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Conservative Conference Kicks off in D.C.; Angry Crowds Pack Town Halls; Iraqi Forces Take Mosul Airport; U.S. Troops Wounded in ISIS Fight; Trump's Love of Meatloaf. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 23, 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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[09:34:01] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. John Berman has the week off. So glad you're with us.

Speeches at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, kicking off just moments ago. Take a look at some live pictures. You've got the nation's top conservatives taking the podium, including the president a little bit later. Addressing the audience right now, Kellyanne Conway, President Trump's councilor and former campaign manager.

Also on the docket today, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Vice President Mike Pence. White House Chief Strategist -- White House Chief of Staff, I should say, Reince Priebus, will be speaking along with the president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, a little bit later today.

Joining me now is the man who will moderate that conversation, Matt Schlapp. He is the chairman of the American Conservative Union and the head of the CPAC conference.

Thanks for being with us.

MATT SCHLAPP, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: Great to be with you, Poppy.

I just have to say one thing. The most important person on that stage was my wife, who was interviewing Kellyanne.

HARLOW: I saw that. As I told you, beautiful lady and a mother of five. My goodness. Hats off to her.

Matt, let me -- let me begin with some reporting I want to get your take on out of "The Daily Beast" this morning. They're reporting some conservative group leaders are very upset that you have Steve Bannon coming to speak at CPAC because of his embrace of the alt-right. They feel like this is a hijacking of their party. Here's what a board member of your group, the American Conservative Union, told "The Daily Beast." "The revolution is here. It's bloody, man. The craziest elements of the party have managed to get every single thing they wanted over the past year."

[09:35:31] So what do you say to those folks who say the alt-right is hijacking your party?

SCHLAPP: Well, Poppy, you know me. I'm not crazy. I am conservative. And when you guys -- I appreciate you very much, the fact that you're covering CPAC. It's an important moment. And in literally this morning we're going to have the executive director of this organization, my organization, give a speech that's called "the alt-right, it ain't right." The alt-right has no role in the conservative movement. We criticize it often. It doesn't always get covered correctly. But I'm glad you asked the question because racism is not a conservative function, racism is a function of hatred and it has no role here.

HARLOW: Then why did you invite Milo Yiannopoulos, someone who has said so many misogynistic things, to speak at the conference and only canceled his appearance there after he resigned from Breitbart after seemingly to condone sex between young boys and old men. I mean just throw up some of the headlines here from what he's written and what he's said. "There's no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews." "Gay rights have made us dumber. It's time to get back in the closet." Des feminism make women ugly?" If that has no place in the movement, then why did you have him signed up to speak until just earlier this week?

SCHLAPP: Well, that's why we invite liberals and that's why we invite moderates. Yes, most of our speakers will be conservatives, but it -- but it is the case --

HARLOW: Yes, but that's not answering my question, Matt. I'm say if there's no room for this in the movement --

SCHLAPP: Poppy, and if --

HARLOW: If there's no room for it, why was he invited?

SCHLAPP: If you would just let me answer. We have plenty of people who aren't conservative who talk on our stage. An invitation to CPAC is not embracing everything they say. Matter of fact, sometimes we invite somebody who most of our attendees won't agree with because we believe that it's the debate and it's the conversation that helps the conservative movement come to the right place and really helps America come to the right place.

Look at all the fact that we're at each other's throats politically all over the country. And I would like to do with CPAC, in a conservative context, is put the controversies on stage. The problem with Milo is, it was no longer about controversial statements, it was about criminal statements and we wanted no part of that.

HARLOW: OK. All right. So you're moderating this panel. We're going to carry it live on CNN a little bit later today, at the 1:00 p.m. Eastern Hour --

SCHLAPP: Yes.

HARLOW: Between Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus. Are you going to ask them, specifically Bannon, about the role of the alt-right in your party because, as you know, he's one who has said before he's been very supportive of the alt-right movement, to say the least.

SCHLAPP: Yes, I think there's a misconception there. I know Steve Bannon well. He's a good man. He is not a racist. Yes, the conservative movement and voices in the conservative mood are changing, but I do not believe that he is associated with the alt- right at all. And I think every topic is fair game for Reince and Steve. And I'm still thinking of questions, Poppy. So text me any suggestions you have.

HARLOW: I mean Steve Bannon has celebrated the alt-right movement. I'm not sure what you're talking about. He's been quoted has doing that just in a recently "Mother Jones" article in July at the RNC.

SCHLAPP: No, I believe Steve Bannon to be a good man. I don't believe that he has any racial hatred or anti-Semitism. I think these are ridiculous charges. I think that he's coming to CPAC. I think every question's fair game. I think you should have him on your show and ask him these questions. (INAUDIBLE), look, the conservative movement --

HARLOW: Will you ask him to come on our program? We'd love to have him on CNN, Matt.

SCHLAPP: I would love -- I would love to do that. I think Steve is a guy -- look, he's a fearless guy. You can't say that he shies away from taking the tough questions. We're honored that he's going to be at CPAC. It's appropriate for him to be here. He's playing a very important role at the White House.

And, look, a lot of people in the conservative movement, these elite writers, even in the Republican Party, there's a lot of change going on, Poppy, and a lot of these people who have criticized me for decisions I've made at CPAC, you know, the reason why they're upset is because they matter less.

HARLOW: When -- final thought from you. What's getting a lot of headlines obviously this week --

SCHLAPP: Sure.

HARLOW: Is these town halls across America where a lot of angry constituents are speaking out.

SCHLAPP: Yes.

HARLOW: The president has pointed to those in tweets and he's said that these are all liberal activists. The white House press secretary has talked about them as Astroturf, pointed to them as paid activists. Do you think it is smart for conservatives to downplay their voices or do you want to see more of an embrace and say, look, these may not be people who voted for us or our party, but they are our constituents and their voice matters?

SCHLAPP: You know, Poppy, what I'd like to see more of is more political debate. I'm fine with the clashing. I'm fine with people going to town halls and taking their elected officials on. But there's so much vitriol. But -- and there's vitriol on both sides. I'm not just criticizing one side. I think, as a country, we've got a lot of big issues. We've got a lot of people out there -- two-thirds of the American people think the country is on the wrong track. It's why Donald Trump was elected, I believe. And what I would like us to do is to be able to talk civilly to etch other. And when it comes to that conservative conversation, that's our goal at CPAC.

[09:40:27] HARLOW: Matt Schlapp, nice to have you on. We'll be watching.

SCHLAPP: Thank you.

HARLOW: Again, as I -- as I said, we're going to carry that program and that conversation between Matt and the White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon live today on Wolf's show, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, right here. Make sure you tune in.

Coming up, a huge defeat in the battle for Mosul. Iraqi forces storming and recapturing just this morning Mosul's airport from ISIS terrorists. We're going to have a live report from Iraq straight ahead.

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[09:45:17] HARLOW: A major victory in the battle for Mosul. This after Iraqi forces have stormed the city's airport, taking full control back of the airport from ISIS militants. This coming as U.S. troops operating on the front lines, right near the front lines, and around the city have come under fire.

Our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman is following it all. He's live in Irbil, Iraq.

And, Ben, let's first talk about the airport. I mean this just happened in the past few hours. Successfully these Iraqi troops have retaken it completely. What more can you tell us?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it began just in the beginning of the morning. It lasted about four or five hours. They came under some mortar fire. There were some IEDs on the base. But by and large, they encountered relatively little resistance.

Now, it's important to stress that the airport itself is not functional. There's a lot of rubble that ISIS put intentionally on that runway to make sure that it couldn't be used. And under the circumstances, it probably won't be used any time in the near future.

However, it's a large bit of land on the southern end of the city. An important symbolic, early victory for Iraqi forces in this -- what is probably going to be a long and difficult operation to retake western Mosul.

Poppy.

HARLOW: No question. And we're also learning now, Ben, that some U.S. forces on the ground have been moving closer and closer to the front lines, and that they've been injured increasingly in this battle. But we're just learning about that now. Is that correct?

WEDEMAN: Yes, that's right. That came in a statement from Colonel John Dorian (ph). He's the coalition spokesman in Bagdad. He said, yes, U.S. forces have come under fire, some have been wounded, some have been medevacked. We do know that there are U.S. advisers and spotters, the numbers put at about 450, operating in the Mosul theater, providing support for the Iraqi forces.

Now, the rules of engagement, as Colonel Dorian said, is that they are entitled to respond in kind if they come under fire. So it's not surprising that these things have happened. But it's just an indication of just how dangerous it is -- dangerous this battle is, not just for Iraqi forces, but for the Americans who are backing them up.

HARLOW: Yes.

WEDEMAN: Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. Absolutely. Ben Wedeman live for us in Irbil. Thank you, Ben, for that.

Still to come, you're not going to want to miss this. An incredible story of a heartwarming reunion. A three-and-a-half-year-old Iraqi boy, badly turned in a fire at a refugee camp, finally getting to be with his parents while doctors care for him in the United States. They were separated and the travel ban made it so much harder. Watch.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Thank God we're all together again. It's really hard to stay away from your child when they're healthy, let alone he was burned.

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[09:52:34] HARLOW: No matter how you slice it, President Trump's favorite food is meatloaf. And he's just proven it once again. Here's Jeanne Moos.

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JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No matter how you mash it, no matter how you shape it, it seems President Trump has yet to meet a meatloaf he doesn't love. His meatloaf arm twisting has recurred.

TOM BARRACK: By the way, his favorite dish was meatloaf.

MOOS: This time the president invited his friend, real estate investor Tom Barrack, to dine at the White House.

BARRACK: The lunch was terrific.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He made you eat the meatloaf?

BARRACK: He -- the meatloaf was unbelievable.

MOOS: Previously, the designated meatloaf eater was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY (voice-over): He says, there's the menu. You guys order whatever you want. And then he says, Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's emasculating.

CHRISTIE: No, it's not.

MOOS: But Christie got dumped on.

SETH MEYERS, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": The meatloaf was actually a second course for Christie after Trump made him swallow his pride.

MOOS: The last time Trump dictated the governor's diet it was to boycott Nabisco.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Neither is Chris. You're not eating Oreos anymore.

MOOS: Oreos, no. Meatloaf, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I judge a meatloaf like I judge most men. If they look good and smell good and they're easy, I'm in.

MOOS (on camera): Meatloaf may not be for foodies, but it is the meat of the people.

MOOS (voice-over): And the president loves populist food. KFC chicken, McDonald's, taco bowls. No wonder he has a soft spot for meatloaf.

TRUMP: Everybody's saying I should run for president. Let me ask you a question, Meatloaf, should I run for president?

MEATLOAF, MUSICIAN: Absolutely.

MOOS: Trump once tweeted, "Mar-a-Lago has the best meatloaf in America. Tasty," based on his mother's recipe. He and Melania even made meatloaf sandwiches with Martha Stewart.

MOOS (on camera): Famous germophobe that he is, The Donald actually let Martha touch his meatloaf.

TRUMP: You can touch mine. Whatever -- I mean what am I going to catch --

MARTHA STEWART: OK. My hands are clean. I just washed them.

TRUMP: What am I going to catch from you? Nothing.

STEWART: Nothing.

MOOS: We can just imagine President Trump some night at the White House pulling a Will Ferrell.

WILL FERRELL, ACTOR, "WEDDING CRASHERS": Are you hungry? Can we get some meatloaf!

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, please.

MOOS: New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: Who wants some meatloaf, huh? It's 10:00 in the morning.

Thank you, Jeanne Moos for that.

A quick break. The next hour of NEWSROOM is next

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[09:59:00] HARLOW: Good morning. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow. John Berman has the week off. So glad you're with us.

We begin this hour with town hall fury not letting up.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody here --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 2020, you're gone.

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HARLOW: Angered crowds telling Republican lawmakers they have had it. Voter anger also swelling outside of the gates of the White House. Protesters railing against the administration's decision to roll back protections of transgender students.

Now, this decision is causing a divide even with the president's own cabinet. And this hour, President Trump is set to meet with manufacturing CEOs. You can bet they will talk about jobs and trade. We're monitoring that for any news.

But let's begin with those town halls this morning. Ryan Young is in Charles City, Iowa, where another town hall is being held this morning.

Good morning.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

Just finished up the audio check before we went live here. Oh, sorry for that audio issue, Poppy, but we are definitely just did an audio check before we started here. [09:59:58] This is where Senator Grassley's going to be talking in

about an hour from now. You can see everyone's already starting to line up in here to sit down and have that conversation.

Look, across the country, people are definitely making their voices heard, wanting to make sure that their lawmakers know that they have some opinions.