Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Maryland Judge Delivers Second Blow to Trump Travel Ban; GOP Scrambles to Save Health Care Bill; White House Unveils Major Cuts in "America First" Budget; Trump Faces Snags On Travel Ban, Health Care, Wiretaps; Trump Defends Wiretap Claim Amid Bipartisan Doubts; Trump Unveils Major Cuts In "America First" Budget. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 16, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: -- this country for putting us before themselves and their own family's needs, and we thank them for their service.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed. All right. It is time for NEWSROOM with John Berman. Good morning, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Poppy. Thank you for that --

CUOMO: Thank you for your service, such as it is.

BERMAN: Thank you for that smile. I'm going to be nice. I loved that last piece.

HARLOW: Yes, it was great.

BERMAN: You know, irrespective of who delivered it, Chris Cuomo. Thanks so much. Let's get right to it.

Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

This morning, President Trump knows what it's like to be a 5-4 point guard during March madness. Everything is getting blocked.

The breaking news, a federal judge in Maryland just blocked his revised travel plan, the second judge in 24 hours. The problem isn't the new language; it's the old Trump.

Overnight, more and more Republicans seem intent on blocking the Republican health care plan. The House Speaker and the White House forced to admit it needs changes, or else.

And on Capitol Hill, senior Republicans now publicly rejecting the President's claims that he was wiretapped by President Obama. Now, overnight, President Trump somehow suggested that wiretap doesn't mean what we think it means and that quotation marks can fix anything. But it seems less and less likely that Congress is buying it.

And finally, just a short time ago, the White House released its proposed budget. Huge reductions. A dramatic plan to radically restructure government that won't cut the deficit and also won't pass. So it's a special kind of drama. We're covering this from every angle this morning. Let's start with

the travel ban. Joining me now, CNN Justice Reporter Laura Jarrett in Washington.

Laura, explain why this was blocked and what the President is now saying about it.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, this ruling from the federal judge in Maryland coming just hours ago. Well, the judge there was really focused on the First Amendment problem, with treating Muslims differently than non-Muslims in the new executive order. And the judge said, look, I simply just can't ignore the unrebutted evidence of the President's own statements from the campaign trail.

The judge there writing, in part, "In particular, the direct statements by President Trump and Mayor Giuliani's account of his conversations with President Trump revealed that the plan had been to bar the entry of nationals of predominantly Muslim countries deemed to constitute dangerous territory in order to approximate a Muslim ban without calling it one, precisely the form of the travel ban in the first executive order."

So, John, you see the judge here is really focused on those statements from the campaign trail. And we haven't heard from the Justice Department on this latest decision out of Maryland yet, but the President blasted the Hawaii decision just last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the opinion of many, an unprecedented judicial overreach. You don't think this was done by a judge for a political reason, do you? No.

This ruling makes us look weak. This is a watered-down version of the first one. This is a watered-down version. And let me tell you something, I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way, which is what I want to do in the first place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: So we now have two separate federal rulings against this revised executive order. And my guess is that they are both destined for a very swift appeal, John.

BERMAN: All right, Laura Jarrett, stand by. I want to bring in Laura Coates, our legal analyst, also a former federal prosecutor.

Laura Coates, two federal judges in less than 24 hours blocking this new ban. Does the matter there number and are you surprised by this?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, actually, I am surprised that this order was actually banned. Prior to President Trump's statements, this wasn't really just a watered-down version of the first travel ban. What it did was follow the blueprint that was put in place by the Ninth Circuit. It seemed to resolve several of the issues including taking away the

establishment clause conflict, didn't have a religious minority preference. It also did away with barring, you know, permanent residents or green cardholders and visa holders. And it also provided some, although arguably not the strongest, of national security justifications.

And so by Trump saying this is a watered-down version, I think he undercut the strength of the new travel ban's legal argument.

BERMAN: Well, but it is interesting because the judge or both judges apparently are pointing to statements that then candidate Trump made during the campaign, statements like this. Let's play one so you're reminded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: When he first announced it, he said "Muslim ban." He called me up, he said, put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You're still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country, but you're going to be responsive to a lot of very technical issues that were brought up by the court.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting -- and I know, Laura Coates, this gets to intent -- but when we're dealing with campaigns and we're dealing with politicians, can't they change their mind? Couldn't Donald Trump have been for a full Muslim ban during the campaign, but not for one now and actually write an executive order that is not a full Muslim ban?

[09:05:09] COATES: Absolutely. And in fact, we expect the campaigning candidates to be different than the ones who are fully briefed on national security, but here is the problem.

People still believe this is basically a rose by another name and a Muslim ban nonetheless. And the reason for that is because there seems to be a continuation of the campaign rhetoric into this administration, not by actually using the terms Muslim ban but by the comments that Donald Trump made yesterday and the comments by, I believe, Stephen Miller, previously was cited in that video, about this being a technical change and a policy outcome that was largely the same.

But in reality, the legislative intent is different than the intent of a campaign stump speech. And so the courts are a little bit in uncharted territory here to use that continuously against anything that comes from the administration. Because if you think about it, the domino effect is, what could the President actually order or rule if he's always held to his pre-national security briefed self?

BERMAN: Yes. It's a very, very high standard that goes beyond just this issue when you sit back and think about it. Laura Jarrett, what next?

JARRETT: Well, now, I think we're likely to see two different appeals going at the exact same time. And the question is, what happens if they come out differently, right, John? Then I think we'll see the Supreme Court, certainly, have to weigh in here and have to resolve the difference.

BERMAN: Yes, it can --

JARRETT: But what happens if there are only eight justices on the Supreme Court when that happens, and they don't have Neil Gorsuch in yet?

BERMAN: Right. And his confirmation hearing begins next Monday.

And, Laura Coates, last question to you. We did get a letter from five judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals -- and, of course, they've been important in this whole thing -- nine Republican appointed judges who say they do not see a problem with this new ban. Does their opinion matter now? What effect will that have?

COATES: Well, it will if they appeal back to the Ninth Circuit and now have a different set of three. Remember, one of the judges who was very hard on the government, the federal government, was based in Hawaii. And that was the one talking about how can this be a Muslim ban if you haven't incorporated every Muslim majority country and even now excluded at least one, being Iraq, from the original seven?

This is going to be a very, very strong issue to parse out. But I think next time, you will have a more prepared Justice Department lawyer who will have the backing of probably more of a national security explanation.

BERMAN: And more time to prepare, too.

COATES: Yes.

BERMAN: Laura Jarrett, Laura Coates, great to have you with us. Thanks so much. Very, very interesting.

All right. President Trump this morning defending his claim that he was wiretapped by former President Obama. The President now seems to be trying to redefine what he meant by wiretap. In an interview with Fox News, the President insisted he has proof and is now revealing where he got his information from.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I've been reading about things. I read in, I think it was January 20th, a "New York Times" article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article. I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier, the day previous, where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening and wiretapping.

Wiretap covers a lot of different things. I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Here is the problem for the Republican president. Members of his own party, including the Republican Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, say that he has seen no evidence that wiretapping took place. And he's not alone.

And this comes as FBI Director James Comey will be testifying on Capitol Hill on Monday. He will be asked about this. How will he respond to this?

And this as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Lindsey Graham are now expecting a letter, a classified letter, in their response for more information on the President's claims.

The Republicans' scramble to save ObamaCare hits a new -- save the replacement plan for ObamaCare hits a new gear. Next hour, we're going to hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan who now concedes that a slew of Republican defections leave little choice but to change it.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capitol Hill where changes seem in store. Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, John, it's a very busy day here because what's happening is that House bill is going to the budget committee for markup. It is far from certain whether or not it's actually going to get through that committee. But so far, what you're seeing here, it is moving very slowly.

Now, this bill, the House bill, as it exists today, cannot afford any more than 21 Republican votes to say no. Take a look at CNN's count here.

We are looking at 19 Republican votes for no or leaning no, so it does not look good in its current form. It does need to change. Even President Trump is saying that, yes, there's some negotiations that have to happen. We have to take a look at this and make some changes. But he is blaming Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[09:09:58] TRUMP: Just remember this, if we submitted the Democrats' plan, drawn everything perfect for the Democrats, we wouldn't get one vote from the Democrats. That's the way it is. That's how much divisiveness and other things there are, so it's a problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Well, John, as you know, Republicans controlling Congress. It really is more their problem than the Democrats. There are a number of sticking points here. We are talking about the

amount of federal dollars going to states for Medicaid, also the increase in premiums for seniors who are getting health care, and finally the devastating CBO number, that CBO score estimating that 24 million people could lose their health care coverage over a 10-year period.

So there are some House Republicans who are saying, look, we've got to deal with all of these issues. You're rushing this way too fast. We've got to slow down this process and deal with this in a serious way. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TOM GARRETT (R), VIRGINIA: I'm quite confident that, as it stands, leadership doesn't have the votes they need to get this bill, as written, through the house. And I want to vote for a bill, but, you know, we're the same group that lambasted Majority Leader Pelosi for asking us to pass the bill so that we could find out what was in it. Right now, the timeline we're looking at is actually faster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And House Speaker Paul Ryan, we expect to hear from him in just a couple of hours, his press conference. He is the one, as you know, John, who has been pushing this through. He has been really pushing for that pace.

We want to find out if there are any points of negotiation that he sees, perhaps, slowing this down and dealing with some of those serious concerns that his fellow Republicans have -- John.

BERMAN: Yes. He now says there can be adjustments, but what, where, how, and when? Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much.

Also new this morning -- we have a lot going on -- the White House budget, the likes of which we have never seen before. A big boost in military spending, but huge cuts elsewhere, including eliminating entire programs.

CNN's Chief Business Correspondent, star of "EARLY START," Christine Romans here with the numbers. What are we looking at here?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: We're looking at a hard power budget, is what they call it. A hard power budget, and the budget director says this is a blueprint that is all of that you heard from the President on the campaign trail put into numbers. It promises to shrink the role of government in citizens' lives a lot.

The EPA, a budget cut of almost a third. State, down 28 percent. That includes foreign aid which, many say, is a counterpart to so much of our hard power. The soft power is important too. HHS, Health and Human Services, down 18 percent.

And HUD, a $6 billion cut to HUD, including ending the community development block grants, something that has been going on since the 1970s, billions of dollars there. Those are, you know, programs that were used, for example, after New Orleans, to rebuild New Orleans, also after Hurricane Sandy. So there's some alarm among housing advocates that, when you say get the government out of your life, you're meaning get the government out of poor people's lives or people's lives who need it in a crisis.

Where is the boost to spending? Defense, $52 billion. No surprise there. Veterans, $4.4 billion. Homeland Security, $2.8 billion.

And, John, the border, $3 billion there. A down payment on the wall, but also a down payment on some of the promises the President has made in his executive orders, hiring a thousand new immigration agents, 500 new border patrol folks.

So that's what this budget looks like. It won't happen tomorrow. This is just the blueprint.

BERMAN: Well --

ROMANS: It has to be a budget delivered in May. And then, of course, Congress has been passing continuing resolutions for years now to actually fund the government.

BERMAN: The truth is, I mean, it won't happen ever. The President actually doesn't get to write and pass budgets. He get to put together the plan. Congress gets to write and pass budgets. And many members, including Republicans, said this is dead on arrival, but it does tell us where the President's head and heart is.

ROMANS: This is the priority of the President. This is what he would like the world to be, his worldview. And you take him at his word, that this is what he would like to see.

BERMAN: And that is important, to get a sense of that worldview. All right. Christine Romans, the stock markets today, what are we going to see?

ROMANS: I think you're going to see a little bit of a gain. And we had a gain yesterday, too, after the Fed raised interest rates a little bit. I think the market is kind of soothed that Janet Yellen sees a strong economy. She said the economy is doing just fine and that there will be slow and small rate increases from here on out.

You can see Dow Futures of about 2/10 of a percent, as do the Futures Europe. And Europe was higher. There was a Dutch election. Those results were soothing for European markets as well so that might be something we're seeing as well.

BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans, great to have you with us.

ROMANS: You too.

BERMAN: Thanks so much. Republicans have all but begged the President to stop saying he was wiretapped. He didn't stop. So how will these Republican leaders respond now? And then a Republican who might have the key vote to block the

Republican health care plan and block it today joins us minutes before his crucial vote. So is there anything the President can say to get him to yes?

Plus, the head of the State Department says it's time to cut funding to the State Department.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:19:03]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Can the president write any kind of legal travel ban? Can the president get Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare? Can the president convince anyone he was wiretapped despite Republicans saying they have seen no evidence of something like that happening?

Here to discuss, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," Karen Tumulty, national political reporter for the "Washington Post," and Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Karen, I want to start with you and start with wiretapping because I saw a striking picture yesterday with the House Intelligence Committee.

The chair, David Nunes, the ranking member, Adam Schiff, standing side by side, made the choice to come out publicly, stand side by side, and both say so that everyone understood that they saw no evidence that President Trump was wiretapped or the Trump Tower was wiretapped.

It was almost as if they were begging the president to stop saying it. He didn't. Listen to what he told Tucker Carlson overnight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[09:20:01]DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: And don't forget, when I say wiretap, those words were in quotes. That really covers because wiretapping is pretty old-fashioned stuff. That really covers surveillance and many other things. Nobody ever talks about the fact it was in quotes. That's a very important thing. Wiretap covers a lot of different things. I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, interesting items, he won't tell us what it is, there is no evidence of the wiretapping right now, but more importantly, Karen, I do think that Republicans were trying to send a message that he obviously didn't hear.

KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON POST": Absolutely. They're getting very, very frustrated with the fact that, as they were trying to move agenda items, that they are constantly being interrupted, distracted, whatever you want to call it, by these sort of strange tweets.

They never know when and where these things are going to come up at them, but they do know they are going to have to keep answering for them. Once again, we see Donald Trump doubling down on this with his dark suggestions that there's some kind of investigation coming that will prove his point, sort of reminiscent of the supposed investigators that he sent to Hawaii to prove that President Obama was not born in the United States.

BERMAN: We're still waiting for the report from those investigators in Hawaii.

TUMULTY: Maybe the same investigators.

BERMAN: Indeed. You know, Susan Page, James Comey is testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday. Again, I think this was a marker to the president to say, hey, Mr. President, you may want to stop with this, because we'll have public testimony from people who will answer the question out loud.

There will be a big spotlight on the FBI director on Monday, not that I guess he minds the spotlight. He's sort of used to it. What situation does it put him in?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Well, it puts him in a situation where he either has to say his boss was wrong or some kind of investigation that we haven't known about that involved surveillance of Trump Tower. There's been no evidence of that so far.

I think President Trump is running into the reality of being the chief executive where every word matters. He can't make a charge like that and expect it to go away or people to lose attention or stop pursuing evidence for it.

We've also seen that on the immigration ban, his words during the campaign calling it a Muslim ban, continues to reverberate and prompt federal judges to block his initiative. This is a different role than the role of a business leader or even of a presidential candidate.

BERMAN: Yes. It turns out that quotation marks may not have much legal or political standing, what we're going to on that. Larry Sabato, blocked on the travel ban, blocked by Republicans on the idea he was wiretapped, blocked right now on the health care plan. So we have blockage and now we have shrinkage.

We have a new Fox News poll which shows that the president's approval rating is down five points since February, which wasn't that long ago, by the way. What do you think is happening with his approval? Why such a tough week?

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Well, what really impressed me in that Fox News poll is that a massive majority wanted him to either stop using Twitter or to be much more careful in using it. Even much of his base understands that President Trump is creating many of his own problems. We're going to learn there is finally a pivot, if there ever is one in the Trump presidency when someone else in his administration takes charge of his Twitter account. Think about what might have happened had he not issued those ridiculous, outrageous tweets about President Obama wiretapping which, I'm sorry, right from the very beginning, appeared to be nonsense.

Everything we've learned since underlines the fact that they in all likelihood, 95 percent chance, are nonsense.

BERMAN: He's going to have to pay the piper I think by Monday in this public hearing because people are going to testify that, if there is no evidence, they will testify to the fact that there's no evidence or it didn't happen. We will see that.

Now with all this circus going on with the wiretapping, there is legislative action or an attempt at legislative action from both Congress and the White House. They are trying to put together a big law to repeal and replace Obamacare, but there's a problem, which is that Republicans can't get enough support within their own party.

The president now says that he might be willing to negotiate. We know he's willing to negotiate, but now he basically says changes are coming. Listen to what he said last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT TRUMP: The House has put forward a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare based on the principles I outlined in my joint address. Let me tell you, we're going to arbitrate, get together and get something done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: We're going to arbitrate, we're going to all get together. We're going to get something done. We're going to change it, Karen, seems to be the message there. How much can he change it without upsetting one wing of the party or another?

TUMULTY: His party keeps saying he's such a great dealmaker, and he now indicates that he might actually be willing to get down in the weeds on the policy.

[09:25:08]This is something we have not seen from Donald Trump so far, something that President Obama, in getting Obamacare passed, had to do quite frequently.

So the question here is, what we've seen so far from the president, from the White House, is basically he wanted a piece of paper. He wanted a bill delivered to his desk that he could sign so he could put a big win on the board and say that the Republicans had lived up to their promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

He's finding that in reality it's a lot easier to promise these things than it is to actually achieve them. BERMAN: No, he wants a win. He wants to sign a bill. He wants something passed. He may not care as much about Paul Ryan as specifically what's in that bill. The question is can President Trump, you know, find a way to get something passed that won't upset the principles that Paul Ryan believes in?

Susan, I was struck yesterday by Jeffrey Lord, our CNN political commentator, clearly someone who supports President Trump, maybe more than he supports the establishment Republican Party. Jeffrey said, you know what, maybe it's not worth it for President Trump anymore.

You're hearing more and more Trump loyalists come out and say this may not be worth the effort, worth the political capital that you have to employ here.

PAGE: Yes, you've certainly hear from him and others who are Trump loyalists trying to create an exit ramp for President Trump. I'm not sure there is one. This is one of the fundamental promises the president made, a fundamental Republican promise for the last seven years and it's the first item up.

So if the president has to back off the idea of repealing and replacing Obamacare, that has real political consequences for things like the big tax bill he hopes to pass next. I understand that there's some feeling that this Obamacare fight is not going the way they hoped.

You had Speaker Ryan yesterday suggesting he would make changes, that's new. That's a change in strategy because their strategy has been push this through the House with a vote perhaps next week and then get it to the Senate. That does not seem to be going as they have had hoped and planned.

BERMAN: Stay tuned. Changes are coming. We don't know exactly what yet and we don't know if it will satisfy the various wings. Larry Sabato, last question to you on the budget, the White House released this budget blueprint today again. They don't actually get to write it and pass it. Congress does that.

This version won't pass. I mean, Congress has already said, many Republican senators say it is dead on arrival. But it does give us a window into his priorities. What have you learned?

SABATO: That he is attempting to fulfill the pledges he made on the campaign trail. He's a nationalist. He's a populist. What he's ability to learn is his budget even with the Republican majority in both houses of Congress is going to have one key thing in common with most presidential budgets under President Obama and President Bush, dead on arrival, maybe dead before arrival.

Most of these things are never going to happen, the defense budget isn't going to be hacked up, $54 billion. You're not going to have the State Department cut over 30 percent. Most of the things he's proposed will be watered down or changed substantially or eliminated by Congress, even a Congress of his own party.

BERMAN: All right Larry Sabato, Susan Page, Karen Tumulty, thank you so much. Great discussion.

Is the uphill climb on health care reform at Mt. Everest levels now? In a few minutes, the Republican health care bill faces a new showdown. Next, one of the Republicans on the committee who says something big needs to change or else, he's going to be with us to tell us if there is an "or else" there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)