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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump to Deliver First Address to Congress. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 28, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Obviously if it happened here, it would have to be Poppy's fault. But the point is --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: -- because it was the best ending ever. It was the best way to end the Oscars ever, unless you are one of the films involved or the Academy or Warren Beatty or Faye Dunaway. All right.

NEWSROOM starts now.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I am John Berman.

I am Poppy Harlow. Thanks so much for joining us.

Twelve hours from now, the president will have the ears of America. What he will say to them still being crafted by him and his team. They are putting the final touches on his first congressional address. We are being told it will be an optimistic speech and will be about the renewal of the American spirit.

But there be no dystopian darkness, nothing like his inaugural address?

BERMAN: It's undoubtedly a huge moment but what kind of moment?

Is it the first day of the rest of his life or is it just the next day of the same one, day one of a new focused presidency or day 40 of the Trump presidency?

Just a few moments ago, the president handed out some grades for his first month in office in what might be a distinctly un-Trumpian twist, he did not give himself all perfect scores.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now in terms of achievement, I think I'd give myself an A because I think I've done great things but I don't think I've -- I and my people -- I don't think we have explained it well enough to the American public.

I think I get an A in terms of what I have actually done but in terms of messaging, I'd give myself a C or a C plus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How will you change that?

TRUMP: Well, maybe I change it during the speech.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Maybe he changes this tonight during the speech.

Will he?

Let's bring in CNN's Joe Johns. He is at the White House.

Joe, what are you learning about what we will hear?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we do know is the White House says that the president will present an optimistic vision of bold Agenda. We certainly know the president's going to talk a little bit about illegal immigration.

We know that because among the guests of his in the gallery tonight, we expect three people who are members of families of victims of undocumented immigrants.

Now interesting that President Trump, like President Obama, has been suggesting that messaging is at least part of this problem, this would be a great opportunity for the president to change that messaging problem, if he has one, by laying out specifics, which members of Congress say they want to see so much, especially on some of the signature programs Mr. Trump is pushing.

But on that issue of messaging, it's also interesting many times Mr. Trump has I the past, certainly while he's been here at the White House, kind of stepped on his message by making what some would call outrageous statements, often things that can't be backed up or supported with a lot of evidence.

A good example of that, perhaps, is his charge on morning TV that President Obama is behind the leaks in the Trump administration. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we talk about President Obama?

It turns out his organization seems to be doing a lot of organizing to some of the protests that a lot of these Republicans are seeing around the country and against you.

Do you believe President Obama's behind it?

And if he is, is that a violation of the so-called unsaid presidents' code?

TRUMP: No, I think he is behind it. I also thinks it's politics. That's the way it is. His people are certainly behind it. And some of the leaks possibly come from that group. You know, some of the leaks, which are really very serious leaks, because they are very bad in terms of national security.

All I can do is speak from the heart and we have a really terrific --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: OK, so if we deconstruct that just a little bit, on the one hand, it's very difficult to figure out exactly what the president is talking about when it comes to leaks. We did reach out to the office of former President Obama there; choice has been simply not to respond.

On the other issue of supporters of President Obama being involved in protests and demonstrations and the like, we do know a lot of people who supported President Obama remain opposed to President Trump. Back to you.

HARLOW: All right, Joe Johns at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's talk about all of this with our panel, joining us now, Matt Louis, CNN political commentator and senior columnist at "The Daily Beast," who has been tweeting about this all morning.

Rebecca Berg is with us, CNN political analyst and national political reporter for Real Clear Politics.

Errol Louis will joins us in just a moment.

[09:05:00]

HARLOW: So John pointed out to me just before the show began, perhaps the most important thing that Trump said when he graded himself was the end, when he said, guys, well maybe I will change it tonight, maybe I will bring that C up to B or an A tonight.

Matt Louis, how does he do that?

MATT LOUIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, first of all, I think he's right. Sometimes politicians blame messaging because they don't want to admit that their policies are bad.

I think that regardless of how you feel about Donald Trump's policies, it's very clear he does have a messaging problem. In my mind, he has had policies that are reasonable and explainable but he has made them out to be much worse by the way he has communicated them.

So I think messaging really is a problem. I think the larger problem is that, I am not sure he knows what a positive or an optimistic message is. He may think that tonight's speech is going to be a shining city on a hill and Reaganesque, that something Peggy Noonan would write.

But if Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon are writing it and he throws in a couple of poetic lines at the end, I just don't think that gets the job done. BERMAN: Rebecca Berg, to that point, the White House says it will be an optimistic speech.

Is it important even for him to do that?

During the inauguration, he didn't do it during the campaign.

Does he really need to do it now?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He may not need to. Really, the president will have two goals I think tonight in the speech. One will be to speak to the American people and that includes the more than 50 percent of Americans who right now do not approve of the job he has been doing.

So he needs to try to sell his message, sell his priorities to those Americans who are still deeply skeptical of his presidency and that might need an optimistic message.

But on the other hand, his other priority tonight is going to be really sort of making this a pep rally for lawmakers in Congress, getting them behind his agenda, getting them excited to pass health care, to pass tax reform.

He has not really done that to this point. Usually you see presidents come in and really make a strong push in Congress right away. He's behind the ball on that and we are seeing Republicans already expressing some reservations about supporting the health care plan that's out there right now.

The Republican study committee, the head of the Republican study committee and the head of the freedom caucus just this week coming out and saying they can't support the plan that's out there. It is up to Donald Trump tonight to try to lay the groundwork for selling this plan to Republicans so that they go home and sell this to their constituents as well.

HARLOW: Because as you know, they say that that plan that has been leaked just adds to entitlements. But you guys bring up a good point.

"The Wall Street Journal" editorial, the lead editorial today, puts it this way, "The Bannon-Miller method has produced the biggest mistakes of the first five weeks. The irony is that Mr. Trump's political fate will be determined by the conservative Republican establishment that Bannon and his allies so disdain."

Matt Louis, to you --

BERMAN: As part that conservative establishment, Matt Louis...

HARLOW: -- does he need to steer clear of the Bannon-Miller message tonight to get more conservative establishment folks on board?

LOUIS: I think so. Look, Donald Trump he isn't a populist forever. He has got -- Donald Trump is a populist nationalist and what he needs to do is to temper that with some mainstream conservative rhetoric, maybe just a sprinkling of compassionate conservatism. He don't have to go crazy with it but talk about lifting Americans up, talk about providing things that Ronald Reagan might talk about.

I think that would go a long way. But there are problems when it comes to actually passing legislation and that's what tonight's speech is partly -- we hope he does some optimism. But it's also about laying out a legislative agenda and he's got a real problem there because not only does he have Democrats who are basically lining up against him but conservatives.

You know, if it's tax reform he's got this border adjusted tax that a lot of conservatives don't like. If it's ObamaCare, you know, there's the sort of the gimmick to get around the mandates is to give out tax rebates. And lot of conservatives say that's just an entitlement program.

So he has a lot of serious challenges; he has to give a very good speech tonight.

BERMAN: Again, you know, the president said he would tonight, when he talked to --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: -- he's going to get that grade up.

Rebecca, I was struck by the fact that the language we heard from President Trump there was something we heard consistently from President Obama, which is that, you know, I have been right all along, I was not just explaining how right I was well enough to the American people.

What it is about the White House that convinces presidents that you think that though they might be right, that they are not explaining how right they are?

BERG: Well, that's a great question actually.

What is it about the White House?

It becomes this bubble of positive reinforcement from everyone around you, where constantly your top aides are telling you, you are doing an amazing job, Mr. President. But then maybe you are not making that case or you're not under pressure as much to make that case to the American people on the outside.

But this is also a very different environment than Donald Trump --

[09:10:00]

BERG: -- has ever needed to operate in. Frankly, he was used to being a businessman and having the freedom to go out and talk about things in whatever way he wanted. Now there's more of the bubble around him, so he still has Twitter and obviously he still has that way to communicate but he doesn't have the campaign trail atmosphere of having rallies every day, where he can talk directly to his supporters in that way.

And I think you have seen his communication change as a result. Donald Trump thinks of himself as a communicator. He thinks of himself as somebody who understands branding as a salesman, really. We have not seen that side of him in the White House.

So I think tonight this could be an opportunity for him to sort of recapture that mode, to reset his messaging. And certainly he's somebody who understands the messaging side of politics, maybe better than many recent politicians and presidents have.

HARLOW: So here's the counter argument. He's not a details guy, we know that. He did not run on details. Errol Louis, to get you in here, Paul Ryan said this morning on the "Today" show, look, I look at him as the chairman, the president and not really the details guy.

To quote Paul Ryan, "delegate the details to people who know what they are doing."

So does the president need to dive into the details tonight on ObamaCare, on this budget plan, to get more of Congress on his page?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I am pretty sure we are not going to hear a whole lot of details, because that's not who Donald Trump is. He's a disrupter and he came in with style and swagger and broad promises and the details will very much be left up to others.

In particular, when he talks about keeping entitlements in place, the big ones, the high-cost ones, the ones that Paul Ryan has spent half of his career trying to deal with, he said he will keep those in place and also cut $54 billion from the social side of the budget.

That's not something that you will hear in the speech, for one thing, but we are also not going to hear it -- we did not see any of it in the many books that he wrote about public policy or books that have his name on it, at least.

It's not something we will hear tonight or we're going to hear tomorrow. That's entirely delegated to his cabinet officials, to his political advisers and to Congress.

BERMAN: And to a certain extent, the president and the Republicans are talking past each other when it comes to entitlements and it's hard to see exactly where they agree.

All right, everyone, thanks so much for being with us.

Errol Louis, great to have you here with us, even at the very end. Thanks so much.

Coming up for us, more than 100 retired generals have a message for the White House. Do not cut funding for the State Department. Why they say diplomacy, not bullets, is critical to keeping America safe.

Plus, House lawmakers, they will investigate the Trump campaign's reported contacts with Russia. But how much?

There seems to be disagreement inside the Intelligence Committee. We have a member with us coming up.

HARLOW: Also more on the president's high-stakes sales pitch tonight.

What can he learn from those that have stood at the podium before him?

The men of the pen, the former presidential speechwriters will join us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:17:11] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, before Congress, the president will propose a 10 percent hike in military spending and cuts, maybe big cuts, on a whole lot of other places. So, today, more than 120 retired generals are issuing a stern warning about those cuts, don't slash spending for the State Department.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: In this letter that they send to the White House and other lawmakers, they write, "We know from our service in uniform that many of the crisis that our nation faces do not have military solutions alone. The State Department and other department developmental agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm's way."

Retired General David Petraeus, former CIA director, and retired General James Stavridis, former NATO supreme allied commander, those are two of the generals who signed this.

Let's bring in Barbara Starr. She joins at the Pentagon with more.

A very stern and clear warning to the administration, including from Petraeus, who, you know, many said was under consideration for national security adviser.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, this is something that I think every senior military leader has felt very strongly probably for a few decades now, that military power alone does not win wars, especially in the war on terrorism. When you're looking at groups like ISIS, which at its core is a radical ideology. You're not going to kill off an ideology with bombs and bullet and that's really part of the point that they are making here, that you need these other government agencies that departments like the State Department and even agencies like the Peace Corps can help prevent conflict in troubled areas around the world, just by virtue of their presence and what they do.

Let's just look a little more at what this letter had to say, and it goes on to say, "The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism, lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness.

And one of their allies, not unexpectedly, Defense Secretary James Mattis. A few years ago when Mattis was still in uniform as head of Central Command overseeing operations in the Middle East, he testified before Congress on this very point. Have a listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If you don't fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately. So, I think it's a cost-benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department's diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: And what is also apparent in so many spots around the world: U.S. troops not particularly welcomed, but the development money, that aid, much more likely to get a welcome reception in some areas -- John, Poppy.

[09:20:12] BERMAN: All right. We'll see what kind of reception it gets in Congress tonight.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon -- thanks so much.

Shifting gears now, lucky number 13. The Dow is red hot. Smokin' hot, and if it goes up today, it will be, what, a 13-day streak?

HARLOW: Almost a record, ever.

BERMAN: Almost a record, in fact.

All right. Will it happen?

Joining us now, CNN chief business correspondent, star of "EARLY START", Christine Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I feel like a broken record, because I am a broken record, because the Dow is breaking records.

There have been so many of them, 12 in a row. If it rallies today, it would be 13. That hasn't happened since 1897, when we have 14, 14 records.

BERMAN: My Apple stock during that streak was amazing.

ROMANS: Yes, exactly, exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: That was an actual apple on a tree.

BERMAN: Yes.

ROMANS: This is the Dow Jones Industrial Average since the election. If you can't do the math quickly, almost 2,500 points on the Dow. So, the big 30 stocks in the Dow, there's been broad-based gains in every single industry. It has done very, very well.

And we heard this week, Goldman Sachs say maximum optimism is priced in here. We saw a story in "The Wall Street Journal" that said there are warning signs flashing.

So, let me give a perspective for you. This bull market is the second longest in history. It's not this post-election phase. This has been going on since 2009. 2009, 13 days, a 250 gain.

If you matched the longest bull market ever, you still have a long way to go. That was 1987 to 200.0. That was almost a 600 percent gain. So, by one measure there could be a lot to go, and by another measure, it feels a little tired. That's the big debate that's happening overall among market participants. But this has been an amazing rally.

Target will be one stock that will not rally today. It had a terrible quarter, warned for a bad year. So, retailers have been the one spot I have been watching here.

BERMAN: Minnesota. It's your fault.

HARLOW: But they are worried about this border adjustment tax, if this is going to happen and what that -- I mean, the National Retail Board, they are saying 50 percent higher prices for Americans if this goes through?

ROMANS: Absolutely. There are other things happening in the retail sector, it was not a great holiday. And, frankly, people are buying more online. There's a real big Amazon-Walmart push here that's been happening that's been really interesting.

So, except for the retailers, we have been seeing a run here. But it's really remarkable, isn't it? It's really crazy just to see it.

HARLOW: It just reminds me of, you know, what Warren Buffett says, you can't time this market. So, don't try to predict when the bull market is going to end.

ROMANS: And he said this week, I mean, he is still bullish.

HARLOW: Totally.

ROMANS: And he brings in immigration. It's one of the reasons why he is so bullish about what American has been, what its economy has been. He says by index funds, you know, keep your fees down.

BERMAN: Yes, don't do what I do.

ROMANS: Don't do -- yes --

BERMAN: Seriously. That's what he said.

HARLOW: He's like -- Berman is like trading on the set. The market opens, and boom.

All right. Romans, thank you very much.

Still to come for us, as Berman trades the stocks, lawmakers investigating Russian meddling in the U.S. election, but when it comes to what lawmakers know and don't know, they are already divided. We're going to ask a member of the House Intelligence Committee to weigh in, next.

BERMAN: And more than a dozen new bomb threats to force evacuations on Jewish centers across the country. What is behind this wave of anti-Semitism?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:27:41] HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

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

In just a few hours, President Trump delivers his first speech before Congress but behind closed doors in Congress. They are discussing and investigating alleged Trump campaign contacts with Russia.

HARLOW: Right. The House Intelligence Committee has agreed on what it will investigate, but certainly not on what it already knows and does not know, the divisions and surprise here. It's largely split along party lines.

Our Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill with the latest.

This is certainly a he said/he said kind of morning.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Poppy. You have the top Republican on the House Intel Committee, and the top Democrat on that committee who are both leading this investigation and coming out and saying essentially that they have contradictory views on what evidence they have seen so far and the conclusions they reached even before this investigation takes off and gets into the nitty-gritty. The Republican on that committee saying the evidence that he has seen so far does not suggest that there is any communication between the Trump campaign officials and Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, and then you have a Democrat countering saying, look, it's just too early to tell, way too premature to reach that conclusion.

Here's the latest from both of them up here on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: There is no evidence that I have been presented with regular contact with anybody within the Trump campaign.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: There's no evidence that's even receive by the committee. We are still in the process of gathering documents, examining documents at the intelligence community offices. We have had no witnesses, issued no subpoenas, it's the beginning of the investigation, not the end.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SERFATY: And separately from all of this, there are calls from many Democrats up here on the Hill, calls for a special independent prosecutor, saying, look, let's take this off the Hill, give it to somebody else, an independent person, and notably, one Republican joining in on that chorus, Darrell Issa, which is notable, because he was a big Trump supporter during the campaign and he has been doubling down on joining those calls.

He said in a statement, quote, "Any review conducted must have full confidence of the American people, which is why I recommended an independent review."

And Speaker of the House Paul Ryan just this morning in an interview says, essentially brushed off these calls for an independent review. He says that the intelligence committees up here on the Hill are handling this. He said that is our job to do -- John and Poppy.