Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Blames Obama for Leaks; President Trump Set to Address Country. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 28, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:03]

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think, even before this afternoon, we certainly knew that, in some way, the president would talk about immigration.

But we're also expecting him to focus on national security and focusing on creating economic opportunity. But sort of the big question is how far he is going to go on repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Now, a senior administration official says that they are close to having a workable plan, but there are a lot of Republicans on the Hill who are anxiously wondering, what is that workable plan? Is that the plan that House Republican leadership has been working on? Is the president going to come out and embrace that?

Is he going to give specifics on what he wants to see in this process? You have seen sort of these images from these town hall of members who have going back to their district over recess just getting hammered over the question of repeal and replace.

And so what House Republicans want to see is the president going out there, embracing a plan, and becoming a salesman for it. Unclear, though, how far he's going to get into the details tonight, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And on immigration, these are some pretty startling details that we're getting about a plan that President Trump would like to put forward.

MURRAY: During his campaign, President Trump, then candidate Trump said he would be open at some point to maybe doing an immigration bill, once you secure the border, once you get all the bad ones out.

I don't think anyone who voted for Trump and had immigration as a top issue would have imagined after his first month in the White House senior administration officials telling us that the president is eager to see a comprehensive immigration overhaul, that he's eager to see that kind of legislation.

And it wouldn't necessarily include a path to citizenship, but maybe it could include a path to citizenship just for dreamers and then create legal status for people who are here who haven't committed crimes. I think that is sort of a very jarring difference than what he

campaigned on, certainly than what we heard him talk about on the campaign trail for two years -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Sara Murray at the White House, thank you so much.

I want to talk bigger now about this with CNN political director David Chalian.

So, tell us, David, does President Trump have the ability to thread a needle that has escaped many presidents, this idea of having a pathway, OK, not to citizenship, fine, but to legal status? You're going to have Republicans saying that that is amnesty. Is that something though he would be able to do if he does build a border wall? Does he have that support?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: You have just identified the sort of contradictory thoughts here.

Let's put it in context to what one of the president's main goals tonight is to emerge when he leaves Capitol Hill tonight -- and that's back to that White House -- to do so with a completely unified Republican Party on Obamacare, which we have been told time and again is the first major legislative issue up.

Something like comprehensive immigration reform now, which -- where he sounds completely different than he did in the campaign, where the party, the Republican Party, is completely divided on it, we saw that throughout the entire primary process in 2015 and 2016, how real that division is.

How is now sort of shoehorning this major piece of legislation into Obamacare and tax reform, which were supposed to be the big pieces this year -- I just think that that becomes a very crowded legislative calendar without a clear path as to how he's going to accomplish it.

KEILAR: Some would say, well, Donald Trump is a different type of Republican. People have been looking at how he seems to really be fostering enthusiasm from the people he already has enthusiasm from and saying, well, he needs to broaden out. Couldn't he do this and sort of broaden his appeal or is he just losing too much?

CHALIAN: There's no doubt that Donald Trump has an opportunity -- just look at where he is in the polls and how polarizing he is -- to broaden his support.

There's no doubt. And moments like this are real opportunities to do that, when you're speaking to the entire country. The question is, are Democrats going to trust him to join him in a call for legal status?

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: You know the answer to that question, don't you?

CHALIAN: I think a lot of that trust has been burned from his rhetoric in the campaign.

And so if you're choosing an issue that divides Republicans and you're not going to be able to necessarily bring on Democrats in a substantial enough way, it just seems a very odd thing to sort of throw into a State of the Union-style address, this joint address tonight.

KEILAR: One of the things that we heard from Wolf Blitzer just moments ago was that, according to a senior official, they are close on an Obamacare agreement, that it's a complex, but -- quote -- "very solvable problem."

Congressional Republicans want -- they want Donald Trump to put more skin in the game here. So is this what this is?

CHALIAN: Or at least become cheerleader and chief for what they have decided.

I do think there's no doubt the White House, the House, the Senate, they are all working together, House and Senate Republicans, with the White House on a path forward on repeal and replace. And I do think you're right.

I think when you talk to members up here, Republicans are so eager to have him just sort of point the direction so they can rally behind it, sell it back home.

[15:05:00]

If indeed this is correct, my big question is, what's changing for the conservative Republicans who have been bucking what they have been seeing from Paul Ryan and leadership on the repeal and the replace plan? What has changed that they're now closer to bringing everyone together on it?

Because you know what the numbers are up there. They can't do it if the Republican Party is fractured, because Democrats remain in full opposition to what they want to do. They really need the whole party to come together. And we have seen conservatives sort of bucking the leadership on this so far.

KEILAR: Yes, so many questions because of this information we have just learned. David Chalian, CNN's political director, thank you so much.

CHALIAN: Thanks.

KEILAR: And key in tonight's speech, President Trump has to sell his budget proposal to Congress.

This includes a boost to military spending, not enough, say some Republicans, potentially some painful cuts at the State Department, too much, say some Republicans. A budget official telling CNN the president plans to call for a $54 billion increase. That's a 10 percent rise in defense and security spending.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the money is going to come up from a revved-up economy.

You look at the kind of numbers we're doing, we were probably GDP of a little more than 1 percent. And if I can get that up to 3 or maybe more, we have a whole different ball game. It's a whole different ball game. And that's what we're looking to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Joining me now, Bill Hoagland. He's the senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Bill, thank you so much for joining us on this big day here in Washington.

You have said that the president's budget plan is dead on arrival. We've heard that from Senator Lindsey Graham today as he looks at these cuts to the State Department. He says it guts soft power. Why do you see this as dead on arrival?

BILL HOAGLAND, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, BIPARTISAN POLICY CENTER: First of all, I think there's support for increasing spending for the defense budget.

I think there's bipartisan support there. The difficulty is that we have a law on the books that has set caps for spending for defense and that area of the budget we call non-defense. First of all, this is only a third of the federal budget. He's left off the table two- thirds of the budget that really deals with whole what we call entitlement programs.

But for that one-third of the budget, that $1 trillion that we're talking about here, that's split between defense and non-defense. His proposal, we have a law on the book that says that we have caps on those spending both for defense and non-defense.

He wants to increase the spending for defense by, as you say, $50 billion, a 10 percent increase, but he then wants to reduce the spending for that non-defense category by a similar amount.

That's a pretty hefty lift even for Republicans, because we're talking about that category of non-defense spending, we're talking about what most people think of when they think of the federal government. That's the FBI, that's transportation, that's infrastructure, that's science, technology, education.

You just had a segment here on the historically black colleges. That's funding for those particular colleges too. So how you reduce -- how you increase spending in one category and reduce it by another by a similar amount is going to be very difficult.

And then just finally, I have to say, being a budgeteer, to do that will require 60 votes to change that cap in the Senate. As you know, there are not 60 Republicans. KEILAR: That's Democrats that you're talking about, sir.

HOAGLAND: That's right. That's going to require them to come along with that.

So I think -- I don't think there's anything -- I don't want to overstate the dead on arrival. I just don't think you can achieve that level of non-defense discretionary cuts, and expect not to have to increase that spending also, if you're going to increase the spending for defense.

KEILAR: Sure.

So let's talk about that other two-thirds you were talking about, entitlements. House Speaker Paul Ryan, long a supporter of tackling entitlement reform, because it is such a big part of the budget pie, has said we are hosed if we don't tackle entitlements like Medicare.

But then you listen to the White House, Donald Trump, they're saying, look, he's made this promise not to slash benefits, but if he doesn't cut Social Security or Medicare, he's not going to be touching that big part of the pie.

How do you see this working out if he's not willing to do that, as Republicans are?

HOAGLAND: It's going to be very difficult, because, as you pointed out, two-thirds of the budget are in these very sensitive areas, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.

Probably through the Affordable Care Act changes, you will probably see some proposals in the Medicaid area. But unless you're talking about looking at that two-thirds of the budget, in the long term, we will continue to have increasing debt and deficits going out into the future, unless we're willing to put on the table these very sensitive programs.

I understand the political difficulty of this. The president basically, as you say, have taken off the table any changes to Social Security or Medicare. It is nigh near impossible to achieve another goal that I heard him say during the campaign, which was to balance the budget in 10 years, to have the tax cuts that he's talking about, and to achieve that all by simply cutting that one-sixth of the budget that's non-defense discretionary portion of the budget.

[15:10:17]

It's just going to be a difficult lift. I think economic growth is possible, but I don't think there's enough economic growth to achieve the goals that he's established here going out into the future.

KEILAR: All right, Bill Hoagland, thank you so much for your expertise on that.

And next, what is Melania Trump's role during tonight's speech? Hear who she will be sitting next to and what she recently organized for the president.

Plus, her husband says former President Obama is to blame for the leaks and town hall protests -- why Trump thinks his predecessor is behind them.

This is CNN's special live coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:15:10]

KEILAR: President Trump blaming his predecessor for two major disruptions during his first month in office, those rowdy protests following Republican town halls across the country and leaks exposing what is happening behind the scenes at the White House.

Here is what Trump said this morning about former President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Can we talk about President Obama?

It turns out his organization seems to doing be 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 is behind it, and if he is, is that a violation of the so-called unsaid president's code?

TRUMP: No, I think he is behind it. I also think it's politics. That's the way it is.

His people are certainly behind it. And some of the leaks possibly come from the group, some of the leaks, which are really very serious leaks, because they're very bad in terms of national security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: I want to bring in now Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush.

Ari, welcome. Thanks for being with us on this big day.

You heard that question and you heard that answer. You have to admit the question was a little bit leading. With that in mind, what did you make of the answer?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, look, I think it's obviously both.

Of course, it wouldn't surprise anybody if the former president or people in his team, frankly, are supporting anti-Trump protests. They're anti-Trump people. And the leaks that come out of the administration,it wouldn't surprise anybody if they came from holdovers in the administration.

I think it's also fair to point out that the protests against Donald Trump are organic. They're natural. He's a polarizing president. And this is the system we're in.

I don't there's anything wrong with what Donald Trump said, but I think she also should point out there are real reasons to protest in the mind of many people too.

KEILAR: He said it's politics. He also said it's politics.

But you're saying all of these things can be true. And so you bring some expertise to this next subject I want to ask you about. Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently checked aides' cell phones in search of the source of leaks. I have no reason to believe you ever did that, but certainly you did have his role and you dealt with things like this.

I want you to listen to President Trump's response today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Sean Spicer is a fine human being. He's a fine person. I would have done it differently.

I would have gone one-on-one with different people. And we don't have a major leak process here. We have a major leak process in government. But I would have handled it differently than Sean, but Sean handles it his way and I'm OK with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So, CNN is reporting, we're have reporting that the president actually signed off on this decision to do this. Spicer denies that Donald Trump played any part in it.

It sounds certainly that that is what the president is kind of saying there. Is it unusual for a president to sign off on something like this, Ari?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think this whole thing is a little bit unusual.

Every president, every White House complains about leaks. And White Houses typically get the leaks that they deserve. You leak if it's a White House that has factions pitted against itself, that type of operation. A well-run, smoothly running White House has much fewer leaks.

But, typically, you let the White House Counsel's Office take the lead on an issue like this. That would have been my recommendation for if you wanted to pursue it this far. We're in a different era technologically when I was there.

These apps that exist now, they didn't exist when I was the press secretary. Really, nobody really had smartphones when I was the press secretary. It was old-fashioned telephones. And the government did, I'm sure -- I can't say the Bush White House, but I'm sure the government looking into leaks from agencies would check people's phone records.

So, in that sense, that's not unusual. What you have here is the White House doing it through the press secretary's office.

KEILAR: Yes. And we saw the checking of records as well in the Obama administration. We must point that out.

FLEISCHER: That's right.

KEILAR: So we have some major headlines coming out of the White House.

And one of them, a senior administration official is saying that President Trump wants a comprehensive immigration bill and that this would include a pathway to legal status, which you are very familiar. Many conservative Republicans are going to say that would amount to amnesty.

George W. Bush, who you worked for, during his administration attempted comprehensive immigration reform, to no avail. What do you think about the prospects of this?

FLEISCHER: Well, number one, I'm always suspect about these first types of leaks from unnamed officials. You never know if it's real or if it's just a trial balloon.

But I have long been a George Bush person on this. I do support a compromise. I'm fine with the law. I'm fine with enforcing our borders. Absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But I would still like to see our system come together and work and come down to a solution for what do you do with the 11 million or so people who are here.

I agree with Donald Trump. Be aggressive against the gang members. Be aggressive against the criminals. There is a fact, though, that the people who are here did violate the law to get here and they should not be given any advantage for the people who are waiting in line or did wait on line.

[15:20:08]

So, if a compromise can be reached, even if it's short of citizenship, where they just don't have to live in the shadows anymore, I think that would be a great result. Democrats insist on citizenship. Republicans oppose citizenship.

Maybe this could be the compromise, but let it play out and let's see.

KEILAR: All right, President Trump, Ari, grading himself, I actually like this, because we don't often hear a president would give themselves such a clear grade on something.

Now, he did say -- listen to this. This is what he said in his interview with FOX News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Now, in terms of achievement, I think I would give myself an A, because I think I have done great things, but I don't think I have -- 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 would give myself a C or a C-plus.

QUESTION: How are you going to change that then?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: C for messaging. And he thinks tonight is very important for improving that.

Would you agree with that C for messaging?

FLEISCHER: I would give him an incomplete.

I just think it's way too soon to start giving out grades. He deserves time. And I think even 100 days is too short a period of time to grade a president. I think you really need to go until August, you need to go to December and see what legislation has been passed, see what has changed in the country.

Certainly, the mood of the country has improved. The people who say the country is on the wrong track, 75 percent on Election Day. And now more people think we're on the right track. That's a tribute to Donald Trump.

The stock market, that's a tribute to Donald Trump. But you can't really say he's done anything legislatively yet, because he hasn't, so I'm content to say incomplete. And then I will give my grade later.

KEILAR: All right, Ari, we will revisit that to see at the end of the semester or whatever the presidential equivalent of a semester is. Ari Fleischer, thank you so much.

FLEISCHER: Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: Next, first lady Melania Trump is going to be hosting six guests at tonight's speech, including the widow of the late Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia. We will examine her role, as the president makes this big speech tonight.

Plus, the mother of one of the Orlando nightclub shooting victims is going to join me live. She has been invited to the speech by her congresswoman -- what she wants to hear from President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:26:40]

KEILAR: In just a few hours, President Trump will address a joint session of Congress during prime time, where he will lay out his plan for sweeping changes across the country. And he and his wife have invited some special guests to sit in their section of the gallery. There will be several relatives of people killed by undocumented immigrants.

I want to bring in CNN White House reporter Kate Bennett.

This is a huge statement obviously by the Trump administration and certainly in line with what he has said throughout the course of his campaign and as president.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

And I think Mrs. Trump being there at all shows that she's there and this is a serious night for them. And who the guests are is sometimes a good teaser of what the content of the speech is going to be about.

So, having families of victims killed by undocumented immigrants, that also indicates immigration is going to be on the docket. The widow of Justice Scalia is going to be one of their guests, so Supreme Court. There's a woman who was saved by a drug made by a drug manufacturer, so health care.

So oftentimes the people who sit as guests of the first lady are indicative of the topics that the president is going to touch on.

KEILAR: Let's talking about something that kind of has some people really chatting.

And that is a picture of a top aide to President Trump -- this is during a photo opportunity in the Oval Office. Historically black colleges and universities, presidents from those schools were there. Tell me about this. This has gone viral. What's the big deal here?

BENNETT: I have to say -- and it's funny. I just came from the CNN bureau, where lots of people were still talking about this. That's sort of the watercooler discussion.

Kellyanne Conway was trying to get a shot of this historic moment in the Oval Office. And in doing so, she had her feet up on the couch in the Oval. Some presidents use the office in a very formal way. George W. Bush always insisted on wearing a jacket, even on weekends, and that staff do the same.

KEILAR: President Obama was occasional mom jeans in the Oval.

BENNETT: He was.

KEILAR: Foot on the desk, on the Resolute Desk. He got so much guff for that.

BENNETT: Right. And he had apples on the table there, so people could just eat in front of them.

But President Trump has made it sort of maybe more casual. He has got his grandkids peeking out the windows last week, and Kellyanne probably doesn't to mind getting casual on the couch. And maybe this is just the tone he's setting as a little less formal.

KEILAR: What if she was just trying her darndest to take a group photo?

BENNETT: To get a shot.

KEILAR: Did you see, there's like a bazillion behind the president there.

BENNETT: I will say this.

We have all sort of gotten in awkward poses to try to get the right shot on our phones. And giving her the benefit of the doubt there, that's probably what she was doing. He may have asked her to take that photograph.

The photographers for the pool were in there, so they got the official one. But it might have just been a case of bad timing, wrong place, wrong time.

KEILAR: Yes.

When you see her taking the photo, it certainly does -- I would say I think it looks a little bit different.

BENNETT: Yes. But it really has -- it's gone viral and it's yet another moment for Kellyanne Conway to sort of just sort of awkwardly be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

KEILAR: Yes.

All right, Kate Bennett, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

And next, immigration officials say that fewer people seem to be crossing the U.S.-Mexico border since President Trump took office. We will take you there live to find out what is behind this change.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)