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Trump Reverses Course on Transgender Bathrooms; Chuck Grassley Faces Angry Voters at Town Hall; Bannon, Priebus to Speak at CPAC; Possible Shakeup in Trump's Foreign Policy Team; Mary Sanchez: GOP Congressmen Cowards for Not Facing Voters. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 23, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:33:13] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump sparking new outrage.




KEILAR: This time, it's protests on transgender rights after the White House reversed an Obama-era directive that let transgender students decide which bathroom to use in public schools. The Trump administration basically saying now that the issue should be decided by individual states, not by the federal government. Civil rights groups say the new rules will put transgender children at risk.

Teenaged singer, Jackie Evancho, who performed the national anthem at President Trump's inauguration sent a tweet to the president asking if she and her transgender sister could meet with him to talk about transgender rights. The sisters are waiting to hear back from the White House.

They appeared a short time ago on "Good Morning, America."


JACKIE EVANCHO, SINGER: I want to enlighten him on what I've seen my sister go through every single day in school, and people just like her, what they deal with, the discrimination, it's terrible. I guess I kind of really want him to relook at that.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC CO-HOST, GOOD MORNING, AMERIA: Julia, what does the president need to know about what you go through every day?

JULIA EVANCHO, TRANSGENDER TEEN: Basically, that being in a high school were the policies on bathrooms are unclear, as Jackie has said, I kind of live it every day, going through discrimination. I've had things thrown at me, I've had people say pretty horrible things. And the unsafe environment is just very unhealthy.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Joining me now to talk about this is Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, a group that champions LGBT rights for students, kindergarten through 12th grade.

Eliza, I'm not sure if you were expecting this. You can talk about that. Also, I know you're trying to make it clear to people about what is happening here and what is not happening.

[11:35:19] ELIZA BYARD, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GLSEN: Absolutely. Well, unfortunately, it seemed clear for a while that the Trump administration would choose to attack this guidance. The fact is that what the guidance did, the guidance in place until yesterday, provided critical clarity for schools across the country about how they can best support transgender youth, including the use of the appropriate restroom and locker room. Yesterday there was clarity on that. Today there is not, there is fear and confusion. The important thing for people to understand is that this guidance was changing and saving transgender students' lives and hurting absolutely no one. This was an unnecessary step and one that really poses a threat to young people.

At the same time --

KEILAR: Now, this --


BYARD: Go ahead.

KEILAR: Sorry, I was just going to say, this was guidance, right? In a way, didn't the states still have discretion over how to administer this?

BYARD: That's absolutely the point. Fact is that every child in America has the same rights to access to education. Those rights do not depend on their zip code. For transgender students, many schools across the country are serving their needs well, supporting them, and they can simply go to school and be who they are. The fact is those schools are experiencing absolutely no problems at all. Other places, though, some schools are not. And it is exactly the purpose of our federal Office of Civil Rights at the department of education to make sure that every child has exactly the same chance wherever they may live in this country. That's what the guidance did. You're absolutely right, though, the same protections are in place today under Title IX. Nothing has happened to those. And transgender students and their families need to know they have the same rights today that they had yesterday. The critical question now, and the confusion, is whether the department of education is going to help them as they should. That's what was clear yesterday. And it's completely confusing today.

KEILAR: And to that point, the education secretary, who we should note, this is someone who Democrats have been up in arms against, and yet it turns out, according to CNN's reporting, that she was very much against this change, and ultimately, she publicly supported it. But according to a source outside of government, she lobbied and appeared to be successful with the president, saying she wanted to add to her statement, insisting she would vow to protect every student in America and ensure they had the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. What's your reaction to that, that someone who got so much liberal opposition actually appears to be in line at least in opinion, personal opinion, with, you know, Democrats and your organization on this issue?

BYARD: Well, I certainly hope that Betsy DeVos will live up to that promise. The fact is, if she really wanted to do that, keeping this guidance in place would have been the best way to do so. But now she has a chance to follow through. The issue here is that transgender students are among the most at risk in our schools. But when they're given the chance to transition and be themselves, they do just as well as anybody else. Listen and P-Flag are launching a campaign to ensure that transgender students and their allies claim their rights. We need to continue to report to the Office of Civil Rights at the department of education what's really happening in our schools. The guidance that was withdrawn that should be in place today made clear to schools how best to serve those students and how to do so in a way that in practice, in many, many districts across the country, has not caused one single problem. So what we hope is that people will continue to be very, very clear about what they need, particularly in those states where they don't have state level antidiscrimination protection. Those are the places where the department of education is most meant to focus. Those students need their help. The confusion today is whether Betsy DeVos and the department of education is going to provide the help they deserve and need to simply go to school.

KEILAR: All right, Eliza Byard, thank you so much.

Speaking of Betsy DeVos, let's listen to Chuck Grassley's Iowa town hall about here.



[11:40:01] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The people left behind can't follow when those funds go to religious schools. I don't want to pay with my money for religious education.


REP. CHUCK GRASSLEY, (R), IOWA: Absolutely. Absolutely.

You need to talk to me about that. You don't need to worry about her doing that, because she can't do that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is supporting legislation. That voucher program, that would do this and endanger rural communities. So, yes, I am talking to you. Are you going to oppose that?

GRASSLEY: The voucher programs come under state law, not under federal law. (CROSSTALK)

GRASSLEY: The only thing that comes under federal law is within the District of Columbia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a follow-up question. I'm a retired teacher, 37 years. I have my questions typed out for you, sir, so you don't have to write them down.


KEILAR: Fascinating look inside the town hall there in Iowa, as Chuck Grassley trying there to defuse the situation and certainly doing a better job than some of the other members of Congress and Senators that we have seen. We'll continue to monitor that as it's ongoing.

A united front. That's what two men in Trump's inner circle hope to show when they take the stage together at a big conservative gathering today. Can they put to rest reports of tension and turmoil inside the White House?

And "show up," That's the message to lawmakers skipping out on town halls. My next guest says someone likes to be scolded, but "cowardly members of Congress should show up and face the public."


[11:46:00] KEILAR: Under way right now, the Conservative Political Action Conference, also known as CPAC. You are looking at some live pictures that we have of Senator Ted Cruz on stage with radio host, Mark Leven. Also taking the stage, quite a few people, the new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Vice President Mike Pence will be speaking later tonight. It is really this rare panel of two top White House officials together, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, that is really sure to have everybody talking.

I want to bring in CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly. He's live for us at CPAC.

Phil, this is fascinating. One, you almost never here Steve Bannon talk. He pulled out of that Harvard talk right after the election. And then also there is this reported tension between Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon in the White House. This should be fascinating.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORERSPONDENT: Yeah, exactly right, all the palace intrigue really when it comes to the White House staff centers on these two individuals. There's a good reason, Reince Priebus, the epitome of the establishment, the former chair of the Republican Party. Steve Bannon the CEO of "Breitbart News," which flays the establishment every chance they got. They want to put on a united front. They want to make sure everybody knows everything is great, everything is fine, everything is copacetic. As you noted, Brianna, there's a lot of questions about that behind the scenes. These two individuals have fairly divergent world views when it comes to Republican politics and policy. What you're seeing here at CPAC is kind of a window into the full Trump show of force. If you think back, Brianna, in 2015, Donald Trump did his maybe I will, maybe I won't, was mocked by conservative activists. In 2016 he skipped this event all together out of concern about protests. Now Kellyanne Conway said CPAC may soon turn into TPAC. This is a full takeover not just of the Republican Party but of the full conservative movement. The Trump administration understands the need to get these activists on their side and deployed as we see in protests around the country.

KEILAR: Such a good point, people wondered, he's skipping CPAC, how could he have a shot? It's amazing what a couple of years or one year's difference makes.

Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon are going to talk together at 1:00 p.m. eastern. And Wolf will take that live. Make sure to tune in.

Another possible shake-up in the Trump administration's foreign policy team. "The New York Times" reports that new national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, is considering a restructuring of the National Security Council, which would give him control of the Homeland Security, the way it was under the Obama administration. It would restore the director of National Intelligence as well as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to full membership. Those are roles that had been downgraded under the ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Here to weigh in on this is John Nixon, a former CIA senior analyst, the author of "Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein."

It's so interesting, John, to hear what you think about McMaster because you say he is exactly the person President Trump needs in this role. You like the changes you're seeing. Tell us why.

JOHN NIXON, FORMER CIA SENIOR ANALYST & AUTHOR: Well, it's funny you should say that, because a few weeks ago, I was on CNN and I said, with all the gnashing of teeth about Flynn's being fired, I said maybe they'll see if some better comes of it, and something has.

McMaster is a realist, a very bright guy. I met him on a number of occasions. I did a lot of work in Iraq. In 2008 or 2007, I was at a conference he was at and he gave a very good presentation. I was talking to him about some of the things he said. Then I just said to him, when you were writing your dissertation about the Johnson administration and their flawed decision making on Vietnam, did you ever think you'd be serving officer in a war that was as crazy and as screwed up as Vietnam. And he just sort of looked at me and chuckled and said, you couldn't have messed this up if you tried.

[13:50:10] KEILAR: That's not the word he used, right?

NIXON: No, no. Worse than that.


I put that in the back of my head. But when I heard he was named national security adviser, I said, this is exactly the person who a President Trump needs. Somebody who is going to be nonideological, somebody who is going to give him the unvarnished -- his unvarnished opinion and somebody who is going to be able to synthesize a great deal of the information that's going to be -- going to the president.

KEILAR: You see him as a straight shooter.

NIXON: Absolutely.

KEILAR: Who really has an influence and the ear of Donald Trump because Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's chief political strategist has been given a seat on the Principles Committee for the NSC. This is a key change, and it's made people wonder, who is going to have influence? What do you think?

NIXON: I think President Trump is somebody who admires success more than almost anyone and wants to make his presidency successful. And I think that if he follows advice of McMaster, he will find that success will follow. If he listens to some of the more ideological voices in his administration, then I think that he might probably make a mistake or find he's made several mistakes akin to the way George Bush listened to those voices during his presidency.

KEILAR: So a very interesting point. I like that you make that point, he's on board with you if he's winning so you seem to think that's where his loyalty lies.


KEILAR: We'll see if you are right as you've said.

John Nixon, thank you for being with us.

NIXON: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: Right now, a major test in the rocky relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. Can the secretary of state smooth things over during his visit? We'll have live remarks from Rex Tillerson just minutes away. We'll bring them to you next.


KEILAR: The process of adopting a child can be draining both emotionally and financially. Hank Fortner has found a way to defray that cost. Here's his inspirational story.


HANK FORTNER, FOUNDER, ADOPTTOGETHER.ORG: I grew up with a brother and sister and we had 36 foster kids over a seven-year period. Then my mom and dad adopted four boys and four girls from five different countries.

In the morning, you didn't know who was going to be at the breakfast table but there was always one more seat.

Did you have this pillow with you?


FORTNER: What a cool idea.

Who is this right here?


FORTNER: Casey came and said she wanted to adopt. I was really concerned about the cost.


FORTNER: Oftentimes a family is looking at a bill of $30,000, $40,000, $50,000. So many families would adopt if they could eliminate this financial barrier. Then, what if we could carry the burden together? is the first ever crowd funding program for adoption. We're raising funds to pay those bills.

That's when your friends, family and co-workers get to be a part of your adoption story by donating to the process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not anything crazy special. We're not rich. We as a community brought him home.


FORTNER: has helped over 2400 families raise $10.4 million to bring their kids home. It's so rewarding for me to get to do this work because I get to continue in the family business of helping children come into families.


[11:55:19] KEILAR: And for more information on Adopt Together, go to

Now this --




KEILAR: There's been anger, frustration and chaos at town halls around the country.

Mary Sanchez is the editorial columnist for the "Kansas City Star" and has this message: "Cowardly members of Congress should show up and face the public at town hall meetings. And members of Congress signed up for this when they ran for office. They were elected to serve and not just to adoring crowds, kissing cute babies and shaking the hands of veterans for touching photo ops. Representing the people means showing up, even when the exchange may not be among friends."

Mary Sanchez joins us now from Kansas.

Mary, I also think it's in some ways a little unfair, right? These members of Congress who actually are showing up, they get a lot of guff. We see some of them handling it better than others. Is that the reason why you're seeing members of Congress dodge their voters?

MARY SANCHEZ, EDITORIAL COLUMNIST, KANSAS CITY STAR: You know, some of these protesters are that. They are protesters. You know, they have complaints that they want to have voiced. But a lot of it isn't. I've sat with a lot of the people who have been gathering at the Congressional offices and some of them are moderate Republicans. Many of them identify as independents. And a lot of them really just want to have a conversation. They want to feel like their voices are being heard. And you can't do that just with standing outside a Congressional office, you know, one of the local buildings here with a protest sign. You need to have a conversation. And for that to occur, these Senators and representatives need to show up and show up in person.

KEILAR: And I was reading something about Dave Brat, who we had on yesterday out of Virginia. There were a number of people who talked to reporters and had voted for him but they had concerns. He ended up having a town hall and made the case for having a town hall. Do you think that we saw this play out in 2009? I wonder if this is the case now is to not have a town hall, is it to lose touch with what actually your constituents want, what could even keep you in office?

SANCHEZ: Well, that could be. That could be the price that they'll pay and that's the threat that is coming out of some of these groups. Indivisible is one that's been doing a lot of activity around the nation. There's another town hall meeting this evening that's being put on by them. There's another one on Saturday. And that is the message. If they don't feel like they're heard, they will take these people out of office in the midterms if they're up for election. So that's definitely could be the end result of this. It's an easy thing to fix. All these representatives need to do, and this is the point of the editorial. The "Kansas City Star" feels like these members of Congress need to make more of an effort to meet with the citizens.

KEILAR: Some of these -- I wonder what you mean Indivisible, you've talked about them doing some organizing. They are hosting a town hall with empty chairs. Tell me --


SANCHEZ: That was last night.

KEILAR: That was last night.


KEILAR: So they were doing that last night. When you look -- for instance, we've been watching Chuck Grassley in Iowa. I notice there was -- if I'm a member of Congress, just to have people yell at me, that's not very appetize, but he sort of leaned in to this young woman and very earnestly answered her question. And it actually seemed to kind of bring down the dial a couple notches.

I know you're saying that they are cowardly, but how else would you say that they should do this to actually make this productive? When some people are just showing up to scream at them?

SANCHEZ: Sure. Well, I think that's a very good example. You can defuse the situation. It gets back to civility and basic levels of respect. It's one thing to, you know, look at a Facebook post that someone puts into your congressional office or, you know, quote from a letter that was sent in. But if you actually show up and have a conversation, a lot of times people won't be able to scream at you when your face is right in front of them and when you manage the situation a little bit better.

And, I mean, these members of Congress aren't babies. They have staffs. They are adult people. They can certainly just be present, listen, and give an honest answer. And that honest answer may be a complicated one that, no, this is an issue that I am going to have trouble --


KEILAR: Mary, I am so sorry. We just lost Mary there. Her window going down. We thank her for being with us.

And thank you for joining us this hour.

"Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.