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Trump 100 Day Benchmark; Trump's 100-Day Expectations; Health Care Negotiations; Tax Reform Legislation Bill Coming; China Denies Bombers on High Alert; Coal Ships Spotted in China Port; Russia Silent on Troop Movements. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 21, 2017 - 14:00   ET

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


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[14:00:11] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera, in for Brooke Baldwin on this Friday. Thanks for being with us.

We begin with this artificial 100-day deadline that's putting real pressure on President Trump. So much so he just tweeted this. "No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, and it has been a lot, including Supreme Court, media will kill." One hundred days in office is a presidential report card first set by Franklin Delano Roosevelt 84 years ago. And every president since then has faced this benchmark. And while President Trump is seeming to just dismiss the deadline now, he embraced it during the campaign. He released a contract of achievements he set for himself for this 100 day mark. Well, now it appears his 100th day could end in a government shutdown as a budget deadline looms. What's more, the president has heaped another major weight on his shoulders, reviving the hopes of a repeal and replacement plan for Obamacare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're doing very well on health care. We'll see what happens. But this is a great bill. This is a great plan. And this will be great health care. It's evolving. You know, there was never a give-up. The press sort of reported there was like a give-up. There's no give-up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Let me turn to CNN's Jason Carroll at the White House now.

And, Jason, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer just talked to reporters about the president's 100th day mark. What did he say?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know what's interesting about this, Ana, despite the fact that you've got the president saying that this 100-day mark is not important, it's very clear historically it's been important, and it's still important. And that's evidently clear from what we heard from Sean Spicer today. Even though Sean Spicer, when he spoke to reporters, Ana, he said that he wasn't looking for a marker for the 100-day mark.

But having said that, he then went on to sort of lay out the president's past accomplishments over the past 100 days. He talked about the laws that he had been - that had been passed. He also talked about the 24 executive orders that had been passed. He talked about being able to get his Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch through in confirmation.

But what he was unable to do was to talk about some of those key points that Donald Trump had talked about so much about during the campaign, health care reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare. That is still stalled, even though the president and administration officials say that they - that they are feeling some headway heading into next week in terms of making up some ground on health care.

Also, immigration reform, building that wall, still not - still has not happened. And all this as the administration is now looking at what could be a government shutdown next week, although, Ana, we are hearing from administration officials that they are feeling confident that that will not happen next week.

Ana.

CABRERA: All right. A lot could still happen between now and then, indeed.

Jason Carroll, our thanks to you.

Joining me now, Jon Seib. He's the former chief of staff and retired senator - for retired Senator Max Baucus. Also he served as tax and investigative council for the Senate Finance Committee. Also with us, David Hoppe, he is the former chief of staff for Speaker Paul Ryan, and CNN political analyst Rebecca Berg and Patrick Healy are with us as well. So, Rebecca - she is a national politics reporter for RealClearPolitics and Patrick is deputy culture editor for "The New York Times." I want to make sure we get everybody's credit where credit is due.

David, I'll start with you. Let's listen to President Trump talking about his plans for the first 100 days.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am asking the American people to dream big once again. What follows is my 100-day action plan to make America great again.

Just think about what we can accomplish in the first 100 days of a Trump administration.

Ethics reform will be a crucial part of our 100-day plan as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: So, David, as you heard, President Trump himself created pretty high expectations for his 100-day mark. Why is he now, in his tweet today, suggesting otherwise?

DAVID HOPPE, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF FOR SPEAKER PAUL RYAN: Well, I think, as you said, back with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his 100 days started in March, every president since has done that and President Trump is no different. And that's a way of capturing what you want to do.

But in terms of the 100 days, if you look at one of our most successful recent presidents, Ronald Reagan, he didn't have a budget passed in 100 days, he didn't have a reconciliation passed in 100 days, and he didn't have a tax reform passed in 100 days. But he did have them passed by the time he - the Congress went on its recess in August. So there is time to do these things, do them right and do them effectively so that we can save health care and provide a new market system for health care and start growing the economy, which is the biggest reason for doing tax cuts. We've got to get the economy growing. We've had no growth in the last 10 to 15 years.

[14:05:01] CABRERA: So - so, David, I hear what you're saying in terms of, there is still time, no doubt about it. But, I mean, the president, you talk about health care. The president is the one who - and the GOP themselves are the ones who have been drumming up the talk and suggesting that they are trying to accomplish this sooner rather than later, perhaps before that 100-day mark. Are they giving themselves a deadline that could be impossible to meet?

HOPPE: Well, realistically, they are trying to put together some changes in the plan that came out in early March. And they're working together with the moderate members, Congressman MacArthur, representing the Tuesday Group, and Congressman Meadows to the House Freedom Caucus, are working to see if they can find a balance that will get the votes they need in the House. But it's unlikely to take it up next week. Obviously the first thing that has to be done next week, the biggest thing, is to do the appropriations to fund the rest of the government for the last five months of the year. So that will be the highest priority because it has to be done by Friday midnight.

So this is working, however, and they're starting to see some - have some success, apparently from what you're hearing, in trying to at least bridge the gaps. Now, is that locked in? Is it solid? No. But they are writing language because that's the state they're at right now. You have to write the language, people have to see it and understand exactly what it does and try and pull it apart a little bit, not just ideas on a paper, not just concepts, legislative language. And that's a tough part of this deal. That's the point they're at right now, which is a positive point, but far from conclusion.

CABRERA: OK, so, David, we heard just from you explain there is a lot that would need to happen. Rebecca, is it possible, given all of the procedural process, for them to get Obamacare repeal, replace accomplished in - in a week's time or even get some other things checked off, like tax reform, which the president has also said could be something that comes out this week?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as one source put it to me yesterday, Ana, one Republican source who has been following these health care negotiations, it's not impossible, but it's highly unlikely. And it's not only because the negotiations are still ongoing, there isn't a finalized deal or, as Dave pointed out, finalized legislative language, which is important. But you also don't have necessarily buy-in yet from the leadership, acknowledgement from leaders on Capitol Hill, that the votes would be there and be there this quickly.

And, of course, the spending measure is going to be the priority. We're seeing kind of some signs of trouble on that front as well with Mick Mulvaney, the OMB director, saying just yesterday that the administration wants to push hard for funding in that for its border wall, for increased border security and Democrats are saying, if you include that in your spending bill, in your spending legislation, then we are going to try to block that. And so that's how you could get a recipe for a government shutdown potentially. So they have to work through that certainly before they start working through health care and it's not clear that they have a deal on spending yet either.

CABRERA: I'm going to talk more about spending in a moment. But first to you, Jon. When it comes to those at home keeping score, who really cares? Who's keeping score?

JON SEIB, FORMER TAX & INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL, SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE: I don't think anybody really cares about the first 100 days except for people who spend a lot of time watching the news. But, you know, what they do care about is the government staying open and functioning. And I think that there's a real risk for a shutdown. And so, in my mind, it's sort of the definition of insanity right now that they're bringing back the health care bill in a way that's, you know, not a well thought out process.

CABRERA: You think priorities may be in the wrong place in terms of focus?

SEIB: I think - yes, look, I think that this administration needs to show they can do the basic blocking and tackling at this point. And having a government shutdown in your first 100 days is something that people at home will pay attention to.

CABRERA: We're just getting some reporting. The AP now reporting that a tax reform legislation bill of some sort is coming next week. What's your reaction when you hear that?

SEIB: Yes, again, I mean, I - the track record with these big pieces - big, complicated pieces of legislation is not great so far. So we have a real deadline. We have a fixed deadline coming in terms of keeping the government open. If - you know, if I were advising the president right now, and I'm not sure he's going to be taking advice from me, I would be focused on making sure the government kept its doors open next week and then - and then move on to spending real time, investing real time, investing real thought, investing real strategy into taking care of some of your other bigger, broader, legislative priorities.

As Dave Hoppe said, and Dave Hoppe would know this better than almost anyone, these things are hard. They take a lot of time. It took a lot of time for Ronald Reagan to get these things done. And, you know, and this White House, which does not have a lot of people in it that have experience legislating, it will take them a long time as well if they do these things.

BERG: But, you know -

CABRERA: But, Patrick, let's bring you into this conversation here. Trump telling the Associated Press, tax reform package coming next week. How big would that be?

[14:10:00] PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: A tax reform would be huge. But, Ana, it's - he's got a real problem on his hands in terms of how he rolls these things out, what really can be done in a matter of time.

Look, I mean, I've covered Donald Trump when he was running for president for about a year and a half and he has a habit in his communication style of raising expectations, we're going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it, you know, a dozen things like that in which he sort of sets these goals that have nothing to do with legislative reality and the process that needs to unfold in a Congress to move a bill. So the notion that next week they're going to try to repeal and replace Obamacare, they're going to get a funding bill through the Congress that includes border wall money, which Democrats are going to try to stop dead in it is tracks, and do tax reform, it feels like you're - you know, you look, it feels like you're throwing a lot of things against the wall, either as a strategy of distraction or trying to look like you're doing all of these things and busy and you're - you know, toward the end of your first 100 days, but it looks like sort of a White House without a really sort of clear strategy for how to execute. To the point earlier, again, we still don't know where the leadership, you know, of the House and the Senate are on all these pieces.

CABRERA: And when it comes to -

BERG: And let's not forget -

CABRERA: Go ahead. Go ahead.

BERG: If we're talking about - just to interject on tax reform for a moment. If we're talking about a potential plan for tax reform, even President Trump and OMB Director Mulvaney have acknowledged that health care reform and passing that plan is instrumental, it's completely pivotal if they're going to get tax reform done. Mick Mulvaney recently in an interview with me called it a linchpin if they are going to move on to tax reform and some of these other big priorities. So it's not clear to me at least how they would present this tax reform package before they have health care through the House.

HOPPE: When all this - when all this is said and done -

CABRERA: David, because you had a special relationship - may I ask you a question that's directly -

HOPPE: Sure. Sure.

CABRERA: Relying on some of your insight and knowledge of the former chief of staff for Speaker Paul Tyan, in that position. I'm wondering how you see this through his lens and what may be happening behind the scenes because I mean it would be a pretty big deal, I would imagine, for him to avoid getting burned a second time with health care.

HOPPE: Well, of course you don't want to do that. But when all this is said and done, and I think this is what the speaker is looking at as well as Senator McConnell, as well as the White House ultimately, let's separate them out. What's going to be done first is the appropriations bills. They have to be done next week. They'll be done first. That will be followed up by health care and it will take a couple of weeks here as they try and put it together. If they're successful putting it together, we'll have a vote in the House in the next two or three weeks. After you get done with that and it goes through the process, it's going to go to the Senate. That's going to take some time in the Senate because there's going to be real significant discussion and voting in the Senate on the health care bill that gets over there, if and when it gets over there.

And then finally you'll be looking at taxes. Taxes are going to be coming later. The administration wants to start talking to the country, to the businesses in the country, to the people in the country and saying, here's what we want to do to stimulate growth. So they're trying to get some other conversations going right now. There's no idea that taxes are going to move quickly. They understand it's going to take some time but they want to start setting up these things ahead of time and that's what's going on. First appropriation, second health care, third taxes. That's going to be the order.

CABRERA: Does that make sense to you, too, Jon?

SEIB: Well, in some ways. But, I mean, as Dave knows, and I'll go back to his Reagan analogy, because I think it's a good one. You know, when Ronald Reagan wanted to get tax reform done, it took - it took two years of planning. You know, it involved Ronald Reagan. It involved Jim Baker, his treasury secretary. Someone who was steeped in Washington. It involved, you know, Dan Rosinkowski (ph), who was a very experienced chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and Tip O'Neil, a legendary speaker of the House, all cooperating in a process that took two years to bring to fruition. Health reform took over a year and a half for us to come together and build a bill that worked and make sure - make sure that it hit all the priorities (INAUDIBLE).

CABRERA: And a lot of critics said that - even that wasn't long enough. Not enough time to debate it.

SEIB: And a lot of critics said it wasn't long enough. And we had 60 votes in the Senate. So I mean I think the idea that like this administration, which has, you know, basically no one in the White House that has any significant legislative experience, you know, that has a Treasury secretary who's I'm sure a very clever guy who has never worked in Washington, you know, can get all of these big pieces moving in the span of a couple months to me seems - seems a little bit far-fetched.

CABRERA: We shall see.

We've got to leave it there. Thank you all for joining us. Jon Seib, David Hoppe, Rebecca, as well as Patrick. Thank you so much.

BERG: Thank you.

CABRERA: Up next, for the fourth time in a week, Russian military planes fly close to the Alaskan coastline. This amid reports that Russian troops are being mobilized between the Russia and North Korea border. How the Kremlin is responding.

[14:15:01] Also, ISIS claiming responsibility after a man opens fire on police in the heart of Paris. Will this influence the French presidential election this weekend? We'll take you live to Paris.

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CABRERA: You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

And, today, China's defense ministry is now denying reports its military is on high alert in the tensions over North Korea. A much different story from just a day ago when a Pentagon official told CNN that the Chinese military was readying some bombers to respond to a potential situation in North Korea. But how China is responding now saying that's not true and yet another denial from Beijing, this one involving North Korean cargo ships. Court records show the ships were docked in China this week. That would be in violation of sanctions against North Korean coal imports.

So, what's the truth? CNN international correspondent David McKenzie is in Beijing.

David.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ana, in a rare statement, the ministry of defense here in China has slammed those reports, saying that they simply, quote, "not true." That there is no sense of high alert from the bombers regarding North Korea. They say that the forces on the border of China and North Korea are, in fact, in a normal level of combat readiness and training. China has repeatedly tried to diffuse the tension in North Korea and the situation that is ongoing there. In fact, they've been praised in recent days by President Trump for squeezing the economy of North Korea, particularly on coal imports into China, which is the major source of currency for Pyongyang.

[14:20:25] Well, we've looked into that. And in the last few days, there have been at least six cargo vessels docking from North Korea in China. Those cargo vessels containing coal. It's unclear whether that coal has been offloaded. And the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs saying that there is no sense that their embargo has been lifted or that they are breaking U.N. sanctions. But certainly a question mark there. They are saying that it could be that they are giving the crew humanitarian assistance.

Ana.

CABRERA: David McKenzie, thank you.

I want to bring in Colonel Cedric Leighton, a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a CNN military analyst.

Colonel, thanks for being with us.

Let's start with this news that China is now denying the reports that they put forces on high alert over North Korea. Do you trust China that they can rein in North Korea?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think they're going to have a real difficult time doing that, Ana, now. They have more influence over North Korea than probably any other country. But having said that, reigning in North Korea, I have my doubts and I don't think they'd be able to do it right now. If North Korea is bent on doing something like let's say a nuclear test or launch a missile or two, they're going to do it. And no matter what the Chinese say, they will do that. And I think the Chinese are angry at North Korea for a variety of things, but they're not stopping North Korea.

CABRERA: Now, President Trump has praised China for turning away the North Korean coal ships. Well, now we hear six North Korean coal ships have docked in China in just the last couple of days. China, again, denying violating any sanctions. So what do you make of that?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think it's more of the same. You know, on the one hand you have what's going on over here, and on the other hand you have what's going on over there. For public consumption, they wanted to make a big deal - the Chinese wanted to make a big deal that they had stopped a North Korean cargo vessel loaded with coal. The real story is that they're popping up the North Korean regime with those six coal vessels, or probably more even that are out there at various Chinese ports.

China has a vested interest in keeping North Korea as stable as possible. They're going to try to play one version of events to the west and to South Korea, but they're also going to play another version of events so that they can keep things going in North Korea.

CABRERA: Is this China sort of laughing off what we've been hearing from President Trump about how he has such a great relationship with them that he believes that he has really swayed them into doing more on North Korea? Because what I'm hearing you say is, nothing has changed.

LEIGHTON: Yes, I'm afraid that's the case. And, you know, I would love for there to be a great relationship between President Xi and President Trump. I think the fact of the matter is, they probably get along very well personally, but the Chinese are going to do what they believe is in their national interest. And when they see various things going on, they will try to mollify, maybe assuage President Trump. But, on the other hand, they are going to maintain those economic relations with North Korea because that is the only way that they think they can have any - any degree of influence with them.

CABRERA: I want to ask you about reports now that Russian troops are mobilizing on the country's 11-mile border with North Korea. The Kremlin denies this. The backdrop though is, a U.S. aircraft carrier moving to the Korean Peninsula. Hundreds of U.S. troops engaging right now in combat drills with South Korea. At what point does all this increased show of force hit a tipping point and really get dangerous?

LEIGHTON: Well, it would certainly become dangerous if there was a risk of, let's say, the Russian forces and U.S. and South Korean forces coming in close contact with each other. But the risk in this particular case is probably fairly minimal. It would take something like an aircraft incident or a naval incident to get there. That 11- mile border that you mentioned between North Korea and Russia is a very, very isolated place. It's not El Paso or San Diego in terms of border crossings. It's far from it. There's only one bridge across the river that divides the two countries and it's a railroad bridge only. There's no pedestrian or car traffic that goes across it. So it's a very different kind of border.

The types of things that the Russians are doing are probably show of force type of exercises. In essence, trying to tell the North Koreans that they're there for them in a certain way and they're also telling the United States that we are present in a very isolated part of Russia. And that kind of makes sense from a strategic standpoint, actually.

[14:25:02] CABRERA: All right, Colonel Cedric Leighton, our thanks to you.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Ana.

CABRERA: Up next, U.S. officials ready to crack down on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. How they plan to do it, next.

And later, ISIS claims one of their fighters opened fire on police officers in Paris. Now that attack may be shaping the French presidential election, which is just days away. We are live in Paris.

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[14:29:54] CABRERA: The Department of Justice says it may have found a way to arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. CNN has learned right now authorities are preparing charges. The Justice Department has been investigating Assange since his website posted thousands of secretive, sometimes embarrassing and classified government documents. Now the files were stolen by former U.S. Army Soldier Chelsea Manning. She was --