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New Details on U.S. Air Strike on Syria; Republicans Confirm Gorsuch as Supreme Court Justice; Trump Meets with Chinese President After Strikes in Syria. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired April 7, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:32:23] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to show you, if we have it, a live look at the U.N. Security Council. They have called an emergency meeting on the strikes in Syria. They are gathering right now. We could hear from the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, her first public comments since the operation overnight. Also, we could hear from Russia's representative to the U.N. Security Council. We could also hear from a representative from Syria, speaking before this open meeting. This could be crucial. We're going to follow this. We're waiting for them to sit down and begin.

We'll be right back.


[11:37:16] BOLDUAN: We're learning new and important new details this morning about the U.S. air strike in Syria overnight. First, images also coming in of the aftermath. President Trump ordered that strike. It took place at 8:40 p.m. eastern time. 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from U.S. warships in the Mediterranean. The target, the air base where the U.S. government believes that deadly chemical attack was launched from earlier this week.

CNN's Tom Foreman is rejoining me now with a closer look at exactly how all this went down, what more we're learning from the administration.

Tom, what are you hearing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, take a look at this video that we've been showing a little bit earlier, Kate. And I want you to remember what you're seeing here, these fortified bunkers, basically, these hangars to hold jets out there. Some damage out here on the open tarmac of this airfield and some other places. We don't really have comprehensive video, but that's what you can see so far.

Now let's look at the airfield from 2014 when it was in pristine shape. What were they aiming at? Command-and-control structures are always the first target, communications, radar, aircraft controls. So you may see that happening anywhere out here. But you also are trying get any aircraft you can actually get to. You can see some out here right now on this airfield. What sort of aircraft are we talking about in this case? The Russian-

made MIG and some other planes are popular with the Syrian air force. Some degraded with the civil war, but these would be the prime targets.

But did they get to them? That's a different matter, because you go back to that airfield and look at some details, what you're seeing here are fortified bunkers, as you saw in that video, for holding these planes. There are at least 15 of them easily spotted around here. And as you saw in that video, they are big concrete structures that don't easily allow you to get a bomb inside of them. There's some belief it may take two or three cruise missiles to actually get in here and destroy an aircraft to make sure it was gone, even though these are very big missiles. So, command-and-control, trying to hit the aircrafts, trying to actually break through some of these things, fuel depots, places where they might have weapons.

But here's a comparative thought. If you look at this airfield, there is no real attack, as far as we can tell, on the runway here. But let's go back to another airfield, in 2003 Iraq, and look at the comparative difference in the attack there. Here, look, big craters blown right into the runways and the access points here and on to the taxiways. Big crater over here to block planes from getting out. That can be repaired quickly but, nonetheless, there's a big difference in the type of attack that we saw.

[11:39:57] BOLDUAN: Thanks for laying it out, Tom.

Still waiting. More details coming in every minute on this. We'll update our viewers as we get them. Thank you, Tom.

I want to show you quickly, we'll take a little look into the Senate floor, where Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch is -- the Senate is voting on his confirmation right now. He is expected, almost for sure, to be confirmed. Of course, replacing the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Why do I have high confidence on this? Well, if you remember, yesterday, the Senate changed the rules, Republicans changed the rules to make it easier to push forward a Supreme Court nominee, to approve a Supreme Court nominee, lowering the vote threshold. They now just need a simple majority, and they surely have that. We're following that as we wait for the official vote count to come in. We'll bring it to you as soon as it happens.

I want to get back, though, to the big story of the day, the U.S. air strike in Syria. And it raises questions of what is next and what is the president's position on foreign policy. What is the president's posture towards Syria right now?

Take a listen. You'll remember this from President Trump earlier this week talking about his foreign policy.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not, and I don't want to be the president of the world. I'm the president of the United States. And from now on, it's going to be America first. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: That was President Trump. And he was speaking, notably, that was just hours after the chemical attack took place in Syria and the images started coming out. It killed dozens of people, including many children.

It was the horrific images of those children that compelled the president, he says, to order these air strikes on a Syrian air base.

Then listen to what really appears to be a change in tone from the president in his remarks last night.


TRUMP: We hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will in the end prevail.

Goodnight, and God bless America and the entire world.


BOLDUAN: Let me bring in right now to discuss, David Drucker is with us, CNN political analyst, senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner"; Aaron David Miller is here, CNN global affairs analyst, longtime diplomat over at the State Department, working for many a secretary of state. Alice Stewart is a Republican strategist. And Paul Begala, Democratic strategist, worked in Clinton White House, of course.

Alice, when you hear President Trump Tuesday and you heard President Trump last night and you see what President Trump did last night in ordering these strikes, does this mean that President Trump is no longer America first?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's about America first and America leading to provide peace and justice throughout the world. I think he did exactly the right thing. In my view, looking back over the past few days, and the statements he's made, I think he, as soon as he saw those images, like everyone else across the world, you were heartbroken. They're devastating pictures. Syria's in a humanitarian disaster situation now. Something needed to be done. And he has opposed the previous administration's telegraphing all of their efforts and their steps, and I think he was very calculated in his keeping things under the vest, keeping things quiet and confidential and striking exactly when and how he did. And in stressing the fact this was in America's vital national security interest, I think as he meets with members of Congress, he will outline all of the details toes exactly why he did exactly what he did. But this was important for America to take the lead, because, unfortunately, no one has done so for the past several years.

BOLDUAN: Right, but what is the strategic objective over there? That is the one thing that's not clear that has happened.

I will pose the question to you, Paul, as well. I mean, do you think this has changed fundamentally this presidency? Is he still -- can he still be America first and what everyone understood that to mean? And his posture throughout the campaign of staying -- in no way see a need or desire to enter into Syria or into another conflict.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is clearly a man driven by impulse more than ideas or ideology. And in this case, I think his impulses are exactly right. Frankly, we should have had this strike in 2013 when President Obama said there was a red line. Assad crossed that red line, used gas against his own citizens. But by the way, Donald Trump was opposed to it then. We saw the same images then. And yet, he was opposed to it. Now he's changed. Does this mean it's a strategic change, a world view change? I seriously doubt it.



BEGALA: Because he's a man of impulse. He saw horrific pictures and acted on it. I think that's a good thing, actually. But I can't imagine what the strategy is. Do we want to remove Assad? Apparently, the secretary of state says so. The president never has. I have no idea what his strategy is. And I think that's always a problem if you're employing tactics absent a strategy. I think it's a mistake.

[11:45:00] BOLDUAN: Aaron, we've heard a lot of praise for this action. We hear it from Paul Begala right here for the action that he took.

But just as quickly, this is the question -- this is the -- I'm only stuttering because I'm getting news in my ear. We know a final vote coming from the Senate floor. Supreme Court nominee -- is the vote -- hang on, guys. Let me talk to the Control Room. OK.

Voting is still under way, but importantly, Republicans have now passed the threshold. 52 Senators have voted in support of Neil Gorsuch. Voting still under way, but he has now reached the threshold of a simple majority. 52 Senators voting to confirm Neil Gorsuch. Voting to confirm Neil Gorsuch, so we have this very important moment.

And miraculously, and magically, we have someone else who has just joined us at the table. Jeffrey Toobin, CNN legal analyst, joining us here.

Jeffrey, I know you're listening to the other conversation and we were waiting for this moment. This was expected. What does this mean for the court in the most immediate sense? Does he hit the ground running?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANAYST: Oh, absolutely. He has been a federal appeals court judge for 10 years, so he knows precisely what he is doing. He is a former law clerk. In fact, he is the first Supreme Court justice in history to serve with, alongside the justice for whom he was a law clerk.

BOLDUAN: That's right. TOOBIN: He was a law clerk for Anthony Kennedy. He's 49 years old.

He's very likely to be on the Supreme Court for several decades. And this re-establishes a conservative majority on the court, replacing Antonin Scalia with another conservative.

And you know, there have only been 112 Supreme Court justices in American history, so anytime one is confirmed is a major event in our history, and the court will change. Byron White served on the court for many years, and he used to say, when you change one justice, you don't just change one justice, you change the whole court. The dynamics change. There are now going to be three justices in their 50s -- Justice Kagan, Justice Sotomayor, and actually one in their 40s. So, there will be somewhat of a younger group.

And you know, this was a great day for the conservative movement in this country. I mean, the difference between Merrick Garland and Neil Gorsuch is enormous, whether on issues like Citizens United, campaign finance, on affirmative action, on abortion rights. You will see a huge difference in how they would have voted.

BOLDUAN: Are we going to hear from the soon-to-be Justice Neil Gorsuch? I know that the confirmation is tentatively scheduled for -- the swearing-in is tentatively scheduled for next week, but will we hear from him?

TOOBIN: Not much. You'll probably have, you know, a thank you.


TOOBIN: -- you know, a session at the swearing-in, but justices kind of disappear from public view, other than in court when they --


BOLDUAN: Every time they speak outside the court, it's such a big deal.

TOOBIN: Yeah. So I don't think you're going to hear -- certainly you're not going to hear anything of substance from Neil Gorsuch. But he will be sworn in. There are two oaths he has to take, and they usually do it right away, just in case, at least one of them, sometimes, in case something happens. But you know, he's going to be there for a long time. And as John McCain first told me when I covered my first Supreme Court confirmation hearing, he said, elections have consequences, and this is a big one.

BOLDUAN: Let's get to our Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill following this vote.

Sunlen, what are you hearing from there?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, I think we should definitely note that this is certainly significant win for President Trump, one of his first victories here. He was, of course, widely praised for the rollout of the Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, and now he is getting, indeed, his nominee firmly in place in this court.

Also a win for Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. We saw him demonstrate a rare moment of jubilation yesterday when he got Neil Gorsuch through, through those controversial maneuverings, invoking the so-called nuclear option. He high-fived his fellow Senators on the floor, gave a thumbs-up. So, certainly a win for them for punishing this Supreme Court nominee through.

I should note that while all of this is going on in Washington, Neil Gorsuch was back in Colorado with his family, staying far away from the politics of this moment. And he will, of course, come back to Washington, D.C., early next week, where he will be sworn in by President Trump, potentially Monday, potentially Tuesday. And as Jeffrey Toobin smartly noted, he also will be administered another oath at the court.

But looking ahead at the schedule, he will participate, we believe, in a closed-door session with justices, potentially on Thursday. That's where they hash out what sort of cases they'll take up and then, potentially, be on the bench on April 17th -- Kate?

[11:50:01] BOLDUAN: No time wasted.

Jeff, Sunlen, thank you guys very much.

Breaking news, Neil Gorsuch passing the threshold of 52 -- passing the threshold to be confirmed as the next justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Right now, the United Nations Security Council is holding an emergency meeting on the Syria strikes. We are waiting to hear from the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. These will be her first comments since the operation. We're going to bring our panel back. We're going to bring you this very important moment live when it happens.


BOLDUAN: We're going to show you live pictures from the U.N. Security Council meeting after -- of course, meeting after the U.S. Strikes in Syria. We are listening and waiting to hear from the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley for her first comments since this attack happened.

Let me continue now bringing back in the panel.

Aaron David Miller, I'm so sorry we were cut off for that important new about Neil Gorsuch.

Let me post this to you, Aaron, with your vast experience at the State Department. This is two things we know. We know for years President Trump was against military action in Syria. He was -- including after the other very large and very horrific chemical attack in 2013. Hundreds were killed there.

Why now? What is your sense? What is your guess and your insight? Why now is this president doing what appears to be kind of the exact opposite of what he's been tweeting and saying for years?

[11:55:17] AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I mean, you have a risk averse president, largely when it comes to nation building and involvement in Syria and Iraq, suddenly becoming risk ready. I guess I would conclude as a student of the presidency that there are clarifying moments in the history of any president in which the national interest, the emotion, and even conviction rise above the narrow den of partisanship and even campaign commitments. And you may -- and I don't want to break the bank on this one, I'm watching Paul Begala. You may, in fact, have witnessed something like this. Horrific pictures, probably CIA briefings, which told the president of the impact of nerve agents, what they do to human beings, and a president who is trying to bridge the gap between risk aversion and risk readiness, which is what it's going to take to identify a strategy that is going to make this particular military action meaningful and make it have legs. I'm not persuaded that the administration has thought through or even knows now exactly whether or not this is going to be a sustained political and military strategy. This guy does not want to get stuck with the check for Syria. It's hundreds of millions of dollars, peacekeepers, and not a day-after problem, a decade-after problem.

BOLDUAN: To that point, being left with the check, that's why you talk about risk averse with some in Congress.

David, Congress -- some in Congress say that they want a say in this if there's going to be any further military, but do they really? Didn't they have the opportunity in 2013 and they were nothing but happy to shirk that responsibility?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They did. Congress is naturally reticent to approve military action because they can be on the hook for a strategy that they really have no control over, over time. Then you always have the politics of it, Kate, which is in 2013 you had a lot of Republicans that didn't want to go to bat for President Obama, even though Democrats were in that situation as well for different reasons. And now we could see the reverse.

But I think there's a couple of things to watch for here. One is Secretary of Defense James Mattis is very honed-in on a strategy where you have a beginning, middle and end, and you're not just doing something open ended without a thought to what comes next. It will be interesting to see what the administration does. You know he has a large say in this.


DRUCKER: The dichotomy on Capitol Hill, they may not want to put their name on this without an Authorization of Use of Military Force.

I think a lot of Republicans and democrats can be reassured that President Trump --


BOLDUAN: David, David I'm going to cut you off. My first thing to do. It's only because I need to take you to Florida.

President Trump sitting down in a bilateral meeting with the Chinese president right now. Let's listen in. This tape just came in.


TRUMP: I think we have made tremendous progress in our relationship with China. My representatives have been meeting one-on-one with the counterparts from China and it's -- I think truly progress has been made. We'll be making a lot of additional progress.

The relationship developed by President Xi and myself I think is outstanding. We look forward to meeting together many times in the future. And I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away.

So I just want to thank President Xi for being with us in the United States. It's a tremendous honor for me and all of my representatives to host the president and his representatives. And again, progress has been made.

Thank you very much. Thank you.


TRUMP: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.


[11:59:18] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King.

You were just watching the tape of the president of the United States beginning a meeting with a large delegation, United States delegation across the table from the Chinese delegation. This at Mar-a-Lago, the president's Palm Beach resort in Florida. Very high-stakes meeting with the president of China after a very defining day for the Trump administration. Just last night, the president announcing military action, military strikes, the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against an air base in Syria. That, in retaliation for the chemical weapon attack the president blames on the Syrian government earlier in the week. The conversation today, a high consequence, too, on the table in those sessions with China, the trade relationship, but also the prospect the president of the United State says of another military confrontation possible with North Korea. He said in advance of this meeting he needs China's help to get North Korea to back down in its testing of ballistic missiles and its development of its nuclear program. We will see after this meeting if he gets progress with the Chinese on that front, or whether North Korea could be added to the commander-in-chief's urgent task list.

Our Jeff Zeleny is standing --