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U.N. Meeting on Suspected Gas Attack in Syria; Ivanka Trump Defends Position at White House; Nikki Haley Talks Chemical Weapons at U.N.; Trump Removes Bannon from Principles Committee. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired April 5, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENOR INTERNATIONAL CORRSPONDENT: When he saw that he ran outside in the street and called for the neighbors to help, but, of course, he was breathing all of the fumes in the area. He started to feel dizzy and he fainted and woke up in a Turkish hospital. We spoke to his 55-year-old grandmother who remembers seeing just three rather yellow and blue, and then also feeling dizzy and fainting.

Now as we've been here on the Syrian-Turkish border we have seen a mobile laboratory belonging to the Turkish government, a laboratory that's supposed to test for nuclear, biological and chemical agents going inside. The Turkish health minister saying all of the information having examined all of these victims would indicate that chemical agents were used and they say they're going to hand all of the information they've collected over to the World Health Organization. We heard the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of accusing the Syria president of being a murder -- Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Ben, at the same time, the Syrian regime denies that this was them.

WEDEMAN: Yes, the Syrian version of events is that they had been tracking what they believed to be the ongoings of a chemical weapons work shop or factory in this area. They claim they handed over information to the International Chemical Weapons Prevention Agency about this any that it was Syrian warplanes that dropped bombs in that area that caused all of this death. But when at the end of the day what matters is you have more than 70 people, many of them children dead as a result of what happened yesterday morning -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right.

Ben Wedeman, thank you for being there, Ben. Ben is on the Turkey- Syria border bringing us those updates. Thank you very much.

We're keeping an eye on the U.N. Security Council.

Just minutes from now, President Trump will be welcoming a crucial U.S. ally and neighbor to Syria. He'll be meeting with the king of Jordan at the White House. The two will be meeting in the Oval Office and holding a press conference, always important, and taking on new importance today. We'll bring that to you live. Plus, Senator John McCain blasting fellow Republicans for considering

the unclear option to confirm Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, and, in classic McCain fashion, he is not holding back.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZONA (voice-over): I'd like to meet that numbskull that would say that that after 200 years, at least a hundred years of this tradition where the Senate has functioned pretty well, they think it would be a good idea to blow it up.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (voice-over): You're saying they're idiots?

MCCAIN: No. Whoever says that is a stupid idiot.



[11:35:23] BOLDUAN: Ivanka Trump, the first daughter, and now assistant to President Trump, is defending her new role in the West Wing this morning. In an interview with CBS, Ivanka Trump says she disagrees with her father at times, but that she keeps it and will keep it behind closed doors.


IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHER OF DONALD TRUMP: I think that for me this isn't about promoting my viewpoints. I wasn't elected by the American people to be president. I think my father is going to do a tremendous job, and I want to help him do that. But I don't think that it will make me a more effective advocate to constantly articulate every issue publicly where I disagree, and that's OK. That means that I'll take hits from some critics who say that I should take to the street.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now, former Missouri secretary of state, Jason Cantor; also columnist for "The Hill," Kayleigh McEnany; former advisor to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, Kevin Madden; senior editor at "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein; and senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner, David Drucker, CNN contributors all.

Great to have you all here.

Jason Cantor, great to have you on. Thanks for coming on.


BOLDUAN: We hear from Ivanka Trump and in one of her big messages in the interview with CBS, yes, she has differences with her father. No, she will not speak about them publicly, and this will be kept behind closed doors. Would you expect anything different not only from any adviser to the president, and one that's the president's daughter, no less. JASON CANTOR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I wouldn't expect something different,

but I also recognize that it's not about qualifications. The greatest the qualifications of the Trump family members brought into the White House have is they're the least likely people to talk to the FBI.

BOLDUAN: Kayleigh, thoughts?

KAYLEIGH MCENANCY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I'm excited and happy that Ivanka has the ear of the president and I think she's a highly qualified woman. And I like that she highlights women issues. And she was integral in the formation of paid family leave and a policy that Donald Trump was the first Republican ever, to my knowledge, to a spouse in the campaign context. I like that she has the ear of the president. She's highly qualified and I understand people want to be negative about her and want to cut her down and want to tear anyone down that has the Trump name behind them and I'm happy she's there.

CANTOR: She seems like a perfectly nice person who is totally unqualified for the job.

BOLDUAN: Well, the president of the United States -- and when you talk about qualifications for the job, anyone can be elected president of the United States and he can bring in any adviser that he wants. And qualifications, I think people like the qualifications they liked in the president and if they liked that they'll like the qualifications of his daughter.



BOLDUAN: I'm just saying. There is that.

Kayleigh, on this really quick, and then I want to bring in the other guys. Maybe you already see a different approach coming slightly from Ivanka Trump tweeting this out this morning about Syria. She's heart broken and outraged about the atrocities yesterday. Do you think this is going further than her father is comfortable doing, taking a difference stance from her father? We haven't heard that from him.

MCENANY: I think she's in lockstep with him and Sean Spicer came out with a statement and he's going to speak about it today, but what I do hope to hear from the Trump administration, we heard President Trump talk about safe zones. Those need to happen. We need to do something and action is not the answer and I'm heartened to see Ivanka Trump saying this and perhaps the safe zones need to happen.

BOLDUAN: David Drucker, let me bring you in on this.

What do you think the president should say today? Where do you think the view is on Capitol Hill because if you talk to -- I mean, if I talk to a couple of Republicans they've got wildly different views on what they want to hear from the president or what the president's stance should be. To Tom Massie on the program earlier has a shocking position on what happened in Syria that he doesn't believe it came from Bashar al Assad even though the president's own statement said that.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the policy of walking softly in the Middle East and around the world, for that matter, ceding ground to Russia which is exactly what's gone on for a couple of years. First under Obama and now under President Trump and whether he will re-engage and reassert U.S. Influence there and do something about what is happening because the previous president was very good at communicating American values around the world. He wasn't very good at establishing a beachhead of U.S. Protection and influence when people ran afoul of the values there. And what we've seen ever since was President Obama setting a red line for action in Syria which he did not have to do and blowing right past it. We have been paying for that ever since. The question is will Trump do anything about it, and right now that is very unclear.

[11:40:25] BOLDUAN: Or will he blame Obama?

Control Room, are you trying to talk to me? I'm sorry, guys.

No one is trying to talk to me. Anyway, it's just the voices in my head, as I always like to say.

Ron, the president also woke up to this, not only international crises on multiple fronts, you also have the president -- and this is your strong suit -- with 35 percent approval rating according to Quinnipiac. That's lowest than Obama's worst approval rating. What do you see driving that right now?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's not only lower than Obama's, it's significantly lower. No one has even been close to this level. Look, he's got a couple of problems here. I think it is largely at this point about his personal characteristics, and his fitness for the job more than it is about the agenda. Yes, the health care bill was very unpopular and I think you have a lot of voters who were ambivalent to begin with who voted for him despite doubts about his temperament and qualifications and somewhere between a fifth and a quarter of his voters say he is not up to the job and he's done more to compound that. And I would point to two other things and one is they have an intensity mismatch, the groups that should be for him are showing some cracking. And you're seeing intense disapproval among other groups. His

approval rating among Republicans is significantly lower now than his disapproval rating among Democrats and we talked about this before, Kate, in 20 for the first time ever Millennials will be the largest generation in the electorate and it's down about 21 percent. 21 percent, 22 percent say they share his values and 80 percent say they disapprove of his performance on the environment. And linking back to our conversation about Ivanka Trump, she engineered the meeting with Al Gore and didn't seem to go anywhere with them and they repeal both of the centerpieces of President Obama's plan to combat climate change. This is an issue for Republicans and each if you have a short-term success Donald Trump is redefining the party of what will soon be the largest generation of voters in the electorate.

BOLDUAN: Kevin, with all of that in mind, if you're a Republican member of the House and Senate, what do you do with this number? KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think the big

number if you're a member of the House and Senate if you're looking at 2018, I think Ron is right. If you look at the president and his performance among Republicans on election day, he was getting around 93 percent support. Right now, that's down into the 70s. That's a big problem because that's a base that may not be as motivated in the midterms. The other thing you have to worry about are the independents and Democrats and his number is very low with independents and if you need to marshal support you need those independents --


BOLDUAN: I'm sorry. Kevin. I'm so sorry. I have to cut you off.

And I want to take all of us to the U.N. Security Council. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaking for the first time after these chemical attacks in Syria. Let's listen.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: -- would be and decided what it would do. And it was voted on unanimously. And the joint mechanism came back and said that the Syrian government committed chemical weapons acts against their own people three different times. But somehow now we don't like what the joint investigative mechanism does.

Having said that, I will say in the life of the United Nations there are times when we are compelled to do more than just talk. There are times we are compelled to take collective action. This Security Council thinks of itself as a defender of peace, security and human rights. We will not deserve that description if we do not rise to action today.

Yesterday morning, we awoke to pictures to children foaming at the mouth, suffering convulsions, being carried in the arms of desperate parents. We saw rows of lifeless bodies, some still in diapers, some with visible scars of a chemical weapons attack. Look at those pictures. We cannot close our eyes to those pictures. We cannot close our minds of the responsibility to act.

[11:45:01] We don't yet know everything about yesterday's attack, but there are many things we do know. We know that yesterday's attack bears all of the hallmarks of the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons. We know that Assad had used these weapons against the Syrian people before. That was confirmed by this council's own independent team of investigators. We know that yesterday's attack was a new low even for the barbaric Assad regime. Evidence reported from the scene indicates that Assad is now using even more lethal chemical agents than he did before. The gas that fell out of the sky yesterday was more deadly, leaving men, women, the elderly and children gasping for their very last breath. And as first responders, doctors and nurses rushed to help the victims, a second round of bombs rained down. They died in the same, slow, horrendous manner as the civilians they were trying to save.

We all also know this. Just a few weeks ago, this council attempted to hold Assad accountable for suffocating his own people to death with toxic chemicals. Russia stood in the way of this accountability. They made an unconscionable choice. They chose to close their eyes to the barbarity. They defied the conscience of the world. Russia cannot escape responsibility for this. In fact, if Russia had been fulfilling its responsibility there would not even be any chemical weapons left for the Syrian regime to use.

There is one more thing we know, we know that if nothing is done these attacks will continue. Assad has no incentive to stop using chemical weapons as long as Russia continues to protect his regime from consequences.

I implore my colleagues to take a hard look at their words in this council. We regularly repeat tired talking points in support of a peace process that is regularly undermined by the Assad regime. Time and time again, Russia uses the same faults narrative to deflect attention from their allies in Damascus. Time and time again, without any factual basis Russia attempts to place blame on others.

There is an obvious truth here that must be spoken. The truth is that Assad, Russia and Iran have no interest in peace. The illegitimate Syrian government, led by a man with no conscience, has committed untold atrocities against his people for more than six years. Assad has made it clear that he doesn't want to take part in a meaningful political process. Iran has reinforced Assad's military and Russia has shielded Assad from U.N. sanctions. If Russia has the influence in Syria that it claims to have, we need to see them use it. We need to see them put an end to these horrific acts. How many more children have to die before Russia cares?

The United States sees yesterday's attack as a disgrace at the highest level, an assurance that humanity means nothing to the Syrian government. The question members of this council must ask themselves is this, if we are not able to enforce resolutions preventing the use of chemical weapons, what does that say for our chances of ending the broader conflict in Syria? What does that say of our ability to bring relief to the Syrian people? If we are not able to enforce resolutions preventing the use of chemical weapons, what does that say about our effectiveness in this institution?

If we are not prepared to act, then this council will keep meeting month after month to express outrage at the continuing use of chemical weapons, and it will not end. We will see more conflict in Syria. We will see more pictures that we can never un-see.

[11:50:06] I began my remarks by saying that in the life in the United Nations there are times when we are compelled to take collective action. I will now add this: When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.

For the sake of the victims, I hope the rest of the council is finally willing to do the same. The world needs to see the use of chemical weapons and the fact that they will not be tolerated.

Thank you. BOLDUAN: You're listening right there to the U.S. ambassador to the

United Nations, Nikki Haley. A passionate, powerful statement coming from her.

Let's discussed this, what she's saying, what it means for U.S. policy and U.S. position on what is playing out in Syria right now.

Joining me to discuss, CNN senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny; CNN senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon; and CNN Politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza.

Arwa, you were sitting here when she was standing up showing the pictures of the children, we cannot close our eyes to the pictures. A powerful statement, no questions, passionate. What did you hear?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I heard a lot of rhetoric. It's similar to rhetoric we've heard in the past. The images were heartbreaking. No one is debating that. But to get to the crux of the issue, it's one thing to condemn Russia, it's one thing to turn around and say, look, Russia you're Assad's ally, you need to do something to pressure this government to stop doing this. It's another thing to go further and actually threaten Russia with something concrete because as long as the Russians and Iranians aren't fully pushed into a corner. Unfortunately, that's what it needs to take, they need to be pushed into a corner before something needs to change.

BOLDUAN: Jeff, as we were speaking earlier, you said that the White House, they were drafting comments for the president when he speaks later in the Rose Garden on Syria. This is a powerful statement. Did you hear any change in policy or a position policy from Nikki Haley just now?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly. Ambassador Haley there talking in more direct and more explicit and sharper words against Russia than the president has used himself. She said if Russia has the influence in Syria as they say they have, we need to see them use it. As Arwa said, no doubt, but we'll see what the president does. If he repeats that message or echoes that word in the White House in about an hour or so's time, that will be significant. If he doesn't, that will be significant as well. The president's posture towards Russia has been muted and friendly. And certainly, has not followed what Nikki Haley and others have said here.

But I think the words from the ambassador, she's speaking for the United States. She's offering the policy of the United States here. I think it's incredibly significant. Again, will the president follow suit here or will he not? If he does not, I think we know -- we still have so much uncertainty about the Trump doctorate here. He was so critical of the Obama one, we'll see if he has one himself.

BOLDUAN: But when you listen to the totality of what we heard from Nikki Haley, Chris, let me bring you in, Russia cannot escape responsibility for this. If nothing is done, then these attacks could continue. Bottom line, it sounds like she could be threatening action.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, how about Russia does not seem to be interested in peace. Those are strong words. Arwa is obviously right, rhetoric and policy are not the same thing. One is easier than the other. The Obama administration learned in Russia.

What I had will say to Jeff's point I was struck how directly Ambassador Haley took on Russia in this. Essentially, saying it's time for you guys to do something. Remember, Donald Trump is dealing with a somewhat self-created crisis domestically as it relates to Russia, and his unwillingness to ever sort of speak out to anything close to these terms when it comes to condemning Vladimir Putin in Russia for Syria, for many other things. So, I was struck by that.

Now, does rhetoric equal a changing in policy from the top? Oftentimes, President Trump's surrogates say things that he did not necessarily echo and maybe he doesn't believe. So, I think the change in policy obviously will come from Trump. But I was struck, if the White House -- and I assume they did, looked at those remarks, approved those remarks, it's a much more rhetorically aggressive camp than we've seen a Trump administration office take to rebuff Russia.

[11:55:12] BOLDUAN: As we hear over and over, Arwa, in diplomacy, words really do matter. What many folks were struck with yesterday, as this was playing out, there was basically silence for hours from the administration, while other foreign leaders were speaking out and condemning this. Hearing these strong words, these pictures, the startling imagery that she stood up to show, what will the Syrian people hear from that, if they get the message?

DAMON: They've heard this before. That's been the problem. No Western leader, no U.S. leader or administration official has stood there and said we're really happy with what's happening in Syria. We're really glad everyone is dying. They are so fed up with hearing different versions of the same kind of condemnation of the actions taken there. Whether it's chemical weapons or barrel bombs or the indiscriminate bombing of hospitals or schools. The real question is, what is the U.S. Administration willing to put on the table to force the Russians' hands and, de facto, then force the Assad regime's hand to actually stop this from happening? Do they want and will they insist on Bashar al Assad leaving, which they're saying is not necessarily a priority, but how do they even envision --


BOLDUAN: That statement, that statement of suggestion came Nikki Haley, before we saw the chemical attack overnight. So, that is a big question.

DAMON: It is a big question, and maybe that position is going to change but when you're a Syrian and you're looking at this, they're going to look at this as, oh, it's going to take a chemical attack, this much depth for the U.S. to change its verbal position. What is it going to take for actual on the ground actual position? BOLDUAN: This raises the stake even more than possibly could for when

the president has its joint conference with Syria's neighbor, King Abdullah of Jordan, speaking later this afternoon.

But also other breaking news important on the national security front coming from the White House.

Jeff, let me bring you in on this. This has to do with Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist, what's happened?

ZELENY: Indeed, the president, we're told at this hour, has removed Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, from the Principles Committee of the National Security Council. This is something that's just developing and incredibly interesting, Kate. You'll remember when this administration was forming its government, the decision to put Steve Bannon a political strategist on the principles committee of the National Security Council was heavily scrutinized and criticized from Republicans and Democrats alike, but mainly Republicans. They were saying it was a very unusual moment for a political strategist to be on the principles committee of national security. What that means he essentially had the same seat at the table as chairman of Joint Chiefs, secretary of defense, secretary of state. Now, we're being told there's a readjustment of this thinking. And it's largely because the new national security adviser, General McMaster, is now in charge of this. General Flynn, of course, who we've been talking about so much in recent days involving the Russia investigation, he is, of course, no longer here. So removing Steve Bannon from the principles committee is another step towards bringing more structure, sort of a traditional structure, if you will, to the National Security Council.

It is being explained to us by one administration official saying that this is something is that Steve Bannon wanted, that he was there sort to keep an eye on Flynn. But I'm also told by another Republican close to this White House, who said don't necessarily believe that, that there is a power struggle, as there always is, going on inside the West Wing, inside this White House. This is likely part of that as well here. There is a sense bringing on Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, of course, they are trying to return to some sort of a traditional structure here. So having Steve Bannon not on that Principles Committee is certainly --

Jeff, I'm going to take you off and take you to the building behind you.


You have the king of Jordan and Queen Rania arriving right now to meet the president and First Lady Melania Trump. Let's just watch, guys.