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Defense Secretary Mattis Briefing Trump On Syria Military Options; Joint Chiefs Of Staff Meets About Military Options In Syria; Trump Considering Military Action In Syria; House Intel Chair Steps Aside From Russia Investigation; Democratic Representative: Trump Russia Hoax Claim Is A "Lie"; Sources: Bannon's Role Is Diminished In White House. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 6, 2017 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Next, breaking news, the defense secretary briefing the president tonight on military options in Syria. Will Trump put American boots on the ground?

Plus Steve Bannon demoted, yet traveling with the president to Mar-a- Lago today. Reports of his demise premature.

And remembering the king of insult, legendary comedian, Don Rickles, let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. We begin OUTFRONT with the breaking news, edging toward war. President Trump considering military action against Syria, but Defense Secretary James Mattis with the president at Mar-a-Lago tonight briefing him on his next moves.

Earlier the Joint Chiefs of Staff hastily meeting to discuss military option. We understand all options are on the table at this hour as the president looks to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the brutal chemical attack in which nearly 100 Syrian civilians were brutally killed.

It is a stunning turnout for this administration in just days. As recently as last Thursday, the U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said, and I quote her, "Our priority is no longer getting Assad out," but today an outraged Trump struck a very different tone on Air Force One.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think what happened in Syria is one of the truly egregious crimes and it shouldn't have happened. He's there and I guess he's running things. So something should happen.


BURNETT: This is the first major foreign policy test for Trump. A false step could be catastrophic. It is happening, of course, as Trump is meeting right now with the Chinese president. The most important diplomatic event of the Trump's young presidency. Trump and the first lady dining at this moment with President Xi and the Chinese first lady.

Jim Acosta is OUTFRONT tonight in Palm Beach. Jim, extremely high stakes tonight for the president.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erin. President Trump is here in Florida for what could be some tense talks with the Chinese president, from trade to North Korea. But the subject of Syria is likely to dominate the president's agenda over the next several days as he and his national security team are making it very clear Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad's days maybe numbered.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a commander-in-chief test for President Trump. He told reporters on Air Force One Syria's leader, Bashar al- Assad may have to pay a price for that regime's apparent chemical weapons attack on its own civilians.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity. I guess he's there and I guess, he's running things. So something should happen. I think what Assad did is terrible. I think what happened in Syria is one of the truly egregious crimes and it shouldn't have happened and it shouldn't be allowed to happen.

ACOSTA: Just before the president landed in Florida for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ratcheted up the rhetoric indicating Assad's days maybe numbered.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Assad's role in the future is uncertain, clearly, and with the acts that he has taken it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people.

ACOSTA: Tillerson who just days ago before the chemical weapons attack said the U.S. may have to live with Assad in power, hinted the Trump administration is now wanting regime change in Syria.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you and President Trump organize an international coalition to remove Assad?

TILLERSON: Those steps are under way.

ACOSTA: It's an extraordinary reversal for a president who years ago urged President Obama to avoid military action in Syria. Now Mr. Trump sounds moved by the very same images of war crimes that haunted the Obama administration.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: When you see little babies that are dead from gas and a very, very, you know, heinous form of gas, which very few people have access to, that's bad stuff, bad stuff, really bad.

ACOSTA: Some GOP members of Congress already appear to be on board for military action.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I hope he's formulating a military response and again that military response doesn't mean we fully engage in regime change. It can force the parties to the table and inflicts massive punishment for dropping chemical weapons on children.

ACOSTA: But Syria is just one of a number of pressing issues for President Trump as he meets with President Xi at Mar-a-Lago. The president wants a greater cooperation from China on trade and North Korea.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We have not been treated fairly on trade for many, many years. No president has taken care of that the way they should have. We have a big problem with North Korea.

ACOSTA: As a candidate, Mr. Trump vowed to punish China for its trade practices.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We can't continue to allow China to rape our country, and that's what they're doing.

ACOSTA: But the administration is no longer using that kind of tough talk as the president is hearing calls from his own party to work with China to control North Korea.

SENATOR JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: We cannot allow North Korea to become a nuclear super power.

ACOSTA: The onslaught of crises is all of a sudden challenging the president's plans to focus as he puts it on America first.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm not and I don't want to be the president of the world.


ACOSTA: Now, President Trump and the Chinese president are scheduled to have dinner at this hour before a whole series of meetings tomorrow.

[19:05:07]Officials with the administration are downplaying any expectations of any major breakthroughs between President Trump and President Xi as it is a 24-hour visit for President Xi.

Erin, the Syria issue, of course, is creeping into this agenda over the next 24 hours. The president meeting with his national security team this evening to go over plans for what to do about Syria -- Erin.

BOLDUAN: All right. Thank you very much, Jim Acosta. Of course, the breaking news here on Syria, let's go to Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon. Barbara, you just confirmed moments ago, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were called together. They met this afternoon going over military options. The president going to be briefed by the defense secretary. What can you tell us?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Erin. The Joint Chiefs hastily called meeting late this afternoon at the Pentagon to be briefed on what it may be happening by all accounts. The president has not yet made the final decision.

Defense Secretary Mattis briefing him tonight at Mar-a-Lago. But what we do know is there's a couple of logical ways that this might go, a couple of logical military options that the Pentagon has long had in hand. There could be a very limited strike.

Perhaps against the airfields where the planes launched from that dropped those bombs, killing so many people in such a horrific atrocity. So you could take out the airfield, but that's very limited. That's not going to stop Assad's helicopters, barrel bombs, artillery, and his rockets.

All of those can be filled with nerve agent, other deadly agents and be used again to attack people. So do you want to go for that broader set of targets and take it all out? That's a pretty significant proposition for the U.S. to engage in.

One of the big challenges here is going to be where are the Russian troops on the ground? The Russian equipment because now the Russians are all in Syria and they are at many military locations. If you want to do that big list of strikes, you're going to have to be very certain you're not striking an area where the Russians are.

So that will be a potentially complicating factor, but you know, make no mistake, President Trump tonight facing this fundamental commander- in-chief decision about whether to engage in this very significant military action -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Barbara, thank you very much. Incredibly significant, the world, of course, is watching. OUTFRONT now, the former deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser, Tony Blinken, and "New York Times" national security reporter, David Sanger.

I want to begin, though, with Retired U.S. Army General Spider Marks. General, obviously he's considering action. He is being briefed by the defense secretary. The Joint Chiefs were hastily called together for a meeting. This is not sounding like talk right now. It's sounding like action. Is it imminent?

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): It should be imminent. First of all, we've got this egregious act that just took place and it's one of many acts that have occurred before. You have to maintain some type of momentum. There has to be political will to do something.

If Assad is given time to adjust to the bellicose talk then his chemicals can be dispersed. You can put more civilians around know targets. So you can increase the likelihood of having a very bad collateral damage concern and that's what the Joint Chiefs are looking at right now.

So you want to make this a very limited strike to go after very precise targets, which is a very limited goal and then you take it from there. It gives this administration an opportunity to respond to this.

BURNETT: So you're saying then we're talking hours, if not days. MARKS: We're talking days. I would say within the next 48 to 72 hours, something must occur. We have forces that are on station in the region and the capability exists to go after, if it's a limited strike, to go after very precise targets.

BURNETT: So you're talking airfields, runways, that sorts of things?

MARKS: And chemical locations and where their air defenses are located because you want to keep those aircraft, the Syrian aircraft and helicopters on the ground, which means you've got to go break up.

BURNETT: General, thank you very much. David, let me go to you. This is Trump's first decision about war. Let's not mince words. That's what this is. How critical is this meeting tonight that he's going to have with the defense secretary?

DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": It's critical because he's never made this kind of decision before. As you indicated in the run-up to this, he actually opposed taking military steps and during -- in 2013 tweeted about it, spoke about that. So what's changed now? Well, first, he's president. He's responsible for it.

Secondly, he's thinking through for the first time what it means for the United States to step in on a humanitarian basis. Of course, whatever he does here is going to set some form of precedent for what he would do in the future.

President Obama as Tony can speak to better than I elected not to take this step but instead they tried to move diplomatically to get the weapons out and succeeded.

[19:10:04]There are some in the Obama administration who argued he could have done both, both taken a military step and then worked to get those out.

BURNETT: Of course, Hillary Clinton was among them. Tony, let me ask you this question because we're talking here about a strike in probably 48, 72 hours as you just heard the general say. But if you're talking about airfields or chemical weapons locations that are known, those are things Barack Obama could have done and didn't do. So do you think it's just a lot harder than Trump may think?

TONY BLINKEN, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first, Erin, I'd say this. I think we do have to act because this goes beyond Syria. This goes to Assad gutting a norm that's been in place since the end of World War I that you don't use chemical weapons.

If we allow him to do that now with impunity, we are setting a terrible, terrible precedent. Done properly, the right way, there is the prospect that we can really rattle his cage, rattle the Russians, rattle the Iranians to get them to stop using this stuff, to ground the Syrian Air Force, and to get back to the table to negotiate the transition away from Assad. We should do it at a time and place of our choosing. I'd focus on the airplanes and airfields that were actually responsible for this attack. We do have plans in place to do that, but here's the thing. We can't sugarcoat the difficulties and the risks. They're real.

You do have, as you heard, Russians and Iranians who are on a lot of these Syrian bases. They could be killed. You have air defenses that are now much more prevalent than they were a few years ago.

Also, you'd be taking our planes and pilots, not only putting them at risk but also taking them away from the counter Islamic State mission, which is so important, and making that more complicated. So all of those things need to be factored in. whatever we do needs to be part of a larger strategy.

BURNETT: So David, let me ask you, what happened? OK, because you heard the general say the Russians are all in, right and they're at all sorts of known military locations and installations. What happens if in a U.S. strike, Russians are killed? What happens? Is that a war with Russia? I mean, there are some who have suggested that that is a very real possibility.

SANGER: I would doubt that one would go to war with Russia over that, but it does raise the interesting question. What is the president's responsibility to try to coordinate this first or at least de-conflict it with the Russians.

He has a big moment coming up because Secretary Tillerson, who you heard from there before whose view seems to have hardened considerably in the last couple of days is supposed to be in Moscow starting on Tuesday afternoon.

He's supposed to be seeing both his counterpart and President Putin on Wednesday. One of the big calculations they're going to have to be making at dinner tonight and through the weekend is do they act before they've had a chance to sit down with Putin, which is going to be happening in the next few days, anyway. It would make the trip harder if they act ahead of the trip and there are injuries or deaths among Russians.

BURNETT: Tony, would Trump's team notify the Russians and if so, would the Russians notify Assad? I mean, how does this work? I mean, we know that Putin is the reason that Assad is still in power. He's completely propping up that regime.

BLINKEN: Yes, look, I think David has it just right. This is a big question. It's an important one. You could do it as a two-step. You could take a limited focus strike targeting the airplanes and airfields that were responsible for this attack and then go to the Russians and say there's going to be more unless you can rein this guy in now.

Get the planes out of the skies and get him back to the table. We want to work with you to do that, but we've got to use the moment to leverage the Russians. They own Assad. We need to make them own this and actually show some responsibility in trying to put a stop to it. BURNETT: All right, thank you both very much. I appreciate it. And of course, to General Marks as well.

OUTFRONT next, the president and Melania Trump dining at this moment at Mar-a-Lago with the Chinese President Xi and China's first lady. We're going to go there live.

And Bernie Sanders goes viral. Millions and millions and millions more are watching his Facebook show. What's on it?

And Jeanne Moos remembering an American original, Comedian Don Rickles.


DON RICKLES: This is what you're going to hear, lady. If you're waiting for Billy Graham to come in and make your kid walk again, forget about it.




BURNETT: Tonight, a major embarrassment for a close Trump ally heading an investigation into Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, forced to step down, it has happened, from the investigation he was leading. Nunes is now the subject of an investigation himself. Ryan Nobles is OUTFRONT.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, the man charged with leading a Capitol Hill investigation into Russia's medaling in the 2016 presidential election is forced to step down, at least temporarily.

REPRESENTATIVE DEVIN NUNES (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We're not going to talk about the investigation.

NOBLES: House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes announced he was stepping away because of a series of ethics complaints filed against him. The complaints accused him of disclosing classified information following his secret meeting on White House grounds just over two weeks ago.

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Chairman Nunes wants to make sure that this is not a distraction to a very important investigation so he wants to clear himself while this investigation continues on without any kinds of distractions.

NOBLES: In a statement, Nunes called the charges, quote, "entirely false and politically motivated." He handed over the investigation into Russian interference in the election to Texas Congressman Mike Conaway, but vowed to stay on as committee chairman.

Still the dramatic step down comes amid overwhelming criticism of Nunes handling of the Russian probe and concerns he could not be impartial. Today, the ranking Democrat on the committee thanked Nunes for recusing himself, something Nunes had resisted until today.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (R), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I'm sure it was a very difficult decision for him, but as he mentioned, I think it is in the best interest of the investigation.

NOBLES: Nunes has been embroiled in controversy since he publicly claimed that he had seen intelligence indicating that President Trump's communications may have been incidentally collected by intelligence agencies conducting surveillance of foreign targets. After secretly seeing the purported surveillance on White House grounds with the help of White House staffers, he then publicly returned to the White House the next day to brief the president.

NUNES: This is information that was brought to me that I thought the president needed to know.

NOBLES: The full committee which was not privy to the same intelligence will now be able to view the documents at the NSA's headquarters in Fort Meade, a move that the committee says will get it back on track.

SCHIFF: Now the materials that the chairman viewed at the White House that I subsequently viewed are now being made available to the full committee. I think that's a very positive step as well.

NOBLES: This as some Democrats, despite Nunes' recusal have renewed their calls for the investigation to be handled by an independent commission.


NUNES: Consistently, House Speaker Paul Ryan has said that he supported the role that Nunes played in the Russia investigation. But we're told that last night, the speaker and Nunes spoke about the situation and Ryan agreed with his decision to step away and allow Congressman Conaway to take over.

[19:20:09]Now even though Nunes told the speaker of his plan last night, he did not inform the members of the House Intelligence Committee during a meeting this morning. In fact, Erin, many of them learned of his decision through press reports -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Ryan, thank you.

NOBLES: Thank you.

BURNETT: OUTFRONT tonight, Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a member of the Intelligence Committee. Thank you for being with me. We've learned the full intelligence committee is going to be able to view, is going to able view the intelligence documents that Devin Nunes saw at the White House. Have you seen them yet? REPRESENTATIVE JACKIE SPEIER (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I have not but I will be.

BURNETT: Are you comfortable with the time? Has there been any sort of a delay?

SPEIER: No. I think we'll be able to look at the documents. Again, let's remember that these documents are part of a wild goose chase that has nothing to do with the charge that we have been given to investigate the Russian intervention in our elections and whether or not the Trump campaign was in fact coordinating with the Russians.

BURNETT: But just to make sure I understand, do you anticipate seeing them today or over the weekend or when will you see them?

SPEIER: No, I won't see them until I return to D.C. after the two- week break.

BURNETT: OK. So in other words, from your point of view, they're not that important, obviously?

SPEIER: Certainly they're important on some level, but they are not critical to our investigation at this point.

BURNETT: Congresswoman, President Trump spoke about the investigation yesterday to the "New York Times." I know you're well aware of what he said but I want to read one part and quote. "The Russia story is a total hoax. There has been absolutely nothing coming out of that but what -- you know, what various things that led into it is the story we're talking about, the Susan Rice. What's happened is terrible."

Congresswoman, President Trump also said Susan Rice, who of course was President Obama's national security adviser, may have committed a crime. He said he thinks she did by requesting the identities of Trump associates who were incidentally swept up in legal surveillance. Rice has denied any wrongdoing. Do you believe her categorically?

SPEIER: You know, I believe her but it's irrelevant whether or not I believe her. I think what's important to point out is what CIA, former Director Michael Hayden said, what she did was legal, appropriate, and what more do we need at this point?

Let's be clear. The president is very quick to lash out at people and call them criminals. I mean, that, to me, speaks volumes of someone who is frankly unhinged. The FBI and ail of the 17 intelligence committees and entities within our government has already said that they believe with very high confidence that the Russians intervened in our elections.

For the president to now say that the Russia connection is a hoax is a lie, is just false. He is doing himself and the American people a great disservice by fostering that kind of a position.

BURNETT: Now, we have made it very clear that unmasking a -- requesting to see who was actually involved in the legal surveillance is not the same thing as leaking it to the press, right. Those are two different things.

The "Wall Street Journal" editorial board, though, Congresswoman, makes this claim and I quote them, "She is responsible," referring to Susan Rice, "for unmasking a U.S. citizen which made that name more widely disseminated across the government and thus could have been more easily leaked by someone else.

Michael Flynn lost his job as Mr. Trump's national security adviser because of leaks. Do you think the "Wall Street Journal" has any bit of a point when it comes to the unmasking question?

SPEIER: So I actually think they don't have a point because my understanding of unmasking, if in fact something is unmasked, it's determined by the agency that provided the intelligence to unmask it. And it is unmasked to that specific individual and that individual only.

So it is not widely distributed across the government. You know, again, this is a wild goose chase and it is unrelated to the president's original statement on a Saturday morning when he said that President Obama had wiretapped him.

He also basically accused the president of committing a crime. I mean, at some point, the president has got to recognize that when he speaks, the country and the world listens, and you cannot spew out vitriol and falsehoods on a continuous basis and retain credibility.

BURNETT: All right, Congresswoman Speier, thank you so much for your time tonight.

SPEIER: Thank you.

BURNETT: OUTFRONT next, lightning rod, Steve Bannon, gets demoted. Now who's in Trump's ear or is it still Bannon?

[19:25:04]And a top Congresswoman tells me Ivanka Trump is working against women.


BURNETT: New tonight, Steve Bannon, again by the president's side after being demoted. The president's chief strategist traveling to Mar-a-Lago one day after being kicked off of the National Security Council. How much longer will Bannon have the president's ear? Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: He's a man of tremendous talent and experience.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump praising his new national security adviser, whose influence appears on the rise while Trump's controversial advisor, Steve Bannon, is getting a demotion.

STEVE BANNON, CHIEF STRATEGIST FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: I can run a little hot on occasions.

FOREMAN: For Democrats, there is no greater lightning rod than the ultra-conservative, Bannon. Some instantly praised the move to push him from the inner circle of security.

SCHIFF: I think it's a very positive step. He's certainly introduced a political element there that doesn't belong there. From my own point of view he doesn't belong in the White House, either.

FOREMAN: Bannon bonded early with Candidate Trump using his appearance on a radio show on Breitbart to help him along.

BANNON: They were laughing at me when I was saying, hey, this guy Trump is going to be -- this is going to be very serious.

FOREMAN: But Bannon also brought an extremist orthodoxy which has infuriated many on the left, civil rights advocates.

BANNON: Now, I believe that's of beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascist.

FOREMAN: And he's angered mainstream Republicans, too.

BANNON: Look at the intelligentsia of the Republican Party and the conservative intelligentsia. They were mocking the Tea Party. They were mocking these grassroots organizations.

FOREMAN: For now, Bannon and his allies are trying to put a good face on his move away from the National Security Council. In a statement, Bannon said "Susan Rice, security advisor under President Obama, operationalized the NSC during the last administration. So, I was put on the NSC to ensure it was de-operationalized. General McMaster has the NSC back to its proper function."


FOREMAN: What that statement means is not really clear, but this is. The embarrassing failure of Republicans to be able to overturn baker and other setbacks for this administration have resulted in other advisors getting more influence, including the president's own son-in- law and it is not clear right now if Steve Bannon can stay at the top of the heap -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Tom, thank you very much.

And OUTFRONT now, Kayleigh McEnany, contributor for "The Hill", John Avlon, editor in chief for "The Daily Beast," and Jamie Gangel, our special correspondent.

So, Jamie, let me start with you. Look, from the start of Trump's presidency and even in the transition, we've all been at meetings. We have seen pictures of meetings. Steve Bannon has been at every single one of them, in some way, shape or form, he is there, by the president's side.

Has there really been a change? JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: There has been a change. I

think what's going on is very simple. Donald Trump is not happy. He is not happy about the failures of health care. He is not happy about his poll numbers.

When was the last time -- remember in the campaign, he always talked about how great his poll numbers were, his ratings. I think the other thing that is true that we've been told is that Jared Kushner and Ivanka have fallen out with Steve Bannon, whatever that relationship is, it's not -- it is not going well. He's not going to fire his son- in-law or his daughter.

TRUMP: So, it's sort of a one faction versus another.

I mean, Kayleigh, Bannon has a history of saying controversial things, right? And these are some of the things that made more traditional Republicans really dislike him. Here some of them are.


BANNON: Islam is not a religion of peace. Islam is a religion of submission.

What we need to do is bitch-slap the Republican Party.

We're now I believe at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.


BURNETT: So, is less power for Bannon a good thing? Certainly you'd think it is for the more moderate Republican faction at the White House, the Reince Priebus side of things as it maybe?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I don't think it's a good thing and here's why. Look, he -- yes, he's known for having that flamboyant kind of temper Breitbart, but here's something he's known for -- Steve Bannon, when the establishment Republican Party was taking the party off the cliff, Steve Bannon said, hold on guys, let's put a brake to this. We have to stand up for the worker. We have to be against some of these free trade deals. We need to stop border crossings -- illegal border crossings. We need a hard-line stance on immigration.

He was saying these things that Donald Trump said in the primary that got Donald Trump elected. I fully believe that, right now, Donald Trump is materializing on what he promised the American people, TPP, immigration, those things are happening and that is because you have Steve Bannon there saying, don't listen to the Washington establishment, do what you told the American people you would do.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, if you've ever worked in politics, one of the ironclad rules is don't fight the family. It's always a losing bet. And, you know, you're your point -- you can't fire Jared Kushner. Now, there are deep ideological and philosophical divisions between the two. We reported at "The Daily Beast" today the Bannon called Kushner a

globalist and a cut-servative, which is really fighting words among the alt-right.

But that is indication of the bad blood going there. And the other --

BURNETT: I thought that was a typo at first.

AVLON: Oh, no, no, no. It's a term of art.

BURNETT: Look it up, it's a term of art.

AVLON: But the second bit is, you know, there was a conscious movement among some folks to start pushing this idea of President Bannon. He was presenting himself as a Svengali, a very outsize powerful figure. That's going to get under Donald Trump's skin. We've also reported that that "SNL" skit where Bannon orders Donald Trump to the little desk didn't play real well either.

BURNETT: Yes. So, let's show that skit because there's all these other comments, Jamie, and "The New York Times" opinion piece, President Gannon. GQ, Steve Bannon is our president. "Politico", the man behind Trump still Steve Bannon. 'Foreign Policy", President Bannon's hugely destructive first week in office.

I remember a brief conversation I have with him. He was sort of joking about how one article referred to him as Darth Vader. He was laughing about all this. But these are the sorts of things that could truly, truly damage a man who gets his news from reading mass market publications and runs into these kind of things, i.e., Donald Trump.

[19:35:08] GANGEL: Correct. And the other thing I will tell you is, when you talk to the Republican establishment, they are thrilled about this. I mean, Steve Bannon's loss of power, they have felt that he was destroying the Republican Party. They feel that -- there was a sense of ding-dong, the witch -- the witch may not be dead but maybe the witch is going out. They want Steve Bannon out of there.

BURNETT: But that's exactly why, John, I wonder if he's going to be, because Donald Trump doesn't want to feel like the establishment has won. That is anathema to what he stands for. So, maybe now he wants to teach a lesson to Steve Bannon but is he really going to lose power?

AVLON: Look, I think that's a fair appointment. You've got sort of an accelerated game in Washington in real time being played through leaks in the press. But at the end of the day, I think to Kayleigh's point, Steve Bannon was sort of Donald Trump's spirit animal at the end of the campaign.

BURNETT: Spirit animal.

AVLON: He's sort of kept him through to what he said he'd do. The problem is you also have a game of contain the president going on. And there's an axis of adults in this administration trying to keep the administration from going off the rails. That based on and rooted in real responsibilities of governing is a pretty compelling argument, too.

MCENANY: Let's remember, you know, Steve Bannon was the person who would allegedly go on the plane with President Trump and President Trump would call him into a room and they -- he would be his calming force. Steve Bannon was the one that got along really well.

I think in the end, it's a balance. You need the Reince Priebuses of the world. You need Ivanka. You need Jared. You need those moderating forces. But you also need the person that's going to hold President Trump's feet to the fire and say you cannot betray the base.

BURNETT: And remind him, as one person told me, that he did every day, this is what you're elected to do. This is what you're elected to do. That's what Steve Bannon was doing for Donald Trump.

Thanks to all.

And next, Republican ripping up the rules to get Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on the bench. Tonight, Trump already talking about his next justice.

And Bernie Sanders with a major hit that millions and millions are watching. You'll see it next.


[19:41:03] BURNETT: Hillary Clinton taking on President Trump tonight, speaking at the Tina Brown Women of the World Summit. The former secretary of state confessed that she enjoyed watching the president struggle and fail at repealing and replacing Obamacare.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Having listened to them talk about, you know, repeal and replace for eight years, or seven years now, and they had not a clue what that meant.

You know, healthcare is complicated, right? And so they -- they don't know what to do. And, yeah, I do admit that was somewhat gratifying.


BURNETT: And OUTFRONT now, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.

Congresswoman, great to have you with me.

You know, a rare public appearance today by Hillary Clinton because we really haven't seen much of her since the election. Do you want her to be more vocal, even more vocal in opposing Donald Trump?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL), FORMER DNC CHAIRWOMAN: You know, I think she needs to be measured and be vocal when it's the most relevant and appropriate and can really, I think, draw the most significant contrast. BURNETT: Now, Senator Bernie Sanders on the other hand, of course,

has been much more vocal, leading protests, holding town halls. He's got a Facebook Live show now, Congresswoman, called the Bernie Sanders Show. It's a hit. Some of his videos are getting as many as eight million views.

Is Senator Bernie Sanders the leader of your party right now?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Senator Sanders is a leader of our party, one of a number of leaders. And it is absolutely fantastic that he is leading an effort to continue to engage our grassroots activists. So, anything that we can do. And we are all all-hands-on-deck here to make sure that we don't miss the moment.

And so, whether it's Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi or Debbie Wasserman Schultz or any of a number of us who want to make sure that we can help our constituents and our supporters answer the question what -- that we're all getting, Erin, what can I do to help?

BURNETT: So, you mentioned the word "grassroots", and you and Senator Sanders have had a disagreement over the direction of your party.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's time to take a reassessment of the purpose of whether the Democratic Party is and where it wants to go. And I think, essentially, what we need to do right now is to become a grassroots party.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Respectfully to Senator Sanders, we are already a grassroots party.


BURNETT: Do you think you need to be working together right now? What's the issue here?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, we are working together. I mean, Senator Sanders is a member of the Senate Democratic leadership. As you said, he has a Facebook Live show that gets eight million views. He's been, you know, fully integrated and his team has been fully integrated into the work that the Democrats are doing to fight back against the Trump administration.

So, you know, as much as we can make sure that we reach out to the grassroots as we always have, then you're going to be able to capitalize on it.

BURNETT: It sounds like that's your issue. When he's saying we need to become a grassroots party, you're obviously somewhat offended by the way that he's saying it.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I'm not at all offended. I -- this is a manufactured battle. I'm not -- I spend no time worrying about the semantics of whether Bernie Sanders thinks we are or aren't a grassroots party.

BURNETT: We began this conversation talking about women and President Trump's daughter, top advisor, Ivanka, recently talked about her official role at the White House. Here's what she said.


IVANKA TRUMP, FIRST DAUGHTER: I think for me, what it means is that I'll continue the advocacy work that I was doing in the private sector, advocating for the empowerment of women.


BURNETT: Now, Congresswoman, we know Ivanka Trump now has met with the Planned Parenthood president, Cecile Richards, but we understand that that meeting did nothing to change Cecile Richards' view of President Trump or of Ivanka Trump.

Do you think Ivanka Trump is working to help women or not right now?

[19:45:01] WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I think Ivanka Trump needs to recognize that she is now the most powerful woman in this administration. She has a portfolio, an official portfolio, an official role in the White House, in the West Wing, which includes that making sure that women are a priority of this administration.

And she owns that a portfolio and she no longer has the luxury of sort of dropping in and dropping out when you own a portfolio like that. And so, it is her responsibility having that portfolio to really lay out what the administration's agenda is.

BURNETT: When she says she's fighting -- when she says she's fighting for women -- you know, she's going to be attending this conference in Europe this spring. When she says she's working on behalf of women, do you see any evidence of that at this point?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I would say that because of her complicity with her father's agenda she's fighting women, not fighting for women.

BURNETT: On the topic of women, the president defended Bill O'Reilly against sexual harassment allegations, I'm sure you saw it. You know, he said he did nothing wrong.


BURNETT: He said Bill O'Reilly is good man. Were you surprised he came to O'Reilly's defense so specifically?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Oh, god, nothing surprises me with this man anymore. I mean, look at the tape, you know, the "Access Hollywood" tape that came out during the campaign. I'm not surprised because this is a man in the White House who is engaged in that kind of conduct. So, naturally, he would be dismissing the very similar conduct from someone else.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you very much, Congresswoman.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Sure. Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And we have breaking news right now.

Hours away from President Trump's pick for Supreme Court officially being confirmed, the Senate has gone nuclear. Republicans have changed the rules to end the filibuster of Trump's nominee Neil Gorsuch. Trump is already talking about other openings coming up on the court.

Here he is.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a great person right now in Judge Gorsuch. I mean, a great person. And hopefully, if there is a second one made during my administration and there could be as many as four, in fact, under a certain scenario, there could be more than that.


BURNETT: A bit morbid.

Phil Mattingly is OUTFRONT.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, Senate Republicans have triggered the so-called nuclear action.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Therefore, I raise the point of order that the vote on cloture under the precedent set on November 21st, 2013 is a majority vote on all nominations.

MATTINGLY: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell making a historic change to the Senate rules to clear the path forward for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Today's vote is a cautionary tale about how unbridled partisan escalation can ultimately overwhelm our basic inclination to work together.

MATTINGLY: Republicans repeatedly touting nominee Neil Gorsuch's qualifications, blaming anger at Trump for the Democratic blockade.

MCCONNELL: The opposition to this particular nomine is more about the man that nominated him and the party he represents than the nominee himself.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: You know that he'll be confirmed and you know in your hearts of heart that he deserves to be confirmed, and that's why this is especially sad state of affairs. MATTINGLY: The change, that so-called nuclear option, dropped the

threshold to advance Gorsuch's nomination from 60 to just 51 votes, giving Republicans who hold 52 seats in the chamber the ability to work with no Democratic help.

SCHUMER: In a post-nuclear world, if the president and his presidency are in the hands of the party, there's no incentive to even speak to the Senate minority. That's a recipe for more conflict and bad blood between the parties, not less.

MATTINGLY: The move marks a culmination or perhaps continuation of events set into motion over years of mistrust and partisanship. And it follows the 2013 Democratic move that made the same change for lower count appointees.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: It's time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete.

MATTINGLY: It was done then to overcome GOP blockades of many of President Obama's nominee and drew this starkly prescient warning from then-Minority Leader McConnell.

MCCONNELL: To the other side of the aisle, you'll regret this and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.

MATTINGLY: McConnell now escalating deeply embedded partisan tensions himself, with a move even some Republican colleagues are criticizing.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I find myself torn between protecting the traditions and practices of the Senate and the importance of having a full complement of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

MATTINGLY: Even as they call voted in favor.


[19:50:00] Aye.


MATTINGLY: And, Erin, we just learned the final vote on Neil Gorsuch's nomination will be at 11:30 tomorrow morning in the Senate. And we know that's a foregone conclusion. He will be confirmed.

The big question now is, what happens next in the chamber, that chamber that's supposed to slow things down, be bipartisan, reach consensus. There is a real concern that what I've heard repeatedly, this is a slippery slope, perhaps changing the legislative rules will happen next. I'm told there's a lot of work going on behind the scenes now by Senate aides and Senate Republicans and Democrats to try and make sure that doesn't happen. But there's no question, there's a real escalation that's ongoing, one that's been ongoing for a number of years now. There's an open question when that will end or if it will at all, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Phil Mattingly, thank you very much. Kayleigh McEnany and Jamie Gangel are back with me.

We are waiting, by the way, any moment, the president's comments out of Mar-a-Lago with the Chinese president, President Xi. We're going to take those -- take that live the second it comes in.

Jamie, though, he is, though, out today saying, of course, he's already gotten Neil Gorsuch in his view, already talking about multiple more openings on the Supreme Court.

GANGEL: This is -- you know, this is the one part of his presidency that has gone well for him. And it's -- the nuclear option has changed everything. He does not need 60 votes on these. We have a lot of members of the Supreme Court who are getting up there in age. I think he sees a real opportunity with the court to make a difference and, you know, looking ahead.

BURNETT: I mean, he's certainly trying to seize this moment, Kayleigh.

MCENANY: Absolutely. This is why evangelicals voted for him. And, in fact, it's almost mind blowing to think, evangelicals voted for him more so than Bush, more so than Romney, more so than McCain because of the Supreme Court. They didn't like some of the things he said, the tape, for instance. They did like that list of Supreme Court justices.

BURNETT: And we're looking right now, Jamie -- well, all right, this is from earlier today. But I said, we're anticipating -- they just made comments, OK, what happens so our viewers understand, sometimes this happens in the room, and there's literally -- it's back in the old days, essentially a tape gets run out and we will play it the second it comes in.

This, though, is Donald Trump with the president of China, President Xi. That's what we're going to see in just a couple of moments, when we see the comments that they're making in Mar-a-Lago. This is the most important meeting, Jamie, that he has coming. It comes on a weekend when he's deciding whether to strike Syria. He's talking about war with Syria. He's also talking about options -- military options in North Korea.

And this is the most important meeting he has had in his young presidency.

GANGEL: Absolutely. And I think it's important to also note that the Syria part of this is happening in the middle of this. They thought they would just be dealing with this meeting in China and he's been talking for weeks about North Korea leading up to it. Now, he's facing, figuring out, he said it crossed multiple lines with Syria, exactly what he's going to do.

I think it's quite a balancing act for him. You know, we -- it's really -- this is a test of his presidency, the first test really on foreign policy. BURNETT: And, Kayleigh, this test with presidency is -- this is --

there has been no bigger event than this particular meeting he is going to have. His meetings so far, let's face it, have had bumps, right? The kind of awkward non-hand shake with Angela Merkel, the too long handshake with the leader of Japan, Shinzo Abe.

No one can afford for there to be an error with the presidency.

MCENANY: Absolutely. And two reasons, North Korea, you pointed at China as potentially can twist the arm of North Korea. Number two, economically, Donald Trump -- think about how many times on the campaign trail he called China a currency manipulator. Think about how many times he said, you know, China on the world global trade stage is the reason you in Michigan and Wisconsin have lost your union jobs. So, this is key in those two fronts. It's integral to the success of Donald Trump's agenda.

GANGEL: It's also interesting because it's an intersection of his economic policy and national security policy. I was talking to several Republican sources who said that they were very concerned about North Korea and that something could happen sooner rather than later. We look at this in light of things that have not gone well recently with healthcare, this is important to him for this to work out. Both on the jobs, the deficit and national security.

BURNETT: And, of course, he keeps saying, you know, hit, Kayleigh, though, with the reality is much more -- much different than it seems on the campaign trail. It seems very easy on the campaign trail, just bomb them or just do that or whatever it might be to oversimplify. He is learning that is not the way it works.

MCENANY: Sure, every president has his moment. I mean, I couldn't help but think this week of Bill Clinton there's genocide overseas, do I call it genocide, do I not? It puts American troops in harm's way, but it's a humanitarian crisis. It's tough.

BURNETT: Yes. And as we get ready, we're just seconds away.

[19:55:02] Here is the president. This is what just happened moments ago in Mar-a-Lago. Let's listen, the president and President Xi.


TRUMP: It's a great honor to have the president of China and his incredible talented wife, a great, great celebrity in China, a great singer. It's an honor to have you in the United States.

We've had a long discussion already and, so far, I have gotten nothing, absolutely nothing, but we have developed a friendship, I can see that. And I think long term, we're going to have a very, very great relationship and I look very much forward to it.


Thank you all very much. Thank you.


BURNETT: All right. There's a lot of things you can see here. Let us start, though, Jamie, with what he said. He seemed to -- that was very well done, right? The handshake. That was very smooth.

GANGEL: He hit his marks on everything.

I will say, we were watching this footage, he seemed much more relaxed at the dinner. When we were looking at the earlier footage where the two of them had the first photo-op, they looked very sober. There were a couple of times that you see the weight of the office on him. I remember when he was with President Obama for the very first meeting, you saw it and I think you saw it again.

BURNETT: Now, just zooming around that table, I'm not being exclusive. This is just who I saw, Jared Kushner, first one. But I see Reince Priebus. I see Steve Bannon. I see Ivanka Trump. I see Wilbur Ross right there.

A lot of people at this dinner. Bannon is among them.

MCENANY: Bannon is among them and he has not gone yet, and he won't be gone I predict. Look, he was very relax. President Trump, everyone who's met knows he's very charming, very likable. You can see that at the dinner.

But what's going on behind the scenes? Can I say, stop dumping cheap goods in our market, et cetera, et cetera?

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both.

And now, insults never so funny. Here's Jeanne Moos on the death today of Don Rickles.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Back in the days before Internet snark, he was the king of insult comedy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Warmth, Don Rickles.

MOOS: His break through was on Johnny Carson.

Now, other performers are showering Rickles with praise. Tweeted Jason Alexander, "He created insult comedy, yet every one of his targets felt loved and honored."

DON RICKLES, COMEDIAN: Norman Wells, 30 years ago, you were handsome and now, I'm going to put good year on your face and fly over the beach for half hour.

MOOS: Watch him crack up Larry King.

RICKLES: What a cheap shot. Can't even get the host to show up. Shut-up, Larry. Get on with it.

MOOS: Rickles was a member of the Rat Pack.

RIKCKLES: It takes many years to be a great comedian.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure does, and you haven't reached that.

MOOS: Many of these famous faces of laughter last laugh.

Rickles once surprised Frank Sinatra on Carson. He was always pretending to speak Italian.


MOOS: And kissing Frank.

He told of pranks the Rat Pack played, shoving him out of the steam room of the Sands Hotel naked.

RICKLES: The world got to see a perfect body.

MOOS: Rickles played some serious roles alongside Robert De Niro and Scorsese's "Casino" and some not so serious roles, Mr. Potato Head in "Toy Story".

The Donald once tried to get Don to buy a Trump condo.

RICKLES: This is 9.6 million, this is 8.9 million, and looked down and I saw a dollar on the floor and said leave me alone.

MOOS: His verbal assault --

RICKLES: What an idiot.

MOOS: -- had Larry King wiping tears off his glasses. But there was nothing cold about Mr. Warm's true character.

RICKLES: And I tell you, we have been blessed to have such a man.

MOOS: Praising those he loved most to insult.

RICKLES: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

RICKLES: You enjoyed it.


BURNETT: Brought a lot of laughter to a lot of people and long, well- lived life.

Thank you so much for joining us. Don't forget, you can watch OUTFRONT anytime anywhere. Just go to CNN Go. We'll see you back here on Friday. Have a good night.

"AC360" with Anderson Cooper begins right now.