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Trump: "I Thought It Would Be Easier"; Two U.S. Army Rangers Killed in Afghanistan. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 28, 2017 - 16:30   ET



We've got lots to talk about with the political panel today.

[16:30:01] Let's start with this --


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier. I thought it was more of a -- I'm a details oriented person, I think you would say that. But I do miss my old life. This -- I like to work, so that's not a problem but this is actually more work.


TAPPER: Congressman, your thoughts?

STEVE ISRAEL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I was at Walter Reed Medical Center this morning, a meeting with wounded warriors, that's work. What they went through is work. And for the president of the United States to whine about his workload when there are men and women who are engaged in very dangerous business around the world, I thought it was almost insulting. And the reason he's at a 40 percent job approval is because he insists on reminding the American people he just may not be up to the job.

TAPPER: Mary Katharine?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: I don't think it's the perfect look to say that -- I do believe he doesn't mind work. One thing I like about this is it does seem like he's mistaken about this job. He doesn't often say he's mistaken, so I don't mind that.

But I'm not sure it's a great message to send. I will say, though, having spoken to many Trump supporters just this week in this surrounding area, they are very forgiving of him and more optimistic than frankly he sounds in this clip.


JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: And this did -- I mean, he -- every president goes through an adjustment, what they thought the job was and what it actually is. This president never having served in government was coming at it from a completely different place. He's used to being the CEO where what he says goes. That hasn't happened here and it is a lot more work to try to get things done when you're the commander in chief. Even though you have that fancy title, you still got to work with people who don't necessarily see eye to eye with you.

TAPPER: And on that point, we had a clip of President Obama at about this point in his presidency, talking about what he wished the job were like. Let's play that.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can't just press a button and suddenly have the bankers do exactly what I want or, you know, turn on a switch and suddenly, you know, Congress falls in line.


TAPPER: Now, at that point in his presidency, Democrats controlled the White House, the House and the Senate. So, there probably is, I think, with President Trump, the same thing that President Obama was a going through, hey, my party controls everything and I can't get anything -- or as much as I want to through.

Obviously, President Obama got more through at this point in his presidency. But as you say, Mary Katharine, and we've heard this, who knew North Korea was so complicated or it turns out the North Korean problem -- after talking to President Xi, turns out North Korea is really difficult. And I have to say I'm kind of stunned that he thought this was going to be easier than his last job.

HAM: I don't think it's a great look for either of them, frankly, to say that they wished the job was different and they didn't quite get how hard this was going to be because they ran saying, both of them did, saying I am the one for this job and I think both of them in different styles were pretty explicit about how they were the ones. Obama didn't exactly say, "I'm the only one who can fix this" but there was some of that rhetoric pretty similar in the overpromising category. To come in and say, ooh, my goodness, I think is tough for voters to hear.

ISRAEL: Of course. When President Obama made those remarks, he was at about 63 percent job approval. This president is about 40 percent job approval. And one of the reasons for that is people believe -- they came to disagree with President Obama but they believed that he was focused on their jobs. He was focused on them, on the American people.

I think there's a sense that the American people have that President Trump is focused on President Trump. He seems to have an obsession with himself and that doesn't play well with the American people.

TAPPER: There's one other thing the president said in an interview with FOX, in which he said, "I do feel badly for ex-national security adviser Flynn. He served the country, he was a general but just remember, he was approved by the Obama administration at the highest level. When they say we didn't vet, well, oh, Obama I guess didn't vet."

We looked into this last night. There is a difference between his security clearance being renewed by the Pentagon and the Army during the Obama administration, which is true and certainly something that should be looked at by the Pentagon and the Army, but that is not the same thing as vetting somebody to be the national security adviser.

KUCINICH: I think that's why you're seeing the White House try to change the subject here because if they didn't vet him, that's not a good thing. If they did vet him and they missed this glaring omission, that's also not a really good thing for them. So either way, Flynn is this problem that won't go away and it makes sense why they're trying to distance themselves from him, but in is a man who they brought into the campaign and was with Trump the entire time and then was welcomed with open arms as the NSA. So --

TAPPER: How would you recommend to handle this, Congressman, as someone who has dealt damage control before, not you specifically, but your party?

ISRAEL: I would stop talking about Michael Flynn.

[16:35:02] You know, if they are trying to distance themselves from Michael Flynn, then why do you invoke his name in every single interview? You're going to distance yourself, quit talking about him in interviews?

TAPPER: Why not just say, this was his mess up ad we messed up?

HAM: Or to say, he no longer works here, there is a reason for that, there's an ongoing investigation, we look forward to getting to the bottom of that, and hearing that, but we're not going to talk about it at this time. If had you a traditional administration, you would hear that and I think it would be less of a story. But this is not a traditional administration interested in making less of a story that often.

KUCINICH: It's also loyalty, though. I mean, Trump is someone who values loyalty and Michael Flynn was with him when he was no one was with him.

TAPPER: Right.

KUCINICH: So, I think that that also is playing in here, that he has trouble leaving people in the dust who really stuck by him when that staff was very, very small and no one thought he could win.

HAM: When he was announcing the firing, he was effusive in his praise of him.


TAPPER: Yes, when he was terminating him and announcing that he terminated him.

There's a lot going on in Congress or actually in some cases not a lot. We thought there was going to maybe be a health care bill or amendment voted on today. Did not happen. They did not have the votes.

The White House was really pressuring Paul Ryan to put this on the floor and Paul Ryan was like we're not going through this again. We don't have the votes to pass it.

KUCINICH: That was the mantra all week you heard from Republican leadership, was when we'll have the vote -- when we have the votes, we'll bring it to a vote. And they just didn't, because you had moderates who knew exactly what the Freedom Caucus was doing by endorsing this amendment. That was from a moderate congressman, but it was not, you know, in concert with the rest of the caucus.

They were shifting the blame to the most vulnerable of the House Republicans. And they were just fed up. They didn't want to accept what was being given to them, and that put leadership in a bind.

TAPPER: Mary Katharine?

HAM: Yes. I mean, we were going to see this very awkward middle school dance between the moderates and the Tea Party go on, and it's a really, really tough job. My concern is that there really are problems with Obamacare, there really are serious problems with the individual market and it seems to me the incentive is not to act for the reason if you vote for something like this and it's not perfect, your district goes, oh, you're vulnerable to that. If it goes to the Senate and becomes nothing, it's reasonable for them to be worried about --

TAPPER: Is the incentive to do nothing so the Republicans don't get blamed for the replacement and Democrats get to crow about Obamacare still in place?

ISRAEL: It depends on what district you represent.


ISRAEL: Here's the fundamental problem, Jake -- everybody is focused on the first hundred days of the presidency. There is not a single member of Congress, and I was one for 16 years, who really cares about the first hundred days of a presidency. They're focused on the last hundred days before a midterm election.

And I spend a good part of the day on the Hill today talking to Republicans and Democrats, and if you're one of the 23 Republicans in districts that Hillary Clinton carried, you are very nervous about voting for a bill that could reduce essential benefits or increase costs for preexisting conditions. They are not going to cast a vote for a bill like that in a district that voted for Hillary Clinton, which is why the Republicans will not come up with the necessary votes to pass this bill.

TAPPER: All right. That's a dire prediction but there we go.

ISRAEL: Watch. TAPPER: Mary Katharine Ham, Congressman Steve Israel, and Jackie

Kucinich -- thanks one and all for being here.

Tune in to Sunday, this Sunday, we're going to -- on Sunday morning for "STATE OF THE UNION," we're going to be joined by Senator John McCain. We're also going to be joined by Samantha Bee, who will stop off, fresh off hosting her "Not the White House correspondents dinner" which will be on TBS Saturday night. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. Sunday, 12:00 p.m. Eastern Sunday as well.

Coming up, caught in the chaos with hiring freezes and budgets being cut and in some cases eliminated, is the work that needs to be done in government actually getting done? That's next.

Plus, Melania Trump just finished delivering a rare public speech. So how is she fulfilling her role as first lady 100 days in?

Stick around.


[16:43:05] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We're talking about on our national lead, the sobering cost of combat. The Pentagon is bringing home the body of one of two Army Rangers who are killed in Afghanistan yesterday. Officials say that ranger may have been struck by friendly fire.

Vice President Mike Pence is in Dover, Delaware, where the remains of Sergeant Joshua Rogers are arriving. Rogers was only 22 years old. He was from Bloomington, Illinois. He enlisted in the army right after high school and this was his third deployment to Afghanistan, even at the young age of 22.

Also killed in yesterday's raid, Sergeant Cameron Thomas. He was from Kettering, Ohio. He was 23. He also enlisted after high school.

The Pentagon says the two were among 50 U.S. Army Rangers working with Afghan commandos in the Achin district of Nangarhar province. They were targeting the top leader of the terrorist Khorasan group, which is an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan. It's unclear if that terrorist leader was killed.

The rangers were sent in by helicopter near the spot where the U.S. dropped one of its most powerful bombs just two weeks ago. Defense officials say within minutes, the rangers came under heavy fire. It took drone strikes and Apaches to get them out of danger, the remaining Rangers.

Turning now back to politics and the many jobs across the federal government that remain unfilled by the Trump White House as of now. On his day 99, President Trump is nominating several names to fill key administration roles. He now has 66 positions waiting for Senate confirmation. That's far behind his recent predecessors at this point in their presidencies, but it barely puts a dent in the 556 key political positions that are still waiting to be filled. And all of that, all that absence has career government workers waiting for direction.

Let's bring in CNN's Rene Marsh.

Rene, the president also wants to cut $54 billion from the federal government which puts a lot of government work and a lot of these workers in limbo.

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the word I keep on hearing is uncertainty.

This administration at this point, Jake, holds the title for being the slowest in staffing up these agencies. It's that coupled with the fact that agencies don't know what their budgets will consist of and the proposals to slash budgets, that's causing a lot of this uncertainty and discomfort even for some of the president's fellow Republicans.


[16:45:19] SHARON BOYD, EPA EMPLOYEE: Going into my 37th year at EPA.

MARSH: Sharon Boyd is one of the first career employees to speak out on what it's like inside the federal government. She says there's fear and uncertainty as the Trump administration approaches its first 100 days.

BOYD: The uncertainty comes from not knowing our priorities are any more at EPA, what's going to happen to our job, the budget cut.

MARSH: Her employer, the EPA, which contends the job is getting done, could see some of the deepest cuts to its budget and workforce. A hiring freeze at the agency remains in place and like other agencies she says, there's little guidance on big picture policies.

BOYD: The guidance has not been changed as of yet. We're still following what's been set before.

MARSH: So you're following the Obama guidance?

BOYD: We're following the EPA's guidance.

MARSH: And that's why hundreds of vacancies across government has some of Trump's staunchest supporters deeply concerned.


MARSH: Myron Ebell was leader during Trump's transition.

EBELL: The agenda is an ambitious one, they've gotten a good start on it. But unless they have people in place to carry out that agenda and to make the decisions, the whole thing is going to come to a grinding halt.

MARSH: Historical data shows Trump's total 27 appointments is far behind other administrations at the 100-day mark. Career and former employees in agencies across the government, including the Labor Department, the Department of Education, EPA and the State Department all tell CNN there's a high level of uncertainty about job security and the mission of the agency. At the Department of Transportation, Secretary Elaine Chao has brought an outside consultant in to help with hiring. And at the State Department, nearly all the senior positions remain vacant. Despite a few promised nominations Friday, Trump doesn't seem to mind empty offices telling The Washington Examiner, quote, "we don't need so many people coming to work." Boyd, who is a union officer, says the American people will suffer if government agencies are not properly staffed.

BOYD: We need to get it together. We need to get it together.


MARSH: Overall it is important to point out that there are people in those high-level jobs that haven't been officially filled as yet but they're serving in an acting capacity. So even though they are very well qualified, the partnership for Presidential service, which is a nonpartisan group that tracks presidential transition says it really is the equivalent of having a substitute teacher in the office. We did reach out to the White House. We didn't get a response, however, EPA, where that woman in the piece works for, they're pushing back and they say body count is not necessarily directly correlated to the achievements they can accomplish.

TAPPER: Or that they don't accomplish. Rene Marsh, thank you so much. Brand new video of First Lady Melania Trump as she also approaches her 100th day. How she is redefined in the role of first lady? That's coming up.


[16:50:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "POLITICS LEAD." You're looking at pictures there. That's First Lady Melania Trump from today as President Trump is an unconventional President. I think it's fair to say that the First Lady has also blazed a unique path in her first 100 days. Mrs. Trump is slowly growing into her role. She's not somebody that embraced the spotlight after weeks of staying away from it. But staff positions in her office remain unfilled. It's still unclear what kind of issues she will champion as First Lady. Let's bring in CNN White House Reporter Kate Bennett, and Kate, the First Lady held a public event a short while ago, some a little bit surprising.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: She did. I mean, she's stepping out a little bit more and more. This afternoon she was back at Children's National Center, she has visited there before. This time it was to dedicate this healing garden on the roof where all the first lady -- the living First Ladies of the United States are sponsors. And she said a few words, she talks about how she -- you know, appreciate of being there on behalf of her husband and her son. They were happy to dedicate the garden. So, she's inching her way out. Let's just say.

TAPPER: And there's been a lot of questions. She's lives right now in New York --


TAPPER: -- at Trump Tower with her son, Baron, who I think is 10 --

BENNETT: Just turned 11.

TAPPER: Just turned 11, I knew -- thank you for the fact check.


TAPPER: Yes. Are they moving on to Washington?

BENNETT: My source is telling me that yes they are. And that's going to happen in June. The White House confirms that. Sean Spicer said that she is. I know that they're -- the interior decorator that was appointed in February by Mrs. Trump is still working on the residence, making it more of a home, so all indications point to her moving down here.

TAPPER: So, you're saying she's taking these little baby steps you know, into it. It's not easy for people who have not been in the public life, although she was a model --


TAPPER: -- so she's used to some attention. But what -- where do you think this heads? What will the transformation ultimately look like?

BENNETT: I think she's going to get more and more comfortable with things like speaking and making speeches. I mean, English is not her first language. This is a totally new role for her. She's coming off of eight years of Michelle Obama, who was extremely comfortable giving speeches and talking in public. So I think -- they're going to sort of push her out a little bit more here and there and do these visit and do some more things with other First Ladies, playing hostess. Do a traditional sort of First Lady rollout remembering that Michelle Obama didn't actually announce her platform until I think it was September of her first year. So she's got a little time to talk about what she wants to really dedicate her First Lady Office to and some time to build her staff too. Right now there's essentially just a handful of people in the east wing.

[16:55:18] TAPPER: And intriguingly enough, she had said she was going to take on cyber bullying as her cause. Perhaps the less said about that the better but is that going to be her issue? Is she going to do that or is she going to talk about sick children, which seems to be something she really feels strongly about?

BENNETT: It -- she's visited a few hospitals and children but mostly has talked about women's empowerment and women's issue and building women's education. That has been her strongest hint of what her platform might be, young girls and children around the world. So cyber bullying unclear but she certainly has -- she wants to help women and girls.

TAPPER: OK. I have some thoughts on cyberbullying but we'll take it off air.


TAPPER: Kate Bennett, thank you so much, really appreciate it. Now, turning to our "POP CULTURE LEAD", no one wants to be the only kid in the room not invited to a party. But how many people would invite themselves to a White Nationalist's Party where party goers are celebrating with let's call it a questionable salute. W. Kamau Bell did and then some. Let's talk to the man himself, W. Kamau Bell, the host of CNN's original series "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA." Good to see you, my friend. You're kicking off season two, the premier with a frank conversation with a horrible beget, White Nationalist Richard Spencer. Let's play some of that conversation.


RICHARD SPENCER, NATIONAL POLICY INSTITUTE PRESIDENT: Talk about white privilege, we want to bring it back, make privilege great again.

W. KAMAU BELL, CNN UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA HOST: So you -- so you're a fan of white privilege.

SPENCER: Oh yes.

BELL: And what do you love about white privilege?

SPENCER: It looks great. Like you know, I mean, the people are good looking and you know, nice suits, great literature. Like, yes, I just want to bathe in white privilege, it's the greatest, most awesome thing.


TAPPER: I can't believe you're -- you were like the friendliest, nicest guy in the world. What were you thinking as he was saying these things?

BELL: I mean, it made me laugh because it was so over the top in its ridiculous nature, as if white people don't already bathe in white privilege. You know, I think that he was so -- he was so cavalier about it and said it as if this was somehow a good -- a solid plan to do this. And the thing that I want to be clear about the episode is that Richard Spencer is only a small part of the episode. Most of the episode is actually talking about immigrant and refugees, people who are taking their fight very seriously, hard working to become valuable contributors to the society in a much more meaningful way than Richard Spencer.

TAPPER: Now, you said you went into the interview with him in that convention with an open mind. I don't know how one keeps an open mind about that that must have been very difficult. Were you able to do it? Did it help you cover it?

BELL: I want to be clear. An open mind means I'm not going to get so caught up in the rhetoric and anger that I might experience, and I'm not going be listening. It just means I'm paying attention. It doesn't mean I'm like -- maybe they have a point, it means that I'm like -- I'm going to put aside my emotions and actually try to pay attention and see what the heck they're talking about.

TAPPER: So, watching this premier and then, of course, there was last season's famous episode when you sat down with the members of the KKK. It's almost as if you thrive on the uncomfortable.

BELL: You know, honestly, I think the more awkward and uncomfortable I am, the better I tend to do, which doesn't make a good career plan with me. But I do know that when I'm in those awkward situations like with Richard Spencer, I just sort of lean right into it because -- and I got even credit. He actually sat down and wanted to have a conversation with me. A lot of those people (INAUDIBLE) didn't want to talk to me, didn't want to look at me and didn't want to be on camera. But he sat down to have a conversation. And I think a lot of people in this country don't realize how fervent and how many of those ideas there are out there. And you know, that's why they didn't do a lot of interrupting. I said, please lay out the whole plan so America can hear it.

TAPPER: And you also have a new book out it's called "The Awkward Thoughts Of W.Kamau Bell." Among many personal things you share in the book, you talk about your career turning point when you started talking to comedy giant Chris Rock. Here's a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BELL: What did you tell me when we first talked about this show. Do you remember what you said?


BELL: You said unknown black guys never get TV shows, you're going to need my help.

ROCK: Yes, you said unknown white guys shows all the time -- like no one knew who the (BLEEP) Conan O'Brien was or Jimmy Kimmel or you know -- you know, Craig Ferguson? Like white guys crawl out of holes and get shows.


TAPPER: That was some of your comedy central show Totally Biased. What was it like -- quickly if you could -- to get that call from Chris Rock?

BELL: I mean, it was -- I mean, it was like getting a call from Santa Claus or from Spiderman. I had never bet it before, didn't know he really existed. It was like, oh my god you're real and you're going to help me. You know, it's like -- it's like being trained by Batman. I felt like I was Robin for a couple of years. It was nice.

TAPPER: All right, well, W. Kamau Bell, thank you so much. Be sure to tune in this Sunday at 10 p.m. Eastern for an all-new episode of "UNITED SHADESOF AMERICA" right here on CNN and be sure to tune in tonight to a special primetime edition of THE LEAD tonight at 9:99 p.m. Eastern, among my guests, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and talking about the threats to America that keeps him up at night. Right now I'll turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.