Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump at NRA Convention; President Trump Thought Being President 'Would Be Easier'; Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 28, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:02]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news here on CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me.

Just 99 days here in the Oval Office, and President Trump is talking about the next race for the White House, while reviving an insult from his days on the campaign trail. He did that just a little while ago speaking in Atlanta, friendly audience, the National Rifle Association there.

Let me just play for you some of what the president said. And part of it when you hear this Pocahontas remark, he's referring to a potential contender in 2020, Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a feeling that in the next election, you're going to be swamped with candidates, but you're not going to be wasting your time.

You will have plenty of those Democrats coming over and you are going to say, no, sir, no, thank you, no, ma'am, perhaps, ma'am. It may be Pocahontas. Remember that.

(LAUGHTER)

(BOOING)

TRUMP: And she is not big for the NRA. That, I can tell you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: All right. Let's begin there in Atlanta.

My colleague Athena Jones is standing by.

Athena, how -- I can sort of tell by the crowd reaction, but you were in the middle of it. This was a fired-up base. How did they respond?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke.

Well, we got a lot of strong reaction from this very pro-Trump crowd. It's almost as though the president had read the op-ed in "USA Today" by a top NRA official, Chris Cox, which sang his praises on a number of fronts. The president spent some time going through his appointments, like, for instance, Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

That's gotten a lot of mentions here because folks feel that he means that the court is now going to be a pro-guns rights, where guns rights are protected. He also talked about other appointments like Jeff Sessions as attorney general. And he spent several minutes talking about the wall, saying, once again, the wall will be built, even though illegal border crossings are down.

Here's another moment that got a pretty positive reaction, a basic promise to the folks here. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: You have a true friend and champion in the White House. No longer will federal agencies be coming after law-abiding gun owners.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: No longer will the government be trying to undermine your rights and your freedoms as Americans. Instead, we will work with you by your side.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: So that got a pretty big response, as did another promise he made, which is that, "As president, I will never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms." That got a lot of applause.

Brooke, as you mentioned, this was an area that fits 10,000 people. The tickets were sold out, 80,000 people overall at this annual meeting, 10,000 able to fit in here, many of them very, very strong Trump supporters. I spoke to a few of them before the event who were happy with the job he's been doing who also mentioned Neil Gorsuch.

And let's remind everyone the NRA endorsed candidate Trump very, very early and spent tens and millions of dollars to help him get elected, especially in key states he ended up winning like Pennsylvania and Ohio -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: He also mentioned the Sixth Congressional, that race, the primary election in June, special election.

Athena, thank you so much in Atlanta.

And as President Trump closes in on day 100 being tomorrow, he is opening up, just giving several wide-ranging interviews. He touched on topics like North Korea and his previous life sans Oval Office. This is what he told Reuters.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: There's a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea, absolutely.

This is more work than 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.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BALDWIN: With me now, one of those top reporters who talked to President Trump, Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for Reuters, and also with us, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, White House reporter for "The New York Times."

Great to see both of you here. Thank you both so much.

JEFF MASON, REUTERS: Good to be here.

BALDWIN: Before we get to your incredibly headline-grabbing interview, Jeff Mason, Julie, what did you make of the president speaking there at the NRA?

[15:05:04]

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": That was really sort of vintage campaign President Trump, which is really interesting, given that he's on day 99.

BALDWIN: Yes, it was.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: This is a time when most presidents would be reaching out and trying to lay the groundwork for a legislative agenda, really sort of expand beyond the base that brought them to office.

And what we heard there was really just a doubling down on the loyal folks who supported him win the election, on all the themes that he ran on, a conservative, pro-life Supreme Court justice, gun rights, the wall, restricting immigration.

That's working really well for him among that subset of the electorate that did get him elected.

BALDWIN: And tomorrow night in Harrisburg, PA.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: And he will be doing the same thing there.

He's continuing to have these campaign rallies. But he has yet to really reach out beyond that group and that's a fascinating tactic and we will see how it pans out. But so far, I think that's part of the reason we're not seeing a lot of accomplishments on Capitol Hill for him right here at day 100. BALDWIN: Right, because he needs help from other folks as well.

Let's talk about you and your interview. Let's talk about all things Jeff Mason.

(CROSSTALK)

MASON: No, let's not.

Tell me more about just the piece where he's talking about missing his previous life, talking about his life in a cocoon, missing driving. Did you get the sense from him that he actually enjoys being president?

MASON: Yes, I think he enjoys being president.

BALDWIN: I think?

MASON: Yes.

I didn't get the sense that -- he was a little wistful, but we asked him. I was in the interview with two colleagues and we asked him, what do you miss about your old life? He was responding to that. He misses driving.

He feels like he's in a cocoon. He was surprised at how little privacy he gets, but he also seems to relish it. He was definitely in his element in the Oval Office sitting behind that desk, ordering a beverage, offering us a Coke.

I wouldn't have said that he looked like he was unhappy to be there.

BALDWIN: What did you think of that?

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: It was a fascinating comment because it sort of speaks to one of the truths of the presidency, that you just can't know until you're in it, I think, that, you know, it is the most powerful position in the world, and yet you have very little autonomy in your sort of personal life and movement and how things play out.

There's such a security bubble around you, so much scrutiny on you all the time. You really did get the sense that whether or not he's sad about it or regretful about it, it has really changed his perspective.

And I think we're seeing a lot of that a few months in, his perspective of how you do this job, what this job entails for him is really different than it was when he started out.

When you heard Trump talk about being president before he took office, it was a very sort of like macho, power-centric kind of dynamic. Now we hear him talking about being in a cocoon. It's almost like he feels like the walls are closing in on him a little. And some of my colleagues have done a lot of reporting about what it's like for him in the White House by himself.

His wife is not living there. It can be a very lonely place. A big house. He's got a lot of issues weighing on him.

MASON: And his expectations of what the job entailed were clearly much different.

Very interestingly, he said he thought that it would be easier to be -- essentially to be president of the United States than it was to be in real estate.

BALDWIN: He said that a couple of times.

MASON: Yes.

David Urban was just sitting here. He helped Trump get elected and he was saying, hey, at least he's being honest. He's being honest.

MASON: He says exactly what he thinks.

BALDWIN: You got a souvenir from the president because you were, what, mid-conversation on Xi Jinping and China and, what, out of nowhere, the president reaches for a map?

MASON: It was really out of nowhere. We were talking about the president of China and he was talking about their relationship and how they built it up and why it was important with North Korea, which was a big headline of our interview.

And then just kind of out of the blue, he hands each of the three of us...

BALDWIN: Let's get a shot of this. Jeff brought it in.

(CROSSTALK)

MASON: Steve Holland, Steve Adler and myself a map. And it's the electoral map from 2016.

BALDWIN: With a lot of red.

MASON: With a lot of red, which he pointed out.

And it's delineated down to more than just states. It looks like it's counties and smaller areas of the country. And he had one for each of us.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: And he planned to give this to you?

(CROSSTALK)

MASON: Well, he had them on his desk. He had them ready. There were more. I think it was a small stack. If you two had been there with us, you probably would have gotten one, too.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: What's this about? He -- even talking at the top of his NRA speech, even going back to no

one thought it was possible and talking about the 270 electoral votes. Why is he still victory lapping 99 days in?

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Well, he's been victory lapping every day since he took office, really. He was victory lapping the day after the inauguration, which was very unusual.

And I do think that this week, it being the 100-day mark, they are looking to -- his whole staff, but certainly the president himself is looking to really show that he's in control, he's on the move, he has momentum, he's doing a lot of things.

And he doesn't have a lot of concrete accomplishments to point to. He is trying to remind people, look, I have support. People supported me. People like what I'm doing.

[15:10:05]

BALDWIN: It's a great point.

(CROSSTALK)

MASON: And they of course feel that he does have a lot of accomplishments.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

MASON: And so this was the big accomplishment. But he spent time talking about the legislation and the executive orders and, of course, Judge Gorsuch, which we have already noticed -- mentioned.

BALDWIN: Right. There was discussion of a separate map. I believe this was with "The Washington Post" interview when they were talking about NAFTA.

And we have learned, Julie, that he really did plan on withdrawing from NAFTA. And then Sonny Perdue, the ag secretary, I guess shows the president a map showing if the U.S. were to pull out all of the jobs that would be lost. And many of those jobs belong to Trump voters. And that's the reason he changed his mind.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Well, let me just say, I think it's very difficult with any White House, but particularly this White House, to know what actually motivates their decisions and what they say publicly and what they say privately.

I'm not really sure that he was ready to sign that executive order and pull out of NAFTA. But for certain he was thinking about this as a tactic to put pressure on Congress, to put pressure on Mexico and Canada to come to the negotiating table and renegotiate, because as he said on the campaign trail, his position has been, we're going to rip this up if we can't get a better deal. But he basically ended up where he started on that. He's now saying the same thing. We're going to rip this up if we can't get a better deal. And I think what that map and Sonny Perdue's argument tells us is that he's now going back, sort of reverse-engineering and thinking about, OK, what are the consequences of what I'm saying out loud?

Whether or not he meant tomorrow I'm pulling out of NAFTA, he certainly has been seriously putting that out there as a possibility, and now he's thinking about, OK, what the consequences of that would actually be.

BALDWIN: Let me jump in and let me ask you all one other thing. I want to play something.

This is President Trump in a FOX interview puts blame on the Obama administration for the vetting of Michael Flynn, his fired national security adviser. Here's the quote: "I do feel badly for General Flynn. He served the country. He was general. But, just remember, he was approved by the Obama administration at the highest level," according to the president, and "when they say we didn't vet, well, Obama, I guess, didn't vet because he was approved at the highest level of security by the Obama administration, so when he came into our administration for a short period of time, he came in, was already approved by the Obama administration."

So that's just in. That obviously echoes what we heard from Sean Spicer earlier this week, putting it back on the team Obama, on the vet.

MASON: The point is, President Trump hired him to be his national security adviser and, about 30 days or less into his administration, fired him for being dishonest with Vice President Pence.

So it's just really unusual to put blame on that on the previous administration.

BALDWIN: OK. Jeff Mason and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, thank you so much. Thank you.

MASON: Pleasure.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, we will talk live with not just one, but two Trump voters.

Just heard him speak at that big NRA conference in Atlanta. We will talk to them about how happy they are with their president so far.

Also ahead, President Trump warning that a "major, major conflict with North Korea" is possible, this as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging the United Nations to take action before North Korea does.

Back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:17:36] BALDWIN: We are getting something of a mixed message from the Trump

administration on North Korea and the one President Trump himself is -- well, hear it for yourself.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, there's a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea, absolutely.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appearing at the U.N. today with similar tough talk, but had earlier made this comment to NPR about pursing diplomatic talks.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Obviously, that would be the way we'd like to solve this. But North Korea has to decide they're ready to talk to us about the right agenda. And the agenda is not simply stopping where they are for a few more months or a few more years and then resuming things. That's been the agenda for the last 20 years.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BALDWIN: A reminder here, the proposal of diplomatic talks is a departure from what we had heard from Vice President Pence to CNN just last week, who said that there would be no talks with North Korea "until they had denuclearized."

So, I have Aaron David Miller here with me in Washington, CNN global affairs analyst, and V.P. and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

So good to see you.

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Great to see you.

BALDWIN: And Elise Labott in New York at the U.N., our CNN global affairs correspondent.

So, Elise, let me just begin with you on the secretary of state touting diplomacy, but then he took a much harder line on North Korea.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brooke.

And he laid out a bunch of options that the U.S. wants the international community to take. And he is saying from cutting diplomatic ties, to strengthening the existing sanctions and imposing new ones, putting really a diplomatic and economic squeeze on North Korea, because he said that when it comes to dealing with the nuclear threat, the international community is really running out of time and can't keep kicking the can down the road, what he said other administrations have done in the past. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TILLERSON: The threat of a North Korea nuclear attack on Seoul or Tokyo is real. And it is likely only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland.

We will not reward their bad behavior with talks. We will only engage in talks with North Korea when they exhibit a good-faith commitment to abiding by the Security Council resolutions and their past promises to end their to end their nuclear programs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:20:10]

LABOTT: And it was kind of a mixed message by the secretary, Brooke,, because, on one hand, he was saying, listen, we want the international community to act. These are the measures on the table. If they do not, the U.S. is willing to sanction countries that do business with North Korea.

And he also said that the U.S. wasn't ruling out the military option if he had to. But at the same time, he kind of offered this assurances to the regime that they are not looking for regime change and they want to have serious talks about the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear program.

Now, whether that was enough of the assurance for the regime, I seriously doubt it. But it certainly kind of pleased diplomats here that while they were talking about that military option they hoped not to take, they were also talking about some kind of diplomatic process that the U.S. was willing to be involved in.

BALDWIN: And, Aaron, before we even respond to Secretary Tillerson's comments, just taking a step back on the president's comments on the major, major conflict. And, yes, he said want a peaceful solution, want to solve it diplomatically, but then also said there was a chance that there could be a major, major conflict.

When I hear that, I think what about the U.S. 28,000 troops in the region or the tens of thousands of South Koreans who would be in harm's way?

MILLER: Mixed messaging has a problem from the beginning with this administration.

And I think with respect to the president, you don't want to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even if your argue that this was an analytical statement, that is to say, if things don't go diplomatically, we may end up in a confrontation, it's really extremely unwise, I would argue, to offer that.

It's not a threat, it's not a red line, but it's an observation, frankly, designed to demonstrate toughness, at a time when the secretary of state is opening the door for diplomacy.

BALDWIN: With regard to diplomacy, then, what even is U.S. policy on opening that conversation with North Korea?

MILLER: The policy review on Korea is apparently finished. The question is whether or not they have an actual state of a policy.

And the options are bad. You want to rely on China, that's one. But the Chinese are never going to contract out for us squeezing North Korea. Military force, as you suggested, puts not only our forces, but the entire population of Seoul in harm's way.

And that all leads to negotiations. And what the secretary of state seems to be saying is that a condition for those negotiations is to denuclearize the entire Korean Peninsula. Twenty years ago, in '05, when the Bush administration committed itself to that goal, before North Korea had all of this nuclear infrastructure and ballistic missile technology, that was probably an option.

It's not an option now. The fact is, you're going to have to sit down, maybe talks about talks to try to identify whether or not there's any deal, a freeze leading to a more transformative end state, in which nukes on the peninsula are somehow taken away.

But this is, seems to me, a long shot, to say the least.

BALDWIN: Elise Labott, final thought from you?

LABOTT: Well, I think Aaron is right, but when it comes to the policy, it really has one word, and that is China.

Secretary Tillerson was here asking countries to take action against North Korea. But he also pointed out that China has 90 percent of North Korean trade. And I think that's one statistic that has really struck President Trump when they were doing this review.

And that's why he's really put most of his eggs in President Xi Jinping's basket, because he's saying, look, if China is not going to come to the table, this is really not going to work. So when Secretary Tillerson is threatening to sanction other countries if they do business with North Korea, that's really a message to China.

Now, they have taken some steps, not as much as the U.S. would like. And I think it remains to be seen how much pressure China is really willing to put on North Korea, because Aaron spoke about 2005. China cut oil shipments to North Korea very briefly to bring them back to the table. That's the kind of action that the U.S. wants to see again.

BALDWIN: We would have to see.

Yes, Elise, thank you.

Aaron David Miller, thank you as well.

MILLER: Thank you. BALDWIN: Next, President Trump spending day 99 in office at the NRA

convention in Atlanta. We will talk to two Trump voters who were in attendance there and how they grade this president on his first 100 days. We will hear their perspectives.

Also ahead, the first lady, Melania Trump, visiting a children's hospital today here in Washington. She's expected to make some rare public remarks. We will bring that to you momentarily.

You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:29:05]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I see all of those beautiful red and white hats. But we will never forget our favorite slogan of them all, make America great again. Right?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: President Trump on the eve of his 100th day as commander in chief speaking to supporters of the NRA convention in Atlanta. He said no president has accomplished so much in 10 (sic) days and doubled down on some of those familiar campaign promises.

So, let's check in with some of his supporters on how they feel, how he's doing thus far.

We've got a couple of them at the NRA convention.

Kevin Hesseltine is good enough to be here, Dale Perleberg, are with me, both of whom voted for President Trump.

Gentlemen, thank you both so much for taking the time.

DALE PERLEBERG, TRUMP VOTER: Our pleasure.

KEVIN HESSELTINE, TRUMP VOTER: Yes, our pleasure. Thanks for having us.

BALDWIN: All right, so, Kevin, you first, and then Dale.

First 100 days, how's he done? Give me a grade for President Trump.

HESSELTINE: You know, I would say I would give him an A-minus right now. I think he's doing a great job --