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Trump Meets with Egyptian President at White House; Senate Confirmation Hearing on Neil Gorsuch; Senators Give Remarks on Gorsuch in Press Briefing; White House Press Briefing. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired April 3, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNNA ANCHOR: On the right, we're putting this up here because you asked about the Merkel meeting and the chillier reception and the non-handshake moment. What do you make of the el Sisi meeting?
DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, FINANCIAL TIMES: This is a big week for Donald Trump. President el Sisi was never invited to the White House by President Obama because the Obama administration saw him as oppressive on human rights and cracking down on his political opponents. So this is a clear shift in American foreign policy.
But I think the big meeting at the end of the week with the Chinese president because the U.S./China relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world today.
BALDWIN: Let me just follow up and ask you about that, that meeting with President Xi. That was a huge piece of the "Financial Times" conversation, especially his comments on North Korea and how that will come up. One of the quotes here from Trump, "If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will."
When you read it, it seems like a threat. How does it sound to you?
SEVASTOPULO: It sounded like someone who was told by President Obama that North Korea is the most eminent national security threat to America right now because it's moving very close to being able to hit the American mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile. So people see it as
a serious threat. And U.S. policy, the policy of strategic patience hasn't worked.
There's two things America can do. It can try and work with China to put more pressure on Pyongyang to reign in the nuclear programs. Or if China is not willing to do that, the White House has to start to consider what things can it do by itself. That could range from a preemptive strike on the nuclear facilities in North Korea or it could be what Donald Trump said during the campaign, which was he would sit down with Kim Jong-Un, the North Korean dictator, and have a hamburger with him. There are many things in between that could happen.
BALDWIN: I'm listening to you, but somebody just got in my ear.
Let me hit pause and pivot back to Judge Neil Gorsuch. There's been massive discussion today, Senate Judiciary hearing. The committee has been meeting. Let's just dip in for a moment on this vote.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, SENATE JUDICIARY COMITTEE: -- nominees. And I said earlier, it's imperative that the Justice Department have senior leadership in place as soon as possible.
I would like to call on Senator Feinstein.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I intend to vote aye on Mr. Rosenstein and no on Ms. Brand (ph). And I would like to put a statement in the record, if I may.
GRASSLEY: Your statement will be put in the record.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you.
GRASSLEY: Anybody else want to speak?
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D), MINNESOTA: Yes. I'm also going to put a statement on the record on Ms. Brand (ph) on why I'm voting no today. I have some questions that haven't been answered. So right now, I'm voting that way, but I want to see if I can get some answers. I didn't get answers at the hearing because we had both of them together and I have some follow-up questions.
BALDWIN: We're going to pull away from this.
Dana, lucky me, I get you on a panel.
Let's begin with, just to set the stage. I'm told the vote was 11-9 down party lines.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, so viewers are aware what the committee is voting on is the deputy attorney general, which is incredibly important, since Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, recused himself on Russia and another Justice Department nomination. The headline is, as you said -- looking on my e-mail from our correspondent in the room -- that the committee just passed Judge Gorsuch out of committee, which means it's headed to the floor of the Senate, which it says on the screen, and the vote was 11- 9. So party line vote effectively.
BALDWIN: Let's go back to where we were.
Clarissa, let me turn to you on Demetri was explaining how this China meeting is so important. But, just on Jared Kushner, who we know has been of playing this role in U.S./China relations. He's playing a role in U.S./Mexican relations. He's apparently supposed to broker Middle East peace. What do you think of how he's stretched all these different ways?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have no doubt that Jared Kushner is a smart young man, but when you're dealing with international relations, this is deeply nuanced complex policy, history, language, culture, and the men and women who comprise our diplomatic forces are extremely experienced, well versed diplomats who have many of them been working in the field for decades. So it's a little unusual to entrust this level of responsibility on such a broad array of foreign policy. It's not limited. Perhaps one could make the argument that Kushner may have more of an impact on Middle East foreign policy, but we're also talking about China. We're also talking about Russia. We're also talking about Mexico, as you say.
But without having heard him speak in any way, looking at a blank canvas that still is the Trump administration's foreign policy, I think it is disconcerting not just to diplomats working here in the U.S., but allies across the globe. Because we don't yet see a strong sense of what American leadership is going to look like on the world stage, what the tone is going to be.
Take China for example. In the beginning, President Trump was like threatening the One China policy, talking about Taiwan.
WARD: Then suddenly we shifted gears and we were committed to the One China policy. Now it's talking tough to China, you better do something is about North Korea. Anyone who has lived in China for years knows that saving face is an important part of doing business and operating in China. One does start to wonder who on the foreign policy team has that level of sensitivity in the next tease to know how to navigate these complex waters.
[14:36:12] BALDWIN: You set that up perfectly.
Dana, I'm listening to you agreeing with Clarissa. I'm wondering how this looks because there's this lack of vision of what the leadership looks like globally and how it plays out politically.
BASH: I think so much of what Clarissa says as always.
BASH: But specifically, what I heard you say about the fact that the Trump foreign policy a blank state on a lot of issues, which is true, and why in foreign policy world, particularly countries like China and others. For them to have access to Jared Kushner, who is not just any old senior adviser, who the president's son-in-law, who is family, is about as good as it gets in trying to crack the code, if it's crackable, if there's a code there, on what the president wants to do vis-a-vis policy in and around these countries. I think that's what's one of the things so fascinating.
BALDWIN: Here we go. Chuck Grassley talking. Let's listen on the Gorsuch vote.
GRASSLEY: A very highly qualified justice, future justice on the Supreme Court. We have heard that there's going to be a filibuster. And if the Democrats will filibuster this person of the high quality he is that there isn't any justice that a Republican would put forth that they would get his -- that they would support. So consequently, this seems, to me to be something that puts us in a situation of reconsidering exactly for the other side to reconsider what they do in regard to justices if they want the system of confirmation to work.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R), UTAH: I was very trouble by this particular set of hearings by our colleagues on the other side willing to vote against the nominee for the United States Supreme Court, for the first time in history, to conduct a filibuster. I think don't think that's worthy of the Senate. I don't think it's the right thing to do. And if they can filibuster somebody of the quality of Neil Gorsuch, who has the highest ratings from the American Bar Association and almost everybody who has ever known him, including a number of top Democrat intellectuals in the law, then who can qualify under their rules unless the meet all their particular ideological bents. Frankly, that's the wrong thing to do. And I'm very disappointed in my colleagues that politicized this the way they have. And it just shows there's so much pressure on them from the radical left that they really can't take the radical left on and vote out and vote for someone of the quality of Neil Gorsuch. My gosh, this is just abysmal and it's very upsetting to me and I think to everybody else who really locks at it carefully.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R), TEXAS: There's never been a successful partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee. And we will not start this week. Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed by the end of the week by the United States Senate and take his place as the next associate justice on the United States Supreme Court.
[14:40:00] SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I can't say it much better than that. Our Democratic colleagues will not accept the fact that President Trump won. He did. When you one the White House, you have the ability to appoint people to the Supreme Court. The list was given to the public. Nobody was surprised by the list. I can't thank President Trump more, than you listen to people who understand the law and understand the judges available for A Republican to pick. President Trump could not have chosen a better person. Mike P3ence couldn't have chosen a better person. Paul Ryan, a country councilman, Republican in South Carolina, could not have chosen a better person.
If you're filibustering him, as a Democrat, that just means you don't accept that President Trump won. This is the end of the qualification standards to be on the Supreme Court. Hamilton is rolling over in his grave. I'm sorry we got here, but we are where we are. And I'm going to vote to change the rules because I'm not going to be part of a Senate where Democrats get their judges and Republican can never get theirs. That's not what it's all about.
SEN. MIKE LEE, (R), URAH: There's an old saying that, in the courtroom, when the law is against you, you pound the facts. When the facts are against you, you pound the law. When neither one is against you, you pound the table. We've heard a fair amount of table pounding today. We also heard a fair amount of that while we held our hearing week before last. The fact is this is a judge who is eminently qualified. This is a judge who has one objective and one objective alone, which is to achieve correct outcomes under the law, to figure out what the law says and then apply it. Unable to attack him on any other ground, and afraid of what this means, namely that it will be more difficult rather than less for the Supreme Court to legislate from the bench, to make law, to set policy, some of our colleagues are determined to just pound the table in order to stop Judge Gorsuch. All they can come up with are facts that have nothing to do with his qualifications as a jurist or his willingness to follow the law. That's why I'm pleased to stand with my colleagues to confirm him, to stand with my colleagues in following the same precedent we have been following for years. The fact is that a few years ago, when the precedent was changed in the Senate, there was not a single distinct, a single logical or rule-based argument that doesn't apply equally to the vote we'll be taking later this week. I'm pleased to stand with my colleagues to support this nominee and move forward with his confirmation. Thank you.
SEN. TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS: Today was a victory for the rule of law and also a moment of clarity. For those of us who value and cherish the Constitution and Bill of Rights, today is one step closer to Neil Gorsuch being confirmed as the next associate justice on the Supreme Court. But it was also a moment of clarity. Because in the process of the Supreme Court hearings, we saw Democratic Senators throw every fastball they could, use every attack they could, and end up with no meaningful criticism of Judge Gorsuch's record. A decade on the court of appeals, a decade following the law, following the Constitution, being faithful to his oath. The position of the Democrats, we just saw a party line vote in the committee, where every Democrat voted no, not based on qualifications, not based on temperament or anything in his record. Indeed, a decade ago, no Democrat opposed his confirmation to the court of appeals. What we saw today was the position of the modern Democratic Party as they are opposed to Donald Trump appointing anyone to the Supreme Court. If they will filibuster Neil Gorsuch, they will filibuster any nominee from a Republican president. That obviously is not a tenable standard for advise-and- consent, and that's the reason why, if the Democrats persist in this foolish filibuster, the Senate majority will have no choice but return to the standard that has prevailed for over two centuries in the Senate, which is confirming Supreme Court justices by a majority vote. By the end of the week, I believe Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed as the next associate justice, and that is a victory for the Constitution, for the Bill of Rights, for individual liberty, and for the American people.
SEN. BEN SASSE, (R), NEBRASKA: Neil Gorsuch is a good man, he's been a good judge on the Tenth Circuit and he's going to be a great justice on the Supreme Court. A partisan party line vote in the committee is sad, but it's a reflection on a brokenness in the Senate, not any problem with Judge Gorsuch. Americans should be excited about a guy who is going to go on the court that wants to serve as a judge, not as a super legislator. There were a bunch of people on the committee that decided the judge would be guilty until proven guilty, and then they tried to read 2700 opinions and find something to support their preconceived view. They didn't find anything. And Judge Gorsuch is going to be a great justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. SEN. JEFF FLAKE, (R), ARIZONA: Judge Gorsuch is a great man and a
great judge. I was proud to support him in the committee and look forward to supporting him on the floor of the Senate.
[14:45:01] SEN. MIKE CRAPO, (R), IDAHO: It's unfortunate that we had a partisan vote today. We had a long phenomenally long process here, 33 days of testimony by Judge Gorsuch, took over 30 witnesses and 20 hours, and now this mark up. It truly is unfortunate that it has devolved into a partisan vote. A lot of members on the other side brought forward reasons why they were going to vote no. As some of my colleagues have said, those were strained arguments. But there was a difference between voting no and filibustering. It's important to realize that there's only been one filibuster successfully of a Supreme Court issue. This was a nomination to be a chief justice on Abe Fortus (ph). That was not a partisan filibuster. Both parties supported that filibuster. Other than that one example, there's never been a successful filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee. And it's unfortunate to see us potentially moving towards that kind of outcome now. It really does reflect much more on the Senate than it does on Judge Gorsuch.
SEN. THOM TILLIS, (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Last night, I cut my hand on a piece of sheet metal and had to get five stitches, and now that ranks as the second most painful experience I have experienced this week.
What we saw in the committee hearing today, to me, really is an amazing theater that we have created here to create this pretext for a partisan filibuster. It's not going to be successful. Judge Gorsuch is going to get nominated because he's extremely qualified. He did an extraordinary job in 20 hours of committee hearings, and Senator Grassley did a great job of managing that process. I hope my Democratic colleagues will rethink what they are trying to do this week. They are not going to be successful. Hopefully, we can get some consensus. But if not, I'm very confident we're going to see one of the great judges confirmed to the Supreme Court later this week.
SEN. JOHN NEELY KENNEDY, (R), LOUISIANA: The American people deserve an up-or-down vote on Neil Gorsuch. The American people expect an up- or-down vote on Neil Gorsuch. And the American people are entitled to --
[14:47:29] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: == but I want to run down a couple of quick things that happened over the weekend.
We're fortunate to be championing many great causes during the month of April that are near and dear to the White House. We released several proclamations on Friday. They're all available at whitehouse.gov. This morning specifically, the president proclaimed April 2nd to the 8th is National Crime Victims Rights Week.
On Saturday, the president declared a major disaster in the state of California as a result of severe winter storm flooding and mud slides in February. Federal assistance will be supplementing recovery efforts in the area moving forward. Also on Saturday, the vice president traveled to Columbus, Ohio to discuss American jobs and the economy. He spoke with business leaders at Dynalab, an American-owned operated electronic manufacturing services company. The vice president told the crowd that the actions that the president has already taken to create jobs in this country make it easier to do business when taking a serious look at the regulatory process to ushering in a new era of American energy.
With respect to today, the president, as you know, welcomed President el-Sisi of Egypt to the White House this morning. The two presidents had an honest discussion focused on areas of cooperation. The president made clear that this is a new day in the relationship between Egypt and the United States and the president affirmed his strong support of the Egyptian people. It was a candid dialogue during which they discussed both areas of cooperation and of concern.
Also this morning, the White House released the official portrait of the first lady, which is similarly available on whitehouse.gov.
And just about now, the president began a meeting with Secretary of State Tillerson, where they're expected to discuss several topics, including the secretary's recent trip to Brussels where he attended the NATO foreign ministers meeting.
As you may have known, just prior to the briefing, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance the president's selection for Neil Gorsuch to the full Senate. While the White House was pleased to -- that beyond the committee partisan vote, more Democrats have moved past partisan obstruction to acknowledge that Judge Gorsuch is simply qualified and deserving of being on the bench.
But we're obviously disappointed that the overwhelming majority of them are still playing politics with the nation's highest court. If the Democrats get their way and I know the numbers are looking that way, this is going to be the first successful filibuster of a nominee to join the Supreme Court, which is clearly unprecedented. With a vote on Judge Gorsuch expected Friday, the American people will see which senators are willing to keep this seat open to get in the way of President Trump making progress on one of his most significant choices so far.
Also, today opens the application process for this year's H-1B visas. The president has spoken about the H-1B visa program in the past. The White House acknowledges that there are issues with the program as it currently stands. However, there are several laws that are on the books that went unenforced in the previous administration.
As the Department of Justice made clear in its release this morning, the Trump administration will be enforcing laws protecting American workers from discriminating hiring practices.
Looking ahead to the schedule for the rest of the week, the president will host a CEO town hall meeting on the business climate tomorrow morning. And in the afternoon, he'll make remarks to the 2017 North American Building Trades Union National Legislative Conference.
On Wednesday, as I mentioned last week, he will host His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan.
And on Thursday, after welcoming participants of the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride, the president will depart for a visit with President Xi of China to Mar-A-Lago.
The president has been briefed on the devastating flooding that has killed several hundred people in Colombia. And we are working closely with the governments of both Colombia and Peru to support efforts to address the extensive losses and damage caused by this natural disaster.
The president has also been briefed on today's attack in -- on the St. Petersburg Metro. The United States condemns this reprehensible tack (sic) and act of violence. Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured and with the Russian people as we extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones who have been killed and injured.
Attacks like these on ordinary citizens just going about their lives remind us that the world must work as one to combat violence in all forms. The United States is prepared to offer assistance to Russia that it may require in investigating this crime.
And with that, I'd be glad to take your questions.
A couple questions on the same topic: Jared Kushner's trip to Iraq today.
Why is he there and not the secretary of state today? What's the message that the president is sending by having Jared Kushner be the one to take this trip?
SPICER: I don't -- I don't think there's a -- it's not a binary choice.
In this particular case, both Jared Kushner and Tom Bossert, the assistant to the president for homeland security, are on the trip as -- at the request and -- and invitation of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is going there and believed it was an opportunity for both of them.
It's -- it's, ironically, the first trip for both Mr. Kushner and Mr. Bossert. They're going to receive briefings and updates with respect to what's going on on the ground, our military involvement there, and our -- our efforts to defeat ISIS.
Jared's going to specifically express the commitment of U.S. -- of the United States to the government of Iraq, meet with U.S. personnel engaged in the campaign.
And Mr. Bossert will participate in meetings and briefings to reinforce the strong U.S.-Iraqi partnership to defeat ISIS. But it's not like this is a one -- one-shot deal. In the course of conversation and extensive meetings, that invitation was extended and they took it up.
QUESTION: His portfolio is jam-packed and has grown in recent weeks. Among the things, it's our understanding, that are in his portfolio, he is to broker Middle East peace and overhaul the federal government. Can he do all of these things?
SPICER: I -- I think, not to -- it's -- it's not like he's -- he doesn't -- he has a team that he oversees. And I think there's a lot of areas that he has been working very diligently on behalf of the government and on behalf of the president's agenda.
So, going over and getting a firsthand understanding of the work that's being done, to thank the government of Iraq, to see some of the sacrifice and progress that our team is making on the U.S. side, is an opportunity that I think every government official and every member of the media should, frankly, take advantage of if offered that opportunity.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sean.
A recent ProPublica report out today revealed that President Trump can draw money from his businesses at any time without disclosing it. So, on that, I have two questions.
QUESTION: One, has the president withdrawn any money from his businesses since taking office?
And two, can the White House commit that the president will disclose future withdrawals if they take place?
SPICER: I -- I'm not sure what he's withdrawn.
I think that -- I -- I'm somewhat surprised in a sense that anyone would find it shocking. A blind trust -- or any kind of trust rather (ph), the whole entire point of setting it up is that somebody can withdraw money. I mean, that -- that's, frankly, part of the point of setting it up. So...
QUESTION: So, then why was this change not made? It was made after...
SPICER: No, no. That -- just...
SPICER: You know -- no, no, no, I do. But again, I -- I think that you -- you -- you just went and started to say, "This change was made." I'm not aware that there was any change. Just because a left- wing blog makes the point of something changing doesn't mean it actually happened. I'm not aware that there was ever a change in -- in the trust.
And the idea that the president is withdrawing money at some point is exactly the purpose of what the trust -- why a trust is set up regardless of an individual.
QUESTION: So, just last question on this. So, you're not saying whether or not it has changed? Just to clarify, you're not sure whether...
SPICER: No, no. I'm actually -- to -- to -- to the best of my knowledge, it hasn't changed.
QUESTION: OK, thank you.
SPICER: Hunt -- Hunt -- I mean, Olivier, sorry.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SPICER: Same seat, wrong person.
QUESTION: Yeah. Right.
I got a couple for you. One, there are multiple reports that the administration at looking at arms packages for Taiwan, including missile defense and fighter jets. Can you confirm or verify or...
QUESTION: ... deny those?
SPICER: I'm not going to discuss...
And then, last August, the president sharply criticized then President Obama for not making more of a public case for human rights throughout the Muslim world, throughout the Arab world. You guys have now said that it's better to raise those issues privately. I'm trying to understand the evolution of the thinking there. What changed his mind?
SPICER: What changed...
QUESTION: The president's mind.
SPICER: I think the president recognizes that those are conversations where we can -- as I said in the statement, that there are areas of -- that we can work with in cooperation and concern and that's best discussed privately in terms of how we address areas that need to be discussed like that in order to make progress on them. I don't -- I don't think that should be a huge surprise.
QUESTION: Did he (ph) raise them in this meeting, do you know? SPICER: Again, I'm not going to get into what they discussed
privately, but I will tell you that we understand the concern and I think those are the kinds of things that I believe progress is made privately.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sean.
I have two.
One, has President Trump spoken with President Vladimir Putin about the terror attack in Russia?
SPICER: Not yet. I know that obviously the president of Egypt just left moments ago prior to me coming out. But I do know that, as I mentioned at the top, our teams have been reaching out to both the government of Russia, the government of Colombia and I know that there's been some outreach I believe to the folks -- to the government of Peru with respect to the -- to their situation, mudslides there. And then obviously, the violence that occurred in Russia is something that we've already started reaching out from a government to government standpoint.
If there's a call, we will make sure that we read that out.
And secondly, Senator Rand Paul has called the report that Susan Rice ordered the unmasking of President Trump's associates a, quote, "smoking gun."
QUESTION: Does the president agree with that characterization? What does he think of these reports?
SPICER: Yeah, I saw Senator Paul's tweet.
Look, I think -- I want to make sure I'm clear and consistent. I think we've been trying to say that -- from the get-go that there's been an ongoing investigation that we have supported looking into this matter.
I will say that we have continued to say that I think there's a -- there's a troubling direction that some of this is going in, but we're going to let this review go on before we jump to it. But I think that it is interesting the level of -- or the lack of interest that I've seen in these developments when it goes in one direction versus where I think it was going -- where other amounts of interest that have come from this room and beyond. I'm somewhat surprised in terms of the level of interest that I've seen from the press corps, one set of developments versus another set of developments.
That being said, I'm not going to start getting into a further discussion of that. Blake (ph)?
QUESTION: Sean, thanks.
Let me pick up here. A couple questions, but I'll start here.
Does the White House believe Susan Rice may have done anything illegal?
SPICER: I -- I think -- I'm not going to -- appreciate the effort there. I'm not going to start going down that road. As we've said before, we go down one road, we need to go down them all, and I think at this point, we have supported this review that we've asked for.
But I do think that when you see the developments that we've seen in terms of the public on-the-record comments that Dr. Farkas -- Evelyn Farkas, who is the deputy assistant secretary for Defense for Russian Affairs said very publicly that this was part of an attempt of the Obama administration to spread classified information. Then you see the developments that have happened today.
I would just say that as -- again, I'm somewhat more from a media standpoint somewhat intrigued by the lack of interest that we've seen in some of these public revelations and reporting that has gone in that direction that we've seen in some of the other directions that we've seen. That being said, I'm not going to get into...
QUESTION: And let me ask you, as it relates to Neil Gorsuch...
QUESTION: ... is the White House comfortable with the nuclear option potentially being invoked?
SPICER: The -- the president said several weeks ago that this was something that he would support. We're comfortable in the sense that obviously, that decision is up to Leader McConnell to make, how he wants the Senate to -- to -- to deal with this. I think the majority leader's comments are very clear in the direction that he's headed in.
But I think this is -- we have entered a whole new league if this goes forward in terms of Democrats really going and saying -- it's one thing to vote against a nominee. We've seen that in the past and I understand that. But we've now gone from --
the devolution of agreeing that there are certain people that a president --