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Trump to Deliver First Address to Congress; House GOP Leaders Speak ahead of Trump's Address; Trump Speech Guest List Hints at Immigration Focus. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 28, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- live when they begin. But let's start this morning at the White House with our Joe Johns. So what more do we know about that, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know a few things and not so much, Poppy, quite frankly. We know the president says he will speak from the heart. We know he says there's going to be an optimistic vision here. He's very likely to talk about tax cuts, which he says are coming, as well as the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, which is something people on Capitol Hill, members of Congress very much want to hear his vision on. And he's also likely to talk about immigration, which is another one of those issues that came to us all the way straight from the campaign. One of the big questions, of course, is whether the president will talk about Russia. And --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joe, just one second. We're going to Capitol Hill right now because Paul Ryan is speaking about the speech tonight and his relationship with the president. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The president recognizes what we all recognize that this is a once in a generation moment. It's a once in a generation opportunity. We have the opportunity to finally tackle big problems that have held us back for so long. We can fix our health care system so that costs go down and choices go up. We can fix our broken tax code so that rates go down and growth goes up. We can fix our regulatory system so that it protects us instead of punishes us. And we can secure our border and rebuild our military for the 21st century.

These are big positive things that we can achieve for the hard-working Americans we work for by working together. That is why we are very much looking forward to having the president here this evening. It is a chance for the country to hear directly from him about our agenda and about how we intend to improve people's lives. We have a lot of work ahead of us and we're ready and willing to seize this moment.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Good morning, and as the speaker talked about, we are looking forward to hearing the president. We look forward to hearing an optimistic approach to the future. We have lots of challenges. We have already begun that work, though, as you watch in the floor this week. We'll continue with regulatory reform, getting common sense back into regulation, getting our business working again.

But as we look to the future, we look to health care. We look to tax reform. We also look to the future of the workforce because the students today, 65 percent of them, the jobs that they will work in have not even yet existed. So we've got to look to innovation. We got to look to transformation of where we go. These are all things that we hope the president will talk about, that we can bound together Republicans, Democrats in the House and the Senate to find that we build a better America, united for all.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), MAJORITY WHIP: Happy Mardi Gras - Happy Mardi Gras -- Speaking a little French there. We really look forward to welcoming President Trump to address the Joint Session of Congress tonight and share his optimistic vision of the things that he's been doing to keep his promises to the American people. I think that's what's been most refreshing about these first few weeks in office is that he's really focused on doing the things that he ran on.

Focusing on creating jobs which every meeting that we're in with President Trump, one of the first things he talks about is how can we get the economy moving again. How can we help create more jobs? How can we get government out of the way and end these regulations that are killing jobs. And just look what he's done in a -- few short weeks. Greenlighted the Keystone Pipeline creating thousands of American jobs and strengthening our national security.

Just a few days ago, President Trump signed the Stream Buffer Rule. And he actually had real coal miners along with members of Congress at the bill signing ceremony. In fact, he gave the pen to a coal miner, a bill that is going to save 70,000 jobs in the coal industry, keeping his promise to the American people.

President Trump, when he ran for office, said that he was going to focus on making America safe again, on securing the American border. And sure enough, he's already taken direct steps to carry through on those promises, just announced that he wants to increase defense spending. So we have the opportunity to bolster our military. So we can continue to keep America safe.

And of course, when he ran for office, President Trump said that he was going to appoint Justices to the Supreme Court who actually uphold the Constitution. And he put a list out. A very narrow list of people who are thoroughly vetted and let the American people actually have a say in who the next Supreme Court Justice is going to be to replace Antonin Scalia. And sure enough in just his first few weeks in office, President Trump appointed one of the people off of that list. Neil Gorsuch, a Justice who will truly fit the mold of Antonin Scalia, who you can't truly replace but at least somebody who fits that mold and keeps to the promise that he kept that he made to the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [10:05:02] HARLOW: All right. We're going to keep monitoring this as we hear from GOP House leadership. They're going to take questions in a moment, so you can bet you're going to want to hear those live. We'll get back to them when that begins. But let's go to Capitol Hill. Sunlen Serfaty is live there with more news on this -- what seems to be a coming together of the White House and GOP leadership on repealing and replacing Obamacare. And that they are going to be the message from the president tonight will be that they are working hand in glove. Is that correct?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Poppy, and I think we saw that echoed in what Speaker of the House Paul Ryan just said a few minutes ago, calling this a generational moment, a chance to hear directly from the president about our agenda. Emphasis there on the use of our agenda because as we've been talking about in recent days, there is some concern on Capitol Hill that President Trump and the White House is not fully behind the draft Republican plan in the House that's coming out for repealing and replacing Obamacare.

We know that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell sat down with the president yesterday at the White House. And we now know, according to sources, who are telling our CNN's Jim Acosta, that the president will make clear that he does indeed support much of the Republican plan in his address later tonight here on Capitol Hill. And sources telling Acosta that the repeal and replace strategy will focus on tax credits, high-risk pools, HSA's to expand coverage, eliminating the individual mandate, notably that young people can stay on their parents' insurance until up to 26 years old and reforms to Medicaid among many other issues. And this source noted that, of course, not all of this can be done in one bill. It will likely be done in multiple buckets. Poppy, John?

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting, Sunlen because if you look at the reporting from our friend, Jim Acosta, at the White House, Paul Ryan said that he was given the impression that the White House is embracing much of the Republican plan. - But part of the problem here is there seems to be a communication gap or at least some communication fuzziness here where the people on Capitol Hill, you've been watching up there. They are not 100 percent sure what the president backs. And one of the issues is that the Republicans are losing support right now from their own ranks from this plan. Mark Sanford, Mark Meadows, among those who came forward and said they can't vote for it now. Do you have a sense that leadership on the Hill is worried about losing more Republican votes?

SERFATY: I think that they certainly are. And I think that many of those Republicans in recent days who have you know, expressed some concern about the bill, concern about the drafts that are coming out. They want to tamp down all that rhetoric. I thought it was notable that we saw Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, earlier today in an interview, come out and basically try to rein in much of what we're hearing.

This narrative coming out of the Hill and also describing that, look, this isn't a president that's going to roll up his sleeves, sit at the table and hash out every policy issue. He's someone that works much like a chairman of the business is what Paul Ryan says really delegating the details. So, basically, to me, that was Paul Ryan saying, look, we are handling a lot of the details up here on the House and the White House. He believes is on board with much of what they're doing.

BERMAN: Or maybe he hopes the White House is on board or hopes he gets a sign for the White House that they are on board tonight. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much. I think a lot of psychology is at play here.

Let's bring in our panel. We're joined by Kayleigh McEnany, CNN political commentator, conservative columnist, Mary Katharine Ham, CNN political commentator and senior writer at "The Federalist" and Bakari Sellers, CNN commentator, former Democratic South Carolina House member. Welcome one and all.

We have one eye, as she tell you on Capitol Hill for when Paul Ryan takes questions. But if we can, let's shift focus to tonight, to the speech. Mary Katharine Ham, you know we're 40 days, you know give or take a day into the administration right now. What do you think the president needs to do when he speaks to Congress and the American people tonight, and what do you think he will do?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND SENIOR WRITER "THE FEDERALIST": Well, what he will do is always up in the air. Look, I think, the thing to remember about this is it may not look like a normal State of the Union. I know this is not technically State of the Union but it may not look like that. He may break some actual news by breaking with Republicans from up there.

He may engage with some members of the audience and ways that we haven't seen in the past. He may spend a lot of time congratulating himself which I guess wouldn't be that different from the last eight years. And in the end, it will look different from what we've seen in the past in some ways. And I think we should not overestimate the extent to which the American people are upset about that. You see some of this polling coming back --

HARLOW: Sorry to interrupt, Mary Katharine. Stick with us for a second. Let's all listen to the questions that the House Speaker is getting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: -- pulling out left and right, and the system is collapsing. The deductibles are skyrocketing. The premiums are skyrocketing. And people are left with little or no choices in some instances. We have an obligation to step in front of this collapse and replace it with a better system and that's what we are about doing. Our whole purpose is to improve access to affordable health care coverage, regardless of whether you have a pre-existing condition or not.

[10:10:01] That is what we ran on last year. That's what we're working on this year. And that is our objective is to give people more choices, to give people access to more affordable health care choices, not less affordable health care choices or no choices at all, which is the case with Obamacare. Allan (ph)?

QUESTION: Conservatives say that your emerging plan on health care, they say they have more than 22 votes against it. (INAUDIBLE) Are you willing to make --

RYAN: Well, look, I think you're going to have a lot of turning on any kind of legislative project like this. This is a plan we're all working on together, the House, the Senate, the White House. So there aren't rival plans here. We are all working on this together with the administration. And I would tell you, Allan (ph) we started this process not a few months ago. We started this process over a year ago. House Republicans assembled a health care task force, with all the committees and jurisdiction. And any House Republican who wanted to participate in that, out of that, came a consensus plan that we all ran on together.

It looked a lot like the price plan. The price plan was considered the conservative gold standard at the time last year. Many conservatives co-sponsored that plan. That plan looks a lot like what we're working on right now. And yet to remember when comes to tax credits, people who do not get health insurance from their job are discriminated against right now in the tax code. Let me say that again. The current tax code discriminates against people who don't get health care at work. We want to end the discrimination in the tax code against people who don't get health care to work and equalize the tax treatment of health care.

So that everybody, regardless of whether you get health care at work or don't has an opportunity to get a health care plan that's affordable for you. That is what we've always been working on. That's the plan we've always been looking at, and that is what we're working on with the administration. I feel in the end of the day, when we get everything done and right, we're going to be unified on this. Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Are you 100 percent confident that there were no contacts at all between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the presidential election?

RYAN: Look, we have an ongoing investigation. I'm not going to get ahead of that investigation. We have seen no evidence so far based upon the investigations that have already been conducted. Remember, there was an Intelligence Community investigation last year.

The House Republicans have been doing an investigation for quite a while on Russia itself through the Intelligence Committee and we have a bipartisan investigation through the House Intelligence Committee. I think, just last night they finished their oversight plan to go forward. So I'm not going to get ahead of the investigation that's occurring right now. But just so you know this has been investigated. We've been investigating it and we're going to continue to investigate just to make sure no stone is unturned. Kasie?

QUESTION: House Speaker, on entitlement reform, are you giving up again?

RYAN: I never give up a dream, Kasie. I never give up a dream. I'm a Green Bay Packers fan. So I never give up a dream. By the way, two entitlements are being reformed with repealing and replacing Obamacare right now. That's two entitlements right there that we're reforming, just this spring. So we are well on our way to reforming entitlements by repealing and replacing Obamacare. So I think that's a pretty darn good start. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: There you have it. The House Speaker sort of dodging that last question, is he giving up, I believe it was. Are you giving up your hope for entitlement reform -

BERMAN: Yes, Social Security and Medicare --

HARLOW: -- with this budget? Let's bring back in our panel. He said that he's a Packers fan.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Yes, it was four Super Bowls. - He just never gave up with Aaron Rogers -

HARLOW: Five.

BERMAN: Fair enough.

HARLOW: Our panel is back with us. Thanks for holding tight on that. Kayleigh McEnany, let me go to you. Because let's remind you what Paul Ryan said about entitlements and how necessary entitlement reform is in a budgetary process, just last year to "The Wall Street Journal." Play it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALD SEIB, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Do you consider it possible to arrive at a fiscal policy and plan that reduces the deficit without touching Medicare and Social Security or military spending?

RYAN: No, you can't. It's just a mathematical impossibility. If you do not tackle the drivers of our debts which are entitlements, you cannot balance the budget in the future and pay down the debt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Kayleigh, you cannot do it. And now, he's not saying as much because the president isn't touching them in his budget. How on earth is he going to actually get enough Republicans truly on board with him? How is he going to do it tonight in this speech?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, you know, Speaker Paul Ryan's absolutely correct when he points to those key entitlement programs as the chief drivers of our debt. And this is what is so fascinating, really, when you look at Trump and kind of the new conservatism that's come about because President Trump has said, I don't want to touch Social Security. I'm more of the populist strain, kind of like the Mike Huckabee strain of not wanting to touch those entitlements and were having to see this grand bargain, between -- fiscal hawks, traditional conservatives and kind of the populist wing that President Trump has brought in. And ultimately, it's going to have to be a negotiation, a give and a take here.

[10:15:00] And making sure all along that President Trump is not giving up on the promises he made to voters on the campaign trail, which is your Social Security will be here. So the short answer is it's a grand bargain and President Trump has a big task ahead, not only on the debt, but also on Obamacare. And tonight is a good starting point in this conversation with Congressional Republicans.

BERMAN: Bakari, Mr. Democrat, we'll get to you in a minute. But right now, we're having a bit of a Republican squabble here. So I want to stick on that. Mary Katharine Ham, if Paul Ryan is about anything, the one thing he is - about.

HARLOW: It's like his middle name.

BERMAN: It is Social Security and entitlement reform. It is a long middle name. But it is his middle name. Look, this is what he believes and has written about extensively. Will he be willing to just give up to this new populism?

HAM: Look, I don't know if he's going to be willing to give up but we also have to contend with the fact that a lot of Americans like entitlements. Like, they actually don't want them touched, even if you explain, hey, if we don't touch this and fix this, it's going to be bankrupt in the very near future and it's easier to deal with that now.

What's interesting is that Trump is actually employed a similar argument on Obamacare where he said, look, it would be the easiest thing in the world to give in and not change this at all and just let it ride out. But it's not working and it's not going to work. It's going to be irrevocably broken in the near future, if we don't do something about it. That's a very similar argument. So I look forward to the two of them talking about that on something like Social Security and Medicare in the future.

HARLOW: All right. So, the president also, Bakari, because we would like to give you a moment to speak here, you've been waiting so patiently. -

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN COMMENTATOR AND FORMER HOUSE MEMBER: I'm just listening.

HARLOW: The president -- graded himself this morning in his interview with "Fox & Friends." And he did give himself an "A" on a number of things, achievement, progress, et cetera, but he gave himself a "C" or "C+" when it comes to messaging. How he can -- how he is messaging. Were you surprised to see? Berman thinks that's a bit Obama-esque, right? -

BERMAN: Yes, exactly.

HARLOW: So the same like, I have all the right ideas but I just could be better at messaging.

BERMAN: If you only understood how right I am, things would be better. --

HARLOW: If you only got it, guys. What do you -- How do you see it, Bakari?

SELLERS: I mean, I think that's interesting. I think that's an ounce of humility, something we haven't quite seen from this president. But with all due respect, the bar for Donald Trump is extremely low. I mean, I heard one of the members of Congress laying out some of the few achievements he's had in these first couple of weeks and they just don't even parallel to what we saw in the last presidency and the presidency of Barack Obama. I mean, you're talking about a federal highway administration that approved 2500 projects, putting a quarter -- 260,000 people to work immediately, passing tax credits already.

I mean, this White House has not done much other than being marred down in its own muck. And I think the irony of tonight is that Congressional Republicans and Republican conservative activists throughout the country are looking to Donald Trump to lay out some policy proposals. And so, Donald Trump has not been able to articulate clearly the policy he wants to implement, let alone health care policy or anything nuanced.

And so, that "C+" tonight is really going to be exacerbated and brought to the spotlight because he's going to have to communicate how he plans on eliminating an individual mandate but yet keeping people on their insurance until the age of 26 and with pre-existing conditions. Something we all know is fundamentally impossible. So, I look forward to that "C+" kind of being examined under the light tonight.

BERMAN: You know, Bakari Sellers, for the first time, speaking out on behalf of conservative Republicans and what they are looking for in this speech across the country. Kayleigh, I know you probably have some points to disagree with Bakari but if we can focus on one thing in the speech tonight. And I also think, you probably don't believe that the president's speeches in the past have been as dystopian or dark as people have said. But where is that line? How much do his supporters want to see a more optimistic vision tonight?

MCENANY: Look, I think you're right. As you've pointed out, I disagree that his inaugural address was dark. I thought it was realistic. And I thought it was very uplifting and good. But it is interesting, as you pointed out, that the president gave himself a "C+." It's like he's acknowledging I've broken through to my supporters, people like me, people who turned out and voted for him but maybe I haven't broken through to those middle 30 percent of individuals who are curious about President Trump but haven't quite heard what they want to hear.

And so, I think, tonight when he talks about a more optimistic tone. He mentioned it in the talking points provided -- I believe to "ABC," that he wants to talk about working parents and access to education. These are things that a lot of times are lost in the mix when we're talking about immigration and some of the proposals that have gotten more heat or more attention. If he focuses on those proposals, the ones that I think cross party lines and can create a bridge to the other side. I think it will be a home run.

HARLOW: All right. - I mean, he did say I'm going to get this "C" up maybe tonight. So maybe we'll see him --

BERMAN: Extra homework?

HARLOW: Extra homework. Guys, thank you. Thanks for sticking around, Kayleigh McEnany, Mary Katharine Ham and Bakari Sellers.

Still ahead, what the president's special guests -- guests of him and the first lady, what they tell us about what's in store for the speech tonight?

BERMAN: Plus, more than 100 retired generals. They have a message for the White House. Do not cut funding for the State Department. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:24:26] BERMAN: All right. At this very moment, the president putting the final touches on his speech tonight. The first primetime address he will give before Congress. Aides tell us they think it will be an optimistic address on the country's future focusing largely on national security and economic issues. But you can bet his immigration proposal will also factor in. One of the big clues is his guest list.

HARLOW: Right. Who he is bringing? Half of the special invitees of the first family are people left scarred by illegal immigration. One guest is the father of a teenager killed by an undocumented immigrant. Two others, the widows of police officers allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant as well.

[10:25:05] Texas Congressman Monvilla of Texas joins us now. He has clashed bitterly with the president over his immigration policies. Thank you for being with us.

REP. FILEMON VELA (D), TEXAS: Thank you.

HARLOW: You did not attend the inauguration. I assume you'll be there tonight. So, two-part question, why then go tonight, and who will you be bringing with you?

VELA: Well, tonight I have a very special guest. It is restaurant owner Jose Andres who - originally had his restaurant in the Trump Hotel and of course, you know, now has a dispute with the president. So tonight we stand here to listen to the president and hopefully -- are hoping that we'll see a redirection in the president's rhetoric with respect to our relationship with Mexico and with respect to his abominable deportation policies.

BERMAN: You say you're going to listen to the president but clearly you're going to send a message to the president too, based on your guest. You are bringing someone who is in direct conflict with the president. What message do you want to send with that? VELA: Well, you know, under President Obama. President Obama prioritized deportation of one felon and two people who committed misdemeanors. President Trump has dramatically and radically shifted the deportation policies. Now, anybody who ever crossed illegally is subject to deportation, even if they've never committed a crime since they got here. That would mean that people that are working in hotels, restaurants, construction sites and agriculture at fields all over this country are now subject to deportation. And those are the people that Jose Andres and I think we need to protect.

HARLOW: And just so people have some context on who this guest is. This is a famous chef who had a restaurant in the Trump Hotel who got into a dispute with the candidate. --

BERMAN: A lawsuit.

HARLOW: A lawsuit after he made those comments when he announced his presidency, disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants. Let me ask you about decorum tonight. And what you believe we will see. It is tradition, obviously, to stand, to applaud the president. Do you plan to do that? Do you expect that there might be a Joe Wilson, you know, "You Lie" moment? What should we expect tonight? This is certainly a first.

VELA: I intend to respect the decorum of tonight's event. And you know, this is my fifth - of course, it's not a State of the Union address tonight. We're in the Joint Session of Congress, but these things you just have to kind of wait to see what happens. But I, myself, intend to respect the decorum of the House of Representatives.

BERMAN: I'm only asking this because the word decorum has come up. You rather famously made a suggestion to then candidate Trump about the wall that he wants to build between the United States and Mexico. You suggested that he shove that wall somewhere. So, Congressman, at this point, in terms of battling that legislatively, how is that effort going?

VELA: Well, I strongly feel that the president's promise to build a 2,000-mile wall along the U.S./Mexico border is a really bad idea. And I think there are members of his own party who agree with me. There are some monies that are left -- the Department of Homeland Security has discretions to spend and we're kind of waiting to see what they might do with that. They don't have to go to Congress for those things. They're talking about doing some strategic fencing and things like that. I still think that's a bad idea.

I think when you have an ally like Mexico, who is our third largest trading partner, our second largest export market that we shouldn't be building walls along our border. We should be building bridges. And I think that with today's technology, there are many other things that we can do to ensure that people do not cross illegally, that are a lot more cost effective and much more efficient. I just think the walls send a really bad signal.

HARLOW: Let me just get your take on how the president graded himself. He said, he gets an "A" on a number of things like what he's accomplished so far but he gave himself a very mediocre "C," "C+" on his messaging, which was an interesting moment of humility from this president. He said he might be able to get that grade up with how he messages tonight at this address to Congress. How do you - I mean, do you agree with him on that grading that he can do a better job messaging and, if so, how could he do better tonight?

VELA: Well, I think through the campaign and for the first month of his presidency, the president's rhetoric has been very divisive. And I think to the extent that he himself understands that, you know, if what we're talking about is kind of a resetting of the rhetoric and an attempt for there to be dialogue to completely re-shift some of these - like these horrible deportation policies, to re-shift this rhetoric with respect to the country of Mexico. You know, I think if we can re- shift that rhetoric that then maybe there are things we can do together moving forward. But for now, you know, we just have to see. It's difficult to see. It's difficult to tell what we're going to expect tonight.

BERMAN: All right. Congressman Vela thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.