Return to Transcripts main page
Vice President Pence Travels to Kentucky to Support House Health Care Reform Bill; President Trump's Past Comments on Monthly Jobs Report Examined; Secretary of State Travels to Asia without Press; Undocumented Immigrants Speak Out Publicly; Man Jumps Fence at White House. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired March 11, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:13] CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you and happy Saturday. So grateful for your company, as always. I'm Christi Paul.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to have you. Welcome to CNN Newsroom. In just a few moments, actually, happening this hour, Vice President Mike Pence on the road and set to pitch the Republican's plan to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act. This is one of President Trump's, as you know, biggest campaign promises. But it's facing uncertainty on Capitol Hill.
PAUL: This morning Vice President Pence set to address business leaders in Louisville, Kentucky. I want to show you some pictures that we have of that we believe happening. I think we have these pictures. He's going to appear with the state's governor Matt Bevin, a man who we have to point out is not fully behind this plan. But ahead the sticking points, the effort to keep this bill on track.
BLACKWELL: It was a week ago so it's been now a full week President Trump's accused President Obama without evidence of spying on him at Trump Tower, and now we're learning the House intelligence committee wants any relevant documents, really any proof from the Justice Department on wiretapping by Monday.
PAUL: Also growing anger after dozens of U.S. attorneys are abruptly told to resign by the Trump administration. What is behind the surprise purge?
BLACKWELL: We've got our panel of political reporters and experts standing by to break it all down for you this morning.
PAUL: Just moments ago President Trump weighed in on the health care fight on Twitter, saying, quote, "We are making great progress with health care. Obamacare is imploding and will only get worse. Republicans coming together to get the job done."
Let's go straight to our political producer Dan Merica. He's live at the Pence event in Louisville. So Dan, the president has weighed in. What do we expect from the vice president and some of the people there? We do know that there are expected to be some protesters.
DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: Yes. Vice president just landed here in Louisville actually, and is headed to this training distribution center to basically listen to people, what they have to say about health care, and to sell this plan as the best chance Republicans have to repeal Obamacare.
This is a relatively small event. Probably about 200 people inside here. But the event kind of signals this has been a rocky rollout. We're here in Kentucky, the home state of Rand Paul, who's been a very vocal critic of this bill, who has multiple times said he will not support it if it continues in its current form. And as you mentioned, Governor Matt Bevin, who is here to appear with Vice President Mike Pence, actually is not fully behind the bill and told reporters so yesterday. Let's take a listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. MATT BEVIN, (R) KENTUCKY: That's the beauty of America. This is where we are. Senator Paul has ideas of things he thinks that need to be a lot stronger. He's not as impressed with what has currently been offered as some who have currently offered it. Truth be told, I'm not either. So I'm with him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MERICA: It's remarkable coming from the man who's going to appear here with the vice president. Now, he tried to clean that up a little bit later in a tweet, saying that he's fully behind the process of figuring out how to repeal Obamacare. But the damage was done with that statement given the fact that he's going to appear here at this event. You're right there will also be protesters. Organizers say they expect about 250 people down the street here organized by a mix of groups including Save My Care which is a health care group that is driving across the country organizing protests against this Republican plan to repeal Obamacare.
PAUL: Dan Merica, glad you're there. Thank you so much.
BLACKWELL: Let's continue this conversation with CNN political commentator, we have with us Lynn Sweet who actually is with the "Chicago Sun-Times."
LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Good morning.
BLACKWELL: Good morning to you. Let me start about what the vice president has to accomplish today. What's his job?
SWEET: His job is to tell Republicans that this replacement is going to actually happen and that people will have a better deal than the one they have now. In Kentucky that's a harder sell because that's a state where a lot more people got coverage under Obamacare. And right now there's just uncertainty. You can't replace something with nothing. And right now when Vice President Pence goes there, there's no law yet. There's no specifics yet.
And if it's one thing that is very special about health care, when you talk about it as opposed to foreign policy or some other domestic programs, everybody has a very good test. What does this do in my policy that impacts me and my family? And people know it.
So this is a much harder sell without specifics yet. It makes the selling job even more difficult. But Vice President Pence, though, is a subject specialist in this that he will know and be able to address some specifics even perhaps better than President Trump.
[10:05:07] But we don't know if he's just going for the broad brush to try and add pressure to local politicians or if he's really trying to tell people that the plan that they hope to give them will be better than the one they have now. Very difficult since for the moment there is no plan that is passed into law ready to be translated into answering questions like, what does this mean for me?
BLACKWELL: Lynn, let me ask you, we have a tweet from the president this morning. He tweeted out "We are making great progress with health care. Obamacare is imploding and will only get worse. Republicans coming together to get job done." Are Republicans coming together, or is this wishful thinking?
SWEET: It's premature. You don't have the votes in the Senate. And it takes 60 votes to pass this legislation to change Obamacare, which is going to be a tough sell even to get all the Republicans on board, which they don't in the Senate. So in order to pass they're going to need some Democrats. That's why this is very, very difficult. There is no progress yet. There is no floor vote yet in the House to advance this to the -- to the Senate. So you're making some progress, but you just don't move something this big at warp speed, which is what that tweet would give you the impression of.
BLACKWELL: At the 8:00 hour we had Republican Jack Kingston, who is an adviser to the Trump campaign, Trump transition, with our journalists. Let me bring in now Danielle McLaughlin who is a Democratic strategist. I want you, Danielle, if you're with us, to respond to what we heard from former Congressman Kingston about the Democrats as they try to stop this repeal and replacement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The Democrats, by the way, aren't doing anything which is I think strange behavior, because Obamacare is their baby and you wouldn't stand by and watch your baby be murdered or dismantled.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: So the analogy aside of the baby being murdered and dismantled, should the Democrats play some role in what's next for health care in America?
DANIELLE MCLAUGHLIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think they should. They jumped up and down about Republicans not expanding Medicaid in the way it was meant to under Obamacare. And so they've talked about the fact that health care is important. And so I think they should play ball for the betterment of Americans.
They have some real concerns, of course, particularly as it relates to the lack of the score as Republicans move ahead very quickly. And I think another one thing that looms large with this ACHA replacement is concern about access contraception, maternal health care, and other things that are not only affect women but affect women, their families, affect men. And frankly, it's about economic participation and it's about economic rights.
BLACKWELL: So you'll remember that before the inauguration, then President Obama told the Democrats in a closed-door meeting, do not get involved, do not try to help Republicans put together whatever this replacement is. But your suggestion is that they engage and make sure that those interests that they have are considered?
MCLAUGHLIN: It's a tricky one, right. We see this -- this is just at the heart of politics. Do you play games or do you do what's best for the American people? I think it's important to remember that there's no panacea here. Obamacare wasn't perfect and there's not going to be anything that Republicans can come up with that will also be perfect. There will ultimately be winners and losers. It's just a really hard question and there are no good answers.
I think they just have to be careful because if there seem to be obstructionist. This was their baby, remember, the idea that health care would be expanded in this considerable way. So I think really, although some will say, you know, don't do it, don't play ball, if they really want to do what's best for the American people, they will and they'll just make sure that this bill is right.
BLACKWELL: Well, before the GOP goes for those Democratic votes, they've got to get all the Republicans on board and they're struggling to do that. Danielle McLaughlin, thank you so much. Lynn Sweet, stay with us, because there's much more to talk about with you.
SWEET: Thank you.
PAUL: What did the Trump team know? When did some of them know it? Despite -- they've had these claims of being blindsided, but we're learning today that transition officials did in fact know about Michael Flynn's potential conflict of interest when he was working as a foreign agent for Turkey. It was long before he was ousted as national security adviser as well. But we'll have that conversation. Stay close.
[10:14:01] PAUL: President Trump's administration once again finding a distraction, it seems, from its agenda, facing new questions about Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, remember, who was fired for not disclosing his contact with Russian officials. Turns out he was paid to represent Turkey's interest during the Trump campaign, and maybe more significantly, the transition team we now know knew of his potential conflict of interest despite its claim to the contrary.
Our guest, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist Doug Heye, Lynn Sweet, the Washington bureau chief of the "Chicago Sun- Times," and Stephen Collinson, a senior reporter for CNN politics. Thank you all so much for being here. I want to play some sound here real quickly from Robert Baer as he addressed this Flynn situation. Let's listen to what he had to say here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: It's more than betting. It's a violation of the law. You have to file department of justice if you're working for a foreign government as an agent, Turkey in this case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: All right, Lynn, if this was a violation of the law, the question is, is there a legal consequence for Flynn or anybody else who knew about it?
[10:15:04] SWEET: I'm not sure there's going to be a legal pursuit of him. I can address better actually the politics of it, which is that this shows that the Trump administration couldn't figure out who Flynn really was and who he really worked for during the campaign and as he walked into the White House. And that's what's serious.
If there is a legal ramification, the Justice Department is now under control of President Obama. I think there will be pressure to pursue the legal course and whatever that course is. But I think the enormity of Flynn trading on his association as an officer in the United States military to represent a foreign government and not tell everybody in a crystal clear way around him only compounds the bad judgment of the people that not only surrounded him and obviously of Flynn himself, that no one could figure this out. The answer given, well, we didn't know until he disclosed, just doesn't seem enough given the very top position he had has an adviser.
PAUL: Stephen, any chance that this is going to escalate to an investigation?
STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN POLITICS SENIOR REPORTER: I think it's unlikely given the fact that General Flynn has already resigned as national security adviser on another issue, his calls with the Russian ambassador to Washington. But I think it does race again questions about the extent to which some of these officials who have gone into the White House were vetted before they got these positions. They're all outsiders.
Having said that, General Flynn of course was the head of the defense intelligence agency. He was a very controversial choice for a number of reasons at the time.
But the fact is that what we have here was somebody who was paid to represent the interests of a foreign government at exactly the same time as he was advising -- he was the chief foreign policy adviser for a president nominee. Clearly this raises red flags. And the question is why it doesn't raise red flags in the White House. Suffice to say, if General Flynn hadn't already resigned, I think this would be casting a much bigger shadow over the White House than it already is.
PAUL: Doug, any word that people might think that this is just going to kind of fade away? DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, given that Flynn is no
longer there, it certainly could fade away. I think Congressional Republicans would tell you that they would very much like for this to fade away so that they can talk about the jobs numbers we saw yesterday or we can talk about Obamacare.
One thing that we've seen consistently in this administration so far and even in the transition is distractions on so many different issues that take the eye off of the ball of where the Trump White House and where congressional Republicans would like them to be. Just as we saw after President Trump's speech before Congress, it was very well received. A few days later tweets took Republicans off message again. It's very important. We're still in such early days with this White House that they focus on the issues that they want to focus on and not get distracted whether by other people or internally.
PAUL: But what administration, let's be honest, would not want to focus on those job numbers? They were very strong, 235,000 in the first month fully that Donald Trump is commander in chief. And this is something that was really hit the crux of his whole campaign that he was going to bring jobs back, he was going to fix the economy. But when we talk about numbers, he had another take on them during the campaign. Let's listen to Donald Trump in his own words here as he was campaigning for president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't believe the 5.6. The real number is anywhere from 18 to 19 and maybe even 21 percent, and nobody talks about it because it's a statistic that's full of nonsense.
I hear 5.3 percent unemployment. That is the biggest joke there is in this country.
The five percent figure is one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: So the whole validation of numbers came up yesterday during a press conference with Sean Spicer. Let's listen to how he explained it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I talked to the president prior to this. And he said to quote him very clearly. They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: All right, Doug, he got some laughs there. The question is, I mean, is it really funny? HEYE: Well, look, I think it was a lighthearted moment from Sean who
I know well, and both Steve and Lynn know well. Look, obviously the president was against the numbers before he was for them. I think we should focus on the numbers in front of us. Clearly a good jobs report. Some of that is certainly spillover from the waning days of the Obama presidency, and a lot of it is the sense from the business community, sense from Wall Street that with deregulation happening both administratively by the White House and within laws that get sent to the White House that this is a more positive business climate, and I think it's something the president should rightly be proud of.
[10:20:08] PAUL: Stephen, do you think that it was the -- I mean, that was the extent of the answer. They laughed it off. Kind of like, you know, Trump, this is how it is and went on. So there really wasn't an answer given.
COLLINSON: Clearly. And I think the test will come as to whether the White House believes these numbers and will stand by them if the unemployment rate were to go up and fewer jobs were created. If we look back at the previous February reports in the last couple of years, these job numbers aren't actually that much different than the job creation for the same time that the Obama administration was creating. So the test will come.
I think yesterday was a good day if you work at the bureau of labor and statistics and you were worried the White House would cast doubt on these numbers. Now at least they appear to stand by them. But again, the test comes when the economy is not doing so well and whether the White House quarrels with the numbers at a time when the unemployment goes up. So I think the jury is out at least for a while on this one.
PAUL: OK, so that's what I wanted to get. Lynn, if -- is it safe to say, just based on, you know, early predictions and we're only, you know, a couple months into this presidency, as long as the economy is doing well the president won't necessarily answer some of these other questions that come up?
SWEET: Well, yes. I agree with your premise, that as long as the economy is doing well, the base of the support for President Trump won't waiver. I'm glad, by the way, that you did play the video of Trump disparaging this jobs report because I think it was a very funny wisecrack that Spicer made via Trump. And I appreciate good humor in tough times.
But you can't go around the country and say the numbers don't mean anything until you pick and choose what you want. And I say that in the context of your question because people have to believe in their own pocketbooks that things are better. This goes back to when you talk about health insurance or not, certain things people know for themselves. We might not be able, as individuals, to know if our foreign policy is working in the southern hemisphere or if a trade pact is or is not working. We know if we have jobs, if our friends and families have jobs, if our salaries have been cut, if we have affordable health insurance. So I think this is what will take some time to seep in as the Trump
administration matures and goes forward and puts forth its budget. I think one job report which continues the Obama trend of having very good job reports for months and years on end is just too soon to make a conclusive finding as to what it means for Trump politics. We do know that it buys him more time to get his agenda in place.
PAUL: Lynn Sweet, Steven Collinson, Doug Heye, always appreciate your voices. Thank you.
SWEET: Thank you.
BLACKWELL: Some undocumented immigrants daring to come out of the shadows, even going on camera to take on the president. Why they say they will not be afraid.
PAUL: Also from undocumented to top exec, on Wall Street, at just 27 years old, there's one woman sharing her story of how she obtained her American dream despite the hurdles she faced of becoming a U.S. citizen. Stay close.
[10:00:00] PAUL: So glad to have you company here. I'm Christi Paul.
BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you. Happening now, Vice President Mike Pence is in Louisville, Kentucky, there to pitch the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. He'll be speaking from this location here at a train factory there. He's set to deliver remarks in just a few minutes. We're going to bring that to you live in about 20 minutes from now. He's scheduled to speak, but we know that time can float around.
PAUL: Yes, it certainly can. Meanwhile House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will be touring the border today and taking part in an hour long immigration roundtable.
BLACKWELL: Ms. Pelosi plans to hear from faith-based groups, community organizations, businesses, and immigrant families she says are negatively impacted by the president's policy. The Democrat's visit comes two weeks after speaker Paul Ryan and several Republican members of Congress toured the border.
PAUL: Some undocumented immigrants say they're coming out of the shadows, taking the ultimate risk, they say, to show their faces on camera and tell their stories. Their intention, to stand up to President Trump. They spoke to our Nick Valencia.
BRENDA LIRA, UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT: This is the text message I sent to my friends last night.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Last night Brenda Lira did something she thought she would never do. She came out to her friends and told them she was undocumented. LIRA: I've been living in fear not only for myself but for my family,
for people that I know, fear that my parents will be ripped away from me, that I'll be ripped away from them, ripped away from the land that I've called home for the past 19 years.
VALENCIA: The 21-year-old says simply she was tired of being scared.
LIRA: I think it's time for us to be united, to present a strong front, to actually fight for what we want.
VALENCIA: And she's not alone. Lira is part of a growing chorus of undocumented immigrants who are coming out of the shadows, people like Valeria Zamora, who lives with her family in New Orleans. Five years ago she immigrated to the U.S. illegally from Honduras to work in manual labor. She doesn't like it when people tell her she should go back.
[10:30:08] VALERIA ZAMORA, UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT (via translator): This is my country. This is my country. I came here and I helped rebuild it.
VALENCIA: Valeria and her husband are in the U.S. illegally and took a risk of being on camera with us. But like Brenda, they say it sends a message to Donald Trump, we are not afraid. Ironically, they thank President Trump for giving them a reason to stand up.
JONATHAN RAMIREZ, UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT: I honestly think he's kind of supporting us in a way.
VALENCIA: They're joined by people like Jonathan Ramirez, a 22-year- old who is in the U.N. illegally. We met recently outside of Atlanta. He too is empowered, he says, to fight.
RAMIREZ: He's coming against us, but the people in the community, they're coming more united in a way, you know, to come towards a plan or towards an action of what's going to happen.
VALENCIA: This is you as a little girl?
LIRA: Yes, that's me.
VALENCIA: Back in Tennessee, Brenda Lira knows she's a little more safe than her counterparts in Atlanta or New Orleans. She's a dreamer and has deferred action or DACA, but she's still nervous about her future. She worries about those who will find out from this interview that she is undocumented. She hopes one day that they see her as an American.
LIRA: I think I am the definition of being American. I'm an immigrant. I work for everything that I want. I pay my taxes. A lot of us pay our taxes. We find a way to not do anything legal. We follow all the laws except coming to this country illegally.
VALENCIA: Unfortunately to her critics, that's the one thing they may never get past.
BLACKWELL: I want to bring in a unique voice to this immigration conversation, Julissa Arce. She's living with what some consider to be the American dream. She was hiding in plain sight as an undocumented immigrant. She bought a fake green card, a Social Security number. But at 27 she became the vice president of the Goldman Sachs, one of the vice presidents there. And she told her story in her book "My Underground American Dream." She's now the chairman of the board of Ascend Education Fund. Julissa, good to have you.
JULISSA ARCE, FORMER VP OF GOLDMAN SACHS: Hi, thank you for having me.
BLACKWELL: I want you to comment on the White House's plan for immigration a moment, but I want to read a bit of the op-ed that you wrote shortly after a mother of two was departed back to Mexico last month after spending more than 20 years here in the U.S. And here's a portion of it. "This is a question I encounter often as I travel across the country giving lectures at colleges and Universities. Why don't illegals get in the back of the line and do it the right way? The short answer is that line is a mythical place, a phrase used to deflect the need for immigration reform."
I'm not going to ask you to solve America's challenges of immigration, but how does your story inform the conversation?
ARCE: Sure. Well, I was undocumented for over a decade. I came here. My parents brought me here when I was 11-years-old and I remained undocumented until I was married to a U.S. citizen. And I can tell you that I didn't choose to stay undocumented. And a lot of people believe that we choose to be undocumented. And that couldn't be farther from the truth.
I graduated from honors from the University of Texas at Austin. I became a vice president at Goldman Sachs. And none of my academic or professional achievements qualified me to become a U.S. citizen. The only option that I had was through marriage. And so there is this myth that undocumented people remain undocumented because they want to. And the reality of that line, as I said in that op-ed, doesn't exist. And so we keep labor that should be legal, we keep it illegal. And we make it impossible for people to become documented, and then we criminalize them and we tell them to get out of our country. Meanwhile we're benefiting from their labor.
BLACKWELL: So the president during the campaign made immigration pretty much the center of his campaign, took what some would consider to be a hardline on immigration. And we know through reporting that last month apprehensions in the southwestern section of the border were down 40 percent. So some would say it's working. Do you agree?
ARCE: Well, I think Donald Trump is trying to take credit for things that have been happening for a long time before he became president. Border crossings have been at the lowest levels that they have been since the 1970s. And that's been happening for a long time. Yes, maybe they are down even more now, but people aren't flocking to the U.S. as he would say or as many news media reports would suggest. Net migration from Mexico, from the country that I am originally from, is actually zero. There are as many Mexicans leaving the country as there are coming here.
[10:35:05] So I don't think that the fear tactics that he's employing are working. I don't think the billions of dollars that he wants to spend building are going to be wall money well spent. I think you need to focus on the real issues that are happening in our country instead of scapegoating immigrants for those issues.
BLACKWELL: You point out that net migration from Mexico is actually at zero, but many of the president's supporters in the White House would also point out that many people who are coming into the country are coming from Central America through Mexico, and those numbers are still growing in some respects.
Let meet ask you what we're hearing from the administration as it relates to children, or like yourself who came with their parents. We heard from the secretary of homeland security about potential plans for what the U.S. would do with these families, with these children. He spoke with Wolf Blitzer this week. I want to get your reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let me be precise. If you get some young kids who manage to sneak into the United States with their parents, are department of home hand security personnel going to separate the children from their moms and dads?
JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Yes, I am considering in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network, I am considering exactly that. They will be well-cared for as we deal with their parents.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: Your reaction to that?
ARCE: First of all, the people that are coming from Central America are coming here as refugee seekers. They're actually presenting themselves at the border to seek asylum. That's why they're coming here. And it's interesting to me that the secretary would say that they're considering separating their parents from the children at the same time that they're building new family detention facilities where families, mothers and children, are kept together while they're being processed and in many times in horrible conditions in for-profit detention centers. So what he's saying and what is actually happening are two completely different things, because you can't separate the parents and at the same time be building these detention facilities where they're going to house families.
BLACKWELL: Julissa Arce, thanks so much for being part of the conversation with us this morning.
ARCE: Thank you for having me.
BLACKWELL: All right, Christi.
PAUL: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will make his first trip to Asia next week. And he's going to be doing so without the press. A lot of people questioning the secretary's move to box out the media. We have an update on that. Stay close.
[10:41:48] PAUL: It's 41 minutes past the hour right now. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveling to South Korea next week in what's going to be his first visit to Asia since he took office, and he's doing so without the press pool. He is also visiting Japan, China, for diplomatic discussions. His timing comes amid some escalating tensions, as you know, regarding North Korea's aggressive missile launches. Intelligence officials now closely watching North Korea in light of the ousted South Korean president in case they perhaps may plan to exploit the country's political disorder right now.
CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott following this story. So Elise, talk to us about this timing and the concerns as we watch from outside the perspective. What's happening in South Korea? What's happening in North Korea? And what Rex Tillerson is going to do as we try to decipher what it means for the U.S.?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christi, clearly the impeachment of President Park could not come at a more difficult time because of all this political vacuum. The fear is that North Korea will try to exploit that. And also South Korea's having tension not just with North Korea but also with its neighbors both China and Japan, Japan over a diplomatic dispute, but China over the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system with the United States to ward off North Korea.
So Secretary of State Tillerson will come into this all. He'll be asked -- meeting not with the leader of the country but with the acting president, with the foreign minister, and try to just plan the road ahead until the South Koreans can have an election. There's a very progressive candidate that's in the lead right now who wants to move to a more kind of diplomatic approach with North Korea, which the U.S. isn't really feeling that right now.
What I think Secretary Tillerson wants to do is in South Korea keep the road ahead, keep the defense posture very strong. In China where it's clearly North Korea's strongest backer and ally and financial supporter, he wants China to use its leverage on North Korea. But I think one of the things that he'll be trying to do when he goes out is to draw more international attention to the North Korea problem. You've seen these missile defense -- missile tests. We're hoping that won't be another nuclear test anytime soon, but North Korea is looking toward a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile which could hit the United States, and it could also hit Europe.
So I think what you'll hear from Secretary Tillerson is this is not a regional problem just that South Korea and China and Japan have to deal with. This is an international problem along the lines of Iran's nuclear program. PAUL: All right, Elise, we appreciate it very much. Thank you so
much for the update.
BLACKWELL: Also, we're following news out of Syria this morning. Twin bombings rocked the city of Damascus leaving 40 dead, hundreds more wounded. The blast is believed to have targeted buses carrying Iraqis. Also next door Syrian president Bashar al-Assad slammed the troops in the U.S., in Syria, rather.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[10:45:04] BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT: Any foreign troops coming to Syria without our invitation or permission, whether they're American-Turkish or any other one, we don't think this is going to help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: Assad went on to say he did not specifically give the U.S. the green light to enter Syrian territory and has had no personal contact with President Trump.
Up next, a look into the private life of the first lady, how she's breaking the mold and making her own rules as a modern first lady.
[14:50:06] BLACKWELL: Breaking news coming from the White House, excuse us as we look at our laptop because this is just coming in to us. A man carrying a backpack was arrested Friday night, and this is coming from our Jeff Zeleny, after breaching the White House security complex there before being discovered by a Secret Service officer. This is by the south entrance to the executive residence.
PAUL: This is an incident that happened just before midnight. Overnight President Trump was at the White House, which is significant there. A Secret Service sources says the intruder may have entered the White House grounds on the east side before he was able to make his way near the residence, the south portico entrance.
BLACKWELL: We have our Ryan Nobles in Washington. Ryan, what can you tell us about the security condition at the White House and the details that we're learning as well? I know we have Tom Fuentes, a law enforcement senior analyst with us, too, but let's start with you and the reporting.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Victor. We're just piecing together this information that we're getting from various sources connected to the administration and the Secret Service itself. And as you mentioned what it appears happened here is that a man gained entrance to the White House security perimeter at around 11:38 Friday night and actually made quite a bit of progress into the White House perimeter before finally being captured there by the south portico entrance, which is on the back side of the White House.
This is a pretty familiar entrance to the White House. This is of course the entrance that the president would enter and exit from when he's leaving on a trip to get on to Marine One before heading to Joint Base Andrews. It's also a place where the president will regularly greet foreign visitors and people that are coming to the White House. They'll bring their motorcade up on that driveway that enters right through the south portico.
You mentioned the security. At that time it was raised to the orange level which is one of the highest security levels before the situation was brought under control and this man was put under arrest. We're told that the president was in the residence at the time. The suspect could have been only a few hundred yards away from the president at that time, but the president was never in any danger. He was made aware of the situation as soon as the secret service could provide him those details. And as we said, the president was not harmed. So this individual is under arrest right now.
We are still waiting an official statement from the Secret Service regarding this incident. But as of now security at the White House is back to its normal level after being at the orange level overnight. Once again, just to recap, a man arrested after breaching what we believe the east side of the White House complex and gaining entrance near the south portico entrance which is a significant distance to get that far on to the grounds before being arrested, and he did have a backpack with him at the time. Victor?
PAUL: Ryan Nobles, we appreciate it so much.
Let's bring in CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes. Tom, first of all, your reaction to the fact that somebody was able to get that close to the president when he may have been in the White House itself.
TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, good morning, Christi. I'm a little bit shocked by this because we thought that the security perimeter, the fencing being raised and other systems around that White House, had been improved so that we wouldn't have a fence jumper. Right now we don't know how that person got on the grounds, but yes, you know, they need to get to the bottom of it and we'll find out more in the coming hours. But as of now, yes, it's pretty shocking that someone, again, got close to the White House.
BLACKWELL: We know that as you mentioned, Tom, that the security there at the White House with the changes to the fence there have been implemented after there was several fence jumpers during the Obama administration, even one man making it into the building. We don't know yet how this man got in. That's still what we're trying to figure out. But your degree of concern that potentially these changes haven't been effected.
FUENTES: Not 100 percent obviously. We don't know what's in the backpack, but you could easily have someone, if they got that close, if had an automatic weapon in that backpack, they could quickly overcome the security door entrances to the White House and make it inside the building, and then who knows what.
Of course the other concern that Secret Service when an incident like this happens, is this person just one lone crazy person, or is this part of the plot? Will there be more people coming over the fence? Is this going to be a larger scale attack on the White House from an individual or group of individuals that have been watching too many movies that depict that very thing, attacks on the White House?
[10:55:05] PAUL: We can deduce that it was male just based on the reporting here that they say he was able to get his way near the resident south portico entrance, but he had a backpack, as we've mentioned. The orange level, the security level went up to orange. He is in custody after he was arrested. What happens to him now, Tom?
FUENTES: Well, right now they would have spent the night trying to interview him, interrogate him as to his motivation, who he is, where he's from, is he a member of some group that might have wanted to harm the president or harm the White House itself. So they're going to be trying to get to the bottom of who is this person and what might his motivation have been, and also is he operating all by himself. They'll be going through also in the hours and days ahead his social media, his e-mail, his telephone records, all of the rest of it to try to determine does he have a criminal record, does he have a psychiatric record that maybe he's been institutionalized. Have other friends reported on him in the past? They'll try to get to the bottom of whether he had political motivations beyond just getting his attention that he's getting right now.
BLACKWELL: Is Ryan Nobles still with us?
NOBLES: Yes, I'm here.
BLACKWELL: Ryan, let's go to you back at the White House. We appreciate the reporting of Peter Morrison and Jeff Zeleny, but why is this almost 12 hours later exclusive reporting? Should we have expected there would have been a statement from the White House? Are we expecting that we'll hear the White House comment on this?
NOBLES: Well, to be clear, whenever you deal with security issues, it's not the White House or the administration that responds to those requests. Those requests come directly from the Secret Service. And I have been in touch with a Secret Service agent all morning long trying to firm up this reporting and get the full breadth of exactly what happened here last night. And the Secret Service does promise us that they're going to provide us all that information.
But they're obviously very tightlipped when it comes to how they secure the White House, the way they secure the White House, and the information that comes out as a result. So we are still working our sources trying to get all that specific information.
But just to give you an idea of the White House grounds where we are and how far this suspect made it on to the grounds, I'm standing here, and right behind me is the north portico entrance. So if you're coming on Pennsylvania Avenue, if you're here in Washington as a tourist or you live in the area, this is where you come down Pennsylvania Avenue. And if you're taking a tour, this is where you'd exit from. The south portico is on the complete opposite end. So if you're at the Washington Monument, for instance, and looking back over the ellipse towards the White House, the south portico entrance you'd be able to see from there.
When we talk about the east side of the White House which we believe is where the suspect was able to gain entrance from, that's the area by the visitor center. So if you were coming here on a tour, you'd enter on that side of the White House.
So imagine if you've ever been on the grounds here, 16 acres, there's quite a bit of distance between the fencing and before you can actually get to the White House itself. So this particular suspect made it quite a distance to get all the way from that fence on the east side all the way up to that south portico before he was detained by Secret Service. And as we said before, we should point out, the president was never harmed, never in any specific danger. But the suspect did get just a few hundred yards away from where the president was on Friday night.
PAUL: You know, what's interesting is this is the first weekend the president has been at the White House. For the last four weeks -- weekends, he's been at Mar-a-Lago. So it almost brings up the question of well, is this somebody who is tracking the president's whereabouts. Is this something that they would look into? Good ahead, Ryan.
NOBLES: Christi, we should also point out that there's been quite a bit of criticism about the security situation at Mar-a-Lago as well. It is a private club but there are members who are able to come and go from Mar-a-Lago freely. They do have to pass through security when they do get there, having been there at the Mar-a-lago grounds. But there has been concern that the security isn't tight enough at Mar-a- Lago.
You take it back to the White House which should be and is one of the most secure residences in the world, the idea that someone could get through and, to your point, Christi, be here when the president is here is certainly something of concern.
And as Tom points out, this is not a problem that we haven't seen before. The last time someone jumped over the fence was back in April of 2015, so this happens. It happens to the point where they've taken pretty dramatic steps to try and prevent this from happening by raising the fencing. You see a lot more of Secret Service uniform presence around the White House. So this is something they've been trying to curve. But yet again, we see another problem.
BLACKWELL: Ryan Nobles, stay with us. Tom Fuentes as well. We're going to continue with the breaking news. But that wraps up for this hour. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.