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Russia Leaders Too Busy to Watch Press Conference; Republicans on Trumps News Conference. White House Sends Mixed Messages; Chaos in White House; House GOP Talks Obamacare; Trump's EPA Pick Confirmation; Trump to Hold Florida Rally. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 17, 2017 - 09:30   ET

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


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[09:31:45] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Thanks so much for joining us.

This morning the Kremlin says that Russian leaders had more important things to do than to watch the president's press conference yesterday. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said this morning that it's too early to judge Russia's relationship with the Trump administration.

HARLOW: Joining us to talk about all of this, Mark Preston, our senior political analyst. And live from Munich, where top members of the Trump administration will be today, Nic Robertson, our diplomatic editor.

Nic, let me begin with you. Some interesting words coming out of not only the Kremlin today about that press conference, but also out of some top lawmakers in Russia. What are you hearing?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Peskov, one of the top lawmakers in Russia has said that essentially there's a divided White House right now. There's sort of three different messages and he highlighted, you know, President Trump who wants to do a deal with President Putin, but at the same time General Mattis, as we have heard, Secretary of Defense Mattis, has said that, you know, American diplomats should negotiate with Russia from a position of strength. We've heard the defense minister in Russia saying that that would be fruitless.

And this is what this lawmaker is picking up on in Russia now saying, you know, President Trump saying one thing, his secretary of defense is saying another. I mean right now we know that his secretary of defense, James Mattis, is in the building behind me talking to European leaders at the moment, speaking along with the German defense minister and is essentially saying very, very clearly, a strong Trans- Atlantic alliance now means strength in Europe, unity in Europe. This is an absolute - this is a message that was sent to absolutely reassure Europe that the United States sees them as a strong partner in dealing with Russia and that it believes in a strong Europe. And, of course, the reason this message is being made so clearly is

because European leaders are worried at the moment about what President Trump has been saying. He's been saying that he's ambivalent about the European Union. They'd be happy to see more countries like Britain leave the European Union. So when Vice President Pence here - arrives here later today, we're going to hear more of this reassurance and it feels for Europeans a lot like damage control because like the Russian lawmaker, they feel that they're getting mixed signals from the White House.

BERMAN: You know, Mark Preston, there are a lot of questions about how the president is now being seen by different constituencies. Nic Robertson is talking about, you know, Beijing and Moscow and European capitals. There almost is another foreign constituency here, and that's Republicans on Capitol Hill who I think feel separate from this president. What are they saying this morning?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, they're saying a lot of things, John. And to your point, I was talking to someone the other night, a chief of staff on Capitol Hill for a Republican member, and he said to me, there's no feeling amongst us up here that we have this town, that we can get things accomplished. I've heard from others that there are these mixed messages. You know Nic talks about mixed messages that are being sent globally. Mixed messages are being sent here in this town. You have Donald Trump that goes out and makes declarations about getting Obamacare done as quickly as possible, then he faces the stark reality that it's very difficult to get done. He talks about having a tax plan in place, but does he really have one and can the Senate, the House and the White House get together very quickly to get one together?

[09:35:00] So the Republicans on Capitol Hill, when they see these tweets, specifically in the morning, they have to reconfigure their day. Everything gets thrown up in the air. And, quite frankly, while Mitch McConnell might publicly say that he likes what he's doing, the bottom line is, there's an incredible amount of confusion right now from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

HARLOW: Mark, you know, when the president said in this press conference yesterday that the White House is operating like a fine tuned machine.

PRESTON: Right.

HARLOW: And he says, you know, never mind, nothing to see here. He writes off all of the headlines that are about chaos. Is this in any way a fine tuned machine? Is anyone telling you, your sources, that indeed some of these headlines are overblown about chaos?

PRESTON: You know, we talk about alternative facts. How about being in an alternative universe? Anybody, you know, with half a brain can see that in fact there is chaos in the White House right now. Now, Donald Trump will point to his accomplishments that he has made, but he's done that by fiat, in many ways by executive order. He hasn't had to legislate, OK? So when you look at what's going on, the mixed messages, the back stabbing, there is chaos. We do expect this in an administration that's new. We don't expect it at the level that we have seen so far.

BERMAN: And, Nic Robertson, I think from overseas they don't expect to hear the kind of talk we heard from the president yesterday. I don't know if we have this sound where he's talking about this Russian spy ship that's off the coast of Connecticut -

HARLOW: Right, right, right. Yes.

BERMAN: Where he said the easiest thing for me to do right now would be to shoot this ship out of water. You know, what is the status of the relationship, do we know, between President Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin?

ROBERTSON: We don't. And President Trump, routinely, as he says in this press conference, and as he tweeted it seemed to be when he got up early one morning earlier this week, I don't have a relationship with President Putin. We - I don't have business with him. Deny, deny, deny. And it just raises - it raises questions.

You know, you look - we're talking about mixed messages and diverted attention and not getting the job done. You know, when the Europeans are looking to see what is that relationship going to be with the Kremlin, as much as everyone - you know, people in Capitol Hill are looking for that. You know you have Vice President Mike Pence coming here and one of the most important things he's going to do is talk with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, because President Trump has accused her of being soft on refugees, has accused her of being, like President Putin, has said that Germany is trying to steal essentially jobs away from the United States. So he comes here to do damage control and really, you know, instead of building a relationship, he's trying to repair a relationship. So all those important questions, which would be, what is your relationship with the Kremlin going to be, are going to be lost in just trying to regain ground that has apparently been lost in rhetoric already coming from the White House.

HARLOW: Yes, it's just - I mean when you look at these two leaders next to each other, Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump, they could not be more different in their messaging and communicating with - with, you know, with the international community.

BERMAN: Well, look, and now there are serious questions about how much they're communicating because Mike Pence seems to be out of loop, or at least disconnected, from a lot of what's gone on the first few weeks of the administration.

HARLOW: Well, absolutely, on a lot.

Guys, thank you very much. Have a good weekend, Mark Preston, Nic Robertson.

Still to come for us, the president just tweeting that Republicans' plan to fix Obamacare is not on life support. We're going to get the latest from The Hill.

BERMAN: And the controversial EPA pick, Scott Pruitt, he faces a vote today. We'll get a latest status check on that. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:42:47] BERMAN: All right, this morning we're getting our first sense from Republicans on Capitol Hill on how they intend to change Obamacare. Also this morning, President Trump wrote, "despite the long delays by the Democrats in finally approving Dr. Tom Price, the repeal and replacement of Obamacare is moving fast."

HARLOW: Our Phil Mattingly is live on Capitol Hill and the man who doesn't sleep and has constant communication with his sources has new reporting this morning. Before we get to Obamacare, on just reaction from Republican lawmakers on The Hill to the president's presser yesterday?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, lawmakers and staff. Guys, it really kind of splits into two camps. And there's certainly a camp that just kind of shrugs and was paying attention the last 20 months and says this is kind of the deal now. But there's also a camp - and this was the most interesting - that throughout the press conference both lawmakers and staff - I was getting unsolicited e-mails and text messages, a couple of them saying, who's going to pull the hook to get this guy off the stage?? And after the press conference occurred, I walked over to the House floor. There were House votes going on. And I approached a member - a Republican member who said, I don't want to be quoted on this, and then he looked at me and he just mouths the words "wow" three times before walking on to the House floor.

I think the issue here is this. One, Republican members, whether they're OK with it or not, acknowledge, this isn't normal. This is different. Clearly they need to kind of acclimate to this. But the bigger issue here is, this distracts from what they're doing on Capitol Hill. And the reality is, when it comes to legislative issues, it's the huge agenda items both President Trump and the House Republicans, Senate Republicans want to accomplish, they need leadership on the issue from the president's office, from the White House. And when press conferences like this occur, they don't get that, guys.

BERMAN: And we do have some news from Capitol Hill, Phil, on two fronts, Obamacare number one and also the EPA nominee Scott Pruitt. What do you got for us on that?

MATTINGLY: So, on the Affordable Care Act, I think there's been - it's no secret, there's been a lot of concern, a lot of unsettled members, particularly over here on the House side of things, about what the plan is, what the proposal is. What we've seen over the course of the last three or four days is House Republican leadership working behind closed doors to brief their members about what's coming on the Affordable Care Act. Is there a plan? No. Is there bill text? No. But they have principles and they want their members in the loop.

Why is that important? Guys, their members are now gone. They're home for recess. That means town halls. That means several liberals groups are spending seven figures to try and give them a hard time back at home. So they're trying to fill in their members and get them more comfortable. [09:45:04] On Scott Pruitt, I think this is important. Obviously, we've been paying a lot of attention to what's been going on. Some e- mails being released, whether or not this will delay. The answer is, no. There is one Republican senator who is opposed to Scott Pruitt. There are two Democratic senators who are for him. His vote will be at 1:30 today and is expected to move through, guys.

BERMAN: He will be confirmed.

Phil Mattingly, for us, thanks very much. Great to see you, sir.

So what is the most important issue, the most important challenge facing President Trump? Listening to him, well, it may not be what you think.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm having a good time. I love this. I'm having a good time doing it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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[09:50:07] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON": First of all, you're all fake news. I hate you all very much. And thank you for being here.

First question. No. Next.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But, Mr. President, no one has even asked a question yet.

FALLON: It doesn't matter. No. Next.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Jimmy Fallon having fun overnight with the president's press conference. But maybe not as much fun as the president had himself. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm actually having a very good time, OK. But they'll take this news conference - don't forget, that's the way I won. Remember, I used to give you a news conference every time I made a speech, which was like every day, OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: No, that's how I won. I won with new conference and probably speeches. I certainly didn't win by people listening to you people, that's for sure. But I'm having a good time. I love this. I'm having a good time doing it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right, President Trump having a good time. And as he does, he is preparing for a campaign rally - campaign-style rally as president in Florida tomorrow afternoon. This will be his first rally as president.

Let's bring in CNN's host of "Reliable Sources," Brian Stelter, and CNN media analyst Bill Carter.

Nice to have you both with us.

Brian, in your "Reliable Sources" newsletter overnight you write that you see this as a president more focused on campaigning than governing. Really?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Campaigning is what of course was so successful for him, whether it was combative press conferences during the primaries or these giant rallies during the general election. He's going back to what worked. He's playing his greatest hits, whether it was yesterday at the White House or tomorrow in Florida.

BERMAN: But it's not governing.

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: One thing I -

BERMAN: Go ahead.

STELTER: Right.

CARTER: The one thing I noticed is that he also brings uphill Hillary constantly and these - because it really works for him to contrast against her. It worked in the election. He's still doing it.

BERMAN: Works for what, though, because she - works for what with is base? The question is, what's the end here? I understand the means here. The means here is, he wants to feel better about controlling the press. He wants to maybe get his base more energized. But to what end? What is the country getting out of it?

CARTER: Well, they're getting the - the contrast to what the stories are, the facts, the truth, is coming out through the media. And he wants his message to counter that. And he attacks the media, tries to undercut that message and make people think it isn't fully credible. It's fake. It's made up. It's not real. It's really just stories he doesn't like. He doesn't really attacks the facts, remember. He only attacks the leaks or what he calls fake news, which is news he doesn't like.

HARLOW: OK, but so what this means for the American people, Brian Stelter, because he talked - he touted a lot of his administration's accomplishments. Most of them, as Mark Preston said, were done through executive order. He hasn't had to really legislate yet. I mean when I am in the field, when I spent that time in Kentucky just a few weeks ago - STELTER: Yes.

HARLOW: These people's livelihood depends on it, right? We're all well off. We can talk about this. For them, it's not about the media or what the media says about him. It's about getting more than $7.25 an hour. How does that help them?

STELTER: Certainly. The amount of time the president was spending criticizing the press, you could argue it was wasted time yesterday. Let's see if at this rally on Saturday he's more in touch with what his audience, which he'll be able to see in person, actually wants from him.

HARLOW: But I guess what I'm saying is, what does a rally do to help them get those things? How does it help them get the minimum wage raise? How does it help them get health care -

STELTER: Well, there might be an advantage of hearing the feedback, right?

CARTER: Yes.

STELTER: One of the benefit of these rallies is, Trump hears from the people. Sometimes they're chanting against the media, but there could be benefits from that interaction. I do think the primary benefit, though, is for the president himself. He wants to be in these settings that he's comfortable in and he wants to feel the energy. He wants to feel popular.

CARTER: The love. The love again.

STELTER: Let's be honest about that, right? He was talking about polls and he was saying he's looking strong in yesterday. Most polls show him under water with the American people.

BERMAN: Go ahead, Bill, you want to say something.

CARTER: I was going to say, he even said, it feels - he's feeling hate when he watches - what he sees on TV.

STELTER: Yes, that was an interesting comment.

CARTER: And I think he needs this sort of reaction from the crowd to give him sort of - to pump him up. One of the things he said yesterday, a lot of the things he said yesterday almost sounded like self-pity. Oh, I was - this is a mess I'm dealing with and people don't like me and press is unfair to me. I think he wants somebody to sort of cheer him again and lift his spirits.

BERMAN: Let me throw this out there. So I think when the president is talking about the media, you know, he's not talking about the issues.

STELTER: Right.

BERMAN: He's not talking about what's important. When the media talks about the president talking about the media - CARTER: Right.

BERMAN: We're not reporting on what the administration is doing -

CARTER: Yes, that's true.

BERMAN: And we're not reporting on what's going on in this White House and the policies and whatnot. So make the case that the attacks on the media are important.

CARTER: For him or for us? For America?

HARLOW: Just for America. For democracy.

BERMAN: In general. Why should the American - why should the Americans (ph) care?

STELTER: They matter because he's suggesting that he - that viewers, the public, can't trust us, but they can only trust the president. What I would say to that is, you should be skeptical of both the president and of us. Look it up. Check the facts yourselves.

CARTER: Right.

STELTER: Especially as it relates to the practical issues, like jobs, that you were describing, Poppy, the data, the workforce, all of those issues. The president is trying to suggest, you can't trust what we're reporting, and that does have a destabilizing effect.

HARLOW: Right. And the issue becomes, what harm does it do to - to democracy when he says the leaks are real but the stories -

[09:55:04] CARTER: But the stories are fake.

HARLOW: That are from the leaks.

CARTER: Right.

HARLOW: Circular argument.

CARTER: He's attempting to undercut and delegitimize the press, but I -

STELTER: But I think most people are seeing through it and we see that in the polling data.

CARTER: I agree. I think people - people are watching CNN and they're reading "The New York Times" and (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: We all watched the same news conference. I do not think - and despite the fact that he was pressed many times by the media, he never actually addressed the facts of what were in the leaks. He never said what was leaked was wrong. I don't think he said that.

CARTER: No. No, he didn't. He basically said what Flynn did - yes, he did that and I would have had him do that. I didn't - you know, Pence didn't know about it, that's why I fired him. He didn't - and only I - he said, I can speak for myself, I never spoke to the Russians. He didn't speak for his staff.

BERMAN: Bill Carter, Brian Stelter, great to have you here with us. Thanks so much on this real news show.

HARLOW: Thank you, guys.

BERMAN: The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM begins after a quick break.

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[10:00:04] HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Great to see you this morning.

The president is taking his show on the road. Moments from now he leaves Joint Base Andrews in Maryland