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North Korea Threatens United States; President Obama Makes Public Remarks; President Trump Facing Historically Low Approval Rating; Pressure on Senate Committee to Speed Up Russia Probe; Interview with Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 24, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Will the federal government soon look as shuttered and empty as an Atlantic City casino?

Stay with us. THE LEAD starts right now.

The beginning perhaps of the most important week yet for the young Trump presidency, as he approaches the 100-day mark, the White House racing to act on some key promises, as funding for the border wall poses a major obstacle to keeping the federal government running.

Hey, remember this guy? President Obama speaking publicly for the first time in his post-presidency, making a coy reference to his successor. What did he say?

Plus, an American professor detained in North Korea, as Kim Jong-un makes one of his most serious threats yet against the U.S.

Hey, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are going to begin with the politics lead, of course, because it's now the final stretch of the first 100 days of the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Now, you all know that the president says that the 100-day measuring stick is -- quote -- ridiculous, " though, of course, he promoted that measuring stick as a candidate, delivering a speech in October in which he unveiled this:


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What follows is my 100- day action plan to make America great again. It's a contract between Donald J. Trump and the American voter.


TAPPER: A contract.

I'm not saying that contract is in breach, but most of the items on that action plan have yet to come to fruition, so the Trump administration is right now cramming like a college kid during finals week in an attempt to deliver on some of the promises that brought his voters to the polls in November.

So far, if you are scoring at home, only one of the 10 promises for legislation the then candidate Trump made in his contract with the American voter even made it to the House, that Republican health care bill. It died.

So far, we have seen a real journey, one that's taken this president from I alone can fix it, to nobody knew issues like health care could be this complicated, to I said NATO is obsolete, not knowing much about NATO.

One thing, however, has remained consistent, this president's fixation on approval polls and ratings and sometimes rehashing the 2016 election.

Despite new polls that show record low approval ratings for this young of a presidency, 40 percent, according to Gallup -- that's a major deficit compared to every other modern president, as you can see on the screen there -- the president tweeted: "New polls out today are very good considering that much of the media is fake and almost always negative. Would still beat Hillary in popular vote."

Still beat Hillary in popular vote? Kind of odd comment, because he never beat Hillary in the popular vote

But, moving on, the White House says it is no doubt proud of what it has accomplished.

And CNN's Jason Carroll is live at the White House for us.

Jason, this president has a packed week. We're expecting more news on tax reform, possibly resolving this issue of the government shutdown, with the wall being a big obstacle.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Big obstacle, especially if you're a Democrat.

You listen to what folks like Nancy Pelosi are saying, Jake, calling the wall expensive and immoral. But, having said that, the White House is working behind the scenes with the House and Senate. The feeling is that some sort of an agreement will be reached and a government shutdown will be avoided.


CARROLL (voice-over): As President Trump closes in on 100 days in office, his administration is setting up a showdown over funding for a border wall.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's priorities have been very clear from the beginning.

CARROLL: Congress has until Friday to approve a spending bill and avoid a government shutdown. The administration is pushing to include $1.4 billion for the wall as part of that measure. JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It will be up to Congress to

pass it. And if the Democrats filibuster that and block it, they are the ones shutting the whole government down just to keep the wall from being built.

CARROLL: The president tweeting today: "The wall is a very important tool. It's stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth and many others."

But the administration appears to be sending mixed signals on how hard a line the president is willing to draw when it comes to the wall. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly telling CNN the president would insist on it.

JOHN KELLY, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The president has been pretty straightforward about his desire and the need for a border wall. So, I would suspect he'll do the right thing for sure. But I will suspect he will be insistent on the funding.

CARROLL: But Chief of Staff Reince Priebus refused to say whether the president would veto a bill that did not include wall funds.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think that as long as the president's priorities are adequately reflected in the C.R., I think we will we will be OK with that.

CARROLL: Democrats say funding for the wall is a nonstarter.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: To think that he would consider shutting down the government of the United States of America over this outlandish proposal of a border wall, which we can't even pay for at this point, and is opposed by Democrats and Republicans all along the border, that would be the height of irresponsibility.


CARROLL: Even some Republicans on the Hill are suggesting the party cannot risk a shutdown over the wall.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The last thing we can afford is to send a message to the world that the United States government, by the way, is only partially functioning.

CARROLL: On day 95 of his presidency, the president finds himself with the lowest approval ratings at this stage for any president since 1945, yet a "Washington Post"/ABC News poll finds that 96 percent of Trump supporters stand by their vote.

TRUMP: We will see what happens, but health care is coming along well.

CARROLL: A reason the administration is hoping to make progress on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, another key campaign promise, although it seems a vote ahead of the 100-day mark later this week is likely. PRIEBUS: In the grand scheme of things, it's a marathon, not a

sprint, so we're hopeful for this week, but, again, it's not something that has to happen in order to define our success.


CARROLL: So, Jake, ahead of the 100-day mark, the administration planning a number of different measures this week. On Wednesday, they will be having that announcement about tax reform. Also, the president plans to sign several executive orders this week.

And just today, Jake, the administration announcing that they have frozen the assets of 271 Syrians believed to have been responsible for that chemical attack earlier this month -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jason Carroll for us at the White House, thank you so much.

Turning now to our world lead, moments ago, President Trump called North Korea -- quote -- "a real threat to the world."

This is, of course, in response to Pyongyang's latest provocations, as the USS Carl Vinson is now finally steaming toward the Korean Peninsula. The communist regime said over the weekend that it is ready to sink that aircraft carrier with -- quote -- "a single strike."

Also, yet another American has been detained for unknown reasons by North Korea.

Let's bring in CNN correspondent Will Ripley, who is the only American TV journalist reporting from inside North Korea.

And, Will, there are now three Americans in North Korean custody. Do we know what happened to the latest detainee?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, his name Tony Kim, and he was as visiting professor at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

It's a school that often brings in foreign teachers, including Americans, to teach North Korean students funded by donations from the West. And apparently after this teaching assignment ended, he was at the airport just steps away from boarding his flight, when, as North Korean authorities have done in the case of other detainees, they pulled him aside, took him to an unknown location.

And we still don't know where he is right now or what charges he is facing.

TAPPER: The U.N. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said today that North Korea is using citizens who have been taken hostage or detained as bargaining chips.

What can be done to get these Americans out of North Korea? RIPLEY: Well, you think about the other two Americans who are being

held right now, Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who is serving a 15-year sentence of hard labor for taking a political sign off the wall of the hotel and putting it on the ground.

There's another American, Kim Dong Chul, who is serving 10 years hard labor on espionage charges. The State Department warns that North Korea, especially right now, they consider this wartime law when dealing with the United States. So there's a real risk of undue prosecution and punishment, according to the State Department, if you're detained here in North Korea.

In past cases of detainees -- I remember when I interviewed Kenneth Bae, Matthew Miller, and Jeffrey Fowle, the Americans who were held here in 2014, President Obama sent James Clapper in a secret mission to retrieve Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller.

They also -- the North Koreans released Jeffrey Fowle shortly after our interview. But the difference between now and then is the level of tension and this wartime law.

You will also remember, back in 2009, when it was Laura Ling and Euna Lee, it was actually former President Clinton who came on a humanitarian mission, meeting with the late leader Kim Jong ISIL to secure their release.

So, we will have to see what Trump administration plans to do.

TAPPER: Will, it's Tuesday where you are in North Korea, yet another important national holiday, the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its army.

We know that the Kim Jong-un regime, as with prior regimes, likes to celebrate holidays with displays or tests of military might or nuclear weaponry.

What are we expecting this time?

RIPLEY: Well, it's anyone's guess, isn't it?

Because there was a lot of speculation, and looking at the satellite images of North Korea's nuclear test site leading up to their last big holiday on April 15, the Day of the Sun, that Kim Jong-un, the leader, could push the button on that sixth nuclear test, which didn't happen.

He did attempt to launch a missile. That missile launch attempt failed. Wouldn't be surprised to see pretty much anything from the missile launch to the possibility of a nuclear test, even though it's interesting. The latest satellite images show what looked like volleyball tournaments happening at the nuclear test site.


It could be that they have moved down their status from imminent test to standby mode or it could be an attempt to deceive the outside world and try to keep everybody guessing about what Kim's next move will be. But certainly on important holidays, provocative actions, shows of

force are something that North Korea has been known to do. So, we will have to monitor the situation here.

TAPPER: All right, Will Ripley live from Pyongyang North Korea for us, thank you so much.

Is the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election moving too slowly? A source says that the Senate Intelligence Committee is still a long way from interviewing top members of the Trump campaign about their possible ties and communications with Russia -- that story next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's go back to our politics lead now.

As the U.S. Senate returns to work today after their Passover and Easter break, there's new pressure on the Senate Intelligence Committee to speed up its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election through hacking, stealing and disinformation.

The top Democrat on the committee, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, says he's very frustrated with the current pace. That's according to a source with knowledge of private conversations.

CNN's Manu Raju joins me now live on Capitol Hill.

[16:15:02] Manu, is the process slow? And if so, what's slowing it down?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Jake, it took nearly two months for the intelligence community and the Senate panel to agree on which documents to review as part of this investigation, and now, there's mounting frustration among key Democrats on the panel to interview those key Trump witnesses and also move forward on this investigation.

Just moments ago, Jake, I talked to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden who said he expressed this frustration to his committee leaders.


SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I've made clear to the bipartisan leadership of the committee that I have serious concerns about the pace of the investigation. I believe you have to speed it up right now. The American people are getting most of their information from leaks and false tweets, and the issues I've focused on, follow money, following the trail of the dead bodies, it's important to use all the tools, particularly public hearings and subpoenas.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: That's one thing, too, Jake, that some Democrats are concerned about. There's not been an agreement yet to issue subpoenas for some key documents and to schedule those hearings from people like Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, people who have been suspected of having campaign contacts with Russian officials.

But today, Jake, the Republicans are also defending the chairman of the committee, Richard Burr, including Susan Collins of Maine, say, I understand why we want to move quicker, but we also want to do this as thorough as possible, which means it could take a little bit longer -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for us -- thanks so much.

The White House says the government will not shut down on Friday. There will be funding. But Democrats don't want to pay for the president's proposed border wall. Will they all be able to reach a compromise? The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee will join us next.


[16:20:42] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We have some breaking news in politics now. A White House official has confirmed to CNN that the president wants a 15 percent corporate tax rate as part of his tax reform plan, though nothing is official get. The corporate tax rate is currently around 35 percent with loop holes, of course. But sources say that we are not expected to receive a lot of detail on how any reductions would be paid for.

Let's talk about this and more with Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky. He's a top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

Congressman, your reaction to this breaking news. Could you get behind a 15 percent corporate tax rate?

REP. JOHN YARMUTH (D-KY), RANKING MEMBER, BUDGET COMMITTEE: Well, of course, the devil is in the details, and 15 percent may be reasonable, but then again if it's 15 percent not just on C Corporations but on S Corporations where the income will pass through, and that means every business owner of an S Corporation essentially has carried interest rates, which is what the hedge managers get.

So, you'll have people with huge incomes paying 15 percent, whereas ordinary working people will be paying presumably a higher rate than that. So, again, it just depends on how extensive that 15 percent rate would be.

TAPPER: There's a budget showdown with Congress this week and a sticking point has to do with whether or not the border wall will be part of the government funding plan. The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly, told CNN's Dana Bash on Sunday that Trump, quote, "will be insistent about the inclusion of funding for the border wall in negotiations." Top Democrats today said the president can avoid any sort of showdown if he shelves the wall.

Do you think that the border wall is a deal breaker?

YARMUTH: I think it is for us. So, if he's going to be insistent on it, and Republican leadership in Congress is, then he better find a way to get 216 votes in the House for his budget and similar majority in the Senate because Democrats aren't going support that.

You know, the border issue has never really been vetted by the Congress. I mean, the president says he wants it. And he can say, yes, I won the election.

But you have Republicans -- every Republican from the border states is against the border wall, and nobody knows whether it really makes sense, how effective it would be, and what it would cost, what we would be getting into. So, I think that before we stick it in a last- minute budget request, then we ought to know a little bit more about what it means. So, you won't get one Democratic vote for that.

TAPPER: There's talk of a breakthrough on health care. Have the White House or have any of your colleagues in Congress, Republicans, reached out to you or any of your Democratic colleagues on this issue?

YARMUTH: No. I think, you know, they are talking a good game, but the reality is they aren't anywhere close to having a deal on a health care bill that can pass the House and certainly not -- and certainly pass the Senate. The reality is they have been trying for seven years to come up with some alternative to the Affordable Care Act and haven't been able to, haven't been able to come up with anything that doesn't make matters worse. And until they do that, I think that we're going to be stuck here.

You know, the fact is the American people don't trust Republicans now on health care. So -- and they proved that rising up in huge numbers to force them to take it off the floor in March. So, I don't think they are anywhere closer to a deal.

TAPPER: I want to ask you a question not as a ranking Democrat on your committee, but just as a Democrat moving forward for your party. President Obama emerged today. He gave his first speech since President Trump at office. He didn't mention President Trump at all.

I do want to get your reaction, however, to what the DNC vice chair, your colleague, Congressman Keith Ellison, had to say about President Obama just a few days ago. Take a listen.


REP. KEITH ELLISON (D-MN), VICE CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Barack Obama could have been a better party leader, and I think that the fact that he wasn't has put his legacy in jeopardy, given that we did not -- we lost a lot of state house seats, governorships, secretaries of states -- his true legacy is in danger.


TAPPER: Do you agree, Congressman?

YARMUTH: Well, I don't know that his legacy is in danger. I think Keith is right on that the administration could have done more to work on party-building around the country. We probably share some of the blame in Congress and the president does as well, but I think his legacy is intact as one of the truly extraordinary presidents who dealt with very, very difficult challenges and brought the country through them.

[16:25:02] TAPPER: All right. Congressman John Yarmuth from the great commonwealth of Kentucky -- thank you so much, sir. I appreciate your time.

It's an agency that's been plagued with problems, suicide hotlines rolling over to backup call centers, nobody answering the phones there, long waiting list for doctors appointments that proved deadly in some cases. What is the new head of the V.A. doing to turn things around? I'll sit down with Secretary David Shulkin next.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: We're back with the national lead.

As President Trump approaches the 100-day mark this Saturday, we're going to lock at different parts of his agenda and promises he made to voters. Here on THE LEAD, we focus a great deal on issues involving U.S. veterans, the president's proposed called for cuts to virtually every agency. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs is one of three hoping to get more money, a possible 6 percent boost worth $4.4 billion for its budget if all goes according to plan.