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Interview With NAACP President Cornell William Brooks; President Trump's Poll Numbers Historically Low; Cracks in Trump's Wall; Trump Shifts Toward Some Tenets of Obama Foreign Policy; GOP Congress Starts to Undo Obama Regulations. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 3, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Walled off. The president's plan to build a barrier at the southern border is facing growing opposition from members of his own party. Will they stand in the way of the wall?

Stroke of the pen. The president signs more executive actions as he works to roll back regulations. He's getting new help from Republicans who have found an obscure way to undo rules from the Obama era.

And protest movement. Millions of Americans have been taking to the streets and contacting Congress in opposition to President Trump and his policies. Will the activism of 2017 rival the 1960s?

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 tonight: a new barometer of the Trump presidency after a very busy and sometimes volatile two weeks in office.

The new CNN/ORC poll shows 53 percent of Americans disapprove of the way the president is doing his job. That's the highest disapproval rating for any newly elected president in modern American politics.

The negative response fueled in part by the president's travel ban and his moves to build a wall at the border with Mexico. Tonight, the president's national security adviser is declaring that the days of turning a blind eye to Iran's hostile actions are over. The Trump administration ordering new sanctions to punish Iran for a provocative ballistic missile test. Iran is denouncing the sanctions, claiming they are illegal.

On the economy, Mr. Trump has signed new executive action on financial regulation. It sets the stage for his promise to dismantle the Wall Street reform law known as Dodd-Frank. The president also is embracing a strong new jobs report, even though he repeatedly questioned those statistics during the campaign. The White House says the report showing 227,000 jobs created last month reflects confidence in the new American president. I will talk about the president's agenda with the head of the NAACP,

Cornell William Brooks. He's standing by, along with our correspondents and analysts, as we bring you full coverage of the day's top stories.

Up first, our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, a very tough message from the administration to Iran.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The Trump administration is ratcheting up the pressure on Iran with these new sanctions, while saying ominously that no options are off the table when it comes to curbing the threat posed by Tehran.

But just as the White House is trying to talk tough, a key official here is doing some cleanup after a major gaffe on the issue of terrorism.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump delivered a brief but stern message to Iran from the Oval Office.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're not behaving.

ACOSTA: The Trump administration is backing that warning with new sanctions on Iran, hitting 25 individuals and companies connected to that country's ballistic missile program, punishment for Tehran's missile launch from last weekend.

While officials caution the sanctions won't impact the Iran nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration, the White House is weighing its options.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has been very clear. He doesn't take options off the table.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: Does he have the right to this?

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Insist that they agree with him?

CONWAY: Well, he has a right to form a team.

ACOSTA: That tough rhetoric is competing with an embarrassing gaffe from a top spokesperson for the White House, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, who tried to justify the administration's travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries in a mistake-filled statement on MSNBC.

CONWAY: I bet it is brand-new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. And most people don't know that because it didn't get covered. ACOSTA: For starters, President Obama did not ban the Iraqi refugee

program. But the more alarming error, there was never a Bowling Green massacre.

In fact, in 2011, two Iraqi citizens living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, were arrested on a series of terrorism charges. Conway later clarified on Twitter: "Honest mistakes abound."

But critics are pouncing. Hillary Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, slammed Conway for a completely fake Bowling Green massacre. "Please don't make up attacks."

Conway fired back: "I misspoke. You lost the election."

The pro-gun control Brady Campaign ripped Conway for promoting fake news about a shooting that never happened "to justify the reprehensible actions of this administration."

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Apparently, according to the Trump administration, fake news is synonymous with any bad press they get. So, if they get bad press, it's fake. At the same time, they have demonstrated a ready willingness to invent facts at will.

ACOSTA: But the White House did embrace some real news, declining to quarrel with the Labor Department's new jobs number, a low 4.8 percent unemployment rate cheered by the president as the sign of a strong economy.

TRUMP: I think that it's going to continue big league. We're bringing back jobs.

ACOSTA: That is a major departure from the campaign, when then candidate Trump repeatedly blasted the unemployment rate as phony.

[18:05:08]

TRUMP: Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment. The number is probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.

The unemployment number, as you know, is totally fiction.

ACOSTA: And despite his campaign rhetoric promising to be tougher on Wall Street, President Trump today signed an executive order scaling back the financial regulatory reform known as Dodd-Frank.

TRUMP: We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank, because, frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses, they can't borrow money. They just can't get any money, because the banks just won't let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank, so we will be talking about that in terms of the banking.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, two of the big developments here today, the president, as you just heard there, signing the executive orders aimed at chipping away at the Obama administration banking reforms known as Dodd-Frank that came after the financial crisis.

But, Wolf, one other very important thing to note, the White House is touting what U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said, when she directed some tough talk to Russia, basically saying that Russia has to get out of Crimea for those sanctions to be lifted. The White House said she was speaking forcefully and clearly for the administration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This weekend, the president already down in Palm Beach, Mar- a-Lago, spending the weekend at what they call the winter White House, if you will. Is that what they're calling it right now, Mar-a-Lago, the president's estate down there?

But Monday, very interestingly, while he's in Florida, he's going to go to the U.S. military's Central Command in Tampa for a full briefing. What are you hearing about that?

ACOSTA: That's right. He's going to be going down to the MacDill Air Force Base to get a briefing on the war on terror, the war on ISIS. He's also going to be thanking the troops down there for their service to the country.

Wolf, we should also point out he just released his weekly address to the nation. Typically, those happen on Saturdays. But this one was released at 5:00 p.m. on Facebook. During that address, he recognized the sacrifice of Ryan Owens, that Navy SEAL who was killed in that raid in Yemen.

But another example, Wolf, of how they are shaking up some traditions at the White House. Typically, that weekly address airs on Saturday, not on Fridays. But things are changing here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it goes back to I think the Jimmy Carter administration. They used to release the weekly radio -- they used to call them the weekly radio addresses every Saturday morning around 10:00 a.m.

But this is a president who likes to shake things up a bit. All right, Jim Acosta, at the White House, thanks very much.

Up on Capitol Hill right now, we're seeing signs of a growing Republican revolt against one of the pillars of President Trump's agenda. That would be his proposed wall at the border with Mexico.

Our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, is up on the Hill. He's digging into that for us.

What are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Republicans tonight are concerned about the price tag that Donald Trump's wall could cost, upwards of $15 billion. And, as we know, the Trump campaign, Trump administration wants Congress to appropriate that money first before Mexico would fully reimburse the United States. But, Wolf, a lot of Republicans are skeptical that Mexico will pay

back the costs of the wall.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU (voice-over): It was a centerpiece of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

TRUMP: We will build a wall. Mexico is going to pay for the wall. We're going to stop drugs from coming in.

RAJU: But Trump's campaign promise to build a wall along the entire border with Mexico is now crashing into a different type of wall on Capitol Hill, where a growing number of Republicans are pushing back on his plans, which could cost anywhere from $12 billion to $15 billion and could add to the deficit.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I don't want to see any spending, additional spending on anything done that's not paid for, any topic.

There are so many things that people are talking about spending money on, and at the same time lowering the amount of revenues that we take in here in the country. And it's just a recipe for disaster.

RAJU: But Trump continues to insist that Mexico will fully reimburse the U.S. for the wall.

TRUMP: Mexico in some form, and there are many different forms, will reimburse us and they will reimburse us for the cost of the wall. That will happen.

RAJU: But a number of veteran lawmakers are deeply skeptical.

(on camera): He's obviously talking about having Mexico pay for it. Do you think that's actually a viable option?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: No.

RAJU: Why do you say that?

MCCAIN: Because it's not a viable option.

RAJU: So, then, taxpayers could be left with the bill?

MCCAIN: The taxpayers are paying a lot of money right now. One of the biggest problems we have is the enforcement of existing law.

[18:10:04]

RAJU (voice-over): Other prominent Republicans agree.

(on camera): Do you believe that Mexico will actually pay for this wall?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I doubt that they're going to pay for it. RAJU (voice-over): The skepticism comes as Trump is facing dwindling

public support for the wall. A new CNN/ORC poll finds a solid majority of voters opposed to the plan, with just 38 percent supporting it, a sharp drop from the 52 percent who backed the wall in 2015.

Yet, Trump is still moving ahead, taking executive action ordering construction of the wall and drafting a formal proposal to send to Congress in the coming weeks.

The top two Republicans in Congress are ready to push the plan, despite the concerns over who is paying for it. House Speaker Paul Ryan has suggested the billions in funding won't be offset by spending cuts, because the plan is a national security priority.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We see this as something that is of crisis proportions with respect to opioids, with respect to drugs, with respect to the fact that we have a porous border. This is a national security issue.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: One of the reasons why that funding proposal has been held up is because Mick Mulvaney, who is Donald Trump's choice to be his budget director, his nomination has been held up under opposition from the Senate. Probably will get confirmed over the next couple of weeks.

Wolf, a number of Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees are still waiting for final votes. But expect that next week when Betsy DeVos will get confirmed as education secretary. And then, afterwards, Jeff Sessions who has been waiting for his job as attorney general, likely to get confirmed as well, despite the stiff opposition from Democrats -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu Raju up on the Hill, thank you very, very much.

There's also breaking news coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM from France, where investigators have opened a terrorism investigation after a machete-wielding man attacked a soldier outside the Louvre museum.

They have identified the subject who was shot and wounded.

I want to bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's getting new information.

What are you learning?

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

Some I.D., facts about him, 29-year-old Egyptian, his name has not been released. But we also know that he was a resident of the United Arab Emirates. That's where Dubai is. He traveled to France originally in November, a couple months before the attack, on a tourist visa.

Actually, it was later in France, he then bought his car, he bought the machetes that he used in the attack on a French soldier there. Also, notable in his Egyptian passport, there was a visa to Saudi Arabia, just clues because one of the first things we're always going to look at with an attacker like this as they investigate it for possible terrorism is where did he go before, did he meet with anybody in those countries when he went there, possible extremists, et cetera?

Again, it's not clear. It's not established definitively this was a terror attack. It is being investigated as a terror attack, in part because, as he was carrying it out, he was shouting Allahu akbar, God is great.

I should note that Donald Trump tweeted about this, this morning, saying in his tweet: "A new radical Islamist terrorist has just attacked in Louvre museum in Paris. Tourists were locked down. France on edge again. Get smart, U.S."

And just moments ago, Donald Trump tweeted again, not clear related to this attack or even not clear that this is related to terrorism necessarily. But he tweeted, "We must keep evil out of our country," that of course a consistent message.

I should note this, though, Wolf, that those three countries that this suspected terrorist had ties to, he's an Egyptian national, he was a resident of the UAE, he had a Saudi visa in his passport. None of those three countries are on Trump's travel ban, which involves seven Muslim majority countries, but not these, which, of course, shows the difficulty.

You can't -- you could block every country in the world, right, and not keep out terrorists or potential terrorists, and, of course, keeping in mind that here in the U.S. that all the terror attacks carried out since 9/11 successfully have been actually by either U.S. citizens or permanent residents of this country, certainly not refugees, and not visa holders from the countries on that travel ban list.

BLITZER: Good point. There's another development we're watching. We're getting some new information, Jim, about the impact of the president's travel ban. Share with our viewers what you're learning.

SCIUTTO: So, early on, you will remember that Donald Trump said and his surrogates that only -- they kept repeating this number -- 109 people were affected by that travel ban.

Fact is, that was only travelers who were already in transit, already in the plane on their way to ports and airports here in the U.S. Later on Tuesday, when the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security came out, General Kelly, he said that, well, 721 were denied boarding.

So at the point of exit, there were others who were affected by this before they got on those planes. But we learned today from the State Department that up to 60,000 people, in fact, increasing that number of those affected by a factor of 100, were -- had their visas provisionally revoked to comply with this executive order.

[18:15:03]

So these are 60,000 people, tens of thousands of people who had visas, and when you're coming from any of these Middle Eastern countries, it's difficult to get those visas. It might take weeks. It might takes months. There's a vetting procedure already in place many counterterror officials and many lawmakers saying is already pretty tough.

Those 60,000 people, those visas disappear. They are no longer valid. They cannot use them. They in effect have to apply again under the new rules of this executive order. So that number, 109, that's what they were talking about when the executive order was signed a week ago. It's actually increased by a factor of 600 the actual number of people affected by the executive order.

BLITZER: The 60,000. Originally, though, earlier in the day, we learned it was 100,000. A Justice Department lawyer and a federal lawsuit in Virginia said that really 100,000 visas that had been granted to individuals from those seven countries, those Muslim majority countries, their visas were now being revoked.

But then later the State Department said only 60,000, is that right?

SCIUTTO: That's right.

Just as you say, this first figure, this is ballooning figure came out in court proceedings in Virginia. And it was a U.S. government lawyer who made that estimate it was 100,000. We checked with the State Department. The State Department, obviously the best at tracking this kind of thing, said that the number is closer to 60,000.

But, of course, that figure, Wolf, is many times, many multiples higher than the original figures being cited by the Trump administration.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, with all the late- breaking developments.

Our political director, David Chalian, is with us as well.

You have got new poll numbers to share with our viewers, especially on this travel ban.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, we have both his approval rating overall and the travel ban. Let's start with the overall approval rating.

Donald Trump just a couple weeks into his presidency is seeing a record low approval rating at this point, 44 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove. Put that in historical context, and you can see here, Wolf, that is a record low for this point of somebody's presidency going back all the way to Eisenhower in presidential polling. Donald Trump clearly has his work cut out for him. In terms of that

travel ban, we're seeing a majority, a slim majority, but a majority opposed; 53 percent of Americans oppose the travel ban, 47 percent are in favor of it. And it matters where you sit on the partisan divide.

Look at that 47 percent who favor. If you break that down by partisanship, overwhelmingly, Republicans support it, Democrats don't. And that 46 percent of independents support it. So it really does matter sort of where you are on the partisan divide. You can see there.

BLITZER: Dana Bash is with us as well.

Dana, these poll numbers are pretty interesting. I'm sure when the president sees that low job approval number, he's not going to be happy.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Probably not.

He certainly is somebody more than anybody who I think we have covered ever is very interested in and focused on the approval that he has, whether it is in numbers or crowd size or ratings when he was on TV. So it is a big deal for him.

Having said that, he has also in recent weeks, certainly since he won the election, been trying to pooh-pooh the whole concept of modern polling, saying that they don't really reflect how people think and that is evidenced by the fact that he won, even though polls showed that perhaps he wouldn't.

Now, we don't have to get in -- I will just say for the record that Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote, which is effectively what the national polls show, which is also why--

CHALIAN: We heard something different from Sean Spicer today in the Briefing Room that I had not heard from the Trump camp before in talking about polls. He said, it's a marathon, not a sprint, which is remarkably conventional political talk for a -- I would be surprised to ever hear Donald Trump say that.

BASH: No.

CHALIAN: Because it kind of concedes the point that perhaps his poll numbers aren't where they want to be right now.

BLITZER: Yes. Donald Trump as a candidate and probably as president as well will say, well, those numbers are simply wrong.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And to follow up on your point about Spicer, previously in the week, he was from the podium at the White House talking about other polls, Rasmussen, which has little bit of a -- generally has a little bit more of a pro-Republican bias.

I don't know even know if CNN uses it.

CHALIAN: It does not meet our standards methodologically. LIZZA: It does not meet our standards.

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: And just in the polling world, it's not considered, as you say, to meet the standards.

And they were citing that as a poll that bolstered their argument that the American people supported the ban today. I don't think they will be citing the CNN poll.

And just to Dana's point, I get frustrated because all the time on Twitter people point out, oh, you can't trust the polls. The national polls were more accurate in the 2016 election than they were in the 2012 election. The popular vote polls were accurate.

CHALIAN: The state polls are a different story.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: State polls in certain states like Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania, not necessarily all that accurate.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. We have got a lot more information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We will take a quick break.

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We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, we're keeping a close eye on a new protest here in Washington, the latest in a series of demonstrations large and small across the nation since Inauguration Day.

Our Brian Todd is out on the National Mall now right now.

So, Brian, what's happening there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're at a protest, an anti- Trump protest being staged right between the White House and the Washington Monument.

There are protests being planned for this weekend here in Washington, Philadelphia, Miami, and New York. Wolf, there have been demonstrations just about every day around the world since the president took office. Veteran political observers are telling us they have never seen a resistance movement like this for a new American president.

[18:25:07]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): From the moment of President Trump's inauguration when there was rioting, street skirmishes with police just blocks away from the Capitol, to the massive gatherings a day later, millions taking to the streets in Washington and cities across the globe in women's marches.

CROWD CHANTING: Donald Trump has got to go!

TODD: Veteran political observers say the grassroots resistance to President Trump is like nothing they have ever seen.

On just about every day of his administration so far, there have been protests, from the far reaches of Alaska, to Brooklyn, where last night thousands gathered on the streets as Yemeni store owners went on strike to protest the travel ban.

Trump's ban on travel for people coming from seven majority Muslim countries and the backlash from it are emblematic of a new president determined to disrupt the political climate and those fighting tooth and nail against that change.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There are a lot of people who are excited about Donald Trump and what he is doing. But there is no question that he is facing more grassroots resistance upon taking office than any president in modern times. This absolutely reminds me of the '60s.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: The people united will never be divided.

TODD: The protests have caught the president's attention. He sent four tweets on the demonstrations in the past 12 days, this morning tweeting: "Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to make America great again."

The protests also targeting lawmakers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good afternoon, Senator Susan Collins' office.

TODD: On Capitol Hill, congressional staffers say they are swamped with a massive spike in calls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will pass this along for you.

TODD: One Senate staffer tells CNN there hasn't been a moment since the inauguration when the phone hasn't been ringing, many of them weighing in against President Trump's Cabinet nominees, especially the education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos.

The offices of Senator Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are inundated. They're the only two Republicans who publicly oppose DeVos' nomination.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I have heard from thousands, truly thousands of Alaskans who share their concerns. TODD: Apps for contacting members of Congress have made it easier

than ever. And tweets and posts from activist groups have spurred them on. Is this just a temporary backlash or the groundswell of a new movement?

BROWNSTEIN: He is governing in a way that will accentuate, rather than bridge the divides we saw in the campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Veteran political observers and analysts are telling us tonight don't expect this to subside. They say this resistance movement has legs fueled in part by the president's record low approval ratings, also by the diversity of groups who oppose him and by the catalyst of social media which can mobilize thousands of protesters at a moment's notice -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This resistance also, Brian, apparently has affected the president's initiatives at his family's business, right?

TODD: That's right.

The CEO of Uber has told President Trump he is going to drop out of his business advisory group because of concerns over his policies, especially the travel ban. And the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, has seen her brand suffer.

The department store chain Nordstrom's says it's not going to buy her products this fall. They say it's because of the performance of the product, but, of course, we do know that there have been massive calls for boycotts of her products since back in the campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much, Brian Todd out on the National Mall for us.

Joining us now, the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks.

Cornell, thanks very much for coming in.

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT, NAACP: Thank you.

BLITZER: I know you have tried your best to make sure that the attorney general nominee, Senator Jeff Sessions, is not confirmed.

BROOKS: Indeed.

BLITZER: You have been twice arrested sitting in, in his office. But it looks like that is eventually going to be -- he's going to be confirmed as attorney general.

So, was all of your effort, the effort of the NAACP and other groups unsuccessful?

BROOKS: Absolutely that is not the case. The vote has not taken yet. We expect it next week. But here's what

I will note. When you look across the length and breadth of our country, you see standing up and against these extremist nominations. You see them standing up and against Muslim bans, these refugee bans.

The point being here is, there is a patriotic spirit of resistance in this country where we as Americans are standing against nominees that run counter to our values.

So, to the extent that Senator Sessions stands for the myth of voter fraud and does not stand against voter suppression, to extent that he stands for policies that would leave immigrants literally on the other side of safety at our airports -- and I would note, here in African- American History Month, we are reminded of the Great Migration, when African-Americans fled the KKK terrorism of the Deep South for the relative freedom of the North as refugees in their own country.

[18:30:12] The point being is we are in midst of a Twitter-age civil rights movement. So it is not a matter of one nomination or one executive order. It is a matter of a set of policies that literally run counter to American values.

BLITZER: You also oppose the education secretary nominee, Betsy Devos. She probably is going to be confirmed next week, as well, in a 50/50 vote. The tie will be broken by the president of the Senate, who happens to be the vice president of the United States. She's probably going to be confirmed along with that very, very narrow margin.

BROOKS: Look at all the machinations that are being deployed to ensure that. Namely, that Senator Sessions, his nomination vote needs to be held so that Devos might go forward. And that we have to call upon the vice president of the United States.

The thin majority vote that may take place there is a measure of the discontent in this country. It is a measure of the fact that we have a set of policies that, again, are not consistent with American values.

Most parents in this country who have school-age children do not support the whole-scale privatization of public education. They do not support a secretary of education who has no background, no administrative experience, has not participated or led a school board. This is not a good nomination.

BLITZER: But she says she supports public schools, public education. But she also wants parents to have a choice. Maybe the kids would do better in a charter school. Maybe the kids would do better getting a voucher and letting them go to a Catholic school or a private school. What's wrong with giving parents a choice where their kids will get a good education?

BROOKS: Absolutely. We -- the NAACP supports parents having a choice in terms of the range -- a range of school options. But the issue is having a free choice. And what I mean by that is a public education that is robustly supported, where charter schools are held accountable, where traditional schools are held accountable. It's not a matter of paying lip service to a choice where we put choices before our parents, and -- and children but we don't support the public school system in which the choices occur.

BLITZER: Stand by. There's more to discuss. The president says he wants to reach out to the African-American community, especially this month, a very important month. We're going to discuss what he's doing, your reaction, much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:37:32] BLITZER: We're back with the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William brooks. As you know, Cornell, the president kicked off celebrations of Black History Month at the White House this week. Has he reached out to the NAACP to be involved in those celebrations?

BROOKS: He has not. He has not reached out to the NAACP, which is interesting and perhaps ironic. He did speak about the National African-American Museum of History and Culture. In that museum, the work of the NAACP is -- is featured. And the spirit of the NAACP is resonant in every exhibit in terms of the aspirations for freedom. So the fact that he hasn't reached out is curious.

I would simply note the last African-American meeting. or I should say occasion, I participated in with the White House, President Obama had civil rights leaders from the '70s and '80s all the way down to the teens, millennial civil rights leaders. And it was a celebration. And it wasn't just a collection of staffers and political people. But really people who spent their lives, their lives dedicated to the civil rights movement.

BLITZER: If he did reach out to you personally, Cornell, and said, "You know what? Let's talk. Come to the White House. Maybe we'll go -- let's go together to the African-American Museum and tour that museum together," would you go with him?

BROOKS: I would be delighted to engage the president in the work of civil rights and African-American history today.

Here's what I'll note: were the president to visit the museum -- and I understand that he has -- he would certainly note the martyrs for the right to vote. He would note Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo, Jimmy Lee Jackson, Jonathan Daniels, people who literally gave their lives for the right to vote.

And if he could walk out of that vote, out of that museum and talk about voter suppression as a reality, as opposed to voter fraud as a myth, then the visit would be well worth it.

If he walked the museum and took note of the sacrifice of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King and then left the museum and addressed the hate crimes that are running -- that are taking place all across our country. Were he to visit the museum and note the role of the NAACP and would literally work with us shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm to do something about the civil rights challenges of our time. [18:40:15] The president invoked the name of Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass once said there is no progress without struggle. In other words, he was noting what's taking place in the streets today; that is resistance. And people are resisting the injustices of our time.

So I'd like to visit the museum with him. But not paying homage to the past, but taking note of the courage we need in the present.

BLITZER: Sounds like you're open to that idea -- that idea, if the president were to reach out to you.

He says he's going to do much better in 2020 if he runs for re- election. He thinks he can get a majority of the African-American vote. Very quick question: what does he need to do to build up that support in the African-American community?

BROOKS: It's not about polls. It's not about politics. It's about policy. And you don't suppress our votes and then ask us for our votes. Respect the Voting Rights Act. Respect what we sacrificed for. And stand behind policies that support the aspirations and ambitions of not only African-Americans but America. Don't play us cheap.

BLITZER: Cornell William Brooks of the NAACP, thanks for coming in.

BROOKS: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, we'll have more on the Trump administration's apparent shift in tone when it comes to Russia and Israel. Are we hearing echoes from the Obama presidency?

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[18:46:14] BLITZER: Tonight, we're following the latest foreign policy moves by the Trump administration, including an apparent shift in tone on Russia and Israel. Is the president now embracing key parts of President Obama's global policy?

Let's bring in our political and national security experts.

What's the answer?

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, I mean, on some of these issues, they sound very, you know, perish the thought, Obama-esque, right? I mean, to have your ambassador to the U.N. stand at that Security Council and say, you know, we condemn Russia's aggressive actions in Eastern Ukraine, as the fighting escalates, sounds almost like Samantha Power, you know, two, three weeks ago. That's true. Somewhat more mild statement on settlements with regards to Israel, that kind of thing.

But the trouble is you have to balance those comments against many more public comments, both during the campaign and since the election and since the inauguration from the president himself. And what appear to be differing camps within the administration driving policy on some of these key issues in different directions. So, what is the strategy on Russia, on China, on settlements? It --

it hasn't as of yet been definitively articulated by the president and his senior advisers.

BLITZER: And when it comes, Dana, to Iran, he's doing what President Obama did when Iranians launched the ballistic missile test that the U.S. didn't like. They imposed sanctions, exactly what he's doing, President Trump right now.

BASH: That's right. However, they are not going as far as the rhetoric suggested that they would try to do during the campaign which is to rip up the Iran deal --

BLITZER: They're not ripping up the Iran nuclear deal --

BASH: Correct. That's where they're not -- I guess it makes a point that they are sort of more in line with the Obama administration --

BLITZER: Right. On Israel, on Russia and maybe Iran, even though the rhetoric on Iran may be --

BASH: Totally --

BLITZER: -- a little louder.

BASH: That's exactly what I was going to say, is that rhetoric matters in this kind of relationship, right? I mean, it is policy, and policy is very important. But a lot of the communication -- don't need to tell you this, Jim -- is in tone, in tenor, and how you -- and how you communicate back and forth in public, as well as in private.

And so, what the national security adviser did this week saying we're going to put you on notice is I don't think something that we would have seen from the Obama administration. And that is in line with the rhetoric that we heard during the Trump campaign.

SCIUTTO: And you certainly wouldn't see it with Obama running public, raucous public feuds with allies in Mexico --

BASH: Well, yes. That's a whole different question.

BLITZER: That's certainly not consistent, the phone call, the tough phone call we had with the Australian prime minister.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. It certainly isn't. And I think when you look at how you define the Trump foreign policy or his -- his world view on foreign policy, right now, it's chaos. It's rudderless. They don't necessarily know where it's going.

You know, to Jim's point, to have public feuds specifically with allies, at the same time embracing what some would say is an enemy has caught a lot of people off-guard. And, you know, I know you went over the poll numbers which show him at 53 percent disapproval rating, which is at a historic low. If you dig down in that and you look at where he is when it comes to the issue of foreign policy, his disapproval rating is 55 percent. His approval rating on foreign policy is 40 percent.

So, you have to wonder if the American public really is, as much as Donald Trump says he has the support of the American public behind him, they are getting concerned by some of the actions.

BLITZER: You've heard, Ryan, the argument that some are making that he's moving in different directions, a because he gets various advice from various national security and political advice.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A lot of people say the last person you talk to who makes a persuasive argument is what he adopts at the time. Yes, I think all these cases are different, but what ties them together are mixed signals. With Israel, we're sending one of the most hard-lined pro-Israel ambassadors over there.

[18:50:01] BLITZER: If he's confirmed.

LIZZA: If he's confirmed ever, right? Someone who's very settlements, and the statement put out last night was very, very confusing.

The Israelis took the statement and said, aha, this shows that the U.S. administration actually doesn't really care much about settlements. So, they read what they wanted to.

In Ukraine, when the flare-up first started in East Ukraine, they put out a statement that the Ukrainians interpreted as abandonment of Ukraine. If you compare a similar statements that Obama administration put out, it was all about Russian aggression. The State Department under Trump, it was passive voice, didn't mention Russia doing anything.

Then, Nikki Haley goes to the U.N. and makes a dramatic, very tough statement about Russia. So again, mixed signals.

With Iran, again, we have a bellicose statement from Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, and sanctions, but not a clear sense of what does it mean to put someone on notice.

BLITZER: All right, everybody, stay with us. Don't go too far away.

Just ahead, the secret weapon Republicans are using to undo an antipollution rule and other regulations from the Obama era.

And CNN is live right now over at Houston's NRG Stadium as the nation counts down to the Super Bowl. John Berman hosts a preview of the big game, "Kickoff in Houston." Be sure to watch it tomorrow, 2:30 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. You will enjoy.

We'll be right back.

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[18:56:00] BLITZER: Two weeks into the Trump administration, Republicans in Congress have started to undo regulations put in place by President Obama in his final days in office. Dozens of rules are expected to be on the chopping block.

Let's bring in our CNN government regulation correspondent Rene Marsh, who's watching all of this for us.

How are Republicans doing?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, the president, as you know, he can unroll or roll back any of former President Barack Obama's executive orders, but what he cannot do on his own is repeal laws that went through that formal rulemaking process. That's where Congress comes in. And this obscure law that Congress is using essentially allows them to wipe out any law finalized in the end of the Obama administration.

This is a tactic that is faster than creating new rules to counter the old ones, and you only need a simple majority.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that ends today.

MARSH (voice-over): Republicans are steam-rolling Democrats, slashing regulations from the Obama era using an obscure law called the Congressional Review Act.

SAM BATKINS, AMERICAN ACTION FORUM: It has been used once in the past before, but now we're seeing it at least five times this week alone, and we've heard reports that could reach 15 total regulations, maybe even 20 total regulations.

MARSH: This week, Republicans repealed regulations preventing mining companies from dumping their waste in local waterways, limiting greenhouse emissions from energy companies, and requiring the Social Security Administration to share medical information with the FBI.

The Congressional Review Act allows for a quick rollback on regulations passed in the last six months of the Obama presidency with a simple majority vote.

TRUMP: OK.

MARSH: Once the president signs off, the agency cannot re-enact a similar rule, an unprecedented tactic to overturn multiple laws from a previous administration. On Thursday, House Republicans voted to repeal a gun background check that required the Social Security Administration to disclose to the FBI information about people who are considered incapable of managing their own disability benefits due to mental illness.

Critics said the rule unfairly targeted people who were not dangerously mentally ill. The National Rifle Association opposed the rule, and so did the ACLU.

CHRISTOPHER ANDERS, ACLU: I don't think that the solution to gun control and to the problems with gun violence is to go and scapegoat another community, a community of people that includes millions and millions of people with some kind of mental health issue.

MARSH: Supporters of the rule argue the move will mean more gun violence and point out what they call the hypocrisy of Republicans who have said this in the past --

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: And mental illness is what we have found in these mass shootings, one of the sources of the problems.

MARSH: More than 50 regulations are vulnerable, from the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act that sets nutrition standards for school lunches, to a regulation intended to increase access to treatment for opioid use. They're moves that have right-leaning advocacy groups applauding.

BATKINS: The stars really have aligned. We have a Republican Congress, Republican president, and an outgoing Democratic administration.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Well, in the past, lawmakers have attempted to use the Congressional Review Act some 72,000 times, but they have only been successful once. So, when Congress uses it five times in just one week, that's what we mean when we say it truly is unprecedented. But there's a limit to this. They only have 60 legislative days to go about rolling back regulations in this way.

BLITZER: Sixty legislative days spreads out --

MARSH: Until about June.

BLITZER: Because they take so much recess, so that's a while that they've got this opportunity to do this.

Good report. Rene Marsh reporting for us. Thanks very, very much.

That's all the time we have. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Have a great weekend.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.