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White House Daily Briefing; Trump: "Would be Honored to Meet N. Koran Leader"; Trump Invites Philippines' Duterte to White House; Trump Calls on Congress to Support Health Care Bill; Trump's Controversial Comments on Civil War. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired May 1, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:00] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously, there's a human rights component that goes into all of this. It's a balance. We want to make sure our people are protected. This isn't a simple yes or no situation. You have a country in North Korea that possesses a nuclear weapon and is looking for the appropriate delivery system to potentially do harm. The president recognizes that the number-one priority is the protection of our people, the safety of our people, and the safety of the people in the region. So it's not just a question of either/or. It's a question of priorities and balance.
There's a lot that the president talks to these leaders in private about. You saw that in Egypt. Where sometimes that kind of diplomacy, privately talking about them and building a relationship, can achieve results, not just for our people, but for their people, and discussing how human rights issues. But I think it would be a mistake to assume that the president, because we don't put out statements publicly chastising leaders at every call, means that the president is --
SPICER: Hold on. Let me answer the question.
The president understands the value and the balance. The reason that the president is building an effective coalition and is getting results around the globe and reasserting America's place is because he understands the type of diplomacy and the type of negotiating and the type of deal making that gets real results for our country. So I think it's a balancing act and the president is getting real results.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Looking at -- there are three open patents with the Philippines government, one from Trump to Ivanka for her clothing line. How do you respond to concerns about potential conflicts of interest?
SPICER: I think the president and Ivanka have done everything in compliance and very clear. I would prefer you to the Trump Organization.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I just want to clarify something you said to Zeke. Is there a possibility that the president would not sign this spending agreement?
SPICER: He's very pleased with how his priorities but I want to - wait until it's presented to him, but he's, obviously, very pleased with how his priorities were addressed in the C.R. I have every expectation that he would sign it. But let's just wait until it's on his desk.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are we still on track for the 2018 budget? Is it mid May or do you have a date for that?
SPICER: My understanding is it was still mid May, but I want to consult with Director Mulvaney first.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUIDIBLE). What's your expectation and what's your hope for the meeting with the president? Secondly, is the president still considering moving the embassy to Jerusalem?
SPICER: That's still being discussed by staff. And what was the first question? I'm sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The first question, your expectations going forward --
SPICER: The president's ultimate goal is to establish peace in the region. So I think he's going to -- that's obviously the goal in the discussion he's going to have with the Palestinian Authority. But that's going to be a relationship that he continues to work on and build with the ultimate goal that there is peace in that region between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On infrastructure, the president has been talking about a major infrastructure package in more than a year on the campaign. It doesn't seem clear right now what the mechanism is for the structure of whatever it is he wants to push forward. He talked about maybe attaching it to the reconciliation packet for health care. He talked about doing that with the tax package. Can you update us on, is that still very preliminary in its invention? Does he have clear ideas? What's the mechanism to get that done?
SPICER: He does. He's been working on that with his economic and policy team. But this week, we're busy with C.R. and health care. He laid out his tax package last week. But it's clearly up there on the priority list. Let's get through this week. Hopefully have some additional details moving forward. But he has been very clear that infrastructure package is something he wants to get done and get moving. This year, absolutely. It's just a question of when he wants to announce it. But I think for this week, we're pretty focused on getting the government funded for the last five months of 2017 and getting health care done as soon as we can.
So, with that, I'll see you tomorrow. Have a great day. Thank you.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Big headlines out of the press briefing there at the White House with Sean Spicer.
Let's start with North Korea and President Trump saying he would be honored to meet Kim Jong-Un, the leader of North Korea.
I want to bring in Chris Cillizza, our CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large.
Your reaction to what he had to say about what President Trump said, Chris, today. Saying he's not only open, but would be honored to meet with Kim Jong-Un under the right conditions.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & EDITOR-AT-LARGE: This is Sean Spicer doing what he, in some ways, signed up for and done a lot of during the 102 days Donald Trump has been president, which is trying to finesse something that Donald Trump probably shouldn't have said into something that is manageable politically speaking. So he's taking the part of "under the right circumstances." We heard that a lot in that press briefing to essentially mean if North Korea stopped acting like North Korea and if Kim Jong-Un stopped trying to acquire ballistic and nuclear missiles, then we would meet with them.
BROWN: Which, by the way --
[14:35:28] CILLIZZA: Which is not breaking news. That's not going to happen.
Trump's tendency is always to believe in himself and his ability as a negotiator. He said this on the campaign trail, I'll talk to anyone because I'll cut a great deal for America. I think the blind spot in that logic is by the very fact of appearing side by side with, let's say, the president of the Philippines or Kim Jong-Un or some of these other folks, you are validating them at some level. They are standing next to the most powerful person in the - the leader of the most powerful country in the world. No matter what happens in there, unless North Korea says, let's forget that our nuclear ambitions, which isn't going to happen, you're giving them a win by the very act of meeting with them. It's odd to me he doesn't get that because he's such a perception/image-conscious person, it seems like a blind spot.
BROWN: You hear him praising these dictators, essentially. And Kim Jong-Un, Duterte of the Philippines, who has killed thousands of people and said, I've assassinated these people, the words he said about Vladimir Putin. What do you make about this and what we heard from Sean Spicer specifically saying he's inviting Duterte to the White House because this is about North Korea, it's important to have a coalition.
CILLIZZA: You can't prove it wrong. You can always say it's important to have allies around the world who can bring pressure to bear on North Korea. At the same time, back to my earlier point, we're talking about, according to Human Rights Watch, at least 7,000 people killed in this broad, anti-drug cleanup program. Put aside what he said about former President Obama. So again, I just think this idea, well, we're prioritizing this. Erdogan, same thing, congratulations to president Erdogan for his victories. Well, his victories give him broad authority as it relates to what he can and cannot do to the people of the country. So it's sort of -- you throw the baby out with the bath water, somewhat. You can't say, well, I'm going to pick these things they do that are beneficial to us and they are positioning them in the region. The human rights stuff, that's not -- they come together. It's part and parcel.
BROWN: Part and parcel.
And I want to bring in Spider Marks to get your reaction to the notion that President Trump is saying he would be honored to meet with Kim Jong-Un. It seemed like Sean Spicer dodged the question when asked about that by Jonathan Carl, Spider.
GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yeah, the challenge is that, bear in mind the United States does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea. Never has. Also bear in mind the war is still ongoing. We don't have an armistice -- or a peace treaty that ended that conflict. The United States has routinely dealt with the North through a very large presence in the South and through arrangements with the remaining allies and friends that we have in the region, which is South Korea, Japan, certainly, and then we have to deal with China and Russia. With that collection of powers, we've been able to try to hold what you see in North Korea.
The challenge that we have right now is that it really doesn't matter what our president says relative to activities and behavior in the North. Inarguably, no nation has had an ability to modify and alter the behavior in Pyongyang. It just doesn't work.
What has to happen is that that regime is marching forward. We only have about another two-year time period before estimates are that North Korea will have a nuclear weapon that can be delivered by an ICBM. They have nukes right now, but you would have to drive them on a car or drop them off in a boat.
We have to be able to be very strong with that regime. We're not honored to meet -- our president should not be honored to meet with the leader of that regime. It doesn't exist. In fact, at the lowest levels, it doesn't exist right now.
BROWN: Just for historical context, the last time you had a leader in the United States -- not a leader, but someone in a high-ranking position, meeting with a leader of North Korea was in 2000, and that was Madelaine Albright, and with Kim Jong-Un's father. There's a reason why that hasn't happened since then.
I want to bring in Jeff Zeleny to talk about these conditions.
Because Sean Spicer kept saying what was really important about what President Trump said is it would have to be under the right conditions. What would those conditions be? Break it down for us, Jeff.
[14:39:56] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He did, indeed, Pamela. Again, Sean Spicer was trying to get beyond the word honored. That was a word that the president used in the Bloomberg interview that you heard the White House being asked about, is really going to be honored. Sean Spicer tried to steer the conversation toward the circumstances. He said, "We have to see the provocative behavior ratcheted down immediately. There's a lot of conditions that would have to happen and those conditions are not there right now."
So clearly trying to say this is something that is hypothetical at this point. There wouldn't be an imminent meeting, of course. Not even in the immediate foreseeable future. But you get the sense here that the president, just in the continuation of all this comments from over the weekend on CBS, calling him smart and then saying he would be honored, you get sense that he's trying to flatter Kim Jong-Un in a respect here, and it's unclear if that is by strategy or just something the president is doing here.
But again, the word honored, as we have been talking about, certainly is going to resonate for quite some time. It's the wrong word -- Pamela?
BROWN: It does make you wonder, is he trying to appeal to Kim Jong-Un to butter him up so that the tensions will de-escalate?
You heard Sean Spicer, Jeff, even say during the briefing that, look, Kim Jong-Un is someone who rose to power at a young age in his country and he's moved his country forward, almost as if he was doubling down.
ZELENY: Sure. I think missing in some of this is the context. It's not like he won a free and fair election. It's not like he's moving the regime forward at all. There are people starving. This is hardly a praiseworthy leader or situation here. So it's an interesting choice of words, choice of discussion. I'm not sure it if it's by design or not. It's certainly raising eyebrows -- Pamela?
BROWN: Like you said, people starving there. North Korea has been open about wanting to destroy the United States.
Let's talk about Duterte, the president of the Philippines, and this invitation that President Trump has extended to him to come to the White House.
Here's what Sean Spicer had had to say about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did the president know about the comments and his record in human rights when he extended the invitation to the Philippines leader?
SPICER: The president gets fully briefed on the leaders he's speaking to, obviously. The number-one concern of this president is to make sure we do everything we can to protect our people and, specifically, to economically and diplomatically isolate North Korea. When you look at what he's doing in terms of building that coalition in that region to do, I think this is hopefully going to have -- well, he knows -- I'm not going to tell you everything in his brief. But he's well aware when he speaks with a leader -- he gets briefed on a lot about what's they're doing, what they've done. That's all part of the briefing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: I want to bring in Sabrina Siddiqui, politics reporter for "The Guardian."
Our sources have told CNN, Sabrina, that this was totally unplanned, totally unexpected, that President Trump opened up this invitation to Duterte. What do you make of that?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICS REPORTER, THE GUARDEAN: I think this president has had a pattern of shooting from the hip, not really thinking about the ramifications for inviting violators of human rights or, in some cases, showering them with praise. Duterte is someone who has seen more than 7,000 extrajudicial killings in his crackdown on drugs. You saw the president almost sympathizing with the problem that he has in the region with respect to narcotics but, certainly, human rights groups will tell you that there's no compelling interest in having this person come and sit at the White House, which would certainly be an honor, in and of itself. This is part of a broader pattern. You have seen him extend an invitation to Duterte, shown a willingness to sit down with Kim Jong-Un. He has, in the past, praised Vladimir Putin. Most Republicans believe Vladimir Putin is a war criminal. And prior to the most recent chemical attack in Syria, he was shifting the U.S. posture towards whether or not Bashar al Assad should go. So this is part of a broader troubling pattern. It's not clear, does the president actually admire these dreadful strong men, and does he seek to sit down and negotiate with them? That would be a dramatic shift in U.S. posture toward regions like North Korea and the Philippines.
CILLIZZA: If there is a strategy, to the extent there is one, it's this good cop/bad cop? Look at how Trump has acted towards Chinese President Xi Jinping. He meets with them for two days at Mar-a-Lago, suddenly, rather than being a "currency manipulator" -- his words not mine --
CILLIZZA: -- "they are raping the United States," suddenly, he's a very good guy, a smart guy, and he's speaking for them, I don't think Xi Jinping will be happy about North Korea testing more missiles. So there's the good cop.
I do think there's a tendency towards flattery here. He does turn. We know that from political campaigns. He turns and moves into bad cop. So if there's a strategy -- I'm hesitate to say there is or isn't because it's hard to know -- If there is, it's a good cop/bad cop. The problem is when you play good cop with someone that's a dictator or someone who is in a repressive regime, it's hard to sell that.
[14:45:37] SIDDIQUI: The other concern is the signal that it sends to U.S. allies who, if you're looking at North Korea, for example, the message that South Korea might receive or Japan might receive if the president so cavalierly extends an invitation to Kim Jong-Un. There's been mixed messages to the actual strategy in North Korea. You have an administration saying this is national security threat of the utmost priority. But it's not clear what path they want to pursue. Are they going to sit down and negotiate or are they going to pursue military aggression or diplomatic aggression through other means, increased sanctions? I think there's a lot more people who are affected by the White House taking a meeting. It's not just about the United States. It's about allies that --
SIDDIQUI: -- are counting on the U.S. to enforce and take a stand when it comes to human rights.
BROWN: Let's talk about health care. There was a lot said about that today on the heels of President Trump claiming that the GOP health care bill will guarantee coverage for those with preexisting conditions.
Here's what Sean Spicer had to say about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Current law says, you have to - insurance companies have to sell to those with preexisting conditions and they can't charge them more than someone else in that area. Is that the guarantee the president wants?
SPICER: So the bill does not remove Obamacare's guaranteed-issue requirement. That's in there. And on the community ratings, the bill would allow states to waive Obamacare's community rating requirement if certain conditions designated to preserve access to coverage to people with preexisting conditions are met. There are reduced average premiums, increasing enrollment, stabilize the market, stabilize premiums for those with preexisting. The bottom line is to try give the states flexibility to actually get that premium down.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (IANUDIBLE) -- continuing access but not at the same price as other people.
SPICER: The idea is actually they would create a high-risk pool. The idea is actually to create a system that it gets the premium down for them as well. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) -- much more?
SPICER: But you can't keep saying -- you're right when I say the whole goal of this is to give the states the flexibility to get lower premiums. That's the goal all around, is to make sure that the system that we employ gets it down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: I want to bring in Errol Louis on more on that.
Errol, he says, this bill does not remove Obamacare's provision when it comes to those with preexisting conditions. Is that true?
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLTIICAL COMMENTATOR: Not exactly. If you're talking about a solution involving recreating high-risk pools at the state level, what is missing from that equation, from that discussion is the massive amounts of subsidies that come most likely from the federal government to make those pools even vaguely affordable to the people who would end up in that. To take the example that was being discussed at the press conference, somebody who could have a bill as high as $25,000 in insurance premiums, you put them in a high-risk pool, who are is going to buy that cost down so a family could actually pay for it. There's an argument that's been made that if you were to put a massive federal subsidy into states that created high- risk pools, you could get the rate down to some sort of affordable, manageable level. That's not been the experience in the days when we did have states creating high-risk pools. So it remains unclear. And there's a huge cost associated with that. That's what we're doing to hear from the health care advocates immediately after today.
BROWN: I want to talk more about that, Errol. Why, in your view, is that not realistic to have states be the ones to have the flexibility to lower the premiums for those with preexisting conditions? Why don't you think that's realistic?
LOUIS: I think it is realistic. It's just it's going to come at a cost though. One you start talking about the spending bills, one you start talking about -- look, the promise that the president keeps making, that people with preexisting conditions will be covered, that somehow premiums will also come down I think everybody knows the arithmetic doesn't lead to that conclusion. The missing piece is a gigantic subsidy probably from the federal government.
Now there is an argument to be made -- you won't hear it from Sean Spicer or from the White House - but there's an argument that you could put in money that would be equivalent to and perhaps less than Obamacare subsidies and that would get the job done. It's a matter of shifting costs between the states, including high-risk pools, and the federal government, and the patients themselves. The question is whether or not Trumpcare is going to shift them around in a way that everybody can live with. Congress will let us know in pretty short order.
[14:50:16] BROWN: We'll have to wait and see. It's interesting because President Trump and one of his advisers this morning said, look, we have the votes, this is going to happen this week. Sean Spicer sort of said we're not really going to announce a timeline. So we'll have to see how this all develops.
I want to thank my panel for coming on and giving your analysis on these important issues of the day. Thank you to all of you.
More on this in just a moment.
But first, something Spicer wasn't asked about, the president's comments about the Civil War. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later, you wouldn't have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw all this was happening with regards to the Civil War. He said there's no reason for this.
People don't realize, you know, the civil war --
TRUMP: -- you think about it, why? People don't ask that question. But why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: It's worth noting, Andrew Jackson died 16 years before the war.
So let's talk about this with CNN political commentators, Bakari Sellers and Ben Ferguson; and Howard Kittell, a historian who runs Andrew Jackson's home and presidential museum. He was also President Trump's personal tour guide when he visited the home and laid a wreath at Jackson's tomb on March 15th, which would have been President Jackson's 250th birthday.
So, Ben, first question, why would the president question this?
BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there was a couple things here in context. First, he knew that he was dead before the Civil War. That's why he said, "if he was around." The second thing is his point was he was an individual who obviously knew just how brutal war was, whether it was the scars he carried with him his entire life from the enemy when he was a child, told to shine the boots of the foreign enemy, and then they beat him because he would not do that. His point he was making is, if he was around, he saw how brutal war was. He lost family members to war. There's a decent chance maybe he could have had a different outcome if he was the leader and maybe it wouldn't have been such a bloody conflict, because he'd seen what really happened. I think a lot of this is being taken way out of context, or being blown way out of proportion. The president likes this individual for a reason. That's why the picture is hanging in the Oval Office. He didn't like people who were in power that were elitists. He liked giving power back to the people. He sees a lot of similarities between his presidential campaign and also the other campaign as well. So I think this has been taken out of context in a major way.
BROWN: Do you agree with that, Bakari?
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think it's being taken out of context at all. I think this has what become typical of the president. He says something outlandish or very ignorant and friends of mine, like Ben Ferguson, have to clean it up and spin it the best possible way.
FERGUSON: Why do you say ignorance?
SELLERS: Because it's historically ignorant. If it you thought that Andrew Jackson was going to fix the Civil War, Andrew Jackson brutalized and killed, genocidal, a number of Native Americans. Andrew Jackson owned 150 slaves. The Civil War wasn't about something like -- it wasn't the War of Northern Aggression. It wasn't about economics. The currency they were trading in was my forefathers. So this isn't some individual who, all of a sudden, was going to grow a heart and end the Civil War. We know why the war was fought. For Donald Trump to ask himself why was the Civil War was fought, is historically ignorant.
SELLERS: You're entitled to your own opinion. You're not entitled to your own facts. That's my problem with this revisionist whitewashing of history.
FERGUSON: It's not a revisionist and certainly not whitewashing to imply there's somehow a racial connotation to I or to Donald Trump. People are getting sick and tired of the race card being thrown around. When you have a president looking back historically at an individual that understood exactly how brutal war was, if you look at the history of the context of what Donald Trump was talking about, you have a president that experienced war, you have family members that were killed in war, you have, as a child, he was brutalized because of war, to imply that somehow what he's saying is whitewashing is absurd. And it's also, I think, a little out of line. You have a president that, when he said, if he was around, there's a decent chance --
SELLERS: Let me ask you as question, just a fundamental question.
BROWN: Go ahead Bakari.
SELLERS: A fundamental question for Ben or anyone else: Why was the Civil War fought?
FERGUSON: I think you know this, and I know this, a large part of it was slavery. There was also a large part --
[14:55:12] SELLERS: It was. There are no two --
FERGUSON: No, no. There are no --
FERGUSON: You said facts matter.
SELLERS: Let me finish my though, Ben.
SELLERS: I'm beginning to finish my thought, Ben.
BROWN: Bakari, finish your thought.
SELLERS: You cannot say this is an economic matter because the economics of that time were slavery. No one is playing the race card when talking about the Civil War. The fact is, if Donald Trump wants to postulate why was the war fought, the answer is slavery. Period. I answered him. Move forward.
FREGUSON: But, Bakari, you're being ignorant to history if you think the Civil War -- go back and look at any history book -- was solely about slavery. It was not solely about slavery. And if you actually look at history, instead of just throwing race out there on every single thing when it comes to the Civil War, you'd have a better understanding of the Civil War.
SELLERS: I was a history major, Ben.
FERGUSON: Let me finish.
FERGUSON: Well, you weren't paying good attention.
SELLERS: This is absurd.
FERGUSON: Because the Civil War was much bigger than one single issue.
SELLERS: It's not absurd.
FERGUSON: It's not absurd. It's absurd to imply that the Civil War exclusively about slavery.
SELLERS: The entire thing was not slavery.
BROWN: Is it time to bring in the historian perhaps?
BROWN: I think it is. I think we'll bring in the historian.
Howard, your thoughts on this debate, and also tell us about the president's admiration for Andrew Jackson and what he's told you.
HOWARD KITTELL, PRESIDENT & CEO, DIRECTOR, ANDREW JACKSON HERMITAGE & DIRECTOR, ANDREW JACKSON PRESIDENTIAL MUSEUM: Well, certainly. Jackson's connection with the Civil War is at best tangential. Jackson's position, he was vehemently supportive of the union of the states, and the constitutional sanctity of that union. During his presidency, South Carolina was threatening to secede from the union, and likely, had South Carolina seceded, other states would have gone with it. That was called the Nullification Crisis of 1832 when South Carolina was alleging that it didn't have to follow federal law, that states were sovereign, and it didn't have to follow federal law, and if the federal government required it to, it would secede. It was Jackson who famously said, "This union is treason." And also said, "Our federal union must be preserved." So Jackson's connection here, and I believe what the president was referring to, was Jackson's firm belief that the federal government was what protected the independence of the individual citizen. He saw that independence as paramount.
BROWN: Let me just bring you back in, Ben.
We're talking about the history of the Civil War when there's all this stuff going on. You have the health care debate. You have the crisis with North Korea, not to mention everything else. Why is the president talking about this right now?
FERGUSON: He was asked a question. I think this goes back to the first point I made. This is a big overreaction, a bunch of to-do about nothing for the president that was talking, he was asked a question about his time, he was talking about being in Tennessee, talking about the remarks he gave, literally at this event, and was talking about how brutal the Civil War was. And maybe if Andrew Jackson was around, maybe things could have been a little bit different, if he was around. I don't think there's anything wrong with having these comments.
But this is the real issue I have. When something like this comes out, people immediately want to try to turn it into some massive racial thing instead of looking at the context of what the president said, and to understand he was talking about why he actually likes this former president, why his portrait is hanging in the Oval Office.
By the way, at the event in Nashville, when this happened, he also condemned the fact he was a slave owner. So he has an understanding of the historical context of this. But to imply this is one situation or one issue with only race, is just not fair to history.
BROWN: What do you think about that, Bakari? This is being blown out of proportion and this isn't fair?
SELLERS: That's about the only explanation you can have. I think this is a larger issue that the White House has and that his staff simply doesn't serve him well. Donald Trump is not suited to do these wide-ranging interviews on a wide array of issues. He's not. Because he goes out and begins to go down these paths, which, for many people in the country, maybe not Ben, but many people in the country are ignorant of history.
The fact is the reason that this is not an issue of race or a race card or anything else being played is because we're simply talking about one thing. It's really hard to talk about the Civil War, it's hard to talk about slavery without talking about race. It's hard to talk about Andrew Jackson without mentioning he was a slave owner. It's hard to talk about Andrew Jackson as if he didn't brutalize Native Americans. Look --
SELLERS: We can go around and around and around.