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UN Security Council Meets on Syria Gas Attack; North Korea Fires Missiles ahead of Trump-China Meeting; Trump Faces Major Tests with North Korea and Syria; Pence, GOP Meeting on Health Care Yields no Results. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 5, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:34]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right there is breaking news just in to us right now. According to U.S. Air Force official, an F-16 military jet has crashed near Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Of course, Joint Base Andrews is the airport, the military base where the president's plane Air Force One takes off and lands from, that's why we all know it, but the news today a jet has crashed near there. CNN's Rene Marsh is on the phone with us right now. Rene, what can you tell us?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, I'll tell you this, John, as this information is just coming in. So, full transparency, there is still a lot we don't know at this point, but as you said off the top a U.S. F-16 crashed approximately five to six miles from Joint Base Andrews. We're getting that from a U.S. Air Force official.

We do know that the pilot ejected from the aircraft, but we don't have any other additional information at this point on the fate of the pilot. We are still working to get some more information. We are starting to see some images on social media showing that this aircraft possibly went down in a pretty wooded area. But again, all of these details are literally just coming in to us right now.

So, that is what we know at this point. Again, to recap, a U.S. F-16 crashing about five to six miles, we are told from Joint Base Andrews, but of course, as we get more, guys, we will get that to you as soon as possible.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And Rene, we're just getting this information as you're reporting on the air as well, that the pilot apparently is OK. As you said, the pilot ejected. We now know the condition of the pilot. The pilot did survive. Rene Marsh with the breaking news. Thank you very much.

BERMAN: That is some good news that the pilot is doing OK.

All right, we have more breaking news this morning. It was a chemical attack and now Turkey says it has seen the evidence. The attack in Syria left dozens dead, more than 70, we believe, including children and Turkey's officials do now say they believe chemical weapons were used. The United Nations Security Council holding an emergency meeting right now on the attack. These are live pictures of that meeting. We're expecting to hear from U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, shortly. We'll keep our eye on that when it happens.

HARLOW: And of course, Nikki Haley said, you know, just a few days ago, that the U.S. is essentially comfortable with leaving Assad in power. That's not their focus right now and then this attack ensues. Before we take you there, we do want to take you to the front lines of this attack. But before we show you these images, they are incredibly, incredibly disturbing. Our Ben Wedeman is on the Turkey-Syria border with more. What are you seeing, Ben?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what we saw just about an hour ago, Poppy, was a nuclear, biological, chemical mobile laboratory, a Turkish one that was passing from this side into Syria. Now, the Turkish health minister says that Turkey has looked at all of the symptoms, examined more than 30 people who were brought from Syria into Turkey and they say all those symptoms point to that this was a chemical attack. They say they are going to provide their data, their results to the World Health Organization.

Now, just a couple of hours ago, we were at a nearby state hospital where we were able to speak to three of the victims of that attack yesterday. One of them, a 13-year-old boy named Mezin, who told us yesterday at 6:30 a.m. in the morning, he heard an air strike, ran up to his roof and he saw that one of the bombs fell in front of his grandfather's house. He ran over there, went inside, found his grandfather slummed over. He said he looked like he'd been asphyxiated. He ran outside to call on the neighbors to help him at which point he fainted and then, the next thing he remembers is waking up naked in a Turkish hospital. His 55-year-old grandmother also survived that attack. She also -- she said she heard an explosion and she said I saw blue and yellow. Then I fainted and yet, she also said she woke up in a Turkish hospital.

Now, we did speak to a representative of a Turkish medical relief organization that operates inside Syria. They're saying that their information points to at least 105 people killed in this incident yesterday, 450 people injured. Poppy?

[10:05:00] BERMAN: Hey, Ben, this comes on the news that the Trump administration no longer has removing Assad from power as a priority. This attack, if it was carried out by the Assad regime and there's every reason to believe that it was is just the latest in a string of constant attacks, constant bombings, which have claimed the lives of thousands and thousands of civilians, correct?

WEDEMAN: Yes, you're going back to August 21, 2013, that was an incident in the suburbs of Damascus where it's believed hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas attack which most authorities believe was carried out by the Syrian government. That was what put in motion this effort, this agreement between Russia, the United States and Syria for Syria to dispose of all its chemical weapons.

But we've seen a series of events up to this year in which dozens of people were killed in each event. Sometimes sarin gas used, sometimes chlorine gas, sometimes mustard gas, but it's not just the Syrian regime, it's believed, that is using chemical weapons. It's also believed and has been documented that in more than one instance ISIS has used mustard gas, as well. So, this is a growing threat in this endless, awful, bloody war that's going on in Syria and Iraq. John? Poppy?

BERMAN: A gross violation of international law and of course, thousands and thousands of civilians caught in the middle of it. Ben Wedeman, right on the border between Turkey and Syria. Thanks so much, Ben.

HARLOW: Another foreign policy, extraordinary challenge for this administration comes on the heels of an act of defiance from North Korea, firing off a missile one day before President Trump meets with China's president. Let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson who joins us from Seoul. What are you learning about this latest provocation from North Korea?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the missile was launched Poppy, shortly after dawn this morning, local time here on the Korean Peninsula from the eastern coast of North Korea. It was identified as a medium-range ballistic missile launched from land with a very unusual trajectory going very, very high to an altitude of some 117 miles, but traveling only about 37 miles before crashing into the sea.

Now, the timing of this is very interesting because the first time that this kind of missile has ever been launched, as far as we understand was in mid-February when President Trump was in Mar-a-Lago at his resort meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister. That's when the first time this KN-15 missile was launched and now this launch taking place a day before Trump is to sit down for the very first time to meet the Chinese Leader Xi Jinping also in Mar-a-Lago.

What do we know about the missile? It's another sign that North Korea's missile technology is improving. It uses solid fuel unlike liquid fuel. That means they can set the missile up and launch it much quicker, makes it much harder to try to intercept.

Japan and South Korea, close U.S. allies have, of course, condemned this. China which is a major trading partner of North Korea pointed out that it broke the law and called for restraint on all sides. And then get this, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry of China insists that there is no linkage whatsoever between the launch today and the meeting between Trump and Xi Jinping in Florida tomorrow. Interpret that as you will.

BERMAN: Yes, just a coincidence, a sheer coincidence that every time the U.S. schedules a meeting with a key Asian leader -

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: North Korea fires of a missile. Ivan Watson thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it, Ivan. All of this is an obviously the major test for the Trump administration as the president, not only gets - ready to meet with the Chinese leader later this week but he has a meeting with Jordan's King at the White House next hour.

HARLOW: Let's get right to our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. She joins us from the State Department. Look, this is the biggest, no question, foreign policy test, multi-pronged foreign policy test that this administration is facing.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and we saw this interesting statement yesterday put out by the State Department, kind of unexpected language saying, "North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."

So, to put that out in written statement form, it's clear that the Secretary of State wanted this to be something different. It's clear that they wanted that vagueness to be built into it. Of course, the question that people are now debating is in diplomacy and in such a sensitive, important, urgent situation, is that vagueness going to be helpful or is it going to be harmful? That's a question that no one can really answer right now.

But we just heard from the State Department. We were able to question them about what message exactly they were trying to send with this statement, and they didn't say a lot.

[10:10:02] I mean, the State Department wants this -- this statement to stand on its own, but they did reiterate that all options are on the table as we've been hearing from this administration and of course, that includes a military option.

There's also a question about what the U.S.' stance is in terms of going it alone on North Korea. I mean, many experts feel that would be impossible without China's help. We heard the president say just this week that you know, China can either help us on North Korea or they won't, you know, indicating that the U.S. can do this on its own. But today, the State Department is emphasizing the big role that China's going to have to play just before this pivotal meeting between the two leaders.

HARLOW: All right, Michelle Kosinski at the State Department. Thank you for that reporting.

BERMAN: Let's talk more about this now. Joining us is Democratic Senator Ben Cardin. He's the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And it's a tough day, Senator, for U.S. Foreign Relations, this attack in Syria leaving 70, maybe 100 people dead including children. Back in 2013, you supported a limited use of force in Syria. Look, it's crystal clear now that whatever chemical weapons the United States might thought, has been removed from Syria, they were not removed entirely. Bashar al-Assad appears to be using them now. Is it time for military action against Assad, including maybe even bombing. SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), RANKING MEMBER SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, this is just the latest of the atrocities committed by the Assad regime with the help of Mr. Putin and Russia. The international community must act.

First and foremost, the United States must make it clear that our policy is that Mr. Assad has to leave Syria. It's not up to the Syrian people. Secondly, we need to act on establishing a war crimes tribunal and hold Mr. Assad accountable for his war crimes and others.

Mr. Putin needs to be looked at for what Russia's complicit he's been in these attacks. It's not just this latest attack with using chemical weapons which just violates the Chemical Weapons Convention. It violates international humanitarian norms. It's a war crime, but they've been doing barrel bombing. They've been targeting hospitals. It is well past time that Mr. Assad is indicted for his war crimes.

HARLOW: So, you think he should be -- he tried at The Hague. I mean, you've got British Prime Minister Theresa May saying yesterday, there can be no future for Assad in a stable Syria. Will any words less than that ease any of your concerns from the Trump administration or do you need to hear -- do the American people need to hear that directly from the president?

CARDIN: What I want to hear from the Trump administration is first, that our policy is that Assad cannot stay as the leader of Syria. Mr. Tillerson left that door open just a couple of days ago. Secondly, I want to see the United States leadership and the United Nations to establish a tribunal so that we can get the indictments against Mr. Assad and others who are accountable for these war crimes. We cannot be silent about this. We've got to see action -- and it starts with the president.

BERMAN: Senator, the administration's made clear, just this week, that removing Assad is no longer a priority. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Nikki Haley, both essentially saying it is up to the people of Syria to decide. They said that before this apparent chemical attack. Do you think that statement opened the door to the attack?

CARDIN: I'm not going to try to connect dots. I know, though, that when you talk to the major stakeholders in the region, there is no confidence about Mr. Assad remaining as the leader of Syria. He has to go. And that needs to be clear and the United States and our leadership must make that clear.

So, I'm asking Mr. Tillerson. I'm asking President Trump. Make it clear to the international community that we're with them. Assad has no legitimacy as President of Syria. And that he needs to be at The Hague, not in Damascus.

HARLOW: The word choice by the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying, you know, whether Assad stays in power is up to the Syrian people, you know, many saw that as a slap in the face. These are the Syrian people who are being killed, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them over the past seven years from the Assad regime. What did you make of his choice of words in that statement basically saying, well, if they want to see him gone, then he can be gone?

CARDIN: Well, I found his comments to be very disturbing and wrong, but you are absolutely correct. The Syrian people have been the target of Mr. Assad's attack. He's used military operations using civilians as a method of accomplishing a military victory and that is against international norms and standards.

So, this chemical attack is horrific, but it's not the only thing he's done. Look at the barrel bombing. Look at the thousands of children and women who have been killed, civilians who have been killed. They have been targeted. Hospitals have been targeted. Mr. Assad cannot remain in Syria and the U.S. policy has to be clear about it and last week's comments by the Secretary of State were not clear at all. In fact, it was counterproductive.

[10:15:08] BERMAN: This is a crisis that spans administrations, Senator, clearly, and does not appear to be getting any better. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, thank you so much.

CARDIN: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. An emergency United Nations meeting underway on Syria right now. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nicki Haley, she will speak any minute. What will she say? Will she address the concerns of Senator Cardin? Because earlier in the week, she made it seem like the United States is OK if Assad stays in power.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: All right. You're looking at live pictures of the United Nations where U.N. Security Council emergency session has been called on the situation in Syria. We are waiting to hear from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to hear what she has to say addressing all of this. Of course, critical to hear what she says, the U.S. view is now of Bashar al-Assad.

[10:20:01] Does she stand by her remarks less than a week ago that taking Assad out of power is no longer a priority of the United States? Let's discuss all of this as we monitor and wait to hear from Nikki Haley with Mike Rogers, he's a CNN national security commentator and former Republican Chairman of the House Intel Committee, nice to have you here.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Thank you.

HARLOW: You've been very vocal, very outspoken on Syria for years, this is as John just said, a crisis that has spanned administrations, there is blame to go all around for inaction, many would say. How do you see it now? Do you see the comments of the Trump administration, Tillerson and Haley, in the last few days, basically saying we're not focused on Assad as emboldening him to carry out, which by all accounts was the Assad regime, it is believed this chemical weapons attack.

ROGERS: Well, I do think they were trying to set the table. It appeared to me for a negotiation with the Russians. And remember, we have seen this movie before. When I was chairman, we went through all of the intelligence to look at the possibility that they had used chemical weapons and in fact, I believe he did use chemical weapons. That led to the deal with the Russians to remove chemical weapons. How soon we forget.

So apparently, we didn't get it all. There was talk at the time about trying to disable their ability to deliver chemical weapons and there were, I believe, there were good options there to do that. We chose -- the United States chose not to do that under the Obama administration. He drew the red line. Then he did the negotiation.

So, I think all of this talk about lack of focus probably emboldens Assad to continue to do it. Remember, he's got the Russians standing -- right beside him. I would argue it's time to directly go after the means to deliver these chemical weapons.

BERMAN: Look, when you talk about Russia being crucial here. That has been the case for some time, as you say. Russia is also a central subject for this Trump administration and it has invested a huge amount of political capital on the campaign and now in trying to improve relations with Russia. The question this morning, Mr. Chairman, is for what, for what? You know, if Syria is going to be slaughtering civilians committing war crimes and the Russians aren't going to do anything to stop it, where is the United States going to use this capital?

ROGERS: There's an old saying in the United States Army, I used to be an army guy, that when the map doesn't match the terrain, time to go with the terrain. So I don't care what their plan was moving forward about Assad and Russia, this changes everything. They need to make sure that they understand. That Assad understands we will not tolerate it. We do have capability. Remember, we have -- according to the administration and public reports there are U.S. troops engaged in parts of Syria in this fight.

You cannot tolerate the use of chemical weapons like this and I think this needs to change their whole direction on how they're looking at this, and I think this will be an important moment for the Trump administration about focusing on what the real intent of these folks are and where they are today, not what they want to accomplish later. They can get there later, but this is the point where they need to show strength and immediate action.

HARLOW: So, the only response we've heard directly from the president is to blame his predecessor Barack Obama for failing on Syria. Is this the time for the blame game or is these the time for clear statements on what we will not tolerate as a country?

ROGERS: I think this is a time for leadership. He needs to come out very clearly, very decisively about -- and he doesn't have to say exactly what we're going to do. As a matter of fact, I would recommend he not do that. But he needs to say we won't tolerate it. - You know some statement of foreshadowing would be helpful here and then march on forward.

It's really not a time and there is plenty of blame with the Obama administration and how they handled Syria. We could have -- you could write your dissertation on that for the next ten years. This really isn't the time for that. This is the time for the president to show U.S. leadership in a region that has caused massive refugee problems around the world.

He just used chemical weapons again, probably for the multiple times. This is the biggest example of that. There's no time to talk about anything other than U.S. resolve, U.S. leadership and that we will take action. I think that's really incredibly important. And I think it could be a very important step for the Trump administration on all the other difficult issues they're going to face around the world.

HARLOW: Mike Rogers, thank you very much for being with us.

ROGERS: Thanks.

HARLOW: Still to come, "Let's make a deal," the sequel.

BERMAN: This time it's personal.

HARLOW: It's the sequel. This time it's personal. Vice President Pence trying to get GOP lawmakers on the White House's side on this one, is he making any progress? We'll have a live report from the Hill next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:29:13] BERMAN: So, some bleary-eyed Republicans this morning after meeting late into the night. Vice President Pence and House leaders say there is progress being made. They claim there is progress being made for a new bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

HARLOW: So, all of this is coming as a brand new Gallup Poll shows that for the first time a majority of Americans support Obamacare. Look at these numbers, 55 percent approve of the law. 41 percent disapprove of it. It doesn't mean people don't want changes, but overall 55 percent approve.

So, is this the right time for a full repeal and replace? Are they going to get it done? Our panelists here, CNN political analyst, Abby Phillips, CNN political commentator John Phillips and CNN political commentator, Bakari Sellers, it's nice to have you all here.

And Abby, let's just talk about the efforts - the valiant efforts of the vice president, I mean, Mike Pence, he's on the Hill hour after hour, after hour. They say they're making progress, some very encouraging comments from Mark Meadows, Chairman of the Freedom Caucus, and we'll skip Easter Break if we can get this thing done. What are you hearing?