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President Trump Confusing Statements; Reviving Healthcare Bill. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired May 1, 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] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: That's it for us. Thanks for watching. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. CNN Tonight starts right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: The breaking news is President Trump will speak by phone with Vladimir Putin tomorrow afternoon. That is according to a White House official.
This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
That call coming in amidst the investigations into Russian interference with our election and what role, if any, Trump aides may have played and as the White House faces many questions about president's attitude toward other controversial world leaders.
Let's get right to our senior political analyst Mark Preston. Mark, what can you tell us about this phone call between the president of the United States and the Russian president?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Well, Don, this is going to be the first time that these two presidents have spoken since Russia aggressively condemned the United States for its strikes on Syria following the gas attack on its own people.
Now it's going to be the third time they have spoken, Don, since President Trump assumed office. Now in addition to that, you said this does come as we've seen multiple investigations right now by the Department of Justice and by Congress into the hacking of the U.S. elections by Russians, as well as we're seeing these Trump associates are being (AUDIO GAP)
Now President Trump, as we know, Don, has been (AUDIO GAP) laudatory about Vladimir Putin in the past. But we have seen some tough talk out of Nikki Haley. She is the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations about Russia.
But you know, given the fact that we have all the sudden rush right now that's going on in Syria, and specifically what has been happening in North Korea over the past 24, 48 hours, it's really not surprising that they are going to talk.
LEMON: Do you think we'll see a transcript of this phone call between the two leaders.
PRESTON: If there is one it probably would not be release by the White House, but it will be released by the other side. I would be surprised. I think we will see two different readouts though, the Russian readout and the U.S. readout.
LEMON: Al right, Mark, stand by, we'll get more on that. That conversation, by the way, with Vladimir Putin is bound to be a minefield and it comes after several days of interviews with President Trump that have left a lot of people scrambling for explanations, not the least his Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
I want you to listen to what the president told Bloomberg News about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him I would absolutely -- I would be honored to do it if it's under the, again, under the right circumstances.
SEAN SPICER, UNITED STATES WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So, you know, I mean, I guess because he's still head of state so it is sort of -- there's a diplomatic piece.
TRUMP: And at a very young age he was able to assume power. A lot of people I'm sure tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So, obviously he's a pretty smart cookie.
SPENCER: Despite the obvious concerns that we and some of other people have, the -- you know, he is a young person to be leading a country with nuclear weapons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: But that's not all. President Trump also issued a personal White House invitation to the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte and admitted murderer who has been accused of engaging in crimes against humanity. Yet, President Trump tells Bloomberg News, quote, "You know, he's very popular in the Philippines. He has a very high approval rating in the Philippines. Here's Sean Spicer's explanation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the White House's perspective on Duterte him coming?
SPICER: It is an opportunity for us to work countries in that region that can help play a role in diplomatically and economically isolating North Korea.
(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: And then there are the president's eye-opening statements here at home telling Bloomberg News he would, quote, "certainly consider raising the gas tax to help overhaul the nation's infrastructure."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The truckers have said that they want me to do something as long as that money is earmarked to highways.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you talk a little more about this possibility of raising gas taxes?
SPICER: He did not express support for it. He expressed that a group that had met with him expressed support with it and that he, out of respect, would consider their requests.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: While meanwhile, the White House pushes again to repeal and replace Obamacare. The president making this promise in an interview with CBS' John Dickerson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Pre-existing conditions are in the bill and I mandated it. I said it has to be.
JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS HOST: One of the fixes that was discussed preexisting was optional for the states?
TRUMP: Sure. In one of the fixes and they are changing it and changing.
DICKERSON: OK. So, it would be permanent.
TRUMP: Of course.
SPICER: What the president is doing is ensuring going forward as we attempt to repeal it and replace it that pre-exist -- coverage of pre- existing conditions is at the core of that. So that is something that he's ensured is in the current bill and we'll continue to push for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[22:05:01] LEMON: In that same interview, standing by his infamous wiretapping claims while offering no evidence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, he was very nice to me but after that we've had some difficulties. So it doesn't matter. You know, words are less important to me than deeds. And you saw what happened with surveillance and everybody saw what happened with surveillance.
TRUMP: Frankly, it should be discussed. I think that is a very big surveillance of our citizens. I think it's a very big topic and it's a topic that should be number one and we should find out what the hell is going on.
DICKERSON: I wanted to find out that, though, you're the President of the United States. You said he was sick and bad because he had...
TRUMP: Now you can take anyway, you can take it any way you want.
DICKERSON: But I'm asking you because you don't want it to be fake news, I want to hear it from President Trump.
TRUMP: You know, you don't have to ask me. You don't have to ask me.
DICKERSON: Why not?
SPICER: He clearly stands by that. That's something that he made very clear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Mark Preston is back with me, joining us now CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers as well. Where do we start here? So Mark, President Trump raising a lot of eyebrows. He's clearly creating a few headaches for his administration. What happened to the president being his own messenger instead of creating chaos and confusion?
And the bigger thing is, is he just talking off his head? Like, is he just like, hey, man, you know, there's a lot of stuff happening and this is...
PRESTON: This is what I'm thinking at the very moment.
LEMON: ... at the very moment.
PRESTON: Right. Yes. You know, unfortunately, I think he's shooting from the hip. And do you remember when he was coming into office, there was such a talk about how he enjoyed chaos because chaos is something that he thrived on and he enjoyed pitting people against each other because he felt that he would get the best out of them.
Look where we are right now, a couple of days, over a 100 days here in office right now and he's out saying things as we've seen when it comes to the North Korean leader and the Philippine leader that diplomatically are very dangerous to say.
Certainly, when you talk to folks who understand the whole business and how to deal with those regions. So, unfortunately, Don, I do think he's shooting from the hip and that's very problematic. LEMON: You know, sitting down with people who may be adversaries,
Kirsten, I mean, that may work when you are in business and you're maybe you're in real estate, you sit down with people and you try to come up with a deal, that doesn't necessarily work when you're talking about a dictator, foreign country and foreign policy, does it?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, sometimes it can, actually. I mean, if you think of China, China is authoritarian. You think of Saudi Arabia is authoritarian. And we have relationships with them and sometimes are at odds with them as well.
The difference, I think, is the way he's talking about people who are, frankly -- I mean, if you want to take, you know, the leader of North Korea a monster, I mean, not just an authoritarian, but an actual monster, right? I mean, this is one of the greatest human rights abusers in the world.
And look, China and Saudi Arabia are human rights abusers as well but this is a place with public executions, with you know, labor camps, prisoner camps. I mean, people who like babies are born in prisoner camps and live there their whole lives, people eat -- you know, are left to eat rats.
I mean, it's a really horrible place and he's a really horrible man. So, to talk about him the way that he's talking about him is sort of, it's like putting the seal of the United States on him, sort of saying like, we're OK with this as long as you can do business with us and help us out on certain things, you know, then I'll be open to talking to you and I just feel like that's crossing the line.
POWERS: You know, it's one thing to actually try to open up conversations with bad people, which we do. And I think that we should do. It's another thing to talk about them and praise them in the way that really legitimatizes that.
LEMON: Yes. Let's talk also about something that is not the least unusual but unsubstantiated. He is double down on these unsubstantiated wiretap claims. He says they have been proven strongly. They have not.
He brought it up in that CBS interview. John Dickerson follows up. He presses him on it. He cuts the interview and literally walks away as if he can't take the heat. What's happening here? Can he take the heat?
POWERS: Is that to me?
LEMON: That's to you.
POWERS: Yes. Well, no, it seems like he can't. It seems like he is used to maybe talking to a lot of people who let him say these things and don't follow up with him on them and so he makes this claim over and over again even though there's just simply no evidence to support it. And I think the fact that he walked away like that sort of says it all. That he doesn't have people that are really holding him accountable.
LEMON: There are people who actually believe, Mark, that he has proven -- that he has not proven that claim, not one iota of it, any of it.
PRESTON: Right. Yes, most rational...
LEMON: Does he believe that? Or is he just flat out lying to that reporter?
PRESTON: I think that if you say things enough times, you start to believe it yourself and it certainly has been that way from the very start. What's more troubling for me, though, is the folks out there who are supporters of him, which is fine, who don't care, that brush off the fact that he is introducing lies, you know, into the discussion about President Barack Obama, about how many people showed up and watched his inauguration and then go down the line, go down the line, and go down the line.
[22:10:09] And the idea that they embrace this whole idea of alternative facts. Because there is no such things as an alternative fact. An alternative fact is a flat-out lie. So, I think that is what's most disturbing for me.
LEMON: Yes. Listen, him weighing in on whether about the gas tax, is going to be concerning to a whole lot of people because he's talking about whether to raise a gas tax. That would affect millions of Americans. Could have big consequences for his own voters. So what gives here? And then Sean Spicer had to clear that up as well.
PRESTON: Right. Well, first of all, I mean, that's like touching the third rail of politics right now because it does affect everybody and it affects, you know, the poor all the way up to the wealthy, although the wealthy can afford of paying a few dollar cents when it comes to gas.
You know, President Trump is fine right now with his supporters, Don, because he's only 100 days in. He hasn't been able to get some things done through the use of executive order. It hasn't had to deal with Congress. But let's have this conversation six or seven months from now when he doesn't deliver jobs back to the coal country. That's when I think things could turn south.
LEMON: So the question, is he being prepped properly by his people or is he -- is he they are prepping him and he just, it doesn't matter or what's happening?
PRESTON: Well, if you go back during the campaign, he wasn't somebody who really enjoyed being prepped for presidential debates. He didn't necessarily want to know the facts, I'm going to do it alone, I'm going to do it my own way.
I think, you know, to be an aide right now for President Trump is to survive each day and when you walk out the door, be glad you actually have a job because if you think it's exhausting and I think at some point it becomes survival when you know that you can't really swim upstream against the current of Donald Trump.
LEMON: I'm going to bring in now Fareed Zakaria, who is the host of Fareed Zakaria GPS. Fareed, can you weigh in on this? Because I'm speaking to Mark about being prepped, and then, but it constantly going back.
And we're going to talk about Russia, by the way and Vladimir Putin. But then going back to his base as if he needs, you know, to be, to bolster his base and to reinforce but he is, and going back to that same well but that doesn't help him move anything forward, those people will believe anything he says even if it's not accurate.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: So, if you say to yourself that the goal of the presidency is to actually accomplish a series of big policy initiatives that you define, set the agenda, get them through Congress, sign the bill. Yes, you're absolutely right.
But at some level, I have come to wonder whether the Trump presidency is really being defined by can he maintain attention? Can he, you know, it's almost like a television program. Can he keep the camera on him like, you know, and that means constantly changing the story, and constantly letting out these little explosions, you know, and many of them are simply are untrue.
Even, you know, one that didn't get as much attention. But he said you know, I stopped calling China currency manipulator because they stopped after I raised the issue. They just miraculously stopped. And John Dickerson said, well, actually, they stopped earlier.
No, no, no, they stopped because -- now China stopped manipulating, stopped trying to depress its currency about two and a half years ago before Trump had ever mentioned it. And he is the President of the United States saying something on a national television show that is simply untrue. You know, how many -- I kind of feel like we're all getting exhausted. How many times do we point this out?
LEMON: When do you say to the emperor, when do have a talk, and we've all have them before, we're all adults, where the boss or the spouse says someone we need to talk, you're not doing this right. Right? Maybe you should think about. When does someone say, Mr. Emperor, you're not wearing any clothes?
ZAKARIA: I don't think that's how the Trump organization works. I think that there's a very interesting -- I think I saw it written somewhere or somebody told me. I can' remember it the two campaign planes.
ZAKARIA: They went on the Clinton plane and the Trump plane. And so the Clinton plane was like every other campaign plane, totally chaotic, not hierarchical, everyone is running around. The Trump plane is totally hierarchal, everyone sits down rows behind Trump. Nobody approaches him, they all call him Mr. Trump. Nobody ever says anything to him unless ask the question.
So that's the way you created, you know, an organization. I doubt very much somebody is going to say to you, you know, Mr. President, you're just saying things that are factually not true.
LEMON: Let's get to the breaking news now because of the phone call between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Trump tomorrow. What do you expect to come out of that conversation tomorrow?
ZAKARIA: No. Actually there is a lot of business that needs to be conducted. The odd thing about is, this is a case where Donald Trump has painted himself into a bizarre corner. U.S. relations with Russia are totally frozen and there are lots of areas where the U.S. has to deal with Russia.
There's, you know, Iran sanctions, there's Syria, there's Ukraine, there's all kinds of issues. Russia has a veto under the Security Council, there's nuclear security issues, non-proliferation issue.
And the Obama administration, even though it had a contentious relationship with Russia, John Kerry and Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, had a very good working relationship.
[22:15:05] Right now all of that is frozen because there is this, I think legitimate issue of what exactly whether relations between the Russian government and the Trump campaign are until that gets cleared up in a way it's difficult to see how Russian relations could ever get unfrozen.
LEMON: So the thing is how does that factor all of that, you know, the fact that the Trump administration or the Trump campaign is under investigation, federal investigation, Fareed, whether there was collusion, how does that factor into this interaction tomorrow?
ZAKARIA: I think it makes it very difficult for this to be more than a performer into Russia. In other words, imagine any deal that Putin and Trump made in the next -- before this investigation is over, before there's some clarity, everyone would wonder, why is Trump doing this?
Is he selling out? Is there some secret deal? This is why I think the president, for his own sake, for the sake of the country, but also for his own sake needs to almost endorse this investigation and say, yes, I want to get clarity on this. We've got to clear this up because otherwise his Russia policy, which is a huge part of foreign policy is totally stuck.
LEMON: Yes. I'm going to bring in the other two panelists back in, and we were speaking to Mark Preston and Kirsten Powers. Kirsten, we've been listening to Fareed Zakaria I ask Mark of what she thought -- what he thought would happen with this Russian conversation tomorrow. How do you this conversation will go and I asked Fareed as well, what do you think is going to come out of this conversation?
POWERS: I mean, I really don't know. I think he has certainly made this sort of centerpiece of his you know, agenda in starting on the campaign, that he was going to have this new, you know, relationship with Russia and that he seems to have this affection for Putin.
It's been tempered a little bit but it so many of these sort of authoritarian leaders. So it will be interesting to see when the rubber meets the road what actually happens. You know, when he actually talks to him to see what actually occurs between them and what kind of relationship they have and whether anything can actually be moved forward.
LEMON: Let's talk a little bit more. Because you mentioned North Korea and we also talked about Duterte just for a minute. At least played some of the sound bites from earlier.
The president said he'd be honored to meet with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances. Fareed, honored, what do you think of that?
ZAKARIA: You know, I think Kirsten is saying this earlier. I think it's important to understand what the North Korean regime is. This is I once did when I was at any news we're getting national, we did the worst countries of the world as issue. And I think North Korea was either one or two. I think that Afghanistan and the Taliban and the North Korea ranked one or two.
This is a country where the regime allowed two million of its own people to starve to death. Trump talked about Kim Jong-un's ability to maintain power, you know, while people were challenging it as if this was some kind of a political party contest, you know, where Tony Blair had been able to outmaneuver Gordon Brown.
What Kim Jong-un did was he had executed or everybody who potentially remotely posed a threat to him. That is not an admirable trait. I mean, you know that the mafia don, who was sense to the top could be considered admirable but it's not really something that the leader of the free world should be speaking of as a praise worthy.
LEMON: Yes, you mean the mafia don, the head of the mafia, not this Don, the mafia don.
ZAKARIA: You're very sensitive about that.
LEMON: Here's what the president told Bloomberg News. He said talking about the Philippines. He said, you know, "He's very popular in the Philippines, he's also very -- he has a very high approval rating in the Philippines."
You know, this is an authoritarian leader accused of killing thousands of his own people in his war on drugs. The president has said similar things about Vladimir Putin being popular in Russia. We know he's going to speak to him in a while.
But does he understand how authoritarian regimes get these kind of poll numbers the reason that they are authoritarian is that that -- the reason they have those poll numbers, Mark, is because they were authoritarians PRESTON: Yes. He has this attraction to strong men, right? You know,
people who go in and are able to amass power and do it at all costs. And in some ways, I guess perhaps the attraction is because he felt that that's the way he acted in business. He was a strong man. He would go in and overpower people and be successful.
I mean, I don't think there's any other way that you could look at it and wonder why he has this fascination with them. But the problem is his words; right? I mean, he carelessly goes out and says things that have to be cleaned up.
It's not so much, you know, that he's maybe trying to reach out to the North Korean leader which in itself could be problematic, but perhaps there could be some kind of diplomacy to deescalate right now. But he does it in such a careless manner.
LEMON: Fareed, I know you want to weigh in. But can we just talk about this wiretap thing finally? Because you've called him a B.S. artist on the show before.
[22:20:02] Him claiming that President Obama wiretapped the Trump Tower. Were you surprised that he was, he has been proven right. He said that in the end. Were you surprised by that?
ZAKARIA: No. I mean, I think this is one of those cases where this is almost intentional misinformation. I don't think this is one of those cases where he's just, you know, making stuff up to get around.
This is intentional misinformation to shore up his base to discredit anything that comes out of the Obama -- this is I think more in some ways more malicious. This is very Nixonian. This is sort of let me try to spread misinformation about something.
What surprises me is that it doesn't seem to be working, particularly this particular one. I haven't seen the poll, the most recent poll numbers but I think that nobody really believes that. But yet, he keeps saying it. And maybe because for his base, this is the kind of red meat that works.
LEMON: Or maybe for him.
ZAKARIA: Maybe, you know, I think that the point Mark was maybe -- I think that for many people like this who are -- let's face it, in the line of fire and in the arena, you start to convince yourself about all these things, you know, you're always right, you're always embattled, the world is out to get you, which is why it's so important to have those people who come in and break the bubble and say, no, that's why this is the kind of role that David Gergen played for so many presidents.
LEMON: Yes. Thank you all.
When we come back, more on the republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare and why the president still seems a bit unclear on the details. We're going to ask a congressman whether he thinks the president understand what's in this bill. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The president is putting a lot of pressure on House republicans to try again to pass a health care bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. I want to talk about this now with Congressman Ted Lieu, a California democrat. Congressman, thank you so much for coming on. Good evening to you.
TED LIEU, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Thank you, Don.
LEMON: The Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, has not yet scheduled a vote and Vice President Pence was on Capitol Hill just this evening. You posed this bill. You're a democrat. But what is the scoop there tonight on how likely this is to pass?
LIEU: I believe it's unlikely because it's clearly a disconnect between what the president believes is in the bill and what's actually in the bill. I highly urge President Trump to read the legislation because it does not cover pre-existing conditions. It specifically allows insurance companies to charge you more if you have a condition, such as cancer or diabetes and, in many cases, you won't be able to afford their insurance.
[22:25:03] LEMON: OK. So let's talk about that. Because you said you don't think the president knows what's in the bill. President Trump also made some confusing comments about those pre-existing conditions that you are talking about there. These were on Face of the Nation. Let's listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Pre-existing conditions are in the bill and I mandated it. I said it has to be.
DICKERSON: And one of the things that was discussed pre-existing was optional for the states.
TRUMP: Sure. In one of the fixes. And they are changing it and changing it.
DICKERSON: OK. So, be permanent.
TRUMP: Of course.
DICKERSON: These are new development, sir. Few crucial questions not going to be left up to the states. Everybody gets pre-existing no matter where they are.
TRUMP: No, but the states are also going to have a lot to do with it because we ultimately want to get it back down to the state.
TRUMP: The state is going to be in a much better position to take care because it's smaller.
DICKERSON: So I'm not hearing you, Mr. President say there's a guarantee of pre-existing conditions?
TRUMP: We actually have -- we actually have a clause that guarantees.
DICKERSON: OK. Excellent.
TRUMP: We have this...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: OK. So, Representative Lieu, then to Bloomberg News the president said, quote, I want to -- "I want it to be good for sick people. It's not in its final form right now. It will be every bit as good on pre-existing conditions as Obamacare."
It sounds like you could agree with the president on the version of the bill that he has in his head, not just reality of the republican bill that's in the House right now.
LIEU: That's correct. The version of the bill that Donald Trump has in his head does not exist. It is not on the floor of the House and, again, I urge the president to just read the legislation. Because it allows insurance companies to charge you more if you have cancer, for example, and tomorrow any of us can wake up and find out we have cancer or our loved one has cancer. And under Trumpcare it would make insurance perhaps unaffordable for you.
LEMON: OK. So, Representative, let's talk about this a little bit more. We talked about the possibility of this passing by CNN's count, there are 21 no votes, mostly moderate republicans after pulling the bill at the end of March to try and you know, failing again last week, why would the White House try to push this through again without being sure they had the votes for it?
LIEU: So you're asking me to explain why the White House takes certain actions and I can't do that. But what I will say, the reason you have so many republican moderates saying, no, they are not going vote for this bill, is because they read it, they understand that it does not cover pre-existing conditions and that's the difference between this version and the first version when you had the House Freedom Caucus the concerted members not support it.
The change now is this bill costs less because it doesn't cover pre- existing conditions and the moderates are baulking at that.
LEMON: OK. It looks like this Obamacare is holding up for now. We'll see once there's a vote. But here's what the president said on Fox News. I want you to listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Health care, we're going to get that passed?
(CROSSTALK) TRUMP: The one mistake I made with the health care, you know, we have one plan that's been going through, it's been getting better and better and better. And somebody have said, all the people who voted for Trump aren't getting good. They are going to get the greatest. These are the greatest people. We either are going to have a great plan or I'm not signing it. And I said from day one, the best thing I can do is let Obamacare die and then come in with a plan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So letting Obamacare die is what President Trump said immediately after the first vote was pulled at the end of March. Yet here he is trying to get a vote through. Do you think he realizes he can't let Obamacare just die?
LIEU: I hope he doesn't. Because it's going to hurt tens and millions of people just for political advantage and that is not something a president should do. Now, I am on Obamacare, and I will work with republicans in the present to make Obamacare better any law can be improved.
But what doesn't make any sense is repealing it and replacing it with a worse plan that's going to resolve in 24 million people not having health coverage and a lot of people with pre-existing conditions not being able to afford health coverage.
LEMON: I know you have some pretty strong opinions about the last topic that I want to ask you about, and that is the administration's take on the first amendment. What are you afraid is going to happen here?
LIEU: I'm afraid that they might actually try to change the libel laws and keep in mind there are a lot of issues facing Americans. But letting the president sue CNN or the New York Times is not one of those issues. And I frankly find it disturbing the White House is spending time trying to figure out how to let the president sue the media. They shouldn't be spending any time on that at all because the key toward democracy is a free press and a free speech.
LEMON: Congressman Ted Lieu, I appreciate your time. Thank you, sir.
LIEU: Thank you.
LEMON: When we come back, the president making this surprising claim about the Civil War and how he thinks Andrew Jackson could have prevented it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He was -- he was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, there's no reason for this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[22:29:58] LEMON: We should probably note, Jackson died 16 years before the Civil War began. We'll discuss, next. (JOINED IN PROGRESS)
[22:30:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: ... fifteen years before the Civil War began. We'll discuss, next.
LEMON: President Trump delving into American history in his own way wondering why there was a Civil War, and suggesting that if Andrew Jackson had still been president in 1861 it would have happened.
I want to bring in CNN contributor Salena Zito who conducted the interview with the president for Sirius XM politics radio, and Michael Higginbotham is with us as well, the professor of constitutional law at the University of Baltimore and the author of "Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post Racial America."
Good evening to both of you. Hi, Salena, you interviewed the president. This is what he told you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn't have had the Civil War. He was -- he was a very tough person but he had a big heart and he was -- he was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said there's no reason for this. People don't realize, you know, the Civil War...
SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.
[22:35:00] TRUMP: You think about it, why? People don't ask that question. But why was there the Civil War? Why could -- why could that one not have been worked out?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Salena, I understand part of the conversation happened before the tape started to roll. So maybe there's some context. I don't know, I've given the benefit of the doubt, so tell us what we missed.
ZITO: Well, you know, first of all, Andrew Jackson was a very complicated figure in American history; right? He did a lot of good for the country he also did a lot of harm for the country. Having said that, Andrew Jackson was elected to office in 1828.
And right after that began the nullification crisis with South Carolina who did not like the tariffs that was put on their good and they threatened to secede over this crisis and they were anticipating federal troops to come in. Jackson faced his Vice President James C. Calhoun head on this. Jackson was a strict unionist and Calhoun was not. He was in favor of slavery. I know Jackson...
LEMON: So, in the interest of time, though, Salena, you're a Civil War buff. I know that. And you're very excited and you read -- you've read a lot about it. But just give us the context behind it and the - as you were speaking, and you were in the Oval Office. Correct?
ZITO: Right. Right.
LEMON: OK. So what...
ZITO: He was talking about Jackson's portrait was to his left, Jefferson was to his right and we got into a discussion about Jackson and, you know, I mean, I don't think it's a surprise that the way that the president talks is very flippant. He talks in short, you know, sort of -- like as if you were at the bar, right? You're like, hey, that if...
LEMON: Like in ellipses, what we call ellipses, right? He does that.
ZITO: Right. Exactly. And so sometimes it's hard to sort of pull that all together and string coherent thought in there.
LEMON: But were you surprised by the comments at all when you as a Civil War buff, did you sort of, when he said that, you know, the reason for this war, were you kind of like what? But maybe you just didn't want to tackle it at that moment?
ZITO: I understood at the moment, yes, you know, Jackson was a strict unionist and, you know, the Civil War, maybe it would have been prevented. We don't know. We can't predict something like that.
But that was the beginning of the interview. I had 15 minutes to interview him and I, you know, made a game time decision. You know, this I'm going to interview the president, there are serious subjects that I wanted to talk to him about. I didn't want to get down in that rabbit hole. I wanted to get on to my questions and I wasn't like sort of where he is going.
LEMON: You want to use your time wisely and get to the point of where he was going. OK.
LEMON: So, listen, Michael, but he also defended slavery and he was a slave owner as well. So what gives here? What did you think of this?
MICHAEL HIGGINBOTHAM, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE: Well, it's good to be with you, Don. President Trump can quote whoever he chooses in American history. But why choose Andrew Jackson? As you mentioned, he was a slave owner.
He was a very divisive figure in American history not only because he embraced slavery but also because he supported the Indian Removal Act and was involved in the genocidal aspects against Cherokee, the Cherokee nation and the Trail of Tears.
So he's a very divisive individual in American history. Here's a guy who was almost actually removed from the $20 bill because of this history. So, very divisive. President Trump in my view should -- if he wants to quote American heroes, he should look at some of the people from Virginia who inherited slaves and who freed them and who turned then around and supported abolition. Those are the real American heroes in the quest for the Civil War.
LEMON: Yes. I want to ask you this because, let me put this up. This is the president he tweeted this tonight. He said, "President Andrew Jackson who died 16 years before the Civil War started saw it coming and was angry would never have let it happen." So, Michael, what do you say to that? I mean, again, he was a slave owner, he defended slavery, I mean, how can he say he would never have let it happen.
HIGGINBOTHAM: Here's what -- here's what I say to that. It is, it is complicated to look at American history and the causes of the Civil War but there's nothing -- there's no evidence -- if you look at what President Trump said about there was no reason for the Civil War, that I agree with because there was no reason because the southern states should not have seceded.
The southern states should have accepted a democratic process, the election of Abraham Lincoln and the reduction in perhaps elimination by the federal government of the institution of slavery. They refused to do that. They seceded. That's what caused the Civil War.
[22:40:02] If Andrew Jackson could have stopped that that would have been wonderful. If he could have stopped the secession of the south, if he could have helped the south to recognize and perhaps accept that slavery might be reduced and eliminated, that would have been great.
But there is nothing, there is no evidence that Andrew Jackson believed that the union should stay together and slavery should end.
HIGGINBOTHAM: Andrew Jackson was a supporter of slavery and there's no evidence that he would have supported the staying of the union and the elimination of the slavery.
LEMON: I want to just read this, Salena, and I want to get to your response. Because CNN's editor-at-large Chris Cillizza wrote about your interview. He said, "In the Zito interview Trump wants to make the case that if Jackson had been president the Civil War wouldn't have happened in order to make the case that he like Jackson will be able to make deals and avert crisis by depth of his unique background. That the facts don't back up the assertion is beside the point for Trump. It's real to him and, therefore, it is a version of the truth."
Do you agree with that analysis?
ZITO: I didn't get the sense when I was interviewing him that he was trying to compare himself to Andrew Jackson. He was pointing out portraits in the Oval Office and he talked about Jefferson and he talked -- he talked about Jackson. You know, maybe he was. I can't get inside his head. I don't know what he was thinking. But I didn't see any evidence of that during the interview.
LEMON: All right. Thank you, Salena. Thank you, Michael. I appreciate it.
When we come back, more in this bizarre history lesson and what it reveals about the president.
[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: What President Trump had to say about the Civil War is surprising. Listen again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: People don't realize, you know, the Civil War...
TRUMP: So think about it, why? People don't ask that question. But why was there the Civil War? Why could -- why could that one not have been worked out?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Let's discuss now with CNN political commentators David Swerdlick, Alice Stewart, David Bauer, and Bakari Sellers. Good evening to all of you. I suggest that you hold on and sit down, because I'm sure this is going to be very interesting. Andre, what do you think the president meant there?
ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he meant a couple things. Number one, Jackson was known to be a very tough negotiator, he was man of courage. Maybe he was thought to have advanced the rights of the common man much like Trump. And then he was the only president I believe to pay off the national debt.
So those are the things that I actually thought that Trump was at least...
LEMON: So what is that have to do with the Civil War?
BAUER: ... inspired him to be compared himself to.
LEMON: What that has to do with the Civil War?
BAUER: Well, he thinks that Jackson was a leader -- and one of Jackson's quote was "One man of courage makes a majority." And I believe that he thought he might be able to have spearheaded an effort to in fact keep the union together and actually Lincoln did much of the same thing.
LEMON: OK. So you're thinking he's comparing himself to Andrew Jackson?
BAUER: Well, he compare himself -- he likes Jackson. He's gone to Jackson.
LEMON: But as Salena just said she didn't think he was comparing himself to Andrew Jackson.
BAUER: Well, we know he likes him. Well, we know he has admiration for him, and he likes him because of supposedly being a populist, being a guy who really kind of fought the institution, but here's an interesting just little thing to take in.
He's got -- here Trump is with the two founders of the Democratic Party still hanging in the Oval Office. Jefferson and Jackson, the very two people that the Democratic Party reveres, they have their party, you know, every year was about march or so, they have the big party...
LEMON: Andre, what does that have to do with the Civil War?
BAUER: Well, you're beating up Trump.
LEMON: What does have to do with the Civil War, Andre? I'm not beating him up. I'm asking you, I'm beating you up right now. I'm not beating you up, but I'm asking you what that has to do with...
BAUER: It has the fact that -- I'm telling you that these are two democrats that are revered by the Democratic Party. So if you want to attack somebody and beat them up, I mean, they're the people that raised the money for him. That too they were revering.
Trump is not a republican or democrat. This guy is an independent, quite frankly. He's got different party leaders hanging in his office.
LEMON: He's not a republican?
BAUER: Trying to get things done and it's just too -- I think he's more of an independent, quite frankly. He's trying to work with both parties.
LEMON: My God.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Don, can I -- look.
LEMON: Yes. Go ahead.
SWERDLICK: I will -- I will, you know, I will almost agree with Andre with Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina Andre Bauer that President Trump is not a conservative. But he is a republican and he ran as a republican. BAUER: I didn't say that.
SWERDLICK: Well, I'm saying it. He is a republican, he's the titular head of the Republican Party but to Don's question, I think the problem here is that it's OK to acknowledge as our colleague Salena said in the previous segment that President Jackson was complicated; right?
He was a hero of the 1812 war. He opened the doors of the White House on his inauguration to the common man and all of that. But he also -- but at the end of that quote by the president to say that, President Jackson would have done something to avoid the Civil War,
I mean, at best, it's highly speculative, a war in which 600 or 700,000 people died so that the south could hang on to slavery, it's almost as if he was implying in a sort of, you know, loose and goosy way that, you know, that if President Jackson just been able to get, you know, his adversaries down to the Mar-a-Lago of this day and they could have hash it out over lunch that they would have avoided the Civil War.
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Don?
LEMON: Or something. OK.
STEWART: Don, with regard to the actual statement, look, in terms of what Salena said, yes, Andrew Jackson was a unionist, he supported keeping the union together. And to Donald Trump's point with regard to whether or not he could have prevented the Civil War, no one knows that.
But he did say, one of the quotes stand out in my mind with regard to Andrew Jackson is, look, if the union is separated, the divide will grow wider and wider and he did predict that the complications and the controversies would eventually be resolved in the field of battle and determined by the sword.
STEWART: So while he predicted it could end in war, it doesn't mean i any way, shape or form that he could have prevented it. So, I think I understand what the president was trying to say but it was wrong.
LEMON: He is saying exactly that, Bakari.
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Don, if I may.
LEMON: Bakari, in his tweet. I'm going to let you -- I'm going to let you finish, Bakari. President Andrew Jackson who died 16 years before the Civil War started saw it coming and was angry, would never have let it happen. He's saying he could have prevented it. Go ahead, Bakari.
SELLERS: With all due respect to Salena and Alice, everybody else on this panel, I don't find too many redeeming qualities from Andrew Jackson.
[22:50:01] The fact is he was genocidal. The fact is he was a butcher. The fact is he murdered a number of Native Americans...
SELLERS: ... and then he owned 150 slaves. So for anyone to have the audacity to sit here and do this revisionist history and people talk about their race card, and people talk about white splining and people talk about white washing. This is exactly what we're talking about.
The fact is the Civil War was about race. The Civil War was about slavery. I just want to admit to everyone watching around the world Andrew Jackson was not going to own slaves and stop the Civil War at the same time. This is a revisionist history and it's ludicrous that we have to have this argument.
LEMON: Andre, after the break.
BAUER: And if that's the case...
LEMON: After the break, we'll be right back.
LEMON: All right. And we're back now with the panel. I did not mean to cut you off, Andre, but I got to get to the break, that's what we do.
BAUER: That's right.
LEMON: So you were saying what, you were responding to Bakari.
BAUER: Well, first off, I know Bakari is very passionate about, is Bakari is one of my best buddies so I never want to overstepped the line. But if the democrats are passionate like Bakari is, really they should probably get rid of him as their annual fund raiser.
Some states like South Carolina actually don't call it the Jefferson/Jackson dinner. But we really shouldn't gauge everyone by today's standards from 150 years ago. These got you moments really aren't healthy for the debate and the discussion. We should have the discussion. But to compare everybody by today's standard. It's really probably unfair.
But Donald Trump spoke this. He believed in it. He believed that possibly he was a leader that could have prevent the Civil War. I don't think that's a bad thing to have that discussion.
LEMON: But how is that a got you thing? If he's factually...
SELLERS: But Don - Don, I think... LEMON: ... and accurate what's wrong with pointing that out and
having a discussion about it. That's not a got you, Andre.
[22:55:05] SELLERS: But Don...
LEMON: Go ahead.
SELLERS: I agree like in the most -- in the most weird way I agree with Andre. I mean, in South Carolina we abandoned the Jefferson/Jackson dinner. I agree with that. You can tear down as many monuments as you want to like Mitch Landrieu in New Orleans, and you take down a Confederate flag but you can't take down the remnants of white supremacy. You can't take down these remnants of oppression from everywhere because they're systemic.
I actually agree with that. The most difficult conversation we have in the United States of America is a conversation about race. That is the most difficult conversation. The original sin of this country is the fact that we had slavery. This country's built upon slavery.
And the quote my good Angela Rye we built this for free. This conversation that Donald Trump had is indicative of so many people who just want to white wash, white splat and want to have a revisionist history about our country. Let's talk about race in a sincere fashion.
LEMON: So, Bakari, OK, then that's my point then. If we're going to use this to talk about race, which is it, the Civil War is about race, and not sit on television and say this is all right and say this is a got you moment to the President of the United States.
If the leader of the free world is talking about race in the Civil War in an inaccurate way, then it should be pointed out. Because then it does become revisionist history. Do you disagree with that, Alice?
STEWART: I, and I agree 100 percent. And I also agree with what Bakari said earlier. It defies reality for a president, Andrew Jackson who owned not just a few slaves but a lot of slaves to say that he would not ultimately would be able to do anything to stop the Civil War.
In addition to that, supporting the removal of Native Americans from their homeland. So this is someone that his history in his personal record defies the statement that he would have done anything to prevent the Civil War.
So I think that is factually inaccurate on the part of this president but it does open up a conversation that maybe it's time for us to have. But the statement itself I think is just wrong on its face.
LEMON: David, we know that this president is a lot less red than the last two presidents, Bush and Obama. Is he ignorant about history?
SWERDLICK: Yes, certainly in this case. Look, the got you moment is not the president's affinity or interest in Andrew Jackson. The got you moment is the latter part of that exchange with Salena where he says, you know, the Civil War why? You know, people are asking why did this happen? I'm paraphrasing obviously.
But people are not asking that. We know why the Civil War happened. It happened because of slavery. The states fought a war over slavery. For the president to -- you know, it's almost, Don, like he's learning American history on the job.
A few weeks ago he said at his speech, you know, a lot of people don't know that Abraham Lincoln was a republican. Yes, they do.
LEMON: I thought the same thing.
SWERDLICK: That's why it's the party of Lincoln. You know, he said Frederick Douglas, you know, I'm glad to see I'm getting more run these days.
LEMON: More and more attention.
SWERDLICK: More and more. No, Frederick Douglas was an American hero and abolitionist. Look, it's one thing for the average person not to know all these facts years after going to school. You know, we all get away from our history from time to time. It's important for the United States to know these things.
LEMON: Well said. We'll be right back. We'll be right back.
[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)