially 1 in every 100 Americans protested in the streets. And then to have a repeat performance the next weekend at airports, which are not an easy place to get to, around this issue. And, you know, tens of thousands of people again in the streets.

And then again, this underlying reality in public opinion. There are a lot of people who are very enthused about the change that Donald Trump is pursuing, and we continue to see that in stories when people go into the heart of Trump country. But there is no question that he has stirred a deeper backlash at the outset than any president, I think, in modern times reflected in both the magnitude of these protests, which capture the intensity, and the underlying reality that in a Gallup poll he is already at 50 -- a majority disapproval, eight, nine days into his presidency when it usually takes years for most presidents. Bill Clinton was the previous shortest ever, at about 160 days. Donald Trump got there in eight.

BASH: I just want to add that I think Ron certainly makes a very good point about the fact that the cities tend to be where the anti-Trump voters were.

But Milwaukee has been historically...

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

BASH: ... a Republican sort of oasis when it comes to cities in Wisconsin. I mean, it is where Scott Walker is from, the suburbs around there, and, you know. And also it's not just that's true politically, but also a company like Harley-Davidson, it's not -- I'm not saying it's partisan, but I have been to Harley-Davidson, you know, factories and so forth in Wisconsin with Republican after Republican. They are used to hosting Republican politicians.

So, the fact that they even thought this is not a good thing, I think is quite telling.

BLITZER: And it is extraordinary, this early in a new administration, to see something like this unfold. And as you point out, especially on a gut issue which he campaigned on: manufacturing here in the United States.

BASH: Manufacturing in the United States, and as something as symbolically American and as American as it gets, which is Harley- Davidson, right?

BLITZER: Very quickly, Laura, on the two finalists, if you will, on the Supreme Court nominee, we're going to hear about that 8 p.m. Eastern later tonight. They're both conservatives, but are there major differences? You've studied them -- studied them.

COATS: Well, one of the major differences between the two is one is far more prolific on the area of abortion and pro-life issues.

BLITZER: Which one?

COATS: That's Gorsuch. And he, in fact, has written a book on kind of the sanctity of life.

And the real issue with those two distinctions is the fact that, you know, we have in the past had with Justice Souter somebody who wasn't as well-written on the areas of abortion and intended -- in fact, became one of the biggest disappointments for conservatives and changed and actually voted in favor of upholding Roe v. Wade.

So that lack of information about his views on whether or not he would indeed seek a reversal on Roe v. Wade is a very critical issue for someone like Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Do you see differences between them, Joan?

I do. Judge Gorsuch is much more in the mold of Justice Scalia. He's got a very clear conservative approach to the law that he's written a lot about. He's much more of an intellectual thinker. He's much more consistent in what he's done.

Judge Hardiman, I think it's a little bit more of a mixed bag on terms of case-by-case approach. But as we've said all day, he will bring something different to the court if President Trump were to name him, just because he comes much more from a blue-collar world than the sterling sort of privileged world of Judge Gorsuch.

BLITZER: And we will have coverage, of course, 8:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight, when the President is in the White House, in the east room, formally making this announcement.

I want to show our viewers some live pictures coming in from Minneapolis, Minnesota. There you see some live pictures. People protesting the travel ban imposed by the President. This is not Milwaukee, this is Minneapolis. Other protests elsewhere around the country as well.

We'll continue to watch all of this. Up next, the President's top political strategist, Steve Bannon. He's already a lightning rod for critics of the Trump administration. Is he the most powerful person in the White House?

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[17:50:20] BLITZER: White House strategist Steve Bannon, the former boss of a right-wing website, may be the most influential voice in the President's ear right now. Has he already put his stamp on the President's controversial early actions? Brian Todd has been looking into this for us.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, there is little doubt that the President's chief political strategist is one of the most powerful people in Washington. CNN has learned, Stephen Bannon was among those in Donald Trump's inner circle who pushed through some key components of the President's travel ban.

Between those moves and Bannon's position on the National Security Council, well, Stephen Bannon is wielding influence tonight like few presidential aides ever have. We have to warn viewers, this story contains some graphic language.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWD: Refugees are welcome here.

TODD (voice-over): President Trump's hardline approach on immigration and terror causing protests, disruptions at airports, and now a messy fight with the Justice Department.

CROWD: Donald Trump is Castro, hey.

TODD (voice-over): The controversial moves have senior counselor Stephen Bannon's fingerprints all over them. Tonight, there's new concern over Bannon's massive influence over the President and his aggressive style.

STEVE BANNON, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think anger is a good thing, I think, if you're fighting. This country's in a crisis.

TODD (voice-over): "The New York Times" editorial page, today, says Bannon has positioned himself as, quote, "the de facto President" and, quote, "We've never witnessed a political aide do quite so much damage so quickly to his punitive boss' popular standing or pretenses of competence."

Analysts say Bannon made a huge impact early in the administration, getting himself a full seat on the National Security Council, leveraging the relationship he cultivated as the CEO of Mr. Trump's presidential campaign.

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: Bannon has been able to be the most influential Trump adviser in the first two weeks of this White House partly because he's got the President's ear, and he operates as this sort of free-floating adviser without the entanglements of other aides.

TODD (voice-over): The 63-year-old former banker also headed the far- right "Breitbart News" website and is known for quotes like, "Darkness is good," and "Dick Cheney, Darth Vader, Satan, that's power." Bannon now has the President's ear in a White House accused of a travel ban that discriminates against Muslims, which the White House denied.

Bannon, himself, has made some combative statements about Islam. In 2014 --

BANNON: We're now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.

TODD (voice-over): -- and in a 2010 radio interview discovered by CNN's "KFILE."

BANNON: Islam is not a religion peace. Islam is a religion of submission.

TODD (voice-over): Bannon's called "Breitbart" a platform for the alt-right, a far-right political movement which often champions White nationalists and anti-Semitic views. Bannon denies being anti-Semitic and a White nationalist, but he isn't afraid to take on his own party.

BANNON: What we need to do is bitch slap the Republican Party.

TODD (voice-over): Bannon has loyal defenders.

JOEL POLLAK, SENIOR-EDITOR-AT-LARGE, BREITBART NEWS: Steve Bannon is national hero. We're going to see Supreme Court appointments of individuals who will uphold the constitution, and for that, America owes Steve Bannon a great debt of gratitude.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He understands and fights for the working class Americans out there who haven't had their voices heard.

TODD (voice-over): Kurt Bardella quit his job at "Breitbart" and is now critical of Bannon. He calls Bannon diligent, intelligent, and intimidating.

KURT BARDELLA, FORMER MEDIA CONSULTANT, BREITBART NEWS: His governing style, though, is very much that of force. And I think a lot of what you saw in, really, how Trump reacted to controversy or criticism is very reflective of Steve's style, which is all about confrontation, being a provocateur, never backing down, never apologizing, never showing weakness, and through sheer force of will, bully your agenda through, you know, by all means necessary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: We asked for a response to that from the White House. They did not respond. Stephen Bannon did not comment for this story.

But a White House official, when we asked for a response to "The New York Times'" editorial about Bannon, which suggested President Trump might consider reducing Bannon's role at the White House, well, that official told us, quote, "If 'The New York Times' editorial page actually mattered, then why did their candidate of choice lose the most electoral votes of any Democratic candidate since Michael Dukakis?" Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, any sense among those you've spoken to that the President will, in fact, reel in Steve Bannon?

TODD: The analysts we spoke to, Wolf, they don't think he will. They point out that Bannon was crucial to Trump getting elected when many thought he could not get elected. And to President Trump, that carries an enormous amount of weight. But they also point out that Trump is known for having people who are in favor and then who fall out of favor. So it's still very early for Steve Bannon.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you.

Coming up, under fire from all sides. The White House defending its ban on travel from seven mostly Muslim nations and insisting it's not a ban, even though the President and his Press Secretary used that word often.

[17:55:03] President Trump will reveal his Supreme Court nominee in a prime time announcement. He's called his top two finalists to Washington, sort of like a high-stakes version of "The Apprentice."

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BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, the appointment. President Trump is about to announce a decision that could impact this country for decades to come. We're getting new information about his Supreme Court pick and efforts to build suspense for the big reveal.

Dereliction of duty. The acting Attorney General who was fired by President Trump is accused of betrayal by the White House. Will other administration officials who defy the President's travel ban face a similar fate?

[18:00:05] External threat. The European Union chief suggests President Trump and his immigration crackdown may pose a danger to the European continent.