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Trump To CPAC: "I'm Here To Fight For You"; President: "All I've Done Is Keep My Promise"; Top General: U.S. Mulling "Long-Term Commitment" In Iraq; Trump: Middle East In Worse Shape Than 15 Years Ago; Trump Signs Executive Action On Regulatory Reform. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 12:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: -- rally support for his agenda and looking to stifle any lingering distrust on the right.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need to define what this great, great unprecedented movement is and what it actually represents. The core conviction of our movement is that we are a nation that put and will put its own citizens first.


KING: Plus, rare public insights from the man driving the new nationalist tilt at the Trump White House.


STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: They're corporatist, globalist media. They're adamantly opposed, adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda like Donald Trump has. If you think they're going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day -- every day it is going to be a fight.


KING: And the Iraq war helped define both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies. Is President Trump now on the verge of approving a new long-term U.S. troop presence?


GENERAL JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We have, as has NATO, begun a dialogue about a long-term commitment to maintain a capacity of the Iraqi security forces.


KING: With us today to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg," CNN's Manu Raju, Mollie Hemingway of "The Federalist," and Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast."

It is another remarkably busy news today. President Trump planning new executive actions this hour. Vice President Mike Pence addressing the nation's governors at a big luncheon in Washington. We'll take you to both of those events as they happen.

Plus, an unusual move that could be seen as White House meddling in the FBI's investigation of Russia's role in last year's campaign. We'll bring you new developments on that story as well.

But let's begin around the table with what we just saw at CPAC. A 50- minute speech from a president of the United States, a Republican president, Donald J. Trump, who if we go back that long ago, was viewed with hostility by the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

He now leads them both, and he walked into that room today looking not only to sell his agenda and to get support for his agenda, but it was remarkable. We could go through the greatest hits if we want. There were a lot of greatest hits from the campaign.

But if you listen to the entire speech, this is a new president telling the party and the movement you are going to move my way. Move my way on issues like trade, go ahead.

JACKIE KUCINICH, "THE DAILY BEAST": The thing that struck me, I think Matt Lewis said this the last hour. It wasn't really a conservative speech. He was talking about spending money on a lot of different things, and that is something that -- that is a shift that we've seen in this new Trump era where there is -- I don't know.

Congress is going to go along with this. That's going to be his biggest obstacle. There are fiscal conservatives there that are going to pump the brakes. A lot of the things he is talking about, not -- he is not going to address entitlements. He is going to increase the size of the military. He's going to spend money on infrastructure, all of these things cost mean.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: It was a campaign speech in a lot of ways. It laid out all the things that he talked about he would do talking during the campaign. So the size of his ambitions are pretty remarkable still in a town where it's incredibly difficult to get even marginal things done. I mean, talking about everything from obliterating ISIS to making sure that the wall will be built soon on the border with Mexico.

KUCINICH: Also expensive.

RAJU: Also very expensive and a lot of hurdles to get that done, a major reform and a tax code, repeal and replace Obamacare, things that, of course, that crowd loved, but things that are very difficult to accomplish. The question is that if he does not accomplish those things, what will those voters say to him next year or the year after?

KING: But before we get to that part, next year, the year after, though, if anybody at home is waiting to see it if this president made broad outreach to people who didn't vote for him in the election. Hit the pause button. If we've learned anything early on, in that room today was proof his focus right now is on keeping his promises from the campaign and keeping his voters. Keeping his group.

MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG POLITICS": And this was to some extent repositioning by saying, you know, CPAC is my base now. You're my base now. I'm your leader now. Right? This is him saying I know I wasn't here last year. I thought I would be too controversial. All that stuff that seemed too controversial. That's happening now.

I'm doing that now. There was also one sort of mostly unspoken undercurrent in the room, and that's that of the Supreme Court nominee. For all those conservatives who have questions about some of these other things, that is going to go a long way. He gets a ton of ongoing mileage out of that.

KING: Remember CPAC a year ago or remember CPAC even two years ago when Donald Trump was beginning to move around. A lot of the conversation there was that he is a cancer on conservatism -- there were the seeds of the Never Trump Movement. This is his movement now.

[12:05:02]MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, "THE FEDERALIST": Well, winning solves a lot of those problems. That everybody wants to be with a winner. But it is interesting how there is a realignment in the Republican Party and it's one that everyone should be paying attention to.

I thought one of the more interesting things he said is the Republican Party is now going to be the party of the American worker. He has made a lot of moves in these last few weeks to solidify that portion of the base. That is a reach out to -- and he did well with those -- with average American workers or people who had lost jobs, but I think that is kind of an olive branch.

KING: A Republican branch standing at the Conservative Political Action Conference praising Bernie Sanders, saying he was right on trade, and saying my doors are open to everyone if they are talking about creating American jobs including labor unions.

A Republican president standing there making that message. It's a key point, a populist message and we'll get to Steve Bannon a bit later in the program, but a very nationalist message.

The Republican Party has been in the last 20 years or so the party of free trade, the party of globalism, and the party of an integrated global economy. Listen to the president.


TRUMP: Global cooperation, dealing with other countries, getting along with other countries is good. It's very important. But there is no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency, or a global flag. This is the United States of America that I'm representing. I'm not representing the globe. I'm representing your country.


KUCINICH: It's all well and good to say that, but it's not like places like China are just going to sit back and say, oh, well, they're just taking a break. They're going to go in. They're going to go into where the United States pulls back. There are other entities here that are more than happy to fill the void if the United States decides to seal off the border. I'm not talking about education.

TALEV: That's not the speech that Rex Tillerson or General Mattis would have given.

HEMINGWAY: This nationalism, oddly enough, is kind of a global movement. You're seeing it pop up in different countries, and it's the most uncovered issue of the day. It is --

KING: It's the biggest -- it is now -- the bubbling has turned into boiling and it's a reaction to globalism. It's a reaction to global trade. People think they're getting screwed, to use a polite word, and it's a reaction to the refugee and the moving around and diversity in many countries.

RAJU: It's going to be so interesting next week when he addresses a joint meeting of Congress. Does Donald Trump stick to these nationalistic themes? Does he stick to what he said to CPAC? Does it sound like the speech we just heard or does he deviate in any way knowing that his own party does not go along with some of these issues like NAFTA is hugely supported among Republicans in Congress?

Does he come in and say this is one of the worst trade deals ever, a disaster like he said today, or does he deviate from that language in any way? It would be fascinating to see.

KING: What we saw today was a bit of what we saw in the campaign when they were trying to keep him on the teleprompter? It was really two or three speeches. He gave the speech to the teleprompter, and whenever he heard applause or when he feels the speech on the prompter leaving the crowd flat, he goes off and tells diversions and antics.

His language, again -- his language, this is one of the reasons he got elected. He speaks differently. He does not speak like a traditional politician, and we know one of his complaints during the Obama years is that the president wouldn't use the term radical Islam. This president doesn't shy away.


TRUMP: Let me state this as clearly as I can. We are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country. We will not be deterred from this course and in a matter of days, we will be taking brand new action to protect our people and keep America safe. You will see the action.


KING: This is one of the many Trump paradoxes, if you will. The career people with foggy bottom or the Pentagon going -- when he says things like that. Trump supporters are saying, thank you, Mr. President. That's the way we want to hear it.

TALEV: That's exactly right. Look, foreign policy situations that are taking shape right now, whether it's on the approach to ISIS or whether it's on the approach to NATO relations or whether it's going to be a border tax or whatever.

What he says publicly in tweets and in speeches like this is really different than the sort of gradual policy shifts and feelers that, you know, his representatives are trying to lay out, and there's been a lot of mixed messaging.

Some have asked whether it's a cleanup act. What the president has found out of speaking off the cuff rather than explicitly or cautiously, is that it creates sort of a space for him to find a middle ground and while diplomats and foreign governments are, like, worried about it, they all also know that it doesn't necessarily mean what he says. He has found in some space in what President Obama might have --

KING: It's an interesting point because people said the same things about Ronald Reagan to a degree. That Ronald Reagan would have these bold ambitions. We are going to balance the budget. We're going to shrink government. That didn't happen. The wall fell down. The cold war ended.

[12:10:04]And to the point, you two -- you're saying can he get these things done, or will China step into these voids if he creates them. The president gives what sounds like a very clear America first pulling back message, but if he points to that as the north star, and the truth is actually somewhere in the middle.

That the United States doesn't fully retreat, it just tries to rearrange them, these relationship, is he fine with his base? Is that good enough?

HEMINGWAY: I think it's also just a change of direction. There is a big problem with his imprecision, and it's very frustrating for a lot of people. But he is clearly making a change in the direction in U.S. policy, and he does allow his cabinet to then worry about the details, and it is -- it's a challenge for reporters to understand that there is a big difference between what he says and what his administration is actually doing.

KING: I found that remarkable. That's a new movement. It's interesting to see how he manages this going forward, but, remember, even after he was elected, there was talk of a Ted Cruz challenge in 2020, a John Kasich challenge in 2020. I don't think anybody hears that at the moment. This is his party.

RAJU: This is his party. Remember, last year he was third placed in that straw poll at CPAC. He only got I think 15 percent. He was behind Marco Rubio, who is number two. Ted Cruz won that. It just shows a dramatic shift. Folks coming to his side. He knows that. It's -- that's the power of his presidency right now.

HEMINGWAY: It is true, he is doing things that please conservatives. Nominating Gorsuch, his return to federalism on, you know, the bathroom issue. He is doing things that please people, and it's not just that he is changing them. He is governing as a conservative. KUCINICH: Mike Pence is a very key part of that group, of pleasing that group. You saw Mike Pence's speech last night was also very well received. He remains extremely popular and I think he's one of the people that gave Trump a lot of credibility on the onset with CPAC.

KING: To your point, can he keep tax cuts, a stronger military, less regulations, traditional Republican principles add in some of those worker stuff and globalism, anti-globalism stuff. We'll see. That's the great challenge as we go forward.

Just ahead, everyone, does President Trump's promise to obliterate ISIS mean sending U.S. troops back to Iraq and possibly even Syria?



KING: Welcome back. You may remember one of President Trump's early executive actions called on the Pentagon to quickly draft a new plan to intensify the fight against ISIS, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff now acknowledges publicly that plan could include asking the president to take a huge political risk, recommit the United States to a long-term troop presence in Iraq and perhaps also deploy U.S. combat forces in Syria.


DUNFORD: We'd be given a task to go to the president with options to accelerate, accelerate the defeat of ISIS specifically, but obviously other violent extremist groups as well and so we will go to him on a full range of options, from which he can choose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That includes more U.S. troops, sir?

DUNFORD: I will go to the president with options.


KING: General Dunford being careful answering that question. Now let's bring this conversation to the Brookings Institution, though. He did say the United States and NATO already talking with the Iraqi government about a longer-term troop presence. Ostensibly to train Iraqis, by a greater level that we have there now.

The possibility on the table, they'll go to the president with these recommendations, and a more aggressive robust effort in Syria. Is this president, who has promised to do more to defeat ISIS, is he going to take that risk?

TALEV: He is going to consider all of his options in part because of the political rhetoric, and there's a lot of mixed opinion inside the Republican Party about whether the pace of the withdrawal from Iraq and from that theater in general has contributed to some of the insecurities that have, you know, given rise to the current situation.

But considering something and doing something are two really very different options. He has a new national security advisor, who has both been aggressive about the need for military modernization and spending, and very cautious about the idea of in and out quick successful military engagements.

He has a divided Republican Congress. It's one thing to have Democrats and Republicans divided, but on a situation like this, particularly given what it did to President Bush's political legacy, this is a place where he is going to be counseled by his team to be very cautious.

KING: General Mattis, now Secretary Mattis at the Pentagon, General McMaster now the national security adviser, they remember their own stealth approach to Iraq. They were battlefield commanders during the Rumsfeld approach to Iraq. I assume if they're going to the president, they are not going to let the president do anything that they think is half you know what.

HEMINGWAY: Right. We'd had troops in Iraq on or off since 1991. I mean, we're going to have troops there. I think the interesting thing to keep in mind with Trump is that he doesn't seemed to want a lot of engagement in other countries, but when he is there, when he puts U.S. troops there, he is going to want to be decisive about it.

And so I imagine that we'll see -- he did say he has actually made unbelievable promises about eradicating ISIS, things that are actually impossible to achieve, but he will -- I think we're likely to see some --

RAJU: It will be an interesting question if he decides also to send a proposal to authorize the use of military force to Congress. That's something they decided to punt on during the Obama years using that same -- from after 9/11 and during the Iraq war, and does he try to build support for whatever plan that he has, whether it is sending in more troops or taking other action.

If he does send in troops, it could undercut a lot of things that he was suggesting on the campaign trail that perhaps he wouldn't do that. He has been very vague about his own plan.

KING: Even, again, today we know from the campaign he does promise to be tougher, and it's somewhat inconsistent because he also voices great reluctance about deploying U.S. troops overseas. Smart and cautious if any good commander-in-chief, but this is one of the most sobering decisions any new president faces.

And if you listen, today, you just heard General Dunford say we're going to bring in the options. More troops in Iraq. Maybe troops in Syria. The president's instincts are otherwise.


TRUMP: In the Middle East, we've spent as of four weeks ago $6 trillion. Think of it.

[12:20:10]And by the way, the Middle East is in what -- it's not even close. It's in much worse shape than it was 15 years ago. If our presidents would have gone to the beach for 15 years, we would be in much better shape than we are right now. That I can tell you. A hell of a lot better. We could have rebuilt our country three times for that money.


KING: That's where his heart is. Don't waste money overseas. That's infrastructure money here at home. Don't get involved in overseas military adventures that spiral out of control. Yet, forget whether it's a Democrat or a Republican. Here's a new president that will be sitting around the table with the generals in a week or two facing these decisions.

RAJU: Go ahead.

HEMINGWAY: Remember, it was a year ago before the South Carolina primary. He made some of these types of comments about what a disaster the Iraq war had been and how Bush was responsible. He kwon that primary. This is a message that actually resonates.

KING: You can hear it in the room.

HEMINGWAY: Hard core military supportive people. It's not about -- it's just about being wiser and smarter about our military engagement, and I think that he is offering very new perspective on this that is very different from the bipartisan consensus on how to fight wars and how much to be embroiled in --

RAJU: There are no good options, which is the really challenge. You can't just go in and bomb ISIS. They're not sitting around in some city somewhere where you can just get rid of everybody at all once. It's a very strategic war. It's a drone war in a lot of ways --

HEMINGWAY: He might like the bomb theory.

RAJU: Exactly. He suggested that he may do and if you do send in more troops as we discussed that creates a whole slew of other issues. So it's a very tricky test for a new commander-in-chief.

TALEV: There are also two things that didn't happen in the last couple of weeks. President Trump met with two officials who you remember from the Bush era and from their involvement in strategy and the Iraq war, John Bolton and Elliott Abrams.

Elliott Abrams did not get (inaudible) and John Bolton did not get brought in as the national security advisor. Now, Trump -- the president and his team have said that the president wants there to be a role for John Bolton and presumably on the national security stage. That has yet to be announced, but it's not national security advisor. That may be a clue.

KING: It's one of the most -- President Obama didn't want to stay in Iraq. He was in Iraq as well. I noted the entire time, lower troop levels is a tough one especially when you could tell public opinion and in that room even when he starts talking about the misguided policies in the Middle East. He gets applause in the conservative. Normally a pro-military crowd they still don't want to waste resources. It's an interesting -- one of his first big foreign policy decisions when it comes to the tough ones for commander-in-chief.

KUCINICH: Absolutely. The other thing that struck me, he is talking about not spending money and how much money was spent on war, so they're talking about building up the military. There's a lot of kind of seesawing going on in just one speech.

KING: Peace through strength. We're waiting for some time tape. The president just moments ago signed some executive action at the White House. We'll roll you the tape in just a second.

Before we do, I just want to play one line from a Reuters' interview. The president gave an extensive foreign policy interview to Reuters yesterday. We were talking earlier about the spending plans of this new Republican president. Conservatives sometimes try to add up the math.

One of the things the president says is vital is increasing modernizing, and strengthening the U.S. nuclear arsenal.


TRUMP: It would be wonderful -- a dream would be that no country would have nukes. But if countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack.


KING: Interesting anyway, but also especially because we have seen for all this talk of having a cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin and whether the president wants to have a cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin, this is a priority of the Russians right now, and the president seems to be countering here.

HEMINGWAY: Well, yes, Russia and China are modernizing their nuclear systems, and actually President Obama started the modernization of our (inaudible) and what's interesting with Trump is he's been so public talking about it and that's --

RAJU: And he also criticized the new Start Treaty that Obama approved and the Senate ratified suggesting there was a one-sided deal. He was going to try to cut a new Start Treaty, new Start Treaty with the Russians. That will be an interesting decision by Trump. He thinks he can negotiate better deals, bilateral deals on not just and a range of issues. We'll see.

KING: Let's listen to the president here signing some new executive actions, I believe, on regulatory issues at the White House. Let's listen in.

OK, having audio issues as we try to listen to that tape. The president is standing there. Some of the biggest countries. You can show the tape. I'll talk over it to try to get the audio back. The president is talking, behind him executive from Lockheed Martin, Dow Chemical, Archie Daniels (ph) Midland, the Campbell Soup company, the president mentioned the CEO is not present.

[12:25:07]He's talking here about regulatory reforms. Regulatory reform task force set up to, what the president says, is relieve unnecessary burdens on the economy. We can bring this. Let's listen.

TRUMP: People standing behind me, the biggest in the world in terms of manufacturing and business. Some of the people involved are Ken Fisher and Ken Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck, Alex Gorske, chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, Marilynn Holsen, and she's been very tough to deal with, but that's OK. She's a very tough negotiator, president of Lockheed Martin.

Gregory Hayes, chairman/CEO of United Technology. Andrew Liveris (ph), chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical Company, Mario Longi, president and CEO of the United States Steel Corporation, Juan Luciano, chairman, president and CEO of Arch Daniels Midland Company, Denise Morrison, president, Campbell Soup Company.

Lee Styles Langer III, chairman and CEO of Alti Ink. Mark Sutton, chairman and CEO of International Paper and Inge Thulin, president of 3M Company and we have made tremendous progress with these great business leaders. Amazing progress.

They are getting together in groups, and they're coming up with suggestions about their companies and how to bring jobs back to the United States, and I think it will be a fantastic day for the country. We met yesterday and met with these folks some more.

Excessive regulation is killing jobs, driving companies out of our country like never before. Reducing wages and raising prices. I've listened to American companies and American workers. I have been listening to them for a long time.

I've been listening to them complain for a long time. Today this executive order directs each agency to establish a regulatory reform task force, which will ensure that every agency has a team of dedicated and a real team of dedicated people to research all regulations that an unnecessary burdensome and harmful to the economy.

And therefore, harmful to the creation of jobs and business. Each task force will make recommendations to repeal or simplify existing regulations. The regulatory burden is for the people behind me and for the great companies of this country and for small companies.

An impossible situation that we're going to solve very quickly. They will also have to really report every once in a while to us so we can report on the progress and so we can come up with some even better solutions.

This executive order is one of many ways we're going to get real results when it comes to removing job killing regulations and unleashing economic opportunity. We've already issued an order which says that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.

So that in itself is going to be tremendous, but what we're doing is much more than even that. Every regulation should have to pass a simple test. Does it make life better or safer for American workers or consumers?

If the answer is no, we will be getting rid of it and getting rid of it quickly. We will stop punishing companies for doing business in the United States. It's going to be absolutely just the opposite. They're going to be incentivized for doing business in the United States.

We're working very hard to roll back the negative regulatory burden so that coal mines, factory workers, small business owners, and so many others can grow their businesses and thrive. We cannot allow government to be an obstacle to government opportunity.

We are going to bring back jobs and create more opportunities maybe more than ever before. We've made tremendous strides over the last short period of time. We're four weeks into it. I think for four weeks we've done a good job.

Again, I want to thank these great business leaders. Some of them are with us in the White House, and they had tremendous success. Reed and Jared and so many others in business and they are helping us sort out what's going on because really for many years even beyond -- long beyond Obama, President Obama, I will say that it's been disastrous for business.