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Failed Rating; An Outline-like Tax Plan; Attendance is a Must. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired April 26, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
A math scramble for high profile victories with the 100-day mark looming. As president -- the president proposes a major tax break for the healthiest Americans.
We're going to begin with this breaking news. A record but one this president probably doesn't like holding. A new CNN/ORC poll showing Donald Trump has the lowest approval rating of any newly elected president in recent history.
Let's get right to our experts now. CNN political analyst Abby Phillip, CNN contributor David Fahrenthold, CNN political analyst David Gergen, and contributor J.D. Vance, the author of "Hillbilly Elegy, a Memoir of a Family in Culture in Crisis."
J.D., you first. Good evening, by the way to all of you. Not good news for the president. Our latest poll shows the president having a dismal approval rating right now, just 44 percent. Meaning, he is at the bottom compared to other presidents around this time. Is this why we're seeing the White House scramble for a win with less than 100 hours to go to 100 days?
J.D. VANCE, "HILLBILLY ELEGY" AUTHOR: Well, it's obviously not good news for the president.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Not only scrambling for...
LEMON: It's J.D.
GERGEN: I'm sorry.
VANCE: Like you said, Don, it's definitely not good news for the president so far. And I don't know if I describe them as scrambling for a win. But you know, fundamentally, the problem with the president's approval ratings is that it does not give him any sort of solid base from which to govern.
So you talk about a tax cut plan, you talk about reforming health care. To do that successfully, you have to negotiate from a position of strength. And it's hard to do that when you're at 44 or 45 percent approval rating. LEMON: David, since you're ready to go I'm going to, the next
question is for you.
LEMON: This poll shows that 56 percent of Americans think the president has done a poor job of assembling a team of top advisors. Fifty two percent think he hasn't done a good job keeping campaign promises.
If the president isn't keeping his promises, what's that say? Is that -- is he a deal maker in chief or is he the deal maker he promised out on the campaign trail?
GERGEN: Well, first of all, Don, he has been slow on making appointments. And you know, department after department has a very thin team. It's been very hard for them to govern with that. And it's also true, he has not been able to keep a lot of his promises.
This math scramble right here in the last days I think has two purposes. One, they want to see if they can get a couple points on the board that were unexpected. And secondly, I think they're trying to override the coverage of the 100-day mark.
They would much rather have us talking about the boldness of his tax cut and will it work than talking about look how thin the record is after 100 days compared to say an FDR who got 15 major bills passed, how many have we got in this administration? Zero. I think they got to change the subject.
LEMON: Yes. Listen, Abby, this current president likes to compare himself to the former president. But looks like I'm going to put them -- I'm going to read them for you and I'll read them in order.
Kennedy in 1961 at 78 percent approval. Eisenhower in 1953, 73. Obama, 63 percent. Carter, 63. Bush, 62. Nixon, 61. Fifty eight for Bush in 1989. Clinton, 55. And then Trump now at 44 percent. He is 11 points behind Bill Clinton. So how is that for comparisons?
ABBY PHILIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, there is supposed to be a honeymoon here. It's not just because the newly elected president, you know, is someone who is fresh in voters' minds, they are giving him the benefit of the doubt.
It's critical it's a foundation to govern. It's the sort of -- the high water mark that he can sail down from. And Trump is really starting from a position of weakness right now. And the White House is struggling with this, partly because it would be one thing if Trump were going to put his head down and just focus and move forward on his agenda.
But this is a president who really likes to win. And the coverage this week was something that they knew going into it was going to be very daunting, partly because it would sort of agitate his instinct to want to be on top and to counter balance negative coverage. So there was definitely a lot of anxiety going into this week, partly
because Trump just -- he doesn't accept the concept of failure or the concept of not living up to his promises. And whether he feels like he has or not, that was something that he intended this week to go into insisting that he had been much more successful than his critics would like to say about him.
LEMON: David Fahrenthold, there is something that the president did do a good job of doing, and that's holding on to his base. And republicans 85 percent approve of the job he's doing. Independents, so, you know, 44 percent, democrats 8 percent approve. So that's not good news if he's trying to expand his base, but at least he is keeping his base, David Fahrenthold.
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's true. And I think one of the things that has been notable about the first 100 days is that he hasn't actually changed that much in the lives of his supporters.
[22:05:01] For them, a lot of what he is doing is what he was doing on the campaign trail. He is taking the fight to people they don't like, people they think are arrogant or they don't support. He's sort of, you know, their champion in this sort of rhetorical battles. But there's not actually any policy consequences.
I think that might change if, for instance, he was able to get this American Health Care Act, the current version of the Obamacare repeal bill, if he was able to get that passed.
There's some things he proposed if he actually had been able to do them, the big budget cuts that might have had a real impact on his voter's lives, at this point though, not much has changed in their lives. And they are still seeing him sort of represent him against their enemies.
LEMON: David Gergen, it see seems like there's a mad rush to get things in announcing tax proposals today. There's talk of withdrawing from NAFTA, briefings on North Korea, trying to get a deal with health care. All while avoid the government shut down. Why is this all happening now? And as I said at the top of the show his first 100 days has really come down to really the last 100 hours. Why all now?
GERGEN: Well, I think -- I think he has been cracking the whip inside and urging people forward because he knows that this week, especially toward the end of the week, Saturday night could be a mess for him. It could be one of his worst weeks in coverage.
If he can invent other stories, which he is doing -- you know, you have to say, he is pretty darn good at creating diversions or changing the conversation, let's put it more l charitably and perhaps more fairly. He is very good at having us talk about other things at news.
You know, we would been devoting hour after hour right now to the first 100 days and why they've turned out, you know, disappointing fashion for everyone but his base. But now we're talking about other things. It's mixed in. And you know, I think -- I think he may come to rue the way he has
rushed into this and rushing these proposals in front of him. Because these things -- you know, take the health care plan. There's some talk about voting on it on Friday. This hasn't been scored by the Congressional Budget Office.
We don't know if 24 million or even more people who may not have insurance. A few years from now if they pass this bill. You know, we don't know anything about the scoring on the tax and we're here we're talking, you know, about a tax plan we've never seen. We don't have a plan. We have some suggestions of things. A loose group of things.
LEMON: I have it. It's like one page of -- one page of what he plans to do. So it's like an outline that you would sort of hand in for college.
LEMON: This is what -- this is what my term paper is going to be about. And Abby, I want to ask about you that. Because the White House unveiled this tax plan today. Slash individual tax rates, simplify the tax code from seven to three brackets.
He also wants to cut the tax rate to 15 percent for all businesses. The White House handed out the one page sheet that I showed you. One page, light on details. And one senior GOP aide said it's not even close to tax reform.
The question is, listen, everyone knows a tax code needs some reformation, needs to be reformed. But is all sort of a drive to get something accomplished within this first 100-day mark?
PHILLIP: Well, it's important to note it's not tax reform. And this is something that's really important. You know, I'm told that over the last week, there's been a debate about whether the strategy ought to be pursue reform or pursue just cutting rates.
It's pretty clear when you look at this plan that where they ended up was a plan that the vast majority of it is just cutting rates, cutting the effective tax rate for low and middle income people, but especially for high income people and corporations. And that is reflective of a desire among the president to just keep things as simple as possible.
He doesn't like things like the border adjustment tax which congressional republicans really wanted. Because he felt like it was very complicated. There were too many steps in the process.
The problem for him going forward here is that this is not a foundation from which a lot of republicans want to work from. In part, because it's not paid for. It doesn't deal with the underlying problems with the tax code. And it might create bigger problems for them going down the road. So this isn't an opening gambit for a president who is sort of like
outside of the traditional Washington system. But at some point he is going to have to get back into the system and work with his own party to get something that is actually doable, that addresses what they promised their voters going into, they have e re-election in 2018.
LEMON: I think what two words, what two important words that you said, Abby, were paid for, David Fahrenthold. Because any time taxes come up, the question typically follows is how is it going to help President Trump? And will we ever see his tax returns?
Secretary Steve Mnuchin responded to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the president release his tax returns so that...
STEVE MNUCHIN, UNITED STATES TREASURY SECRETARY: The president has no intention. The president has released plenty of information. I think has given more financial disclosure than anybody else. I think the American population has plenty of information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[22:10:01] LEMON: David Fahrenthold, can you give us some reality check on that? Do you agree that he, you know, an assessment that the -- his assessment that the president has given more financial disclosure than anybody else?
FAHRENTHOLD: That's untrue. It's not relative to other presidents, the past number of presidents going back to the 70's have released their tax returns for precisely this reason, they felt it was hard to make any sort of decision or proposal about how people's taxes ought to be changed without letting people see how it would affect them.
And we know from the little glimpses we've gotten of Donald Trump's tax returns, for instance, this 2005 tax return that service recently, that some of the proposals would be a huge benefit for him.
So I think it matters that he is not willing to put that out there. Trump has been lucky in his opponents so far. But he is really handing his democratic opponents as disarray as they are a real sword to come after him with now if he is going to ask people to cut taxes for the rich and not show how he might benefit.
LEMON: J.D., here is what President Trump is saying today about his first 100 days.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sometimes I look at some of the things I'm signing, I say maybe people won't like it but I'm doing the right thing. And no regular politician is going to do. I don't know if you folks would do.
I will tell you, literally some politicians have said, you are doing the right thing. I don't know if I would have had the courage to do some of these things. But we're doing them because it's the right thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: J.D., is he right? Because our new poll shows 52 percent of Americans see the president's approach to the presidency as an unnecessary risk. Forty-seven percent say it's a necessary shakeup. What do you think?
VANCE: Well, he is fundamentally arguing that he is being unconventional. And obviously it sounds like a fair number of voters actually agree with that. The thing about those risks is it really matters what consequence they eventually have.
And I think that we're at this stage right now where Trump can argue persuasively that he has been an unconventional president. But that has to lead somewhere. If it leads to a tax reform proposal that fundamentally hurts his own voters, if it leads to health care reform proposal that starts to hurt his own voters or hurt the country, then that's not going to mean anything that he is unconventional.
You can be unconventionally right or unconventionally wrong. And I think it's way too early to tell. But you know, fundamentally, the conversation has to turn to is Donald Trump making the lives of majority Americans better? Or is he enabling them to make their own lives better? And right now, it's too early to say.
But the core domestic policy priorities, the core domestic policy proposals that he's put out there, even though they are obviously not very detailed, to the degree that there are details, it's not looking especially good right now.
And I say that of course as a conservative who really wants this president to succeed in certain ways. But I just don't see the evidence that we're being serious about the policies that are necessary to move the country forward yet.
LEMON: Great conversation. Thank you all. Have a good evening.
When we come back more on how the president's tax plan would help the wealthiest Americans, including those named Trump.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The Trump administration unveiling a tax plan today that slashes rates for the wealthiest Americans and for businesses. And as it turns out both of those apply to him. When it comes to the fine points for the rest of us a lot of questions still need to be answered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MNUCHIN: The core principals of this, we have agreement on and we will work forward on the details.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are going into very micro-details on some...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very important.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very important. We agree.
MNUCHIN: Again, I think as we said, we're working on lots of details.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could mean a tax cut.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could mean a tax cut.
MNUCHIN: Again, those will be the details we will be working with Congress on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Here to discuss now, Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times. So you wrote about the taxes, but I want to ask you because it's new, it's just in about this presidential approval rating, the lowest since Eisenhower. Is that -- is that -- how does that strike you? If you look at the presidents we have up there on the screen.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: Yes. I mean, both remarkable how unpopular he is with the public as a whole and the popularity he retains with his base.
LEMON: With his base, right. And with republicans in general.
KRISTOF: Yes. I mean, indeed, I think that partly reflects why he is engaging in this tax cut announcement. That if you are enormously unpopular, if you're worried about a Russia investigation, if you're accused of dishonesty of not accomplishing anything in your first 100 days, then you may want to change the subject, you may want to try to show that you are doing something. And a tax cut may be the way to do that.
LEMON: There are number of other presidents that had lower approval ratings, but not in the first 100 days.
KRISTOF: That's correct.
MACDONALD: This is seen as the honeymoon period, right?
KRISTOF: Yes, I mean, it's down from here typically for the president.
LEMON: It also shows to me, I think what's also important is that the -- his handling of the job approval rating, of course. But his handling of immigration. And also his handling of healthcare. It did not -- it is not helping him. It did not help him among these -- in this poll.
KRISTOF: I was reassured by the public reaction to his handling of immigration. But it seems to me that that was a, you know, frankly a demagogic move to target and scapegoat a particular group, and I was really glad that there seems to be a backlash against it.
KRISTOF: Presumably partly because it seem to be handled very incompetent.
LEMON: Immigration it's only 41 percent. And then if you -- if you look at his handling of health care it's only 36 percent approval, so I think that probably hurt him and he didn't realize it was going to hurt him that much to propose something and then not get it done.
KRISTOF: Yes, as with a lot of things. I think once the moment there are details, then there's this resistance. And that's why we have a tax plan that that is one page.
LEMON: Yes. Let's talk about that now. As we look at, here's the one- page tax plan here. Because you wrote a column today in the New York Times and you said "The president's tax plan is an irresponsible shameless budget busting gift to zillionaires like himself," and that you see it as a betrayal of his voters. Explain that, Nicholas.
KRISTOF: Sure. Well, first of all, it's intellectually dishonest. Because President Trump and republicans generally they have been talking about the importance of debt and deficits and here they come up with a plan that would completely blow up the deficit.
I was doing some documental calculations today and looked as if over the next 15 or 20 years it would add $160,000 in federal debt per American household. It's like giving every American household an extra mortgage.
[22:19:58] What does that buy? Essentially it's to provide payouts to very wealthy people in America today. We'd be borrowing from China to give large tax benefits to people like Trump. And this would be eliminating the estate tax which affects only about 5,000 households the year right now.
Only couples with more than $11 million in assets. It would be the alternative minimum tax which affects the affluent and indeed, in President Trump's 2005 tax return, it raise, otherwise he would have paid 4 percent in taxes this way you pay 25 percent.
And maybe most egregious of all is not just lowering the corporate tax rate, there's an argument for that. But allowing some business owners to pay at the corporate tax rate. Not to pay at the 39 percent personal income tax rate but instead to pay at this 15 percent tax rate. That is -- I mean, what do you call that but a heist? And that would apply to President Trump.
LEMON: The average working men and women who are sitting at home who voted for this president is saying what gives here? What?
KRISTOF: Yes. I mean, it's camouflaged with the standard deduction. It would be doubled and that makes a lot of sense. They talk a good game about child care tax benefits of some kind but they don't explain it.
And based on the child care tax benefits they outlined in the campaign, a low-income family will get an annual benefit of $10.
LEMON: Yes. Yes. That means?
KRISTOF: I mean, that sure seems to me to be, you know, borrowing from China to give a tax break to China in a way that betrays his base.
LEMON: Here I want -- I want to play Secretary Mnuchin. Because you know, this brings up if you're going to, you know, try to overhaul the tax code or at least give some tax cuts, his own taxes and Steve Mnuchin talked about whether the president will release his tax returns. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MNUCHIN: The president has no intention. The president has released plenty of information and I think he's given more financial disclosure than anybody else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: He would be a huge beneficiary for what we do know of this. Correct?
KRISTOF: Absolutely. I mean, he would be a -- I mean, he would obviously be a beneficiary of the estate tax, he would be a beneficiary of the AMT, the alternative minimum tax, and his empire is structured with these entities that would benefit from applying the corporate tax rate to your personal income.
And, you know, there's clear hypocrisy and conflict of interest there, but this whole tax cut is geared towards benefiting the winners in American society at a time when he was elected by appealing to people who had lost over the last 30 years.
LEMON: Wouldn't there normally be some oversight into what's -- into this? Why isn't there any now?
KRISTOF: Well, I think there will be. I think there will a lot of resistance from Congress. I don't think this tax plan is going to pass because of the combination of the deficits that it will create and because the moment you start talking about details, then the losers are going to squawk.
LEMON: So then why put it out, is this a victory for come Saturday for 100 days? I mean, it would...
KRISTOF: If he hadn't put it out, Don, right now we'd be talking about his first 100 days and how little he had done. This way at least we're talking about a tax plan that, as he announces, it's going to create jobs. I think it really was timed this way just to change the subject and to give him something to talk about.
LEMON: Here's what the democrats are saying. Here's Tom Perez, the DNC chair.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM PEREZ, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIR: They called this skinny budget. I think of another word that begins with s that they won't use. It's a shoddy budget. A shoddy budget. It's a budget that is morally bankrupt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: What do you make of that.
KRISTOF: Well, if you compare this to, I mean, when the last big -- that last huge tax reform, the '86 Reagan tax reform, so that involved binders that were presented to Congress. There was thorough preparation. And you know, this, if there's one page that is meaningless, it's not a tax plan.
In my column today, I put quotes around every use of the word plan. Because it's not a plan. I don't know what to call it.
LEMON: This is, as I said an outline.
KRISTOF: Yes. I mean, if somebody turned it in, you know, as there for a term paper about how they think taxes would be restructured in the U.S. they would fail. And I think the only reason to explain this timing is to try to influence and distract from the discussions about what's happening the first 100 days.
LEMON: Nicholas Kristof, thank you.
KRISTOF: Hey, good to be with you, Don.
LEMON: You, as well.
When we come back, nearly every senator bussed to the White House briefing on the growing North Korea threat. We're going to have the very latest on what went on behind closed doors.
Plus, new details on the investigation to Russia's meddling in the election. Some big names will be testifying on Capitol Hill. We'll tell you who.
[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The Trump administration inviting senators to the White House this afternoon for a briefing on the growing threat of North Korea. House members were briefed on Capitol Hill.
I want to bring in CNN's chief national security correspondent, Mr. Jim Sciutto. Jim, good evening. So let's talk about this meeting, this North Korea all hands-on-deck meeting at the White House. The senators were bussed to the White House. There's a video with the president. And when they left, Jim, it wasn't entirely clear on what they had learned. So what do you know?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN'S CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, when they left, and frankly when they returned, there was an enormous amount of skepticism from both democrats and republicans as to why the White House taking this unusual step, bussing all 100 senators down the Hill, down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.
There are classified briefing rooms on Capitol Hill where this kind of conversation could have taken place. So there were questions as they went. And then when they returned we spoke to a number of them, myself and my colleagues and to the senators, and democrat and republican alike said that they did not learn a lot new in that room.
For instance, there was no warning of imminent military actions, for instance. That in general, it was an attempt by the White House to show their degree of seriousness with this issue which is fair.
[22:30:04] Because democrats and republicans alike agree North Korea is a clear and present danger. The question was - was this more of a sort of show of force in effect for the Trump administration.
I spoke with Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, for instance, he called it a 100-day photo op for the president. And you even heard that kind of criticism from some republicans. So, no major revelation there but an attempt by the White House to show they are taking this situation serious.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: And listen, we know that North Korea it is very serious. Extremely serious situation. Briefings are necessary. But did the White House explain why they did it that way? Because you said, you know, it was a show, but the criticism. And this is a quote from people who were there, a dog and pony show.
SCIUTTO: Yes, for sure. Well, the White House explanation they said the function was a couple of things. One, to express their seriousness about how they are approaching this issue. Two, to give senators a chance to ask questions and also to have the president -- he was there for several minutes during the briefing as well to show his interest in the issue.
But that to some degree feeds some of the skeptics point of view that this was about the president showing that he's tough that he's engaged. He's engaged on this. But let's be clear, what it also shows is that this is a difficult issue to approach with success because they talked about options today there. And kind of laid out the range of options which are not new, frankly, I mean, ranging from military action to increase sanctions, et cetera.
But each one of them has issues. The military action, the dangers of escalation, the dangers to northern, the northern part of South Korea it's very close to that North Korea. Seoul, a lot of U.S. soldiers there, South Korean civilians the risk of them of North Korean retaliation, and the lack of success, frankly, of measures short of military actions, whether it be sanctions or other things.
You know, a lot of administrations of both parties have gone through this and it's difficult to find -- really, it's impossible to find easy solutions.
LEMON: So Jim, let's talk about this. You're in Washington. Some people, you know, who were at these meetings today called it a dog and pony show. I had several guests on earlier who said, you know, the whole thing about the tax, this is one page release of the taxes, the tariffs on Canada.
Is this all for optics coming up to the first 100 days? Do you get the sense of that, that they would go through these lengths to change the optics and to change the subject to not talk about the first 100 days or to make it seem better than it actually is?
SCIUTTO: Well, listen, I'll tell you what senators told me about this. Chris Murphy, granted, he's a democrat. He called this is a 100- day photo op for the president. But even Senator Bob Corker, a republican who's had a fairly close relationship with the president asked if this meeting was worthwhile. He said I'm not so sure.
So the timing is indicative. It's the 100-days week and the president wants to show his interest in this. On the flip side, democrats and republicans agree North Korea is a clear and present danger and that that level of risk has risen to really a crisis level here. You remember, Don, that that was one of the messages that President Obama gave to President Trump going out.
SCIUTTO: Saying, this is going to be your most immediate national security threat. The trouble is, we enter into the current political environment that we're in that, you know, this is not an issue that can be politicized, right? Because the solutions are so difficult and all sides agree on that.
SCIUTTO: You know, you can send a good tweet, you can make a good photo op but real solutions that make a difference, they are much harder to come by.
LEMON: Absolutely. Jim, I want to switch topics now and talk about Russia. Because I understand you have some updates on the investigation. What can you tell us?
SCIUTTO: Well, that's right. So the House intelligence committee, which is -- which is investigating Russian interference in the election as well as alleged ties between members of the Trump orbit and Russians during the campaign and after the election during the transition period, it had been troubled.
You had this kind of blow-up with Devin Nunes, the chairman of the committee claiming misbehavior by Obama administration officials that sort of fallen by the way side. He's now recused himself the investigation.
And it looked like the House investigation was on the rocks, but now it's getting new energy. It has a new acting chairman, Representative Conway working with the democratic ranking member as well. They now have a big list of two to three dozen witnesses they are going to call very significant witnesses.
The former National Director of national Intelligence, James Clapper, the head of the NSA, Mike Rogers, and Sally Yates who was acting attorney general for some time. They appeared to be demonstrating democrat and republican alike in the House intelligence committee. They are taking it seriously. They are moving forward.
Here's the list. We're going to do public. We're going to do public, you know, questioning of them as well as folks like you have on the screen there now, Michael Flynn, Carter Page who we know that the FBI is investigating for having contacts with the Russians.
[22:35:04] Roger Stone, and then questions about meetings that Jared Kushner had as well during the transition period. Of course, Sally Yates there as well who was the acting attorney general.
These are key witnesses in this investigation and now the House intelligence committee in effect flexing its muscles and say we're going to be a player here, we're going to do our job.
LEMON: Jim Sciutto, thank you, sir.
SCIUTTO: Thank you.
LEMON: When we come back, Fareed Zakaria joins me to break all of this down. Does the Russian investigation change our foreign policy towards Moscow?
LEMON: We have some breaking news for you right now. President Trump has agreed tonight not to terminate NAFTA at this time after speaking with the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Canada.
Let's discuss now. Fareed Zakaria is here, he is the host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS. So Fareed, just getting this bulletin it's out from CNN. Again, the highlight or the headline is that Trump agrees not to terminate NAFTA at this time. He spoke with the Mexican president. He spoke with the prime minister of Canada.
The statement said the leaders agreed to work swiftly according to their required internal procedures to enable the renegotiation of NAFTA deal to benefit all three countries.
[22:40:06] But just earlier today, we had guidance that he was going to sign some sort of agreement to get out of NAFTA on the 100-day mark of his presidency. So what is going on?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: But that was then, this is now. This is Donald Trump. Look, this is in some ways as head-spinning as so many of the reversals that Trump has undertaken. He was going to name China a currency manipulator, on day one, he said. He didn't do it.
LEMON: Now he doesn't.
ZAKARIA: He talked about how, you know, he was going to get much tougher on trade with the Europeans. He didn't do it. He talked about how NATO was obsolete and he essentially seemed to be threatening to pull out of NATO. He didn't do it. Obamacare was going to be release -- repealed.
LEMON: Repeal and replace.
ZAKARIA: That hasn't happened. There's a whole series of these...
LEMON: And make the wall.
ZAKARIA: There's no money for the wall. The NAFTA piece is actually stunning because this was a centerpiece of not just the campaign but his world view. Donald Trump's world view is that America has been losing, losing, losing and, most importantly, has been losing at trade and NAFTA, if you'll recall, almost every campaign stop he said NAFTA was the worst deal ever made.
So what Donald Trump has now said not 100 days into his presidency, that after having concluded for 10 years that this was the worst deal that America ever made, he's going to keep it.
LEMON: Does this, I mean, this is happening after the CNN/ORC poll. I'm not sure if you saw the poll came up just over an hour ago. And his handling of the presidency the approval rating is 44, the lowest since Eisenhower since they started polling.
All this flip-flopping playing into this or at least the promises that he made on the campaign trail and then he hasn't been able to keep them yet. Because some of them I'm sure he will be able to keep.
But he, on the campaign trail he said within the first 100 days, first I'm going to repeal and replace and I'm going to do this and he hasn't been able to do it. That's showing up in his approval ratings and his handling of the country.
ZAKARIA: I would think so. I think what is showing up is kind of general incompetence, right? There is a certain sense in which you said you were a smart businessman, that you alone could fix things that you understood how to do all of this that everybody else were morons.
And what I think you're seeing, which is pretty obvious to those of us who look at this carefully, is the government is hard. Politics is hard. The reason some of these things don't get solved, is because they're very hard. They involve competing interests, they involved adjudicating among competing interest. It's not that they are all morons in Washington and that Donald Trump
coming in has not actually made it easy. In fact, he's done worse at just the simple task of filling his administration, for example, he's filled fewer high-level positions than any previous administration. At you know, being able to construct an executive order that pass muster with courts. That he's implemented by...
LEMON: He got about the travel ban and all that.
ZAKARIA: That's right.
LEMON: So then -- but his supporters continue to give him a lot of leeway because the supporters are in the 90s, I think it's almost like 98 percent of republicans.
ZAKARIA: Ninety six percent of the people who voted for him but his approval ratings among republicans has actually slipped. It was about 86 percent a couple of weeks ago. It's dropped to about 80 percent. So watch that number. Because once you see that number fall more, congressional republicans will feel more emboldened to move away from him.
LEMON: I'm wondering how much longer it's going to continue, his supporters will continue to say, you know, no, this is fake news, this is not real when there's everything that we have reported there is teeth to it. It's the reality. NAFTA, repeal and replace Obamacare. How much more of a honeymoon period, this is supposed to be his honeymoon period now, is he going to have even with his own supporters?
ZAKARIA: I think the key that I wonder about, look, nobody knows the support Donald Trump has is unique, it's unprecedented and we, you know, so should be careful about making any kind of predictions about it.
ZAKARIA: But what I wonder about is what is coming through is that Trump is governing as a pretty traditional republican. The things he's trying to do and seems like he will be able to do are things like tax cuts, deregulation, corporate tax cuts, corporate deregulation, maybe the repeal of Obamacare.
As far as I can tell, that's what the freedom caucus wants, that's what the Washington think-tanks and the conservative movements wants but it wasn't what his base wanted.
ZAKARIA: His base was a much more nationalist protectionist populist base and Steve Bannon, who reflected that correctly, I think identified what they want is a trillion dollar infrastructure bill. We're not even talking about that, right? And certainly once you do this tax cut, which adds $4.5 trillion to
the deficit, I don't think there's a ghost of a chance of even a modest infrastructure bill passing.
ZAKARIA: So what happens to that populist movement that has been waiting to be -- to find some of these campaign promises fulfilled and instead what they're finding is, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute and all of these economic right-wing movements, they are getting the payoff but they didn't elect Trump.
[22:45:09] LEMON: Can we talk about North Korea? Because yesterday North Korea staged its largest drill rising tensions in the region, in the U.S., raising tensions, I should say, in the U.S.
Today, you saw the meeting where everyone was bussed over to the White House. What do you think of the - to talk about this North Korea threat, what's your reaction to what's going on here? Are you learning anything about this meeting today?
ZAKARIA: No. You're learning what Trump has been doing with a number of these issues, which is huffing and puffing without changing the policy. There's all this big drama around we, you know, the policy of strategic patience is over. We're not going to take it anymore. We're warning you, we're putting you on notice.
And it seems as though, after all that, after this massive review, after summoning 100 senators, putting them on buses, basically it's the same policy as the Obama policy.
In fact, Bob Corker, the republican chairman of the foreign relations committee was asked, so what was all this about? What is the new policy? And his response was, it was an OK meeting. What did you learn? What was new? He said, like I said, it was an OK meeting.
LEMON: Is this all about optics? Is this all about...
ZAKARIA: Well, there is a danger here. It is about optics. It's about being tough. And they've done it on Iran as well. You remember this that we're putting Iran on notice. The danger is, if you keep huffing and puffing and the policy seems the same, you know, you're going to -- you lose credibility with the next time when you really need to issue a threat, it's not going to be meaningful.
LEMON: Let's talk about foreign policy within the first 100 days. Because I said that, you know, it's all coming down to the last 100 hours. That's my thing, right? Because they are trying to throw everything in there. What are we -- where are we on foreign policy in the first 100 days of this presidency?
ZAKARIA: It's pretty incompetent, honestly, and particularly surprising given that you had a very serious A-team for foreign policy and one has to assume therefore it's the chaos in the White House. Because let's look at it. Usually presidents, you know, first reach out and reassure our two closest countries, Canada and Mexico. Well, we've pissed both of them of.
LEMON: This NAFTA thing helps.
ZAKARIA: This thing and it probably is in some ways it's mending that. Then you look at Europe where the United States has always tried to be a pillar of helping Europe stay unified, stay, you know, coherent. Donald Trump has done something I think unprecedented.
He's intervened in the middle of a French election on the side of the right-wing nationalist populist who wants a pro-Russian anti-European and frankly anti-U.S. policy. I don't think any president has ever done something like that before.
So, you know, there are many of these very awkward elements to the policy. In some places, you know, the bottom line is that there's been no major policy reversal. Again, after having promised to reverse policy on all kinds of things, mostly it's the Obama policy being pursued everywhere.
LEMON: Yes. Fareed Zakaria, thank you very much. And again, this is our breaking news. The president has agreed not to terminate NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, at this time. Fareed Zakaria helping us out with the breaking news. Again, our thanks to Fareed. And don't miss Fareed Zakaria GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.
When we come right back, I'm going to speak to the Mexican-American CEO of a construction firm bidding to build President Trump's wall, why he wants to be involved despite receiving numerous death threats.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Funding for the president -- President Trump's long promised border wall may be on the sidelines for now, but the president is not backing down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The wall is going to get built, folks. Just in case anybody has any questions. The wall is going to get built, and the wall is going to stop drugs and it's going to stop a lot of people from coming in that shouldn't be here, and it's going to have a huge effect on human trafficking which is a tremendous problem in this world. The wall gets built, 100 percent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: All right. I want to talk to Michael Evangelista-Ysasaga, he's a CEO of Pena Group, a company vying to build the president's border wall. They put out this video rendering, video rendering of their proposed plan. Here it is.
So Michael, welcome to the program. Your construction company Pena Group has put in a bid to build this. It's a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. You're smiling, you're happy so tell us about your plan. MICHAEL EVANGELISTA-YSASAGA, CEO, PENA GROUP: Well, there's two
different concepts that the government wants, what they call two-two and two-three. One is a solid wall concept the other one is another wall concept. Our other wall concept is a double welded wire meshed wall, both of them are 30 feet in height, they've got anti-tamper, anti-climb, anti-tunnel features and they do meet the president's criteria of being a big beautiful wall.
LEMON: Yes. There's supposed to be a big beautiful door in it somewhere as well.
LEMON: So, listen, the guidelines in the criteria that you mentioned, because they put out some guidelines, do that contain, is that -- does that they contain everything that they want?
EVANGELISTA-YSASAGA: It really does, but we had to -- you know, you have to understand the federal government; they rely on the federal contractors, us, for not just the construction but for also the design. That's why we entered this.
I mean, we've got a lot of blowback which you guys have heard about, death threats and things like that, but you know, we entered this thing with some sobriety. It was a, we had to do a lot of soul searching before we got into this process. But we decided into the end of the day that we wanted to be a productive part of the solution rather than sit on the sidelines.
LEMON: I mean, some people, you know, your grandparents came to this country as undocumented immigrants. What does your family think of the plans to build this wall?
EVANGELISTA-YSASAGA: Well, you know, when I explained -- I've got 57 first cousins so you can imagine it's a big family. So when word got out, I, one of my aunts picked up the phone to me and she didn't take a breath, God love her, for 30 minutes, but when I explained to her that the reason we got into this conversation is because we were hearing some very disturbing rumors about lethal options.
[22:54:58] Then you have to understand the federal contracting community is a very small community so we were hearing things that were very disturbing to us like an electrified fence and razor wire. We do a lot work for the bureau of prisons so we know that what those things can do. These things have barbs on them. Those kinds of things...
LEMON: That's my first time hearing about that. Who said that? I've never even heard the administration even talk about that.
EVANGELISTA-YSASAGA: This is -- no. This is -- this is, again, it's the government that's relying on us, the federal contractors, to come up with the design. And so what was happening is when the project was first initiated, and everyone was talking about it, we started hearing these disturbing rumors and that's why we decided to put our hat in the ring rather than sit on the sidelines and let maybe some of these...
LEMON: So let me ask you a more direct question here because I understand that over 80 percent of your employees are Latinos.
EVANGELISTA-YSASAGA: That's right.
LEMON: I want to know what their reaction is. But do you -- so this is about business and safety for you. Do you think that there needs...
EVANGELISTA-YSASAGA: It is.
LEMON: ... that a wall needs to be there between the border, on the border?
EVANGELISTA-YSASAGA: Well, let me say it this way. I've been speaking about immigration reform and border security both for the last decade or so. You know, I have -- what I have found from the American people and talking across this nation about both of these very important issues is that the American people just simply do not have the appetite to pass any new laws when we're not enforcing the laws on the books.
In other words, I think this is actually ultimately going to help. Once we secure our border, in other words, enforce the laws on books, the American people will have the very much-needed conversation about comprehensive immigration reform. We've got to have it. We've got 14, about 18 million, maybe even 20 million undocumented immigrants with absolutely no avenue for citizenship.
LEMON: But it's down now. I mean, it's down a lot since President Trump took office and which may mean that it's more about legislation and where you stand on illegal immigration.
EVANGELISTA-YSASAGA: Right. That's exactly right.
LEMON: So do you think we need the wall?
EVANGELISTA-YSASAGA: I do, and I think there's not been a better time for us to do it. I mean, as you mentioned, immigration is down to 40 percent what it normally is. Which I think you know, if there's a time in the last 35 years or so that we're going to put up a wall, now would be the time because the impact is going to be something that I think everyone can live with.
And conversely what we get out of that is once we secure our borders then finally we'll be able to have this much-needed...
(CROSSTALK) LEMON: How did your 80 percent of employees who are Latinos react?
What did they -- what did they say?
EVANGELISTA-YSASAGA: Well, initially we all got together as a team. You have to understand even though I'm the CEO and the owner, this isn't a decision that I made just myself. Normally I do.
This one, we all got together, we met for about four hours and we decided that we would rather be a productive part of the solution rather than let some of the other Latino-owned companies have down sit it out and let some people that don't care about immigrants maybe dictate some designs that we found really reprehensible.
LEMON: All right. Listen, I've got to run. But so this is more than just about a profit for you because your company would make money and you've thought about that?
LEMON: All right.
EVANGELISTA-YSASAGA: Yes, we're a for-profit company but, no, this is not about the money.
LEMON: Michael, thank you.
EVANGELISTA-YSASAGA: Wonderful, thanks.
LEMON: When we come back, another stumbling block for the president. Our new CNN/ORC poll shows he has the lowest approval ratings of newly elected president in modern history. What's behind the low numbers?
[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)